Monday, September 20, 2010

Yellowstone & Grand Teton National Parks

I left Dillon early last week and headed into Yellowstone. And, let's just say that Yellowstone and I didn't get off to a great start. I arrived sometime around noon, which is usually plenty of time to get a lay of the land and find a place to camp. But that didn't happen and I ended up driving an additional 2 hours to the other side of the park to find a campsite in Shoshone National Forest. Not a good way to welcome a wayfaring traveler. I spent a total of 4 days in Yellowstone and then 2 days in the Tetons before making my way down to the other Jackson, where I am currently plugged in at Jackson Hole Roasters.

Okay, so Yellowstone is pretty iconic, so it had to be on my route. But I am not in any rush to return for several reasons:
  • The whole place smells like rotten eggs, thanks to the crazy geological mystery that are sulphur geysers.
  • Traffic is comparable to Boston (not quite like Vietnam, thank god), except composed almost entirely of RVs and oversized SUVs. And this is mid-week after Labor Day. God help you if you go there in July or August.
  • A word on RVs: They are all named something. Some are quite pleasant (The Chalet, Sightseer), some almost depressing (Sunsetter), and some prophetic (The Clipper almost ran me off the road while I was biking the other day).
  • You can wake up to the sound of male elk bugling, which in theory sounds like it'd be rather nice. However, as a good friend put it, "I don't understand who decided it was 'bugling.' It sounds more like those headless ghost things in that movie about Hobbits and Elves" (she was referencing Lord of the Rings). It's a rather creepy sound and it's hard to believe that is their mating call. But then again, I don't know what Marvin Gaye sounds like to elk...
  • Bison in Yellowstone are how I imagine cows are in India - everywhere and always given the right-of-way, which means they constantly cause traffic jams. I never knew I would come to dislike a species of wildlife so quickly.
On this entire trip I have been lucky enough to see plenty of wildlife (although, I am sure to Captain Saftey's pleasure, no grizzly bears). The wildlife includes the following: pika on Mount Elbert, a few dozen dolphins off the coast of Santa Monica beach, harbor seals on the northern coast of California, a black bear on Mt. Hood, Roosevelt Elk in the Redwoods, 2 black bear in the Olympics, 2 yellow-bellied marmots in Olympics, mountain goats in Glacier, a mamma and her 2 black bear cubs in Glacier, pronghorn antelope in Montana, bison, elk, mule deer in Yellowstone, a coyote that literally snuggled with my wool hat that I accidentally dropped on the trail in Yellowstone, and two moose along the Cascade Canyon in the Tetons.

Despite not getting along well with Yellowstone, I LOVED the Tetons. I camped at Jenny Lake, which is for tents only and as soon as I arrived I let out a sigh of relief. Finally, I was surrounded by my kind of people - the ones who come to the woods to actually be outside. The first day I took an 8 mile hike and a 18ish mile bike ride on a paved trail. The second day I took an 18 mile hike followed by a 8ish mile bike ride. Talk about a marriage of my favorite things...

I am, sadly, done with the woods for at least a week. I am in Jackson until Wednesday, when I drive to Denver. From there it's either Maine, North Carolina, or Mississippi. Yes, I know - none of those destinations is remotely close to Colorado, nor to each other. I am buckling down on planning the next international trip, so if you (or someone you know) has info on Central or South America, please let me know!

Hiked up Mount Washburn in Yellowstone

The Grand Canyon of Yellowstone from Artist Point


Sunrise over Yellowstone Lake. I had to wake up this early to snag camping spots.

The Tetons

Biking in the Tetons. My kind of place.

Cascade Canyon

Lake Solitude

Monday, September 13, 2010

6 Months In and More To Go

Three days ago (September 10th) marked my 6-month anniversary of leaving DC and the old life behind. It is hard to believe it has already been 6 months and there are (hopefully) at least that many left ahead. But so far, I haven't tired of life on the road. I get antsy when I stay in one place for more than 3 nights (which hasn't happened since July something, by the way). Some folks have restless leg syndrome, I appear to have restless adventure syndrome. Life is outrageously good.

