Monday, June 22, 2009

RV trip day 25: Spearfish Canyon

Spearfish River

We spent a cloudless day driving through spectacular Spearfish Canyon, South Dakota, the filming location for Dances with Wolves. Tomorrow we head home, eager to return to our routines but so glad we've spent June exploring the West.

  • Roughlock Falls, Spearfish River

Sunday, June 21, 2009

RV trip day 24: Mount Rushmore and Crazy Horse Memorial

Today we saw the last of the attractions we intended to see—Mount Rushmore and Crazy Horse rounded out the list—but we heard today about Spearfish Canyon and were advised to check it out. That's tomorrow's agenda, and then our sightseeing is pretty much over and done. We still have 1,000 miles to go before home, though, so we will overnight later this week in Cheyenne, Colorado City, and Albuquerque. If enough energy remains, we may explore Albuquerque for a day. We're tired from all this fun, though, and are itching to get back to our routines.

Above is the Crazy Horse Memorial, 61 years in the making so far. This will be a work in progress for several generations to come.

We saw this fellow moseying down the road in Custer State Park. Signs warn us not to approach any wildlife, especially bison, as they're big and dangerous. We stayed in our car for our photos.

Saturday, June 20, 2009

RV trip day 23: Driving to Rapid City, South Dakota

Beautiful rolling hills, long drive. The wind whipped up as we entered South Dakota, and the awning came loose from the side of the RV as we were driving. We pulled off to the side of I-90 to fix it and found that we couldn't roll it back up, partly because it was billowing in the wind. We were afraid the whole awning was going to rip right off the side of the RV and possibly blow into traffic, so I called 911—although nothing disastrous had happened yet, it felt possible.

In a few minutes a state trooper showed up, and we both got onto the roof of the RV to try to secure the awning. But he was as clueless as I was. Then a good Samaritan showed up who was a mechanic getting off work. From his truck he got a hank of rope and a sharp knife, then he figured out how to roll the awning into place and then tie it down. I'm grateful to the stranger and the trooper, who rescued us from an unpleasant predicament.

Friday, June 19, 2009

RV trip day 22: Little Big Horn

Markers on the Little Bighorn Battlefield showing where men fell.
The remains were buried elsewhere.

We spent our 44th wedding anniversary visiting Little Bighorn Battlefield and will eat dinner at the classiest restaurant we can find: The Purple Cow. It's billed as a family restaurant and casino, although the latter is in a separate building.

As we drove through the flat plains and the gently rolling hills, I tried to imagine Indians and U.S. Army trekking through here, hunting for each other and spoiling for a fight. Here is a visitor's center; down the road a KFC, a Conoco station, the Lariat Cafe. Men bashed each others' heads in to control this land, which seems so utterly peaceful now.

Markers for two of the Custers who died on June 25, 1876

General Custer fell at the spot marked with the flag. Among the U.S. Army killed that day were three Custer brothers, a nephew of the general, and a brother-in-law. Notice the two ranks mentioned on General Custer's marker. Apparently he was a lieutenant colonel operating with the command responsibilities of a major general. I haven't read much of the history.

We're having the best weather in weeks. With luck it will hold until we get to Las Cruces, where there's good weather most all the time.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

RV trip day 21: Driving to Hardin, Montana

Riverside blossom, Yellowstone

Today was a travel day, capped by our discovery of a failed water pump. So the first order of business tomorrow is a trip into Billings to get the pump replaced. Assuming it doesn't take too long, we'll then head out to the Little Big Horn battlefield site that's just outside of Hardin. If need be, we'll extend our stay by a day.

Last night in West Yellowstone I stopped by the office at our RV park and asked the manager if he would post one of my business cards on his bulletin board. This led to a conversation about my writing, which led to his purchasing two copies each of When Pigs Fly and Getting Lucky. One copy each he had me autograph with a comment about how great his RV site is so he can share them with customers. Then he asked me to sign copies for both of his ladyfriends. They know about each other, he said, and they're good friends with each other, and he's divorced, y'see, and everybody gets along just fine, and...and...I finally laughed and said he didn't owe me any explanations. When I finally took my leave of him, I gave him a friendly little salute with my left hand. He returned it and said, "Toodle-oo, Buckaroo!" He's a very nice fellow, and a character. A variation of him may turn up in one of my novels.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

RV trip day 20: Yellowstone

We'd never have seen these grizzlies if we hadn't been backed up in traffic while dozens of tourists ahead of us stopped their cars in the road and aimed their cameras. Being stuck in traffic for a good half hour, we thought we might as well take photos of our own. Bison and elk have been far easier for us to spot than bear.

