Tuesday, June 01, 2004

Hey, it's good to be back home again


All in all not a bad vacation.

Friday, May 21

We went to St. Louis Friday night since we had to be at the airport at 5:00 am for our 6:30 flight. In my last minute packing I decided to bring my leather fedora I bought in San Diego. I kind of wished I had it last year in Colorado for its sun shading properties. Little did I know what a good decision that was to be this time around.

Sat, May 22

Got to the airport, and my bag was 13 lbs overweight. They said transfer 13 lbs to the other one and I'd be ok. I removed my backpack, a pair of hiking shoes, and my "power supply" bag (that alone was 10 lbs) and used my backpack for carry-on, stuffing the shoes in Vicki's bag.

Got through security ok. They took a pair of manacuring scissors from Vicki -- they were in her makeup pouch which she did not check. I've said it before and I'll say it again... any passengers/pilot who allows their airplane to be hijacked with a pair of manacuring scissors deserves to be hijacked. That trick worked once. It won't work again. You can mail them to yourself, but for the price of a pair of scissors, it's a wash. They sniffed my camera bag and backpack because of the batteries and power supplies I had in them. But we passed.

Connie couldn't find her cell phone. We figured it was probably in the car back at the hotel. She called and had her phone forwareded to Sam's.

Jetted to Denver, prop-planed to Jackson, and we were in town a little after noon local time.

Checked in to the Grand Victorain B&B, and went downtown for a bit where I bought a geology book on the area. Late afternoon we went for a drive on Moose-Wilson road to look for wildlife and get a gander at the mountains. They were beautiful as advertised. Went in to a bar in Moose called Dornan's with the most spectacular view of the range, and right at sunset Sam and I decided to drive out to one of the turnouts and take some mountain shots.

The forecast for the week was showing a promising Mon, Tue, Wed, and maybe Fri. Sunday looked rainy and Sam said that made it a good day to do yellowstone because it wasn't about big scenery, but features and wildlife.

Sun, May 24

Well, now the forecast for Yellowstone calls for about 38 degrees and snow. Oh well. Plow ahead. The Yellowstone Plateau is consistently one of the coolest places in the nation temperature-wise. About 1,200 feet above Jackson, it's often about 8-10 degrees cooler.

We stopped a couple of places along the way for some photos of us by the Grand Teton National Park sign, and some shots of the mountains and an abandoned cabin.

Our guidebook said to be sure to check out Moose Falls in Yellowstone -- that it was often overlooked. It's about a mile past the south entrance. We drove right by it. There was a lot of road construction in and around Yellowstone. Craig pass was closed due to last night's snow and a possibility of 4" today, so the main geyser basins were out. Dang. I really wanted to see those. But Lewis Canyon was pretty and the Lewis River had a nice falls on it we stopped at. The weather was going through changes about every 5 minutes. Sometimes less. Rain. Sleet. Sun. Rain and sleet. Snow. Rain and Snow. Rain and sleet... and Sun... all at the same time. And so on pretty much all day. Connie had a lot of fun trying to keep track of it all in the log book.

Connie is a huge bear fan. One can not overestimate how badly Connie wanted to see bears. She has one around her neck. She has a very nice photograph of one by Tom Mangelsen framed on her wall at home. Not a triffling thing.

Stopped at West Thumb and Sam pointed out my first hot spring. Cool. Steam rising from a big pit in the ground. Unreal! At the parking lot there was the whole West Thumb thermal basin where there were several hot springs, mud pots, and maybe a geyser or two. Several steam vents as well. While walking the basin and taking pictures, it decided to get serious about the snow. Not quite whiteout, but pretty heavy. I had about 1/2" on my fleece jacket in no time. It looked cool, though, with snow falling through steam rising out of the ground, and little pools of boiling water on top of the ground, boiling for no apparent reason. And occasionally, a good whiff of sulpher.

Got back in the car and went around West Thumb to Bridge Bay... there was "stoppage". That means one or more cars stopped at the side of the road with people out of their cars, looking off-road, intently.

Connie hopped out and asked what they saw... "A Bear!!!!!" she said at the top of her whispering lungs, eyes like CD's and hands out like "OH MY GOD!!!!". Kid in a candy store.

