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.

Saturday, September 11, 2021

Cleaning up storm damage

We were up at our usual 4:30 am, so we went back out on the deck to do some early morning stargazing. It is nice that there is a deck that goes the entire circumference of their house and has a sliding door from the guest bedroom out to the deck. There was still a good deal of smoke in the atmosphere, but the stars were great.

High winds on Friday afternoon put down or damaged about a dozen cottonwood trees to the point of endangering structures. Four trees were down in the chicken yard but fortunately did not do much damage to the chicken coop. One side of the fence received some damage but appears to be repairable. In addition to removing the four trees that were down in or on the chicken yard, we took three trees in the area down that were leaning toward the chicken coop, smokehouse or fuel tanks. Other trees fell near but not on the barn and did no damage. It could have been a lot worse.

I was very impressed with Mark’s Milwaukee cordless chainsaws. They did a great job of cutting the downed cottonwood into 18-inch lengths to fit into their fireplace. When the batteries for the saw were exhausted, I switched to the Stihl two cycle chainsaw to cut up the cottonwood. Our workflow had me falling and cutting up the trees and Mark hauling the logs off and stacking them near the fuel tanks. Mary and Cindy gathered tops and branches too small to be used as firewood and hauled them to the surround desert BLM land. They also piled the bed of Mark’s pickup with branches, small limbs and bark to be dumped in the sagebrush.

We were fortunate that the cottonwood was much easier to cut than the oak, ash and locust that we are used to cutting around home. The battery and gas powered saws had no difficulty cutting through cottonwood trees that were 20 inches in diameter. Once cut, the logs were also much lighter and easier to carry. We were laughing at the sight of Mary carrying a cottonwood branch that was 10 feet long and 8 inches in diameter.

We used a rope to direct the fall of a few of the trees to keep them from hitting any of the structures. Mark also used his Milwaukee cordless pole saw to take some dead limbs down that could fall on the fence. We finished the cutting and stacking before 3 pm then came in for showers and cold drinks after putting all of the tools away. It felt good to relax after a good day of cleanup.

Mark made an excellent stir fry for dinner. It had chicken with a lot of vegetables and Japanese noodles. We all enjoyed it very much. We finished up with some of Mark’s homemade ice cream then relaxed before bed. Mary and Cindy planned our three days at Yellowstone next week and we were all looking forward to tomorrow and leaving for Wyoming.

Friday, September 10, 2021

Craters of the Moon

We woke early again, anxious for the trip to Craters of the Moon National Monument and Preserve. We went to the deck to stargaze while we waited for sunrise. There were so many stars visible that it was difficult to make out the common constellations. The Milky Way was the characteristic diagonal band across the sky. There was still a good bit of smoke in the air from the fires throughout the West, but the stars were still much more visible than in the cloudy Eastern US.

When Mark got up he made an excellent scrambled egg breakfast for us as we prepared for the day trip to Craters of the Moon. We drove two hours south on Rt. 93 and Rt. 26 to the park entrance. Cindy bought lifetime National Park senior pass, which for $80 is a great deal providing admission for up to four people into any National Park. The visitor center wasn’t fully open and only a few people at a time were allowed in the gift shop. None of the interactive displays at the visitor center were open. A ranger was at a tent outside the visitor center distributing maps and answering questions. Mary went into the gift shop to get her National Park Passport stamp, and we continued through the park.

We parked at the trailhead for the North Crater Flow Trail, a 4 mile trail through lava flows, lava tunnels, obsidian and pumice formations. Because of some steep inclines and difficult footing on the lava trails, this is classified as “strenuous” by the Park Service. It is no wonder that this area was used to train the Apollo astronauts in the 1960s since the cooled lava forms a terrain that appears much like a moonscape. Since the North Crater Flow Trail was not a loop, we walked about halfway then returned to Mark’s truck to drive to the Inferno Cone Trail. This trail about ½ mile long but is classified as “strenuous” by the Park Service because of the steep incline up the side of the cinder cone. The view over the Great Rift and the Snake River Plain from the top of the cone is beautiful . The smoke in the air prevented seeing the Tetons 100 miles away.

We continued on the loop road to the Spatter Cones area where two large lumps of lava where thrown forming around a small central vent. These resembled small volcanos and had a short trail  allowing viewing the vent as well as the outsides of the structures. While parked at the Spatter Cones, we had a quick lunch of ham sandwiches, Aldi trail mix and almonds.

