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It’s A Long Way Down: Carlsbad Caverns

It’s A Long Way Down: Carlsbad Caverns

Posted by on May 29, 2016 in Gallery, Hiking, National Parks, New Mexico, Travel | 32 comments

While perusing the website for Carlsbad Caverns National Park, we decided to make reservations for a guided tour. We knew we wanted to visit the Big Room, the main cavern that’s open for self-guided wandering. But—what the heck! Let’s do it all!

I was in charge of making the reservations, and considered signing up for one of the tours that requires ropes and ladders and belly crawling (what in the world was I thinking??). Fortunately, the only tour available was for the King’s Palace, a 1.5-hour exploration that descends into the deepest part of the caverns, but doesn’t involve anything challenging—other than the ability to stay calm in a pitch-black maze 830 feet below the surface of the earth.

Just to be clear about this adventure—neither Eric nor I is enamored with caves, caverns, mines, or anything subterranean. We much prefer our adventures above ground, in the sunshine and fresh air. But Carlsbad Caverns was on our trajectory north, it’s a National Park, and it seemed like we should go see it. We actually got pretty excited about our expedition.

To add to the adventure, the elevator that normally transports visitors from the surface to the Big Room was undergoing repairs. We had already planned to hike down into the caverns from the Natural Entrance, a 1.25-mile steep winding trail that drops 750 feet down into the caves. No elevator meant that we would also be hiking back out that same trail—which is totally fine, unless you start thinking about how far beneath the surface you are, and how dark it is, and what if the lights go out, and what if you freak out…. and the only way out is up that long, steep trail. There were a few moments when I had to have a reassuring talk with myself.

Our tour of the King’s Palace was great, except for our guide’s penchant for hanging out in the dark. We were told that we would have the “opportunity” to experience total darkness for a few moments during the tour, but she left us in an abyss of darkness for a good 15 minutes while she talked about how wonderful it was. As much as I appreciate dark nights, I also like a teeny bit of light to orient myself—a few stars, crescent moon, something.

We took a break after our tour to eat our picnic lunch in the darkness of the underground café, huddled in a dank corner like a pair of pack rats. “We’re already here,” said Eric. “I think we should go ahead and do the Big Room.” And so we did, walking the mile-and-a-quarter loop, taking in the beauty of the various formations created drip by drip over centuries. Five hours after our descent into the caverns, we hiked out the 1.25 mile trail on which we had entered the caverns. We emerged, blinking, into the glorious sunlight. Are we happy we did it? Absolutely. Would we do it again? No, once was enough. (The Caverns at Sonora in West Texas, however, are still on our list—glittering formations of crystals—we’re definitely up for that.)

As far as above ground adventures, we walked the short trails at Brantley Lake State Park, and spent part of a day exploring the Living Desert Zoo and Gardens State Park near Carlsbad (about 10 miles from our campground). This small and lovely park is focused on the flora and fauna of the Chihuahuan Desert. We happened to arrive in the reptile house at feeding time, and the snakes were going berserk. It was fascinating—and unnerving—to be surrounded by a symphony of rattlers rattling in anticipation of their meal.

One day plunged into an abyss, the next in the company of rattlesnakes. Our stay in Carlsbad was kind of like an immersion camp for overcoming phobias.

About the campground:

Brantley Lake State Park isn’t exactly close to Carlsbad Caverns, but from what we surmised, it’s the nicest place to stay. It’s a beautiful park, with spacious sites, many on the lake, and each with a covered picnic table. Water and 30/50 amp electric hookups, peaceful, dark night skies (but not too dark), nice bathrooms and showers, good Verizon. And lots of birdlife, which we love. It’s a bargain at $14 per night. The park is 12 miles north of Carlsbad, and 38 miles from the caverns.

Next Up: Back To Hiking: Oliver Lee State Park, NM

Heading Down Into The Caverns

It's Dark Down Here

The Trail Around The Big Room

Everything You Need To Know About Cave Decor

Some Of The Most Beautiful Formations

Relic From Early Cave Explorations

Mirror Lake

Richly Decorated Passages

Café Dismal

Happy To Be Above Ground

At The Living Desert Zoo And Gardens

Wonderful Displays On Desert Environments

Blooming Ocotillo In The Desert Uplands

Brilliant Prickly Pear Blooms

Snoozing Bobcat

Salad Bar For The Prairie Dog Family

Cool Snake Mural In The Reptile House

With His New Bat Buddy

Pond Habitat In The Desert

Campsite At Brantley Lake State Park

Bullock's Oriole On Ocotillo

Say's Phoebes Learning To Fly

Desert Bird Of Paradise

Black-Tailed Jack Rabbit

Heading Down Into The Caverns
It's Dark Down Here
The Trail Around The Big Room
Everything You Need To Know About Cave Decor
Some Of The Most Beautiful Formations
Relic From Early Cave Explorations
Mirror Lake
Richly Decorated Passages
Café Dismal
Happy To Be Above Ground
At The Living Desert Zoo And Gardens
Wonderful Displays On Desert Environments
Blooming Ocotillo In The Desert Uplands
Brilliant Prickly Pear Blooms
Snoozing Bobcat
Salad Bar For The Prairie Dog Family
Cool Snake Mural In The Reptile House
With His New Bat Buddy
Pond Habitat In The Desert
Campsite At Brantley Lake State Park
Bullock's Oriole On Ocotillo
Say's Phoebes Learning To Fly
Desert Bird Of Paradise
Black-Tailed Jack Rabbit
Heading Down Into The Caverns thumbnail
It's Dark Down Here thumbnail
The Trail Around The Big Room thumbnail
Everything You Need To Know About Cave Decor thumbnail
Some Of The Most Beautiful Formations thumbnail
Relic From Early Cave Explorations thumbnail
Mirror Lake thumbnail
Richly Decorated Passages thumbnail
Café Dismal thumbnail
Happy To Be Above Ground thumbnail
At The Living Desert Zoo And Gardens thumbnail
Wonderful Displays On Desert Environments thumbnail
Blooming Ocotillo In The Desert Uplands thumbnail
Brilliant Prickly Pear Blooms thumbnail
Snoozing Bobcat thumbnail
Salad Bar For The Prairie Dog Family thumbnail
Cool Snake Mural In The Reptile House thumbnail
With His New Bat Buddy thumbnail
Pond Habitat In The Desert thumbnail
Campsite At Brantley Lake State Park thumbnail
Bullock's Oriole On Ocotillo thumbnail
Say's Phoebes Learning To Fly thumbnail
Desert Bird Of Paradise thumbnail
Black-Tailed Jack Rabbit thumbnail

