Of Devil Rays and Dolphins

As promised, I am writing our next blog from Panama City Beach – a camping vacation in our favorite spot on the gulf coast: St. Andrews State Park.  Since this is our fifth visit, (see 2015, 2016, 2017) it might be hard to find some unique stories and shoot some new photos, but these two weeks have a lot of special meaning, so let’s recap the adventure:

It starts with Mother’s Day.  We traveled and arrived on Sunday and went straight to the beach — found it just as beautiful as we remembered.  The soft white sand beach, while narrow, sloped gently into the water with almost no waves and clarity that beats most pools.  Jackie says she had a perfect Mother’s day, sitting on the beach with drink in hand, sunlight sparkling off the turquoise water.  The colors are as beautiful as the Caribbean and the snorkeling along the jetty was nearly as good.  Lots and lots of fish (blue tang, bluenose wrassie, mullet, sheepshead, angelfish, sergeant major, yellow tail) can be seen on the gulf side and the lagoon side.  Just amazing.  Click on the word link:  Snorkeling highlights video

It continues with our anniversary.  We celebrated our 43rd wedding anniversary at Sharky’s, a perfect beach bar and restaurant.  You can sit beachside and enjoy what we swear is the best fried grouper sandwich.  Since we remembered to bring our Fat Tuesday cups from last year, we got our fill of tropical drinks much cheaper.  It was a perfect, magical evening as we watched the sun set on the surf.

The cups also came in handy at Pineapple Willy’s one rainy afternoon when Jackie was searching for wifi to download books to her Paperwhite Kindle.  Jackie consumes books, so this was a “must do” event.

It becomes something special.  Wherever we go we manage to find something special.  This time it was while we were knee deep in the water.  A small raft of dark shapes was headed our way and we watched in wonder as we were surrounded by five or six rays zooming along, mouths open, feeding on plankton.  Up and down they bobbed, wings flapping, sometimes the tips out of the water, moving around us in the shallow water.  We learned they were devil rays, looking like small versions of manta rays, maybe two feet across.  They would move back and forth along the shore in groups of two to twelve and we saw them almost daily.  Every once in a while you would see a splash where one would break the surface, but the most fantastic moment was when I saw one shoot four feet into the air, do a slow flip and then dive back into the water.  What a treat. Check out the videos by clicking on the word link:  Devil Rays Video

And of course this area is great for spotting dolphin.  Sitting on the beach you watch the various dolphin tour boats and jet-ski tours arrive at the end of the jetty and watch for dolphin.  And most times they are not disappointed:  the dolphins appear and jump about for the tourists.  We almost become “ho-hum, another dolphin,” but we were well entertained one afternoon as the dolphin must have found a thick school of fish and furiously zipping through the school and shooting out of the water.  One or two were jumping four to five feet in the air, maybe a dozen times or more.  Quite the show and something that you don’t always get to see.

One evening as the lagoon calmed down I hopped on a paddleboard and paddled along shore to see if I could find some stingrays.  We saw several on a paddle over to the point of the inlet and I was hoping to find them again.  No luck, but on the way back Jackie called to me from the dock and we both spotted several dolphin bobbing around.  One was a mother/youngster pair, easily seen as they sliced up and out of the water.  I just sat on the board as they fished within feet of me, spitting and fluking.

Another afternoon we were similarly treated to a small pod of about 8 dolphin within 25 feet of our boards – bobbing and splashing about.  The water was so clear you could see them beneath the water, turning sideways to show their lighter belly and then breaking the surface.  Very special.

I spotted some spoonbills in the marsh one morning on my way to the beach, but I only had my phone to snap the shot – not my best shot.  Spoonbills have been an elusive bird to get on camera for me, so this was something of a catch at least.  I figured I could find them again the next day, but was treated instead to a turf war between gators.  While snapping shots of one alligator in the marsh, a second male came lumbering in and quickly dispatched the other one out, watching to be sure he got the message, his tail flipping back and forth.  You might be surprised at how quickly these boys can move!