A man in the woods said it was a brown bear and three cubs. I set up camera not caring what kind of bear it was with three cubs and took some shots from about 100 yards off. The bear noticed all the people and led her cubs back into the woods. We got into the car to drive off. I looked at the pictures I got, and we all agreed that it was a Grizzly. Connie and Sam were sure of it before, but in the excitement I really hadn't had much time to look at what I was seeing. Down the road maybe another 150 yards Vicki looked out the window and there she was, maybe 30 feet from the car, coming towards the road. She boogied it on back into the woods with her cubs. We got out of the car to see where she went, and through the trees I could see her down by the lake again, maybe 150 yards off.

I saw her heading back west and decided I could get ahead of her and get a few shots maybe from in the woods while she walked along the lake. I went into the woods maybe 20 yards and hid behind a tree and used it to steady the camera. She started walking towards the road again, directly toward me. I got one shot from maybe 80 yards - she hadn't noticed me, and slowly backed out of the woods motioning for the woman behind me to do the same. I wanted to let her cross the road.

More people showed up from down the road, though, and she turned and took them back into the trees by the lake. We decided she was agitated enough and felt sorry for her, so we left, happy with the shots we got. She wasn't confrontational yet, but I think she was getting a little concerned for her babies and wanted to get them out of the area.

We drove on and soon came upon a herd of buffalo in a field. Lots of calves. One of them was playing rather vigorously, getting a drink from it's mom and then running around her in circles about 6 or 7 times and stopping for another drink and repeating the process. Snow was falling. I got a nice shot of a lone buffalo in front of a tree in the snow.

We pressed on to this "hill of fire" where there were many thermal features. Basically every kind there is. Vicki and I walked the path through them leaving Sam and Connie in the car. It was raining, snowing, and sleeting. It was cold. On our way back a man pointed behind us. Maybe 20 feet behind us was a pair of buffalo who had popped over the hill ... obviously after we passed, and were headed perpendicular to our path and back some, quite unconcerned with our presence. We went back to the car.

Stopped and ate at Canyon Junction in a pretty good snowstorm and talked to a pretty Polish girl who was our waitress. It was her second summer there. That would be so fun to do for a young, single person. Most of the people we met were not from Wyoming, and a good many were from out of the country. That included Jackson Hole as well, not just Yellowstone. I read that Wyoming's population is kept stable by tourism. People come, fall in love with it, and stay about as fast as natives get fed up with it and leave. But, as they say, the Billionaires are driving the Millionaires out in the Jackson Hole area, at least.

I really am trying to keep this brief. We did see some elk as well. We went down the canyon from "Inspiration Point" (not to be confused with the one at the head of Cascade Canyon in Grand Teton) and also hiked down to the head of the lower falls and back up. Very pretty. Nice hike. We had some snow, but it got more and more sunny as the next hour or so passed.

Looked for more wildlife on the way home. Stopped and looked at this huge pool of churning, boiling water, but everyone was tired and I was the only one looking anymore, so I hopped in and we drove back to Jackson (a good 120 miles from where we were at the time). We passed Moose Falls without remembering it was there on the way out. It was 9:00pm by the time we got into Jackson. Many restaurants weren't seating anymore, and a recomended one was nixed when it was noted that the chili was $14 (which became a long-standing joke for the rest of the trip).

So, we ate at Wendy's and went home exhausted.

Monday, May 25

Originally we were going to do the big Cascade Canyon hike on Tuesday, but today's forecast now says that Wednesday has the best chance of being a decent day. So we putzed around town in the morning -- however, nice an afternoon as it was, we headed out to Grand Teton and did a 5 mile loop around Taggart and Bradley lakes. Very pretty hike, nice afternoon for it. Good warm-up for the Cascade Canyon hike, I thought.

On the way back down we ran into a tall, slim, blue-eyed, dark-haired cowboy on a horse... maybe 35-40 years old. The women fluttered a bit. He was a good lookin' guy, I must admit. For a (hetero) guy to notice that, they have to be.