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Exploring Olympic National Park

Exploring Olympic National Park

Posted by on Oct 16, 2014 in Food, Hiking, National Parks, Travel, Washington | 26 comments

Whether you’re in the mood for alpine meadows and high mountain peaks; ancient forests, serene lakes and waterfalls; or rugged coastlines and tidepools, you can have it all in Olympic National Park. The diversity and splendor is so remarkable that the United Nations has declared the park both an international biosphere reserve and a World Heritage site. You can even encounter species that occur nowhere else in the world, such as the rare Olympic marmot, a cute buck-toothed furry critter.

Map Olympic National ParkIf you look at a map, you’ll see that the park is surrounded by water on three sides, which makes it somewhat of an ecological island. More than 95 percent of the 922,000 acres is remote wilderness—no roads cross the expanse, although two-lane highway 101 (and a few miles of connecting highways) makes a 320-mile loop around the park. A dozen spur roads lead into the park, with visitors centers, rustic campgrounds, lovely lodges, and numerous trails to scenic destinations just a few miles from the park’s perimeter.

In just one day you can do a speed-tour that includes mountains, lakes, forests, and coastline. But that’s not our style. We like to take our time, sinking in and savoring the essence of a place. And so we chose just a couple of activities, heading into the park for hikes and happy hour (yes, really). We had a wonderful taste of the park—just enough to entice us to return, sooner rather than later.

We explored Olympic National Park while staying at Salt Creek Recreation Area, 15 miles west of Port Angeles. Here, our adventures in the park:

•Hiking Hurricane Ridge:

Just 17 miles south of Port Angeles is Hurricane Ridge Visitor Center, the most accessible mountain area in the park. The views of the distant mountains and glaciers are outstanding, even from the visitor center, and a network of trails offers the opportunity for more in-depth exploration.

We chose the Hurricane Ridge trail, a 3-mile round trip hike with enough elevation gain to make it feel like a decent trek. The trail winds through alpine meadows and traverses a ridge with spectacular views along the way, leading to a really spectacular 360-degree view at the top—a panorama that includes the Olympic Mountain range with glaciers shimmering in the distance, the Strait of Juan de Fuca, and Vancouver Island in Canada. It’s called Hurricane Ridge for good reason—the winds are crazy. We had a picnic on top of the ridge (while holding everything down to keep it from blowing away) and enjoyed the views far below of the hillsides cloaked in their fall attire of crimson and gold.

•Exploring Lake Crescent:

Nestled into the valleys of Olympic National Park are some of the largest stands of ancient forests left in the country. These venerable western forests are filled with Douglas firs and Western hemlocks, many of which are more than 200 years old, and up to 300 feet tall and 15 feet wide. It is a quieting experience to stand among these beautiful giants.

We chose to explore the Lake Crescent area of the park, a 20-mile drive southwest from where we were staying at Salt Creek Recreation Area. A two-mile round trip hike leads to Marymere Falls, which although pretty, is not spectacular in the world of waterfalls. The hike, however, is a gorgeous trail through old growth forest rich with the spicy scent of firs and spruce.

The Lodge at Lake Crescent is one of the loveliest we’ve seen anywhere. Situated on the shore of the glacially carved lake with the Olympic Mountains as a backdrop, it’s hard to imagine a more idyllic setting. Vintage 1916 and charmingly simple, it’s the kind of place we would stay if we didn’t have our little home on wheels.

It was late afternoon when we finished our explorations of Lake Crescent, and we enjoyed sunset over the lake from the glassed-in porch of the lodge. A delicious plate of steamed Penn Cove mussels and a platter of local cheeses with lavender honey accompanied by drinks was the perfect ending for our brief forays into Olympic National Park. We can’t wait to return.

Exploring Olympic National Park

Storm King Ranger Station

Hike To Marymere Falls

Interesting Wooden Bridges

Not Exactly Rip Roaring Falls

Lake Crescent Lodge

Inside The Lodge

Relaxing At Lake Crescent Lodge

Penn Cove Mussels And Local Cheeses

Dusk Falling On Lake Crescent

Hiking To Hurricane Ridge

Hurricane Ridge

Looking Down At The Trail

It's Windy Up Here!

