Friday, July 29, 2011

The Secret Ingredient Is...Glacial Powder

July 29th

It’s Friday already? Imagine that. Dan and I are wearing matching tie dye shirts. I hate when I match shirts with someone. Now we probably seem like dirty hippies to the locals. We definitely look (and probably smell the part) anyway. After some good old yumplestillskins breakfast, we set off for Logan’s Pass. Just an aside, returning to 80 degree weather is hard work when we are used to upper 50s during the day and upper 30s during the night. For those of you who don’t know, Logan’s Pass is the highest point in elevation along the Going to the Sun road, which is also the highest point you can drive your car in Glacier. We decided to try out the Hidden Lake Trail, no more than a couple miles, but the catch was that the trail itself was buried a few feet under snow. Therefore, we had to trek across the white landscape uphill, the whole way. At the base of the trail, there was a wide gap where people could walk at their leisure. You had the slow old folks, the energetic youngins, and the foolish lovers holding hands, where if one went down, they all went down. As the path got steeper, the trail got so narrow it was single file. If you had traffic coming the other way, it was game over man, game over. We looked like a scene right out of March of the Penguins. Those unfortunate enough to forget their sunglasses in the car were treated to a nice dose of sun glare right in the eyes. We were in that group, yay us. The wind was also pretty strong, and on the way there it was blowing right in our faces. Brrrr is an understatement. About a mile up, we stopped at a miniature glacial pond with very clear waters as one would expect. It was like a desert oasis, except there was no sand, no heat, no cactus, just snow and some pine trees. In the trees to our right we noticed a lone mountain goat, not fifteen feet from the trail. We couldn’t get a good glance at it so we moved on. A little ways ahead and uphill to the right, there stood another mountain goat, about fifty feet away. As Dan frantically tried to switch lenses, we both feared that the opportunity of capturing the creature would soon turn sour. We were wrong. The goat decided to mosey on down at an extremely relaxed pace, crossing the trail directly in front of us. Needless to say, we got our photo op, and Dan was stunned by this odd behavior. I on the other hand, have been jaded once again due to my work at Safari. I have noticed a lot of parallels between the animals at Six Flags, and the “wildlife” in National Parks. Having to deal with tourists, hikers, and passerbyes constantly every day, the wildlife has been hardcore conditioned to humans, just like the animals at Six Flags were conditioned to cars every day. Therefore, I was not surprised at the slightest to see this goat simply ignore the people around it, when in reality it should be hesitant and avoid us. Soon the goat was lost within the trees, and we continued on. We finally made it to the overlook of Hidden Lake, after losing a few good men, some cattle, and poor Billy was bitten by a poisonous snake. He never stood a chance. They might as well call this spot Mountain Goat Villa. There must have been at least five goats in the vicinity. There was no feeling of worry over getting a nice shot, for there were many chances of doing so. The area was completely covered in snowfall, except the raised walkway upon which we stood had been cleared. Hidden Lake was a ways down the mountain, about 75% of it remaining out of sight due to snow and ice. If you weren’t searching hard enough, it would have been hidden from view, get it? Hidden? Bad joke aside, this place was beautiful. I knew that we would never step foot on a place like this any other time on our journey. I hope that I do return to these places sometime again in my future, I’d love to share these experiences with more people. I asked a ranger why all of the lakes were such a beautiful turquoise in color. She gave the explanation that basically as the glacier moves among the mountains, chunks of rocks get captured in the sliding ice, which creates friction amongst them. This friction causes the rocks to release a tiny powder, which then gets washed away in the melted snow. The final ingredient is the angle of which the sunlight hits the particles in the water, turning it turquoise. And there you have it, picturesque glacial water is born. All due to glacial powder baby, rock dust. Nature is awesome!

So going down the mountain snow was a different story altogether. It was time to put our boot skies on once again. Well I did anyway, as Dan had an expensive camera to protect. I found my inner child and ran down the mountainside, planting my feet in the snow and sliding a good distance. I repeated this obnoxiously for a while. Then I hurt my knee and realized I am not that youthful anymore. Go figure, a minute later Dan and I raced down the snow. Did you know that running full speed down a snowy hill is slightly easier than going at a snail’s pace? Well it is, so deal with it. Having this hike under our belt, we moved on, leaving Glacier behind us. This place was pure magic. As another aside, we just drove past a tent selling a cornucopia of tie dye shirts, cloths, and everything in between. We should have stopped there, as we are both wearing TIE DYE SHIRTS. We were fools, Fools! They could have been our new best friends. Where was I? We said farewell to Glacier National Park, and seeked out lunch, and huckleberry was on our minds. This town had done an excellent job of placing the little berry deep within the folds of consciousness, on par with Wall Drug (Curse you Wall Drug). Perhaps it was the tireless journey of constantly being turned down from a slice of huckleberry pie, or maybe the three day wait had created a false image of flavor superiority, but when I took my first bite I was greeted by a mouthful of crushed dreams. Well, it wasn’t that it was bad, it was actually pretty good, but just not Oh my stars this is the fruit of the Gods sort of deal. Raspberry is still number one in my book. Dan agreed that the pie was good, but nothing special. Advertising had gotten the better of us once again. Jerks. Montana is weird because liquor stores can’t carry beer, you have to go to a grocery store or gas station to pick that stuff up. Quite different than New Jersey. The word on the street is that the Montanan (spelling?) government gets good money by running things this way. I have no comment on this.

We just crossed into Idaho, and coincidentally gained another hour of travel time, yay! Driving East is going to suck I’ll tell you that much. The scenery is pretty much the same as Montana. Mountains, hills, pine forests, rivers, and lakes. We passed a sheep farm, that was a first. We crossed over a river called Yaak River, I’m curious to know how it got that name. Maybe some Yak used to be mayor, who knows?

