Sunday, August 30, 2009

Le Grande Teton

We could have posted pages more on Yellowstone, but it was time to move on to Grand Teton National Park. The park got its name from early French trappers who first called them "Les Trois Teton," or "The Three Breasts." Subsequently, some of the peaks have been given different names, but the highest (the pointy one in the middle), at over 13,000 feet, continues to be called "The Grand Teton."

After viewing the accounts of early explorers who climbed to the summit of "The Grand," I was amazed (and a little awed) to learn that my son, Brian Wann, climbed this peak several years ago with a group from St. Stephens School in Austin. Like most of Brian's adventures, I learned about it after the fact, and from a nervous mom's perspective, that's probably a good thing.

At any rate, we have spent the last five days camped just outside the east side of the park in the Grand Teton RV Park. We considered staying inside the park, but the options there involved lots of tall trees and limited views of the magnificent peaks. We're camped in a more open area here, with grand vistas and mountains to the west no matter what the time of day or the weather.

Like Yellowstone, Grand Teton NP is known for its wildlife. We've seen herds of elk, the most memorable a group of 30-40 cows and calves under the care and supervision of this beautiful bull. He wasn't very vocal, but the young bulls in the group were busy practicing their bugling skills. It sounded a lot like a group of 13-year-old boys whose voices were changing!

When we stopped to look, the herd bull quickly shepherded his "ladies" up the hill and away from us. We hope he survives the hunting season and sires many more magnificent elk.

Everyone who comes to Grand Teton NP hopes to see a moose. We've been scouring the willow thickets along the Snake River hoping to see the quintissential "big bull." Well, so far we've missed him. However, we first spied a yearling cow right beside the road.

Then, while shooting sunrise photos at the Ox Bow Bend of the Snake, we were lucky enough to see these two cows swimming across the river to feed in the willow thickets on the other side.

Another interesting site within Grand Teton N.P. is the Mormon Row Historic District. In the 1890s, several Mormon families settled in the Jackson Hole area. They homesteaded and formed a community originally called Grovont. They and their families lived and worked on the land until the mid-1900s, when the settlers' land was acquired to expand the park. Several of the original buildings still stand, including the famous John Moulton Barn, shown below.

Another picturesque barn was a part of the Thomas Alma & Lucille Moulton Homestead, and is located about 1/4 mile from the former John Moulton property. The buildings are deteriorating, but still show the craftsmanship of their original owners.


Thursday, August 27, 2009

Eight Days in Yellowstone and we only saw two bears!

Neither John nor I have ever visited Yellowstone, so we were blown away by the entire experience. From the east entrance, we traveled to Fishing Bridge RV Park, where we spent the next eight days. (John loved the irony of Fishing Bridge being closed to fishing! However, we were told that, due to heavy fishing in years past which greatly reduced the population of native cutthroat trout, it has been off-limits to fishermen for some time.)

One problem with camping in National Parks is that they are not very dog-friendly. Our four-legged friends are restricted to the campgrounds and parking areas.....not permitted on trails or in the back country. We understand that this is for their, and our own good due to the presence of bears in many areas as well as to protect the wildlife. However, it's a pain to get enough exercise for them. John and Nickie demonstrate our solution to the problem...... It's not perfect, and in fact it can be hazardous, but we're adapting!

The park offers numerous ranger-led programs covering every aspect of Yellowstone's history, architecture, geology, plant life and wildlife. We took full advantage of them. We were a bit disappointed in the "abundance" of wildlife in the park. The "abundance" was mainly bison (Bison Bison, or Buffalo). There were plenty of them.....including in the middle of the road! It's mating season for bison, so there were plenty of bellows, pawing the earth, and "courting" going on.

The bison consider the highway an easy way to get from here to there, so they take full advantage of the roadways. "Bison Traffic Jams" are common, and can sometimes hold up traffic for an hour or more. We learned to allow extra time whenever we traveled around the park. (These visitors are standing way too close to the Bison. We were told to stay at least 25 yards away to avoid being gored!)

Bears are another story. We only saw two during our stay in the park. John spotted a grizzly beside the road, but it was gone by the time we backed up for a better look. This large black bear was very busy foraging near the north rim of the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone, and didn't mind at all that we stopped to take a picture. We're calling this the "Three Dollar Bear." Before Gage left for Maryland, I made him a $3.00 bet that I would see (and photograph) at least one bear while on our trip. O.K., Gage, here is a picture of your $3 bear.... cash, check or credit card? Love, Grandma

One of our favorite places was the Grand Canyon of the's a fantastic sight! I've seen the Grand Canyon in Arizona, but this one can just as easily take your breath away.

The upper and lower falls are spectacular, and we were told that in the entire length of the Grand Canyon (on the Yellowstone River), only one trail goes to the bottom of the canyon.

It's an incredibly wild and remote place, and awe-inspiring in its own right. There are a number of overlooks, and each has a different view of the falls and canyon. You won't find any white-water rafters here!