It ends with the school year and a tropical storm.  We know our fellow teachers back home are celebrating the end of the school year and a few teachers in the family are within days of their school year ending.  We congratulate them all on making it through another year and especially Linda, who finished her first year back in the classroom teaching autistic students.

As we pack up camp we are under a tropical storm watch, with nasty weather brewing in the Gulf and heavy rain headed our way.  We returned the golf cart, brushed off the sand, packed up chairs and toys and pulled in the awning.  A good time to be headed away from the coast and back home.

And of course, an “uh-oh” moment.

Jackie and I have come to the conclusion that no matter how well planned you are, each camping trip seems to have at least one “uh-oh” moment.  Somehow something unexpected happens and you hope it is a simple fix, not AC failure or a cracked windshield or blown tires.  This time it was all about water.  With the prolonged cold spring we didn’t de-winterize the RV until late, which meant that this trip was the first of the season.  The week before heading out, we drained the potable antifreeze and flushed the water system.  Into the main water tank went bleach to sanitize it and another flush of the water lines to sanitize and rinse them before adding a few gallons of fresh water to the tank.  We also needed to fill the LP tank, which was no problem.

But there was one itty bitty detail.  The first drinks I fixed in camp tasted a bit off – like gulps of swimming pool water off.  I made ice from the tap and it seems we must have been a little heavy handed with the bleach.  Yech.  Ok, toss that drink and let’s use bottled water for the ice.  That meant a trip to the store for a few more gallons of bottled water for the ice and coffee, but worth it until we flush out more of the water in the system.  Well, at least it is sanitized.  (Note to self: use far less bleach and do a better job of flushing and rinsing the water lines).

The other glitch involves hot water.  We have it — we just can’t get it through the lines. The water tank fills and heats water just fine, it just doesn’t flow from the taps.  Grrr.  A bit of a head scratcher, which had me draining the tank, bleeding out any air, trying the water pump, flipping the bypass valve each way — and then doing it all over again to no avail.  This one will require some research and tinkering at home, maybe a vinegar rinse of the tank and a systematic check of the lines for a blockage.  Since we are using the camp showers, the only need for hot water is washing dishes, so filling a container from the water heater drain outside worked for now.

A plate of oysters and a grouper sandwich at Hunts.

Thanks for following along on our adventures.  Next up for us is our Alaska cruise – in two weeks!  Jeff and Vickie will be along with us to zip line, whale watch and explore the inside passage.  I hope to have some cool pics and video to post after that wild journey, so keep an eye out.

And be sure to check my nephew Adam’s blog about his continuing Appalachian Trail adventure: Adam’s blog.  He has video and stories about the first 300 miles posted now.

Doug

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The Lure of the Trail

We just had a great weekend for several reasons.  First off, it was the best weather we have had all year – cool, dry air that turned nice and warm with the sun and perfectly clear blue skies.  Secondly, my sister Linda was in town from California (where they supposedly have this weather all the time) and we joined our BrewCrew to volunteer at the Kennesaw Beer and Wine Fest (see the update on the “Happenings” page).  It was a really great afternoon spent pouring beer for the masses and then enjoying local brews after our shift ended.

It was a great day for wearing pretzel necklaces. The “BrewCrew.”

Third, and most important, we were joined at night by more family as something of a hostel/trailhead start to our nephew’s AT thru hike.  Let me explain a bit more:

Our nephew Adam has been planning his end-to-end hike of the Appalachian Trail for years.  With his service in the Army National Guard Infantry Division completed and his college degree behind him, Adam was set for this adventure.  He had his gear and his blog (follow him at http://amoodyadventure.blogspot.com/ ) all set.  He and his girlfriend Ashley drove up from coastal SC to stay the night before driving to the AT Approach Trail at Amicalola Falls State Park in Georgia.