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Pika Pika

We had the grand fortune of happening across the mighty Pika, a tiny little rodent which looks like a cross between a mouse and a rabbit. Once we discovered what these creatures were, and what they looked like, the fact that Pikachu is so called Pikachu makes perfect sense! Luckily we weren’t subjected to a thundershock. They tend to live in rocky habitats, and are unfortunately endangered. We first found out that we may find one at Grand Teton, and had hoped to see it then. No luck there, and no luck at Yellowstone, so the thought had left our minds. It was only after Dan and I talked about a hypothetical MMO World of Pokémon (for 20 minutes) that Dan spotted the Pika amongst the rocky cliffs, adjacent to St. Mary Lake. Coincidence? I think not! As Dan was focusing in on a shot of the critter, he declined us battle and instead used Run.

July 28th

I have no idea what day of the week it is anymore. I have to check my phone/laptop to figure it out. That’s what vacation does to you doesn’t it? We woke up nice and early to get a good start on the day. After filling our gullets of all you can eat pancakes, we left the campground and set off for the Two Medicine Trailhead, in Southern Glacier. This place was way out of the way, but the drive was a fun little diddy full of twists and turns. If you don’t enjoy driving right beside cliffs with no guardrails, I suggest you don’t attempt to come here. The hike was somewhat of a beginner difficulty, which was probably related to the fact that nearly every party we passed was a family, and no one our age. We passed prime moose habitat, yet no actual moose could be found. As we climbed in elevation, the wet terrain became a typical mountain forest. A few miles up and we reached the top, a scenic overlook viewing the mountains and the trees below. A nice little pit-stop, but not really worth going forty-five minutes out of our way. On our way back down the trail, we took an offshoot which led to a little waterfall. This was a really pretty scene, with evidence of it not being visited often. Once we got in the car, we decided to stop for lunch. Within the past few days we had seen many a sign for Huckleberry Pie. What is this you ask? Well I can’t tell you, because I have never had huckleberry anything before. I asked people where to find the best piece of pie around here, and they suggested Park Café. This is where we stopped for lunch, but they had no huckleberry pie! We were lied to, and I was deeply saddened. But the fish tacos we ate were some of the most delicious ones we had ever had, so that made up for the loss. Still having a void in my stomach for pie, I didn’t know what to do. Dan ordered a Moose Moss milkshake, a whole bunch of chocolate delights mixed into mint chocolate ice cream. I got the equivalent in pie form. Our reviews were a combined, “Mmmmm” (accompanied with some drool on Dan’s part). Now we were off to see a triplet of waterfalls around St. Mary Lake.

The first waterfall was Baring Falls. Deep within the foliage, it was a nice sight for us to see. It wasn’t that tall, but it wasn’t short by any means. It was just right. The whole place was covered in the wondrous rocks that we found along the coast of the lake yesterday. At this altitude, the majority of the rocks were red, due to an abundance of oxygen exposure somewhere in their geological past. As we pressed on, we passed a lot of individuals wearing Life is good t-shirts. Dan didn’t notice but I saw each and every one. I had never before seen so many of the shirts worn in one day, it was a new record. I was sad that I didn’t wear mine. The next waterfall we ventured to was St. Mary Falls. This little beauty was not covered by the shadows of trees, but exposed to the beautiful rays of the setting sun. There was a bridge that we crossed to get to opposing sides of the water. The way the beams of light shot out from the rocks really emphasized the serenity of this place. Not to mention this water was pristine turquoise. We have yet to find out why it is this color. Probably something to do with glacial snowmelt, or minerals, or both, or something else. The final falls in the trifecta were Virginia Falls. These falls covered the most ground, as they were a series of small to medium size falls. A lot of groups congregated at this place to admire the peaceful aura given off by the environment. After a bit, we headed back to our car. Along the way, this is when we spotted the elusive Pika. Almost by our car, we traversed up some large rocks and viewed the lake one last time. It was really windy up here, and it was a cold wind too. A diagram showed the horizon in front of us, labeling which mountain was which. As we entered the parking lot, we happened across a female mule deer. Now with our car in sight, we spotted a second female deer, just hangin out, eating some browse. After a moment, the two individuals approached each other. I thought they would be friends, but that’s not what happened. The ears of the bigger individual were pressed against its head and it scared off the other deer. Apparently these were good feeding grounds, maybe. Quite a good day for viewing wildlife, Gotta Catch ‘Em all.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Over the River and Through the Wonderful Woods