Of course, as we drove through the area, we stopped for the interpretative signage learning about the differences in pahoehoe and aa lava and where each can be seen in the area’s lava flows. The same hotspot that created the geysers and other phenomena at Yellowstone was under the Craters of the Moon areas for about 4 million years from about 10 to 6 million years ago. This caused the violent eruptions leading to the formation of huge craters. More gentle eruptions from 6 million years ago until 15,000 years ago buried the caldera from the previous eruptions in a layer of lava up to 6,000 feet thick. The following period from 15,000 to 2,000 years ago was a time when the Great Rift stretched the earth’s crust causing eight major eruption periods bringing magma to the surface creating the terrain that we see today giving the area a very lunar appearance. This lunar appearance led to the park being used by NASA as a training ground for the Apollo missions. Allen Shepard, Edgar Mitchell, Gene Cernan and Joe Eagle came to Craters of the Moon in 1969 as they prepared for landing on the surface of the moon.

Our next stop came recommended by the park ranger at the park entrance. Broken Top Loop Trail is a 1.8 miles hike rated “moderate” by the Park Service. There were numerous trail guide along the walk pointing out interesting things to see along the trail. There were several lava caves along trail, but these are closed because the bat populations using the caves are susceptible to white nose and other communicable diseases that can be brought into the caves by visitors. This trail has excellent examples of many of the volcanic features that we have seen and read about during our visit.

Our last stop of the day was at Devil’s Orchard Trail, which is an easy 1/2 mile walk through areas where parts of a crater wall were carried like a raft by lava flows and dropped on existing lava. We read that a minister traveling through the area commented that it so inhospitable that it was like the Devil’s Orchard.

After departing the park, we stopped in the town of Arco for soft drinks. Arco’s claim to fame is that it was the first community in the world to be lit by electricity generated solely by nuclear power. This occurred for about an hour on July 17, 1955, powered by Argonne National Laboratory’s BORAX-III reactor at the nearby National Reactor Testing Station (NRTS), now the Idaho National Laboratory. In 1961 a steam explosion at a reactor there killed three employees in the only reactor accident in the US resulting in fatalities.

We drove back past the site of the 1983 Mt. Borah Earthquake, a 6.9 magnitude earthquake near MacKay in 1983, that killed two children and caused $12.5 million in property damage. The 21 mile fault lifted Mt. Borah by six feet in a matter of seconds and altered the frequency of the eruptions of Yellowstone’s Old Faithful about 150 miles away.

On returning back to the Whittington’s home, we found that a severe wind storm brought down several trees, scattered branches over much of the yard and damaged the chicken house. We picked up the sticks from the yard and carried them over to the BLM property nearby. We plan to cut the trees from the fences and off buildings tomorrow.

As we were unpacking from the day, we saw double rainbows over the desert viewable from the Whittington’s family room. Dinner was leftovers with the enchiladas from Monday and pizza from Thursday along with a garden salad. After dinner we enjoyed some of Mark’s homemade vanilla and dark chocolate ice cream.

Thursday, September 9, 2021

Land of Yankee Fork State Park

The weather here in Idaho has been perfect for sleeping. The nights are cool but not cold, and we have been leaving the door to the guest bedroom cracked with the screen in place most nights. We awoke this morning at 4 am when a group of coyotes were singing in the desert not far from the house. We hear coyotes at home in Kentucky a good bit when the weather permits sleeping with the windows open.

We had a variety of cold cereals for breakfast since we were hoping for an early departure to visit the Sunbeam Hot Springs on the Salmon River as well as some old mining ghost towns.

Bison Jump at Challis, ID
Our first stop was in Challis at Land of Yankee Fork State Park where the visitor center has information on the ghost towns that we hoped to visit as well as a cliff where early Native Americans herded bison to fall to their death. While we were there, Cindy learned about the Idaho State Parks Passport that allows annual unlimited admission and parking for a single fee.

We continued south on Idaho Rt. 75 to the Sunbeam Hot Springs where a multitude of thermal springs empty into the cool Salmon River. Locals and visitors alike enjoy finding pools where the hot and cool water blend to create the perfect bathing temperature. We didn’t bring bathing suits so we didn’t stay long.

We drove up a narrow road to the abandoned mining town of Bonanza, Idaho. This gold mining boom town was settled in 1877 and within a few years had a population over 600 people hoping to get rich from gold found in the Yankee Fork of the Salmon River. However, as with most mining boom towns, few actually got rich and the town’s population quickly dwindled. The giant dredge in nearby Custer, Idaho pulled many residents away, then a fire in 1889 destroyed most of the town. We walked around the few dilapidated buildings remaining in Bonanza then drove on toward Custer only a few miles beyond.