The park's geothermal features offer quite another focus. We toured the West Thumb Geyser Basin, as well as the more-well-known Upper, Middle and Lower Geyser Basins. We learned the difference between geysers, hot springs, mud pots and fumeroles--the four types of geothermal features in the park.

We also learned that Yellowstone experiences approximately 3,000 earthquakes each year. Most can't be felt, but all have an impact n the geysers and other geothermal features of the park, which are constantly changing their eruption patterns.

We were also impressed and very pleased to see how well Yellowstone is recovering from the devastating fires of 1988, which burned approximately 40% of the lodgepole pine forests in the park (as well as serious fires in subsequent years). Remarkably, very few large animals were killed in the fires. Even though thousands of acres burned, the following photo shows that the new growth is vigorous and is replacing the standing dead trees and the "blow down" trees that follow the fires.

Estes Park to Cody, WY

Highway 36 from Longmont to Estes Park is a beautiful drive, as is the road from Estes to Fort Collins. We enjoyed both, as well as our two-night stay at Elk Meadows RV park. While in EP, we had dinner both nights with Frances and Roy Marvin, Michal's cousin and her husband. The Marvins have lived in Estes Park for a number of years, and have a lovely home in Windcliffe which has a fantastic deck for sipping a chilled beverage and watching the sun set.

We had time to explore the downtown area, where restaurants and shops open onto a lovely area alongside the stream which runs through town. Feathers, Nickie and Lucky Dog also enjoyed the Estes Valley Dog Park.

It's a winner for all of you who travel with canine friends...lots of friendly dogs, room to run, agility equipment and even a gate giving access to the Big Thompson River for a swim. The National Youth Finals Rodeo was also in town. We stopped by to watch but only saw a couple of events. Nickie was so excited at seeing the calves pened nearby that she whined and yipped incessently, so we left.

Sunday night found us in Douglas, Wyoming, not far from Cheyenne. The dogs liked the KOA where we stayed because it had a nice, fenced, dog run and three horses just across the fence. The campground was outside of town and was bordered by a field of young grain that provided grazing for a large flock of Canada Geese.

From Douglas, I put in a couple of hours behind the wheel of the Falcon while John watched for oil wells and pronghorn antelope. East of Buffalo, we picked up Hwy. 16, and had a lovely drive across the mountains on one of Wyoming's scenic byways.

Evening found us in Ten Sleep, Wyoming. Only some 380 people call Ten Sleep home, but it's a friendly little place, with the Ten Broek RV Park and Horse Hotel ready to serve travelers' needs. According to the explanation, the town got its name from the Sioux Indians. It seens it is located between the site of two Indian encampments which are "ten sleeps" apart.

From Ten Sleep, we traveled to Cody, Wyoming, and arrived in time to spend several hours in the Buffalo Bill Historical Center. The Center houses five different museums under one roof, and is well worth a visit. We spent another couple of hours at the museum on Wednesday morning before heading west to Yellowstone. A museum admission ticket is good for two days, and we could have easily spent another day or two exploring it. Permanent exhibits include the Buffalo Bill Cody section, the Natural History Museum, and the Firearms Museum. There is also a gallery of western art, and traveling exhibits such as the paintings depicting the Lewis and Clark Expedition. It was a wonderful way to get reacquainted with the history of the region.

Cody also hosts a nightly rodeo, which showcases local talent in events such as calf roping, shown here.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Colorado Springs

It's 300 miles from Durango to Colorado Springs, a lot for one day when the roads are narrow and winding. We were pleased, however, that The Falcon handled legendary Wolf Creek Pass with no problem. Friends have horror stories of having to stop mid-way up to allow their engines to cool down, or coming down with brakes on fire, but we had no problems. After lunch at the top of the pass, we continued to Cheyenne Mountain State Park southwest of Colorado Springs, where we spent 8 days.

Cheyenne Mountain State Park is only 2 years old, and absolutely first-class! It is one of a handful of state parks with full RV hookups, and the camp sites are designed to accommodate not only large RVs, but also tents alongside them. The camp has plenty of activities for adults and children, and even has a laundry, another rarity in state parks. We highly recommend it. In fact, the only negative we could come up with is that dogs (even on leash) aren't allowed on the park's trails. However, this appears to be true of all Colorado state parks as well as national parks, so it's something we have to live with.

On Friday, we put Gage on a plane to visit his grandparents, Sergio and Charlotte Vargas, in Maryland. We enjoyed our time with him, and look forward to hearing about the rest of his adventures when we return. Gage has been a super traveler, and has helped us to exercise the dogs, and prepare the RV for travel. He also has boundless energy, especially when he can have regular root-beer floats! (He says the very best are from Sonic.)

While in Colorado Springs, we visited with Michal's long-time friend (since first grade!), Carolyn (Stinson) Cochran, and her husband, Doug. Carolyn gave Michal a tour of the city's highlights, including Garden of the Gods, the museum located downtown in the historic courthouse and lunch at The Broadmore.