Steamboat Geyser spouts far higher than Old Faithful—when it decides to spout. The last time was in 2005, and it goes off every 5 to 50 years, as opposed to every 90 minutes for Old Faithful.

Boiling water bubbles out of the ground and onto a thin crust of ground that is easy to fall through and be scalded to death, according to the warning signs. Luckily, the pathways are well maintained and safe.

Mammoth Hot Springs grows out of a fracture in the earth from which hot water flows, leaving these limestone terraces.

I took about 190 photos in the two days at Yellowstone—even accounting for dupes and bad shots, far too many to post in a blog. After getting home and settling down, I'll put up the better ones on Flickr.

Tomorrow is a long travel day across Montana to the town of Hardin.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

RV trip day 19: Yellowstone

We spent the day driving the southern loop through Yellowstone and plan to drive the northern loop tomorrow. A remarkable fact about the park is that it has thousands of hot spots where steam and boiling water escape from underneath the surface. The photo below is Old Faithful.

Our most common wildlife sightings were bison, though at the end of the day we saw several doe elk resting on a river bank. Signs warned us not to approach any wildlife including bison, because they can be dangerous. The animals typically acted as though all us gawking tourists weren't there. We also saw a bald eagle sitting in a nest high atop a tree, but a road sign told tourists not to stop, so I have no photos of the bird. Alas, no bear sightings. The manager of our RV park told us we wouldn't find grizzlies—they would find us.



There are still many patches of snow at the higher elevations.

Monday, June 15, 2009

RV trip day18: West Yellowstone, Montana

West Yellowstone, Montana is a pretty town mere yards from the National Park entrance. We drove our car a few miles into the park without cameras in the early evening in between the many rain showers. As we returned to our RV I noticed the sun setting over this mountain, so I went back for the camera. The sun was still too strong and the colors too drab, and this black and white image was the best of the bunch.

RV trip day 17: Pocatello, Idaho

We're overnighting in Pocatello, Idaho, where we're told it's been raining for three weeks. We left Salt Lake City this morning under sunny skies, then drove into torrential rain. The skies cleared briefly while I took a walk and a few photos near our RV park. A gentleman kindly allowed me onto his property to take photos of his emu and other animals.

It's midnight. I've been putting together the web pages for the June Internet Review of Books this evening, then watching West Wing.

Tomorrow we head to Yellowstone.

Saturday, June 13, 2009

RV trip day 16: Great Salt Lake

Great Salt Lake in the rain

We had planned to visit the Great Salt Lake in the afternoon, but on the highway we were stuck for 2-1/2 hours in accident traffic. The news report said that a driver cut off a pickup truck, which swerved across the median strip and head-on into a FedEx 18-wheeler, killing one and critically injuring another. Firefighters were unable to contain the blaze immediately because the FedEx cargo was said to include live ammunition. Just a godawful situation.

By the time we got to the lake it was raining and late, so we stayed only a few minutes.

On a more cheerful note, a Mormon greeter yesterday commented on all the rain they've had lately by telling me they'd been washing Salt Lake City all week for us. I passed the comment on to a fellow RVer today, and she just grunted.

RV trip day 15: Salt Lake City

Inside the Mormon Tabernacle

In Salt Lake City, it appears that all roads lead to Temple Square. We visited the Tabernacle and listened to a free organ concert with a couple hundred other people. You've no doubt seen photos of the organ—some of it—it has over 11,000 pipes, many of them hidden in this acoustic wonder of a building. In his introductory remarks, the organist turned off the microphone and said he would drop a pin. When he did, the sound was clear in the entire hall.

As the organist played, a man shouted "Yes!" from the audience on the other side of the hall from us. Later he shouted "Mozart!" and, a bit later, "Beethoven!" He shouted about six times until four young men in dark suits stood by him and escorted him out a side door. As far as I could see, no one touched the man, but they saw to it that he left. Perhaps the man has Tourette's Syndrome.