July 25th

We drove from Madison to Pebble Creek, pretty going from the Southwest corner to the Northeast corner of Yellowstone. We were eager to drive through the Lamar Valley, which is renowned for its wildlife opportunities. On the way to our campsite we passed a few herds of bison, one of which I estimated had over 150 individuals. This area of the park also had a large amount of solitary bison. Now I didn’t go and check up their regions but Dan and I assumed that they are males, either ones just reaching maturity or potential suitors, either way being driven off by the alpha male. We got to the campsite and had the chance to pick which spot we wanted, so we chose the one right next to an aesthetic little creek. I wouldn’t have minded spending the whole day here but we had better places to see. We saddled up and headed to Trout Lake. It was only a mile walk to the lake but it was worth it, as these things usually tend to be. The lake was right in the center, usual lake size. To both the left and right there were pine forests, and straight ahead there were wildflower meadows with mountains in the background. Expecting to see fun wildlife, we started on the trail around the lake. Up ahead there was a creek with a few people standing around it. Within the tustling waters, Cutthroat Trout were spawning. I had never witnessed this behavior in person, and it was cool to already know what was going on. Having a background in this sort of stuff is really handy in these types of scenarios. As we continued on, Dan noticed a muskrat swimming underwater with reeds in its mouth. It must have been building a nest nearby. Before we could snap a photograph of the mammal, it swam underneath us into its den. Legend had it that river otters lived in this lake. As we entered the last stretch, there was a single otter taking a nap on a grassy log, embedded in the coastline. I expected to see a rowdy group of otters wrestling around, but seeing a wild otter definitely satisfied that want regardless. As a noisy group of people would wander by, the otter would lift its head up dreary eyed, in a similar fashion I know have performed on many an occasion. This little area was breathtakingly idyllic. One could only imagine this place in a dream, yet here it was for us to enjoy. After we sat around for a while, we decided to move onto Lamar Valley and check out the wildlife. Every few miles or so, we would pass a pullout where a large amount of cars were parked. This was the telltale sign of a good spot. It’s funny how it works. First you have the professionals with their large scopes, who spot the rare animal, such as a grizzly. Then a few tourists stop by to see if there really is an animal around. Then before you can say “Good grief” twenty cars are now parked around the area, the road is full of traffic, and everyone is asking anyone what is out there. We stopped by a spot which had a carcass hidden behind a bush. Apparently the local wolf pack made the kill, but instead a black bear was around for the leftovers. We ended up talking to an elderly woman, a wildlife photographer. She filled us in on the history of the wolf packs in Yellowstone, and provided a lot of insight into how things went on around here. We also started schmoozing with a middle school guidance counselor, and watched a wandering bison herd in the distance as we talked about wolf reintroduction, fishing, and how stupid people are poisoning the gene pool. It was amusing hearing this come from a guidance counselor. Up until now, Dan and I had this discussion just with fellow students, but here we were agreeing with someone who witnesses it all firsthand, exclaiming how the smarter parents only had one or two kids. On the other hand, the parents who were clearly not the brightest crayon in the box had a bunch more than that. We all agreed we are slowly devolving ourselves. Fun to joke about, but kinda sad to think about…..ANYWAY, we never ended up seeing any wolves that evening, even though the alpha male was apparently spotted nearby. On our way to camp we passed both two grizzly bears and a cinnamon colored black bear. We made sure we packed up real good for the night.

July 26th

We woke up extra early to head over and catch a wolf hunt. By the time we arrived at the sweet spot the people there told us that an elk herd was on the other side of the hill. This meant that even if there was a kill, no one would be able to view it. Womp womp. We headed back to the carcass this morning to see if any new action was going on. There was a grizzly scavenging on the remains. I’m left to wonder just how much food is leftover, since every time I go there some animal is eating to their stomach’s desire. After not much else was happening, we decided to say goodbye to Yellowstone and venture on to Glacier National Park.


Initially, this state was pretty dry and barren, with hills on both sides covered with sagebrush. Rock walls were a common site, as the Rockies loomed in the distance. We passed some farms trying to grow something, but we couldn’t tell what it was. Then pastures became the dominant landscape, with cows and horses grazing under the sun. We also passed a bunch of alpaca farms, an unexpected but welcome site. After a few hours of hills, the mountains came back into the foreground, and it reminded us a lot of the Black Hills. Pines covered the slopes, and this time there was no sign of fire damage. These trees were old and they were large. When we drove past a farm, it was interesting to note just how many shades of green can exist in nature. One road sign we passed had its top line read “Anaconda” and under it read “Opportunity”. I thought it was some sort of pet store but apparently Montana has some interestingly named towns. Another place was called Phosphate, which prompted me to picture the chemical composition on the molecule. Once I was thinking about how many electrons are in its outer shell is when I stopped myself. Chemistry is never going to leave me is it?!

After some driving, driving, and even some exciting driving, we were pretty close to the park. We decided to set up camp at a KOA because they have both wireless AND showers, wowww. Yeah we kinda um, smelled. Showers are a godsend when you are covered in dirt and who knows what else.

July 27th

Glacier is beautiful. I have already decided that I won’t even try and come up with adequate wonderful descriptions for the sites we have seen, because there is no possible way to try and come close. Ehh you’re all probably wondering what it looked like so I suppose I could help you out. This seems like a pretty one-sided relationship though. We passed through the gate and went straight to the visitor center, primarily because we had no idea what to do in this awesome park. We decided that Going-To-The-Sun-Road would be today’s festivities. Mercy mercy mercy, this was the best scenic drive I have ever taken, ever! Keep in mind that much of the park is still closed off because of the snow, and yes you are right it is the end of July. At the base of the mountains we passed McDonald Lake. It contained the clearest waters I have ever seen, and the air was so crisp and clean. The entire mountainside was covered in western cedars and hemlocks, and above that was all of the snow. Some of it was melting which created glorious waterfalls which could be viewed from afar. The mountain lake was just the beginning as we pressed on, climbing in elevation. This place reminded me of Grand Teton, but in this park we actually drove up the mountains. With each tiny pullout, we saw a completely different view each time. Sometimes it was of the same mountain or lake or forest, but the angle had changed, which changed the picture’s composition completely. The plant diversity changed slightly from time to time, with each microcosm bringing about different climate and light availability. Most of the time, both Dan and I’s jaws literally were dropped as we fell in love with this place. There was some construction going on, but we really didn’t mind stopping at all. It gave us an excellent excuse to sit back and soak in all the icy beauty. We drove with the windows down, and the air was very cold, as one would imagine when there is snow everywhere. At one of the construction checkpoints, two bighorn sheep were grazing right next to our car. Then for no apparent reason they both ran off passed our car. It’s funny how the site of these creatures must be so nonchalant for the construction workers. The higher we drove, the more fascinating the scenery appeared. On one side there was a sheer cliff, to the other side was an eight foot wall of snow. They measure snow in feet around here, not like in inches back home. Working here during the winter must be something else. After about two hours we started heading down the mountains. It was more of the same, in other words gloriously magnificent mountainsides with trees and snow everywhere. At the bottom we passed St. Mary Lake, miles and miles in diameter. This one was more beautiful than the previous mountain lake. This water was perfect turquoise. If I had the crayon of the same color in front of me, the lake would win every time. The pebbly shore was full of tiny stones of all shapes and sizes, and colors too. Reds, browns, tans, oranges, grays, blacks, and there were different shades of each one. I took a few handfuls of them to collect one of every variety, they were so cool I had to take some home. We finished the scenic drive and found a campground on the East Side of the park. And now it is dinner time, goodbye!

