More about Yellowstone

IMG_5015Today we again are exploring the wonders of Yellowstone National Park. The other tourists never cease to amaze me. Many are older, retired people like us. There are few children as they have all returned to school. The children that you see are pre-school age with a sprinkling of others on the weekend.

Tourists these days see things through the lens of a smart phone. Everyone has a cell phone camera in their pocket and is quick on the draw. Geysers are gushing and steaming and instead of pausing to enjoy the moment, cell phones appear. It is good to have pictures to help you remember an experience, but it is also good to have an experience to remember.

IMG_5018It is the norm to offer to take pictures of couples or families together. Often people come home from a vacation and find they have pictures of each other and pictures of landmarks, but no pictures together.  Tourist protocol says that if someone takes a picture of you, you should then offer to take one of them.

I am amazed by the large number of international tourists. Often I cannot even tell what language is being spoken, much less what they are saying. There are an especially large number of Asian tourists, mostly families and extended family. In Nashville we do not have many tourists from other countries. Or Maybe I just do not hang out where the local tourists do.

Traffic in Yellowstone is overwhelming at times and this is not even the busy season. Speed limits are 45 mph, but many try to drive much faster. Slow traffic, i.e. people   driving at the speed limit, must pull off the two-lane roads and let the dozens of cars lined up behind them go by. I hate to think of what might happen if any of the abundant wildlife tried to cross the road. Worse than the traffic is the parking situation at popular sites. Sometimes you have to keep circling the lot like a vulture until someone eventually leaves.

The park is amazingly clean and free of trash and any advertising. Directional signs are rustic wood. I did not observe anyone throwing rocks or coins into any of the thermal features, which is strictly prohibited by law. I’m sure it happens or they would not need to post signs telling you it is not allowed. You also see many signs telling you to stay on the wooden walks and not to try to walk on the ground around boiling hot springs or geysers where ground can crumble and horrible accidents happen.

There are some features accessible for those with handicaps, but many are not due to steps, steep climbs, or undeveloped pathways. I have never walked so much in my life, long paths to thermal displays or boardwalks around basins. When I start feeling sorry for myself, however, I can look up and see someone with a walker, cane, or brace and figure if they are doing it, surely I can.

Prices around Yellowstone are outrageous. Gasoline is expensive, motels are expensive, and food is expensive. It seems as if everyone is out to gouge the tourists because they can. The rule seems to be to charge as much as the traffic can bear. I know it is Yellowstone, but good grief.

You want to travel and see things. Unfortunately, so does everyone else. The popularity of parks threatens to destroy the very experience that everyone comes here for. Still, it is not the traffic and prices that will be remembered. It is the awesome wonders of nature, memories that last for a lifetime.

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Posted in Wyoming | Tagged , , , , , , ,

Yellowstone

IMG_4996Yellowstone National Park is Mother Nature’s playground where she displays her beauty, power, and magnificence. We saw unbelievable sites yesterday: geysers gushing water and steam, deep springs in various colors of blue, green and red, hot boiling pools of water and bubbling mud, hot steam shooting from pits and caves. Seeing nature’s reality with your own eyes is a moving, almost frightening, experience.

IMG_5035In addition to the thermal features, there are other wonders to observe, deep canyons, powerful waterfalls, a pristine blue lake, high mountains, rushing streams with rapids where trout leap upstream like salmon. If that is not enough, add wild bison, deer, and other animals, all untamed and in their own habitat.

I cannot help feeling a sense of awe as well as a sense of gratitude that this has been preserved for us to see. Native Americans believed the area was sacred. I tend to agree. We must treat it with reverence and respect. We must tread lightly, look, and touch with care. We are the keepers of a gift beyond description. We have inherited the magnificence of  nature where volcanos and wilderness meet and great us.

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Devil’s Tower

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Morris has always wanted to see Devil’s Tower in South Dakota ever since he saw that movie “Close Encounters of the Third Kind” in which the tower is featured prominently as the place where a spaceship landed.

“Didn’t you think it was a good movie? ” he asked.