Beautiful Fall Colors

View From The Top

Mt. Olympus In The Distance

On Top Of Hurricane Ridge

Clark's Nutcracker

Curious Raven

Sweet Little Gray Jay

Rare Olympic Marmot

Marmots On The Trail

Map Olympic National Park

Giant Douglas Fir

Exploring Olympic National Park
Storm King Ranger Station
Hike To Marymere Falls
Interesting Wooden Bridges
Not Exactly Rip Roaring Falls
Lake Crescent Lodge
Inside The Lodge
Relaxing At Lake Crescent Lodge
Penn Cove Mussels And Local Cheeses
Dusk Falling On Lake Crescent
Hiking To Hurricane Ridge
Hurricane Ridge
Looking Down At The Trail
It's Windy Up Here!
Beautiful Fall Colors
View From The Top
Mt. Olympus In The Distance
On Top Of Hurricane Ridge
Clark's Nutcracker
Curious Raven
Sweet Little Gray Jay
Rare Olympic Marmot
Marmots On The Trail
Map Olympic National Park
Giant Douglas Fir
Exploring Olympic National Park  thumbnail
Storm King Ranger Station  thumbnail
Hike To Marymere Falls  thumbnail
Interesting Wooden Bridges  thumbnail
Not Exactly Rip Roaring Falls  thumbnail
Lake Crescent Lodge  thumbnail
Inside The Lodge  thumbnail
Relaxing At Lake Crescent Lodge  thumbnail
Penn Cove Mussels And Local Cheeses  thumbnail
Dusk Falling On Lake Crescent  thumbnail
Hiking To Hurricane Ridge  thumbnail
Hurricane Ridge  thumbnail
Looking Down At The Trail  thumbnail
It's Windy Up Here! thumbnail
Beautiful Fall Colors  thumbnail
View From The Top  thumbnail
Mt. Olympus In The Distance  thumbnail
On Top Of Hurricane Ridge  thumbnail
Clark's Nutcracker  thumbnail
Curious Raven thumbnail
Sweet Little Gray Jay  thumbnail
Rare Olympic Marmot  thumbnail
Marmots On The Trail  thumbnail
Map Olympic National Park thumbnail
Giant Douglas Fir  thumbnail

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Great Basin: The Loneliest National Park

Great Basin: The Loneliest National Park

Posted by on Jul 31, 2014 in Gallery, Hiking, National Parks, Nevada, Travel | 25 comments

Anchoring one end of “The Loneliest Highway in America,” Great Basin National Park has become one of our favorite parks. The hiking is spectacular, the spring and summer wildflowers abundant (in the fall, the leaf colors are equally stunning), the night skies for star gazing are among the finest in the country, and there’s even a beautiful cave to explore. (We didn’t do the cave tour this trip, but we did it when we visited in the fall of 2012.)

I find it interesting that Great Basin National Park consistently makes the top ten list of the least visited national parks. By comparison, Great Smoky Mountains NP attracts nine million visitors, and the Grand Canyon five million. Great Basin—at best—draws about 60,000 visitors a year. I suppose that’s not really surprising—after all, it’s in a remote corner of Nevada and it’s not exactly on the way to anywhere.

Trust me. If you like your nature experiences peaceful, gorgeous, uncrowded, and unique—you need to make the trek to this park.

This time, we spent four nights, and we were wishing we had another week to just soak in the beauty. We hiked a different trail each day—through aspen groves to turquoise colored glacial lakes, along rocky hillsides to ancient bristlecone pine forests, and through meadows of wildflowers along a beautiful creek. We came upon an entire meadow of shooting stars—a first for us, and absolutely spectacular!

There is an almost complete lack of civilization here. The nearest town, just a few miles away, is Baker, population 68. There’s an unattended gas station, an RV park of sorts, and a couple of cafes, including the LectroLux—which serves pizza, beer, and good wine—and curiously, is decorated with Electrolux vacuums suspended from the ceiling. We stopped by the LectroLux one evening for a glass of wine, and had the place to ourselves—our server was gracious, and then went back to reading “Gone With The Wind,” which she offered to lend to me as soon as she finished the last few pages.

A few caveats:

Stock up on groceries. Seriously. Bring everything you need and more, because the closest town is Ely, about 65 miles away (and Ely isn’t exactly a gourmet paradise).

Bring lots of leveling blocks. We love staying in the park, but virtually all of the sites are horribly unlevel. No hookups, first-come-first served, and unlevel sites—nonetheless, incredibly beautiful and peaceful. Our site in the Upper Lehman campground was one of the few good-sized sites, with a gorgeous sitting area by the creek. The Lower Lehman campground has bigger sites, but we couldn’t get our trailer level and gave up. If you have a big rig, you might be happier in the in-town park (Whispering Elms), which is very Baker-esque, but appears adequate.

Great Basin: The Loneliest National Park

Choosing Today's Hike

The Alpine Loop Trail

Along The Trail

Fresh Aspen Leaves

Beautiful Alpine Lakes

Stella Lake

Teresa Lake 10,000 Feet

Didn't Expect Snow

Bristlecone Pine Trail

Ancient Bristlecone Pine

Rocky Bristlecone Pine Trail

Turn Around Point On The Glacier Trail

Slow Down For Marmot Families

Baker Creek Trail

Paintbrush, Lupine, and Forget-Me-Nots

Lupine

Along The Creek

Crossing Baker Creek

Mountain Bluebells

Glorious Shooting Stars

Meadow Of Shooting Stars

Campsite Upper Lehman Creek

Spotty At Our Campsite

Relaxing At Camp

Hummingbird Drinking From Columbine

Visitor's Center Great Basin NP

Inside The Visitor's Center

Downtown Baker

Welcoming Committee

Museum Of The Future "Coming Soon"

