Sunday, August 08, 2010

Tales from the Wild, Wild West...

We had the craziest and most fantastic vacation in the Wild, Wild West! After flying into Salt Lake City, UT we stopped for lunch in the middle of nowhere somewhere in Idaho where the headline news story was about graffitti. Enough said :)

We spent the first night in a quaint town in Montana just outside of Yellowstone. The next morning we bought an annual family pass for all National Parks in the US for only $80 (which we thought was a total bargain:)) and went to Yellowstone National Park for the day. Yellowstone is apparently bigger than either of the states of Rhode Island or Delaware -we had no idea! For those of you that have been to the park, we did the "lower loop" and got to see some of the most amazing nature I think I've ever seen. Within minutes of arriving we saw elk grazing by a river...

...and my very first chipmunk sighting!

Over half of the world's georthermal features are in Yellowstone, including the famous "Old Faithful." Hot springs are bubbling boiling water and mud around every turn.

 Depending on the specific minerals and/or clay - some of the colors of the hot springs are wild. This was our favorite at Artist Paintpots which we thought was hysterical for some reason :)

Yellowstone has it's very own "Grand Canyon" which is totally breathtaking...

A guy with a telescope showed us an osprey and her two chicks in the canyon:

This deer let Maddy get so close to take photos:

We were really surprised to see a 2000lb bison this close to the road...

...until we turned a corner and realized that there are literally hundreds of them everywhere!

Maddy found another deer who would sit for a photo opportunity...


We ended the day with the famous 'Old Faithful' geyser which erupts every 60-90 mins. The rangers can predict the next one to the nearest minute. There are several geysers at Yellowstone around Old Faithful, each with something different that made them special.

As we hiked the geyser basin we got lucky and saw three more eruptions. One of them soaked us and we smelled like sulphur afterwards :).

Old Faithful erupted again as we left which was a perfect way to end such a perfect day:)

We decided to leave Yellowstone just as it was getting dark but misread our map. We didn't realize if you leave Yellowstone via the south exit you actually enter the Grand Teton National Park which is also enourmous. So that's how we ended up in the middle of the mountains with no cell batteries in the pitch dark for what seemed like the longest couple of hours of our lives. The roads (which are more like trails) were completely unlit and the trees and mountains looked so spooky at night. Every few miles a random elk or deer appeared on the road. We stopped at one of the lodges and tried to book a room in the park itself but there were no rooms available in the whole park. Eventually we managed to get out safely and luckily found a room in nearby Jackson. We went back into Grand Teton National Park the next day and couldn't imagine how it had seemed so scary the night before - it is just one of the prettiest places I have ever seen!

We started the day at an abandoned ghost town called "Mormon Row" which is in Grand Teton National Park itself. The town was established in 1896 and abandoned about 20 years later due to the fact that the settlers were unable to successfully irrigate the land. There is one remaining resident who is a direct descendent from the original Mormon pioneers. He gave us the history on the area and we took pictures of the abandoned buildings including John Moulter Barn - one of the most photographed buildings in the area.

We had lunch and then hiked the waterside trail at Lake Teton. I ate wild huckleberries on the way.

There were signs everwhere telling us to be "Bear Aware." Despite the fact that we literally couldn't have been more "Bear Aware" we didn't see one. Maddy thinks that "the nature show people must be taping steaks to their cars."

We did see plenty of Uinta squirrels though...

 The next day we hit the road and drove through some more beautiful scenery in Wyoming and Utah. We stopped for lunch at a crazy little place that had a shrine to Kenny Rogers and went looking for a bull moose that evidently wanders the town river. We didn't find it so we had literally been sent on a wild 'moose' chase:). We arrived at our hotel just as a massive storm hit the town with the biggest hailstones I have ever seen. It was just like the Twister ride at Universal Studios!

The next morning Mike was mistaken for Anthony Bordain at the hotel. Some woman grabbed him yelling "it's you, it's you - I watch your show all the time!" Mike wasn't amused since he's about 50 something but it made me and Maddy giggle the whole morning :). We then went to Bryce Canyon  - which isn't strictly a canyon at all since it wasn't created by a river apparently. After the short movie at the visitors center, we hiked the Navajo trail to get an upclose view of the finger-like structures throughout the canyon caused by erosion called "hoodoos". There's a native American Indian legend that each of the hoodoos was once a person who has been petrified by the trickster coyote.

