Road Trip 2009
The good pictures...
- 13 days
- 4,300 Miles
- 32 mpg average overall
- 1 speeding ticket
- 3,000 grasshoppers killed
- Day 1 - Home to Spokane
The first day of a road trip for me is usually a little dull - usually covering very familiar territory, bypassing interesting things in favor of pushing down the road as far as possible. We got into Spokane early enough in the evening to enjoy a little sight-seeing around town. At the recommendation of at least a dozen different people, we stayed at the historic Davenport Hotel. It is a beautiful facility, nicely restored to at least a semblance of its former glory.
- Day 2 - Spokane to Yellowstone
The 'big event' for today is the superfund site in Butte, Montana known as the Berkeley Pit (wiki article). I know, this seems like an odd focal destination for a road trip, but remember, my wife is a nurse with a huge interest in population based healthcare, and disasters like this really get her going! This was actually her second choice, but her first choice Libby, Montana (an asbestos disaster of epic proportions (wiki article)) was a little out of the way. Also, of tangential interest from a community health perspective is the Dumas Brothel (wiki article), also in Butte, operated legally from 1890 until 1982.
Butte has representative late 19th century western architecture and a beautiful view of the valley. Much of the historic significance of the city is lost in the current ecological and economic issues plaguing the region. Many of the beautiful and historic buildings are in disrepair.
Proceeding south towards Yellowstone we passed the Helmet and Sphinx mountains, Hebgen and Earthquake Lakes on our way to our ultimate destination at Mammoth Hot Springs in Yellowstone National Park.
- Day 3 - Yellowstone - Lamar Valley, Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone, Norris Geyser Basin
I've been to Yellowstone a couple of times over the years - my first visit was in 1981 - but never bothered to run out toward the NE entrance and the Lamar Valley. My focus has always been more the geothermal features of the region and less about the scenery. The Lamar Valley is far less active than the west side of the park, but the scenery is unparalleled, with the possible exception of the Grand Canyon. We saw the only two bear of the trip in the north-eastern region of the park - one running across the Lamar Valley and another enjoying the attention of about a hundred roadside gawkers, in spite of the warnings of death and dismemberment.
I took a couple hundred (at least) pictures in the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone. I posted 5. Almost every one of the pictures I took are worthy of a postcard - just like the hundreds of other shots by other people that actually became postcards in the gift shops. I do have a panorama shot that I plan to print at 20"x74" if I can afford the frame. Next time I won't even take my camera. I'll just stand in awe...
Yellowstone is a very dynamic place. In 1981 the Norris Geyser Basin was my favorite. Unfortunately, my favorite geyser which performed on a regular 50 minute schedule back then has gone mostly dormant. Well, I guess it's really just highly erratic and has only gone off a couple times in the past 5 years or so. Still, its fascinating to walk around and see how new springs have popped up, engulfing trees, while old features subside and are taken over by new vegetation.
- Day 4 - Mammoth Hot Springs - Excelsior, Lower/Middle Geyser Basin, Old Faithful, Mammoth to Old Faithful
Probably one of the most obvious demonstrations of the dynamic nature of the region is Mammoth Hot Springs. Beautiful formations that were featured on postcards 30 years ago are now dry and crumbling. Yet, in other areas of the spring, large trees are now being swallowed up by enormous mounds of mineral deposits.
Excelsior and the Grand Prismatic Pool are always great fun. Excelsior erupted up to 300 feet high in the late 1800s, possibly damaging its internal plumbing in a particularly vigorous eruption. It went dormant until 1985 when it produced a series of minor eruptions (up to 75 feet) before returning to dormancy. Today, it is simply a very large hot spring, discharging around 4,000 gallons of boiling water PER MINUTE into the Firehole River.
The Lower and Middle Geyser basin are fun. I've been trying to see Fountain Geyser for years and finally got a chance. It was a fairly minor eruption, but impressive none the less. As a bonus, White Dome Geyser blew off a charge while we waited.
The Fountain Paint Pots area includes a spring with a horrible dark side. Celestine Pool is a beautiful blue pool of water right at the boiling point. The gruesome story was recited on the tour-guide CD as a warning to visitors of the very real dangers of these attractive features. If you want to hear the story, click here, but don't say you weren't warned.
- Day 5 - Grand Tetons, Upper Geyser Basin
What can you say about the Grand Tetons? Again, I took dozens of pictures but only posted a few. I tend to get distracted by wildflowers anyway...
Upper Geyser Basin includes the village of Old Faithful. We had the great fortune of having a room in the Old Faithful Inn with a view of Old Faithful itself! The trails around the basin cover a couple of miles and take hours to cover in any level of detail. We went out in early evening and returned just as twilight was waning. Couldn't resist taking this panorama of the inn.