We went to Dornan's for more Margaritas & beer and more of that spectacular view. The sun set. We ate dinner there. Went home. ZZZZZZZZZZzzzzzzz

Tuesday, May 26

The girls are sleepy, so Sam and I head out to Moultan Barn to take some morning pictures. We never got a clear shot of the Tetons behind it, but took some nice photos. Another photographer came along and Sam talked to him for quite a while while I went down to the end of the road to photograph another barn. I loved the sagebrush-dotted high plains field with birds and ground squirrels. The signs that tell you to beware of the buffalo seem out of place... not a bison in sight. Or an Elk, or any mamal larger than... a ground squirrel.

We head back for a "putz around town day". Sam and Connie go to art galleries. Vicki and I look for more comfortable hiking shoes. Both of us got sore feet yesterday. My hiking shoes are really too small (should be "wides" but aren't) and Vicki's shoes are a touch too small. I wore my Eccos at Taggart lake, but the soles are soft and don't offer much protection against rocks. There are a lot of rocks in the mountains. Heck, they're practically MADE of them ;-)

We meet for lunch at the Merry Piglets, a Mexican restaurant we probably went to 4 times.

Vicki found a nice pair of hiking shoes at a second hand shop for $6 and a nice jacket for another $6. I bought her a packable quick-dry rain hat at Eddie Bauer. Sam and Connie are looking at expensive art ... we're hitting the second hand shops. We laugh at ourselves. Vicki heads back to the room, and I go back downtown resigned to buying a good pair of hiking boots at full price. I find a good pair at a place much like our local "Alpine Shop" and go back. Dinner at the Merry Piglets.

Cascade Canyon tomorrow. It's supposed to clear overnight, and cloud up again during the day, with isolated thunderstorms possible in the afternoon. I decide to get up early (5:00am) to catch Moultan Barn at sunrise since it's supposed to be so nice.

Wednesday, May 27

Yawn! How many chances in my life will I get to do this. Very few. I get myself up. Dress. Sneak out with my camera so as not to wake Vicki. The sky had a few clouds. After getting past the two big Buttes that hide the mountains from Jackson, I see lots of clouds on and behind the mountains. Shoot. To the east, there is sunlight, but no sun yet. Drove out Antelope Flats road, and parked the car across the road from a very old willow tree and wait for sunrise. I noted after some cloud watching that about the time the sun came up over the Wind Rivers, the clouds will have blown off the Tetons. My luck was changing.

However, just about the time that happened, an overcast layer blew across the sun and I never got my morning gold light.

I took what I could, and enjoyed the solitude of the nice cold morning in such a pretty setting, and went back to the B&B.

After breakfast, we headed out. The plan was to catch the Jenny Lake Ferry early in the morning, hike all day, and take it back in the late afternoon. However.... during the off season the earliest it leaves is 10:00 am... and the latest it comes back is 4:00 pm. Our 8 hour hike is now a 5.5 hour hike.

And it's raining.

We take the back route to see more animals, and miss the 10:00 ferry. On top of that, due to the weather they're only leaving on the hour, not on the half hour, so our 5.5 hour hike is now a 4.5 hour hike. And somehow it doesn't hit me that that means hike in + hike out.

But, we make the best of it, ferrying across at 11:00 and starting our hike near 11:15. It's a 420 foot climb to Inspiration Point, past beautiful cascades and falls in the rain and snow and sleet. Jenny Lake is close to 6,800 feet. I'm sure the ceiling is about 8,000 feet today. But it made it more of an adventure. At one point the trail narrows to about a 6 foot wide notch cut in the side of the granite stone going up to Inspiration Point. It's neat watching clouds form as the air moves up the mountainside. Hidden falls is beautiful as advertised. And after about an hour of hiking and stopping and enjoying and picture taking, we reach Inspiration Point, about 1 mile into the trail.

I'm sure Inspiration Point is much more inspiring on a clear day. You can see Jenny Lake, I'm sure you can probably pick out Bradley and Taggart from there as well, and you can probably see all the way across the snake River Valley and Jackson Hole to the Wind River Mountains. And behind you, Mts Teewinot and Owen and The Grand Teton itself. But not today. You get a wind-whipped and rainy Jenny Lake and a cloud-shrouded atmosphere -- an interesting sight in itself, but the 25 mph wind blowing cold water in your face on a 38 degree morning makes you say "well, wonder what the canyon looks like?" and turn quickly into the trees toward it.