They also saw the steel wind sculputres created by artist Starr Kempf and placed on the grounds of his home near Cheyenne Canyon between the mid seventies and his death in 1995.

Carolyn and Doug also introduced us to their favorite restaurant, the Sunbird, which overlooks the city and the surrounding mountains.

For all you members of the Class of '61, here is a picture of Carolyn and Michal taken last week. (See the Shutterfly site for others.)

We also took a walking tour of Garden of the Gods, and drove to Cripple Creek to visit the historic Molly Kathleen Gold Mine. The mine was in operation from the 1890s until 1963, and has the country's only vertical gold mine shaft, which reaches 1000 feet underground. Our tour, which was led by an actual, working, hard-rock miner (non-union he proudly advised us) included demonstrations of equipment in use at the time the mine was in operation and a discussion of how blasting and removal of the ore was done. According to our guide, there are still deposits of gold and silver ore in the mine, but since there is no smelter in the area, so it is not cost-effective to operate it.

You shouldn't be surprised that other highlights of our trip to Colorado Springs include visits to a number of their outstanding dog parks. There are at least half-a-dozen off-leash areas in the city, including a 25-acre fenced area in Bear Creek Park, which includes a running stream, lots of shade and many happy dogs. Palmer Park also has a fenced area, plus miles of trails where off-leash activity is allowed so long as the dogs are under "voice control." The same is true, I'm told, of the Red Rock Canyon Open Area. Even Garden of the Gods has an 18-acre off-leash area. The Bagley Girls enjoyed their time there and will be happy to return.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

And on to Durango

We said good-bye to Santa least for the time being....and headed north to Heron Lake State Park in Northern New Mexico. The trip was uneventful, except for a flat tire on the trailer outside Abiquiu. Fortunately, our Good Sam Club membership includes towing and road service, so we were able to have the tire changed with only a 2.5 hour wait!

Heron Lake State Park is a lovely park, with large, shaded sites and lots of room to roam. Access to the lake from our campsite was convenient, and on Tuesday morning John, Gage and the Dog Girls had a nice swim.

Feathers and Nickie also engaged in a spirited game of "Capture the Stick" at the water's edge.

We stopped in Chama on Wednesday, and spent an hour or so with Curtis Green, a blacksmith and maker of hand-forged knives and other items. We learned a lot about how hand-forged knives are crafted, and Gage received a very special gift of a key chain embellished with elk antler and "elk ivory." (Elk Ivory is a special tooth that the bull elk uses when he "bugles" to attract a mate in the fall.)
Wednesday night found us in Durango, Colorado at Leightner Creek RV Park. Our site backed up to a lovely little creek, and the park also had a pool and playground for the kids, as well as a "pet park" for the dogs.

On Thursday, we took the narrow gauge railroad train from Durango to Silverton and back.

The train passes through spectacular canyons and timber along and above the Animas River, and has been in use since 1882.

Gage shows off the protective eyewear that everyone was encouraged to wear to protect against the cinders and soot from the coal-burning engine.

Monday, August 3, 2009

Santa Fe, NM

We had a lovely time in Santa Fe. We arrived on July 28, and on the 29th welcomed Brian and Gage Wann, who had just finished a 4-day backpacking trip in the Pecos Wilderness northeast of Santa Fe. We stayed in Los Campos RV Park on Cerrillos Road. It's a lovely, small RV park with a nice area right behind our RV for walking dogs (always a consideration for us).

The weather has been wonderful....warm during the day and cool at night. Several days we had the typical summer afternoon thunderstorms to refresh things. A violent hail storm came through parts of town on Thursday afternoon, but fortunately it missed us.

Santa Fe also has a world-class dog park, the Frank Ortiz City Park northwest of downtown. There we found 200 acres of well-developed off-leash trails complete with water stations and poop bags. Gage found lots of places to explore, and the Bagley Pack found plenty of canine friends to play with.

While in Santa Fe we had dinner with Rob Pecherer and his wife, Donna, at their favorite Mexican sea-food restaurant, Puerto Penasco, on Airport Road. Then on Sunday, we had brunch with them at Tortilla Flats. Santa Fe has its share of wonderful restaurants, and we agree that these are two of the best, though better-known to the locals than to tourists. We also got a tour of the 100+-year-old adobe home that Rob has meticulously restored and updated. Its 18-inch thick walls kept us cool and comfortable.

Since we've been here for the better part of a week, we had time to visit the Georgia O'Keefe Museum, the Garrett Smith Photography Gallery and the Summr Festival and Frontier Days at El Rancho de las Golonerinas.

We also drove to the Rio Arriba County Fair in Abiquiu. We were just in time for the bull riding, which provided lots of excitement.

However, I think Gage's favorite event was the greased pig scramble, in which the first kid to capture a greased piglet got to take it home.

We were a little disappointed that we didn't know about it ahead of time so Gage could enter. (After all, he does have experience catching pigs since Earl the pot-bellied pig lives at his dad's house.) I'm really glad, though, that John and I aren't responsible for transporting a piglet back to Austin!