Friday, July 31, 2009

Finally! The video!

Sorry it took so long for us to get all this downloaded and formatted. I was able to whittle it down to an eminently watchable 12 minutes (broken into two YouTubeable parts). Check it out. This is better that us making you come over for dinner and the slide show.

Part 1: From Arches to Yellowstone

Part 2: From a hail storm in Yellowstone to home sweet home

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Last Day: Oacoma, South Dakota

Sorry to people who have been trying to post responses and having trouble. If it makes you feel any better, the entire post I wrote from Custer State Park got lost. The Blogger site has only been so-so reliable. We've covered a lot of ground since last writing, and with a big push tomorrow we should be back in Cedar Falls.

We made it to Devil's Tower and Nic and Julie hiked the base and climbed boulders. I picked up a Close Encounters of the Third Kind DVD, but within half an hour of starting it, Nic deemed it too boring. Oh well. At least everyone liked the Prairie Dog Town on the way up to the Visitor's Center.

Yes, giant Jim has a head as big as Devil's Tower

Nic, Julie and Devin went horseback riding today, which we'd been holding out in front of them like a carrot for most of the trip. We also stayed in a big cabin, which had been held out in front of Julie like a carrot. Fortunately all the horses they had were well behaved, unlike the poor girl on the trail ride who had a horse that kept trying to knock her off. Last night, we drove the Wildlife Loop and it worked: buffalo, longhorn deer, prairie dogs and semi-wild burrows that stuck their heads in the car to get fed.

Sure, Julie's comfortable with that

Pronghorn Deer

We also got to take a couple of hikes in the park, following a horse trail to a river crossing where we decided to throw rocks then turn back. Nic, Devin and Jim climbed to the top of a gorgeous bluff near the cabin we stayed in (getting down was a little trickier).

Finally, on our way out of Custer today, we got to stop for awhile in the Badlands. It's actually not that far from Cedar Falls, so we were scoping it out for a potential future visit, but when we drove by one of the mini-canyon outcropping you can climb, we had to stop and give it a shot.

That brings us to Oacoma (which only sounds like the Beach Boys song). It's in the middle of South Dakota, but with an early start we should be able to make it back tomorrow. And then we'll download our video and really overwhelm you with stuff to check out.

Friday, July 10, 2009

Yellowstone Pics part two

Rylan and Devin

Jeffrey and Nic (thanks for the pose, Nic)

Packing up the car for the last day of camping

A buffalo seen from next to our car. Buffalo don't seem to care at all about people, but we didn't get close enough to test out that theory.

Yellowstone pics part one

Getting ready to roast marshmallows

Almost perfectly timed

What can happen if you step off the path in Geyser Country

From Inspiration Point

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Lake Tahoe Pics

Not that Ian needed any help, mind you.

We swam in the lake with the snow covered mountains in the background

But who needs mountains when you can build sandcastles

Check out Ian's superhero swimsuit. Pretty buff.

Yosemite pics part two

Yes, snow in July

Julie and Eileen

Devin at Hetch Hetchy Reservoir

Nic taking a picture of the bear on our trail

Does he look worried here?

Yosemite pics part one

Nic at Bridal Veil falls

Ian at Bridal Veil falls

Okay, we really liked these falls

Us on the rocks

Devin and Julie with Eileen

Sequoia pics

Devin hard at work

Julie trying to save Ian from a plunge

Nic and Ian hamming it up inside a giant sequoia

Big Nic, big tree

Stretch just a little more

July 6-9 Yellowstone and Montana!

We took advantage of some ranger led activities on July 7. We learned all about the Hayden expedition of 1871 that surveyed this region, the trials of the photographer (Jackson) who carried 400 huge glass negatives on a mule, and the artist hired by Scribners and the railroads to paint portraits of the area. The kids loved the ranger because he assigned roles to people in the group. Apparently, the hardest working person in the expedition was the cook, who took a lot of teasing during the tour.

In the afternoon we took a boat ride around Yellowstone Lake and learned more about the geological origins of the Caldera (basically, the old crater from the volcano that created this area and the geysers) and the role of humans in changing the ecology of the area. Ian thought it more interesting to train the binoculars on the sleeping boy behind us than to look at the coast.

Our last night camping was July 7-8 and it was a gorgeous morning for breaking camp and a game of pickle. We all hated (OK, Julie was just mildly wistful) to say bye to the tents for the last few days of our trip.

Last night we stayed at Yellowstone Inn, which had a John Wayne theme. The sign above the toilet in Sue and Craig's room read: Our toilet paper is just like John Wayne: rough, tough, and it won't take crap from anyone. (We'll forgive the jokester for the lack of parallel structure.)

