Thursday, September 18, 2014

Dubois, WY

A Visit with Friends

Emily, Liz, Me, and Boozer in Jackson Hole

Months before leaving home back in May, my friend Liz and I planned my stop-over in Dubois where her family recently completed the construction of their long-dreamt-about home.  Well, you know about best-laid plans ...

Right before I was scheduled to leave for Dubois via the Tetons, Liz got word that son Clay’s army unit, stationed in Afghanistan for the last 9 months, was due stateside in just a few days.  She and her daughter Emily made immediate plans to meet Clay in El Paso.  That left us just 2 days to visit.  I was so disappointed but ….. one can hardly argue with Motherhood and Uncle Sam!

I was still in Yellowstone – some 2.5 hours from Dubois – so Liz and Emily decided to meet me at Grant Village Campground for an overnight visit.  I was thrilled to see them pull up to my campsite that afternoon. 

Liz also brought a most welcome package from back home – my new license plate.  My old one had expired days earlier and I was feeling even more conspicuous with my Alabama tag.  For days I had been feeling like a fugitive from justice.  More than usual even.  

I last saw Liz a few months ago when she visited us but hadn’t seen Emily in over a decade.  What an exceptional young woman she is - she's living her passion and seeing the world including a recent long stay in Tibet.  We had a great time over a real campfire (my first of the trip) and a weenie roast.   

Emily and Boozer had a close encounter with this elk bull we had seen earlier near our campsite.  Emily reported that the elk passed within a few feet of her!  

The next morning, Liz and Emily made banana and walnut pancakes expertly cooked over Emily’s alcohol stove.   The best meal I’ve had in a while!

Later in the morning, we left Yellowstone and headed to Jackson Hole for lunch then drove through the majestic in-your-face Grand Tetons.

The scenery on the drive to Dubois was absolutely stunning but I took no photos as I was occupied with keeping up with Liz's jeep, getting the GDB over a grinding 9,500 foot pass, and enduring a brief hailstorm.  But it was perhaps the most beautiful drive of my entire trip.  Believe me, that's saying something!

The mile-long driveway to the house is narrow, winding, and paved with gravel.  Of course, Liz has a lot of experience in all kinds of weather with the ups and downs - including hauling a 6-horse trailer.  It is with deep relief that I hand over my keys. 

Liz and her husband Denny purchased the land for their dream home years ago.  After years of steadily chipping away at it on a part-time basis, in between their respective job responsibilities, the dream was realized.  

The views from the house are indescribably gorgeous.

What's most impressive is that Liz's husband, Denny, built the house himself.      

Denny, who lists carpentry among his many talents, even built much of the furniture like the table behind the sofa and the bookcase.  I am kicking myself for not getting more photos of his craftsmanship.  He even chose the interior colors.

The next morning Liz, Boozer, and I hiked to one of her favorite overlooks right above their property.  I could have stayed there all day enjoying the quiet splendor.   

Boozer surveys his kingdom.

While the girls got packing, I managed to get some work done in yet another fabulous on-the-road office. 

We concluded our visit with  lunch at Cowboys, a Dubois eatery patronized by real cowboys.  I order – what else? – the cowboy breakfast.  And I discover than I really like spicy elk sausage.

After a tour of downtown Dubois, it was time to say goodbye.  Too soon.

Well, at least we had a little time together and I was able to see how the family’s vision has been realized.  I'm so proud for this deserving hard-working family.

I look forward to returning with John one day and spending more time in this mountain-top heaven.


Sunday, September 14, 2014

Yellowstone National Park: Part 4

Close Encounters

I was checking in to Mammoth Campground when the ranger informed me about a herd of elk moving through the campsites.  Drive slowly, she advised. Remember, it’s rutting season and the elk can be aggressive. 

As I approached my surprisingly secluded campsite, I found it surrounded by the entire herd.  

I counted 18 elk - males, females, and a few young ones.   

This Bull was lazing under a tree, not 15 feet away.  

I stayed in the GDB, observing them for a couple of hours.  Being surrounded these magnificent animals is an intense experience. 

At one point, I was gazing at the Bull, wishing he would bugle.  Then, as if on cue, he did!  I was so carried away by the moment that I gasped.  I swear he turned and looked right at me as if to say, Yeah ... I have that effect on the ladies. 