- Day 6 - Old Faithful to Buffalo - Worland, Ten Sleep Canyon, Buffalo
Q. What lane does a buffalo use when crossing a bridge?
A. Any lane he wants to.
We had just begun to cross the fishing bridge at the north end of Yellowstone Lake when a very large bull bison decided to cross the bridge from the other side, in our lane. He was pretty adamant about his lane choice, putting us in a bit of a bind. Fortunately, oncoming traffic saw our predicament and held up so we could pass the oncoming buffalo in the other lane, thus avoiding a confrontation we were bound to lose.
Not many pictures today, but of particular interest was the stylized sculpture of the Native American in Worland. Turns out, it's a companion piece to the one back home in Hillsboro, OR. (Kno-Tah on Panoramio) Leaving Ten Sleep (so named because it is 10 days travel (10 sleeps) from Ft. Laramie, Yellowstone and the Indian Agency on the Stillwater River in Montana) you begin the climb over the Big Horn Mountains through Ten Sleep Canyon.
I included a few shots inside our hotel room at the Occidental Hotel, a historic hotel dating back to the late 1800s. Note the surprise 'closet' feature!
- Day 7 - Buffalo to Rapid City - Devils Tower, Jewel Cave
Devils Tower is fascinating the way it rises hundreds of feet above the surrounding terrain, an eerie relic of long past volcanic activity in the region. It is no wonder it has captured the imagination of people, past and present. Native Americans tend to attach bear references to the tower. The 'devil' reference morphed from a misinterpretation of the native name. In any case, a 'close encounter' with this natural wonder is a must.
Much has been made of the mystical properties of the rock. The only evidence I've seen is that it somehow seems to attract Corvettes. There were probably 50 of them parked in the visitor's center parking lot. I don't know if they were attracted from great distances or were emanating from that location.
First of all, this is beautiful country. Couple that with cool temperatures, puffy clouds, and nonexistent traffic, and a top -down drive from Devils Tower to Jewel Cave is an event for the memory banks. Jewel Cave is very interesting, though I have difficulty representing it well photographically. I took a large number of photos, but most will remain on my hard drive just because they don't look like anything unless you've been there and understand what you're seeing.
- Day 8 - Badlands, Wounded Knee, Rapid City Dinosaur Park, Stave Church
Where the heck is wall drug? I'll tell you! It's right downtown Wall, SD. You can't miss it. In fact, you can't avoid it. This is mid 20th century Americana at its best. No pictures this trip... sorry.
The Badlands are always fun to see, but best when its not approaching 100 degrees. We kind of rushed through, took a few pictures, put the top up and headed back to Rapid City via SD44. We jogged down to the White River Visitor's Center where we saw a display on the massacre at Wounded Knee in 1890. We decided to check out the region and, a couple of hours later we were on the Nebraska border in the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation. Beautiful country, but a sad story that continues to this day.
The little side story to this trip was the ever increasing engine temperature. At first I wrote it off as just a hot day, but it kept climbing way out of its normal range. Finally, I pulled off to take a look and discovered the radiator plugged with the carcasses of hundreds of grasshoppers. It was not a pretty site (once again, you've been warned!).
We made one final stop to view the vast and rugged badlands at Red Shirt Table Overlook. It's a little difficult to convey a real sense of the place, but here's a panoramic attempt...
Returning to Rapid City we ran up the hill to the dinosaur park, a family tradition since sometime in the 1940s when my dad first had his picture taken with one of the dinosaurs. I, of course, had to continue the tradition with my own pose.
And, high on the list of unusual things you wouldn't expect to find in South Dakota is a replica of a Norwegian 'stavkirke' or stave church. Built in the 1960s, it should be good for another 7-800 years, if its counterparts in Norway are any indication.
- Day 9 -Mt Rushmore, Crazy Horse, Custer State Park
Mt Rushmore. What's there to say? There's always something interesting going on. This time we saw evidence of what initially appeared to be a large raptor type bird living in Roosevelt's right eye. That's gotta be uncomfortable. After further investigation it now looks like maybe it's just a Rock Pigeon living in there. This time I concentrated on 3D pictures - close-ups of each individual president, as well as the entire group. The other challenge was to get a shot from inside the artist's studio that shows both the model and mountain in the same frame. More of a challenge than you might imagine.
Custer State Park is a really nice place to spend some time. It spans both the higher peaks of the southern black hills in the north to the beginnings of the plains in the south. It is filled with wildlife and wildflowers.
The original plan was to visit the Crazy Horse memorial after we completed the Needles drive. Unfortunately, I made a wrong turn, and with the tacit blessing of my navigator we proceeded all the way to Wind Cave in the south. We took advantage of this misdirection to visit the cave. I've attempted to photograph Wind Cave in the past and knew better than to even take my camera in this time. Much like Jewel Cave, if you've never been there, the pictures make no sense whatsoever. I really like Wind Cave. It's one of my favorites - very unusual, and virtually unique among the worlds caves.
