We're so glad you joined us!

Here we are – kids, dogs and all! Thanks for visiting our page! We're hoping that you will enjoy hearing about our travels and experiences as a family. We intend for this blog to share more than just travel journals, but also insights and lessons learned during our daily adventures. Please share your comments and come back often! * update * as of August 2010, we finished our journey, so new entries to this site will be rare. Linda's starting a new personal blog here. Enjoy!

Saturday, August 29, 2009

Everything's bigger in....North Dakota?

Working our way back eastward, we spent a few days in North Dakota. We couldn't help noticing several monuments labeled as 'the world's largest'.

Salem Sue - the world's largest Holstein cow was the first. Then came the world's largest sandhill crane, the world's largest buffalo and the world's largest structure, a radio tower. To think we thought Texas had the claim to a lot of big things!

We didn't take any photos of any of those things, but we did take a couple of the scenic areas along the drive. These colorful mountains were in the western part of the state along IH 94.

We also visited the Ronald Reagan Minuteman Missile Museum north of Cooperstown. The North Dakota Historical Society has gained the facility, preserved it as used and now provides tours. Hundreds of these facilities dotted the landscape during the Cold War period, but were shut down during the Reagan years as part of the Strategic Arms Limitation Talks. It was perfect timing for Cory, he is working on the cold war period in history and these sites are a perfect application. Wouldn't you know we forgot the camera.
Linda and I both had memories of the cold war period. There were duck and cover drills and Civil Defense supplies in the closet of the school. Boris and Natasha battled Rocky and Bullwinkle. We could relate these things to Cory for color and perspective, but nothing we could tell him could bring this period of history into focus like these missile sites.
We stood in a hardened concrete bunker 60 feet under a corn field and listened to the guide tell us about the orders and target information coming in from command. The order and target data would be coordinated with another control center and then two officers would each take a key to control units on either side of the bunker. Each officer must insert and turn his key within a second of each other to order to order the launch of their ten missiles buried under various corn fields scattered over the area. There were 16 other command bunkers around rural North Dakota. There were many more missiles of this and other types in other states in the midwest and far west. Bombers in bases all over the world and submarines that could be anywhere.
Discussing the arms race with Cory, we had to explain the idea of MAD (Mutual Assured Destruction). In order for the balance to be maintained, both sides needed to be sure that the other side had enough weapons in enough places that a first strike could not destroy them all and enough would survive to destroy the other side. I thank God that He spared us this war that we prepared for.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Yellowstone - Pt 5 (final chapter)

Before leaving Yellowstone, we want to include a few photos from the campground. We stayed at Yellowstone's Edge RV Park, approx. 35 miles north of the north entrance to the park. The traffic noise from Hwy 89 was very steady during the day, but was quiet at night and the Yellowstone River bounded the RV park on the other side. We had a view of mountains in all directions. Two nights before leaving, a thunderstorm passed to the west. We received little rain, but saw a spectacular view of the rain, clouds and sunset all at the same time.

On our last day trip to the park, we wanted to see the Yellowstone Falls. We got an early start and were pleased to arrive along the south rim of The Canyon before the first bus tours. The Upper Falls are visible very close to the parking lot.

We ventured further down Uncle Tom's trail, a set of downward expanded steps - no less than 328 steps to descend approximately 2/3 of the way into the canyon. From the bottom of the steps, a close view of the Lower Falls is the reward - before the 328 steps back up!

After catching our breath, we drove further along the south rim to Artist Point that offers a nice view of the canyon and falls.

We drove further south to see the Fishing Bridge campground. We had heard it was the only campground with full hookups. While adequate and certainly an advantage to be within the park itself, the campground offers little aesthetically or facility wise. We were pleased with our choice - also, with our short term planning, it is unlikely that we could have reserved a site. The park has no problem filling their spaces!
On our return to the RV park, we stopped at the Boiling River.

The Boiling River converges with Gardiner River and makes for a very pleasant swimming hole. Very hot springs blend with the icy river waters and you can choose your temperature based on proximity to the source of hot or cold. The boys preferred right down the middle!

While there, a herd of elk joined the swimmers and stood across the trail to the parking area. We managed to get past them without upsetting any of the herd, but two forest rangers were on their way to help assure the humans and elk blended together with no problems.

The last day was very pleasant and we stopped in Gardiner for buffalo burgers and huckleberry shakes - very nice!
The next morning, the boys tossed bits of leftover bread and hot dog buns into the river as we were packing up to leave.
Overall, we had a wonderful trip to Yellowstone and hope you've enjoyed our accounts.