The Temple

The Mormons we saw and spoke to were unfailingly courteous*, friendly, and wholesome. Even coming from friendly Las Cruces, we found our trip to Temple Square a culture shock.

Flower bed in Temple Square

* Almost unfailingly courteous. We went to the Family History Library, the largest repository of genealogical records in the world. A retired professor was patiently trying to help me locate information about my family history, and I may have interrupted his explanation once too often—I can blab—and he told me to shut up. But then he smiled and said "I can be brusque sometimes." We both laughed. He was really helpful, and the access and assistance at the library are free.

Friday, June 12, 2009

RV trip, day 14: travel day

Canyon in the clouds, Canyonland National Park

Travel and laundry today. It's rained most of the time since we arrived in Salt Lake, and I took no pictures. Thursday, though, we'll go downtown and see the Mormon temples and such.

People sometimes express odd opinions on bumper stickers. This afternoon in the RV park I saw this one on a car from Nevada:

Caution: This woman has no hormones, and she carries a handgun.


Wednesday, June 10, 2009

RV trip day 13, Canyonlands National Park

Having a tough time with the unstable wireless Internet connection here in Moab, so I will post some pix and sign off. These are all from Canyonlands National Park. Will be wordier tomorrow, I hope.

Mesa arch

Blossom and trunk

Prickly pear cactus blossom

Canyon floor

Tuesday, June 09, 2009

RV trip, day 12: more arches

Double Arches

We went back to Arches today and ran out of time and energy to see Canyonlands. So we're extending our stay here in Moab for another day.

Monday, June 08, 2009

RV trip, day 11: Arches National Park

Delicate Arch

We liked Arches National Park so much that we're going back on Tuesday, probably skipping Canyonlands. We saw only a couple of arches, but we're told about 100 of the 2,000-plus arches in the park are accessible to the public.

Balanced Rock

The park was a busy place today, and many of the visitors were European and Asian—often one of them approached us and asked us to take group photos or offered to photograph Nancy and me.

Us, photographed by a Belgian tourist

Sunday, June 07, 2009

RV trip, day 10: Moab, Utah

Sunset outside the OK RV park, Moab, Utah

Moab, Utah was only a two-hour ride from Grand Junction, and it sits in the middle of spectacular rocks evocative of Sedona, Arizona. We didn't do much this afternoon besides a bit of grocery shopping and a short spin in the direction of Dead Horse State Park before deciding it was too late in the day. Lately I've been reading Giles Keppel's Beyond Terrorism and Martyrdom and trying to finish it in time to write my review for The Internet Review of Books. I'm almost done.

In the next couple of days we'll visit Arches and Canyonlands National Parks, both within a few miles of Moab.

A pair of buttes nicknamed the Monitor and the Merrimac.
(Which is which? You decide.)

Incidentally, the other day iUniverse sent me cover copy for the Star edition of When Pigs Fly. Now that I've approved it, they plan to create a new cover. I'm curious to see what they come up with—I am partial to the existing one, but they say a new cover is standard procedure with their Star editions.

Saturday, June 06, 2009

RV trip, day 9: Black Canyon of Gunnison River National Park

At the canyon rim

The Gunnison River at the bottom of Black Canyon

The man at the entrance to the park said we were welcome to drive down into the canyon, but warned us that the grade is 16 percent. That conjured up images of burning out our brakes going downhill and never making it back up. We laughed and took the South Rim Road, an easy trip with dizzying views of the 2,700-foot deep gorge below. Apparently it's called Black Canyon because it's so narrow and deep that much of it stays in the shadows. Literature at the visitor's center said that some hikers have disappeared and have never been found. That's too rugged for me.

For the last two mornings we've heard a woman singing the National Anthem, apparently to begin the calf-roping festivities going on adjacent to our RV park. I ambled over there without my camera this afternoon and saw a few dozen people sitting in a small grandstand watching pairs of cowboys chase and rope calves. I assume it was a timed competition, because the same activity was repeated every couple of minutes. It was a tame family event with no evidence of drinkin', cussin', or spittin' Red Man, but much visual and olfactory evidence of horse manure. Tomorrow I understand will be the children's competition.