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Oh Hi Waterfalls

Did anyone know that yogurt lids also make excellent disposable spoons? This is one of the beautiful realizations we have had while on this trip. Doing dishes is a time consuming chore, so any corners that can be cut will be utilized. We have also become quite adept at acquiring anything we need from the car while it is in motion, making pit stops less frequent. Unfortunately we treat the vehicle a little bit like our bedrooms so weekly maintenance is required.

July 23rd

We enjoyed a nice breakfast at the Tumbleweed Café and then we were on the road to Osprey Falls. We were in for a treat. We got there and met up with some researchers involved in a national wetlands assessment program. We schmoozed for a bit, using our ecology know how, yayy knowledge, then we were off on the hike. Initially, we were surrounded by a wetlands ecosystem. Although it didn’t even come close to comparing to New Jersey’s highly productive wetlands, these were reminiscent enough to remind us of our state’s unique diversity. Soon enough wetlands were replaced by meadows as we climbed slightly in elevation. We did not see any new flowers, but the mixes and matches of them all were beautiful. The way the wind blew across the plants had them glimmering, making them appear in some kind of synchronized dance. I’m sure if I stayed there for a bit I could be hypnotized. Next up, we came across some young pines, none of them were higher than 12 feet tall. At some point, a fire must have cleared this forest. Since we don’t know how fast the lodge poles grow, we couldn’t take a guess how old they were. Dan suggested that they were possibly from the 1988 fires which burned ferociously. A lot more of Yellowstone would later appear the same way, trees about the same height all around the park. Whenever this fire happened, it did a lot of work. But again, fire is very important to an ecosystem, it is when people are in danger that everyone gets up in arms about it. Dan was wondering how different this place looked fifty years ago, before the fires, or even further back when Roosevelt came through here. How much looked different? How much looked the same? Within the foliage we found a male grouse (suspect it is a “Dusky Blue Grouse”, but we’re not entirely sure). A fowl about the size of a chicken, grey in color. Upon its chest, it had two patches which were inflated when the bird called out. Whether it was a territorial display, mating call, or whatever, it followed suit and produced the typical sounds, “ooon, ooon, ooon”. You can make the sound if you say ooon, while keeping your mouth shut and mimicking a yawn. I had only seen this bird on nature specials but it was a real treat to actually see it in person. Once we got to the highest point in elevation along the trail, we thought the rest would be chump work. We were wrong. The following path was the steepest, narrowest trail we had traversed so far. It definitely made getting to the finish even more worth it. It was a hassle when we came across some hikers going in the other direction. One group had to step aside, but there wasn’t much room for that. As we neared the bottom of the hike, we saw the rapids a little ways in the distance. This part of our journey was shaded by rocks and trees, something we highly valued. After a few camel humps of dirt, I looked up and BAM we saw the waterfall. We didn’t even hear it, it had snuck up on us. I ran out of the shadows to meet the hydraulic beauty. Dan followed suit. It was 150 feet tall, with powerful surges of force crashing upon the rocks below. Sprays of mist were sent everywhere and they felt glorious. This was a site to behold. We stopped here for lunch and took a lot of photographs. Speaking of photos, quick break from the hike for a sec to explain why we haven’t uploaded our hundreds of shots. We can only upload them when we have internet, which is not that common. And when we do have internet, one photo takes about 3 minutes to upload. It is horribly time consuming and so we will have to pick our favorite shots. When we are back from the trip, Dan will upload all of them and you guys can check em out then. Back to Osprey Falls, which ironically we did not see any osprey. We saw a fellow hiker had climbed some rocks to get right up to the falls, so we figured we had to try it. There was a path, it was steep and narrow, and you had to grip the rock wall to stay up. You did not want to fall down this part. It was really fun actually, definitely an adrenaline rush but it was this type of activity that I knew I wanted to perform on this trip. After about five to ten minutes we reached the falls. The mist became a lot more powerful, getting all of our clothing damp. We took some more pictures, and Dan noticed that behind me the mist created a beautiful rainbow. I had some fun taking pictures with it. I’ll wait until we post the pictures to explain what I did, but I definitely incorporated my type of humor into it. Once we got our fill of the waterfall, it was time to head on back. Sweet Clyde was this a workout for our calves. It hurt, it hurt a lot. But we had to keep on truckin and head home. We passed a couple along the way, a husband and wife I presume.  The wife, much to our amusement, seemed rather terrified of the heights. We got some amusement out of that heh. Getting back to the car, we were starving and promptly made ourselves dinner. Our campsite was right along a river, and we got to see an osprey attempt to catch some fish. Dan and I had only witnessed this behavior in David Attenborough documentaries and such, but we dug seeing it right there in front of us. The bird never did catch anything, but that was okay. It was still pretty cool.

