Monday, April 09, 2007

heading east

"Heading out for the East Coast
Lord knows I've paid some dues gettin' through,
Tangled up in blue." bd

It shouldn't be surprising to people who have been around me that many words that are said recall lyrics and movie quotes to my mind. I guess it's just how my brain works. I like to share them in my blog. Actually, I tend to share them whenever they come up in conversation, much to Courtney's consternation (as she spent several more days with me camping last week when I brought up quotes of no less than five movies). But I have resolved to stay focused in this post...

It's been a long time coming, but I'm going to attempt to finish the cross-country journals that I started seven months ago. I sort of promised myself I'd do it over spring break, but blogging hasn't been on my mind.

Instead I made more road trip adventures, which perhaps I will share about later. For now, this may be sufficient. ha ha. I'm so pun-y.

When I last left off, Courtney* and I had started east on I90.
*Basically every time you see Courtney's name with a link, there is a link to a different post of hers about the trip. This will facilitate cross-reference. If you have any further questions, please direct them to
miles on Scout: 16,838 ; Seattle, 7/21

7/25 I've realized that at this point I've started to get antsy about driving, covering ground, getting home. I've got to remind myself that this is my vacation, and I should do what I like, and what I need to do, and not feel driven to do do do, see see see when I'm exhausted. [which I employed by taking a nap in the middle of Yellowstone one afternoon] So, I'm going to sit here and take a slow pace and catch up on journal and letter writing.

We left Seattle about 1ish on Friday the 21st and had a nice afternoon driving, sitting in the sun, stopping at the Columbia River (just outside of Spokane). We went in the water and dried on the sand, and it felt good to go slow, living spontaneously. We stopped again when we got to Coeur d'Alene which is a pretty town with a lake. We watched locals hanging out on Friday night - swimming on the beach, in a drum circle - teenagers out on the town. Then we found a camping spot, after a long search, a half-mile from town where we had a grassy spot to set our tent, a group fire for our hot dogs, and free hot showers in the morning. We took advantage. Unfortunately, it was a very lit place and just by I90, and trucks rumbling past kept me from much sleep.

The next day we started out early for Yellowstone, but made a few stops and lost an hour at the ID/MT border, so we arrived late.

We stopped in Butte, looking for coffee (as I was very tired from lack of sleep). Courtney was driving, and the hills of Butte were not to her and Scout's liking. Hence you might say that MT Tech found us, rather than we found it. We pulled in and happened upon a rock & mineral museum which proved interesting. We drove out of town to Bozeman where a friend of a friend of Courtney's had a coffee shop -- Leaf & Bean, and we had coffee there. I bought some "author cards" with Impressionist and Renaissance artists for Elizabeth's classroom and mine. Bozeman was a happening college town - for Montana. Montana is gorgeous. When I was a kid I always wanted to go there to teach in a one-room school house.
I would live there. Bozeman would be fun. It makes a nice place for closeness to Wyoming...which was about to become my favorite state at this point...

As I said, we arrived late at Yellowstone. I recall driving south to it, from Bozeman, through "foothills." At least I thought they were foothills, and commented so to Courtney. I mean, they didn't look big. What I didn't know was that we were already 3 to 4,000ft above sea level. [There is this really cool website I just found while searching for that statistic. Check it out.] We rolled into the park with probably 2 hours left of daylight, but I had NO idea how expansive the park was. I think this is probably a trend of my journals, but it seems that this one takes that cake. I mean, it's just a corner of a state: it couldn't be that big. Oh, Wyoming is huge. (and beautiful) Once we realized that our reserved campsite was clear across the park, and that roads were windy and slow, we thought we ought to head straight for it to arrive before nightfall. But at the same time, knowing how far a distance it was, we probably wouldn't want to drive back up to the north end of the park, so we decided to look at some of the geothermic wonders on our way. We ended up getting very way-laid, and it was probably 9 or 10 when we got to our campsite. I don't remember. First we saw Mammoth Hot Springs. (I couldn't remember the name of this, so I thought I could go to Courtney's blog to see what she wrote, but I quote: "mineral hot something or others." My trusty guide book helped, but only a picture will communicate what it was.)

