Thursday, November 11, 2021

Roamin' with the Red Pandas

On Veterans Day, Sarah and Emily accompanied me to the Cincinnati Zoo for an encounter with the red pandas.  This was my combination Mother's Day and birthday present that was delayed due to the pandemic. 

Emily and I left our house about 10:00 AM for the trip north on a sunny, warm fall day. On the way, Emily got a phone call asking if we could arrive early since rain was predicted to start about 1:30, the time of our tour. After verifying the earliest that Sarah could meet us after work at The Christ Hospital, Emily let Andrew know that we would be ready between 12:15 and 12:30.  After a quick stop at Menard's to pick up an order for Steve, we drove to the zoo.  Emily picked up her new zoo card while we waited for Sarah.  

We were met by Andrew who greet us warmly and let us know that he would be taking hundreds of pictures so that we could focus on the tour.  This was great news since Steve, the normal cameraman, was at home.  We made our way through the children's zoo to the back of the enclosure where we met Mary, one of the zookeepers.  

Mary explained that the keepers used apple or banana pieces to train the red pandas so that they could get proper daily and veterinary care.  We first met sisters, Audra and Lenore, who were about two and a half years old. Lenore was very eager to great us through the cage in exchange for apple slices.  Once we went into the panda's yard, Andrew got to work taking pictures.  Lenore stayed in her behind the scenes home, but Audra eagerly joined us for pictures and apples. 

We spent about 30 minutes learning outside about the red pandas (Ailurus fulgens), which are the only true pandas. There are two distinct species, the Chinese and the Himalayan; these were Chinese.  The great panda is actually a bear.  

They eat bamboo leaves, not the stalks, and are less picky about their diets than the great panda.  They will eat other leaves, fruit and meat since they are carnivores. The zoo only provides them with a plant based diet, but they supplement it with insects, moles or small garter snakes when they can find them.  They feasted on cicadas during this summers emergence of a 17-year brood.  

Red pandas are solitary, spending most of their days in the trees. They can turn their rear ankles around, allowing them to climb down trees head-first.  They also have a false thumb that they use to hold food. They are black underneath to camouflage them from the snow leopards, their main predator. Their bushy tail is used for balance and typically has 6 white rings. 

Since they live high in the mountains, they are much more visible in the zoo when it is cool or cold. While they have 24-hour access to the outdoors, in the summer they prefer to remain in the air conditioned dens.

The zoo currently has five red pandas.  The male is number 4 in the desirability index of captive red pandas.  Lin, the mother, has produced a number of off-spring including Audra, Lenore, and the new baby, Shenmi.  Shenmi, which means Mystery, has an appropriate name.  Lin was verified to be pregnant, then later ultrasounds revealed no baby.  Later in the summer, they thought she was fat from cicadas, when the baby appeared in the nest box. 

We spent the next 30 minutes in Lin's den area with the family as we learned more about them and their care..  Their fur is quite luxurious, unfortunately leading to the desirability of their skins for hats.  Shenmi was very soft as well.  Once the apples were gone, they clambered around us looking for more treats. Being raised in a zoo, they were very sociable.  

We enjoyed our visit and were glad to find out that they cost helped care for them in the zoo and wild red pandas via the Red Panda Network. It began to rain as we left, so we were happy to have started our tour early.  We finished the day with lunch at Dusmesh Indian Restaurant, where we shared a meal of chicken dal, lamb rogan josh and vegetable biryani with Keshmeri naan. We even had enough to take home a few leftovers.

This tour was well worth the cost, and the 120 pictures Andrew provided are a wonderful remembrance of the day.



Tuesday, November 9, 2021

International Bluegrass Hall of Fame and Museum

World's largest sassafras tree
The bed at the Super 8 was very comfortable and appeared to be new. After 9 pm the second floor room was quiet, so we slept well. We walked down to the motel’s breakfast area where scrambled eggs, sausage links, fresh fruits, cereals, toast and the ever present Dunkin Donuts were available. 

After checking out and assuring that there was no charge, we drove north on Frederica Street to what is reported to be the world’s largest sassafras tree in the yard of an insurance agency next to the Owensboro Public Library. The sassafras trees were quite impressive and believed to be over 100 feet tall and 250-300 years old. 
Fountains in Smothers Park

We then drove to the river where we parked at Owensboro’s Smothers Park along the Ohio River. This was one of the nicer riverfront parks that we have visited. It reminded us of the river walks in Pittsburgh and other revitalized cities. There were a good many locals walking on the wide concrete path overlooking the river. A geotrail has several easy geocaches for visitors to find. Three fountains sprayed water in orchestrated patterns to the music. There were nice public bathrooms and a fantastic playground. We spent a lot of time walking on the paths that were being decorated for Christmas and through the playground. An older lady approached me because I was wearing a Marshall University sweatshirt. She said that she was inspired by the We Are Marshall movie and had a lot of respect for the football program. She told us that she once made a detour on a family trip to stop by the Marshall campus. While leaning over a railing, a pair of sunglasses got dropped into an empty water feature, so I jumped the fence and retrieved them before security could see me.