Once word got out that he was going to get started this weekend, his cousin Alex (our son) decided to join him for the first day and night of the hike.  How cool.  So we also had Alex and Bethany with us Saturday night.  Good thing Doug had cooked up some good barbecue the day before – that made it a lot easier to feed the crew when we got home from the beer fest.

The night before departure.

Stories and S’mores around the fire.

We spent the evening around the firepit, making S’mores and talking about the hike, and other adventures.  There was a bit of discussion about pack weight and necessary v. unnecessary items.  The camp chair was a point of dispute, however Adam declared that it was essential, even if it added weight and bulk.  Jackie and I told about our two short hikes in the area:  the Len Foote Hike Inn Trail (parallel to the approach trail and documented on the blog “Hike Inn Anniversary”) and the hike up Blood Mountain from Neel’s Gap (Not so Smoky Mountains).

    

   

My sister shared that she helps as a trail angel on the lower portion of the Pacific Coast Trail and had just finished up feeding their herd of hikers who were just three days into the South-to-North trek in California.  Her husband Norm had walked the three day start from the Mexico border with his niece, so Linda had some fresh tales to tell.  And one more mountain trek connection to share is that one of Alex’s best buddies from college has also just started the hike north on the PCT.  So the lure of the mountains and the summer hike has called to many in our circle.

Sunday morning the boys and their driver hit the road to Amicalola Falls State Park after a hearty breakfast.  Their plan was to hike the approach trail to Springer Mountain and go on to the Springer Mountain camp area.  I think they figured that to be about 10-12 miles in.  Soon we had a few pictures of the first night’s camp.  Alex was going to hike back out the next day and return home to work.  Adam is continuing north and should actually hit another spot in North Carolina near his family in about 10 days.

Adam is ready to start his adventure!

Alex and Adam’s first night at Springer Mountain. Notice the “essential” chair.

And if all of that isn’t enough, our fall New England motorhome adventure should put us at Acadia National Park in Maine the second week of October, possibly the time when Adam is reaching Mt. Katahdin (northern terminus of the AT) in Maine.  So, if timing is right, we might just connect with him at the end of his hike.

Hiking Cousins

Adam and Alex on Day 2

Spring is indeed finally here and the summer adventures have begun for our family.  We couldn’t be prouder of all of them, and of course wish Adam good weather, good friendships and good times.

Thanks for following along.  Our next adventure is just weeks away when we head out to Panama City Beach for paddleboarding, snorkeling and grouper sandwiches!  Stay tuned.

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Caribbean Cruising … again!

Let’s see, when we last left “Caribbean Jack” in October he was already talking about the next cruise.  It seemed too early to talk about another cruise, but in the weeks leading up to Christmas he kept checking schedules with various family members until it seemed that Jackie and I were the last ones standing … since we were retired and all.

Ok, I volunteered to research dates and itineraries out of Charleston and soon we had a date booked in April for a 5 day sailing to Nassau and Princess Cay.  Oops, we found out that was spring break for some schools in South Carolina, but by then it was too late.  What’s that Jackie?  Just like the romantic hike in the mountains for our anniversary that involved a gaggle of fifth graders? (see the post “Hike Inn Anniversary“).  Retired teachers can be soooo crabby!

Our “Welcome Aboard” drink!

So with bags packed and adventure awaiting, we set off for Dad’s – leaving freeze warnings at home amid April showers – with visions of the blue Caribbean and warm sunny days ahead.  He was all set, bags also packed and waiting, with a reminder that we needed to get the handicapped hang-tag out of his car and be sure to pack his walker.  That proved golden, as Charleston does not charge mobility-impaired passengers for parking and we were able to use their lift-equipped shuttle van and wheelchairs for a swift boarding process.  With little fuss we were soon on the Lido deck, poolside, with that first tropical drink in hand.

Ready for our day at sea.