July 24th

Today’s main adventure was Old Faithful and then Fairy Falls. We packed up camp and then we were off. A while later we finally saw signs for Old Faithful. Parking was cramped like a pack of sardines. It reminded me of trying to find a spot at an amusement park. We kept on driving through the first few lots, hoping to find a spot in one of the back lots. We did, and turns out these spots were the closest to the famous geyser, heyooo! Take that, tourists! We walked over to where the crowd was in the distance, assuming that was where Old Faithful was. We were right. After setting up at a good viewpoint, the geyser starting getting active after two minutes. Some of these folks had been waiting for an hour or more, we just got there and waited for 2 minutes, wooh!  The momentous occasion started with some minor discharges out of the geyser. Then there was a brief pause in the action. This all climaxed in a massive eruption of epic proportions. Right away, gallons of raw power were launched outwards, relieving the pressure from deep within the chamber. There was an audible gasp of amazement and relief from the crowd. I felt like I needed a cigarette afterwards.  Needing lunch and knowing we had to beat the massive crowd to the punch, we snuck away and found a cafeteria. We knew we made the right decision after the line was out the door a few minutes later. Fully stocked with energy, we set out for fun festivities at Fairy Falls (ohh alliteration). Along the first stretch of the trail we passed by some hot springs which let off constant streams of steam. It was pretty cool because the first third smoked white, the middle area smoked blue, and the end section smoked red. Pretty nifty. About 3 miles into it we came across Fairy Falls. It was 200 feet tall, but it had a very narrow diameter. The water elegantly fell into a large pool at the bottom, all of this had been cast into the shade due to it being after midday. Although we were more impressed with Osprey Falls by all means, this place had a different tone and we understood how it got its name. *Warning, Nerd Moment* I could easily picture Link coming to this pool and collecting fairies in bottles for his journey. We decided to take a different path back, which would loop back to the parking lot. Unfortunately there were no trail markers, but there was only one alternative path to take. About 5 minutes from the falls, we came across some hidden geothermal activity. A large hot spring contained a geyser that spouted every twenty seconds or so. It was pretty fun to happen across this hidden gem. Another part of this area had a series of cracks, depressions, and holes. I could hear hot liquid bubbling from deep within. I also felt the rumbling of the pressure from beneath my feet. If I didn’t know better I would think this was the secret entrance into the Land of the Lost. We pressed on, and after a few miles of hiking, something felt wrong. We were heading in the wrong direction still, and there were no trail markers yet. It was getting late and so we decided to truck it back the way we came. On the bright side, we got a really nice leg workout from this. Getting back to the car, it was time for a drink. We stopped by at some restaurant only to be told that the wait was an hour or so. We snagged some trout cakes next door and waited patiently. After an hour and forty-five minutes of waiting we decided to ditch the restaurant and eat next door at a pub. Now we REALLY needed a drink. We ordered our food and it took ten whole minutes to arrive…if only we knew ahead of time. I kind of fulfilled a childhood dream of mine and ordered a Shirley Temple, with alcohol in it! Check and mate. After we were quite satiated, it was nightfall, and so we headed back to camp. As I was about to go to sleep, I noticed the stars were brighter than I had ever seen them before. Dan agreed that he had never witnessed a night sky quite as astonishing as this one. There were stars Everywhere, and then it happened! I had heard all about this, well I should explain. People have told me that on really clear night skies, you could see an arm of the Milky Way Galaxy. I didn’t even know what that meant, but I knew precisely what it was when I saw it. A smudge of light was strewn across the sky from the edges of my view. It was the arm I had heard so much about. It was a glorious site. With this amazement in our minds, we called it a night.

Friday, July 22, 2011

Tale Of A Few Days

We realized that whenever we do not keep up with these posts, the blog becomes an arduous task. But we are going to power through this, so be prepared for a long post.

                                                                                                                                           July 19th

Mt. Rushmore

Can you believe they charged twelve bucks for this place? All we wanted was some nice snapshots, and as soon as we turned the corner there was a toll booth, accompanied by numerous signs all saying “NO U-TURN”. As a very smart man-squid hybrid once said, “It’s a trap!” There is not much to say about this place, it was pretty much what you would expect from the pictures of it. The funny thing is that Rushmore did little to appease us, but as soon as we turned around to walk towards the car, we faced a ginormous mountain with pine stands all around. We now understand why they built the presidents facing in that direction. Also, it was humorous to us that everyone was taking pictures of the stone structure, yet nobody stopped to admire the actual natural beauty of the trees. Not everyone is a nature nut like us I suppose.

 Heading out of South Dakota, steep inclines formed the Black Hills territory, with gorgeous mountain lakes and sheer cliff sides surrounding us the entire way. At some point numerous sections of trees became barren. We played detective and tried to figure out the cause of all this. Was it logging? Fire? Some sort of mutant beaver? Although we could never truly rule out the beaver, we decided the bark showed signs of being scorched. It was quite a spectacle to see just how many miles of trees were now gone. Barren wastelands took the place of what used to be forest. But this led to more questions, what caused the fire? Was it natural, since we are in the middle of a heatwave? Or was it a control burn, perhaps an accident? Who knows. But we do understand the huge importance fire plays in the ecosystem, recycling the nutrients into the soil and keeping the land fertile.


This state is full of many different landscapes. Initially, it was comprised of mountainous terrain with beautiful pine forests along the hills every twist of the way. It seemed almost unreal, how places like this could exist, being touched by mankind so minimally. As we drove on we noticed a large and intriguing cloud in the distance. It was lower than all of the other ones, but it was still white. It was more like a column than an actual cloud. Since we had been seeing stands of barren trees we assumed it was a fire. The highway we were on interestingly enough was headed straight for this mystery cloud. The more we drove, the bigger it got, and soon we knew for sure that this was a signature forest fire. Eventually we rounded a bend and on a far Hillside we could see the roaring fire in action. Well it wasn’t necessarily roaring but it felt intense, sending smoke into the air that could be seen for miles. We pulled over to take some photos and I noticed an odd mix of circumstances. There was this fire in the distance, completely obliterating a large tract of land, but where I stood, horses were grazing and birds resumed chirping as normal. Continuing on, the mountains disappeared and were traded for flatter turf. Unlike previous states, this flat land was somewhat homogenous, which led to boredom. Wyoming broke our rule of each new state being cooler than the last. I suppose we were wrong in assuming the entire state would interest us, as were driving through the whole thing.