At 7,200 feet, the clouds are maybe 800 feet over our heads. After about another hour and 15 minutes of hiking Sam notes that half our time is burned and we'd better eat and head back. I can't believe it's been so short. By the landmarks I see, we made it about a mile up (to Inspiration Point) and about 2, maybe 2.5 miles into the canyon... At 1:30 pm, we head back.

As you might expect, going down takes much less time than going up, although the canyon itself is rather flat. Well, we weren't stopping as much since we'd seen a lot of this stuff on the way up. We were ahead for a while, then Sam & Connie passed us and we lost track of them. Worried that they may be down at the bottom trying to make the 3:00 ferry, we don't tarry much and get to the boat dock at 2:55pm. They come around the bend about 5 minutes later. They were worried that WE wanted to catch the 3:00 ferry. I don't think either couple meant to get down that fast. So, we all caught the 3:00 ferry making it a 3:45 hike. About half of what I had expected before several situations conspired against it. Coulda spent more time up by Hidden Falls. Sam & Connie said they found a spot where you could actually see the whole thing without trees in front of it. Hmmmm. Next time, I guess. Reminds me of my first attempt at Sniktau.

Well, what better way to cap the day than to go to Dornan's. And Vicki's cowboy was there, to boot. You can't see the Mountains, but it's a nice place anyway, with the high plains & willows and Snake River winding just outside.

Later, off to the Blue Lion for dinner. Three of us had the Elk, Sam had the pork chop, I think. It was very good.

Thursday, May 28

Another rainy day in the forecast, but a little warmer. We decide to head up to Yellowstone again.

There's lots of road construction. As we round the turn from Lizard Creek north of Jackson Lake, there are two cars stopped on the right side of the road, and an upside-down truck in the ditch, hissing, and wheels still spinning on the left. Sam stops the car, realizes it must've just happened, and gets out to see if anyone's hurt. I'm fumbling around my seatbelt and door lock, kind of in semi-shock... I've never come upon an accident like this where help wasn't already there. Sam hollers at the vehichle, and just as I get across the road a young man comes spurting out from the other side. He's in shock, but alert. Connie calls 911, and a government truck pulls up behind us and gets on the radio. The man was a mechanic, basically driving a mobile garage to help work on the road construction vehichles. His tire had caught the side of the road and he lost control, went into the ditch and the vehicle flipped. Good thing nobody was on the passenger side. They wouldn't have made it. It was crushed. But he had a banged head and a cut ear and would probably be all right -- just needed to be checked for concussion. We talked to him to make sure he stayed awake until a paramedic arrived and more help was on the way, and pressed on to Yellowstone.

In all the excitement, we forgot once again about Moose Falls. However, this time, Craig Pass was open. You cross the continental divide three times between the south entrance and the main geyser basin. Anything above 8000 feet has snow, and a bunch of Yellowstone is 8000 feet or above. It's actually a relatively flat area, due to the geology of the region (how it was formed)... Anyway, we don't spend much time stopping this time because we want to get all the way up north to Mammoth before turning around. However, we get to the Old Faithful geyser basin and stop there about 35 minutes before the next scheduled eruption. Vicki and I take the time to walk around the other thermal features in the area in a hurried tour and get back to the seating area about 5 minutes before "time".

It throws off a few 3-4 foot mini eruptions, and dies down each time. It's a little "late", and we see a geyser about a mile off erupting, which is fun. A few minutes later, Old Faithful can't hold herself anymore and the real eruption begins. I got a 16 second movie of it on my digital camera plus a few snapshots. I just wanted to see a geyser erupt first hand. Very cool. But we must press on. We headed up towards Madison Junction and Firehole Canyon Drive, and stop to enjoy some cascades along the way. A very tame chipmunk whom people have obviously fed for a long time comes up to check to see if we have any food, right up to Vicki's and Connie's hands. Cute little guy. Very healthy. Bright color, fat, sleek. The volcanic stone in the canyon walls looks neat -- I try to imagine the pyroclastic flows that violently formed them a very long time ago, and then the river slowly cutting a canyon through it.

