Baby Bison, don't tread on that pretty flower...

Baby Bison, don't tread on that pretty flower...
Custer State Park, SD; June, 2010

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Columbia, TN, United States
I am a Christian, married over 43 years to my gorgeous first wife; in 13th year as professor of education at Martin Methodist College in Pulaski, TN; 4 children and 9 grandchildren.

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Thursday, June 3, 2010

My Road Trip West: Highlights of Days 1-12

Day 1, Thursday, May 13 (lucky 13). We left at about 1:30 a.m. since sleep didn’t seem to be around the corner. We drove the 1,050 miles to Hobbs, NM, for a wonderful BBQ dinner with Kara and the twins and some playtime with Alyna and Ryan. The downside was that Tyler had forgotten his credit card/trip money and we hadn’t received the doctor’s letter that would get us the All Access Pass for free admission to national parks and monuments along the way. Additionally, my car now needed an oil change. Those things would have to wait until tomorrow…thanks, Scarlett.
Day 2, Friday, May 14. Had the car to Wal-Mart (who would’ve thought NM would be that similar to TN) for the oil change at 7 a.m. Received the FAXed letter from the Doc at Staples; Bank America solved the “money” challenge with a Columbia, TN deposit and a Hobbs, NM withdrawal (thanks to our lovely and gracious wives cooperating well back home). We were on our way to our first scenic stop by mid-morning. We took the 2½ self-guided tour of Carlsbad Caverns NP after eating a lunch of veggies and tuna salad in the parking lot. Took many photos of the lovely, intricate stalagmites (“g” for up from ground) and stalactites (“c” for down from ceiling). We then drove through NM and stopped for the night at an interstate rest area in AZ just short of Petrified Forest NP (our next scenic stop).
Day 3, Saturday, May 15. We had slept/rested intermittently in the cool car (temp not fashion) beside the signage warning of snakes and scorpions in the rest area until about 6 a.m. and then pressed on looking for breakfast…found it at a Denny’s in Holbrook, AZ. Toured Petrified Forest and Painted Desert, had Subway for lunch, stopped at Hubell Trading Post, then the amazing Canyon de Chelly on the Navajo Indian reservation finishing he days glorious red-rocks with Monument Valley (of John Wayne cavalry movie fame). Found an “almost-reasonably-priced” motel in Kayenta, AZ for the night. Went to bed about 8 p.m. with a shower but no supper (by choice not punishment – one of my goals was to return after 2 weeks weighing no more than the 199 my scale said when I began – by the way, I made that goal exactly).
Day 4, Sunday, May 16. Awoke refreshed at 4 a.m. Washed containers of veggies and tuna; cell and camera batteries all charged. Left for the Grand Canyon National Park at 5:50 a.m. Stopped at the Little Colorado River overlook for photos. Upon entering Grand Canyon, we saw a coyote (our first “real” wildlife). Had a great breakfast at the park lodge buffet. We had been listening to the contemporary Christian music group Vocal Union all morning – like having old friends joining us for a worshipful morning. After pondering a few scriptures about Christ’s death, we partook of the Lord’s Supper at the Navajo Overlook on the East Entrance Road inside GCNP. Marvelous view of God’s amazing creation. Saw a condor basking in the sun on a lower trestle of the Navajo bridges over the Colorado River in northern AZ. After a stop at Wally World (W M) in Hurricane, UT, we entered Zion Canyon National Park. First we went through the looonngg tunnel and saw the majestic mountains toward the east entrance. We then went back to the main area of the park and hopped onto the free shuttle scenic canyon. As twilight was approaching we say 2 bucks and several wild turkey from the bus windows. Later, on a short hike, we found 5 more deer right on the trail. We left the park after dark and found a rest area on I-15 near Cedar City, UT, for a cold night beginning about 10 p.m.