The Only Gas Station For Miles

In-Town Campground

Decor At The Electrolux Cafe

On The Road To Baker

Great Basin: The Loneliest National Park
Choosing Today's Hike
The Alpine Loop Trail
Along The Trail
Fresh Aspen Leaves
Beautiful Alpine Lakes
Stella Lake
Teresa Lake 10,000 Feet
Didn't Expect Snow
Bristlecone Pine Trail
Ancient Bristlecone Pine
Rocky Bristlecone Pine Trail
Turn Around Point On The Glacier Trail
Slow Down For Marmot Families
Baker Creek Trail
Paintbrush, Lupine, and  Forget-Me-Nots
Lupine
Along The Creek
Crossing Baker Creek
Mountain Bluebells
Glorious Shooting Stars
Meadow Of Shooting Stars
Campsite Upper Lehman Creek
Spotty At Our Campsite
Relaxing At Camp
Hummingbird Drinking From Columbine
Visitor's Center Great Basin NP
Inside The Visitor's Center
Downtown Baker
Welcoming Committee
Museum Of The Future
The Only Gas Station For Miles
In-Town Campground
Decor At The Electrolux Cafe
On The Road To Baker
Great Basin: The Loneliest National Park  thumbnail
Choosing Today's Hike  thumbnail
The Alpine Loop Trail  thumbnail
Along The Trail  thumbnail
Fresh Aspen Leaves  thumbnail
Beautiful Alpine Lakes  thumbnail
Stella Lake  thumbnail
Teresa Lake 10,000 Feet  thumbnail
Didn't Expect Snow  thumbnail
Bristlecone Pine Trail  thumbnail
Ancient Bristlecone Pine  thumbnail
Rocky Bristlecone Pine Trail  thumbnail
Turn Around Point On The Glacier Trail  thumbnail
Slow Down For Marmot Families  thumbnail
Baker Creek Trail  thumbnail
Paintbrush, Lupine, and  Forget-Me-Nots  thumbnail
Lupine  thumbnail
Along The Creek  thumbnail
Crossing Baker Creek  thumbnail
Mountain Bluebells  thumbnail
Glorious Shooting Stars  thumbnail
Meadow Of Shooting Stars  thumbnail
Campsite Upper Lehman Creek  thumbnail
Spotty At Our Campsite  thumbnail
Relaxing At Camp  thumbnail
Hummingbird Drinking From Columbine  thumbnail
Visitor's Center Great Basin NP  thumbnail
Inside The Visitor's Center  thumbnail
Downtown Baker  thumbnail
Welcoming Committee  thumbnail
Museum Of The Future
The Only Gas Station For Miles  thumbnail
In-Town Campground  thumbnail
Decor At The Electrolux Cafe  thumbnail
On The Road To Baker  thumbnail

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The Making Of LBJ

The Making Of LBJ

Posted by on May 30, 2014 in Gallery, National Parks, Texas, Travel | 22 comments

Idoodled and daydreamed my way through history classes in high school and college. Fortunately, my short-term memory was good enough that I could spend an evening memorizing dates/people/and events—just enough to pass exams. And then, of course, I promptly forgot everything.

Now, though, we’re on The Mother of All Field Trips, visiting places where history happened, and hearing personal stories of the involved parties. And I’m finding history to be far more interesting.

While staying in Fredericksburg, we immersed ourselves in a crash course on Lyndon Baines Johnson, a native of the Hill Country and, as you know, the 36th president of our country. We didn’t intend to spend an entire day focused on LBJ, but we found ourselves drawn into the story of his life. We started in Johnson City (founded by LBJ’s family in the 1870’s), where we toured the white clapboard farmhouse that was his boyhood home (no electricity, no indoor plumbing) and learned a bit about his family (a grandiose, alcoholic politician for a father and a domineering, intellectual mother). A photo of Lyndon, age 7, hangs in his childhood bedroom; he sits on the front steps in overalls and a cowboy hat—the inscription reads, “In a pensive mood. No doubt.

The excellent LBJ National Park Visitor Center is just around the corner, where we learned about Johnson’s life and what he accomplished in his relatively brief 64 years on this earth. The short story: LBJ was a complicated man with a burning agenda to create The Great Society, with the goal of eliminating racial injustice and poverty. While many think of him as dictatorial and grandiose, an equal number remember him as compassionate and generous.

Despite his personality flaws, there’s no question that Johnson was dedicated to improving the lot of those less fortunate—he was never far from his memories of a childhood without electricity or running water and his education in a one-room schoolhouse. Johnson’s astonishing legacy includes the passage of the Civil Rights Act, the War on Poverty, Medicare, and protection for the environment. Throughout his administration, more National Park Service sites were designated or expanded than during any other.

Sadly, the Vietnam War overshadowed Johnson’s presidency—he believed that the war was essential to stop the spread of Communism (as did the majority of his advisors) and he couldn’t manage to extricate himself or our country. He was painfully aware of public sentiment and agonized that people would remember him only for the war, and not for his commitment to creating the Great Society. After leaving the Presidency, he was often depressed, morosely listening to “Bridge Over Troubled Water,” his favorite song—“When you’re weary, feeling small, when tears are in your eyes… And friends just can’t be found…”

We continued our immersion in LBJ’s life in nearby Stonewall, the site of the LBJ Ranch and home. LBJ and Lady Bird spent so much time here during his presidency that it came to be known as the Texas White House. Many important state meetings took place on the front lawn in the shade of the 400-year old oaks overlooking the Pedernales River.

Walking into the Texas White House is like stepping back into the 1960’s, down to the chrome yellow Formica kitchen countertops and the turquoise Naugahyde furniture in President Johnson’s office. It was as though they had just stepped out for a moment; Johnson’s suits, cowboy boots and Stetsons in his closet; tailored dresses and brightly colored kaftans in Lady Bird’s closets. A pillow on LBJ’s recliner is embroidered in turquoise script that says, “This is my ranch, and I do as I damn please.” The embroidered pillows on Lady Bird’s bed say, “I slept, and dreamed that life was beauty. I awoke and found that life was duty.” Amazing how a sentence embroidered on a pillow can sum up an approach to life.