We made the short drive to the Green River Distillery, formerly the O. Z. Tyler Distillery, early for our 10 am tour and tasting. Our guide, Taylor, welcomed us at the door, and we spent a few minutes in the gift shop until we left on the tour. Taylor was well acquainted with the history and process at Green River Distilling despite having worked there less than a year. She took us through receiving and milling the grain to where the mash is blended and cooked then to the stainless fermentation vats. 
Unlike cypress mash tuns that we have seen at some other distilleries, these are sealed containers to precisely control the temperature and environment of the fermentation. In addition, Taylor told us that the stainless vats can be completely steam cleaned permitting the fermentation of different mashbills in the vats from one batch to another. The large Vendome column still produces the low proof distillate that is then sent to a doubler where the high proof “new make” whiskey is prepared for entry into the char 4 barrels. 

We learned that Green River Distillery is the tenth distillery to be licenced in Kentucky (KSP-10) and is now the fourth largest producer of bourbon in the state. Green River Distillery began operation in 1885 and produced award winning whiskey. A fire at the distillery in 1918 caused the distillery to shut down before prohibition. The distillery was rebuilt in 1936 and the property changed hands many times since. In 2014 the distillery reopened as the O. Z. Tyler Distillery and in 2020 the distillery regained the Green River Distillery name. 

We have had the O. Z. Tyler Bourbon and liked it and were disappointed that it is no longer being made. However, we were familiarized with the other excellent bourbons being produced. At the tasting we sampled Kentucky 10 Bourbon, made with wheat as the secondary grain, and Yellow Banks, named for the frontier name of Owensboro, with rye as the secondary grain. We also saw several bourbons that are made at Green River including Bradshaw (for Terry Bradshaw), Duke (for John Wayne’s estate), Quarter Horse and others. We also tasted Ladder 9, a cinnamon flavored bourbon. We expected it to be like Fireball but were pleased that the cinnamon was very subtle in the finish of the bourbon. We were very impressed with the quality of the spirits made at Green River and purchased a bottle of Yellow Banks for us and a bottle of Ladder 9 for one of Mary’s former co-workers.

Moonlite Bar-B-Q
After leaving the distillery, we drove to Moonlight Bar-B-Q for more Western Kentucky mutton barbecue. After looking at the buffet, we decided on that option since we could try many of the menu choices to see what we liked best. Both of us enjoyed the mutton barbecue as well as pulled pork and the buttered corn.

After lunch we drove to the International Bluegrass Hall of Fame and Museum, which is very near the park where we walked this morning. Our senior admission was $10 each down from the regular fee of $12. The first area we entered had 20 or more stringed instruments hanging that visitors were welcome to play. The guitars, mandolins, banjos and violins were all good quality instruments from makers such as Martin and Gibson. From there we walked around the displays documenting milestones in bluegrass music. 

Uncle Pen's fiddle
Large video screens positioned around the museum’s first floor featured interviews with notable bluegrass musicians such as Ricky Skaggs and Del McCoury as well as others like Yale University’s president who is a bluegrass fan. Artifacts such as Earl Scruggs’ banjos and a fiddle belonging to Bill Monroe’s Uncle Pen are displayed.

Earl Scruggs' banjos
From there, we went to the second floor where we stopped at a set of touch screens that accessed interviews with bluegrass musicians and industry officials. 
Disposable earphones for listening to the videos were provided. One room held a display of banjos produced by a notable maker showing various stages in the production of a hand-crafted instrument. The last room we visited held biographical plaques of all inductees into the Bluegrass Hall of Fame. We enjoyed reading these and had seen most of the performers at live shows or on the televised Grand Ole Opry.

Although the museum was not large, the exhibits were well displayed and interesting. There are several events at the museum in most years and we would seriously consider returning if an event interested us.

We left Owensboro around 3:30 pm and arrived back home around 6:30. Traffic around Louisville was bad but the trip was otherwise uneventful. We both agreed that the trip was a great time and we plan to return to Owensboro soon.

Monday, November 8, 2021

John J. Audubon State Park

A stretch of warm dry weather in early November we decided to take a couple of days to drive to parts of Western Kentucky that we hadn’t seen. After our normal omelette breakfast, we drove toward Eagle Slough Natural Area, mostly on I-64. This area is near a part of Kentucky that is across the Ohio River into Indiana. This is because the Kentucky state line is defined as the low water mark on the Ohio River as of 1792. The New Madrid Earthquake of 1812 caused changes in the river’s course making an area approximately one mile wide by four miles long on the north side of the river part of Kentucky. An elevated path through the area followed an abandoned railroad bed overlooking wetlands and leading to a small open lake. We were surprised to see bald cypress growing native in this area. We were used to seeing cypress swamps in the Everglades but not in Indiana and Kentucky. The trail has a number of interpretive signs and a few boardwalks in need of repair. We saw one gentleman on a bicycle going out the path to enjoy his morning coffee. We chatted briefly and he recommended Sloughs Wildlife Management Area for a hike. A nice observation deck at the end of the mile-long trail overlooks the small lake. We saw numerous Canada geese and some smaller waterfowl but didn’t spend much time there. We found a few small geocaches along the trail then returned to the car to drive to Sloughs WMA.