“It was good for that type of movie,” I told him. I’ve never been a big fan of science fiction. But all I heard from the time we left home was, “When are we going to Devil’s Tower?” It was way off our route, but of course we had to go anyhow.

Devil’s Tower is a geologic feature that protrudes out of the rolling prairie surrounding the Black Hills. It is considered sacred by many Native American tribes. You can see the thing from 10 miles away. When I took geology in college, they said it was hardened manga from an ancient volcano that had eroded away. Now, however, they say it’s an outcropping of igneous rock. Whatever…

They allow climbers on the face of the rock. There were some climbers the day we were there, but they looked like tiny ants from where I was. Most climbers now are free-style climbers. The first people to climb the tower, however, were two local farmers who built a ladder long enough to reach the top. That must have been some ladder.

I asked Mo to drop me off at the Visitors’ Center so I would not have to walk a long way from the parking lot. When I came out, I saw him headed across the parking lot with a camera. I sat down and waited. In an hour he came back out of breath and sweating. “I walked all the way around it,” he said. “I think I saw where the ship landed.”

I guess he didn’t see any aliens or he would have left with them. If he goes, I hope he remembers to leave me the car keys.

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Custer State Park

IMG_4954Custer State Park turned out to be a more than expected. We wanted to see bison, also called American Buffalo. Custer State Park near Mt. Rushmore is home to free roaming wildlife, including bighorn sheep, antelope, prairie dogs and “begging” burros.

The area has several loop trails. We accidentally drove one of them when we followed signs from Mt. Rushmore. The Iron Mountain trail was a series of switchbacks, hairpin curves, and steep mountain roads. In several places, you went under a bridge then looped back to cross over that same bridge. These were called pigtail bridges.  In addition, there were three narrow tunnels only wide enough for one lane of traffic. We managed to get through it all without running off the road or having a head-on collision.

We then drove the Wildlife Loop Trail where we saw herds of bison, bighorn sheep, and burros. Although you were not supposed to approach the animals, people were out of their cars taking pictures and even petting the burros. The last I saw of them in the rear view mirror, one burro had his head in the window of the car.

We had intended to drive the “Needles Loop” an area of unusual granite spires popular with rock climbers, but a storm blew up and we decided driving steep mountain roads in pouring rain and hail was not a good idea.

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Mt. Rushmore

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Mt. Rushmore is… well.. Mt. Rushmore. Who hasn’t seen pictures of the four giant heads carved into a mountain in South Dakato? This is the American Mecca that everyone wants to see. Picture taking is a must for everyone there.

Did you know Mt. Rushmore is a National Monument, not a National Park? Me neither. They have added a big fancy entrance with flags of all the states that I don’t remember being there before. Somehow it seems a bit overdone, but maybe it is just me.

IMG_4924.JPGYou will recall that there are four Presidents represented: George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Theodore Roosevelt, and Abraham Lincoln. The four presidents carved on the mountain were selected because the sculptor thought they represented the most important events in the history of the United States. Most people wonder about Roosevelt, but he probably seemed more important in the sculptor’s time than he does now. Anyhow, its carved in stone and can’t be changed.

One interesting new feature is an ice-cream shop. It is said that Jefferson invented vanilla ice cream. You can buy a scoop of Jefferson Vanilla for a dollar more than the other flavors. Of  course, I had to try it, but it tasted like any other vanilla to me.

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Badlands

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Yesterday we visited Badlands National Park in South Dakota. It has dramatic landscapes of layered rock formations, steep canyons, towering rocks and  scenic outlooks. When we were crossing the grassy foothills preceding the Black Hills, Morris asked, “Is this the badlands?” “No,” I replied with a laugh, “This is the good lands.

The Lakota people were the first to call the place “mako sica” or “land bad” due to extreme temperatures,  lack of water, and rugged terrain. In spite of the name, there is an undeniable beauty about this place. It is as if you have been transported to another world, unlike anything you are familiar with.  You are standing on the face of another planet. The rocks have layers of pink,  yellow and orange sediment that has hardened into rock. Erosion has exposed these layers and given them their unusual shapes.