We learned that the springs are such unusual colors because different (and brightly colored) bacteria live in the hotter temperatures.

Next we were lured to the side of the road. I had since learned that cars parked on the side of the road probably mean wildlife. Sure enough, people were gathering because wildlife usually can be spotted at dusk. There was a huge field - a vast expanse - where you could be sure to see something.
There were wolves and coyotes in view, and a man kindly lent us his binoculars so we could see (or at least try). People also said there were bears to be seen. Mind you, they could not be seen by the naked eye. (This, you see, is why field is too tiny of a word to describe the vista.) So, I can sort of claim to have seen a grizzly bear, because I did catch a glimpse of him through the binoculars. I think there were other things to see, but wildlife spotting is a skill not quickly learned. We headed back down the road. We stopped again to look at some boiling water in the ground. That was odd. Struck us so especially I think because no one was there, there was no special signage or literature that we were reading: so it felt like this was supposed to be normal, but boiling mud is in fact very ODD! It stunk, and the mud was bubbling up. At this point it was getting dark enough that our pictures aren't worth showing.

Finally we were stopped by buffalo. Indeed, my wish to see buffalo was more than satisfied in Wyoming NPs. Besides herds along the side of the road which initially made us
very excited, we encountered a group meandering through the road. I was driving at this point, and I had no idea what to do. I saw the oncoming traffic stopped, and I was in the lead going south, and the three bison were headed straight for me. I admit my initial thoughts were of a buffalo walking right over my car and stomping through my windshield. I couldn't go forward in my lane, and I couldn't pass around on the other side, so we just sat while the bison ambled as they pleased. Several ended up walking right past my car, on the far side of the road, probably 10 feet from me. (Needless to say, we were unscathed.) I shot some pictures of course, but it is hard to see them for the dark. But they were as big and real in person as you can imagine. It was full dark by the time we got to our campsite, and by Courtney's records it took us four hours to go the 80 miles. (me with a bison nearby: click on it to see a larger image and see how close he was to the pathway)

Well, if I continue in this vein, this post will be a book.
Suffice it to say that the next day we enjoyed the geysers, took a brief nap in the afternoon (we had woken up so earlier to beat the crowds),
saw a moose, saw Yellowstone Canyon
& the waterfall, and had dinner on the lake. Now that is worth mentioning. It was a sunny calm afternoon, and Courtney and I were getting hungry for dinner. We had basically everything in our car to make dinner, so we just stopped at a picnic table by Yellowstone lake, a bit off the main road. I envisioned a nice dinner of hot dogs and beans, with some hot cocoa to top it off. I think I even set out the tablecloth on the picnic table. Things were coming along nicely when it started to get a bit windy. We had to forgo the tablecloth. The beans were warm, and the hot dogs were cooked, and I was trying to heat the water for the hot chocolate. Then top to the fuel can flew away, nearly landing in the lake. Suddenly, the gusts were so strong that not even the pan of water heating on the tri-legged stove was secure, and we rushed everything into the car, trying not to lose anything in the lake as possible. Courtney and I were in hysterical fit of laughter (If you can imagine this), and we were content to watch the white caps on the lake from inside Scout. While eating the beans and hot dogs, I opened to my NP guide book and read:
Yellowstone Lake can be a dangerous place for the unprepared. When a summer storm moves through, the most inviting, mirror-smooth surface can fast become a seething mass of whitecaps.
Right before our eyes.

My favorite of all sights in YNP (besides the wildlife) were the colorful hot springs. The geysers sure are amazing, and learning about the geology of the place, and about forest fires was all very enlightening, but to see, the hot springs were most beautiful.