Great Blue Heron at Eagle Slough
Because we started our walk around 10 am (Central Time), the air was still a little cool so we were wearing jackets and hats. By the time we returned to the car, it was nearly noon and the air was much warmer so we took off our jackets and hats along with the binoculars and cameras for the short drive to Audubon Wetlands across the river near Henderson Kentucky. As we turned from the Eagle Slough access road onto Rt. 41 south, we heard something bounce off the roof of the car, hit the trunk and land on the road. Because the divided highway was very busy, we had to drive a couple of miles into Kentucky before we could do a U-turn to come back and retrieve the item. It turned out that Mary’s Samsung A51 was on the highway after being run over by many cars and large trucks. There was little remaining of the cell phone to pick up, although we gathered up what we could.

We drove back across the Ohio River to the wetlands. The Island Loop Trail begins with a 750-foot boardwalk across the wetlands, followed a mile long dirt trail through the woodlands.  We saw several Great Blue Herons and turtles from the boardwalk. The forested path was surrounded by lots of pawpaw groves and led by a lake and slough.  We walked the loop then made the short drive to the main part of the John James Audubon State Park.

The main trail at Audubon State Park
Upon arriving at the park, we ate the packed lunch of a turkey sandwich and apple in the parking lot at the park visitor center. Like many of the state parks in the area, buildings here were constructed by the WPA and appeared to be well built and in good repair despite being over 80 years old. It appeared to us that the craftsmanship was better than some of the parks built by CCC camps that we had visited before. We were a bit surprised that the visitor center had almost a Tudor look with an unusually steep roof. 

We learned that the swamps in the area were drained in the 1930s by a Civilian Conservation Corp (CCC) group from West Virginia. The CCC team also built roads and constructed the lakes in the area that is now Audubon State Park. The WPA built the major structures in the park. There are a lot of interconnected trails in the 700 acre Audubon State Park of all levels of rigor. We hiked out Warbler Road and were amazed by the number of pawpaw trees in groves along the trail. We took the Scenic Overlook Trail and the Wilderness Lake Trail, chatting with several other visitors as we walked. On our return to the parking area, we took the short King Benson Trail where we saw a large black rat snake sunning on the path.

Turtles basking at John J. Audubon State Park
While there, we learned that John J. Audubon lived in Henderson, Kentucky from 1810 to 1819 when Henderson was a small town on the Western frontier. Although we didn’t take time to visit the park’s museum, we learned that it houses one of the world’s largest collections of Audubon’s art as well as artifacts from his nine year stay in the area.

We drove further west to Sloughs WMA, but it appeared to be a few small observation towers overlooking wildlife food plots. 

We drove about an hour east to Owensboro, Kentucky, where we would spend the night and the day on Tuesday. Like Georgetown, Owensboro is a fast growing small city in Kentucky. The city has capitalized on their Ohio River frontage, frontier history and proximity to population centers to become a mecca for festivals, hosting about 30 each year. I had been to Owensboro in the mid 1980s while a UK graduate student, but I really didn’t remember anything about the city. Our first stop was to Best Buy and Target to shop for a replacement cell phone for Mary. She decided on a Samsung A52 to replace her damaged A51. Although it was more than she hoped to pay, she was happy with the phone’s features. Once at the motel, we recovered the SIM card and memory chip from the old A51 and put them in the new A52. To her surprise, once she logged in to Google, all of her apps and settings returned to the new phone.

The Super 8 in Owensboro was very nice, having been remodeled recently. The room was spacious and had new flooring, furniture and bathroom fixtures. Because we have points with Wyndham Hotel Group, we were able to stay without charge. The lobby had fresh Dunkin Donuts for free through the day including the seasonal pumpkin spice donuts.

Sliced mutton dinner at Old Hickory Bar-B-Que
Friends have been telling us about how good the mutton barbecue is from Western Kentucky. One of the restaurants in Owensboro getting top reviews was Old Hickory Bar-B-Que. After looking at the menu and consulting the waitress, Mary had smoked turkey, barbecued beans and coleslaw, while I ordered the sliced mutton shoulder barbecue with coleslaw and a cup of burgoo. Burgoo is a traditional stew that was made on the frontier using a variety of wild game with available seasonal vegetables. This burgoo appeared to be made from mutton, beef and pork with a few beans and potatoes. It was quite good and reminded us a bit of chili. Both of us enjoyed our meals greatly and were glad that we came. 