I am writing from a small coffee shop in Dillon, Montana, hometown of one fabulous rugger friend from college whose parents are generously hosting me for two nights in between Glacier and Yellowstone/Tetons adventures. As a recap: from Portland I drove to Seattle to pickup another hostage over Labor Day weekend and headed to the Olympic Peninsula for a backpacking trip. After recouping in Seattle for a couple of nights I headed east to Montana. I spent a few nights and days in Glacier hiding from grizzly bears and then worked my way to Dillon in southwest Montana. And, as always, more musings below:
  • Fog and general grey weather make cities look grungier. It seems to me that the whole "grunge" image of Seattle isn't about the music or people, but entirely created by the cloud that seems to hang over the city.
  • Portland, Oregon is a city of my people. Any town that is essentially obsessed with coffee, beer, bicycling, and the great outdoors can win me over as quick as a Yankee walks (that is fast, by the way). In fact, when I was in Portland they were having one of their monthly First Thursdays where we obtained both free beer and free food. Say no more.
  • If you ever happen to be driving across the state of Washington, do not be duped by the signs for free coffee at the rest stops. It will make you want to swear off anything called coffee ever again. It makes Waffle House coffee seem like Pete's. I'm still spitting it out.
  • For all those who say the stimulus package isn't doing anything, I can personally attest to the fact that there are people employed reconstructing what seems like every road I take. Thank you, President Obama, for slowing down my state traversal.
  • After being inundated with warnings from Captain Safety I invested in a bear bell to wear while hiking. So far, I have not been eaten by a bear while solo hiking so I suppose it is working. But it has the unfortunate side-effect of making me feel as if I should always hear a ringing in my ear. Life out of the wilderness seems eerily quiet.
  • In Montana, a store must sell three essential items to be called a "general store:" guns, liquor and beach balls. Why this land-locked state loves beach balls in their general stores, I know not, but alas there they are.
  • Dear Montana, I think you should meet my cell-provider, AT&T. Clearly, you two are unacquainted...
  • "Taking a float down the river" sounds like easy work, right? Well, you've clearly never volunteered to oar while someone is fly fishing off the stern, have you? It was a beautiful day in Montana and my gracious hosts took me out for a Montana experience. It was certainly fun, but oaring a little boat down a river that likes to push you into the rocky banks ain't just a "float."
    Camping spot on 3-day backpacking trip in Olympic National Park

    Hannah "Sauce" Wadsworth, my second official hostage on our backpacking trip

    Grinell Glacier

    Hiking up to Granite Park in Glacier National Park

    This photo is real, I promise. Glacier.

    Morning sky in Glacier from the Many Glacier campground

    I may have forgotten to zoom out before I tried the self-shot. Still, it's a pretty park.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Big Trees and a Word on the Weekend

As far as I can tell, the rumors about the Pacific Northwest are true: there are big trees and there is plenty of fog.

My recent hostage and I left Berkeley a week ago and drove north on 101. We drove to Portland via Redwoods National and State Parks, the Oregon coast, and Mt. Hood National Forest. We're staying with another Bowdoin-ite and are ever-grateful for his offerings of shelter and shower. I plan on being in Portland for a couple of days before jetting up to Seattle to take my next hostage, this one to accompany me into Olympic National Park over the long weekend. A word on showers, weekends, and other musings below:
  • Okay, okay, I know. I've always known. Redwoods are big trees. I've seen the pictures of people driving their cars through the trunk. I even had the National Geographic centerfold pin-up of that gorgeous Redwood on my wall in my last apartment. But still they are something you have to see in person to really comprehend. The Redwoods are so big, in fact, that they pretty much blocked out my satellite radio for the entire time we were driving through them. Might I recommend creating a mix CD or an iPod playlist before entering into the Redwood Forest via automobile...
  • Perhaps it is the long hours in the car that makes me more susceptible to crack up about something, but I find that signs for signs hilarious. In a number of places up Route 101 there will be a sign on the road that will say the following: "Information Sign 1/4 mile." I know we're in a recession and all and we're trying to create jobs for people, but these signs seem a tad excessive.
  • Weekends are wretched. I hate them. I know you don't understand because you're likely reading this from your little cubicle in some big office building counting down the hours until Friday releases you into the upcoming long weekend. When I left DC I had a realization that basically my life is now Saturday after Saturday - and what a wonderful feeling that was! But as a camper in national and state parks of late, I have come to loathe Saturday. The problem with Saturday is that everyone else wants to come hang out in the woods, too. This means my choice of campsites becomes limited (or eliminated entirely in some cases), there are obnoxious children riding circles around the parking lots on noise-making bicycles, and inevitably there is more traffic on the road. I would love nothing more than Tuesday to be put on repeat until I am finished with this excursion.
  • I have learned along the road that while campfire smoke is, in my opinion, a lovely smell, it only does so much when acting as a perfume to cover up other hiking odor. If my only goal on this trip were to really come to appreciate cleanliness, then I'd consider mission accomplished. This would be in the W-kind-of-way with a banner and all, not the Obama-kind-of-way where it is a rather sophisticated argument about what success really means. No big words here: I appreciate a shower - it is perhaps the greatest achievement of civilization.

The land of really really big trees

The Pacific Ocean was a steady companion on my left side from L.A. to Portland

Made it to Oregon

I knew I would like Oregon when the first place we stopped into had this sign posted by the counter

Sunset on the Oregon coast