Saturday, June 29, 2013

Close Encounters...

There are just some places you have to see for yourself.  Places you've heard about.  Places you've seen in movies.  Places family or friends have talked about and maybe even shown you pictures of.  They stay in the back of your mind, until one day...your in "the" area and you just have to go and see it!

One such place is the Devils Tower in Wyoming.  First introduction..."Close Encounters of the Third Kind" with Richard Dreyfuss, back in 1977!  Who can forget that one?  Didn't it make you want to see it for yourself?  Did it really exist?  Does it really look like that?  How big is it really?  What's around it?  Tiny questions, small enough to wonder, not big enough to bother researching...just tucked in the back of your mind.  Forgotten, long least until you find yourself within driving distance of it!

So, there we were, leaving Gillette Wyoming, heading east on I 90, heading straight for that long ago memory.  Reservations had been made weeks ago at the Devils Tower KOA because we had read that they were "the closest campground to the Tower" and that they played the movie every night!  How cool was that?

The first time the Tower came into view, it was a pure "Wow" factor!  It lived up to all the expectations, and more.  The closer we got...the better it was.  This thing is BIG...and beautiful...and right in the middle of nowhere.

After the initial "photo stops", it was time to head to the official Visitor's Center to learn about the Tower and what and where we should see.  So, if you are not up to date on all the "data" on the Tower, only knowing it from the movie, like I was, here's some basic info that I found pretty interesting...

In 1906 President Teddy Roosevelt designated Devils Tower as the nation's first national (and natural) monument.  It's actually the core of a volcano exposed after millions of years of erosion brought on by the Belle Fouche River and the weather.  It stands 865 feet high. Rock climbers love to climb it.  There are loads of rocks and boulders around the base of the tower that are actually broken pieces of columns having fallen from the sides. The Tower is a sacred site to the local Plains Indians and they still practice some of their rituals on the Tower.  The Park Service sets June aside and asks climbers not to do so during this month.  There are various prayer sacks, cloths, dream catchers, etc. tied to the trees during this time as well. 

Enough "facts", it was time to go take a walk around it!  They had several nice trails, some easy ones (our kind!) and some longer ones (for the more hardy types).  The day was beautiful, so we started out, camera and hat in the ready.  The path was steep, but they were kind enough to have benches along the way, to rest and just gaze at it.  We also caught sight of a fast moving Great Basin Gopher snake...that we left alone.

As we left the park and headed back down the hill the red sandstone and siltstone cliffs above the Belle Fouche River stood out against the green Ponderosa Pine forest east of Devils Tower beautifully.

The first and last thing you encounter on the drive is the black-tailed prairie dogs in their own town at the base of Devils Tower.  Those little guys are a hoot!  There are hundreds, well, probably thousands of them scurrying about in and out of the millions of holes they have dug.  They are so used to the tourists that they almost pose for pictures as all of us stop and snap away!  (I had to take some for my grandson, he loves them!)

Our campground was right at the base of the Tower, so we enjoyed the view from all angles, but no matter how often we looked, we never saw any extra-terrestrials!

 ...on the road in South Dakota,  Marie

If you wish to view the rest of the photos from this trip, you can at my Flickr account at:

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

It's a Matter of Perspective...

It's funny how under certain circumstances you can feel like an "expert", or at least "experienced" and then under other circumstances, with the same subject, you now feel like a "new-comer".  Such is the RV life!

We have been full-timing it for 18 months now, and compared to some of the folks we've met at campgrounds along the way, we are "rare and experienced" and are asked a lot of questions.  Then you come to a situation like we did this week...a "Rally", changes everything.

The Family Motor Coach Association celebrated their 50th anniversary with a big rally and reunion in Gillette Wyoming.  2639 motor coaches and around 6000 people attended a four day celebration filled with seminars, shopping, exhibits, historic motor coaches, new ones to tempt you, entertainment and fun.

The few days leading up to the rally found us in campgrounds in Cody and Buffalo on our way to Gillette - along with dozens of other fellow FMCA rally bound campers.  On one such night we had an opportunity to visit with several of them over an ice cream social given by one of the campground hosts.  We quickly learned how "new" we were at this life style!  We might be the rare "full-timer" but other folks have been RVing (and going to these rallies) for 10, 15, 20 years.  "New-comer" took on a whole new meaning!

The day of the check-in found us leaving our campground in Buffalo at the same time as many others - all headed where we were.  What a strange sight to be on an Interstate with nothing but RVs all heading to the same place.  The only other rally we have attended was the small one put on by the manufacturer of our rig.  That was in Florida last year, and we didn't see anyone on the road with us as we traveled to it!