Retracing our steps we went back up to the Crazy Horse memorial, arriving between passing thundershowers shortly before sunset. At my first visit 30 years ago it looked basically like a big quarry. Today, its amazing how much progress has been made. Though it is doubtful it will be completed in our lifetimes, if ever, it is most impressive even at this stage.
- Day 10 - Hot Springs, SD to Salt Lake City Utah - Hell's Half Acre, South Pass and Kemmerer
Pretty much a long, mostly uninteresting drive across central Wyoming. We opted for this route over the google suggested 'I80 all the way' approach, which I already know to be an overwhelmingly dull drive. The highlight of this route was Hell's Half Acre, west of Casper on US26. Though small in size compared to the hundreds of square miles of the South Dakota badlands, these 300-some-odd acres are colorful and contain many interesting features.
South Pass is the site where the Oregon Trail, the Mormon Trail and the California trail crossed the Rockies. The altitude is 7,500 feet, but the terrain is very flat and open. From there we proceeded on into Kemmerer, Wyoming. If I had done my homework on this town more completely we would have know how rich the region is in fossils, and would have included a visit to Fossil Butte National Monument. But... something for another trip.
- Day 11 - Salt Lake City - Around town
Up to this point the weather had been mostly cooperative. The heat finally caught up with us in SLC. We took a walking tour of downtown, starting down near our hotel at the Gateway, visiting a couple of old train stations along the way. We then turned toward downtown, picking up tickets for that evening's performance by Ladysmith Black Mombazo, and eventually winding up at Temple Square in time for the noon organ concert in the tabernacle. By then, it was too hot, so we returned to our hotel and drove out to the museum of natural history at the university.
- Day 12 - Salt Lake City, UT to Winnemucca, NV - Golden Spike National Historic Site, Ruby Mountains
Heading north out of SLC toward Ogden, then turning west on UT83 at Brigham City brought us directly into the path of fate. Leaving the little town of Corinne I jumped the gun, hit the 'resume' button on the cruise control as soon as we left town instead of waiting for the appropriate speed marker. They picked me up doing 65 in a 50. Oh, well... It was inevitable that I would get a speeding ticket someday. Not bad, though, my first one after 35 years of driving. They should put up some sort of marker in my honor, I think.
In spite of the delay we arrived at the Golden Spike National Historic Site just in time to see the Jupiter being rolled into position. The 119 followed shortly. The original engines were scrapped and melted down back in the early 1900s. These engines are exact replicas, built from the original plans in the 1960s. The original tracks were also removed within a few years in favor of a better route. Today, this mile and a half of track in marooned in the desert is kind of a weird inverse of the event celebrated by the very presence of the track.
We left Promontory and stopped briefly at the ATK facility where space shuttle rocket engines are tested and built. Here, 3 miles from where the golden spike was driven to celebrate the linking of the nation by rail 140 years ago, we have a rocket manufacturing facility that links us to the universe today. It's really remarkable when you think about it!
From here we begin making our own tracks to the north, then west on UT30 around the north side of the Great Salt Lake through Park Valley and Montello to Oasis. I remember seeing this dirt track leading north from Oasis 30 years ago and wondering what it must be like out across this remote region. In spite of the paved road today, it's no less remote, just maybe a little more well traveled. It's actually a really good road, and Park Valley is remarkably scenic - don't let the large blank spaces on the map fool you!
Elko, Nevada has never been my favorite place. It has always been a place to get through on my way on to another destination far, far away. Today, it was a destination, of sorts, or at least a gateway to the Ruby Mountains. The weird thing is you cannot see the mountains from town, in spite of being a mere 20 miles from a unique alpine wilderness area. We arrived in late afternoon as thunder-clouds were assembling. We took as many pictures as we could until the deluge was unleashed. We were just 800 feet short of the trailhead parking lot when our expedition was cut short, but we were amazed and pleased with what we found, and have added the Ruby Mountains to a list of places to explore more thoroughly in the future.
- Day 13 - Winnemucca, NV to HOME! - Fields Station
Again at the recommendation of numerous friends, the Fields Station became another unlikely destination on our trip. The actual reason for the suggestion to stop is the availability of wonderful milkshakes in an area that is otherwise devoid of services. In my research for the trip I heard a rumor of a family of owls living across the street from the station, so we took a few minutes to go look. Oh, yes, the milkshake was delicious, and though it was too early for our lunch, other people that were eating appeared to be enjoying the food as well.
We went due north toward the Alvord Desert at the base of Steens Mountain until the pavement ran out. That's another region on the list for future exploration.
- 3d images (under construction)