Day 5, Monday, May 17. Up at about 5 a.m. for gas and another Denny’s breakfast; on the way to Bryce Canyon NP (discovered on the way that Cedar Breaks National Monument was closed (snowbound). There was still some snow in Bryce making it more picturesque than it even normally is. The best way to describe it is a red/pink/orange pinnacled castle-wonderland. Saw one pronghorn (there are no “antelope” in America – only in Africa; all of ours are technically pronghorns – related toe antelope and even with that taxonomically scientific name), 10 deer, and a prairie dog town (complete with lookout dogs). Passed through Capital Reef NP, onto the cliffs surrounding Lake Powell (dammed CO River). After supper at the A & W in Blanding, UT, we drove through Canyonlands NP, and on to Moab, UT. Spent the night in a cabin at an RV park (no motels left in town at even close to our price range) for a good night’s sleep and a shower (whether we needed it or not).
Day 6, Tuesday, May 18. After 8 hours sleep we were out by 6 a.m. wanting to catch the sunrise at Arches NP. This was a park of spectacular formations, flowers, and sunlight breaking through the storm clouds. We drove from UT to CO and back to UT on our way to Dinosaur National Monument. That was a bust since the quarry had been shut down for building collapse in 2006 and never reopened. We headed into WY passed the Flaming Gorge Recreation Area...beautiful country with impressive storms. Counted over 100 pronghorns and an osprey in a nest on a pole outside Pinedale, WY. Stopped for the night about 13 miles south of Jackson Hole, WY, in a not-yet-open national forest campground (although we parked next to the open restroom (important priority for car camping) and the other two patrons already camped out there. It was 9 p.m. with a light rain falling and the temp hovering at 44 degrees. The heavy cloud cover would hopefully prevent a major temperature drop. It did!
Day 7, Wednesday, May 19. After a potty break we hit the road to Jackson at 5:14 a.m. Perused the town until Bubba’s opened for breakfast. Checked in early to the Motel 6 and set out to see the sights of the awesome Grand Teton NP. Traveling on the Gros Ventre Road just east of the mountains, we saw lots of bison with calves, pronghorn, one moose and had a flat tire. Realizing that was why Tyler was along…he changed the tire. We went back to Big O Tires (next door to the Motel 6) and got that fixed. Then we off to the park and saw the Chapel of Transfiguration, a frozen Jenny Lake, String Lake, Jackson Lake (partially frozen), huddled pelicans, beaver, and numerous elk and bison. Mountain tops were quite secluded by clouds. Hopefully this would improve tomorrow. (It did!) Ate supper in the motel room and then went back out. Tyler was learning that the best time to see wildlife was the hours after sunrise and before sunset. We saw 5 bull elk on a hillside, a coyote, 4 bull moose along with lots of bison, elk, and pronghorn. After a brief stop at K-mart, we were in bed by 9 a.m. and comfy.
Day 8, Thursday, May 20. We slept late…until 5:45 a.m. Then showered and breakfasted at Bubba’s feeling great with blue sky dawning. Viewed the Tetons with low clouds hanging in the valleys and tops intermittently clear. Saw bison and elk by the herd. Dropped by the Chapel of Transfiguration for a better look. Visited the Sassy Moose B & B where Tyler honeymooned over a decade ago. Then went shop to gallery to shop around downtown Jackson Hole (yes, the antler arches are still at all 4 corners of the square). Toured the National Wildlife Museum then a few hours at the motel while Tyler did some laundry. Back out for the late evening wildlife viewing. Saw bison, moose, elk, pronghorn, and beaver; but only a mediocre sunset over the Tetons as it cleared a little too much. In bed by 10 p.m. in order to get an early start for Yellowstone.
Day 9, Friday, May 21. Up at 4 a.m. and heading into YNP by 5 a.m. Sunrise shots of the Tetons and Snake River valley, elk and bison. Self-guided tour of West Thumb Geyser Basin on Lake Yellowstone. Saw 3 elk there along with 2 bunny rabbits and some birds. Breakfast was at Old Faithful Lodge and then OF was faithful as usual exploding against the blue sky with it hot water and steam. Visited Midway Geyser Basin, Artist Paint Pots, Firehole Falls, and Norris Geyser Basin. After seeing the swan in the Madison River on the West Entrance Road, we found our West Yellowstone Golden Circle Motel waiting warmly. After supper at Buckaroo Billy’s (Bison burger, tater tots, and a milk shake (I know that wasn’t healthy, but I was on vacation), we shopped for t-shirts. The early-to-bed pillow felt good.
Day 10, Saturday, May 22. Letting Tyler get his beauty sleep, I arose at 4:15 a.m., showered, then into YNP to see elk, bison, geese, the same swan, and a large GRIZZLY. Good and bad news: bad news was that he was across the Madison River so my photos aren’t too sharp; good news was that he was across the Madison River so I’m still alive. His appearance startled and stampeded (mildly) a herd of about 20 bison with 2 calves. They ran down the middle of the road ahead of me for at least a mile as I decided it wasn’t going to get any better than that and I would return to West Yellowstone to get Tyler and have breakfast. Because of the 25 minute traffic delay on the Madison-Norris road, we decided to move our base of operations (motel) to Gardiner at the North Entrance so we wouldn’t have to pass the construction tie-up coming and going twice a day for the next three days. We did. Went to Mammoth and Tyler saw the bear jam (grizzly and 4 cubs way off in a forested valley, though he only saw 2) close up. Had lunch at the Mammoth Lodge including a chocolate, caramel, cashew ice cream cone (not even a snicker, please…no pun intended). Did some shopping in Gardiner where I found my favorite t-shirt: “Forget the box...(picture 2 men in the wilderness here) Just get outside!” I use the “Think outside the box” challenge with my students all the time. The late afternoon found us heading toward Tower falls to see bison, elk, bighorn, pronghorn and then returning to be in bed by 7 p.m. Early start for Hayden Valley tomorrow.
Day 11, Sunday, May 23. Awake at 3 a.m. and out by 4 a.m. on cold (18 degrees), snowy day. Nothing to see and not a good sunrise in Hayden Valley because of the snow and clouds. But…the sunrise at Fishing Bridge and Lake were both magnificent with sun’s rays breaking through the clouds and lighting up the water. The return trip through Hayden Valley was different. We saw a coyote on the prowl – even saw it catch a mouse or ground squirrel; also saw a few elk and bison. Viewed both the Upper and Lower Falls of the Yellowstone River. Great shots of the canyon. Returned to Gardiner for a nap. Evening found us again in Lamar Valley to view bison, elk (including 4 bull elk with racks), 2 black bears, 2 bighorns, bison butting heads playfully in the road, pronghorns butting heads playfully in the meadow. Took the Lord’s Supper in Lamar Valley with bison blocking the roar in our rear view mirror. Back to the motel and bed by 9:05 p.m.
Day 12, Monday, May 24. Breakfast in Gardiner at a home style (delicious and cheap) buffet. Drove through a winter wonderland on the Mammoth to Tower Road. A coyote was hunting in the snow at Blacktail Lakes (ponds actually). He caught a ground squirrel and started throwing it up in air and fetching it. He then played with a stick in the same fashion. Finally he displayed his courage or stupidity by nipping at the heels of a grazing bison. Quite a show. Drove out the Northeast Entrance Silver Gate and Cooke City. Saw 2 bear. Best photos of bear on the entire trip. Asked, listened, and discovered the wolf den at Slough Creek in Lamar Valley. Camped out seeking a photo of the reportedly 3 adults and 4 pups but none showed. Storm drove us to cover and back to the motel anticipating an early start out of the part and through Cody, WY, to South Dakota’s Black Hills. We were eager to see Mt. Rushmore, Crazy Horse Memorial, Custer State Park, and the Badlands before commencing the 2-day drive home. None of that was going to happen.
Day 13, Tuesday, May 25…details of this final but fortunately not fatal day can be found in my previous blog: “My Next Blog: Angels among us? Or perhaps the hand of God!

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