For those of you not familiar with rallies (we sure weren't before we joined the RV world).  They are an organized gathering of like-interested (or like-coach) folks to come together for a few days to camp, socialize and learn.  Depending on who is hosting and how large the group is, vendors, RV dealers along with their latest rigs and entertainment, might be included.  Something like this, that draws people from all over the US and Canada, it's as big as a State Fair, with seminars going on throughout each day on just about every subject having to do with this life-style from maintaining your rig to cooking in it!

Here in Wyoming, each day brought on a different kind of weather too.  The day of check-in was thankfully, sunny, as hundreds upon hundreds of coaches arrived and were guided in by experienced and well staffed volunteers.  The Cam-Plex that this was being held at was a huge dirt & grass multi-event arena.  They had us parking in row after row, after row, around and around we went to what seemed like miles of coaches!  That night gave us a beautiful sunset to start our celebration off.

However, it was soon to change!  The sun quickly left us and the storm of wind and rain came in with full force adding a show of lightening and thunder to the next night.  Our rigs were rocking and rolling.  As we started out the following day, to mud and grass soaked fields, we didn't let it slow us down.  The rally organizers had school buses that ran shuttles all day and evening until everything was over so that we could easily get to and from the various areas with the least bit of trouble.  Good thing, because as the days continued, so did the weather worsen.  Day 3 brought more rain and then a heavy down poor of hail!  Inches of it!  We even got a tornado warning for a few hours!  Some of us were left stranded in the exhibit hall with the vendors and just had to go on shopping (me!).

They brought in some fun entertainment for us as well.  One night they sent us down memory lane with The Buckinghams as they sang songs from the 1960's with many of us singing right along with them!  

Friday evening they held a "Black Tie and Blue Jeans Dance" that we were just to tired to go to!  Dashing from seminar to seminar from 8am to 4pm every day just tuckered us out!  We haven't had to cram so much learning in, in a long time!  Just ask me how to clean a holding tank now, and I can tell you!

We made up for it Saturday tho and got to enjoy an evening with Marty Stuart and his band.  A great way to end the event.

But Sunday was another story...Sunday was "exit day"...sort of.  You see, that "weather" I mentioned earlier, well, it kept raining on & off, more on that off, really.  Most of us were parked on what started out to be dirt & grass...that quickly turned into mud and muck.  I finally renamed our street (each row had a street name) from 5th street to Lake Lane!  Pretty much everyone on our row had to be towed out.  6" of mud & water just doesn't make for easy drive-ability when you have a 26,000 lbs vehicle!  We had put wood under our tires, Jack thought that would help...nope, as soon as he drove off of them...we sank!  But, as RVer's do, one came to our rescue and tied his car to our RV and with a lot of tugging and willpower, he pulled us out!  I couldn't hardly believe it (I delivered a nice bottle of red wine and a hug afterward)!

A good washing getting all the mud splatters off, and the day was done...many, many things learned, enjoyed, and will be remembered for a long, long time, thank you FMCA!
 Rows of motorhomes, photo courtesy of Mike Wendland
First night sunset
Seminar photo courtesy of Mike Wendland 
 The Buckinghams Concert
 Exhibit Hall, photo courtesy of Mike Wendland
Sunday's swamp dilemma...
 "Lake views"
 Might as well enjoy the lake view! 
Here we are, propped up, but still 6" deep...

...on the road (again!) in Wyoming,  Marie

If you wish to view the rest of the photos from this trip, you can at my Flickr account at:

Friday, June 21, 2013

A quick stop in Cody

Cody Wyoming, the home of "Buffalo Bill Cody" and his Wild West Show!  Couldn't miss an opportunity to check that out!  A whole town devoted to one man, and after spending a day in the Buffalo Bill Center of the West, I can see why.

For a man who lived 71 years, he sure accomplished an awful lot...but he started at it at a young age.  Young Bill worked for a freight company as a messenger and wrangler before trying his luck as a prospector in the Pikes Peak gold rush in 1859 (age 13). The next year, at age 14, Cody joined the Pony Express, fitting the bill for the advertised position: "skinny, expert riders willing to risk death daily."  Sounds like a great job opportunity, don't you think? hm mm

It was his service in the American Civil War in 1867 that earned him his nickname.  He began buffalo hunting (to feed constructions crews building railroads).  His own assessment puts the number of buffalo he killed at 4,280, in just over a year and a half (he apparently was quite good at it).  He became a national folk hero thanks to the dime-novel exploits of his alter ego, "Buffalo Bill.” In late 1872, Cody went to Chicago to make his stage debut in The Scouts of the Prairie, one of Ned Buntline’s original Wild West Shows (Buntline was the author of the Buffalo Bill novels). 