The next day, after a brief hike in which I really really wanted to see a moose (but only saw a deer),

we drove to GTNP: Grand Teton National Park! I was really unprepared for how beautiful those mountains are, and proclaimed it on the spot my favorite place thus far (and since). Daddy said it would be. The number of pictures I took of the mountains testify, but I still feel none of them do justice.

Courtney and I drove up Signal Mountain to have a vista:

We walked to the lake where the guide books told us we might see wildlife in the evening, and we did see some moose on the other side of the lake. I envied the kayakers who glided through the water so silently and got a better view. (Can you see it on the right?)

That night we walked to an amphitheater to hear a ranger talk on beavers and I was nearly scared to death on the way there (at dusk) for fear of bears, and then I think I nearly scared Courtney to death when I convinced her my sense of direction was strong enough for us to abandon the main path (in the dark) and take a short cut to camp which nearly got us lost and made us turn around once (but I maintain we still got there quicker).

But the best of all was a hike up the mountain and into Cascade Canyon. Courtney wouldn't let me wimp out and take the ferry across Jenny Lake, so we walked around the lake, up into the mountains to Hidden Falls, and then further up to a vantage point of the lake and Jackson Hole.

(From this point we followed the advice again of my guide book I ought to recommend it: Insight Guides) and continued into the canyon. It was the best decision ever: the butterflies and mountain flowers were gorgeous, and being between the walls of those mountain sides was amazing. It was hard to turn back, but we knew we needed to make it back to the car: and we did. We ended up running around the lake a good bit, partly because we thought it would be fun to see if we could beat the ferry, and partly because it started raining on us.

The next morning we drove down to Moose Junction (thinking we might tube the river) and then up
the beautiful drive through Jackson Hole on 89. We had no reservations for camping that night, but decided to find a place east of the park, cutting our driving time across Wyoming for the following day. Courtney and I found a near-empty place with no water, but I was so enchanted with Wyoming, I was thrilled. (Aside from the mosquitoes) everything seemed to be beautiful, including the incredible rock formation just outside our camp (which looked more amazing in the evening light, but I got no picture until the morning)

(i'm in to eecummings now, so i will be using parenthesis, punctuation and spacing as i like)

The drive through Wyoming did make me want to move there
as did sights of men in cowboy boots and hats for real. I can't really describe the terrain: it was so varied. At one point two completely different views were on either side of us. One looked like Utah and and other like Colorado (in their stereotypical views). Now how can you capture that in a photograph?

This picture here is me trying to express my new-found love for this state:

(This is supposedly by the world's largest hot springs, which are something like 140degrees naturally, but cooled to 90 for safely where we saw them. They stank, and didn't actually look like much. But we saw them.)

Our next destination was Devils Tower. Strange thing. I thought we could hike up it, but I was quote mis-informed. You have to have climbing gear. Which is obvious once you see it:

We circled it and watched climbers through binoculars. We learned that one guy went skydiving (this was in 1941) to see if he could manage to land on it. He did, but then he was stuck up there. It was six days before he got down. Back in 1893 some guys made a ladder up it, and you can still see a bit of the ladder through binoculars.

That afternoon we drove on to South Dakota. I was told that South Dakota would be really neat, but I honestly was less than excited about most of it. But this was the first place on my trip that this was the case, so I suppose that is allowable. The Black Hills to me were just too commercialized. Coming from empty land, billboards and fake-cowboy-town just seemed dumb and annoying. And Mt. Rushmore was pretty near that. I mean, I have always wanted to see it, and it is pretty neat to see it for your own eyes. (And nice to have a shot of yourself like this=)

but basically it felt fake, contrived, and tacky!.The
literature was all about stopping to reflect on what our country means to us, and in our state of mind, it just seemed ridiculous. (Besides which, sculptures in mountains isn't perhaps my favorite thing about my country, especially when we remember that this was Indians' land.) Courtney basically lost it, especially when we went through a mist tent - a novelty for me - that set her off laughing so hard. She kept at it, and I wasn't really laughing any more. She was bolled over and hyperventilating, so everyone was staring at us, and I was trying to tacitly communicate that she was not having a break down. It took her a long time to recover.