Ok, it was a bit drizzly and chilly so we moved inside while we scanned the list of shipboard activities and planned our first day at sea.  Soon after we pulled away from shore and the Carnival Ecstasy was headed out of Charleston harbor and on to warmer and calmer waters.  If you are a cruiser, you know the exhilaration you feel at the sail-away moment, with all the stresses of life left behind and the thrill of the open water ahead of you.  This was going to be fun.

        

The itinerary was for our first full day at sea followed by a stop at their private island, Princess Cay.  That first day brought us into the sunshine, but the water temperature in the pool was still mighty chilly, so it was pretty much just the kids who were splashing about (when they weren’t filling up the hot tubs, that is).  Undeterred, we sat poolside, legs in the water, adult beverages in hand, chatting with other passengers – most from the mid-Atlantic and Southeast region.  I kept a look out for “that kid” who would sooner or later appear, gleam in his eyes, and flop in the pool, sending icy sprays of water over all the adults nearby.  Oh, wait, my glass was empty … time to head to the bar anyway.

Even the towel creatures had their day by the pool.

Those first days also involved casino strategy sessions – well, between Dad and I anyway.  Craps for me and roulette for Dad.  Jackie declared she was going to get to every comedy show and a few of the musical ones and Dad said he might join her.  After a slow start at the craps table, I headed to the room to find Jackie napping and with good intentions of making the evening shows, but we ended up crashing and leaving a note on Dad’s door.  He later said that he went to the musical performance (too loud, no real dancing, just wacky moves), then the casino and stayed up to nearly midnight.

Jackie was proud of the shawl she had crocheted – and it was needed.

What do you do on a five-day Caribbean cruise anyway?  Here is how we kept busy:

  • Talk about meals and food, check menus, and then talk some more about food. This is something of a pastime for my family anyway, but we would hear all about the great omelets, warm pastries, and breakfast dining room service from Dad on those days we went ashore.  Dinner was fun, with great appetizers (mussels, conch fritters, escargot, calamari) and main courses (lamb shank, short ribs, prime rib, crab ravioli, roast duck).  And dessert!

Roast duck and crab ravioli

  • Go ashore at Princess Cay for snorkeling.
  • Talk some more about meals and food. Guy’s Burgers were a big hit and the fresh tacos, burritos, pizza and Reubens all delicious.

Burger run from Guy’s Burger Joint

  • Hit the casino, and in Doug’s case hope for better luck at craps.
  • Go ashore in Nassau and pay to wander Atlantis on Paradise Island.
  • Read a book

Love that new eReader!

  • Hang something special on your door (Jackie has been great at crocheting shells, starfish, palm trees and such for the doors).

Of course mini golf!

  • Wander the ship and play mini golf, look at the fitness center, pass the duty-free shops, sit by the pool and maybe get wet.
  • Hear how well Jack did at the roulette table – again.
  • Check out the Chocolate Fantasy at the Lido buffet.

  • Check to be sure you haven’t hit your 15 drink limit for the day (not even close).
  • Enjoy the sail-away each night and watch for flying fish (yes, there were many of them popping out of the water at the bow as we left Princess Cay this time).

  • Buy the drink package and enjoy yourself for a few days. We bought the special Tervis insulated cups to hold our favorite drinks.

We enjoyed our previous snorkel on Princess Cay and were hoping for just as much fun.  Caught an early tender and walked down to the snorkel reef area.  It is an easy, sandy entry into the water and you can snorkel along the shoreline to see corals and fish pretty easily.

Easy entry to the snorkel area.

Jackie saw a large barracuda and Doug saw a small flounder and eel besides the parrotfish, yellowtails, blue tang, sergeant majors, crevalle and lots of the typical reef fish. It began to get a bit choppy after a few hours, so we tried another spot that was more protected, but more jetty than coral reef.  It was a good morning on shore and we were back aboard by mid-afternoon.

You can’t beat the color of the water in the Caribbean.

The snorkel reef from above. Just beyond and below the waves were fans, corals, and reef fish.

