Jul 052010

Hume Lake at sunrise in Kings Canyon National Park, California

The original plan was for us to drive out of the national park late in the day yesterday, instead we opted to grab a night at Kings Canyon Lodge which had a free room – on a holiday weekend! We’ll have a few more hours in the midst of all this spectacular beauty although we’ll get home later, too, of course. We were gone  arrived at Hume Lake just at sunrise, when a breeze blew through and disturbed the water’s glassy surface. Ducks were beginning to stir and a light fog was lifting off the lake– a perfect sunrise moment. But we had little time to linger.

Small waterfall on the Congress Trail in Sequoia National Park, California

We do decide to take time to enjoy the sights at the General Sherman trail after all. Eight years ago was our last visit to this corner of Sequoia National Park and being right here in the middle of the park it would have been a shame to skip a return walk through the woods on our way south. Everything is different, well the trees are all the same but the parking lot has moved and the trail is altogether new. The next thing that strikes us is the evidence that yesterday was a major holiday that brought out the worst of people. Trash is everywhere. Paper, wrappers, bottle caps, pieces of plastic, and toilet paper. That’s right, TP. Who is it that thinks about bringing toilet paper out on the trail, squats next to a giant sequoia to take a pee and then leaves her wad of paper right there at the foot of the tree? Good thing there is all this beauty around us competing for our attention.

Caroline Wise standing in the trunk of a giant Sequoia tree in Sequoia National Park, California

Something these photos have trouble conveying is the size of the trees. With Caroline standing in the trunk it’s easier to get the idea of the enormous footprint these giants have imprinted on the hillside. Besides the General Sherman tree at the beginning of the trail, nothing looks familiar. Had there been a billion less mosquitos maybe we could have walked slower, allowing us to remember a few familiar locations, instead we hoofed it. The Congress and the House parts of the grove were the only other trees that stoked our memories.

On the loop trail near the General Sherman tree in Sequoia National Park, California

As we are leaving the trail, everyone else is joining it. Less than two hours to cover the two-and-a-half-miles, a land speed record for the snail hikers.,Although, I’m telling you, it was the motivation brought on by the angry hordes of mosquitos. Before leaving the park through the south exit we have to endure a partial road closure that is regulated by a light, a long painful red light that takes forever to turn green. Eventually though we are quickly descending the mountain to rejoin urban America. Oh, the misery of forcing ourselves back into reality.

A motel sign for a motel that is long gone in Yucca, Arizona

Most of the drive home is through desert. From out in the Mojave east to that infamous hotspot Needles, California we cruise along at ten miles per hour over the posted speed limit. Here comes Ludlow and Dairy Queen, yummers, a chocolate malt sounds good right about now. Off the freeway and OMG there are ninety-five cars and three hundred other ice cream hungry travelers here. We don’t even get below fifteen miles per hour as we turn around and are right back on the I-40. At the last possible second I pull off in Yucca, Arizona to photograph a town that has all but disappeared. A defunct neon sign is all that remains of the motel that is no longer to be found.

Jan 202010

Twilight the morning of our departure from Mammoth Hot Springs in Yellowstone National Park January 2010
It’s now 8:30, an hour ago I was outside watching the dawn arrive. The beginning of the day looked promising with some thin clouds stained with a faint magenta and red against a clear sky grabbing the first light. Now we sit in the Map Room here at Mammoth Hot Springs awaiting this minute. The coach has pulled up but we’ll sit here until the last second, until the driver enters the building. The heaviness of leaving weighs down my ability to spring into action and deliver our bags to the curb.

Leaving via the north entrance of Yellowstone National Park January 2010

In five minutes we will pass through the Roosevelt Gate at the northern entrance of Yellowstone National Park bringing an end to our physical presence in the park, but Yellowstone is firmly entrenched within us. We leave silently kicking and screaming.