I fell in love with the endangered Utah prairie dogs that live in the park.

We stayed that night in the town of Kanab, nicknamed the "Little Hollywood" of the West due to the number of famous movies that have been filmed in the surrounding area such as Planet of the Apes and the Exorcist in addition to many westerns. Mike had stayed here with his Dad six years ago and took us to some of the places that Poppop had loved on their visit.

In the morning we drove out to Paria, originally a ghost town and later a movie set location. The town had been founded originally by Mormon pioneers in 1865 and grew to 47 families at it's height. The desert terrain and flooding of the local river made life difficult and so most of the original families abandoned the town. Then in the early 1900s, a small mine was built here during the gold rush, but this was also flooded. The deserted ghost town "that never hit it big" was discovered by film makers and several movies and TV shows were made here such as Outlaw Josie Wales and Gunsmoke. A bigger movie set had to be constructed for the Three Sergeants to add to the existing remains. Some interpretive signs were added to help tourists distinguish between the new and original buildings but the new movie set was sadly burned down by vandals in 2006.

We had to walk down to the old town site since the roads were very shaky and we weren't sure that the car would be able to make it out...

The burned out set and an old building...

I don't think I've ever been in the middle of a desert with nothing around for miles before...

In the afternoon we drove to the South rim of the Grand Canyon. As we arrived someone was being airlifted out by helicopter. We asked the ranger what was going on and he said that people have to be taken to hospital every few days or so which, given the number of visitors, is still very rare. He also said that generally medical emergencies are due to over-exersion on the trails since you are at such high elevations and only about 1-2 deaths occur per year due to falls with the majority due to suicide or stupidity. Almost almost all falls are fatal for obvious reasons.

Anyway, despite the size (the Grand Canyon is a mile deep, 18 miles across and 277 miles long which is the same as London-Newcastle or NYC-Boston), I felt very safe and calm up there, and even ventured out beyond the rim a little. We held on tight to Maddy though :)

This photo made me and Mike smile when we saw what was written on Maddy's shirt:)

As we left the Grand Canyon we saw a coyote in the forest which didn't turn us into a hoodoo...

In the evening we arrived in the beautiful town of Sedona just in time for sunset. The next morning the headline news story was about an 18-year-old Frenchman who had indeed fallen over the rim at the Grand Canyon the previous day but luckily had survived a 75-foot fall with only broken bones.

For our last day we visited some of the Sedona energy "vortices." According to the New Agers, there are tornado-shaped energy fields at specific locations "where the earth breathes". Many of these are in and around Sedona. So, we picked out three of the most significant ones, changed our names to Mikra, Clarity and Medona and tried to connect with our inner chokras...

We climbed to the top of Airport Mesa and watched the New Agers meditating on the mountainside.

If you compare the next two pictures you can see how far up Bell Rock we went before it started to rain. Maddy is a great little rock climber!

Now I'm not sure if it was the power of an "energy vortex," the steep climb, the beautiful view, or the fact that we were standing on a big, slippy, red rock at very high altitudes in the 100 degree heat, but I can tell you that my heart was certainly beating faster than usual :)

Sedona has the only McDonalds in the world that does not have the famous yellow arches. Evidently they thought that yellow clashed with the red rock so they compromised on turquoise!

In the afternoon we drove to Jerome, once known as the "wickedest town in the Wild West!" Originally a copper mining town, Jerome was once the fifth largest city in Arizona with over 15 thousand residents and notorious as a hotbed of drinking, gambling and prostitution. They suffered multiple fires and ultimately the town was abalndoned after the mines closed in the 1950s. Today there are about 400 residents and many of the buildings have been restored and converted into stores for tourists to visit.

An elderly couple that have lived in Jerome since 1973 and remembered the mining days from their childhood invited us into their home and showed us their photos. The old man is very proud of his car which sits in the original garage up on the mountain. They were so helpful and adorable:)

To finish up our amazing trip, we had the genius idea of dropping off the laundry to be washed and folded on our last day. At the end of a busy vacation covering over 2300 miles - this was one of my happiest sights of the week :)

Hope you enjoyed the trip - now we have to prepare ourselves for Middle School in two weeks when things really get crazy :)