We returned to the Owensboro Super 8 and turned in after a long day of hiking. Since our bodies were on Eastern Time we were happy to go to bed a little early.

Friday, September 17, 2021

Coming Home

We were up and out of the Sioux City Super 8 early since we had a long day of driving ahead of us. We had planned longer days of driving on Wednesday and Friday so we could take time at Mt. Rushmore and especially at Badlands National Park. Nothing in Iowa, Illinois or Indiana particularly interested us on this trip, so we planned to put a lot of miles under our wheels today. After being away for two weeks, we were looking forward to being home and sleeping in our own bed.

We took US Rt. 20 for 200 miles to Waterloo, Iowa. Rt. 20 was really more like an Interstate highway so we made good time. We took I-380 from Waterloo to Iowa City. It had been over 20 years since I was in Iowa City. I did some test development contract work for ACT while teaching at Cabell Midland High School, and we met at their headquarters near Iowa City. They took me to some interesting nearby attractions including the Amana Colony, Herbert Hoover’s birthplace and other local attractions. We made a note to return here some day but kept moving today. At Iowa City we took I-80 a short distance to Davenport where to got on I-74, which took us through Peoria, Bloomington, Champaign and into Indianapolis. We hit major construction in Indy that really slowed us down. Most of the construction was in the southwest corner of I-465 so we considered taking I-70 from Indianapolis to west Louisville then backtracking east to Georgetown. However, traffic appeared to be bad toward Louisville as well, so we stayed the course and made our way to I-74 which brought us to Cincinnati. We caught I-275 to Erlanger, KY where we got on our familiar I-75.

We were home a little after 10 pm, unpacked a few of our things, then went to bed. We planned to leave around 9:30 on Saturday morning to meet the Koehlers at Oktoberfest Zinzinnati.

Thursday, September 16, 2021

Badlands National Park

We woke around 5 am at the Spearfish Super 8, did a few German lessons on Duolingo and then went to the motel lobby for breakfast. We were pleased that the motel had cold cereals, yogurt, Belgian waffles and other choices. However, an older couple (our age) had their dog in the dining area. This was clearly not a trained service animal since the animal was annoying other guests. I eventually asked the owners to control their dog, which they did for a while before they left. I was surprised that the motel would permit the dog in an area where food is served, so I wrote to the motel manager with my concerns.

We were on the road by 6:30 heading toward Mount Rushmore National Monument. The drive to the park was through an area that was obviously very targeted toward tourists. Rapid City has statues of presidents positioned throughout the tourist areas. From Rapid City we drove through Keystone which was an old mining town in the 1800s. Like so many other historic Western towns, all of the old buildings have been torn down and new buildings are in their place that have fronts looking like old buildings. They contain T-shirt shops, souvenir stores and restaurants with catchy names.

We were at Mount Rushmore when it opened at 8 am and parked in the nearby garage. Our National Park Senior Pass was not checked and there did not appear to be a fee for entry. However, parking was $10 for passenger cars, but we got the senior price of $5. There were some visitors at the park, but it was not crowded at all.

Mary got the stamp for the site in her National Park Passport, and we took a few pictures and walked around the grounds. We read a lot of the signage and history of the granite carvings, but nothing has really changed since we were here with the kids. I dropped a few postcards to family in the mailbox at the visitor center to receive a special Mount Rushmore postmark.

From Mount Rushmore we drove about an hour to the Badlands National Park. The $25 entry fee was covered by our National Park Senior Pass, and we began our drive through the park. The 30 mile road through the park parallels I-90. Like other national parks, there were numerous turnouts with interpretive signage. We stopped at most turnouts and read the information. A few stops have short trails out to viewing areas. At one of our first stops, two female bighorn sheep were grazing near the parking area. We were impressed by the stark beauty of the landscape.

As we continued around the drive we saw interpretive displays on fossils found in the area. We also saw two adult male Rocky Mountain bighorn sheep that were grazing not far from the road. These animals are clearly accustomed to visitors as they didn’t seem to notice us taking photographs.

We left the park around 11:30 and had our peanut butter and crackers lunch as we drove east on I-90. We took advantage of the 80 mph speed limits in South Dakota since there wasn’t much traffic. We stopped at a few rest areas to stretch as we made our way east. We crossed the time zone not long after getting back on I-90, which cost us an hour. We arrived in Sioux Falls, SD around 5:30 and picked up I-29 south toward Sioux City, Iowa. We were happy that gasoline prices were back down below $3/gallon in eastern South Dakota. We filled up in Sioux City and picked up dinner from McDonalds to take to the motel.

The Super 8 in Sioux City appeared to be fine and, at $70, the price was right. We brought a few things up to the room and turned in. We want to get a good rest then leave early tomorrow hoping to get home in Georgetown before too late on Friday night.

Wednesday, September 15, 2021

Devil's Tower National Monument

Once again, we awoke around 5 am in our room at the Lake Yellowstone Hotel. After we got our showers and ate our raisin bran, we went for a walk on the shore of Yellowstone Lake. We tried to find a virtual geocache that is near the lodge, but a recent tree fall covered the cache site.