Today we drove through southern Montana and then the northeast corner of Wyoming. Words fail to capture the profound beauty of Montana. There are wide, lush valleys cut through by meandering streams, and surrounded by mountain ranges. Herds of cattle, horses, and occasionally sheep roam the area. It is such a large, lush vista that Jim dubbed it the "anti-Nevada." (We traveled through southern Nevada on the way out to CA and northern Nevada on the way up to Yellowstone and decided it was the "Place we'd least like to break down in." Imagine a stark, desert dotted here and there with neon casino signs and a few bedraggled bushes in the "oasis" areas.) As we traveled east, the trees gave way to grasslands that shimmered in the sun and the wind. The mountains became these gradual hillocks, like the place had frozen while bubbling.

July 3-6 - First few of nights at Yellowstone

Yesterday we met up with Julie's college friend Sue, her husband Craig, and kids Rylan (7) and Jeffrey (6). Our kids are thrilled to have other kids to run wild with and have paired off--Devin with her "twin" Rylan and Nic with his DS buddy Jeffrey. Ian remains his Mommy's buddy.

We arrived here on Friday, July 3 and hurried to put up our tents because of ominous clouds. We enjoyed dinner at the Lakehouse with a great view of a downpour on Yellowstone Lake. Unfortunately, the view was a little less interesting two hours later when it was packed with people similarly trying to wait out the storm. Our tents stayed dry and we warmed up by the geysers the next day. We also saw a bison really near by and Jim hopped out in a hailstorm to take his picture.

There is a funny convention here. There are so many wild animals here that you can see them from the roadside. Bison, elk, and mule deer rank high on the "must-see" list and people will suddenly pull over to photograph them. People driving by stop, hop out, and ask others "what is it and where?" Woe to the traveler stopping to pee in a bush because he'll be surrounded by a dozen photographers.

We had our coldest morning on July 5 when Julie and Ian chose to have breakfast wrapped in a sleeping bag in the car. The weather improved and we saw Biscuit Basin and the Midway Geyser Basin, where we saw all sizes, shapes and colors of geysers and mud pots. In the afternoon we had a thunderstorm but it improved again. The weather here is so changeable, moving from 36 degrees and damp to sunny and 70 degrees, to windy and 50 degrees, to thunderstorms all by about 2:00 in the afternoon.

The highlight today was Mud Volcano, an enormous bubbling mud pot (spa treatment anyone?) and dragon's grotto, a cave with "dragon's breath" wafting from it. We also saw the lower falls and the canyon floor which were spectacular.

Lava Hot Springs - July 1-3

Julie here: I've been keeping an old-fashioned log since our technology was totally inadequate for the mountains and the remote places we've been visiting. I'm going back now to type in my impressions of the last week.

The surprise of our vacation has been this little resort town about 25 miles from Pocatello in SE Idaho. We saw a brochure advertising hot springs, a water park, and rental tubes for floating down the river and thought we had stumbled into kid heaven. The first night we stayed at a cute bunkhouse "the Yellow Submarine." Each cabin was named for a Beatles song and I thought of my roommate Val, who hung a picture of "the boys" in our dorm room. I fondly thought of them as our other roommates.

Jim already described the river ride, to which I would only add that it appeared one could go for miles on the river if one was willing to hike back with the inner tube.

The second night in Lava Springs we stayed right next to the river where we got out from the tube ride and across a foot bridge from the water park. This was really convenient for lunch and Ian's nap. It was not great, however, at night. It was like the Sturgis Falls of train routes with alarmingly loud whistles every 30-60 minutes.

Yellowstone Part One

We've just left Yellowstone after five days, the last three of which we spent with Julie's friend, Sue, her husband, Craig, & their kids, Rylan & Jeffrey. Our kids were thrilled to have friends to play with (as were we), and it took notable sights to make them take interest in their surroundings. Fortunately, Yellowstone has a little of everything. Our list of animal sightings included buffalo, elk, mule deer, a bear, a coyote, pelicans, & a friendly baby mouse. We had rain & cold weather the first couple days, which made for our toughest camping, but there was some good weather we took advantage of to see geysers, mud pots, pools, lakes, mountains, and a Yellowstone that's been fundamentally reshaped by the Great Fire of 1988. Parts of the park look like a giant game of pick up sticks, with fallen trees scattered everywhere, but we came to appreciate being here at this transitional moment in the natural cycle.

Hopefully, we'll be able to get to a computer over the next few days so we can upload pix (we've filled our memory card) & give a full account. We're in Montana & heading East tomorrow.

Thursday, July 2, 2009

Lava Hot Springs, Idaho

After driving as quickly as possibly through the Great Salt Desert, we had some time to explore before Yellowstone. On a whim, we decided to try this tiny resort town, Lava Hot Springs. It's been a great find. We spent the first night at a quirky cottage run by a couple who used to have a PBS kids show, Tahra Time. They gave us a DVD, & we got to sing along to I'm Gonna Use The Potty at a crucial moment in Ian's toilet training (maybe more than you want to know). Our cottage was The Yellow Submarine bunkhouse, perhaps Julie's favoritenight's stop.

The town features hot spring baths, a huge aquatic center, and river tubing. Devin made it down the river 4 times and Nic ruled the water slides. We're camping tonight next to the river & it's on to Yellowstone tomorrow.