It was interesting to hear stories of exactly how President Johnson accomplished so much. He lived and breathed politics 18-20 hours a day, and demanded that everyone who worked for him do the same. He had 72 phones installed in the Texas White House, including one in the dining room table handy to his outrageous brown-and-white cowhide upholstered swivel-dining chair (which Lady Bird despised), where he carried on phone conversations while entertaining guests. He was crude, charming, and relentless. The isolation of the Texas White House served his purposes—once there, guests were captive until President Johnson got his way.

LBJ was also fond of practical jokes; he loved taking unsuspecting visitors for a ride in his amphibious car, pretending the brakes had failed while driving full speed into the lake. And he enjoyed giving gifts—there’s an entire room filled with leftover gifts emblazoned with the Presidential seal, including the usual cigarette lighters and cuff links, but also his trademark Stetsons—and bizarrely enough, electric toothbrushes. When asked, “Why toothbrushes?” he said, “I want people to think of me right away when they wake up and right before they go to bed.”

He was undoubtedly enormously challenging to live with, but Lady Bird was always at his side to smooth things over. She was powerful in her own gracious, genteel way—her legacy is the Beautification Act of 1965, which pioneered environmental protection and beautification and is responsible for the wildflowers abundantly found along Texas highways.

LBJ genuinely felt a deep attachment to the land and his heritage. He longed for the Hill Country, “where people know when you are sick, love you while you are alive, and miss you when you die.” He was born, lived for the last two decades of his life, died, and was buried on the LBJ Ranch in the Johnson Family Cemetery. The President and Mrs. Johnson donated the ranch and their home to the National Park Service as a historic site, and Lady Bird lived there part-time—often seen waving to visitors from the porch—until her death in 2007.

We returned another day to visit the Sauer-Beckmann Farm, a living history farm that is part of the LBJ Historical Park. It’s an authentic Hill Country farmstead that recreates life as it was in the early 1900’s for a Texas-German family; the rangers and volunteers do everything just as it was done at that time: milking cows and making butter and cheese, keeping chickens and collecting eggs, raising hogs for meat, making soap, growing a vegetable garden and tending fruit trees, keeping house and cooking meals. Walking through the gate, we felt as though we had stepped back in time 100 years. We liked it so much that we’re considering volunteering there for a month or two at some point in our travels. (But not during hog butchering season.)

A note about the photos: For some ridiculous unexplained reason, photos are not allowed inside of the Texas White House. So I scrounged around and found a couple of interior shots on the Internet that were taken by people who didn’t have a companion hissing, “Don’t even THINK about taking photos with your phone!”

The Making Of LBJ

Boyhood Home

Scenery Along The Way

LBJ's Childhood Bedroom

Lyndon's Baseball Glove

As A Young Boy

Kitchen Of Boyhood Home

Bluebonnets In Johnson City

On The Front Porch

Entrance To LBJ Ranch

LBJ's Herefords

The Texas White House

400-Year-Old Oak Tree

Three TV's In Every Room

LBJ's Office At Texas White House

LBJ's Lazy Boy

Gifts From The President

LBJ's Amphibious Car

Air Force One-Half

LBJ And LadyBird's Final Resting Place

LBJ State Historic Park

Sauer Beckmann Farm

Windmill And Water Tank

Wandering The Farmstead

The Barn And Milk Cow

Just Stepped Out Of A Mud Bath

An Enormous Ram

Egg Suppliers

Park Ranger In Authentic Dress

The Farmhouse Kitchen

Fresh Eggs

Kitchen Cupboard

Pickles And Preserves

Farmhouse Bedroom

Antique Rocking Horse

Home Remedies

Lard For Soapmaking

Cold Cellar

The Making Of LBJ
Boyhood Home
Scenery Along The Way
LBJ's Childhood Bedroom
Lyndon's Baseball Glove
As A Young Boy
Kitchen Of Boyhood Home
Bluebonnets In Johnson City
On The Front Porch
Entrance To LBJ Ranch
LBJ's Herefords
The Texas White House
400-Year-Old Oak Tree
Three TV's In Every Room
LBJ's Office At Texas White House
LBJ's Lazy Boy
Gifts From The President
LBJ's Amphibious Car
Air Force One-Half
LBJ And LadyBird's Final Resting Place
LBJ State Historic Park
Sauer Beckmann Farm
Windmill And Water Tank
Wandering The Farmstead
The Barn And Milk Cow
Just Stepped Out Of A Mud Bath
An Enormous Ram
Egg Suppliers
Park Ranger In  Authentic Dress
The Farmhouse Kitchen
Fresh Eggs
Kitchen Cupboard
Pickles And Preserves
Farmhouse Bedroom
Antique Rocking Horse
Home Remedies
Lard For Soapmaking
Cold Cellar
The Making Of LBJ  thumbnail
Boyhood Home  thumbnail
Scenery Along The Way  thumbnail
LBJ's Childhood Bedroom thumbnail
Lyndon's Baseball Glove  thumbnail
As A Young Boy  thumbnail
Kitchen Of Boyhood Home  thumbnail
Bluebonnets In Johnson City  thumbnail
On The Front Porch thumbnail
Entrance To LBJ Ranch  thumbnail
LBJ's Herefords  thumbnail
The Texas White House  thumbnail
400-Year-Old Oak Tree  thumbnail
Three TV's In Every Room thumbnail
LBJ's Office At Texas White House  thumbnail
LBJ's Lazy Boy  thumbnail
Gifts From The President  thumbnail
LBJ's Amphibious Car  thumbnail
Air Force One-Half  thumbnail
LBJ And LadyBird's Final Resting Place  thumbnail
LBJ State Historic Park  thumbnail
Sauer Beckmann Farm  thumbnail
Windmill And Water Tank  thumbnail
Wandering The Farmstead  thumbnail
The Barn And Milk Cow thumbnail
Just Stepped Out Of A Mud Bath  thumbnail
An Enormous Ram  thumbnail
Egg Suppliers  thumbnail
Park Ranger In  Authentic Dress thumbnail
The Farmhouse Kitchen  thumbnail
Fresh Eggs  thumbnail
Kitchen Cupboard  thumbnail
Pickles And Preserves  thumbnail
Farmhouse Bedroom  thumbnail
Antique Rocking Horse  thumbnail
Home Remedies thumbnail
Lard For Soapmaking  thumbnail
Cold Cellar  thumbnail

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Yellowstone, Part II

Yellowstone, Part II

Posted by on Oct 23, 2013 in Gallery, Montana, National Parks, Wyoming | 10 comments

That last Yellowstone post was too long. So I’m making this one brief. The subtitle is “Jams: Various Varieties.”