We hadn’t heard from Cindy or Mark by 7 am so we asked the front desk to contact them for us. Because we didn’t have a cell signal or internet at the lodge, we were unable to receive the texts that Cindy had been sending us. They met us in the main lobby, and we took Mark’s pickup.  We drove north through the Hayden Valley to Yellowstone’s Grand Canyon, which is on the Yellowstone River between the waterfalls and Yellowstone Lake.

Yellowstone's Lower Falls
Our first stop was at Lower Waterfall of the Yellowstone River , which is one of the most photogenic spots in a photogenic park. The falls are beautiful from any angle. We drove back down the canyon toward Yellowstone Lake stopping at places along the drive that looked interesting. We saw quite a few bison and many pronghorns but did not find a moose or bear. Since we were out early, we were hoping to see either of these near the rivers but had no success.

Mud Volcano
The Mud Volcano Trail has a network of trails through steam vents and boiling mud. A number of visitors there, but it was certainly not crowded. Because she wasn’t feeling well, Mary got separated from us and was walking a trail that was longer than she expected and didn’t have as many interesting features as the main trail. We walked back along the trail with her especially to the Dragon’s Mouth, which is a hole in the rock that is stained green by minerals in the steam that continuously flow from the hole. As the steam pulses out, a growling sound comes from the rock. Other nearby areas have sulfur steam vents and boiling mud pits.

Dragon's Mouth Spring
We left the mud pot area and returned to the lodge parking area, said our goodbyes to the Whittingtons and drove out of the park toward Cody, Wyoming. Between the park exit and Cody we saw a lot of people pulled off the road looking at something in the bushes. We pulled off the road and saw two young bear cubs romping at the side of the road. We learned that the mother had just been killed on the road and the authorities were waiting for Fish and Game to remove the cubs. We took several snapshots of the cubs then continued toward Cody.

Orphaned bear cubs
We filled the 2018 Camry fuel tank in Cody getting gas for $3.19, which we thought was a deal given the prices around $3.59 near Yellowstone. We cancelled our room in Buffalo, WY, allowing us more time to visit Mt. Rushmore and Badlands National Parks on Thursday. Mark and Cindy were going to stay in Cody for a couple of days and planned to visit the Buffalo Bill Center of the West. We would enjoy visiting Cody and the museum on a future trip.

Our drive east on US. Rt. 14/16/20 was uneventful and went quickly with the high speed limits in Wyoming. We especially enjoyed the geologic signage that the Wyoming Department of Highways places at road cuts describing the formations and ages of each rock layer. Granite Pass on the route was over 9000 feet in elevation and was a beautiful drive despite many switchbacks and steep grades. We recognized many of the place names like Ten Sleep, WY from Craig Johnson's Longmire books.  Mary drove from Sheridan to Moorcroft on I-90 where we exited to visit Devil’s Tower National Monument. We got behind a pickup from Idaho pulling an older travel trailer which was going at single digit speeds on the road to the monument despite the 35 mph speed limit. We moved much better after getting around him.

This huge volcanic intrusion is quite impressive. We walked around the monument and took a lot of photos from several angles. We saw a man with a Hatfield-McCoy Trail T-Shirt who was from Mason, WV. We had a nice chat with him and continued our visit. We went to a remote viewing area to take a few more photos and the late afternoon light was perfect on the Devil’s Tower. We were pleased that there was little smoke from western fires.

We took US 14 back to I-90 at Sundance, WY and continued east to Spearfish, SD where we picked up Taco Bell at the drive through and took it to the Spearfish Super 8. The young man at the front desk was very pleasant and gave us a quiet room at a reasonable rate. Although a typical Super 8, the room was clean and quiet, so we were happy.

Once in the room we quickly did our German lessons and checked our email since we were unable to do either yesterday. We are looking forward to visiting Mount Rushmore and Badlands National Parks on Thursday.

Tuesday, September 14, 2021

Grand Tetons National Park

As with every other day since we have been in the West, we awoke early and did a few German lessons before showering and having breakfast. We got hot water from the West Yellowstone Super 8 breakfast nook to make the instant oatmeal that we bought at the grocery store last night. We picked up a grab and go breakfast bag from the front desk to have as snacks or part of lunch.

Before 7 am we were checked out of the motel and in the cars driving into the park. We drove separately for the first part of the trip since we would not be returning to the West Yellowstone area.

Fountain Paint Pots
Upon entering Yellowstone National Park, we drove south from Madison Junction to Firehole Canyon Drive, stopping at Firehole Falls which are triple waterfalls carved out of a lava flow. We drove just a few miles to Fountain Paintpot Trail which has boardwalks around geysers, hot springs and mud pots. The Red Spouter Geyser is probably the most recognizable from the dissolved iron in the mineral water. We drove the short distance to Firehole Lake Drive where we waited for a cone geyser to erupt only to see that the eruption was very unimpressive. There are some attractive and colorful springs on the trail so we enjoyed the walk.