Yellowstone, Pt 4

Probably other people in the country are much more aware than we were of the number of geysers in Yellowstone Park. We were certainly aware of Old Faithful, but we enjoyed expanding our perspective to fully appreciate the variety of geothermal features in the park.
As we set out to take a 5-6 mile hike to Fairy Falls, we were introduced to the nearby Lower Geyser basin with a very impressive variety and number of geysers and hot springs.
Along the trail that follows the former route of Model A vehicles through the park, the Grand Prism springs was in full show. Our camera could not capture the colors. The hues of the prism were fully represented horizontally across this feature. Again, these fallen trees are not due to forest fire, but the chemical sapping of life from the trees from the geothermal activity below.

The trail became more narrow as it left the long abandoned roadway. Trail warnings informed us that this forest regrowth from the 1998 fire was an area in which to watch for bears. We practiced being very noisy, although the steady but light traffic from other hikers surely kept the bears disinterested in this area. Our youngest is standing in front of the 'new' growth to demonstrate the forest's natural recovery from the fire. Most of the naturally reseeded trees were at least 10' tall.
We found a fairly large group at Fairy Falls, so we continued another 1/2 mile or so to Spray and Imperial Geyser. Both were intriguing, but Imperial Geyser in particular was so volatile and constant in it's activity that we were glued to the spot for quite a while. The trail provides the closest observation to this geyser than other more popular spots in the park. It was nice to have our own private viewing with a seat on a fallen tree instead of aluminum bleachers!

When we had our fill of geyser viewing, we trekked back to Fairy Falls. The large group that had been at the falls passed us on their way to Imperial Geyser, so we found the area much less crowded. The temperature was getting warm and it was refreshing to sit at the base of the falls in the spray. Again, we enjoyed the relaxation of taking in the sights, sounds and smells of the rushing water pounding into the pool right before us.
Refreshed and getting a bit hungry, we began our hike back to the truck. Not far from the falls, we spied another marmot. Continuing to watch the furry creature, we then spied two others - one very small. We enjoyed watching the little marmot family, one of which had a large mouthful of harvested grass. We assume some home improvement project was underway!

We then completed our hike back to the truck - being purposefully noisy, just in case a curious bear was in our vicinity.
Next in our plans was a stop at the Firehole River swimming hole. Although reputed to be fed by hot springs, we did not find the warm water. We must admit we came ill prepared. We really needed footwear for the water and left those at the RV, so we were barefoot along the river. The footing alongside the river had loads of sharp rocks that made for difficult and painful walking. Wading in the river wasn't much better - either sharp rocks that hurt our tootsies or smooth rocks that were very slippery. We were undeterred and made our way to a part of the river channel that was deep enough to allow for some fast drifting. All the swimmers looked like uncooked poultry with goose bumps on all visible body parts, but all were having such a good time that the temperature didn't matter.
When the boys' lips began turning blue, we hauled them out in spite of their protests. Everyone was pleasantly tired and it was time to get back to the RV park yet again.

We drove back through the west entrance to the park. It was a long drive back, but we were due for a long drive anyway due to the closed roadway within Yellowstone. The west entrance is much more commercial, but the drive through Big Sky was extraordinary.
We were glad to see the familiarity of our 5th wheel when we arrived at the RV park and everyone slept very, very soundly!

Monday, August 24, 2009

Yellowstone - Pt. 3

Our third venture into the park was greeted by this unusual tour bus near the entrance. The front half has really comfy individual seats and the back looks like triple decker berths. Next, we were greeted by a small herd of elk grazing near the Mammoth Springs restroom. Unbothered by the park visitors and their cameras, these graceful creatures were a pleasant welcome.

Boardwalks wind around the sizable Mammoth Springs formations and we enjoyed getting a close view of the active area.

The grey colored portions are hardened rock formations called travertine, the more colorful areas are the active springs steaming calcite to the surface from the limestone havens below.

Signs advised that the springs are continually changing with some years more active than others. This reminds us that this area is still active and the forces that shaped this whole area are at work below and like everything else in God's complete control.

I have the privilege of being the science teacher and here I strike a happy pose with my students as we enjoy this great field trip.

The trees in the foreground that have been overtaken by the everchanging steaming geothermal landscape and looks strangely like a frozen winter scene. This area is labeled Canary Springs and is visible for miles from the westbound and northbound portions of the park roads.