Colorado may have gone for Obama, but I see anecdotal signs that western Colorado might have resisted the rest of the state. There are billboards warning that the Federal Reserve is going to take over our lives—didn't we hear something like that from Governor Pailin? I've seen nothing pro-O, but smatterings against him, the most interesting being a bumper sticker that said:

I'll keep my guns, freedom and money. You can keep "the change."

We had lunch at The Red Barn Restaurant in Montrose, something called a "Monte Cristo" sandwich with ham, turkey, and cheese on French toast. Sounds good? Well, it was, but it could have been called Monte Crisco or the Heart Attack Special, because the whole concoction looked deep-fried. And I won't even mention the onion rings that came with it. We didn't clean our plates and still won't be able to eat again until tomorrow. What were we thinking?
The Egyptian Theater in Delta, Colorado

Friday, June 05, 2009

RV trip, day 8: Colorado National Monument

This morning we drove just a few miles out of town to the Colorado National Monument and each snapped five or six dozen photos. I haven't had time to go through them all yet, but here are a few that convey some of the flavor of the place. The road around the park has plenty of places to pull the car off the road and gawk, some with fences and some without. In most cases, the road is within a few feet of a sheer cliff that drops down hundreds of feet. At one stop we pulled over behind an empty car, and there was no fence at the cliff's edge. I looked around and saw no one but Nancy and thought uh-oh. I called out—no reply. I noted the mileage and thought I'd mention it at the visitor's center at the other side of the park, but a couple of miles down the road we passed a runner who was keeping up a brisk pace. He must have been the car's owner, because nothing else was around for miles. 

There were a lot of cyclists powering their way up and down the hills—all half my age, I'll bet, though I never had that kind of strength and stamina at any age.

The park has a lot of trees like the one below, with gnarled trunks twisting over pieces of shale and looking as though they've already lived forever. I don't know what they are, but I'll call them junipers until someone corrects me.

Thursday, June 04, 2009

RV trip, day 7: Descending the Rockies

Blue River, downtown Breckenridge
Tulips in June, downtown Breckenridge

Crossing the Rockies certainly has its ups and downs. We moved at speeds as slow as 25 mph at times. I focused on getting up, over, and down the mountain passes more than on photography today. The landscape settles down to around 4,000 feet above sea level, which is much the same as Las Cruces. The terrain even began to look like New Mexico—drier, with sparser vegetation and an abundance of mesas and buttes.

Now we're in Grand Junction for a couple of days and will start exploring the area tomorrow. GJ is a typical-looking small city of about 48,000. The only distinctive feature I've seen so far is the odd street-naming system. There are 29 (not 29th) Road, 30 Road, B 1/2 Street, D 5/8 Street, 26 1/4 Road, and many more like them. Sounds like the city fathers had a few too many beers.

Wednesday, June 03, 2009

RV trip, day 6: Breckenridge

The view across Route 24 from  Snowy Peaks RV Park,
Buena Vista, Colorado

Last night the rain pounded our RV for hours; as much as we love the sound, we eventually thought enough already. It stopped around midnight, and Wednesday morning we were treated to bright sunshine. Outside our RV park and across Route 24 lies the Collegiate Range, with peaks named Princeton, Harvard, and the like. None named Boston University or Georgia Tech that I know of.

We drove our Saturn through Fairplay and on to Breckenridge and Frisco before heading back across a couple of 10,000-foot passes and through brief snow showers. Clouds had moved back in and made some of the mountain photography difficult—not that the clouds were all that low, but the contrast between the clouds and the snow was minimal.

Tomorrow we leave the Rockies. There are several ways out, but some look dicey. Our best bet is probably the Interstate.

Story Time by Rosalind Cook, Breckenridge Art Gallery
Breckenridge, Colorado

Coffee shop, Fairplay, Colorado

Boy and chipmunk near Breckenridge

Tuesday, June 02, 2009

RV trip, day 5: Rainy Rockies

Back in Las Cruces I dreamed about days like this: Low, thick clouds obscuring the mountains and soaking the region with rain showers. We're so dry in the desert, a rainy day is a treat.

Rain is what we have today in the Rockies. It played havoc with our picture-taking but not with our enjoyment as we drove through tiny Leadville and up to Vail, marveling at how much snow (and snowmelt) we could see in June. In some of the photos it's hard to tell where the mountains end and the sky begins. But that just means we'll have to come back another time.

Rockies outside Leadville

Abandoned school building, Leadville

Arkansas River