                                                                                                                                        July 20th

After staying over in a motor lodge, we were on the road to Grand Teton. Flat roads again became beautiful mountains, this time with new rock formations we hadn’t seen before. Rich browns, reds, grays and blacks filled these stone structures with beauty. The trees were also of different colors, not just green but also orange and grey. The Wind River flowed beside our highway and some beautiful cabins were built right beside it. We agreed that we were quite jealous of the residents in those homes. Some roadwork was being done in the area so we had to sit idle for a while. I got out and snapped some shots of wildflowers. Soon enough we were granted passage and we continued on. All of a sudden we were blessed with a glorious image of the Rocky Mountains in the background. They were incredibly picturesque, dark brown with snow capped peaks, and even some trees resided on the slopes. The more we drove the bigger the mountains got, and the pictures we took sincerely do not do them justice. They look so small and minor in the photographs but truly they encompassed it all. We ended up reaching Grand Teton National Park and this place was beautiful.

 Grand Teton

As we drove around some absolutely stunning mountain lakes, Nat King Cole’s Unforgettable was playing in the car and it was the perfect pick for the scene. We stopped a few times along the road to soak in everything. I noticed that there were fifty thoughts running through my head all at once, and I couldn’t give one more than three seconds before switching to another thought. Finding a campsite was no arduous task as it gave us an excuse to look at the mountains, lakes, forests, grasslands, or flowers. I even think I saw a bison herd in the background, but I am not sure. After setting up camp, Dan and I geared up and hit the Lupine Trail. We had no idea what we were in store for. For starters, we began the trail at 3pm and didn’t return until 8:30pm. The entire trail, the whole thing, was swarmed with mosquitoes, and in our infinite wisdom we did not spray ourselves nor bring any bug spray. Needless to say, the bugs definitely drove our pace up the mountain. The entire trail was a steep incline. With each little jump in elevation, the ecosystem definitely had a change. Forests lined the bottom, even being somewhat swampy. Next up vast patches of wildflowers, yellow, purple, red, and green ones grew as far as the eye could see. From that point on the landscape alternated between forest and field. In the pines we came across some grey little fowl, a little larger than a chicken. It curiously watched us until it climbed into the brush. As temperatures dropped the path became covered in snow. Trekking through the snow was slippery but doable. I noted that coming down would be a different story, as the snow mounds were quite steep, easy to climb up but not down. After about a mile in the snow we reached the endpoint, a beautifully frozen over mountain lake right adjacent to Grand Teton. It was quite, serene, even the mosquitoes understood not to bother us for the time being. By this time it was getting late, the sun was already not visible, and both of us were achy from the hike. Not wanting to encounter any bears becoming active during sundown, we were now in a race against the clock to get back to the car, joy. Rushing down the snow was not an easy task by any means. Steep declines provided some interesting antics for Dan and I. He preferred the one foot slide method using the other one for stability. I enjoyed the skiing method, not as safe but definitely twice as fun. Once we cleared the snowy parts the path became very rocky, which I think did wonders for my knees -_- Along our travels a cute little martin paced our way. It was intriguing, it wasn’t rushing but it wasn’t casually coming to us. It may have sniffed us, or just passed on by, but we clapped it away so no harm was done. After many, many bug bites, we finally reached the car, and man oh man were we glad to see it. Rushing in so no nagging bugs followed suit, we drove back to camp. Along the way the sunset cast awesome rays from behind the mountain. Dan got out to take pictures and I stayed in the car, just staring at the magnificent site. The song Hallelujah came on and it took me away to a spiritual realm where all was well. We grabbed a bite to eat at the Trapper, a grill residing by Signal Mountain. I had their signature Trapper sandwich, which was yummy yummy. It had alfalfa on it which intrigued me. Dan ate an Angus beef burger along with elk chili delight. His review was “delicious”, with a smile no less. Afterwards we did some housekeeping back at camp, and promptly passed out for the night. But not before Dan went to the loo, staring at the starry night and having a mindgasm. He wants to really stress how gorgeous the stars looked, every single one of them glowed exceptionally well.

                                                                                                                                         July 21st

Now knowing much better, we decided it to be a bright idea to be as prepared for today’s hike as possible. It was called Death Canyon after all. Dan made a hearty meal consisting of sautéed onions and potatoes, baconnn (mmm bacon) and scrambled eggs. Delicioso! The only annoyance about cooking our own meals is that it takes a while to make, and cleaning dishes is a hassle. But it is much cheaper in the long run. With all of this out of the way, we headed for the trailhead. Beginning the hike, we started out in a lowland forest. An abundance of water derived from the ice melt. We saw all of the plant species from yesterday, and a whole variety more. This ecosystem must not be as harshly specialized as the Lupine area. This may have to do with elevation differences, positioning, etc. As we hiked onward I was formulating that this terrain would be ideal for moose habitat. Lo and behold, not fifteen minutes from the trailhead, a female moose was resting in the marshy shade, not twenty feet from us. She just remained there the whole time, probably very much conditioned to hikers coming through daily. As we climbed in elevation, the diversity shifted to somewhat drier microclimate. There was still a lot of plant diversity, just different species this time. The thing we greatly enjoyed about this section was the abundance of shade, and breezes occurred frequently to please our souls. Next up we enjoyed a wonderful mountain lake view, more beautiful than the ones from yesterday. Every time there is a clearing it is so serene. There were so many crazy trees that grew right out of the side of a mountain, reshaping their trunk to suit them. They looked to defy gravity. One of the trees even used a rock as a support to grow higher. What kind of mountain hike would it be without the wildflowers? At this point, a lot of the turf was sunny wildflower fields. To our right, in the distance was an old school looking waterfall. Ahead were two mountains, and we were going to hike the valley in between them. As we continued we heard what we thought was howling wind. Further up the valley we saw very brief glimpses of rapids. We got pretty excited and quickened our pace. Soon enough we were treated to the site of gushing torrents, the result of the year round melting snow. It truly was a spectacle to behold. The pictures won’t do it justice. They lack the feeling of the mist, and the sound of the falling water. The higher we hiked the more intense the rapids became. Every fifteen minutes the water would do something more incredible. Seeing as how we decided we did not want to race the sun again, we decided to head down at this point. Along the way we noticed a couple varieties of animal scat. Some were really fibrous, kind of like horse manure, but horses weren’t anywhere nearby. I ruled out elk poop because my experience working at Safari provided me with the knowledge that elk poo looks like raisinettes. We also found some pebbly scat, possible belonging to bighorn sheep. We didn’t see any but who knows right? Personally, the size didn’t really match up with what I knew to be elk scat. Maybe the difference in diet or general lifestyle had an impact of fecal appearance. Maybe it was moose crap. Again, who knows? Trucking through the path once again, this time in reverse, we came across the same female elk, this time a couple hundred feet higher. One thing to note was that the mosquitoes were a very minimal nuisance at best. It could have been due to the fact that we actually used bug spray, or the change in ecosystem made all the difference. We were grateful for this regardless.

