The 2019 Road Trip: Yellowstone – Day 2

It was another cold morning in Park Spring, Idaho, but not as bad as the previous one.  OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWe had to depart the cabin that we had been staying in for two nights and move on to the next destination.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe eyes on the deer seemed to be following me through the house as we prepared to leave.  I could not make out any particular expression.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAI turned over the driving responsibility for the day to Jesse.  This allowed me to better see what was going on all around us as we drove to the park.   Here you can see one of the big ranches that we passed.  There was a lot of cattle and horses out there.  We were wondering how the animals survive out in the sub-freezing temperatures of the night.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWe passed through West Yellowstone for the last time.  A search in the town for Yaktrax, cleats that you put over your shoes to let you walk more easily on snow and ice, was unsuccessful.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWe had forgotten to take our obligatory National Park picture at the entrance of Yellowstone earlier during our visit.  We took the pictures that morning.  In case you are wondering, the other side of this sign welcomes you to the park.  We chose to take the picture from this direction because of the direction of the sunlight.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe fly fishermen were out in the rivers early in the morning.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe first stop within the park was roadside at Beryl Spring.

Steam rose from below the boardwalk as we walked from the parking lot.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAFumes filled the air from the fumaroles.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERABeryl Spring is supposed to be the hottest spring within the park, with temperatures close to boiling.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe combination of the steam with the below freezing air temperature made for interesting formations.  We were thinking that some of these scenes would have been suitable for Christmas cards.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe ice crystals formed delicate patterns on the leaves.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe next stop was Artists Paintpots.  We had to walk a little bit to get to the terrace where the underground activity was obvious.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAYou can climb a hill behind the terrace from which you get a view of the activity below youOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAand also some of the venting activity on the hillside.

The small holes in the ground in the pictures below allow gases and steam under pressure to escape from below.  The symmetry of the hole below was interesting to see,OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAand also the manner in which the deposits can grow with time.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWater bubbled out of the mud pots.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWe could see both levels of the trail as we walked back to the parking lot.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe next stop was the Norris Geyser Basin.  The trails were a little tricky in this location because of snow and ice.  Some of us walked to one of the terraces.  We followed a small loop in the back basin.

This area has the tallest geyser in the world, Steamboat geyser.  Here it is before it eruptsOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAand here is an eruption in progress.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe sound that emanates from the Vixen geyser below, and its appearance, is quite unique and notable.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThere were many geysers and hot springs of different kinds in this area.  Apparently, they are caused by the faults running below the ground in this particular section of the park. These faults allow moisture to seep into the ground through the cracks, and through the crust, into the thin mantle of the earth and close to the magma bubble beneath.  What is interesting is that every geyser has its own personality and character.  It could be in the size, the timing, in the noise that it generates, the nature of output – clear water spray vs. the spraying of drops, the pattern of eruption, etc.  And all of these characteristics change with time as the dynamic underground forces impact the crust above it.  Unfortunately, some of the changes are due to the humans who have been visiting Yellowstone.  One of the geysers closed due to visitors throwing rocks into the vent for their own amusement.  It is a disappointment that we humans indulge in this kind of destructive behavior even today, and not just in the context of taking care of the nature around us.

This is a general picture of the activity going on in the back basin.  In the background, on the hill in the midst of the trees, is steam rising from some kind of geological activity in the ground.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe area in front of us in the picture below is called the Porcelain basin.  There is a trail that runs through it.  We had no time to explore further.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThis is a picture of the venting in the Porcelain basin.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAIt was tricky walking back to the car in the snow and ice.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOur next stop was at Canyon Village.  They had an interesting museum with a focus on the geological history of Yellowstone.  There are very few places in the world where the forces inside the earth are close enough to the surface to be revealed to us.  Iceland and Hawaii are two other such regions.

We took a drive to Inspiration Point on the north rim of the Grand Canyon of Yellowstone.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWe then went to Artist Point on the south rim of the canyon.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThese are views of the Yellowstone river and the lower falls from Artist Point.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWe walked from another parking lot on the south rim to get a closer view of the upper falls.  The view might have been more impressive from the North Rim, but the parking lot there was closed.PA120619.jpgThis was going to be our last day at Yellowstone.  We began our drive south towards Jackson and the Grand Tetons.

