Sunday, December 13, 2009

Yellowstone Pics Of The Day: Going Home--The Grand Tetons

The weather prognosticators promised us snow for the last few days, but didn't deliver. Boo. All we got was a week of temperatures in the teens and twenties, and a little dab of ice at the end. Where does that get fun? (I admit, the clear blue cold was quite pretty, but nowhere near as nice as snow!) Hmm... need something cheerful. What to do? I know! Lets go to memory lane! I promised myself that I would get my last Yellowstone post up before the old year passes, so here we go. I'm making it with two-and-a-half whole weeks to spare!! This set of photos won't really be Yellowstone photos, per se. These are pics from the drive home, but we drove home through the Grand Tetons, and I promise that the scenery was spectacular. Since it was early July, there was still snow on the peaks, too, so it comes as close as I can get right now to satisfying that winter wonderland yearning. Okay, okay, it's a winter wonderland with shorts and sun glasses, but I'm working with what I've got here!

Enough chatter. Let's get to the pictures, shall we? (Click on them to enlarge.)

Heading south on the way out of the park, we hit a construction zone, for a slight delay. We couldn't get too agitated about it, however. With the mountains in front of us, and one last chance to scout for wildlife, we just enjoyed the last of our time in Jellystone. You see our friends Scott, Mary, Emma and Ben in the car up ahead--or you would, if all our bikes weren't blocking the view. That was the only down side to the drive home--separate cars for the duration. Still, they got some family time, and Ked and I got hours and hours to listen to To Kill A Mockingbird on CD. (Great book, by the way.)

This was our first sight of the Grand Tetons. I was not prepared for the experience. Coming from the Pacific Northwest, I am used to splendid mountain views. I love mountains. I remember being so excited when I was going to see the Rockies for the first time. They are impressive, with their massive block of mountain-ness, but still they left me a little flat. They are higher than the Cascades, but the level of the land around them starts so high that the elevation increase is much less than the mountains I am used to. They just didn't impress me the way I expected them to do. Mt. Hood, Rainer, Adams, Jefferson, Shasta, even St. Helens, rise from basically sea level, so when they grow to 11 or 12 thousand feet out of the ground, standing in proud isolation, they are noticeable. (Not that the Rockies aren't noticeable, but you know what I mean.) I had no expectations of the Tetons. I don't think that would have mattered, though. If my expectations had been very high, I think they still would have blown me away. Jagged, sharp, abrupt, and tall, the Tetons are stunningly beautiful, and line up mountain after mountain in majestic array. I very much want to go back when we have more time to explore and camp. I think they need to be soaked in a bit.

Uh oh! The sign says not to feed the wildlife, but Emma's getting hungry...

Yay for maps! Where would we be without them? I assume we'd be somewhere, but we might not know where that somewhere was!

I'll just post a bit of beautifulness now.

More of the pretty.

Are you packing yet? One of the fun parts of this shot for me, besides capturing a shot of our friends heading into the gorgeous scene ahead, is the fact that I took that picture from a moving car, just by sticking my hand out the window and holding it as steady as I could. Came out pretty well, don't you think?

Here's a shot at Jenny Lake. This spot was so beautiful, and one of the places where a few extra days to find a campsite and start hiking would not have offended me. I was probably the only one on the trip who really did not feel ready to come home by this point, after almost two weeks, but I just couldn't make myself want to return to real life when views like this were right in front of me.

What do they say? "The family that rolls around on animals pelts together... " Nah. That can't be it. Looks like they're enjoying it, though.

Come on, guys. I know we've been living in close quarters for quite a while, but there's only a couple of days left!

Here she is--Little Big Horn.

Stopping for dinner, and a drum lesson.

Can you tell we are in Wyoming?

I can't remember the name of the dam, but I remember the name of the store!

We saw these tubes on trains and trucks on the drives both to and from Yellowstone. The first one we saw was in the middle of the night in a rest area where we stopped to sleep our first night out. It was huge, and slanted, and the only word on the tube was Titan. For a while, Ked and I thought it was a missile (we were sleepy), but later we saw some of these being unloaded, and discovered that there were giant windmill blades and towers inside. We saw them over and over, which made sense because we were driving through some very windy country, especially in eastern Oregon.

