Thursday, July 30, 2009

Day 9 - 11 June 2009

The campground we had stayed at in the Grand Teton National Park had showers outside the campground. It was too far to walk, you had to drive there to take a shower. So we skipped the shower (for the second day) and got an early start at 7:30 am.

The weather was dreary. Low clouds obscured the Grand Teton Range so that we only knew that there were mountains there from post cards we had seen. We stopped at several scenic spots, but whenever the clouds overhead seemed to break and a little blue shone through, another rain shower would start.

We stopped at the Moose, Wyoming, Visitor Center in Jackson Hole. What a fabulous facility that is! It reminded me of a cathedral, high ceilings, stone floor, and a pious atmosphere - at least until the rest of the tourists came. There is a great exhibit about Jackson Hole and the Grand Teton National Park to be seen there.

Then we moved on to the town of Jackson. A great town in the Western style, but modern and chic (another word for expensive). Lunch in the Silver Dollar Saloon of an historic hotel was affordable, especially since my friend spent only $10 on a practically brand new winter coat at a church thrift shop. The savings were negated, however, by a visit to an Indian arts and gifts store.

We drove on south with the eventual goal of reaching Salt Lake City. Coffee and Pastries at the "Coffee Cabin" in Alpine, Wyoming, gave me a rest from driving. They bake their own bread there, we took along a steaming loaf just out of the oven and ended up in a KOA campground outside of Montpelier, Idaho (oh, did I mention that we crossed into a corner of Idaho?).

My friend is making dinner and I'm finally relaxing. So much for day nine.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Day 8 - 10 June 2009

The campground we had stayed at was pretty high up in altitude. There were patches of snow on the ground. The early part of the night was fairly warm, we had to unzip our sleeping bags because they became too warm for us. But toward morning the temperature dropped to the point that the heater in our RV came on. Exactly how low the temperature got I do not know because I forgot to put out the thermometer when we arrived at the campsite.

In any case, we got going at our usual time. The weather was less than great - cloudy with rain showers. We stopped for breakfast at a general store. They have these scattered throughout the park to feed the hungry tourists and to provide them with the necessary souvenirs. This store was large with lots of jackets, t-shirts, and baseball caps with variations of the park's name printed on them. Postcards, books, and camping paraphernalia as well as snacks and some groceries also found room in the main part of the building. What interested us most was the lunch counter in the shape of three horseshoes next to each other so that the waiters and waitresses could walk into the open ends of the horseshoes to serve the customers. Needless to say, there were quite a few customers. And wouldn't you know it, just as we sat down, the kitchen was inundated with a giant order of pancakes for a group of some sort that was staying in one of the hostels next door. Rachel, the English girl (working there for the summer) who was waiting on us couldn't stop apologizing for the long time it took before any of the guests at the counter got any food. Some people left right away, others left without waiting for the food they had ordered. We tried to comfort Rachel, telling her that it wasn't her fault, but we were getting pretty hungry too. Fortunately or unfortunately, as the case may be, we were forcibly entertained by a loud man from Florida who insisted on carrying on a conversation across all three horseshoes and otherwise behaved as if he were alone in the store. I avoided making eye contact because I didn't want to be pulled into the whirlpool he was creating. We finally got our eggs, ham, hash browns, and toast - and it was good!

We managed to see many of the geysers, including Old Faithful and many bubbling cauldrons of hot liquid that smelled of sulfer. Maybe we were becoming saturated with geysers and mud holes so that Old Faithful didn't seem as spectacular as we had anticipated. We were lucky though, because Old Faithful did his thing within ten of fifteen minutes of our arrival. A large crowd was watching, so we departed while Old Faithful was powering down so as to avoid the traffic jam when everyone else left, because the parking lot was quite large and amply filled when we were there. By the way, I actually saw Old Faithful erupt only through the display of our digital camera because I was filming the whole thing. Unfortunately, my friend erased the film clip accidentally later while deleting some unwanted pictures. In my memory Old Faithful's plume is about an inch tall.

As I said, the weather was lousy. We headed south out of Yellowstone into Grand Teton National Park. I expected one or two grizzlies to be standing at the side of the road waving good bye - no luck. We didn't see any more wild animals except squirrels and chipmunks. We did see some tell-tale-signs of free-roaming animals. There actually was a book for sale in the park with the title "Who Pooped in the Park" that identifies the animals that go with the various droppings.
I was tired of driving so we stopped at the next campground for the night. Sorry that there isn't more to report today, let's see what tomorrow will bring. So much for day eight.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Day 7 - 9 June 2009

Bozeman, Montana, is situated in a broad valley ringed with mountains. My eyes could not take in enough to satisfy me. I love the wide expanse and then not just a flat horizon line, but one lined with mountain peaks, some snow covered even now in June.