On the way, while still in Yellowstone, we stopped to see Sulphur Caldron, considered the most acidic hot spring in Yellowstone.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThere was a newly formed vent in the parking lot.  It was cordoned off.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOur final stop in the park was at the location called Mud Volcano.  We had to walk a trail up a hill to get to the location of the activity.  This area was interesting because of all the “mud” activity.  The picture below was a scene next to the parking lot.  I believe it is called the Mud Caldron.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA Here is a bubbling mud spring half way up Cooking Hillside, with mud flowing out of it all the way to the bottom of the hill.  I think it is called Sizzling Basin. There are bubbles constantly coming out of the muddy surface, like the surface of a sizzling pan.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThis is Churning Caldron.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThis is Black Dragon Caldron.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThis is Mud Volcano.  It stopped erupting a long time ago.  It is now just a hot spring.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERADragons Mouth Spring.PA120693.jpgAs we drove south, we came upon a section where a single coyote was hunting for food in the grass beside the trail.  We stopped for a little while to take in the action.PA120697.jpgOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe sun was setting as we left the park.   It was a pretty sunset over the lake with the Tetons in the distance to our right.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe sun set behind the Tetons a short while later.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThere was a full moon out.  I tried to get a picture of the moon but did not do too well.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWe stopped at Jackson for dinner.  We went to  Pica’s Mexican Taqueria in a Hispanic side of town.  It was a small place serving the locals with authentic food.  They had some canned local beers that satisfied my thirst.  A huge heaping of fajita vegetables and chicken satisfied my hunger.

Then it was on to the town of Victor for the night, crossing the Teton Pass into Idaho once again.  This was something that we did several times during the trip.

It was not difficult to find the cabin that we were going to stay in that night.  We were very happy to find a spacious place with all the modern amenities, and best of all, two full bathrooms!

The house seemed to be located on a plain in the middle of nowhere.  We got a better idea of our surroundings the next morning.  I took a few pictures of the clear sky before we went to bed.  I still need to develop my skills when it comes to taking nighttime shots.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAAnd that was it for the long day!

The 2019 Road Trip: Yellowstone – Day 1

It was very, very, cold the the next morning. According to the weather app, the local temperature was about -3° F outside when we woke up.  Fortunately, we did not have to go out immediately.  A breakfast of cooked oats and hot coffee warmed us up for the outdoors.  I made sure to start the car up early to try to warm it up for others.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOur first stop  was the West Yellowstone airport. Our rental car company had a counter there where we could register another driver for the car.  The airport itself was quite tiny, and it was about to close for the winter.

Traffic in the town of West Yellowstone was light as we drove through.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAAfter entering the park we drove for a while by the Madison river.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAAt a place called Madison, we took the road going north towards our first destination of the day – Mammoth Hot Springs.  The other option would have been to take the road south towards Old Faithful.  Our plan was to head to Old Faithful later in the day.

During our drives, there were sometimes places where steam rose from close to, or even  underneath, the roadway.  There were parking lots  to pull into to take in the sights.  This particular place where we stopped was called Terrace Spring.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAYou can see the steam and hot water bubbling out of the ground in the picture below.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWhen you stop at places like this, you usually walk on boardwalks that have been put in place.  This protects you from the unstable ground under.

The recent snowfall made things a little tricky on this boardwalk. In order to prevent contamination, the park avoids the use of salt and other chemicals to melt snow and ice from their boardwalks and roads.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWe stopped for pictures at Gibbon Falls on the Gibbon river.  The parking lot for this view was just beside the road.  The Gibbon flows into the Madison river.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe meadows were covered with a light layer of snow.  We saw bison close by in one of these meadows.  I took pictures with my zoom lens.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWe drove through the Golden Gate Canyon that connects Mammoth Hot Springs to the the rest of the park.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWe stopped at the parking lot for the Mammoth Hot Springs Terraces.  It was time for lunch.  Our sandwiches were made with peanut butter and banana, a combination that, along with the steel cut oats that we had eaten in the morning, created a lot of extra activity on my digestive system.  It was good to be able to walk it off in the open air.