One the way to Custer we stopped at the Yankee Fork Gold Dredge, a giant ship that was brought to the Yankee Fork between Custer and Bonanza in 1939. This nearly 1000 ton ship is 112 feet long and had 72 buckets that could each hold 8 cubic feet of earth and bring material from up to 35 feet deep in the streambed. The stream isn’t nearly large enough to float the large ship, but dredging created its own lake for the vessel. Material from the streambed would be scooped up by the 72 buckets and brought into the shop where it would be crushed and heavier gold would be collected. The remaining rock or tailings would be dispersed from the rear of the ship, filling in the area that had been previously dredged. The dredge was closed to visitors when we were there, but we walked around and read the interpretative signs before moving on to the Custer ghost town.

Like Bonanza, Custer was settled in the late 1870s by those looking to make their fortunes in gold. A giant stamp mill was completed in Custer to process gold from the ore gathered there. Custer quickly became a thriving town with laundries, a harness shop, five saloons, three stores, three boarding houses and a hotel. However, there is no record of a church ever being established in Custer. By 1911 only two families lived in Custer. The town of Custer was much better preserved than Bonanza and appeared to have a seasonal convenience store and gift shop in the old Empire Saloon building. Signs all through the town explained the role and history of the remaining buildings and the sites where former buildings had stood. We walked up to the Custer Cemetery where the park service had replaced many of the markers from residents buried there over 100 years ago.

Salmon in the Salmon River
After leaving Custer, we continued south on Rt. 75 through the small Idaho town of Stanley in the Sawtooth Mountain Range. We drove to Redfish Lake, a popular recreation and fishing spot in the mountains. We got out and walked around the Buckhorn Bridge area on the Salmon River and spotted many huge dead and dying Chinook salmon who had completed their spawning and were exhausted from the trip from the Pacific Ocean. There were many steelhead salmon in the stream, although they were harder to see. Mark and Cindy pointed out a couple of sockeye salmon that were brilliant red in their spawning colors. We enjoyed the walk and seeing the fish that had survived all of the obstacles to get to these streams to complete their life cycle.

After leaving the Redfish Lake area, we drove back north on Rt. 75 to Challis and found the Tea Cup Café & Bakery where Cindy reported getting excellent pizza made to order in their wood fired ovens. When we arrived the lady at the counter told us that they were very short handed and that our meal would not be quick to arrive. Since we were not in a hurry we agreed and found a table in the nearly empty restaurant. We ordered two pizzas with marinara sauce and Italian sausage. We enjoyed visiting and chatting with the Whittingtons until we noticed that over two hours had passed since we ordered. Cindy inquired about the status of our orders and the manager apologized that our order had blown off the table and had not been started. She gave us a complementary vegetable pizza to hold us over until our order was ready. The two pizzas arrived fairly quickly. We enjoyed them and knew that the delay would give us a good story. Although the manager wanted to discount our meal, Cindy insisted on paying but agreed on a couple of complementary macaroons for dessert. We kept these for another day since we were too full to enjoy them at this time.

Wednesday, September 8, 2021

Sacajawea Interpretive, Cultural & Educational Center

As usual, we woke early and read for a while, did our German lessons and chatted until we heard Mark in the kitchen.

After Cindy got up, we went for a longer walk along irrigation canals on BLM land adjacent to their property. As we walked, we picked up a few stones that we thought were pretty and might polish well for Peter. We saw irrigation canals through the desert that are in use for watering the alfalfa as well as some abandoned canals that have been replaced by water pipelines. When we got back to the house, Mark made another good breakfast. This morning he made oatmeal with berries and pecans for breakfast which was very tasty on the cool morning.

Osprey with a fish from the Salmon River
After breakfast, Mark and I went outside to look for potential areas where the cluster flies could gain entry into the house. Our first place to look was the attic vents, but they appeared to have secure screen covering. We checked around the large bank of windows in the great room. While we couldn’t find an obvious space, a crack the thickness of a credit card is all that is required to let cluster flies in. We read that once the flies gain entry they use a pheromone signal to let other flies know of the passage. Mark found a fly repellant spray that we tried around the windows and eves, but we suspected that caulking the windows and using a stronger insecticide may be more helpful.

After we cleaned up from spraying, we drove the short distance to the Pahsimeroi Fish Hatchery.  Here they capture migrating salmon, extract the eggs and milt and then raise the hatchlings until they are ready for release into local streams. The rearing ponds were covered by tarps to protect from eagles and other predatory birds, so it was difficult to see the fish. However, we could see that there were large steelhead and chinook salmon that came from the small stream after making the long trip from the Pacific Ocean.