We drove south and east to the Norris geyser area. We caught a glimpse of the vast geyser area between these trees.
After reviewing an exhibit that explained the different types of geothermal activity, we took a fairly gentle trail to see Steamboat geyser. Famous for eruptions of several hundred feet, we wanted to be sure to see this one. The geyser is, unfortunately, very unpredictable - having had it's most recent major eruption over 7 years ago. Alas, it didn't erupt on this day - however, we weren't sure the viewing area was a safe place to be if it had! The geyser is continually erupting a few feet and very volatile, so we easily watched its activity for awhile.

As we completed the upper loop, we diverted to see the Virginia cascades. Each time we took one of the side loops, we were not disappointed.

We continued back toward the north and stopped at an overlook for Tower Falls. The parking area was swamped, but we could catch a pretty good view from the overlook. Not a great photo spot, but the boys enjoyed seeing it without fighting a crowd.

With that, we concluded the day's activities and returned to the RV park.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Yellowstone - Pt. 2

We reached back to the rear of our storage spaces to drag out the small electric heaters for the night. The low was in the 30's at the RV park! After layering our clothes, we piled into the truck for another trip into Yellowstone. We didn't see the snow fall, but we saw the dusting of snow on the mountaintops lining the drive to the park.
With the contrast in the temperatures, the geothermal features were truly spectacular! We were in for quite a drive to see - what else? Old Faithful! One of the main roads through the park and our most direct route to Old Faithful was closed for repairs. Since the park was all new for us, the extra miles weren't really a problem. We were in for new sights either way.

Roaring Mountain wasn't all that noisy, but was covered with steam from geysers and fumaroles. We learned that stagecoach passengers could hear the geysers for several miles before seeing the mountain, thus the name.

When in the higher elevations and shaded by the lodge pole pines, the truck temperature read between 31 and 35 F. Pretty darn cold for August!

The Norris Geyser Basin was easily visible with the rising steam over acres and acres. These pines are naturally reseeded from the major fire in 1998. Fallen tree trunks were still visible in many areas of the park, but were weathered and grey under the newer growth.

This sizable herd of bison seemed to suddenly appear through the fog. They created quite a traffic jam on their way to the Yellowstone River in the Hayden Valley. As mentioned in yesterday's post, many visitors foolishly leaped out of their vehicles to capture close up photos but risked serious injury. Watching the bison for any length of time reveals their spats with one another and very agile movements when motivated!

After the long drive, we finally reached the Old Faithful Visitor's Center. While busy, the parking area was only about 1/3 full. We didn't check the schedule for the day's eruptions, but saw quite a crowd gathered on the bleachers and joined in.

Turns out the geyser was erupting about every 90 minutes on the day of our visit. Craig inadvertently gave a false alarm by exclaiming 'There it IS' when a bit of water spewed. Immediately, dozens of shutter clicks were heard. Fortunately, most were digital cameras so no one wasted any film!
A few minutes later, we and the crowd were rewarded with the geyser's regular performance.

After a few minutes, the geyser resumed it's 'resting' level of steam and the crowd quickly dispersed. We took our time to walk toward the surrounding boardwalk to allow time for the crowd to move on ahead of us.

We decided to take the Observation Point trail up the adjacent mountainside. The trail climbs about 300 ft. in elevation in 1/2 mile, so it's a little steep. We were all warming up and the layers began peeling off!

We hadn't made very much progress when we heard a crowd cheering nearby. Through the tree tops we could seen that one of Old Faithful's neighbors was erupting. We could only see the steam, but it was still quite the sight!

We paused to watch this very entertaining red squirrel. You can see how he's in a full run across the trail. His pace never slowed as he literally raced back and forth across the trail, delivering these tiny pine cones to some hidden stash.
If we have the chance to return to Yellowstone again, we'll definitely retrace our steps to this vantage point for Old Faithful's eruption. The view is truly grand and few are willing to climb the grade to gain these seats!
The entire basin is visible from this vantage point.

After catching our breath and enjoying the view, we returned down the mountain to find this marmot nearby. He was camera shy and difficult to catch from his nook behind the rocks.

After the long drive back toward the north entrance, the big horn sheep met us near the same bluffs as the day before. This time, we were able to photograph a more mature male.

Pleasantly tired and not pushing too hard as one of the boys was suffering some fairly brutal allergy symptoms, we retired to the RV park to rest up for another day of sightseeing.