From the area of the hot springs, one could see Fort Yellowstone below us.  A visitor center and park headquarters is located there today.   OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA It was possible to take a trail from where we were to the fort.  Instead, we decided to walk on the Upper Terrace Loop Drive.  The road was closed to motorized traffic, probably because of road conditions in certain sections.PA110201.jpgThis is one of the formations we came upon during the walk.  It is called the Orange Spring Mound.  It was formed over many years by the deposition of the minerals from  the water (steam) emanating from the earth. OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThis is called the White Elephant Back Terrace.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe area below is called Angel Terrace.  You can see the interaction of the hot water with the fresh snow.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWe drove down to Fort Yellowstone.  The visitor center at Fort Yellowstone proved to be one of the smaller ones in the park.

We stopped to look at some of the activity on the lower terrace of Mammoth Spring on our way back from Fort Yellowstone.PA110232.jpgThen it was on to Old Faithful.

During our drives we saw people fly fishing in many of the rivers and creeks.  The folks would be right out there in the middle of the water flow in their waterproof waders.  They did not seem to be feeling the cold.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWe headed straight for the geyser after getting to the parking lot at the Visitor Center for Old Faithful.  It was fortunate that we did this because the geyser put up a show and erupted within a few minutes of our arrival.  It was perfect timing.

It all looked benign when the activity started.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe geyser built up steam slowly.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAIt peaked.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAAnd then the wind began to carry the steam high into the sky!OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe activity was over within a few minutes.  Old Faithful erupts about once every hour and a half these day.   It used to erupt once an hour in the past.

A stop at the Visitor Center allowed us to catch one of the videos that they have about a park.  We make it a point to try to see these videos whichever national park we happen to be in.

It was time to start making our way back to Park Island.

We ended up making two stops along the way. One was at the Black Sand Basin. It was going to be a quick drive by, but I was intrigued enough by what I saw that we spent a little more time.

This picture shows the different colored minerals that are being deposited on the rocks from the hot water and steam coming out of the earth.  The colors are muted in the picture below because the sun was  setting behind a mountain at this point when I took the picture. OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe following pictures were taken on the Fountain Paint Pot trail further along the drive back to Park Island.  We walked along a boardwalk.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThere was a section of the boardwalk here that was so slippery that only two of us followed the loop to its end to get back to the car.  Others retraced their paths in order to get back.

The Paint Pot walk was the last stop for us within the park that day.  In general, there were many more locations where one could have stopped to experience the wonderland that is Yellowstone National Park.

On the way back, we stopped in West Yellowstone once again for dinner.  The place we ate at was called Beartooth Barbecue.  The food was good, and the place was crowded.  They told us that they were about to shut down operations for the winter.

Back in our log cabin in Park Island, we were hoping that the heating issues would have been addressed.  Unfortunately, that was not the case.  Fortunately, the temperatures had risen a little bit – but it was still below freezing in the night.

I cannot remember much more of what happened that evening.  This was going to be our last night in Park Island.  We were going to drive through Yellowstone towards the Grand Tetons the next day.

The 2019 Road Trip: Beginnings

The first day was a very long travel day.  The family was going to gather in Wyoming, and get ready for the visits to the National Parks that were starting the next day.

We departed from BWI in the early afternoon. OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA Arrival at Salt Lake City, UT, was in the early evening after a flight that lasted more than four hours.  Angela landed up separately at about the same time.  We picked up the rental car and began our drive towards Jackson, WY, as soon as we could.   Very soon we were off the highway and driving north over smaller roads along the border of Idaho and Wyoming, with instructions being given to me every so often to turn either left or right from one road to another.  This being the boondocks in the western states, the speed limits on these roads were quite high.   Nevertheless, it took us about 5 hours to cover the distance and get to our destination.

Throughout our drive to Jackson, we were in touch with Christina and Jesse who were landing at Jackson Hole later in the evening.    We all ended up meeting up at the restaurant for the Roadhouse Brewing Company in Jackson rather late in the evening just before the kitchen was about to close.  We were hungry and thirsty.  It had been a while since we had our lunch at BWI airport.  The craft beer was welcome after the long drive.  The food was good.

It was well past my normal bedtime by the time we started our drive from Jackson to Driggs, ID, to our place for the night.  Very soon after we left town the road began to climb up the mountainside to the Teton Pass.  We were warned about 10% grades!  And then the snow also started falling.  I had to slow down further on the winding mountain road.  It was a little challenging.  We crossed into Idaho after descending from the Teton Pass.  We had a few more miles to drive after that to get to Driggs.

It was close to midnight (Mountain time!) by the time we located the place we were staying that night.  I crashed out very soon.  I was dead tired.

It was quite cold when we woke up the next morning, well below freezing.  There was also a thin layer of snow on the car.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERACoffee was being made in the house, but, this being the first morning of the trip, we were not prepared for breakfast.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAJesse and I drove into the main section of town to pick up something to eat.  While we were there, we went to the local tire store to have the tires on the vehicle checked out since the low pressure indicator had come on.  We were told that there was most likely nothing wrong with the tires.  The change in the air temperature made events like the low pressure indicator coming on fairly common.  It turned out to be the correct diagnosis.  The indicator light went off after a few hours of driving.  This phenomenon repeated itself the next day.

The objective for the first day was to drive towards Yellowstone National Park.  We would have to drive north through Grand Teton National Park in order to get there.   The goal was to get to our place for the night by evening time.  This was going to be primarily a driving day. We would be driving into Yellowstone from the South entrance and leaving for our place for the evening through the West entrance (or exit, in this case).

After getting ready for the day and repacking our stuff back into our vehicle, we drove back towards Wyoming and Jackson. We had prepared ourselves for a very cold day.  We had to drive through the Teton Pass once again, this time in the opposite direction.  This being our first day in the mountains, we had to stop every once in a while to enjoy our surroundings and the recently fallen snow.  We had not been able to see anything the previous night.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAIt was snowing once again by the time we got to the top of Teton pass.  Jackson lay in the valley in front of us, but the view was not very clear because of the precipitation.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA It was also very windy and brutally cold at the top of the pass, something that we were not that well prepared for.  We had to take to obligatory pictures quickly.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA We stopped at the supermarket in Jackson to pick up some supplies for the next few days, and then we were on our way.

Soon we were beginning to get our first views of the Tetons – covered with a layer of fresh snow!OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOur first stop was to be the car rental place at Jackson Hole airport.  The reason for the stop was to add one more driver to the list of people allowed to drive the rental vehicle.  Unfortunately, our rental company did not have a booth in the airport.  We had made the mistake of not stopping at their office in the town of Jackson on the way.  I was going to have to drive the rest of the day since we did not have a registered second driver.  The next opportunity for us to add such would be at the town of West Yellowstone in Montana, on the way to the place we were staying at for a couple of nights.

The airport lies in the vast valley to the east of the Tetons.  I thought the background for the airport was stunning.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe drive took us on the highway to the east of the Snake river.

Over millions of years, the river has carved out a meandering path over the plain.  The layering of the erosion that happened at different times in the history of the river clearly shows, and can be studied more carefully from a few viewpoints.  You can also drive down to today’s river side.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOn the way towards Yellowstone, we took a detour to the east towards a location that was supposed to have good views. We ended up driving through a snow storm.  On the other side of the storm we arrived at a section of the Continental Divide and decided that this was a far as we would head in this direction.  The views were not as great as we expected.  We turned back after getting some nourishment into us.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThis was a view of the Teton Mountains on our drive back to the park.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWe passed an entrance to the Grand Teton National Park and stopped to take the obligatory picture.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThis was another view of the Grand Tetons as we were driving beside the Snake river.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWe had to actually drive through an entrance gate for Grand Teton NP, and then for a little while along a highway, before we got to the entrance for Yellowstone.  At that point we discovered that one of the roads that was closed because of the weather was the one that went past the famous geyser, Old Faithful. This was the road that provided the most direct route to our destination for the night. Fortunately, the roads in Yellowstone form a loop, and we could come around to where we needed to be by driving around in the other, longer, direction.  Instead of going clockwise in the loop, we went anti-clockwise.IMG_20191010_155208450_HDRIt was only now that we also began to realize that we had come to the park when things were beginning to shut down in general.  In fact, the first Visitor Center that we went to at Grant Village, on the shore of the West Thumb of Lake Yellowstone, was about to close for the rest of the year.  There were also no ranger-led tours for the rest of the year.