Day 5: Woke up to a couple of inches of snow. Tried to drive to the Canyon area, but halfway there, got stuck in a huge traffic jam; walked a half-mile to find a truck and trailer jack-knifed across the road (their pride was the only thing hurt).

No hope of getting through for hours, so we drove back to Lamar Valley, where we encountered a bear jam of people stopping to watch a two-year old grizzly napping on a tree.

Then stuck in a bison jam, one of many. They do exactly as they please, when they please. It’s fun to hear them trotting alongside the truck, kind of like being in a Western movie.

Day 6: Cold and icy, so we stayed close to home and drove just inside the park for a nearby hike on the Lava Creek Trail (open territory, no bears). Antelope jam on the way home. Rutting season is in full swing, and they were oblivious to us as they leapt and chased each other in a field about 25 feet away. Nearby, a bull elk tried to close down the road leaving the park, claiming the territory as his own.

Day 7: Moved to West Yellowstone for several more days of exploration. Got trapped in a huge traffic jam; this was the same road we were stuck on trying to drive to Canyon a couple of days previous. This time, no possibility of turning around because we were towing the trailer.

Turned out to be a grizzly jam, created by an enormous grizzly just off the side of the road. It was the exact spot where we had stopped two days prior to walk around a little hot pool area. Which is exactly why you’re warned to always carry bear spray.

Day 8: Freezing cold, sleeting, raining, crazy winds. We went out anyway to explore the iconic Old Faithful Area and the Fountain Paint Pots along the way. No jams of any kind; the weather was too awful for much of anything or anyone to be out. Lots of geyser activity, and Old Faithful still doing its thing, every 90 minutes, after all these years. Old Faithful was kind of a snore (being predictable and on time is overrated) but witnessing the explosions of other geysers along the 4 miles of boardwalks was exciting.

Day 9: Woke up to find out that our government shut down the park. Time to move on.

Yellowstone Part II

Attempting To Drive To Canyon Area

Oops!

In No Hurry

Road From Mammoth To West Yellowstone

Lamar Valley With Snow

Bison Jam

Young Grizzly

Rolling In The Mud

Crazed

Crossing The Gardiner River

On The Lava Creek Trail

Staking His Claim Near The North Entrance

Pronghorn

Pronghorn Does

Relentless Pursuit

Town Of West Yellowstone

Grizzly Bear Jam

Big Grizzly

Colorful Heat Loving Microorganisms

On The Boardwalk

That Glove Is A Gonner

Umbrellas In The Steam

Geysers Spouting

Heart Spring

Opal Pool

Punch Bowl Spring

Morning Glory Pool

Riverside Geyser Erupting

Riverside Geyser Audience

Soaking Wet, Freezing Cold

Yellowstone Part II
Attempting To Drive To Canyon Area
Oops!
In No Hurry
Road From Mammoth To West Yellowstone
Lamar Valley With Snow
Bison Jam
Young Grizzly
Rolling In The Mud
Crazed
Crossing The Gardiner River
On The Lava Creek Trail
Staking His Claim Near The North Entrance
Pronghorn
Pronghorn Does
Relentless Pursuit
Town Of West Yellowstone
Grizzly Bear Jam
Big Grizzly
Colorful Heat Loving Microorganisms
On The Boardwalk
That Glove Is A Gonner
Umbrellas In The Steam
Geysers Spouting
Heart Spring
Opal Pool
Punch Bowl Spring
Morning Glory Pool
Riverside Geyser Erupting
Riverside Geyser Audience
Soaking Wet, Freezing Cold
Yellowstone Part II  thumbnail
Attempting To Drive To Canyon Area thumbnail
Oops!  thumbnail
In No Hurry  thumbnail
Road From Mammoth To West Yellowstone  thumbnail
Lamar Valley With Snow thumbnail
Bison Jam thumbnail
Young Grizzly  thumbnail
Rolling In The Mud  thumbnail
Crazed  thumbnail
Crossing The Gardiner River  thumbnail
On The Lava Creek Trail  thumbnail
Staking His Claim Near The North Entrance  thumbnail
Pronghorn  thumbnail
Pronghorn Does  thumbnail
Relentless Pursuit  thumbnail
Town Of West Yellowstone  thumbnail
Grizzly Bear Jam  thumbnail
Big Grizzly  thumbnail
Colorful Heat Loving Microorganisms  thumbnail
On The Boardwalk  thumbnail
That Glove Is A Gonner  thumbnail
Umbrellas In The Steam  thumbnail
Geysers Spouting  thumbnail
Heart Spring  thumbnail
Opal Pool  thumbnail
Punch Bowl Spring  thumbnail
Morning Glory Pool thumbnail
Riverside Geyser Erupting  thumbnail
Riverside Geyser Audience  thumbnail
Soaking Wet, Freezing Cold  thumbnail

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Yellowstone, Part I

Yellowstone, Part I

Posted by on Oct 17, 2013 in Gallery, Hiking, Hot Springs, Montana, National Parks, Travel |

We arrived in Yellowstone National Park with the intention of spending about three days. Eight days later, we weren’t quite ready to leave. However, the government sent us on our way when they shut the gates to the park on October 1st. According to the stone arch that we drove through every day to enter the park, Yellowstone was created “For the benefit and enjoyment of the people.” But we won’t dwell on the insane shenanigans of our government officials here. Instead, we’re going to focus on how absolutely spectacular Yellowstone is, and we’re going to do our best to share our experience with you.