Grand Prismatic Spring
Midway Geyser Basin
was only a short distance from Firehole Lake Drive. The signature attraction here is Grand Prismatic Spring, a deep pool of hot water with brilliant blue water fringed by mineral deposits of yellow and red. It is really beautiful, and we wished that there was less smoke in the air so we could take better photographs. Parking was a problem at Midway Geyser Basin and was the most crowded area that we had seen in the park so far

A few miles further South we came to Black Sand Basin, named for the eroded obsidian making up the surface. The trail took us through a small area with a short boardwalk and several hydrothermal features including colorful hot pools, mud pots and geysers.

Old Faithful erupting
Because Old Faithful didn’t appear to be far from our parking at Black Sand Basin, we were tempted to leave the cars parked and walk over. However, we learned that it was a very long walk through a congested area that is undergoing extensive road construction. On arriving at the Old Faithful area, we were pleased to see a very large parking area with many empty spaces. The Old Faithful area is very large with a visitor center, gift shop and other amenities. Lots of visitors were there, but it really didn’t seem crowded as we suspect that it would have earlier in the season.  Cindy got the predicted times for the next eruptions of Old Faithful and several other geysers in the area at the visitor center. Benches are available for visitors to sit in a giant semi circle around the geyser which erupts about every 90 minutes. We arrived prior to the 11:42 am eruption, so we found an empty bench and waited about 40 minutes for the very impressive eruption.

Geyser Hill is an interpretative trail near Old Faithful with many hydrothermal features like vents, mud pits and geysers. We spent a lot of time watching for Anemone Geyser to erupt because we read that it erupts every 6 to 10 minutes. After watching for some time, we gave up and started to walk away. Then we saw that it erupted once we had given up.

We drove to Grant Visitor Center where we dropped our car and got in with Mark to drive to Grand Tetons National Park. Only 8 miles separates the two parks but they are very different. Even the visitors different. We guessed that the average age of tourists at Yellowstone was 70 but Tetons had a much younger group with most appearing to be in the 30s.

Grand Tetons
We started at the Colter Bay Visitor Center driving on the John D. Rockefeller Jr. Memorial Highway which is the 8 mile stretch of road connecting Yellowstone and Tetons. Rockefeller made large contributions to many national parks including Grand Teton. While at the visitor center Mary got her National Park Passport stamp for Grand Tetons.

We drove the 8 miles on Wyoming State Rt. 191 to the Oxbow Bend area of the Snake River to photograph the river and look for potential places where we might see a moose. We took a lot of photographs of the Tetons over the Snake River but the dense smoke from western fires largely obscured the peaks. We scanned the area around the river hoping to see moose without success.

Cabin at Cunningham Ranch
We continued on Rt. 191 another 10 miles to the cabin at Cunningham Ranch built in the 1880s by an early settler in the area. This cabin is one of the few remaining structures from the area’s homesteaders. This cabin is the double pen or dog trot style cabin named for the open area between the two halves of the cabin. After several years during the dust bowl era, Cunningham spearheaded a movement among 97 ranchers in the area to sell land to the Snake River Land Company, who donated the land to expand Grand Tetons National Park.

Further south on Rt. 191 stopped at the Snake River Overlook. This is the spot where where Ansell Adams took his famous photograph of the Tetons. As with other photo points in the Tetons, smoke prevented a clear view of the peaks.

We made quick stops on Rt. 191 at Schwabacher Landing and the Mormon Row Historic District. Many of the homes constructed by 27 families of Mormon settlers in the late 1800s survive. Today the area is best known for the Moulton barns with the two story gambrel roof and attached sheds.

At Moose Junction, we took the Teton Park Road to take some snapshots and attempt an Earthcache. We stopped by the Jenny Lake Lodge Dining Room, but it was not open so we continued on the loop to Jackson Lake Junction. We had a takeout dinner since there was a 40 minute wait in the dining room. We ate our meals on a picnic table behind the lodge on the shore of the lake and enjoyed them. Cindy and I had half portion fish and chips, Mary had a burger and Mark had a Philly steak sandwich. Our meals were fine, and we were tired and hungry so we had no trouble finishing them.

After dinner we drove back to the Lake Yellowstone Hotel where we checked in for the night. As expected, the rooms were a little pricy, but the hotel was very elegant. Our room was in a separate building from Mark and Cindy and was small. Since we were there late and would be leaving early, that wasn’t a problem. I suppose that we should have expected that the room would have no internet or television since it is in a remote area. A huge advantage to the room is that driving times to attractions far shorter than driving in from West Yellowstone.