In 1883, Cody founded his own show, "Buffalo Bill's Wild West," a circus-like extravaganza that toured widely for three decades, and the rest, as they say, is history...

What I also learned, was that he married and had 5 children, 4 of which died at pretty young ages.  Irma, the youngest, survived and even joined the show for awhile.  He named a hotel (turned restaurant) for her in Cody.  His wife didn't travel with him and stayed married to him all through those tough years (out lived him).  He was a very active man, involved in everything from women's & Indian rights, to water and land management in Wyoming.  His foresight helped build a much needed dam just west of Cody and he was recognized by both politicians and royalty.  He was quite a man.   We had no problem spending a full day in the Buffalo Bill Center of the West.  It actually is 8 museums in one.  Jack spent most of his time in the Cody Firearms area that had a special show from the Smithsonian and I went over to the Whitney Western Art Museum & Photography Gallery.  I was in awe of some of the incredible art they had.  Jack said he saw firearms and "artwork" (on them) like he has never seen before.  I was allowed to take photos in my area (so I did, of course), but he was not.  Afterward, we made our way to the historical part of downtown to check out "The Irma" and have a drink at the bar that cost $100,000. back in the turn of the century.  They have a gunfight melodrama every evening (except Sunday) in the street out front, just to add some fun (and bring in the customers!).  The bar is now part of the restaurant, so you can't sit at it, so I just had to take a picture, but it was all fun.

The next day Cody was hosting the Plains Indian Museum Powwow, so of course, we went to check it out.  What a beautiful sight!  Hundreds of men, women and children all dressed in traditional regalia from head to toe.  We got there a little late and it was pretty crowed, so I didn't have the best spot for taking pictures, but that didn't stop me from trying.  I had promised my daughter and grandson that I would do my best to take some good shots of the various regalia so that they could see the special colors, beading and designs.  There were so many beautiful ones to look at, each different, I just kept snapping pictures.  They had each tribe parade around the area as they announced their region, then they would have different groups, like the Tiny Tots.  These were adorable little ones under 7 years.  A couple were barely walking!  Their whole family would walk with them, supporting them in keeping this tradition alive.  It was so great to see the love and happiness they all shared.  They also had the 7-12 age group.  Shy and proud at the same time.  Sweet.  Then the competition dancing began.  The drummers chanting and drumming while the dancers competing in the hot sun.  They were competing not only for the money, but for the honor as well.  You could tell that these people really had their heart in what they do.  It was very special to see.  I'm glad we were there to be a part of it, if only on the sidelines.

Cody was just a quick stop for us, as we are on our way to Gillette WY for our very first, very large, RV Rally!  Four days of seminars, entertainment and shopping! Yippee!

 ...on the road in Wyoming,  Marie

If you wish to view the rest of the photos from this trip, you can at my Flickr account at:

Thursday, June 20, 2013

Last days of Yellowstone...

Weather here has been a mixture of sun, rain and even a little hail!  June, to me, seems like the beginning of summer, but here in this part of Wyoming, it’s still springtime.  The great thing about that is things are still wildflowers blooming, calves and cubs are up and following their mamas, baby birds are getting their feathers and are starting their flying lessons, and there are less tourist to see all this!  But...the weather is unpredictable too.  So, you flow with it, grabbing a jacket with a hood even though it might be sunny when you start out, or, spending a day “off” and writing while you watch the hail come thumping down all around. 

The campground at Yellowstone is quite different from the one at Grand Tetons.  Actually, Jack and I agree that the two parks are quite different from each other, both in looks as well as how they are run.  As for looks, apart from the obvious geology, Yellowstone suffered a huge fire back in 1988 and the scars are still noticeable today.  It’s sad to drive so many miles and see millions of trees laying dead all around you; looking so much like a child’s messy room with his Tinker Toys thrown about in big bunches.  It can’t help but take away some of the beauty.  The RV campground at Yellowstone is pretty much a large parking lot with RVs parked back to back with a pine tree between each of you.  Old Tarmac slabs with just enough room to park your toad beside your rig.  The Tarmac roads to each of the areas are full of pot holes and bumps, from the harsh winters I would suppose.  As I shared previously about the Grand Tetons campground, it was laid out more natural with lots of trees and a stronger feeling of camping in a forest.  Better kept roads, but since the “slabs” were “natural” they weren’t very level though either.  Yellowstone being so large, it has many more Lodges and therefore more Gift Shops, places to eat, etc.  It seems a little more “family oriented” here, more towards children’s activities, interests, items, etc than at the Grand Tetons, we did see less children there as well.  Here it’s been fun to see so many small children seeing the animals and geysers, excited, learning, having fun and making new friends to play with.