Our last night in the trailer--we spent it in a trailer camp at Wildhorse Casino outside Pendleton, Oregon. Not a place we anticipated camping, but it made its appearance when we were all ready to stop, and it had some advantages. Scott found a free wifi connection inside and some free coffee, which helped him catch up on the homework he had let slide the last couple days on the road. The kids got to ride scooters and bikes, and work out some of the kinks from the road, and we all got to eat outside in the dry eastern Oregon air, without getting eaten ourselves by mosquitoes. Can't say the campground was much more than a parking lot with power and some grass, but it was a welcome respite to driving, and stopping there meant we woke up just minutes from Pendleton, which meant one last adventure in the morning, before our final leg on the journey home.

Walking through Pendleton in the morning, we came upon this pretty little one-room schoolhouse--no longer in use, but part of the town's storied past.

Wouldn't you love to have been one of the kids that had to sit right next to the stove in the middle of the room? Whatever you do, don't wear long johns!

Pendleton looked pretty charming from where our lens was sitting.

We ate at the Main Street Diner. Betty Boop wasn't the only nostalgic icon to meet our gaze...

Elvis, James Dean, Marylin Monroe, and Superman were among the luminaries to grace our environment. It was fun and (here's that word again) charming. Emma doesn't look like she's enjoying it, though, does she? Right now she looks like she's thinking, "Really? That's all you serve--liver?"

I'm happy that our last picture all together on our Yellowstone adventure turned out to be a keeper! Shiny, happy people, smelling hotcakes!

Here Ked and I pulled in for a quick stop along the Columbia River. Remember all those windmills in transit from earlier? Right across the road from me there are a bunch of them, already put together. I'll give you one look at my bangs to guess why this is a good spot for windmills!

Well, that's all folks. I dragged the memories of this trip out over almost 6 months, and (if you look at it from a positive perspective, rather than a "gee, it took you long enough" angle) got as much out of this vacation as I possibly could! I kind of liked blogging it this slowly. It kept a really special experience fresh in my head, and since this has been one of the hardest years I've had in a long time, was a good reminder that "everything happens." (Major bonus points if you know the source of that quote.) Good and bad both come. There is a time to laugh and a time to mourn, etc. 2009 has had more tears than most of my years to date, and fewer consolations, but it's also had some things that have really made me grateful. Our Yellowstone trip, with kind, loving and accepting friends was right up there next to finding out that my husband did NOT have pancreatic cancer. I treasure the memories, and am grateful for a way to preserve them in pictures, in my own little corner of the blogosphere.
This seems a good way to draw 2009 near to its close, by remembering the good, acknowledging a little of the bad, and praying that Ked and I will be able to face what comes in 2010 with faith and grace. I hope for more memories like Yellowstone, and good friends to share them with, to balance out the challenges that I know will be coming soon. I hope the same for you. In case I don't talk to you again before 2010 arrives, Merry Christmas, and Happy New Year. May God be with you, and give you joy, peace and the blessing of knowing Him.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Yellowstone Pics Of The Day: Days 6 & 7

I have never yet been on a permanent vacation, have you? If you have, my guess is that you are retired, and that really doesn't count as a vacation per se. It's more of a life phase--a life phase I wouldn't mind experiencing for myself one day, but not just yet. I'm not mature enough to handle non-stop self-determination. I need obligations in life to get me out of bed in the morning. I need responsibilities to motivate me to accomplish something. What makes vacations and holidays special is that they are fleeting and rare, and a break from the routine, and thus precious.

That being said, I am never ready to leave Yellowstone. I have never gotten my fill of its beauty (see Day 5 for my favorite pics of the park in its splendor), and I am completely serious when I say I could happily live there. I'm not saying that hiking in the back country could, all on its own, serve as an entirely sufficient motive for getting me out of bed every day for the rest of my life, but it comes pretty darned close. We have barely scratched the surface of a very diverse and mysterious place, and even at that have only been there at summer's beginning, never in the autumn or winter. Yellowstone in winter is definitely on the bucket list!