It was a much nicer day than the first trip we made. We wound up to Mammoth Springs. Upon seing no elk there and with a rainshower moving in, people are ready to head back. But I want to at least go look at the big mineral formation for a little bit. No sooner do I get to the wooden path than the sky opens up and dumps a torrential downpour on me.

Let me just say something about my hat. I bought the leather fedora in San Diego a few years ago. I like it. I wear it a lot in the winter. It keeps my head warm and dry. I've treated it to be waterproof. Vicki's not particularly fond of it and I don't think she was too excited about my bringing it. But boy am I glad I did. With this weather I'd've been soaked and cold without it all week. Any such trip I take from now on it's coming with me. This is obviously why people wore hats so much back in the day.

At any rate, on the way back Connie mostly slept, we looked for wildlife, but we were basically hoofing it back. We did finally remember to stop at Moose Falls on the way out of the park. It's less than 100 yards off the road. Very pretty.

I think we ate at the Merry Piglets again.

Friday, May 28

Another day of putzing around town. Didn't really do much. Had coffee at the 89 diner that morning, and Vicki and I and Sam and Connie split up for the morning again. Ate at the Bunnery. Good chili. $4.25, not $14.00. But it didn't have venison in it. ;-) It rained off and on, with sunshine at times, I think. We went back up Wilson-Moose road to look for wildlife again, and went to Dornan's for a while, then back in to town for dinner.

Saturday, May 29

We packed the night before, so we had time to go downtown for "Wild West Days", the kickoff of the Jackson Hole summer tourist season. There was a parade, and dispite the weather forecast of an inch of slushy snow, it was cool and partly cloudy at 10:00 am, and we watched representatives of various organizations from an older ladies dance club to an indian tribe to the ... saddled floozies or something along those lines (old west barmaids on horses), to highland scotts, and yes, the Forest Service itself. And guess who works for the forest service? Vicki's cowboy. I tried to get a good shot of him, but the only one where he was facing me he was blinking and his front teeth were sticking out. So he looked less than dapper. I told Vicki I did that on purpose, and she jokingly agreed that I had. We got some coffee at a streetside stand and headed for the airport.

We sat in the airport bar looking out at the clouds and snowshowers that had moved in right after the parade was over. When we went to board the plane, I wondered if my boots would trigger the alarm, and I mentioned that and waved them through. One of the guards said "actually, we can't have you do that, sir"... not terribly sure why, but oh well. But somehow I couldn't walk through without it beeping. So they wanded me, looking me over for guns, knives, explosives, needles, thumbtacks... "turn the plane around, buddy, or this guy gets it with a thumbtack! -- I mean it, man, right in the forehead! I'll use this 'kick me' sign, so help me!" I'd forgotten to take my watch off.

We boarded the plane. The pilot said we could listen to the conversation between the planes and the control tower on channel 9 of the airplane "radio", so I did. A driving sleet storm ensued. However, that's not why we couldn't take off. A ground stop in Denver due to severe thunderstorms. 1 hour. The stewardesses started a movie, but we could only get it in Spanish on our side of the plane. I read and listened to the tower conversations. Eventually, we did leave. They switched our flight for us in the air so that we got a different one to St. Louis, a mere 35 minutes after landing in Denver. We flew between thunderstorms in eastern Kansas on the way back. Landed in St. Louis at 9:30, went to the hotel, got the car (and Connie's phone) and went to Denny's to hopefully meet Sam's son Chad. However, the young whippersnappers were disorganized and partying and couldn't make it. So after the two hour drive home and another half hour from Sam & Connie's, it was probably 1:45 am before we got to the house. The neighbors took very good care of the cats -- Bart wasn't mad at us like he can be. He was glad to see us. We went to bed exhausted.

Wow... you made it to the end. Of course, there was much more, but that's the highlights. Now you know.

By the way, the pictures are at http://leithp1.home.mchsi.com/jackson .... there's three pages of thumbnails, so beware!


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