We finished up our last days with a few sights at Inspiration Point, getting a little more of the views from that gorgeous “painted” canyon and waterfalls.  Checking out the “Glacial Boulder”, a huge granite boulder that got scooped up from the Beartooth Mountains by a glacier and deposited here some 80,000 years ago that still sits among some trees by the side of the road.  I caught a glint of white on the side of the rocky North Rim and aimed my telephoto lens on it and saw that it was a mountain goat, so took a couple of shots of it as well. Earlier in the day, a fellow photographer had his large telephoto set up on a tripod, waiting.  I took a look in that direction and spotted what he had, a large Osprey nest with mom keeping her little ones warm beneath her.  My 300 lens could only get a fair shot of her, but I took it anyway.  A little something is better than nothing!

We ended out stay with a special dinner treat at the luxurious Lake Yellowstone Hotel (c1895). “A buttercup behemoth that sets romantics aflutter; that harks back to a bygone era.” is how it is described in the tour book...and that’s pretty true.  A historic way to end our stay... the road again in Wyoming,   Marie

If you wish to view the rest of the photos from this trip, you can at my Flickr account at:

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Yellowstone, day two...

Today we ventured out to see some of the beautiful valleys here.  This is where many of the animal sightings are suppose to happen as well.  We weren’t disappointed.  Hayden Valley is a former lake bed that is now only  marshy and impenetrable to most trees, supporting only rich shrubs and grasses favored by bison, elk and springtime grizzlies along with a variety of birds.  The Yellowstone River meanders gently through it in a zig zag sort of way that’s very picturesque.  It’s named after the expedition leader whose 1871 survey led to the establishment of the park the following year (see, I told you this place was steeped in history). 

Our first encounter was with bison, of course, but just beyond them were a gaggle of Canadian geese.  Not to much further were some bachelor elk stirring up quite a fuss with the tourists.  Cameras, telephoto lens with tripods, cars parked every which way, all spread out in a real “critter jam” waiting on these two guys to get up and prance around for the “perfect picture”.  One obeyed, the other...sat, and sat, and sat.  I moved on.  Not long after a bison decided to hog the road.  He wasn’t sure which way he wanted to go, but he wasn’t deciding anytime soon.  He just moseyed up and down, back and forth and all around the traffic that also wasn’t sure what to do!  It was actually quite funny to watch and be a part of!  We finally got to turn a corner and leave the rest to deal with him, while we went in search of waterfalls.

There is an area in the park called Canyon Country that contains the Upper Falls, Lower Falls, along with a South Rim, and a North Rim, etc.  There are different loops to drive and pull outs to park in, with  walkways to see the various views of the waterfalls and canyons surrounding them.  This is the prettiest part of the park in my opinion.  I’m really not sure which was prettier, the falls or the canyon.  The canyon walls looked as if someone painted them with all the colors of autumn.  One spot is even named “Artist Point” by the park photographer FJ Haynes for its superlative scenic views.  Our luck continued as we were leaving one of the pull outs, across the other way, we spotted a beautiful wolf!  All alone, just prancing across the grasses with no one noticing but us!  I still had my telephoto lens on, so snap snap, I was so thrilled!

We made an afternoon stop at the Roosevelt Lodge (c1906) to check it out and grab a quick soda.  It started out as a tent camp for President Theodor Roosevelt then in 1919 was built up to the log-style it is today - which is to say, is still pretty basic.  It’s the least “fancy” of the lodges in the park.   They feature chuck wagon cookouts and horse rides here too.

From here we drove through Lamar Valley which is supposed to be one of the park’s premier wildlife viewing areas...but we saw nothing but mixed sage and grasslands, pretty, but no animals.  Drove on to see the 132’ Tower Falls, lovely, then onto the small town of Mammoth Village, quite an unusual place it turned out to be.  First off, there are elk everywhere.  Cows, some with calves, all munching on grass or just laying about.  It was quite obvious this was their town, to go where they wanted and no one (was allowed) to bother them.  After one gets over that surprise, then there is the hotel.  You feel like you’ve just stepped back in time to the turn of the century with the antique touring cars, soft yellow Mammoth Hot Springs (grand) Hotel and even the town park surrounding it all.  It’s a campus-like historic and administrative heart of the park and the Albright Visitor Center (Horace Albright was park superintendent between 1919-1929 and director to 1933). 