We drove by Lewis Lake and Lewis Falls during the early section of the drive within Yellowstone.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWe got onto the road that ran along the west shore of Lake Yellowstone.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERADuring the rest of the drive towards the west entrance of Yellowstone we drove past a our first herd of bison, backlit in the sun that was beginning to set.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOn our way out of the park, we stopped at the town of West Yellowstone to get some dinner before proceeding towards Island Park and our place for the night.  We ate at what was rated to be the best restaurant in town.  It was called the Wild West Pizzeria and Saloon.  The place was busy and the pizza was good.  The massive saloon area next to the restaurant seating had a native feel.  I might have felt a little uncomfortable hanging out in that section of the establishment.

The town of West Yellowstone itself had its own unique feel.  It is a small place and does not have the more modern and very touristy feel of a place like Jackson.  From the nature of the buildings and the signs, I imagined being in a western town in a different place and time, perhaps in the movies.  Things shut down for the winter.  There are no supermarkets.  I did not see any chain motels.  Even the grocery store had character.  The population definitely appeared to to be more homogeneous than I am used to experiencing.  We did see a Chinese restaurant, and the some of the service staff at the restaurant that we ate at appeared to be Hispanic.

We had to drive a further distance from West Yellowstone to get to Island Park.  We drove from Montana into Idaho during this drive.  The road conditions were still a little dicey from snowfall.  The local road that we drove onto in Island Park was covered with snow.   (I found out later that the Toyota Highlander Sports Utility Vehicle (SUV) that I was driving was an All Wheel Drive vehicle.  It was a free upgrade from the intermediate size SUV that I had originally booked with the rental company.  That was a good thing!)  We had good traction and clearance, which was especially important when we got on to the snow-covered and uneven gravel road that led to the log cabin we were staying at.

The cabin was real nice, except that it got very, very, cold that night, and we had issues with the gas fireplace and the heating in the house.  The adults slept in the bedroom downstairs, that had its own heating.  The kids slept upstairs in the attic.

Four States, Two National Parks, and much more

The name 30-60-30 was suggested at one point during the later part of this trip.  After all, the trip was meant to be a celebration of two 30th birthdays, and one 60th, all taking place in the order noted above.   It had been in the works for a while, and it was taking place in spite of fractured elbows that had gotten in the way of another 60th birthday celebration trip.  That particular one had gotten cancelled a couple of weeks earlier.  This one was a get-together with the kids, and a visit to the National Parks of Yellowstone and the nearby Grand Tetons, after which the two of us were to set off on adventures of our own, extending the trip to visit the Sawtooth Mountains in Idaho and then also spend some time in Salt Lake City.  During this trip, we were to travel through the states of Utah, Wyoming, Idaho and Montana.

It has been a few days since we finished the trip.  I have been unsure about how to put this one into the record books.  Should it be summarized in one blog?  Should it be broken up into a day by day, blow by blow, description?  How should I use the hundreds of pictures that I took related to this story?  What should I emphasize and where will particular pictures fit in?  I have decided on a “hybrid” approach.  Only time will tell how this will turn out.

Traveling in this part of the country is mostly about the outdoors.  Besides the parks that visitors come to see, this part of the country is occupied by large ranches and farms where cultivation of crops and the raising of animals takes place.   The properties are huge, and it takes specialized equipment and vehicles to manage the large spaces.  Some ranches have animals grazing in them as far as the eye can see – primarily cows and horses.  In many places the landscape is dotted with massive irrigation systems that can water significant chunks of farmland in short time.  And then there are the open and rugged lands that are more sparsely occupied.

Yellowstone National Park was a pleasant surprise for me.  I was expecting the geyser Old Faithful to be the primary attraction, after which I expected to be done with the park, but I found out that the land that this huge park occupies is truly a wonderland.   The Yellowstone Caldera is a massive ancient volcano basin where the volcanic activity has brought the heat and fury of the inner earth very close to its surface.  The super-hot magma lies close enough to the crust to have a visible impact all over the park.   Steam rises into the air everywhere.  There are very few places in the world like this.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAHot springs,OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAgeysers,OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA fumaroles,OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAmud pits,OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA and all other combinations of phenomena that result from steam, hot water and hot mud rising out of the earth result. The throwing up, churning and/or bubbling of the water, or mud, is continuous as the underground forces are released.  The air is filled with fumes with different smells.  OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAIt is an amazing place.