Now we are heading back to embrace the facility’s shower. We probably smell but frankly neither of us gives a damn. Maybe when we are in public, but that hasn’t happened too often. Then we shall cook us a meal, and sleepy sleep. We’re trying to sort out the photos (we have over 1000), we really want to post them as soon as we can. It’s just a lot of effort so bare with us. Adios!

                                                                                                                                         July 22nd

In the morning we headed for good ole Yellowstone National Park. It was a pretty short drive, and that’s not just because we were used to 4-8 hour drives. The 2 parks are really close to each other, but they are veeeeery different once you get to know them. For starters, Yellowstone is big, very big. Extremely big! New Jersey is 8722 sq. miles, and Yellowstone is 3472 sq. miles. That means you can almost fit 3 Yellowstones into our Garden State, craziness! Regrettably we tried to find camping on a Friday, which meant every place was booked. After a while driving around we decided to book a campsite outside the park. We stopped a bunch of times along the way to check out the natural sites. Initially, the forests were much more of a monoculture, consisting of lodge pole pines. This gave off a much more open feeling, with little to no understory. We read some article explaining how these trees are very susceptible to diseases and a certain type of beetle, and I believe we saw evidence of this out in the wilderness, with many trees barren or dead brown. This made us sad. Once we got further into the park, the terrain shifted into hilly meadows containing sagebrush and numerous colors of wildflowers. Blue skies, white fluffy clouds, a really cleansing breeze, plus these beautiful meadows were all that we needed for a good cleansing. We passed a few bison herds just chilling by the river. Thanks to Safari I had become jaded to the site of buffalo, but Dan was eager to snap many photographs of the creatures. As we continued on there was a coyote strolling along the road, in no real hurry. We slowed down to snap a shot and just at that moment it decided to take a load off, literally. It was pure form I’ll tell you that much. The photo will tell it all. Following the river from high up on a mountain road, it turned into some pretty intense rapids. Wonderful site indeed. The rock formations were again something we had never seen before. Some of the rocks had crevices causing them to appear like a picket fence deep within the side of a cliff. We passed a little town which had an extremely odd quality. It was riddled with elk everywhere. Most of the individuals laid down not more than 5 feet from cars and or pedestrians. They seemed completely complacent in this location, Dan and I laughed at the circumstances and shrugged. Unfortunately, the weather was really shotty, thunderstorms expected to rain until early next morning. We raced against the clock to set up our tent in harrowing winds. Unsure whether we would see our lovely tent again, we decided to book it to a safe shelter. We ended up staying at a nice little local bookstore and café, waiting out the storm and/or enjoying some quiet time. And this is where I am currently, now let me drink my huckleberry tea!

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

South Dakota But Of Course!

South Dakota
This state’s nickname should either be the Indoor Water Parks State or Bug Splatter State. Perhaps this needs further explanation. On our travels, our vehicle has caused so many bug deaths that we can no longer take photographs from the front seat. It is a cruel graveyard upon which we stare at all of the time, ALL OF THE TIME! We didn’t ask for this, why didn’t they fly a bit higher, whyyy!? Now onto the other point. Seeing as how South Dakota lacks a coastline, it makes sense for every damn hotel to include an indoor water park. We tried to enjoy these sites but right away the taint of our ecological education forced us to ponder the negative implications of all of this water use in a territory where there is not an overabundance of it. Yayyyy knowledge is power (and depressing).
While driving through South Dakota, the landscape transformed a few times. First it was flat, consisting of open pastures, beautifully blue skies, and pleasant scenery all around. Then the land became hillsides, which may sound boring but they were actually quite inspiring. It was hard to drive past everything without staring, taking our gazes off of the road.  Some of the stretches we drove on had us gain a lot of elevation. Lastly, the composition became one of mountainous forests. Beautiful outcroppings of rock mixed with coniferous forest were the sites we longed to see. We only got more excited knowing that Washington and Oregon will be even more of these land types.
Knowing that we should try and understand the area’s flavor of music, we turned on the local radio stations and you know what we found? There are loads of country radio stations. No seriously, there was maybe 4 radio stations that weren’t country, one of which was classical, another was public radio. Is there something that we don’t understand? Are there subtle intricacies to country music, leading to 10 different mini genres? Or did each station focus on a particular emotion, aka lovin your sweet baby, cruising for a boozing, or being hung up on a sweet honey that don’t love you back. We may never know. Annnd not to sound too hurtful but we don’t really need to ever find out.
They really seem to like their billboards here.  I couldn’t tell you the number of signs we saw for Wall Drug (which apparently has everything from home made pie to “Black Hills gold”, not to mention an utterly insane budget for billboards), 1880 Town (A great place for the kids!), and, my personal favorite, “Nature in Action! Wild Taxidermy Exhibit”.  That last one doesn’t even make sense! I suppose billboards are a fairly effective means for advertising, considering there isn’t really too much out here to look at. Note: Wall Drug’s advertising got the best of us and we couldn’t pass up the opportunity to check it out. If something could scream tourist trip, it would be Wall Drug. It was kind of like a mini mall, built upon a conglomerate of different shops. They all sold cool items, regrettably we spent a little too much time at this place.
While driving we discovered an interesting case of subconscious conditioning. For most of the drive the speed limit is 75. Numerous times we’ve had to make a conscious effort to drive faster than 70. JG- “The only time it feels natural to drive 75 is when I’m speeding back home. Apparently we have been subconsciously programmed to know when we are driving 65, and intuitively cruise control at that speed.