We left the campground and inadvertently toured downtown Bozeman and found it a nice, clean town. The style is "Western," with the streets wide and the downtown buildings made of brick. We toured Bozeman inadvertently because we intended to go east some way and then south to the north entrance of Yellowstone Park. However, after going for about half an hour on Interstate 90 I got nervous and thought I had missed the exit we wanted. So I turned back. But the road I wanted to take never came up so we opted to go to the west entrance of Yellowstone for which I saw signs. That road took us through downtown Bozeman - thus the inadvertent visit.

The scenery in this part of Montana changes constantly from open valleys to narrow valleys with swiftly running mountain streams and back again. We entered the park at the town of West Yellowstone, a touristy, but clean and interesting town. My friend found a store that sells buffalo and cow hides and I found myself evaluating pros and cons of both of them - in the end we did not buy either one. Luckily the people in this region and all along our trip were very friendly and accommodating so that I was relieved that we could leave the store without any recriminations, in fact, the nice man even told us where we could get either of the types of hides for less money.

After we entered the park we informed ourselves at the Information Center and proceeded to travel the upper part of the park. The main roads in the park form a "figure eight" and we did the upper loop of the "eight." We saw geysers, deer, bison, deer, a bighorn sheep, deer, bison, a wolf that may have been a coyote, an elk, geese, deer, bison, a black bear very far away and I alone saw the rear end of a grizzle far (not very, just far) away. We gave up stopping to view deer and bison, there were so many. We saw a petrified tree that lived 50 million years ago.

Backing up to the black bear far away: We saw a gaggle of cars parked at the side of the road, a sure sign that someone had seen a wild animal. When we stopped, my friend in her usual manner asked what everyone was looking at and was told that a black bear had just walked past this spot and was on a hillside about a quarter of a mile away. She looked through our binoculars and sure enough she saw the bear. She handed the binoculars to me, but all I could see was something black disappearing behind a tree. Disappointed I started to give the binoculars back when she said that there was another black bear about the same distance away lying on a rock. I looked and could not find the bear only a black lump on a rock which I interpreted as a shadow or a tree stump. She insisted that it was a bear and that it had moved. And, by gosh, I too saw it move, or so I thought. The more I looked through our amateur binoculars called "Funglasses" the more I believed that I saw a bear. Some more people arrived asking what we were looking at and I gleefully informed them that one black bear had disappeared out of sight, but that there was another one lying on that rock a quarter of a mile away. Awestruck, several people pulled out their high powered binoculars and started searching for the bear on the rock. Much to my consternation, none could find the bear. I gave explicit instructions on where to look, but all they could see was a tree stump. I suspected that they were looking in the wrong place when my friend confided in me that maybe it really was a tree stump she had seen and not a bear! I looked again through our binoculars and now that the power of suggestion had been lifted, I saw the tree stump which I had originally seen. Needless to say, I was extremely embarrassed and stayed in the cab of our RV, pretending to be preoccupied with the road map, until everyone else had left.

We then proceeded to the next campground vowing that we would only stop for animals that were crossing the road or were immediately next to it, not a quarter of a mile away, but that is when I saw the grizzly far away. When we reached our chosen campground, it was full. So we ended up driving to the next one where we got a space (without any frills) and settled in for the night at 9:10 pm. Thus ended day seven - I believe.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Day 6 – 8 June 2009

The scenery in Montana is breathtaking! Malmstrom AFB, and the city of Great Falls for that matter, lie on a high plain exactly where Lewis and Clark and their men carried and pulled their boats and supplies around the five falls of the Missouri that obstructed their advance by water. On the western horizon the Rockies can be seen and on the eastern horizon the Highwood Mountains (not in the same league as the Rockies) are visible. In between is prairie, mostly flat with occasional dips or small valleys. Of course, the mighty Missouri cuts a deep and broad swath through the landscape. In my mind's eye I could see thousands of buffaloes grazing on either side of the Missouri. This, of course, is no longer true due to the greed and callousness in the late 1800s.