Roosevelt Arch at the north entrance of Yellowstone National Park January 2010

A sad goodbye with a tearful but joyous heart breaks with the landscape as we try to drag our little piece of experience we have gleaned from Yellowstone. As we depart we should recognize the efforts that have gone into making this a world-wide loved destination, starting with; John Colter, who first told the stories of this magical place from his visit during the winter of 1807-1808 and inspired others to follow; Nathaniel Pitt Langford who, following the Washburn Expedition of 1870 and his own written experiences of his encounter with Yellowstone, went on to lecture across America and finally lobbied Congress for the legislation to make Yellowstone our first National Park; President Ulysses S. Grant who signed the bill into law that created this National Park on March 1, 1872, the Interior Department, the National Park Service, and all of our tax dollars that work to preserve this corner of America.

On U.S. 89 in Montana driving north out of Yellowstone National Park January 2010

U.S. Route 89 north takes us further away and for the first time in more than a week we are traveling faster than 25 miles per hour. We pass Gardiner, Chico Hot Springs, Emigrant, Pray, and Pine Creek. In Livingston we join Interstate 90 going west. Our destination, the Bozeman Airport is approached in a minute and not a minute later we are unloaded and in the terminal – the convenience of small airports. We were able to grab an earlier flight still leaving enough time for a quick lunch.

Somewhere over the western United States looking down from an airplane flying south in January 2010

Over America. In America. How lucky we are to know this country first hand. During the past twelve months Caroline and I have driven the Skyline Drive through the Shenandoah National Park in Virginia, visited Jamestown and Williamsburg. Toured the Whitehouse, Mount Vernon, and Monticello. In Washington D.C. we finally made it to the top of the Washington Monument, we visited the Smithsonian Museum of the American Indian, took a tour of the U.S. Capitol and a night time tour of the U.S. Naval Observatory. In New York City over two visits we walked through Central Park, Wall Street, Little Italy, China Town, Greenwich Village, crossed the Brooklyn Bridge and went to the top of the Empire State Building – we also stood in the crown of the Statue of Liberty. We rode the Maid of the Mist in Niagara Falls and a Amish horse drawn buggy in Lancaster, Pennsylvania. In Philadelphia we visited Constitution Hall, the Liberty Bell, and the home of Edgar Allen Poe. In Baltimore we toured Fort McHenry where the original Stars & Stripes once flew that inspired the Star Spangled Banner. Historic Gettysburg was easy to fall in love with. A year without the Grand Canyon wouldn’t have been a good year. Old Route 66 with a return to Oatman, Arizona and the wild donkeys was great. In California we ate at the Fish Market in San Pedro, on another visit we had fun at Disneyland and caught a movie in Hollywood. The Forth of July was spent riding the Cumbres Toltec Steam Train with one of the best fireworks shows ever right there in Chama, New Mexico. In Florida we strode through the Everglades, kayaked the Keys, and camped on the remote Dry Tortugas. And now Yellowstone. To see and know America one must get out of the clouds, put oneself on the trail and small roads, gaze up to the heights of the mountains, look out on the horizon of the seas, feel the wind blow on the Great Plains, get lost looking into a canyon, and spend time getting to know this land so few take the time to see and experience.

Jan 152010

Sunrise in the Lamar Valley - Yellowstone National Park January 2010

Up early and downstairs before 6:15 for the “Wake up to Wildlife” tour. Our guide this morning is Tyrene, who also happened to be our driver last year for the snowcoach drive from Mammoth to Old Faithful. Tyrene is a vet in Yellowstone, having worked here more than ten years. She tells of the more than five-thousand miles put on her hiking boots over that time and that her favorite past-time is fly fishing, hence her love affair with Yellowstone. During our current trip Tyrene will twice more handle the driving and tour guide chores while Caroline and I hope to return one day for a chartered tour led by her where we can choose to linger a little longer to enjoy the sights at our pace instead of meeting the schedule of the group. For you fly fishing aficionados: Tyrene leads chartered tours of the many rivers in Yellowstone such as the Firehole and Madison during Summer.