Which is impossible. I just want to say at the outset that trying to capture Yellowstone in photographs is challenging, to say the least. There’s just so much that doesn’t fit into the photo frame. Nothing quite prepares one for the vastness that is Yellowstone. And the diversity of landscape. And the wildlife. And the crazy weather. We learned that we definitely could not trust the weather forecasts for Yellowstone. They are always wrong. It’s not their fault. Yellowstone is just not to be tamed.

We experienced rain, sun, snow, sleet, hail, and torrential winds, sometimes all in one day. But we decided to not let any of it stop us.

The main park road is laid out somewhat like a figure eight, with a main entrance at the north (near the town of Gardiner, Montana) and another main entrance at the west (near the town of West Yellowstone, Montana). We started our adventure at the north entrance, choosing to stay in an RV park in Gardiner because a snowstorm was forecast, and we didn’t want to be stuck in a park campground with no electricity or water. It was a good decision. The nearest campground in the park (Mammoth) was crowded and sandwiched between two busy roads. In contrast, our RV park campsite was right on the river, peaceful, and convenient. We ended up staying six nights, extending our stay every afternoon when we returned from exploring and realized that we weren’t done yet.

After setting up camp, we took off for our first exploration of Yellowstone. The helpful volunteers at the Yellowstone Information Center in Gardiner advised us to drive the Lamar Valley before the impending snowstorm. The Lamar Valley is known for wildlife sightings: We put bison, elk, pronghorn, grizzly bears, and wolves on our wish list. Heeding the advice of the rangers, we also bought an enormous canister of bear spray. And we were tutored in exactly how to use it: If a bear makes a threatening move, aim the spray toward the ground and give the bear a warning blast (make sure you’re not downwind of the spray). If the bear keeps coming, unleash the remainder of the pepper spray into his face. Other instructions—don’t run, and don’t scream. Which is exactly the opposite of what every cell of your being is programmed to do.

Things have changed dramatically in Yellowstone since the last time I visited. It was 1961, I was 7 years old, and our family was on a cross-country road trip in our VW bug. My most vivid memory from that trip is of feeding the bears. We rolled up slices of bread in the windows of our VW, and the black bears would lumber up to the car and snatch the bread from the window. It was thrilling! The rangers at that time displayed a laissez-faire attitude toward the interaction of people and wildlife. But at some point in the ensuing decades, it became obvious that feeding the bears wasn’t such a great idea. I think it was when the bears figured out that they could just break into cars and tents and take whatever they wanted.

Since that time, grizzly bears have also made a comeback in Yellowstone. That, combined with stories of more aggressive black bear behavior, and the fact that fall is the time when bears are ravenously foraging for food before they go into hibernation, encouraged us to fork over $45 for the bear spray.

The entire time we were in Yellowstone, we didn’t leave the truck without Eric strapping on the big red canister of bear spray (the rangers cautioned us to wear the canister at all times on a belt or shoulder harness). We also talked and sang on every hike, because bears don’t like to be surprised. I like to converse while we’re hiking, admiring the beauty of the landscape, naming the plants, spotting birds and animals along the way. But it was exhausting even for me to keep up constant chatter. As for Eric, after a hike to Beaver Ponds just above the Mammoth area (where bears had been spotted and so we talked and sang the entire way), I told him he talked more on that hike than in 16 years of our previous hiking together. We decided then that we weren’t doing any more hiking in forested areas where we couldn’t see what was around us.

Here, the first half of our adventure in Yellowstone:

Day 1: Drove through golden Lamar Valley along the winding Lamar River with the Rocky Mountains as a backdrop. It was a gorgeous drive, and almost right away we saw bison. In fact, as we attempted a short hike to Wraith Falls, we were blocked by bison on the trail, and decided to turn around and give them the right-of-way. We also saw an enormous herd of elk in the little enclave of Mammoth Springs—one bull, and at least 15 females. He was busy the entire time we were at Yellowstone bugling and charging vehicles and people. There were several rangers on duty at all times trying to keep insane people from getting too close. When I mentioned to one ranger that it must be a pain trying to keep people from doing stupid things, he remarked, “If I had my way, I’d let people do what they want. If they want to be nominated for a Darwin Award, let ‘em at it!”

Day 2: Mammoth Hot Springs is just a few miles inside the north entrance to Yellowstone. It’s a 300-foot brilliant white travertine mound, encircled in clouds of steam from the various pools that cascade down the sides. A couple of miles of boardwalks, connected by steep stairs, meander around the pools. We walked the boardwalks, enjoying the cascading springs and the views from high above of the lodge below.

Late in the afternoon, we hiked a half-mile trail in heavy fog to soak in natural hot pools, at the sweet spot where the Boiling River meets the ice-cold Gardiner River (just inside the park boundary). We lucked out in that most people were apparently deterred by the weather, and there was only one other couple at the pools. Wading about 50-feet over slippery rocks in the knee-deep, swirling, freezing river to reach the hot pools was challenging, but soaking in the pools, mist rising around us, was magical.

Day 3: Stormy and cold! In the afternoon it cleared enough for us to hike the Beaver Ponds trail, a 5-mile hike above Mammoth Hot Springs. This was the hike that convinced us we weren’t going to hike any more trails at Yellowstone that involved densely forested areas (and potential encounters with bears).