Basically I was sorry I had spent $8 to park (little compensated that I could use the pass all year in case I was back in the area with a black four-door vehicle before December) and wished we had just driven by and looked at it.

We did go in a few caves there that were fabulous. We did two tours and I will direct you to Courtney's post for more details. We left the Black Hills and descended into the plains, heading for the Badlands. But not before Courtney and I went to Wall Drug, thus completing my fascination with reliving "East Coast West Coast."

"Have you dug Wall Drug?
Have you played the banjo?
A six-foot bunny was about all I can stand." sm

And that was about all we could too, though it was fascinating in its own way.

(me at Wall Drug. like I said, it just isn't the real thing, but I still like men in cowboy hats.)

Friday, July 28

I've just been contemplating how this trip is almost over. I'd lost track of the days this week (shocking...I know) but as I was praying for Jessica in Africa, I realized that if it was the end of July and time for her to come home, it was time for me too. Court and I haven't even done half our driving yet, but we are just a few days for Atlanta. After tomorrow we'll do three straight days of driving and be in Atlanta, and it feels weird.

Initially, I loved the Badlands. We left Wall Drug awing at the sunset, and drove into the park, heading for the campgrounds. We got out once to look over the landscape, having to hold on to our hats in the wind. A sliver of a moon rose over the formations as we drove east. When we got to the campsite the wind was blowing stronger. I declared the arid climate and clear skies to be a sure sign I could sleep without a tent again, though I did fear everything not under me blowing away. Courtney wanted the tent, so we staked and pitched it, doing all we could not to blow away ourselves. I have never experienced wind so strong, and I wish I could give you a mph or words to describe it. If I tell you that the sleeping bag would have blown away, does that help? I slept where I was sheltered from the wind by the tent, but could see all the stars, and look for constellations that I haven't seen again since.

In the middle of the night I was awoken when the wind suddenly stopped. By morning it was still and hot as a dessert, and the sun was so oppressive that breakfast was unpleasant without shade. The temperature was around 105 and there is no shade to be had. We lowered our ambitions for hiking and chose a short hike up some badlands. They are extremely difficult to cross. Besides the sweltering heat and complete lack of shade, the footing is steep and slippery. I cannot imagine leading a horse through it, much less a wagon train. And it went on for miles. It is no wonder that they called it the 'bad lands to cross.'
I guess I might have enjoyed it more if I had seen it in June before it became so hot, but compared to my memory of Utah, South Dakota just didn't do it for me. We spent some time in the air conditioned visitors' center, and then left a day earlier than planned.
It is amazing in this picture, though, ain't it?

This brought us to Minnesota on Saturday night, and as we were looking for a camp site, we listened to Garrison Keillor on Prairie Home Companion tell stories of Lake Wobegone as we drove between corn fields. No joke.

The following night we were in Illinois staying with my cousin Rachel. We spent a short time in Chicago, and I thought it was a nice city. Courtney got her nosed pierced.

The drive the following day - Chicago to Atlanta - was probably the longest of the whole trip, and I can't even begin to describe how weird I felt, and how antsy I became. Weird to be returning back to 'regular life' where I didn't have to store things carefully in a car, pack and unpack my sleeping gear, set up and light a stove when I wanted to eat, and basically spend my energy to survive and enjoy the land. I was anxious about adjusting to this 'normal life' when it felt like what I had been doing was 'really living'. And returning meant going back to work shortly. And mostly returning meant moving into a new house in a new neighborhood. So it was very momentous when we entered the perimeter and passed all familiar sights. I think I made Courtney drive because I almost went insane.

But I've altogether forgotten how much I enjoyed this trip. Camping this week reminded me how much I love it. I think I might go camping this weekend again.

1 comment:

Courtney said...

I have never heard my name mentioned so many times in writing. I enjoyed reading that, when I should have been preparing to teach today, but it has put me in a much cheerier (though still foggy with sleep) mood!