Monday, July 13, 2009

Yellowstone Adventure Pics: Getting There

I'm assuming that most of the people who come to this blog do so accidentally. You were looking at a picture on the web, and it just happened to originate here, or you searched on the phrase "Idaho drinking age" and you followed a Google link to discover that sometime, many years ago, I randomly referenced Idaho in a post I wrote about how the drinking age in every state in America got raised to 21. Very few of you are here because you know me, or because you are familiar with my writing and photographs. That's okay, and I always hope that whoever wanders by finds something that they enjoy enough to make the virtual trip worth at least the time it takes for the site to download. I must admit, though, that today's post probably isn't the one that's going to put me on your blog roll. Today is all about vacation photos, and worse yet, they're not even the "exotic journey in the Himalayas" type of photos. This little set of pictures is my personal memoir of travelling from Point A to Point B. Bail at will.

Now, I grant you, I think Point A (Portland, Oregon) is a pretty cool place to live, and Point B (Yellowstone National Park) is an absolutely fabulous place to visit, but getting from A to B is a long drive, and it's made even longer when you're pulling a trailer. There's no such thing as fast when you have 7,000 lbs. of house hitched to your bumper. My husband Ked and I have made this trip before, and found the drive totally worth it, so we knew what to expect, although this time we added a twist--our friends Scott and Mary came along for the ride, their two munchkins in tow. Our little trailer did yeoman duty, housing all six of us for twelve days and nights! It was a bit of a tight fit for Scott, who was a wee bit too tall for the table-turned-bed in which he and his five-year-old son slept, but other than a few back twinges, I'd say it worked out all right. Ked and I had no complaints. (You'll have to ask Scott and Mary whether they felt the same. They're too nice to gripe to our faces.) Anyway, it's about 840 miles from Portland to Old Faithful. Add to the regular drive time enough coffee, food and potty stops to keep six people relatively comfortable and happy in their seat belts, and you're looking at a couple solid days of driving.

We decided to tackle the trip strategically. Since we were travelling with a five-year-old and an eight-year-old, it made sense to get as much of the roadwork done as we could while the tots might possibly sleep away a portion of the miles. Accordingly, we set off after work on a Friday and planned to keep moving well past dark. Keep in mind, since this trip started at the end of June, dark didn't happen until sometime around 10 p.m., and we hoped to make good time before calling it quits for the night. Off we set, with high hopes of making it close to the Idaho border before finding a rest stop where we could climb into bed. (I just love that about the trailer. There's no "checking in" on the road needed, only pulling over.) I should say, Ked and I set off. Since our friends weren't hauling a house-on-wheels, they took the chance to run a few errands before leaving town, knowing they could catch up easily, or so we all thought.

That is where the first adventure, if you can call it that, of the fortnight occurred. Being well fueled with coffee and an eager spirit, Scott got a little too anxious to make up time, and within minutes of leaving home found himself pulling off the road--at the behest of a state trouper. Aargh! What a way to start a vacation!! The trouper dinged him for a hefty fine (need to fill up those dwindling state coffers, don'tcha know) and a still-eager, but much more restrained Scott and Mary started the long haul to re-connect with us and their beds for the night. It actually took far longer than we expected. We made good time, despite towing, and they had four people to keep comfortable, rather than just two, so twice the stops were necessary, and it wasn't until the sun had long since fled that we reunited. We all pulled into a rest area somewhere outside of La Grande, and gratefully slept until morning. (The rest of us slept, anyway. Scott--working on his second master's degree--had homework to finish.) We hoped that, with the ticket, we had gotten our mishap quota for the trip filled, and that it would be smooth trailing from here.

When morning came the adult members of the crew sought out coffee. Everybody sought out breakfast, and soon it was time to get moving again. We all did our best to make the journey as interesting as possible. The kids rode with me and Ked (allowing M and S some rare just-the-two-of-us time), and we sang songs, and played games with road signs and the alphabet, and often returned to that old favorite--20 questions. Gradually the day passed away. I confess that we eventually did resort to the video screen inside the car to keep the small fry entertained, but only after we had exhausted all other forms of munchkin amusement at our disposal.