The cold temperatures that we experienced in the park lent an additional beauty to the scene.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA Then there is the Grand Canyon of Yellowstone.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThis is very much a geologically active area.  In one location, steam has erupted from the pavement in a parking lot.  You are warned everywhere in the park to keep to the boardwalk.  The crust is thin.  You do not want to fall into a hole that opens up beneath you.  Neither would you want to be there when subterranean forces burst out of the ground.

Yellowstone covers a huge area, and it takes a few days to get around to the different locations. So, if you visit, plan to spend enough time, perhaps a few days. It is one of those places well worth having on your bucket list.

The Grand Tetons are a different experience.   The massive, rugged, and majestic massif that rises in a straight line up out of the flat plateau dominate the scene.  Geologically, the Teton mountains rise along a fault line.  Over a period of millions of years,  the land on one side of the fault line was uplifted because the land on the two sides of the fault line pushed against each other.  This process ended up raising and exposing really old rock in a relatively new mountain range.  Imagine the nature of the forces that are powerful enough to actually create majestic mountains! Geology is fascinating.

The experience of the Grand Teton National Park is mainly about its beauty and the outdoor activities that are possible.

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The Tetons rise behind Jackson Hole airport
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The breadth of the Teton mountain range
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Sunset behind the mountains
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Mountains and Lakes
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Chapel of the Transfiguration, Grand Teton National Park

 

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In the evening

In many sections of both the parks the roads ran along, or crossed, mountain rivers and streams.  The main rivers that I noted were the Yellowstone River, a tributary of the Missouri, that flowed to the north through the parks, and the Snake River, a tributary of the Columbia, that flowed to the south through the parks.  There are a few large and very pretty lakes whose bright and clear blue color catches your attention immediately on a sunny day.

We arrived at the parks at a time when the weather was much colder than it usually is at this time of the year.  We had to be bundled up in layers to stay warm, and there was snow and ice to be tackled on some of the trails.  The kids were instrumental in making sure we could navigate some of the more slippery trails without incident and additional damage to elbows.  There was some tricky driving involved on a couple of occasions.  Driving up and down the winding mountain road through the Teton Pass in the falling snow on a dark night after a long day of driving from Salt Lake City to Jackson Hole was an interesting challenge.  Waking up to below zero degrees (Fahrenheit!) temperatures in Island Park in Idaho one morning was a unique experience.  We spent two very cold nights in a nice (but somewhat cold) cabin there.  Fortunately, it warmed up somewhat – to closer to freezing temperatures – during the day as we drove into the park.

There are many kinds of animals to be seen in Yellowstone and the Grand Tetons, but we encountered only a few of them, including those in the pictures below.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWe did spend a lot of time looking for moose, and also hoping that we would not run across bears when we were by ourselves. Only the bears cooperated.  A couple of people in the car managed to catch sight of a moose one day, but there was no place to stop for the rest of the folks in the car to get a view.  We came back to the same area of the park a few times without success.

The kids left us after our explorations of Yellowstone and the Grand Tetons.  It was quality time that was well spent, and without their assistance we could not have been able to experience all that we did.  After their departure, the two of us headed out further west in our rental car.

Our destination was the Sawtooth National Recreation area. Along the way,  we stopped at the Craters of the Moon National Monument.  This is a really strange place with bizarre landscape.  The remains of ancient lava flows and their aftereffects dominate the area, making the place look like it is of another world.PA160360.jpgApparently astronauts come here occasionally to train.  There are some caves that have formed in this area, and I managed to crawl in and out of one of these and do some exploration (spelunking?!) without hurting myself.  The area of the Craters of the Moon is active from a volcanic perspective.  The National Park Service site states “The time between eruptive periods in the Craters of the Moon Lava Field averages 2,000 years and it has been more than 2,000 years since the last eruption.”

The drive past this park took us through the area occupied by the Idaho National Laboratory, a place that I had not known about before.  Apparently, this is one of the historical centers of nuclear research in the country.  It is still active.  There are a few nuclear reactors still in the area, and nuclear waste is also stored here.  I suppose the location makes sense considering how sparsely populated this part of Idaho is, and how far it is from major population centers.

