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Devils Tower

by Richie
Devils Tower

Devils Tower National Monument
Wyoming
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Devils Tower

We heard horror stories about RV’s traveling through the Big Horn Mountains, so we chose the longer southern route, and indeed it was a gentle passage. One guy described it as the difference between a ramp and a ladder. The peak was 9666 ft. elevation – cruising altitude! The steepest slope (7% grade) was under construction. They had torn out the road, right down to a gravel and dirt base, and we were led through single file by a guide car.

Big Horn Mountains

 

Switchback
Pull-Out

 

Under Construction

Past Buffalo, Wyoming we picked up the interstate, and all was smooth sailing again. We turned to Devils Tower, checked into a campground 10 yards from the park entrance, and scootered up to the visitor center.

The afternoon couldn’t have been more splendid; 70 degrees, sunny, with a pine-scented breeze wafting gently. A perfect day to walk the loop at the base of Devils Tower. We ambled through Ponderosa pines, white oaks, and a litter of boulders.
There are porcupines in this forest, and we saw evidence of their gnawings on the tree bark. A large prairie dog village was at the entrance, and the little fellows chirped and barked at us delightfully.
Prairie Dog
Porcupine Marks
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Wagons Ho!

by Richie
Wagons Ho!

Ten Sleep, Wyoming
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We saddled up and headed out of Yellowstone via the East Gate. This route took us through –aieeee! – the Sylvan Pass, which is a mountainous – watch out! – winding road, with the slimmest of guard rails – Laura Mercy!  – and hairpin turns and switchbacks – whoa! – and a canyon far, far – don’t look down! – below.

On this wild, black diamond slope of a road, a dag-blamed son-of-a-buck RV towing a trailer passed us on a blind curve. My fingerprints are still in the dash.

We passed into the Shoshone National Forest and foothills, and came out panting at Cody, Wyoming.

 

Everything in this town is named after Buffalo Bill Cody; the reservoir, the dam, the high school football team. But in Cody the best Buffalo Bill of all is the Historical Museum. A sprawling center, with five separate wings: The Buffalo Bill Museum, Plains Indians, Yellowstone, Firearms, and Western Art. Each wing boasts an extensive collection, unequaled to anything I’ve seen yet.

Bear Claw Necklace

Wild Bill Hickok’s pistols

Past Cody the landscape changes from lush valley to high desert, and then into a region where nothing at all grows.

We are resting for the night in Ten Sleep (population 260) before tackling the Big Horn Mountains tomorrow. We’ve chosen Route 16, because the billboards promised it’s the “Fast, Easy, and Safe” way to cross. We’ll see.

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Geysers & Geezers

by Richie
Geysers & Geezers

Yesterday
Yellowstone National Park

Today we took an all-day bus tour called Circle Of Fire. There were 12 of us on the bus, and Tim & I were by far the youngest passengers. We toured the southern loop of the park, about 106 miles, and stopped at all the prime features of Yellowstone.

Yellowstone is a wild place, fraught with danger and peril. Rangers and tour guides are fond of telling stories of hapless tourists, most who fall victim to their own foolishness. The guy who chased a pair of grizzly cubs – mauled by Mama Grizzly. The gent that tried to shove a buffalo over to get a better photo – gored. The woman that let her dog trot into a hot spring – boiled.

Then there’s the overly cautious folks, like the elderly couple that wanted to buy a $50 can of Bear Spray just to drive through the park. The ranger told them, “They ain’t gonna come in the car with ya!”
We were quite safe viewing the highlights of the park from a sidewalk or windshield.

 

Kepler Falls
Old Faithful Inn
Old Faitthful
Fountain Paint Pot
Red Spouter
Spasm Geyser
Upper Falls
Artist Point
Artist Canyon
Hayden Valley
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The Bison & The Bus

by Richie
The Bison & The Bus

Two Days Ago
Yellowstone National Park

 

We rode the scooter over to Lake Hotel for an early lunch and a look-around. The hotel is the oldest structure in the park, originally built in 1891. A short walk from the porch through a grassy meadow leads to the shore of Yellowstone Lake, where a century ago a steamboat ferried train passengers to the hotel from West Thumb.

 

On the path we spotted buffalo tracks, buffalo chips, and buffalo tree rubs where the bark is worn away from many a good back scratch. Way in the distance was a bull bison. Ta-Tonka!

Track
Chip
Tree Rub

Later in the day we took a tour in an iconic Yellowstone bus, newly refurbished with modern engine and tranny. Our guide, Nat, was well informed and drove us to spots where we watched herds of bison and elk. Yesterday Nat saw a lone wolf trotting unconcerned across the road – an unusual sighting as they typically travel in packs. He also told us that park employees call our campground Grizzly Central. Last week a bear was napping on the sidewalk where we checked in.