The Badlands
 Perhaps it was due to us arriving at the Badlands in the middle of a heat wave, but we can certainly see how they earned their name.  Trying to live in such inhospitable conditions would be… unpleasant.  Thankfully, we were only there for a day or so.  Heat wave aside, the scenery was beautiful.  One minute you’d feel as though you were caught in a maze, the next you would be gazing upon a huge open vista, grasslands stretching off into the distance, broken up by formations of the striated rock that makes the Badlands so famous.  The formations were painted with a splash of rich colors, ranging from soft pinks to warm red-browns.  It would be easy to assume that nothing can live there, but that was not the case.  We saw countless species of insect, bird, even a ground squirrel (or kind of mouse, not sure), and a small rabbit.  It became easy for us to stare off into the horizon, imagining an ancient land full of bison herds, and even prehistoric mega fauna from the Pleistocene era. We set up camp after briefly checking out a few trails, and then went out to explore more.  A ranger directed us towards “Notch Trail”, which took us longer to find than expected, but resulted in us clambering up a log ladder that went nearly vertical up a cliff.  Our favorite part was climbing back down the ladder.  Good times.  Cooking for the first time was interesting, but surprisingly uneventful with few or no injuries, minus the obnoxious bug bites.  As time passed by the sunset became quite lovely, painting the sky in lovely pastel colors. Then the stars came out, and that was a wonderful site to behold. They were pretty bright, but we know they will be even brighter in the parks we visit in the future.

Sunday, July 17, 2011

States From A Car Window

Let me preface this entry by stating that we have not driven all over each of the following states. We've been traveling on interstates the whole time and so our perspectives will not be a wholly accurate representation for the whole state. Anywho!

New Jersey
Swamped with traffic due to hoards of people heading to the beach. The scenery was so-so, nothing memorable. Well except for the carnage caused by feuding factions of unicorns and ninjas. Okay that may have been a hallucination brought upon us by stifling boredom, or maybe it is a complete lie. >_>  <_<  >_>

First half was more or less the same as New Jersey’s scenic vibe. The second half had a lot of mountainous terrain, which was very pleasing to the eyes. Beautiful landscapes were spotted by patterns of clouds floating above. A couple of tunnels led us deep within the mountains, which was always fun. 

This state’s name is very fun to say, many, many times (Ohhhhh-hio, Ohiooooooo, you get the point). The terrain is pretty flat, which is probably related to the abundance of farmland along the interstate. In our opinion, the entertainment value of state's name was unable to compensate for the lackluster aesthetics of the countryside.

To tell you the truth we had no idea that we entered Indiana until we saw road signs for Indianapolis and Notre Dame. There was no sign to welcome us when we graced the state with our presence. We passed lots of corn fields on our drive. This place kind of reminded us of home, given the abundance of roadkill. One might ask, "Why did the raccoon cross the road?" Answer, "To get hit by a car." 

Just like its neighbor, we didn't notice we were in this state until we saw signs for Chicago accompanied by a very large body of freshwater (We think it's Lake Michigan).Very industrial feel to the drive, we didn't really like it. Traffic in Chicago was horrible, womp womp.That's all I have to say about that.

We liked Wisconsin. We assumed it would be nothing but farms, but we were pleasantly surprised. As soon as we entered the state, we were greeted by luscious green forests and mountainous terrain, with sparsely scattered corn fields clinging to the hillsides. After a while the mountains transformed into a flat expanse of corn and cows, broken up by the occasional clump of trees. Side note, we noticed the tree diversity has already changed from what we are accustomed to back on the East Coast..

This state is pretty much all fields as far as the eye can see, and we don't really mind it. Traffic is light, we go at our own pace. The sunset casts a beautiful hue upon the acres of crops, which would seem endless but for the intermittent stands of trees. One of the perks about this leg of our journey is that we are constantly driving into the setting sun. It is quite majestic.

We are stopping in South Dakota for the night. Badlands tomorrow, weee!

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Frequently Asked Questions

Why did you decide to go on this road trip?
-Because we're men

What are you looking forward to the most?
-Because we're men

Why did you decide to go the National Park route?
-Because we're men

 So there isn't much emphasis on visiting the cities?
-Because we're men

Why did you decide to camp outside most of the time instead of the hotel option?
-Because we're men

Why are you not shaving throughout the duration of the trip?
-Because we're men

Why don't you need to stop and ask for directions?
-Because we're men

What do you believe will be the ramifications of the Arab Spring on the US economic and political stability?
-Because we're men

So I hear you are making a stop-motion film utilizing toys, any reasoning behind this?
-Because we're men

Why do you like getting kicked in the crotch repeatedly?
-Because we're men

Why are you both eating your soups with ginormous spoon utensils?
-Because we're men

Why do you pee standing up?
-Because we're men

Why did the chicken cross the road?
-Because we're men

Why did you bring an axe on your journey?
-Because we're men (and to fight off zombies)

Which would you pick: A) a soft cushioned down comforter B) a boulder
- B, because we're men

Is it true that Chuck Norris asked if you had room for another?
-Yes, because we're men

How come you are not playing in the Women's World Cup USA vs Japan on Sunday?
-Because we're men

Why do birds suddenly appear, every time you are near?
-Because we're men

Why are you driving with a zebra striped, devil horned rubber ducky on your dashboard?
-Because we're men

If you had to pick between a healthy leafy green salad and an arterie clogging meat stew, which would you pick?
-Meat, because we're men

You've been stuck forever on the Turnpike haven't you?