Alas, for now, our exploration of Yellowstone is coming to an end. I have one more set of photos to share with you, and then journey home we must. (We came home through the Grand Tetons, so I still have a few pics up my sleeve, but these are the last Yellowstone images I'll be sharing with you this trip.)

The last couple of days before the drive home were a jumble of places and activities. The first one was the 4th of July, and West Yellowstone, where we camped during our stay, is the perfect place to experience Independence Day in small town America, complete with parade and fireworks. The parade is just what you'd expect, with firetrucks, and horses, and candy for the kids. The fireworks display this little town puts on is amazing. Ked and I had seen it before, and had talked it up to our friends Scott and Mary so much that they were prepared to be disappointed. They were disappointed in that expectation of disappointment!! It was wonderful and satisfying. Every time you thought they must be throwing the big finale it turned out they were just getting started. (Well, okay, not every time. Clearly the show peaked eventually, but it didn't happen till we were perfectly ready.) The rest of the day was spent in bike rides and scooter races, souvenir shopping, and some yummy home cooking, and the day after that was an exploration of Mammoth Hot Springs and its environs. Stick around and I'll give you a taste of everything but the food... (Click on the photos to enlarge them.)

Scott looks like he's winning here, but never underestimate the power of a determined Mary!

Keep that helmet on, Girlie!! Safety first! Oh, and you in the back there--watch where you're going! That bike looks fast!

Speaking of fast bikes, there was a herd of them when we got to Mammoth. We got to talk to this Harley crew for a while. Really nice people who answered a burning question that Ked and I have wondered about for a very long time. What is the deal with those really long handles that some people have on their bikes? They look so uncomfortable, making riders keeps their arms way up high for the duration of their ride. They must be torture on long hauls. Wanna know what they told us? "Too much testosterone."

Doesn't Mary look pretty here, getting ready to hike up one last Yellowstone hill at Mammoth Hot Springs? Since this was our last day, we were determined to make the most of it, and tackle the climb cheerfully.

Ben looks pretty self-satisfied after the first part of the climb.

Part way up, we stopped to look back at the town below. There were lots of government offices and residences down there, some of them very old. We were surprised to see some not-so-old domiciles a little ways out of town, too, looking more like a suburb than a part of history, but rangers must live somewhere, mustn't they, and some of them (gasp!) actually have families. We were told that this little neighborhood was for the higher-up permanent residents, and that the summer crew lived in apartments and trailer parks tucked here and there throughout the park.

We were climbing the path, so why not climb a tree? (Actually, I think Mom or Dad set the boy up there, since the tree base was off the trail, and a definite no-no for safety reasons. This limb, though, was hanging over the path, so we reckoned this made it in bounds.

Emma got her shot at the almost-forbidden fruit as well.

Now there's a tree I wouldn't want to climb, although the scene is really lovely in its desolation. There's not much left alive up toward the top of these hot springs. Even the algae that you see so many places around Yellowstone is notably missing. It's a beautiful, dead world up there.

Oh wait! There's something that managed to survive. It's got a really cheesy grin, though. Looks like a few hardy trees hung in there, too.

After we saw all we wanted to at the springs, we headed into town to have a look around. There were some interesting old buildings. I loved how the traditional lion statues are replaced here in Yellowstone with far more suitable bears.

Our walk took us here to the Horace M. Albright Visitor Center. There were some nice displays inside to teach us about the history of Mammoth and Yellowstone, and Ked and I got our museum fix for the day. Our friends, though, had an extra important reason for heading inside. They had serious business to take care of...

Ben and Emma had worked all week to complete a very important mission, fulfilling the strict National Park standards of study and achievement to take their place among the ranks of Junior Park Rangers! Here you see them "Taking the Oath" to preserve and protect our natural treasures. Yogi would be so proud.