The weather in the morning was pleasant and although we wanted to get an early start, we departed the campsite at our usual time of 8 O' Clock. We went to see a couple of the smaller falls and then drove to the “Great Falls.” Now, these falls don't compare at all with Niagara. I can just remember that the distance that the water falls is between 30 and 60 feet. Nevertheless, the water thunders over the falls, or rather would thunder if the settlers of that area in the late 1800s and early 1900s would have been a little more considerate and mindful of their environment instead of thinking only of their gain. The reason I say this is because on top of each of four of the five falls dams to control the amount of water that flows over the falls were built to divert the required amount of water to power the hydro-electric plants that are attached to the dams. When the natural water level of the Missouri is low, almost no water may go over the falls because it is all diverted to the power plants. The reason why one of the falls has no dam associated with it is that the backed-up water from the next fall downstream all but covers it, in essence making it disappear. That's all I'm going to say about that.

We then drove south from Great Falls to a village called Ulm ( I'm going to Google that name to see if I'm right that Germans had a hand in it's settlement). Outside of Ulm is the “First People's Buffalo Jump State Park.” A “buffalo jump” is a cliff over which the Indians used to drive a herd of buffaloes by stampeding them and luring them in direction of the cliff. The buffaloes would fall over the cliff, the first over would be killed outright while the following animals would only be injured because they fell on the dead ones below. The injured would then be killed by the Indians with arrows and lances.

The way the Indians got the herd to stampede was to have a young man called a “runner” drape the skin from a buffalo calf over himself as a disguise and ease up to the lead cow. She would then think this was a calf or even her own calf. Then other braves would drape wolf skins over themselves and approach the herd as if they were wolves. This caused the herd to squeeze together for protection. The crowding together would excite the animals and they would start to run. When the buffaloes stared to run, the brave disguised as a calf would start to run toward the cliff and the lead cow would follow, trying to protect what she thought was a calf. This was very dangerous for the runner. A man can run about 15 mph, a buffalo can make 30 mph. The stampeding herd thundered ever closer to the runner. Meanwhile, other braves would jump up from hiding places on both sides of the path to the cliffs, waving and shouting, thus directing the herd toward the cliffs. If the runner survived long enough to reach the cliffs, he would jump down unto a ledge and let the thundering herd fly to their death over him. To the shortsighted buffalo the edge of the cliff appeared as a dip in the prairie. Even if the buffaloes at the front recognized the danger and stopped, the rest of the frenzied herd would push them to their deaths.

This all sounds cruel, but before guns and horses this was the most efficient way for the Indians to obtain food to feed their tribe and buffalo hides for their lodges and clothing. If the kill was great enough they used the extra meat and hides as bartering materials with other tribes and with white traders.

All this and much more was explained to us by two very nice people in the visitor center which we had all to ourselves because we were the only visitors. When my friend inquired where we could buy a cow hide to use as a rug they made several phone calls to find out which store sold cow hides. The visitor center sells buffalo hides, but they seemed a bit hairy to us, to say nothing of the $1000 price tag. I have nothing but praise for the locals we have met on our trip so far. All were friendly, courteous, and seemed especially pleased when they found out that we came all the way from Germany to see the sights in their state.

After driving up to the actual cliff and enjoying the magnificent view of the valley below, we had a little lunch at the top of the cliff with only a prairie dog colony as neighbors. Then we pressed on to our next destination - “The Gates of the Mountains.” This is a gorge or canyon which the Missouri river has cut and which was named Gates of the Mountains by Lewis and Clark because on the other side the real Rockies loom into view. We wanted to take a much-praised boat ride through the Gates, but unfortunately the weather canceled our plans. Just before we got to the place where the boat ride starts and ends rain, snow (yes snow) showers, and cold made the trip for the passengers on the boat before the one we wanted to take so miserable that the operator canceled our boat trip. We were the only prospective passengers for the next trip and I don't think the captain would have gone out for just two people anyway. Well, that was too bad, but we had already seen a film about the Gates and had a glimpse of what it was like.

We then went on to Helena, the capitol of Montana. We walked around the State House and through some of the adjoining streets. The only significant event I can report from Helena is that I stumbled while stepping off a curb and ended up on all fours in the street. No harm done except to my ego. The guide book mentioned a famous church, but when we got there the place was closed. So we moved on.

Another Lewis and Clark point of interest on my list was "Three Forks." Three Forks is the place where three tributaries that form the Missouri come together. It is also called "Head Waters of the Missouri." There is a little town called Three Forks and a park with a sign that commemorates the Lewis and Clark visit there, but that's about all. There wasn't enough time or interest to search out any other sights.

After a quick meal in a restaurant in Belgrade, Montana, we settled into our campsite at a Kampgrounds of America (KOA) campground outside Bozeman, Montana. My friend had to try out the adjacent fitness center with its heated pools and I opted to engage in that "intolerable labor" of writing down the day's events. So ends day six.