A little further on you pass the 45th parallel of latitude - halfway between the equator and the north pole, pretty cool.  (There are several times you pass over the continental divide in the park as well.) We were just a few miles from the North Entrance at Gardiner Montana, so decided to go through it and see that tiny town, and it was, and check out the 1903 Roosevelt Arch.  Nice arch and a nice way to end this day’s excursions.

 ...on the road in Wyoming,  Marie

If you wish to view the rest of the photos from this trip, you can at my Flickr account at:

Monday, June 17, 2013

The worlds first National Park, Yellowstone...

Who hasn’t heard of Yellowstone and Old Faithful?  I mean, the park was established back in 1872, even before Wyoming, Montana and Idaho were states.  It was with incredible foresight that these gentlemen realized what a gem this area was and that if something wasn’t done to protect it, preserve it and care for it, it would be demolished like any other land elsewhere and future generations would never see the unique beauty and history of this area.  Little did they realize, that they were setting a precedent for many more governed parks (city, state, national) and that this idea would slowly spread to other countries as well.

Pretty lofty stuff, but you are steeped in it as you traverse through this park.  You become submerged in terms like cascades, geysers, rock pillars, hot springs, fumoroles, pools, and mud pots.  Seeking out different geological features along with the various animals becomes part of your daily adventure.  Each area you drive to, and drive you must (unless you are into hiking many, many miles a day) has it’s own unique geological features, such as waterfalls, or the Grand Canyon, or geysers (did you know there were over 250 of them in this park?). 

Our first day out and about was to Old Faithful, of course!  True to our good-luck-pattern, we got there about 45 minutes before “spout time”, perfect!  Time enough to breeze through the Visitor Center, a quick look into the Gift Shop, then out to nab the perfect seat to get front row viewing for good pictures!  Right on time, she (it is a she, wouldn’t you say?) started to spout.  First a few puffs of steam, then a bit more, then a tease or so of bubbling water, then some pretty big squirts and then came the build up, and up and up she went!  Way, way up to as high as 184’ and can expel as much as 8400 gallons of boiling water in as long as 5 minutes.  What a great show she puts on!  The sun was bright and the sky was a deep blue, which made for a beautiful backdrop for the pure whiteness and the sparkle of the water shooting right up into that sky!  Absolutely beautiful.  I was in awe.  I had heard so much about it for so many years (haven’t we all?) that I expected to be disappointed, but not so.  The last thing I expected was to be captivated.  I was. 

Afterward, we had to go see the (also famous) Old Faithful Inn (c1904).  Wow, what a lobby!  It’s a national historic landmark all on it’s own, and I believe Disney loved it too, so they copied it and put it into the California Adventure Park. The lobby log rafters are seven stories (90 ft) high with a central fireplace (8 combined) that have more than 500 ton of rock!  Easy to walk around with your mouth hung open.  We went to the 2nd floor observation deck, (where I got two bars on my cell!) and looked out over Geyser Hill.  Nice.  Back over to Geyser Hill for some “educational viewing” and great photography ops.

The rest of the day was “all about geysers”.  We learned that some erupt frequently, some many hours apart, some days or months apart, some constantly, some not so much anymore, etc.  Other than a couple of the “biggies”, they don’t post the expected times, your either lucky or your not.  On one, I was comically lucky.  It was one of the rare dome geysers, the White Dome, that goes off about every half hour or so, which I didn’t really know.  I wanted to see it because of it’s shape, and the fact that it is so rare.  While I was standing in front of it, shooting it, it started going off.  I had no idea how much or how high it would go, so I just kept snapping.  It went up about 20’!  What a wonderful surprise!

Right after that was our first encounter with animals.  Bison, first of many.  They are all over the place.  Sometimes you will see a lone one, sometimes a few, sometimes a huge herd, some far out in the field, sometimes right on the roadway next to you.  You get used to them, or at least I did.  I continued to chuckle when I saw (what the rangers called) "critter jams" whenever a bison was anywhere near.  Seeing the calves with the mamas was always a treat tho. 

Day one ended with seeing our first waterfall, the Kepler Cascades.  Nice way to end the day.
 ...on the road in Wyoming,   Marie

If you wish to view the rest of the photos from this trip, you can at my Flickr account at: