Archive | April 2018

Yellowstone Road Trip 2017: Craters of the Moon NM

Day 9, Tuesday, August 1, 2017

We got up around 6 am and got on the road at about 7:15, since we had a long day ahead of us!  Trying to keep 3 kids quiet while you are packing up tents, brushing teeth, and getting ready to go is tough!  Today was the day we were going to see Craters of the Moon National Monument and Preserve!  Craters of the Moon NM is a relatively little known monument in kind of the middle of nowhere Idaho.  It is really cool though!

Craters of the Moon National Monument and Preserve

Craters protects the site of lava fields and lava tubes that were created by previous volcanic eruptions; it compass three major lava fields and about 400 square miles of sagebrush steppe grasslands. The is 53,571 acres in size.  The three lava fields in the monument are along the Great Rift of Idaho, and have open rift cracks, including the deepest rift crack known on Earth.  It is 800 feet deep! There are examples of almost every kind of basaltic lava, as well as tree molds, (where a cavity is left by a lava-incinerated tree), lava tube caves, and many other volcanic features.  Craters is also known for its excellent wildlife habitat, as many animals survive on the sagebrush grasslands.  This post, however, will not contact much wildlife because it was about 95 degrees on the day of our visit!

Pahoehoe Lava and a Cinder Cone

We went out into the lava fields to hike some of the lava tubes – remember to bring a hat, sunscreen and plenty of water – it was really hot the day we were there!  The above ground hike is 1.6 miles, if you walk to the entrances of each of the lava tubes.  You can also go inside!  Remember, if you want to go into the lava tubes, you have to have a free cave permit; just stop by the Visitor’s Center before you head out, and they will give you one, hassle free.

Me at Craters

Our first lava tube was Indian Tunnel – this is a fairly long lava tube, but has sections where the roof of the tube has collapsed, so part of it is exposed to the sky.  It is really cool!  The cooling lava and the later collapses of the roof left huge lava boulders on the floor of the cave, so you have to scramble over them in order to make it through.  The kids loved it, and even the 5 year could easily do it.  There were lots of pigeons in the shady upper reaches, and we found a lot of chipmunk and other rodent bones in the cave as well.  We left them for the next people to enjoy.

 

 

We also hiked into Beauty Cave and Dewdrop Cave.  Dewdrop Cave is the smallest; it is really just a recess back into the ground, but there is a tucked away section that is pretty dark.  Beauty Cave is relatively short, but completely dark (bring a flashlight). Beauty Cave is suitable for most people, as long as you can enter the cave, you will find that the floor of the cave is smooth and easy to walk on; it doesn’t have all the boulders that are present in the other caves.

My niece and nephew climbing into Dewdrop Cave

Boy Scout Cave is the most challenging of the lava tubes.  It requires crawling and squeezing through tight spots; we debated, but ultimately decided to leave Boy Scout Cave for another trip, and settled for a quick peek at its entrance.

 

The entrance to Boy Scout Cave. We passed

After the caves, we planned on a picnic at one of the picnic tables in the shade.  Where we quickly realized why no one else had snagged the shady spot on such a hot day.  As soon as we got out of the van, we were SWARMED by hornets!  And I mean SWARMED – they were everywhere!  It was so bad that my brother got back in the van to drive it away, while the rest of us followed on foot in hopes that we could lose the hornets and not let any of them into the van.  It was crazy!  Our tactic worked, and we did manage to escape without anyone getting stung.  There was a huge meltdown in the van a little bit later after we discovered a small bug that needed to be let out.  No photos of this hornet cyclone – sorry!

The hornet escapade did prevent us from doing another hike that we had planned on, the Devil’s Orchard Nature Trail, because the trail head had some hornets hanging around the cars, and the kids absolutely refused to get out of the car.  I’m not sure I blame them – perhaps the hornets are why it is called Devil’s Orchard.

 

Me again!

Instead we went to see the Spatter Cones.  There are two miniature volcanoes here, and a third called Snow Cone, just a short walk away.  These cones were created when the volcano spewed blobs of hot lava into the air, mounding into the form of a cone about 2,100 years ago.  These spatter cones are mere babies in the life of geology!  Snow Cone was fascinating, because its crater is so narrow and deep that snow from the winter lasts all year long!  We got to peer down into it and see the remaining snow – on the first of August on a 95 degree day!  We also found a chipmunk enjoying the cooler temperatures of the crater.

 

We headed back to the Visitor’s Center and listened to the Ranger Talk on types of lava.  She explained the differences between cinder cones and spatter cones, as well as black lava versus pahoehoe lava (which gets its name from the Hawai’ian lava flows).  She let us hold lava rocks; some are really heavy and others are way lighter, depending on how dense the rock is – it was a great talk, and everybody enjoyed it.  Of course we got Junior Ranger badges too!

Our stop for the night was at a Sleep Inn in Nampa, Idaho.  It was our first hotel of the trip!  We had talked it over and decided that camping in 90+ degree weather just didn’t sound very appealing, and setting up after our long day of driving seemed like a chore too (who knew Idaho was so wide?). The shower was amazing though!

 

Distance for the Day: Victor, ID – Craters of the Moon NM – Nampa, ID (5 hours, 51 minutes; 341 miles)
Craters of the Moon Entrance Fee: $15 per vehicle for 7 days, free with a National Parks Pass
Sleep Inn: Nampa, ID: $107 per room (includes tax) – free breakfast!

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Yellowstone Road Trip 2017: Grand Teton NP

Day 8, Monday, July 31, 2017

We got up that morning and packed up camp; we were heading out from Yellowstone today, after having arrived the previous Wednesday and spending 5 nights there camping!  I was ready for departure way earlier than the rest of the family so after I broke down my camp, I went and took a shower, got ice for the cooler, washed the dishes and waited.

Our destination for the day was south and then west.  We actually weren’t sure where we would be stopping for the night!  We stopped by the Canyon Visitor’s Center to get our Junior Ranger booklets checked out and get our badges.  Yep – I did it with the kids!  We all took our oaths, and got our swag – a wooden pin on badge, a sew on patch (mine was a bison, but there is also a bear and a geyser), and a sticker!

 

Badges and Patches and Stickers, Oh My!

On our way south through the Hayden Valley there were actually quite a few bison roaming!  This was a big contrast from the previous day when we had gone through – seeing almost no bison at all!  It just reminds you that it pays to not give up on a place!

 

Bison Herd, Hayden Valley

 

Bison, Hayden Valley

We stopped by Grant Village for sandwiches for lunch and checked out the Visitor’s Center there – I got stamps for my passport!  We learned about the fires in the park at the exhibit too; Yellowstone has had a number of fires over the years, in all areas of the park.  Most seem to be started by lightning, but some are caused by careless humans.

We then headed out of the park, and drove south to Grand Teton National Park.  We stopped at the Colter Bay Visitor’s Center, where the kids enjoyed playing on the edge of the lake.  I liked watching the boats, and seeing the swallows swoop down and skim across the lake catching bugs!

Colter Bay Marina – Grand Teton NP

 

catching bugs at Colter Bay

Our next destination was the Cunningham Cabin.  I had visited in 2016, but I was happy to see it again!  The cabin has an interesting history, complete with horse thieving and shootouts!  You can read about it here – as I detailed the story after my previous visit.  The kids enjoyed it and we all loved seeing the elk that were eating grass in the fields in the distance beyond the cabin.  It was so beautiful with the Teton mountain backdrop!  This area is truly stunning.

We drove down to the Gros Ventre Road, which I had been told was good habitat for moose spotting, but once again there were no moose.  My brother talked to a fisherman though, who said they frequently hung out at the river near the Craig Thomas Discovery and Visitor Center.  We backtracked a bit and checked it out – I was already excited when we spotted a big Bald Eagle on the riverbank, but then we saw a huge Bull Moose!  He was gorgeous!  He lay down in the river right after we got there, so I don’t have any photos of him standing, but wow!  He was an amazing sight!  Everybody was really excited to see him and we watched for a while.  We also saw a couple of Brewer’s Blackbirds perched on a branch in the river, watching for food.

Upon leaving the park, we headed out a small unmarked road to see if we could spot a bit more wildlife, but our sightings were limited to deer, birds and cattle.  It turned out to be Highway 390 – the Moose Wilson Road.  It was fun though – small and curvy, with one lane sections – we saw a couple wildlife tour vehicles heading in the other direction, so it was obviously a good spot usually!

We headed west through Teton Pass and ended up at the Teton Valley RV Resort in Victor, Idaho.  They had a pool, so we had spaghetti for dinner and then went swimming.

Teton Valley RV Resort

We also almost cried when we couldn’t find a corkscrew to open a bottle of wine.  I had accidentally purchased a bottle with a cork instead of a screw cap and we had forgotten to bring a corkscrew!  My two nieces had been fighting after swimming (I think it was an argument about who was wearing whose shirt – important things, you know), and they got grounded to sit alone at separate picnic tables.  There was a lot of pouting and whining, and trying to butter up the adults, so we really needed that wine!  Fortunately, my brother saved the day and was able to get the cork out with his knife.  YAY!  Otherwise I might have been ready to start drinking whisky!

Other than the girls pouting, we had a great evening!  Something about sitting around a picnic table with a lantern and booze soothes the soul.

 

Distance for the Day:  Canyon Campground Yellowstone – Grand Teton National Park – Victor, ID (3 hrs, 52 min; 141 miles)
Fees: Grand Teton Entrance Fee – $30 per vehicle for 7 days, free with a National Parks Pass (our route on the east side of the park kept us out of the area of the park that charges a fee, but if you want to see the West side of the park, including Jenny Lake, you have to pay)
Teton Valley RV Resort, Victor, Idaho: $25 per night for a tent site

Book Review: Alexander Hamilton

Wow – this book is a comprehensive digest of Alexander Hamilton’s life.  Written by Ron Chernow, it begins with his childhood in the British West Indies – the city of Charlestown on the island of Nevis.  It goes into detail on the troubled life of his mother and his illegitimate birth, to his rise to fame in the budding United States Government.

Hamilton was a genius, clearly, and in many ways a man of contradictions.

Hamilton was taken in by a wealthy merchant after his mother died, and was sent to the United States as a teenager to pursue his education.  It was there that he volunteered for the Continental Army, became a top aide to General Washington, and set his life on a trajectory that made him one of the most influential and polarizing of the Founding Fathers.

George Washington had a lot of respect for his young aide’s opinions and advice, and the two developed a long-standing friendship that was interrupted only once by Hamilton’s impulsive distancing of himself for a period of time in order to pursue his career – he wanted to get into the action of the war, and Washington felt he was invaluable as an aide.

Hamilton was very influential in getting the US Constitution ratified, which wasn’t an easy process.  He was Secretary of the Treasury in the Washington cabinet, and was responsible for the founding of the national banking system, and many of the economic policies of the Washington Administration.  He was a founding member of the Federalist Party.  He implemented tariffs to raise money to cover the debts remaining from the Revolutionary War, and wrote the Federalist Papers, which shaped opinions on many government and economic topics.

It isn’t any secret that Hamilton died in perhaps the most famous duel in history.  Which is interesting, because his son died in a duel, fought with the same dueling pistols, a few years previously.  After that duel, Hamilton was open about his changing opinion about dueling.   Yet when he was challenged by Burr, he still couldn’t bring himself to step away – instead he further inflamed the feud.

Chernow goes into great detail about Hamilton’s life, both personal and professional.  It is clear that he has done his research, and he is fairly candid about Hamilton’s flaws.  In my opinion he does let his pro-Hamilton, anti-Jefferson-Adams-Madison-Burr bias show a smidge more than he ought to.  It did serve to highlight how divisive our Founding Fathers really were.  Which is probably good to remember when we consider the current political sentiment.

This is an excellent read – and Chernow’s style kept me interested even through a lot of dry detail on banking, political wrangling over the location of the capital, and other similar topics.  It is well researched, well written, and shed a lot of light on a statesman I had never explored much before.  It was certainly a worthwhile read.

 

Oliver’s Bedtime

Oliver is enjoying his time spent cuddling with me more and more.  He sleeps the sleep of the dead at night…  The other night he was lying down, waiting for me to finish folding the laundry and go to bed.  I tucked the duvet up around him and he just stayed like this.  What a cutie! 

 

 

 

 

Yellowstone Road Trip 2017: Springs and Falls

Day 7, Sunday, July 30, 2017

Sunday was our last full day in Yellowstone, so we tried to see some of the sights that we hadn’t yet made it to.  We started out by driving over the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone, which is not far from the Canyon Campground where we were staying.  We stopped for a short hike at the Brink of the Upper Falls – you can hike down to the viewpoint and watch the waterfall cascade over the brink.

The Yellowstone River at the Brink of the Upper Falls

 

Me at the Brink of the Upper Falls

 

Our next stop was Artist Point.  Artist Point is just that – a viewpoint with amazing opportunities for beautiful paintings and photography of the Lower Falls.  Interestingly, its name was a mistake.  F. Jay Haynes, Yellowstone photographer in the 1890s, thought that this was the place where Thomas Moran painted his famous paintings of the Lower Falls in 1872.  It wasn’t – that distinction belongs to Moran Point on the north rim – which is now called Lookout Point.  Despite the confusion – go – it is beautiful!

Me with the Lower Falls

 

Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone

We stopped at the Gibbon Meadows picnic area for lunch.  It is right along the Gibbon River, which quietly meanders along at that point.  The kids played on the banks of the river for a little while we got lunch ready; peanut butter wrap sandwiches.  Super-FANCY!

Next up after lunch was the Midway Geyser Basin; we went to Grand Prismatic Spring.  I had been there the year before with my mom, so it was neat to go again!  I do have to admit that it was pretty nerve-wracking following my nieces and nephew around on that boardwalk crowded with people and the hot, hot, water right there!  It is probably not considered acceptable to have 10, 8 and 5 year olds on leashes?  There is a new trail that leads up to an overlook above Grand Prismatic Spring; it is about a mile long.  We were going to hike up that trail to get a different perspective, but we weren’t able to find it!  Granted, we didn’t look that hard either.  So the overlook above Grand Prismatic Spring remains on the list of things to do next time I am in Yellowstone!

Grand Prismatic Spring

We visited Gibbon Falls; the signs explain that Gibbon Falls in right on the edge of the caldera that was created with the volcanic eruption 640,000 years ago.  If you go south from Gibbon Falls, you travel into the caldera.  If you go north, you move out of the caldera.  Even though you can’t see the caldera, it was interesting to ponder driving through a giant volcanic crater.  I walked down to get a view of the falls, where it promptly started to hail!  Yep, that’s right, it seemed we weren’t going to get away from the terrible rain on this trip!  By the time we got back to the car, all of us were soaked – right down to sloshy shoes.  We all took our shoes and socks off even – except my poor brother, who was driving.

Gibbon Falls

On our drive back to camp, we went up north through the Mammoth Hot Springs and Tower areas of the park once again.  The wildlife spotting was amazing!  In just a short period of time, driving on the road, we saw two Sandhill cranes, a coyote, and believe or not, two mules.  Of course, the mules were obviously domestic animals who escaped, but they managed to get away without their halters. I can only hope that they were caught soon enough.

Back at camp, we saw a giant bull elk hanging out.  He was injured, so he likely sought refuge in the relative safety of a campground – wolves and bears likely stay further away than the middle of camp.  He was eating and relaxing, and hopefully it was just a temporary injury.

Dinner that evening was spaghetti and meatballs with my aunt and uncle, and my sister-in-law’s mom, sister, niece and nephew.  Why do we not have better familial names for our in-laws’ families? I digress. We hung out around the campfire, and had birthday donuts in honor of my niece’s birthday.  What a fun day!

 

Distance for the Day: Driving within park
Canyon Campground, Yellowstone National Park: $30 per night for a tent site

Yellowstone Road Trip 2017: Mammoth Hot Springs

Day 6, Saturday, July 29, 2017

After spending quite a bit of time at the Lamar Valley watching all of the wildlife, coffee was in order, so we headed over to the Tower area to see Tower Falls.  There is a small Ranger Station there too that has its own stamp!  It also had a nice visual of the wolf packs in the park, so you can tell which pack you are watching.  Outside there was a beautiful deer just begging to be photographed!

Mule Deer in the Tower Area

Tower Fall has a 132 foot drop, where it then joins with the confluence of the Yellowstone River.  It was named in 1928 for the large rock formations at the top of the fall that look like towers.  There is an overlook, or you can hike down a half mile to the base of the falls.  We didn’t hike down to it, but it is certainly on the to-do list; the view looks like it is fantastic!  Tower Fall has a General Store too, perfect for a coffee pick-me-up after an early morning!

Tower Fall

Did you know that Yellowstone National Park has petrified wood?  It even has a petrified tree – still standing!  We stopped for a look; it is just a short walk from the parking area.  While there we also saw a Uinta Ground Squirrel!  These little guys are so cute!  We also saw a group trail riding on horseback – that would be a fun way to see the park sometime.

 

Petrified Wood at Yellowstone

 

Uinta Ground Squirrel

 

Trail Riders

 

We were ready for lunch by the time we hit the Fort Yellowstone picnic area.  More Uinta Ground Squirrels were popping up out of their burrows on the lawn!

Uinta Ground Squirrel

A visit to Mammoth Hot Springs and a walk on the raised boardwalk was next – I was glad to give this area a bit more attention since my mom and I hadn’t stopped here on our previous trip the year before.  I loved the travertine terraces – they are stunning!  They have been formed over thousands of years, as heated spring water carries calcium carbonate and deposits it as it cools.  The travertine is white, but the algae in the thermal water creates brown, orange, red and green features.

The kids enjoyed wandering on the boardwalks, but I think they got a little bored by the terraces; I didn’t though – the view was gorgeous!  My one niece was a little grumpy, so we started pointing out poop piles to her – because there are few more effective ways to annoy a pre-teen girl…  The kids were troopers though and we went all the way to the top of the lower terraces, despite the heat.

 

Violet-Green Swallows at Mammoth Hot Springs

 

Our drive back to camp took us south, where we stopped at Sheepeater Cliff – a columnar formation. It is really cool to see!

Sheepeater Cliff

 

Ground Squirrel at Sheepeater Cliff

We wandered a little bit along the river there too.  We saw people swimming in the Firehole River on the drive back too; this is one of the few river areas where you are permitted to swim.

We got back to camp and I took a nap in my tent during yet another rainstorm.  There is something very peaceful about the patter of raindrops on the rain fly as you sleep…  It didn’t last all night though, and we had a campfire after dinner – the family hung out and roasted marshmallows.  Perfect!

Distance for the Day: Driving within park
Canyon Campground, Yellowstone National Park: $30 per night for a tent site