Day 4: We drove about 20 miles to Norris Geyser Basin, one of the most active geyser areas in the park. I browsed the little museum at the entrance to the boardwalk, and saw an image of the molten lava that bubbles beneath all of Yellowstone. It’s a bit unsettling to realize that Yellowstone is one of the largest super volcanoes in the world, and that at some point, it’s going to erupt again (the last time was about 650,000 years ago). But I was relieved to find out that officials have an evacuation plan just in case things heat up. (I’m sure that’s going to go smoothly.)

A better plan is to just not think about the fact that you’re walking above an active volcano. Norris Geyser Basin was our favorite of the geyser areas—dozens of varied hot pools, geysers, mud pots, and steam vents; all simultaneously bubbling, gurgling, popping, and whistling. Great clouds of sulfurous steam surrounded us as we walked the couple of miles of boardwalks. It was like strolling through a beautiful version of hell.

Yellowstone, Part I

Gateway To North Yellowstone

Yellowstone RV Park, Gardiner

Yellowstone Park Info In Gardiner

Post Office In Mammoth Hot Springs

With His Harem In Mammoth Village

Lamar Valley Drive

The Wolf Watchers

Bison On The Trail

Enormous And Shaggy

More Wolf Watchers

Sunset Lamar Valley

Mammoth Hot Springs Near Entrance To Boardwalk

The Boardwalk Around Mammoth Hot Springs

On The Boardwalk At Mammoth Hot Springs

Mammoth Hot Springs Village

Palette Spring

Canary Spring

Do Not Approach If Hungry

On The Trail To The Soaking Pools

First View Of The Soaking Pools

The Boiling River

To The Soaking Pools

Fleece Vest And A Towel

Packing Bear Spray

How Things Used To Be

Approaching Norris Geyser Basin

Entrance To Norris Geyser Basin-CCC Structure

Norris Geyser Basin

On The Boardwalk Norris Geyser Basin

Steambath In The Norris Geyser Basin

Geyser Spouting

Porcelain Springs

Bubbling Hot Spring

Geysers And Hot Pools Everywhere

Gorgeous Colloidal Pool

Colorful Heat Loving Microorganisms

Illustration From The Museum-This Is What Lies Beneath Yellowstone!

Up To No Good On Top Of Our Kayak

Yellowstone, Part I
Gateway To North Yellowstone
Yellowstone RV Park, Gardiner
Yellowstone Park Info In Gardiner
Post Office In Mammoth Hot Springs
With His Harem In Mammoth Village
Lamar Valley Drive
The Wolf Watchers
Bison On The Trail
Enormous And Shaggy
More Wolf Watchers
Sunset Lamar Valley
Mammoth Hot Springs Near Entrance To Boardwalk
The Boardwalk Around Mammoth Hot Springs
On The Boardwalk At Mammoth Hot Springs
Mammoth Hot Springs Village
Palette Spring
Canary Spring
Do Not Approach If Hungry
On The Trail To The Soaking Pools
First View Of The Soaking Pools
The Boiling River
To The Soaking Pools
Fleece Vest And A Towel
Packing Bear Spray
How Things Used To Be
Approaching Norris Geyser Basin
Entrance To Norris Geyser Basin-CCC Structure
Norris Geyser Basin
On The Boardwalk Norris Geyser Basin
Steambath In The Norris Geyser Basin
Geyser Spouting
Porcelain Springs
Bubbling Hot Spring
Geysers And Hot Pools Everywhere
Gorgeous Colloidal Pool
Colorful Heat Loving Microorganisms
Illustration From The Museum-This Is What Lies Beneath Yellowstone!
Up To No Good On Top Of Our Kayak
Yellowstone, Part I  thumbnail
Gateway To North Yellowstone  thumbnail
Yellowstone RV Park, Gardiner thumbnail
Yellowstone Park Info In Gardiner thumbnail
Post Office In Mammoth Hot Springs  thumbnail
With His Harem In Mammoth Village thumbnail
Lamar Valley Drive  thumbnail
The Wolf Watchers  thumbnail
Bison On The Trail  thumbnail
Enormous And Shaggy thumbnail
More Wolf Watchers  thumbnail
Sunset Lamar Valley  thumbnail
Mammoth Hot Springs Near Entrance To Boardwalk  thumbnail
The Boardwalk Around Mammoth Hot Springs  thumbnail
On The Boardwalk At Mammoth Hot Springs  thumbnail
Mammoth Hot Springs Village  thumbnail
Palette Spring  thumbnail
Canary Spring  thumbnail
Do Not Approach If Hungry   thumbnail
On The Trail To The Soaking Pools  thumbnail
First View Of The Soaking Pools  thumbnail
The Boiling River  thumbnail
To The Soaking Pools  thumbnail
Fleece Vest And A Towel  thumbnail
Packing Bear Spray  thumbnail
How Things Used To Be thumbnail
Approaching Norris Geyser Basin thumbnail
Entrance To Norris Geyser Basin-CCC Structure  thumbnail
Norris Geyser Basin  thumbnail
On The Boardwalk Norris Geyser Basin  thumbnail
Steambath In The Norris Geyser Basin  thumbnail
Geyser Spouting  thumbnail
Porcelain Springs  thumbnail
Bubbling Hot Spring  thumbnail
Geysers And Hot Pools Everywhere  thumbnail
Gorgeous Colloidal Pool  thumbnail
Colorful Heat Loving Microorganisms  thumbnail
Illustration From The Museum-This Is What Lies Beneath Yellowstone!  thumbnail
Up To No Good On Top Of Our Kayak  thumbnail

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