The 2019 Road Trip: The Final Chapter

And so it is time to put these series of blogs out of its misery.   It is time to end this long tale.  I have already said most of what I wanted to say for this last part of the trip, but I did that at the beginning of the story, and you may have already forgotten all of that.  I shall add to the original account that I gave.

After a nice breakfast, we departed the Silver Creek HotelPA170493.jpgand Bellevue for the Sawtooth Mountain National Recreation Area.  The weather was somewhat dreary.  The drive through the mountains was still spectacular, and a little challenging where snow was falling.  Many official facilities in the recreation area were already shut down for the winter, and there were very few people around.   I had planned for a hike at Redfish Lake to be a highlight of the day, but that did not pan out.  The plan finally fell apart at the starting point of the trail.  That impacted my mood the rest of the day.

The little town of Stanley was interesting.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA I posted this other picture of the town in the earlier blog, along with my sense of the town itself.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAStanley was the extent of our northward exploration on the Sawtooth Scenic Byway.PA170525.jpgWe stopped by the road for lunch on our way out of the park.  The traffic was so light, I was able to take this picture.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWe took a short walk in a park along the Big Wood River just before we got to the towns of Sun Valley – Ketcham, Hailey, and Bellevue.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAPA170580.jpgWe did a hike at Shoshone Falls in Twin Falls.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAIt took us some effort to find the actual trail.  We started the walk not knowing where it would take us.  We ended up climbing out of the canyon to get a view of the Falls from a unique vantage point.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAIt looked like the trail extended beyond this point, but we did not explore any further.  We had started out the hike from a point just behind the waterfalls themselves.

We did stop at Dierkis Lake after that.  You can make out the faint outline of the lake at the top right hand corner of the picture above.  It is at the level of the top of the canyon.  Imagine the whole area being originally covered by water, and a river cutting out a canyon after the level of the water dropped, and water left behind from the ocean that previously existed in this space collected in a basin beside the canyon, thus forming a lake.  All this would have happened millions of years ago.  You can read about some of the geology of the place at the Wikipedia page for the Snake River.

By the time we got to Dierkis Lake, the late evening sun lit up the lake in a unique manner.  It turned out to be a small body of water.  Very few people were around.PA170632.jpgOur stop for the night was on the highway to Salt Lake City, at a place called Burley, in Idaho.  The town felt like a regular truck stop along the Interstate for travelers, with its chain motels, restaurants, fast food, and gas stations.  There was nothing remarkable about the place.  We stayed at a Best Western motel and had a simple dinner of “comfort food” (with a beverage, of course) at the Perkins restaurant attached to it.

We did a lot of driving the next day on the way to Salt Lake City.  The stop at Antelope Island was a bit of a disappointment.  Perhaps the experience might have been better if we were able to hike one of the more challenging trails.  The easier trails were not very well maintained.  Here is a picture taken from the park of Salt Lake City in the shadow of the Wasatch Mountains. I thought might be worth sharing.PA180688.jpgWe got to Salt Lake City that evening.

The sights that are in Salt Lake City itself can easily be covered on foot since it is a small place.  Our hotel was also close to downtown.

We spent the next day walking around the city.  Here are some more pictures from Temple Square, the area where the buildings of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (the Mormons) is located.  The building in the picture below is the chapel.  The wall represents the border of Temple Square itself.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe following picture was taken outside the Tabernacle.  We were waiting for a performance. OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe tabernacle building has fantastic acoustics inside.  We could hear a piece of paper being shredded on the stage from far back in the room without any electronic amplification.PA190755.jpgThis is a picture of the famous Mormon temple of Salt Lake City.  It is the only space in the area of Temple Square considered sacred and not accessible to non-believers.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThere were many couples getting married in the temple, and you could see some of the marriage parties gathered all around the building.PA190747.jpgThere are a few other buildings around Temple Square belonging to the Mormons, including a huge office building.  It is probably their headquarters.  In general, you get a sense that the Mormon faith does not ask for any level of asceticism in their practices.

Here are some pictures from our visit to the Utah State Capitol.  The following pictures were taken on the grounds of the facility.  You can see the Wasatch Mountains in the background.  To the right of the picture below is a memorial to Mormon pioneer volunteers who joined the U.S. Army during the Mexican War.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe picture below is taken from the entrance to the Capitol building.  (The entrance is actually to the side of the building rather than its front.)  The spire of the old City Hall appears on the right side in the picture below.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThis is the rotunda of the building itself.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe steps in the picture below lead to the offices of the governing officials, including the governor.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThis is a picture of the Capitol building taken as we departed the area.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe road from the Capitol building into the downtown area is called State Street.PA190801.jpgWe walked through the City Creek Center shopping center on the way back just because we had read about it.  It looked like any other mall.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWe experienced a moment of minor excitement as were were walking back to the hotel. There was a loud sound behind us as we were walking near the station seen below.  (This was a little while before the train in the picture below arrived at the platform.)  We turned to see an older woman who was on a motorized wheelchair toppled over the rails.  She looked disheveled, and I am guessing that she was indigent.  She had been carrying some metal rods on the chair, and they had fallen off.  The footrest on her wheelchair had gotten snagged under the rails.  Luckily, a few of us were able to extricate her from the rails before the train arrived.  Traffic continued to flow around us.PA190817.jpgIn general, from what I saw, I thought that Salt Lake City seemed to have a more compassionate approach than some other places to dealing with the less well off people who are drawn to the bigger cities.  They did  not seem to be aggressive about chasing people away to make the tourists feel better about themselves.

It turned miserably cold on our last evening of the travels, and it started to rain.  After Mass at the Cathedral of the Madeline,PA190832.jpgwe went to dinner at a sushi place. After that, we topped off the gas tank in our rental car.  We had an early morning flight the next day, and there was a threat of early morning snow that could impact our ability to get things done in time and leave town in the morning.  I could feel the cold right down to my bones standing out it the cold at the gas station on a windy night, and was happy to get back to a warm room in the hotel!

Fortunately, the snow held off that night, and we were able to make it to the airport on time without a hassle.  The airport was crowded for that time of the morning.  We had an uneventful flight back home on a aircraft that was packed with travelers.

And that is how this story ends….

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!)

The first of a series of blogs with more details of the trip can be read here.