We did plan a goodly time cushion in our day for stretching our legs, and Scott and Mary proved especially good at planning out diversions along the route. The best outing of the day came early, at the Oregon Trail Interpretive Center. (Mary and I were in agreement that the name leaves much to be desired.) Here we got to investigate a wagon train, and explore a mining operation, and by driving a little up the road, we got to walk on the actual, honest-to-goodness Oregon Trail! There we discovered that, while settlers may not still be passing along this route, there is an enthusiastic colony of mosquitoes desperately awaiting their return. We did not stay long on the Oregon Trail! Later in the day, farther down the road in Idaho, we checked out a place called Register Rock, which is a huge boulder (currently protected from modern abuse by a high and highly un-picturesque chain link fence), on which passing settlers carved their names and the dates of their arrival.

Soon after viewing this fine example of 150-year-old graffiti, we all reckoned it was time to settle in for the night, let the kid's ride their bikes for awhile, and allow our road weary bodies a nice hot shower before bedtime. Accordingly, we located the nearest campground, which happened to be Massacre Rocks State Park--isn't that a charming name? It actually was a lovely camping spot, despite its colorful moniker. Really, the name was merely keeping the tone of the journey to this point. During the previous day's travels, while still in Oregon, we had also made our way past such places of note as Poverty Flat, Old Emigrant Hill, and the ever cheerful Dead Man's Pass. Golly, don't you just want to head right there and make a home for yourself? No wonder people were emigrating! Of course, also on the previous night's journey, we got to drive by Lake Bob as well, so all hope was not lost. There is still cheer and whimsy in the world--even if you have to travel through Dead Man's Pass to get there!

Needless to say, we eventually made it to Grizzly RV Park, in West Yellowstone, Montana. That was the jumping off point from which the real fun began! The days (and the photographs) got much more interesting from there. What follows here are just a few snaps from the drive--almost all people shots, since this little post is mostly for my own memory's sake. Go ahead and have a look. If you've stuck it out this long, you might as well hang in there the rest of the way... (Click on 'em if you want to make 'em bigger.)

When we opened our eyes that first morning at the rest area, this is what we saw. Not a bad view for a parking lot by the side of the road, and not at all what we expected to wake up to when we parked our cars in the dead of night.

Here's The Boy, doing what boys do. See a fire pit, stir it with a stick! It's the law or something, right? I'm sure that eventually he stopped to notice the covered wagons and vast countryside. Maybe.

Wandering down some stairs, and taking a few turns in the path ahead, we eventually came to this fun and educational water feature. Pretty amazing that folks actually found gold this way, just carried along by the water until it got stopped by notches in the bottom of a trough. People are seriously ingenious, you know that? Really, we take engineering and technology so much for granted, but people had to think this stuff up, from mining operations, to pyramids, to iPods. It's all amazing.

Okay, okay, it's not the most flattering picture (except of Scott there grinning away, a rare photographic moment.) I include it, though, because this is the big moment. All five of them are standing where the ruts of the covered wagons can still be seen in the hard Oregon dirt. It's the Trail, and I have to record that. Besides, this is the only picture they would let me take. They were all being eaten alive by the thirsty, blood-sucking mosquitoes, and that was as close to still as they were going to stand while in that spot. Truth be told, these little vampires were just the warm-up act. It turned out that Yellowstone had a particularly wet winter and spring, and meat was on the menu the whole trip. I must gratefully, and somewhat guiltily, report that I am pretty much immune to the little beasties, but even I found them really annoying because of their sheer numbers and ever-present buzzing. I felt terribly sorry for everyone else, though. They got munched so badly you could have drawn constellation maps on their legs. Death to all mosquitoes!!

I really have nothing to narrate about this picture. Girlie just looks so adorable that I couldn't resist posting this one.

Here is evidence that we did, indeed, make use of the DVD player in the car that second day. Can't say it didn't keep the munchkins content!

Here are Mary and I at Register Rock. (Mary left, me right.) We were the photographers for the trip, so getting both of us in a picture was something of a trick. Ked manned the video camera, and Scott took charge of all things which required maps. All in all, it worked out equitably, although I'm sure I drove everyone nuts by the second day, because I live by the philosophy that if you take a hundred pictures, five will turn out. I snap a lot of pictures.

Here's a more flattering picture of Ked, to make up for the mosquito-flailing shot from earlier. Behind him is the Snake River. This was our view first thing, early the second morning, when we woke up at Massacre Rocks. Looks a lot nicer than it sounds, don't you think?

Just to be a good sport, and prove that I'm not above humiliating myself for the sake of keeping things equitable regarding the mosquitoes-on-the-Oregon-Trail photo, here's a view of me, first thing, early that second morning. I am not a morning person, so I hope this squares me with the fairness police (the ones that live inside my head.) The things I do to keep from feeling guilty...
Next up--Yellowstone National Park!!