We spent the night in a small town called Bellevue in the Sun Valley area of Idaho before heading for the Sawtooth Mountains that lay further to the north.  As with our drives earlier on in the trip, this one was spectacular. This was in spite of the fact that the weather did not cooperate too much in the early part of the day.  We had to drive through intermittent events of rain and snow fall.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAJust beyond a mountain pass over Galena mountain, we arrived at the headwaters of the Salmon river, also called the “The River of No Return”.  We drove onward to the town of Stanley.  The place looked like it was out of a Western Movie, but a more modern version. OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAIt felt like the major form of transportation in this part of the world was the pickup truck.  The popular fashion statement seemed to involve clothing with camouflage design on it.  The Salmon river flows past Stanley on its way north along this section of the road.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAIn general, many of the small towns that we drove through in the countryside during this trip could be considered “cute”.  The few commercial buildings in town would mostly be centered around the one main traffic intersection on a main road.  There could be the town’s only traffic light at the intersection.  There was usually a gas station.  The towns that were not too far from the tourist areas would have a few  restaurants and drinking holes, and perhaps a motel or two, some of them new and modern.  I did notice a Buddhist establishment in at least one town.  Young people seem to find jobs in some of these places.  Perhaps they keep them alive.

The stop at Shoshone Falls in the town of Twin Falls, Idaho, took place the same evening that we visited the Sawtooth Mountains. It happened because of an encounter we had the previous day at the Craters of the Moon.  A fellow visitor had shown us pictures she had taken of the place.  The waterfalls are impressive. They are also called the Niagara of the West.   The waterfalls happened to be on our way back to Salt Lake City.   Not many people visit, although we did see the obligatory busload of Chinese tourists.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWe spent a significant part of the next day on our way back to Salt Lake City at Antelope Island, located on the Great Salt Lake.  Antelope Island hosts a popular state park and is reached by driving over a causeway from the mainland.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe island is dedicated to outdoor activities.  We were limited in what we could do because of the pre-trip injuries. We did a little bit of hiking on the easier trails.  In general,  these trails were not that well maintained, nor well marked.

We made it to a beach to check out the salinity of the water.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAYou do get a view of Salt Lake City from a distance from certain viewpoints on the island.    The Wasatch mountains dominate the background.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAI was hoping to see more of the local flora and fauna on the island.  That did not happen.

The final day was spent visiting the sights in Salt Lake City.  The city is small enough that you can cover it on foot.  The main attraction is Temple Square, where you can see the outside of the Mormon Temple, and visit their chapel and Tabernacle.  They have visitor centers where you can learn more about Mormonism.  It is an interesting experience, and there is no pressure.  Salt Lake City is the seat of the Mormon religion.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWe caught a performance on the organ at the Tabernacle. PA190756.jpgAfter a visit to the nearby Utah State Capital Building,OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAwe headed back to our hotel.  Autumn was very much in the air in Salt Lake City.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWe went to the Saturday evening service at the Cathedral of the Madeline later on in the day,  went out for dinner at a sushi restaurant after that, and finally called it a day.

And that was the end of the vacation and the visit to the four northwest states.

We flew back to Maryland the next morning.  OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA(That’s Salt Lake City in the background in the picture above!)

There’s A Train Coming

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe picture I took was not what I wanted, in fact it was not a good picture. I had clicked on the camera without getting the subject matter into focus.

But there was something about the picture that ended up generating certain feelings that seemed to come from my gut.   There was a certain sense of mystery.  There was the train appearing out of the dark, headed down the track back into the dark unknown, not knowing exactly what lies beyond, lighting up the tracks and the night ahead of it, trying to find its way through the darkness of the night.

 

Returning Home at Journey’s End

Heading back after a morning out on the river.

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A man and his dog
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The couple and their dog
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The paddleboarder

These pictures were taken at the location where Seneca Creek meets the Potomac river in Montgomery County in Maryland.  Many people start their travels on the river from the creek.  This is also the location of Riley’s Lock on the C&O Canal.