Both Mo and I really liked our visit to the Badlands. It was completely new to Mo who has never been west before.  Although we spent a considerable amount of time on the winding road through the park, we both felt as if we wanted to spend more time, to really understand the land and its geology.

 

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Pipestone National Monument – SD

IMG_4831“Do you think we have time,” I asked. “I don’t know, what do you think?” Mo replied. After going back and forth a few times, we finally decided to squeeze it in. It is about 50 miles there and 50 miles back from where we spent the night in Sioux Falls, SD. We had already spent about an hour looking at the waterfall in Sioux Falls. Yes, there is actually a waterfall there. Who knew?

We took off through the Great Plains and more flat farmland similar to what we saw in Nebraska. I didn’t realize how much of America is prairie, We eventually arrived and found a 3/4 mile hike involved to see the area of outcropped rock and the quarry. The stone is quarried by Native Americans for making of sacred pipes because it is soft and easy to carve, hence the name “pipestone.”

About halfway on the circle trail hike, there was a rushing creek with a beautiful waterfall. One interesting formation look exactly like a rustic stone face. Because of the beauty of the pinkish stone, natural formations, and stream that wound through the area, I could understand why the Native Americans considered it sacred. Some still go there to pray. The stone is still quarried for pipes, but only by permit, and only by the native people.

 

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Corn Palace – Mitchell SD

 

IMG_4862In Mitchell SD there is an oddity known as the “Corn Palace.” Since we were traveling almost right by it, I wanted to make the small detour to see it. On the Great Plains, cities built grain palaces in the olden days to promote themselves and their products. The original Mitchell palace was a wooden castle structure., but it was rebuilt several times. It has Russian onion domes and Moorish minarets.

It is a somewhat grotesque structure standing in all of its garish ugliness, impossible to ignore. This time the murals made of corn cobs featured pictures of Willie Nelson and Elvis Presley. If that was not bad enough, there was also a street fair going on in front of it. The food items were all related to corn; such as, corn dogs, corn curls, corn tacos, etc.

Now my favorite thing in the entire junk food world is kettle corn. I could not pass by the booth selling it. I bought two medium bags, one for me and one for Mo, while he figured out how to get his oversized camera to work. When I looked around trying to find him, he was buying a large bag of kettle corn and engaging the farmer in a conversation about breeding dogs, which the old man apparently did when not selling popcorn or farming.

We couldn’t find anything else we liked, so we ended up having kettle corn for lunch. And we will probably have it for several days to come since we bought so much.

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Nebraska

IMG_4795.JPGDriving from Kansas City to Sioux Falls  on I-29, the road is in the Missouri River Valley. One side of road is flat floodplain, very fertile land. There are fields of corn, silos, and granaries. The other side of the highway has river bluffs and large farms. Even though it is very flat, there are few windmills, unlike Kansas. As the song says, “I can see for miles  and miles and miles.”

The area has a lot of history and at least 10 different Native American tribes have inhabited it, living on the once plentiful buffalo. Lewis and Clark explored the area when exploring the Missouri River. It became part of the USA with the Louisiana purchase. Pioneers came in covered wagons and the land is now mostly agricultural. Farm animals are notably absent.

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Westward Ho

Well, actually it is not “Westward Ho,” it’s “Northward Ho.” The first leg of our journey took us north from Nashville to St. Louis. The trip was pretty uneventful unless you count almost missing our exit. My sister lives north of the city, so we were supposed to exit at 255. I thought Mo knew the way, and I had mentioned getting off there previously. It isn’t as if we have not made the exact same trip dozens of times. Anyhow, we ended up crossing over two highway mediums to get into the right lane and made the exit without being killed.

We spent the night at my sister’s house and she will leave us at this point and stay in St. Louis. This morning we will head west to Kansas City and then north again to Sioux City or Sioux Falls. I can’t remember which. I will dust off my new GPS so we can get step-by step directions and I hope we will not miss any more exits.

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