He dozed in the shade of the tree even as birds perched on his antlers.  Until then, I had never considered how very much like branches antlers are.  (That Darwin guy knew his stuff). 

Eventually, something caused him to stir and he charged over to a group of females right outside my door.

I should apologize for the poor quality of my photos but all were taken through my living room windows.  Anyway, I would rather live the experience than document it. 

And what an experience!  

Friday, September 12, 2014

Yellowstone National Park: Part 3

Campground Edition

In order to see as much of this vast 2.2 million-acre park as possible I've stayed in several different campgrounds.  Yellowstone’s 12 developed campgrounds are anywhere from 15 – 20 slow and winding miles apart, with occasional traffic jams.  

No problem.  Moving camp in the GDB every day is a cakewalk!  

The NPS divides Yellowstone into 3 'tours' – Mammoth Hot Springs, Canyon Village, and the Lake Area.  I base my camping choices on the proximity to these areas.  Each spot is unique.  

Mammoth Campground has its valley

Madison Campground has its river

Canyon Campground has  … well, you know

and Grant Village has Yellowstone Lake.

All the campgrounds are typical of the NP system, offering small sites developed in the 1930’s by the CCC for tent-camping.  This was before the era of big vehicles and ever-larger RVs.  In fact, some of the sites were tight even for the petite dimensions of the GDB.

Each camping spot was enjoyable in its own way and I would stay at any one of them again. 

However, wireless connectivity and cell service in the campgrounds ranges from poor to non-existent.  But, whaddya want?  It’s wilderness, right? 

In addition to the sporadic internet access, my computer’s fan has stopped working and, as a protective measure, the laptop shuts itself down frequently and without warning.  

Dial-up speeds + limited computer time = perfect storm

Technical issues are always frustrating.  But they become absolutely maddening when one has students with very busy lives who need timely answers to questions and quick solutions to problems.  

In addition, after 15 weeks on the road, my refrigerator needs defrosting.  Here’s a thought: I can stick my too-hot laptop into the too-cold fridge and solve 2 problems at once! 

But these annoyances gain perspective when I'm reminded that I’m sitting on an active volcano.  The world’s most dangerous, in fact.

And loving every minute of it!

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Yellowstone National Park: Part 2

[Note: The ever-agreeable Good Deal Bus is now pointing east for the long journey home.  So today I leave the wild and wondrous West for the prairies of the central plains.]

In the meantime ... 

Hello again from Yellowstone – where the magma is shallow. 

Old Faithful Inn

One day I drove south on the park road to Old Faithful Inn on a sentimental journey.  Our family stayed here in the late 60’s and I believe that trip is when I contracted my chronic gyspy-itis.  Hitch Itch, Wanderlust.  Whatever you want to call it.  Visiting Yellowstone NP was a highlight of my family’s travels.  (And it’s as mind-blowing now as it was then). 

Stepping into the Inn's lobby some 40 years later, I am amazed at the accuracy of my memory regarding the Inn’s fantastic structure.  

Especially its interior – made entirely of wood and stone.  

I remember crawling all over the place like a cockroach.  I kinda did the same thing this time.  

But mostly I thought about my Mom, who has been gone for 15 years. How she would have loved to come back here!  I wish I had made that happen.

Eventually, I manage to find where they keep the ice cream.  I’ve been meaning to try the region’s famed huckleberry flavor and finally got my chance.  

My god, that’s good stuff! 

I sat contentedly enjoying the richly decadent treat overlooking the lobby in one of those big wooden chairs I never forgot.  Suddenly, I was filled with emotion thinking about my Mom.  I miss her every single day.  (She would have gone for the key lime).  

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Yellowstone National Park: Part 1

Blogging about Yellowstone is a challenge because this place, this caldera, this active volcano is one of those spots on the planet that defies description, yet begs for it. 

Yellowstone: Drama Queen of the National Park System 

Where else can you see boiling mud?  

I’ve spent a week exploring the meadows

The valleys

The waterfalls

The canyons

The rapids

The thermal features

The rivers

The lakes

And, of course, the planet's most celebrated geyser – Old Faithful.  

I mean, visiting Yellowstone and missing an eruption would be like attending Mardi Gras and leaving without any beads. 

Yes, it’s crowded.  Very.  Everywhere you go, there is a constant stream of cars and people.  But since Labor Day, the tourist population has aged and the world is an infinitely quieter place. 

More to come from this magical place.