Dugout Dick's house
Our next stop was to the site of the Idaho Hermit. Dugout Dick (Richard Zimmerman) was a hobo riding the trains in the 1930s and 40s. In 1948 he settled on a parcel of land along the Salmon River and dug a small dwelling into the side of the upper riverbank beside a fertile river bottom. In the years that he lived there, he enlarged his home using chunks of angular basalt from the hillside above his house and rounded stones from the river. He planted plum, cherry and pear trees as well as a small garden. When the Bureau of Land Management acquired the land along the Salmon River, Dick was permitted to remain in his home until his death in 2010. He became well known and was interviewed by National Geographic and Smithsonian Magazines as well as Good Morning America. He was a guest on the Tonight Show on more than one occasion. In order to support himself, he opened his home to guests who could spend the night in his dugout cabin for 25 cents. He would also pose for photographs and play his guitar for guests.

We drove north to Salmon where we visited the Sacajawea Interpretive, Cultural & Educational Center. When we arrived, we noticed a pickup in the parking lot with West Virginia tags. I went into the visitor center to pay the small entry fee, and the volunteer working desk noticed that I was wearing a Marshall University shirt and asked what I knew about Marshall. She explained that she lives in St. Albans and spends a few weeks in Idaho while her husband works as a hunting guide. When Mark came in, we learned that her name is Linda and that she graduated from high school with Mark’s older sister,

We enjoyed the small but well designed visitor center and learning about the difficult life of Sacajawea who grew up along the Salmon River not far from the visitor center. She was raised as a Lemhi Shoshone but was captured by another tribe at around age 12, perhaps in 1800, and held as a captive. She was ultimately sold to a French trapper in the Lewis and Clark party who took her as one of his wives. Sacajawea’s son was given the nickname “Pompy” by William Clark and was said to be a favorite among the party of explorers. Clark ultimately adopted and educated Sacajawea’s two children. There is no certainty regarding the life of Sacajawea after she rendered valuable assistance to the Lewis and Clark especially in communicating with local natives. It has been long believed that Sacajawea died at the age of 25, however, some believe that the woman who died was the French trapper’s other wife, Otter Woman, and that Sacajawea married into the Comanche tribe and lived into her 90s.

Replica fish weir
In the visitor center we learning about Lewis’s Woodpecker and Clark’s Nutcracker. Mark and Cindy have seen Lewis’s Woodpecker, and we saw many Clark’s Nutcrackers on our trips later in the week. Around the visitor center there is an interpretative trail with displays of Shoshone dwellings from around the time of the Lewis and Clark expedition as well as a fish weir and other artifacts.

While we were in Salmon, Mark called their friend, Rich, a retired teacher from Mt. Edgecumbe School in Sitka, Alaska. Mark and Cindy knew him when they lived in Alaska, and Robert attended Mt. Edgecumbe. Rich is an avid hunter and took us through his trophy room where he has mounts of mountain goat, bighorn sheep, leopard, bison, elk, wolverine and many other domestic and African animals that he has shot. The room is a bonus room on his second floor that has beautiful acacia wood floors with inlays from Africa. It was all very impressive and quite a lot to take in.

We enjoyed Rich very much and invited him to join us for dinner at the Dusty Mule, one of the few restaurants in Salmon. As we were entering the restaurant, Mary saw something moving on a mountain top and got the binoculars to see that there were bighorn sheep on the mountain. They were difficult to see because of the dense smoke from forest fires. There were flakes of ash constantly falling like snow and landing on our cars.

Burgers from 1/3 pound of Lemhi County beef are the specialty of the Dusty Mule so we all ordered one. Mary had the Saucy Mule with BBQ sauce and onion rings on the side. Rich and I had the Kickin’ Mule with blue cheese, caramelized onion, bacon, ham, pepper jack and jalapeno peppers with a side of onion rings. Mark and Cindy got Albino Mules with Swiss cheese and caramelized onions. We all enjoyed our meals.

We arrived back at the Whittington’s home for the ritual nightly fly killing. As in previous evenings, Cindy used her vacuum cleaner with a long attachment to vacuum thousands of cluster flies around the windows of the house. As soon as she would get them vacuumed from one set of windows and move on to another window, more flies would return to the first windows. They had to be coming into the house in vast numbers. Each evening. Cindy would remove thousands of dead flies from her vacuum.

Before bed, Cindy and Mary worked on the jigsaw puzzle in the second floor loft that Cindy uses as an office. We turned in around 10 pm and seemed to be getting adjusted to Mountain Time.