What can I say about this picture? I wonder if "two heads are better than one" would merely elicit groans, or if it would send you out of here in disgust. Hmmm... it's probably a close call. I came close to bailing myself at my lack of captioning shame. However, since I can't come up with anything that's actually clever to say, and since I want to post the picture anyway, I'll have to take my chances with your indulgence. You can give the post a poor rating down at the bottom if you feel the need to protest.

With our important civic duties behind us, we wandered out again to see the local wildlife. We didn't have to look far, because this young buck was stopping traffic right outside the visitor's center door.

Notice that park ranger keeping a watch over the scene? We talked to her later, and she said that's how she ends up spending a lot of her time. It's her job to keep an eye on the animals in town and make sure there aren't any "close encounters." Honestly, her job can't be easy, because, not only do you have an abundance of animal life wandering through the village, but you have lots, and lots, of the following...

People. Not the brightest people, either. We must have seen her talk to more than a dozen would-be-patients-in-the-making, who seemed to think that Yellowstone is Disneyland, and that nothing there will really hurt you, no matter how close you get. Seriously, it's like they think that elk is tame, and if they talk sweetly to him, he will let them pet him--or at least get that once-in-a-lifetime photo. They aren't thinking about the fact he weighs several hundred pounds, and his hooves are designed to fight off predators. They just want a pretty slide show when this trip is over. Now, the people above are crazy enough, but at least they can try to close the door and hit the gas if elk-boy here decides he doesn't like the way they're looking at him. Others we saw weren't even that cautious.

This photo is deceptive, since we were walking by under ranger supervision, and there was a truck between Ked and the elk, but even this made us rather nervous. The ranger told us some stories about park visitors getting stomped quite recently due to over-confidence, and we definitely wanted to keep our distance--even then, we were tempted by the photo-op. Human nature just wants to push the boundaries, doesn't it?

See what I mean? This girl actually walked up and turned her back on the animals so her friends could get a better shot. What were they thinking?!

It's not like there weren't any warnings anywhere, either--not to mention the ranger (who had to come up and tell this girl to get the heck away from the aforementioned dangerous wild animals.) Sheesh, people, get a clue! Not tame!

Okay, moving off of the lecture circuit, I now take you to a sweet family scene for your edification. At least I would take you to a sweet family scene, if Scott had not deliberately tried to thwart my shot by, shall we say, less than sweet family behavior. (Oh, go ahead and click on it. You'll see what I mean.) Not sure if he thought I would post this picture, but if he didn't, he now knows never to give me an opportunity like this if he doesn't want me to take advantage of it. I'm just not that tame, either, I guess.

Here's a caption for you "I Can Haz Cheeseburger?" fans:
Sucker: Ur doin it wrong.

Walking around town, it was clear it was 4th of July weekend. There were flags everywhere, private residences especially. (Yes, this is a private home.)

Some of these homes were so picturesque that it was hard to believe they weren't a Disney-type set. Maybe that's what got the tourists thinking that the animals should be tame...

Once we wandered around back of the main street, it became obvious that people with real lives did live here. Cars and canoes and satellite dishes. Yep. We're still in modern-day America.

Awww, now there's that sweet family photo I was looking for. Lovely old church, too. We saw a few more sights in town, and the decided to head out and squeeze in one more adventure. The hike we originally planned was cancelled due to nature, but Scott picked the brain of a local and off we headed to see one more lake.

Here it is. This is the only photo you will see of it, however, because this lake was a turn-on-your-heals-and-get-out-of-here kind of location. Why, you ask? Bloodsuckers. The mosquitoes knew this was our last day, and they were determined to give us a fine send-off. Stinking mosquitoes. Note that Scott has a mosquito-repellent wipe in his hand, and another on his hat, and still the nasty creatures came at him (and everyone else but me) in droves. The buzzing alone was enough to send me packing, and I wasn't even on the menu.

And here it ends. We saved this picture all week so that we could take it on our last night. I will confess that we headed into Yellowstone one more time, driving south on our way back to Portland, but this was our last day with any opportunity to explore. The adventure is not quite over. Come back again to see our driving tour through the Tetons on the homeward journey. I never knew they were so amazing. They are worth a trip all on their own. Maybe someday...