The road in to Lamar Valley on an early gray morning - Yellowstone National Park January 2010

Pulling away from the hotel, the road to Lamar Valley is a mix of clear to snowy with intermittent icy spots. From the dark blue of first twilight the sky begins to lighten and I can see clouds stretching along the north and south with a patch of clear sky to the east that is brighter than the heavens surrounding us. Even that small window to where we should have greeted the rising sun soon disappears. Occasional flashes of pink illuminate low wisps of clouds as the sun finds holes in the heavy overcast sky.

A bison on the road in Lamar Valley at Yellowstone National Park in January 2010

It would be more than a few miles before we spot wildlife. Elk, first on a shadowy ridge in the distance, then a large herd, covering the hillsides. While plentiful enough they are a goodly distance from the road, great for viewing, less so for photography. Then we encountered a forlorn bison calf walking up the road seemingly lost of its herd. As we approached with our snowcoach the little bison turned tail ambling down the road in front of us. About a mile later the juvenile rejoined its extended family.

Big Horn Sheep grazing hill side near Soda Butte Creek in Lamar Valley - Yellowstone National Park January 2010

After the bison jam spread out letting us pass, Tyrene pulled over near Slough Creek for a facilities break for those who might need it – seems as though everyone did. Piling back in the van, off in the distance I heard the unmistakable howl of a wolf, and then a second howl. Initially the loud conversation nearly drowned out the canine call until I was able to arrest the group’s attention so they too could enjoy the call of the wild. Seeing a wolf though was not in the cards on this tour. But a surprise was on hand that didn’t disappoint. Two big horn sheep were grazing hillside next to the road just north of Soda Butte Creek.

Coyote in the snow at Lamar Valley in Yellowstone National Park January 2010

Soda Butte Creek which lies east of the Lamar River, sandwiched between Mount Norris and Druid Peak, was also our turnaround point. The return to Mammoth would take us back up the road we came down on with little promise of seeing more wildlife than we had seen on our first drive through. That turned out to not be all together true though. Shortly after we passed the same bison we had spotted forty-five minutes earlier someone in the coach noticed a coyote in the snow not far from the road.

Bull elk identified as Number 10 lieing down in the snow in Lamar Valley - Yellowstone National Park January 2010

One and all we scoured the hillsides looking for an elusive wolf. In some sad way, Yellowstone is reduced to collecting trophy sights, one is spotting wolves, the other witnessing Old Faithful erupt. So much more exists, seen and unseeable that requires more than a casual drive through with an itinerary that demands we stop only at the famous and predictable. Then, there on the left, laying in the brush, a bull elk. Not just any bull either, this is number ten, six’s rival. Well if six were still alive, he died in a freak accident about year ago, you can read about that here. And that folks, concluded our Wake up to Wildlife tour of the Lamar Valley.

Black-billed magpie crossing the road at Mammoth Hot Springs in Yellowstone National Park January 2010

Back at the Mammoth Hot Springs Hotel we have but a short time to grab some lunch at the dining room before the next tour gets underway. The sandwiches are ordered and delivered in less than seven minutes, we are gone ten minutes later. Now early, we cross back over to the hotel to await the snowcoach. A black-billed magpie walks along with us as though it were awaiting falling snacks, somebody hasn’t been listening to National Park rules, nor probably would have I if it weren’t for the constant reminders from my wife.

Dec 102008

A light fog helps create light beams from the sun as the sun shines into the forest at Carl Washburne State Park in Oregon

Not taking any photos leaves me with no new photos to post. Well, not a new one that was shot today anyway, so I am filling in a gap with this slightly older photo taken on our vacation to Oregon last month. This image is once again from the Carl G. Washburne Memorial State Park. With a little bit of fog in the air and the sun throwing light into the forest these light beams never fail to amaze me.