Ishmael, and the March of Civilization (2/17/2013)

Have any of you read the book Ishmael by Daniel Quinn?  Christina had come upon the book in Guinee, and had suggested that we also read it so that we could talk about it.  It is a fascinating book, with a neat premise, but it does take some discipline to get through.  Anyway, why did I bring this up?  It was because my mind wandered into the realm of the absurdness of what our civilization is all about while I was on the trail this morning.  I am not going to get into the book any more, except to say that it explores the concept of takers and leavers. If you have not read the book and the subject intrigues you, please do give it a read and give me your impression..OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERABut why have I opened up this subject?  Fortunately or unfortunately, this is the sort of thing that happens to me on the trail.  After my body adjusted itself to the the freezing cold of the morning, the mind essentially wandered into this topic.  The initial phase of mental activity is usually a cleansing of all the bad things that happened during the week, during which I allow myself to literally scream at the emptiness around me, where nobody can hear me.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAGetting past this phase can take varying amounts of time depending on what actually happened during the week, and then this is replaced by an emptiness of the mind that allows it to wander wherever else it chooses to do so.  So here I am, a mad mind let loose.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOnto the subject of this random monologue…    To start with, I think there is no counter-argument to the fact that over the centuries human beings have made significant advancements in many different areas and facets of life.   We have a gained immense knowledge about things around us and even within us.  We are capable of exploration everywhere, from the smallest scale of things, right down to subatomic particles, all the way to the largeness of the universe and the cosmos around us, with limitations placed only by the current technology and the costs of indulging in such explorations.  As humans, we are also capable today doing a lot of things, some of which would have been considered unthinkable even a few years ago.  We tend to take a lot of this for granted today.  For example, flying through the air at great speeds in extremely complicated machines would have been unimaginable even a century ago.  We have instant communications today literally in the palm of our hands, by transmitting invisible waveforms through the air and by even connecting everybody and everything through the Internet.  We explore space using powerful machines and clever technologies that allows devices to operate by themselves on far away planets. Interventions to extend human life that include fixing of all kinds of internal plumbing and even mechanical replacements are commonplace today. Improvements to our capabilities to provide food and nourish human growth have resulted in major extensions to human life.  It is all like magic!

So what happens as a result of all this wonderful capability.  While there is much more to learn and become more aware of of the world around us today, more of the people who have access to all kinds of resources have stopped thinking.  You have the mindlessness of the societies that are supposedly doing well, that are completely self-absorbed, that are immersed in entertainment based pastimes using the new “toys” that the technical advancements have brought, and I will say that people have become dumber and less capable of learning and understanding things, and thinking and surviving.  I was reading the news about the “suffering” of the folks who were on a cruise last week when the they lost power on the ship and the engines gave up, and they had to survive for a few days in this condition before they reached shore.  Oh, the horror!  And I was thinking about the living conditions in a country like Guinee and how those folks (including the Peace Corp Volunteers) would probably look at the complaints of the the well-to-do Americans and laugh.  Who is the better off, who is the happier, who is the person closer to reality?

We have made so many medical and nutritional advancements on earth that life expectancy has increased over time.  But are we going overboard by keeping people alive regardless of circumstances just because the technology allows us to do so?  At what cost do we do this?  Are the people affected really happy about this?  Under what conditions do they live their extended lives?  Populations are also increasing and we are using more and more of the resources around us to keep this up.  We have introduced genetics into the process of food consumption so that we can be more efficient, and pretty soon we will be using this kind of capability in various other ways to extend our lives even further.  We will even mess with our DNA.  At the same time there is immense waste of food on a massive scale, and there is so much inequality that while we are growing stupid super-humans in one part of the world, people are still starving in other parts of it and living by the seat of their pants.  And we are slowly destroying the world we live in while we are about it. Are we even stopping to think about where we are heading?  We talk about progress, but there are consequences for the kind of progress that we are making that are too inconvenient and perhaps even difficult to grasp.

And then when we do not understand things, or we need some sort of justification for what we do, we can look to the supernatural to try and answer our questions and give things “purpose”.  Yes, there has to be a meaning to everything that exists, and everything has been put into place for a reason, and we are the  focus for everything that goes on in the cosmos. Is this not some form of arrogance?

This is all too absurd!

Who are we – takers and leavers?  My hats off to those of you who are actually trying to make a difference in other people’s lives in very direct ways.  To me that is what life should be all about.

And enough of this nonsense for the time being.  Sorry folks to subject you to my madness….OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

kuria