Monday, September 13, 2021

Yellowstone Wildlife

The Super 8 at West Yellowstone was adequate. For the daily rate, it should have been outstanding, but it was clean and quiet which are our minimum requirements for lodging. Although it is called the West Yellowstone Super 8, the motel is several miles west of the town of West Yellowstone. Since the town is very much like any resort town, there are lots of overpriced shops, restaurants and bars with names like The Slippery Otter Pub, Wild West Pizzeria & Saloon and The Buffalo Bar. Rates and taxes in the town would certainly be higher, so it is not surprising that the Super 8 was out of the main business thoroughfare.

As usual, we awoke around 5:30 and did some things in the room like our daily German lessons. Then we went to the front desk for the grab-and-go breakfast of a granola bar, Danish, apple and water bottle before getting on the road.

We stopped by the post office in West Yellowstone to mail our quarterly state and federal taxes as well as a few postcards to family. We got into the park using Mark’s lifetime National Park pass, saving us $30 for admission. The outside temperature was in the upper 20s, so our long pants and jackets felt pretty good. Like yesterday, the smoke from forest fires is not as bad as we had in Idaho.
Our first stop today was Roaring Mountain, a bleached hillside marked with fumaroles and hot springs. The dissolved minerals in the hot water precipitated out when the water cooled on the surface, giving the rocks a coating of hardened minerals. Trees growing near the mineral water flow took up minerals through their roots along with the water. Eventually, the minerals clogged the vascular tissue of the trees causing them to die; the bottom foot or two of their trunks are white from the minerals. The name, Roaring Mountain, came from the hissing sound made by the fumaroles and vents.

Our next stop was at Obsidian Cliff, where the lava flow cooled rapidly without forming crystals, producing the obsidian volcanic glass. Natives as far back as 11,000 years visited this area to obtain the obsidian for tool making. It is believed that much of the obsidian found in ancient burial sites throughout the Midwest originated at Yellowstone’s Obsidian Cliff.

We stopped at Willow Park, a wetland near the road to look for moose. A ranger told us that looking in this area, especially around dusk, is the best place in the park to see a moose feeding. Since we were there early in the day, there did not appear to be moose in the area.

Sheepeater Cliffs are comprised of hexagonal columns of basalt from a 500,000 year old lava flow. Because the lava cooled slowly in this area, the minerals crystalized into the hexagonal columns. The area is named for a band of Shoshone commonly called the Sheep Eaters.

We made a quick stop at Swan Lake to look for wildlife but saw only the water fowl, bison and pronghorns that we have seen throughout the park. We drove on to Mammoth Hot Springs where we hiked the upper and lower trails, sometimes on boardwalks. This area had many geysers, hot springs and fumaroles throughout the entire area.

The underground acid water dissolved the limestone bedrock. Once the water cooled on the surface, the calcium carbonate deposited as travertine that forms the terraces throughout Mammoth Hot Springs.

We drove the short distance into the town of Yellowstone which, unlike West Yellowstone, it entirely within the National Park. Mary went into the Albright Visitor Center to get her National Park Passport stamp while we walked around the streets of the small town that is now operated by the National Park Service.  Several mature elk walked through the streets of Yellowstone unbothered by the gawking tourists. Cindy checked on the dining room for dinner and was advised that our best chance of getting seated was if we were at the door when the restaurant opened at 4:30. We agreed to a small lunch then an earlier evening meal.
We understood that Undine Falls, a three-tiered waterfall, is a Yellowstone “must see” so we made a stop to take photos and enjoy the view. While these falls are certainly beautiful, many waterfalls across the park are just as scenic.

We took the Blacktail Plateau Drive, a six mile drive, to the Bannock Trail where we looked for wildlife. We had seen plenty of bison, elk and pronghorns, but we were hoping to see a bear or moose. We understood that the elk population is much smaller than before the reintroduction of wolves to Yellowstone. While we hoped to see a wolf, sightings are not common.

We made a stop at a Petrified Tree that is believed to be about 50 million years old. The tree species is now extinct, but it is most closely related to the coastal redwoods of California. On seeing the petrified trees in Yellowstone, frontiersman Jim Bridger commented on the “peetrified trees a’growing with peetrified birds a’singing peetrified songs.”
We drove to Lamar Valley looking for wildlife. Since this is a popular location for viewing bison, elk and pronghorns, there were more cars here than we had seen earlier. We drove nearly to Yellowstone’s Northeast Entrance, turned at Pebble Creek and drove back along the road watching for wildlife. We saw herds of bison throughout the drive, including several herds that stopped traffic while crossing the road. Some bison were dusting in shallow pits near the road. Lots of cars stopped along the road to take snapshots, and some viewers got dangerously close to the bison attempting to get a snapshot with a cell phone. We were driving by a bison herd feeding near a pond and saw a bison calf fall into the pond and struggled to get out for nearly 30 minutes. We were afraid that she would drown, but she made it to an area where she could pull herself up to safety.

We made a stop at Soda Butte, a cone near the road. The name came from a belief by early visitors that the white material making up the cone was soda. However, it is composed of the same type of travertine that makes up the Mammoth Hot Springs area. 