Bison are about the height of cattle, but stockier and broader. They use the park’s roadways as their trails – in fact, the roads were built on buffalo trail. Our bus was caught in a bison jam, the park version of a traffic snarl. Noble beasts were on both sides of the road, crossing intermittently. They don’t eyeball the cars or the people in them, they seemed unconcerned with our presence. But they do keep a sideways glance on the traffic. And should someone dare to pass them too closely, they’ll toss a shaggy head and snort.

 

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Yellowstone!

by Richie
Yellowstone!

Fishing Bridge
Yellowstone National Park
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We’ve made our way at last to Yellowstone. A short drive from the Tetons put us at the South Entrance. Here again, the terrain change dramatically within a few miles. The approach on the south side winds through a thick forest of tall, slender Lodge Pole Pines, occasionally offering a view of lively streams and crystalline lakes.
We stopped at West Thumb to gawk at the prismatic springs and bubbling mud pots. These geothermal features are the result of steam rising through the earth’s crust, heated by magma way down below. The smell of sulfur lingers about the area, but gladly it’s not overpowering. How strange and beautiful the colors of the springs are! You can peer down into the depths of underground caverns from which the boiling water emerges.
We followed the shoreline of Yellowstone Lake to Fishing Bridge. This wooden span was built in the ‘30’s and crosses the Yellowstone River where cutthroat trout spawn. It used to be a popular fishing spot, folks would line up shoulder to shoulder, but now fishing is prohibited to protect the species. Coming off the bridge, we were surprised by a group of buffalo grazing in the margins.
Our campground is set way back in the woods, remote and spooky. It is darkity-dark at night, with the pines looming ominously overhead. At check-in, we had to sign a consent form stating You’re In Grizzly Country. Then we were handed several pamphlets about bear attacks which absurdly instruct, “Do not run away!” A chirpy park attendant pointed vaguely into the glooming, where our campsite presumably was, and told us to “Have a good night!”.
Right. Lock the doors.
In fact, we’re kind of close to civilization. Only a 15 minute nervous walk to the big General Store and gas station outpost.
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Lazy Trail

by Richie
Lazy Trail

Colter Bay
Grand Teton National Park
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The beautiful thing about motor-homing is that you’re always home. Sleeping in your own comfy bed, a pantry full of favorite foods, clothes hanging neatly in a closet instead of crammed into a suitcase. And when you move from place to place, you never have to unpack.
Or, if you just want to have a lazy day and hang around in your pajamas, no one will argue about it. Today was one of those splendid slug days. Morning broke with a nippy 36 degrees, no reason to hurry out of bed. The campground was pleasantly quiet, so we lolled about with coffee and the Sunday New York Times ($7.50 at the gift shop, and worth every penny).
Around noon, we finally motivated enough to dress and walk a trail for about an hour. Then back to the coach for a wee snack and a nap. Later in the afternoon we took a bigger hike – really more of a slow shamble – around the Colter Bay Loop, stopping every few minutes to enjoy yet another superlative view of the Tetons.
Out on the trail, chubby-faced red squirrels sit low on pine branches and holler “Chat, chat” at passersby. Tiny grasshoppers with bright yellow wings give a loud Snap! as they fly – I called them snaphoppers. We’ve heard tell of bear, but have yet to see one. Probably because we’re singing loud cowboy songs as we walk – the recommended Bear Aware procedure.

Tomorrow we will travel to Yellowstone. We’ve been told that internet signal is very weak out there, so, there could be a delay in posting the blog.

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Colter Bay

by Richie
Colter Bay

Colter Bay Village
Grand Teton National Park
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Today we left Jackson and headed north to the far end of Teton National Park. Rich and Claire departed for home, and our friends Paul, Jane, and Frank are on their way to Yellowstone.

What makes the Tetons so extraordinary is that there are no foothills. The mountains heave skyward directly from the valley floor, making for fantastic views at every vantage point. This extensive valley is the “hole” in Jackson Hole. The valley is completely rimmed by mountain ranges, including the Tetons to the west. Indians found the hole so inhospitable they refused to go there in winter.

We are camped at Colter Bay, which is on the northern end of Jackson Lake. This is the best campground we have stayed at so far  – spacious sites set in a conifer forest at the lake’s edge.

 

Colter Bay is a destination stop in the park. There’s a large visitor center, a gift & grocery store, restaurants, and a marina. We had a lovely lunch here with our friends before they headed north.

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Pinnacles & Cowboys

by Richie
Pinnacles & Cowboys
Grand Teton National Park

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Four of us and the dog piled into a minivan and toured Grand Teton National Park.

First stop was the Rockefeller Preserve.  In 1932, John D. Rockefeller quietly bought all the open land leading up to the Tetons in order to save it from commercial development. His son, Laurence, recently donated a few thousand acres to the National Park, and this center was opened in 2008.

 

This magnificent structure is a contemplative center, meant to enhance your experience within the park. There are several rooms to wander, each presenting a different perspective. One of our favorites is the meditation room, in which the sounds of Tetons are played; rolling thunderstorms, trumpeting elk, eagle cries, and birdsongs. There is a large backlit mosaic of the mountain range, and on close inspection you discover with delight the picture is composed of 21,000 thumbnail images of the flora and fauna of the park.

A library filled with books and maps dedicated to the Grand Tetons is in yet another room of the Rockefeller Center. Off from the lobby, a full model of the valley shows all the hiking trails in wonderful detail. However, we won’t be wandering too far from the road, as there have been many bear sightings today.

 

We stopped for a picnic at Cottonwood Creek, where the views were outstanding and Shadow had a chance to splash in the cold mountain stream.

 

Jenny Lake was just up the road, and our last stop for the afternoon because a sudden storm blew over the Tetons. The temperature dropped 20 degrees in a matter of minutes, and we dodged downbursts all the way back to camp.
Evening found us at the rustic delights of the Bar J Chuckwagon. This long-running dinner theater is so entertaining that we visit every time we’re in Jackson. Steak dinner is grilled on site, and in a clever bit of orchestration they serve 700 folks in about 20 minutes. The Humphrey family of singing cowboys, a.k.a. the Bar J Wranglers, put on a show of music and comedy, and have some of the best harmonies I’ve been privileged to hear.
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The Four Winds

by Richie
The Four Winds

Jackson, Wyoming

Our band of intrepid travelers were scattered about today. Rich & Jane drove 50 miles north to fly fish the Salt River. Paul & Frank rented mountain bikes and trekked around Jackson’s fabled trails. Tim, Mom and I went shopping downtown.

Downtown Jackson is built around the town square, with a park in the center famous for its arches of elk antlers. Dad remembers in the early 70’s when that’s all there was to the town – antler arches and a valley full of elk. Times have changed, and now there’s stores, restaurants, and hotels aplenty.

The Alaskan Fur Company will sell you a pricey beaver coat, or next door you can buy a cheesy souvenirt-shirt for $12. The Silver Dollar Saloon has a long bar with real Morgans encased in the top, or you can sit on a saddle while you sip a sasparilla at the Million Dollar Cowboy Bar. A stagecoach ride will guide you around town.

 

We lunched at The Granary, which sits atop a high mesa. The views of the Teton mountains are excellent from the dining room. Today there was a visible line of wildfire smoke hovering above the valley floor. We’ve all been taking sneezing fits off and on.

In the afternoon, the dog and I went adventuring through an exclusive golf course community located across the street from our campground. The houses were stunning, and Shadow and I had a good long walk, occasionally trespassing.

 

 

 

 

 

The whole troop convened downtown in the evening for some late shopping and steak dinner. I returned to look at a turquoise necklace that had caught my attention earlier in the day, and my folks decided to purchase it for me as an early birthday present. Thank you, thank you!!!

 

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Snake River

by Richie
Snake River

Jackson, Wyoming

It was a relief to be settled in camp and not have to drive 400 miles today. We’ll be at this spot for a few more days.

Woke to a chilly morning – 40 degrees. Three of us took a float trip down the Snake River. Even though we were prepared with jackets, it was quite cold sitting in a big rubber boat under cloudy skies.

The Snake River is running swift this week. It’s fairly shallow and very clear, and you can see the large round river rocks on the bottom. We floated a tame section, not white water, but small rapids were present throughout. I was fascinated by the swirling patterns on the grey-green waters. A smoky haze from wildfires in Idaho is still lingering about the Tetons, so the view was not as clear as we have seen it in previous years.

We spotted half a dozen bald eagles, and flocks of funny merganser ducks who swim the rapids with ease. Beaver presence is evident also, with many half-chewed and fallen trees.

Bald Eagle
Ducks

 

Beaver Lodge

We caught up with the parents, Rich and Claire, in the afternoon. There are now seven intrepid travelers in our Wild West expedition, and one big dog. This evening we all enjoyed a chili supper at the cabins, including Shadow who got pot-lickins’.

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