We hoped to hike the Trout Lake Trail, but so many cars were in the parking area so we moved on. We had read that the 1.2 mile loop is especially scenic, but we didn’t want to wait for a parking spot. We decided to walk the Wraith Falls Trail, a one mile hike to waterfalls, marshes and forests.
We returned to the town of Yellowstone around 4 pm and walked around the streets. A bull elk was grazing in a lawn and bugling his presence to all. It cracked us up that we scanned every hill and canyon with binoculars looking for elk when they were walking around in town. I am sure that the increased pressure from the reintroduced wolves has the elk staying closer to places with more people, affording them some degree of protection.

By 4:30 we were in line for dinner at Mammoth Hotel Dining Room. As promised, we were seated promptly in the elegant dining room and given menus with lots of great choices. Mary had elk sliders, Steve had a bison burger, Mark had mac and cheese and Cindy had strip steak. Everyone enjoyed their meals, and we did a lot of sharing at the table. There was a nice rain while we were at dinner, which I am certain was welcome.

We drove back the 14 miles out of the park to West Yellowstone, happy to be getting in early for the first time in a long time. Traffic wasn’t bad except when elk or bison were near the road causing cars to slow for photos.

We stopped for gas in Mark’s pickup in West Yellowstone. Because it is a resort area, prices for regular unleaded ranged from $3.50 to $4.00 per gallon in town. Several stations offered gasoline for $4.50 or more. We went to a local supermarket for breakfast and snack items for the next couple of days. As expected, everything was overpriced. Fortunately we brought most supplies  with us, so we only needed a few things to get us through.

We arrived back at the West Yellowstone Super 8 and did some preparation for Tuesday before turning in. We would be checking out of the Super 8 and spending Tuesday night in the park lodge near Lake Yellowstone. We were looking forward to Tuesday, spending the morning in Yellowstone in the Old Faithful geyser area then traveling to Grand Tetons National Park in the afternoon.

So far, the trip has been very pleasant. The parks have not been overly crowded, and the weather has been great. While the morning temperature has been in the upper 20s, the sun warmed quickly to the 70s for most of the day. We really enjoy traveling and spending time with Mark and Cindy since we share so many interests. Having them with us really enhanced our visit to Yellowstone.

Sunday, September 12, 2021

Yellowstone's Norris Geyser Basin

As in previous mornings we were awake early. We suspect that the coyotes singing in the desert near the house may have awakened us. Since we were up before 5 am, we went outside to stargaze. There were so many stars that we couldn’t pick out the constellations. The Milky Way was very clear.

We went inside to do our German lessons, check our emails and read online news until Whittington’s awoke. Mark made excellent breakfast burritos that we all enjoyed then we cleared a few things to prepare the house for the painters coming soon.

We got on the road to Yellowstone by 8:30 am and stopped by the transfer station to put the garbage out. We stopped at the Stinker gas station in Challis for Mark to get gas and for us to get air in the right front tire.

We stopped just east of Rexburg, ID at Mesa Falls State Park for lunch of ham sandwiches. The falls are beautiful, and it was a nice stop before continuing on to Yellowstone.

Gibbon Falls
We arrived at the West Yellowstone Super 8 around 2:30, got checked in, and then continued to the park in Mark’s pickup. Our senior passes got us entry into the Yellowstone National Park without the $30 admission, and we drove to take snapshots at Gibbon Falls then on to the Norris Geyser Basin area of the park. The area is named for the second Yellowstone superintendent, Philetus W. Norris. We were shocked at how few visitors were in the park today. We had heard many stories of attractions being elbow to elbow and terrible traffic jams. However, since we were visiting the park after Labor Day the park was not busy at all.

Small geyser
Our first trail was the Porcelain Basin Trail where we saw geysers, fumaroles, hot springs and mud pots. The smell of hot sulfur was unmistakable. From there, we took the Back Basin Trail that was a longer trail around many volcanic features. We ran into a Yellowstone employee who told us that Steamboat Geyser erupted yesterday. This geyser erupts irregularly at intervals between 3 days and 50 years. The most recent previous eruption was in mid-July. Steamboat is the largest geyser in Yellowstone National Park. The Cistern Spring was still empty this afternoon since it is the water source for Steamboat Geyser.

Steamboat Geyser
We drove back toward the park exit and stopped at the Artist’s Paint Pots trail. This mile long trail circles through hydrothermal features varying in color from blue, green, yellow, white and red. Like the Norris Geyser Basin, the smell of sulfur and other minerals was strong but the area was fascinating. The color differences in the natural hot springs were interesting and based on the minerals that are dissolved in the hot water.

Artist Paint Pots
We left the park and headed into West Yellowstone for dinner. We tried several restaurants, but all had lengthy wait times. We opted for McDonald’s since we were hungry. Mary & I had our usual McDoubles which were very good. We returned to the Super 8 in West Yellowstone and rested before bedtime.