How was Nassau this visit?  Lots of flowers in bloom and fresh paint on most buildings made Nassau a colorful port of call.  We had three other ships in port with us, but we were in the slip right along the embarkation dock.  Easy on and off and a great way to people watch along shore.

   

     

   

This time we purchased tickets to walk the grounds of Atlantis on Paradise Island, so we caught a cab and zig-zagged our way through traffic to the resort.  If you have never been there, I recommend it – even though it is pricey to just walk through expensive shops, a gorgeous casino and tropical grounds.

        

        

 

After wandering through the casino and gazing at the Chihuly glass sculptures, we found our way outside and around the waterfalls and gardens.  And typical for us, we walked in The Dig aquarium from the exit (we managed that by accident in another aquarium).  It didn’t really matter, we were out of the way of strollers for a while.  It is a pretty nice aquarium, with all sorts of artifacts that add to the experience as you gaze at the reef fish, including some spotted eagle rays and a very large manta ray.

       

When you make your way to the lobby above, you can also look down on the pools to see the schools of fish.  In the Predator Lagoon area there are several species of shark and three very big smalltooth sawfish.  We were at the rail where a guest was feeding squid to the sharks and got a pretty good look at the frenzy.

 

Further on we saw turtles and hammerhead sharks before climbing the dunes to the beach.  Hey, we didn’t buy a wristband for beach access … nor did we buy the water park pass, but we somehow ended up next to their signature waterslide.  Darn, we didn’t have our bathing suits on!

       

Another wild ride back to the ship and Jackie headed onboard to have lunch with Dad while Doug walked around town for some photos of the local scene.  From the edge of the harbor it really is an amazing sight of clear blue waters and large white ships, with street vendors and excursion boats sprinkled in.

            

And what about the casino onboard?  Well, Doug had his new craps strategy in play during the week, but was up and down (mostly down).  He would sit and play roulette with Jack for a bit, then Jack would watch him play a while at the craps table.  Dad stood at the rail and played craps one night but opted to return to roulette.  So it went, up and down.  But the last night got a bit more exciting.  While they were both at the roulette table, Dad said “I’m going to do a crazy bet” and he covered one whole column of numbers.  Of course he hit one and got a nice payout.

Aboard Carnival Ecstasy (15)

“You have to have a system …”

Doug heard the call of the craps table for one last time but when Jack joined him his stack of chips was dwindling.  Jack stepped to the end position on the rail and it was soon his turn to shoot the dice. By then, Doug had ditched his strategy and was back to just odds on key numbers.  “So what do I need to roll?” Dad asked.  “7”.  “Okay, here goes.”  Bam, we got a seven.  And another.  Then he hit his point as Doug managed both their bets, and again hit his number.  “Am I still throwing?” he asked several times, to which the entire table replied “hit it again, Mr. Jack.”

That was how the night went on until he crapped out and we cashed in.  Everyone was fist bumping him around the table congratulating him for a great run.  Our stacks of chips were back to respectable size again!.  A good recovery for sure, but these are only $5 tables, so it’s never that much money, just good fun.

Our last night in the dining room was a special celebration, even if a bit teary-eyed.  We ordered a round of champagne and toasted good fortune (finally) and good sailing, with a nod to the memory of Nancy and all the cruises she and Dad enjoyed together.

Nancy and Jack aboard Forbes yacht Capitalist Tool

It had been a great five days at sea and we declared it a success.  I think I heard something about “not sure I have another cruise in me …” but I chose to ignore that one (of course he does).

Leaving the ship was a breeze. Thanks again to Jack’s walker we were able to do a late departure and rolled off the ship to head home.  Yep, rainy conditions again and more freeze warnings at home.  As we look out at the leaves just popping and the azaleas finishing their bloom, we can’t help but compare the low 30’s temperatures to the warm breezes of the tropics and ask ourselves “weren’t we just snorkeling in clear, blue waters three days ago?”  Cruising is magical.

Be sure to look at all the photos below to get a sense of the ship and ports of call.  I should point out that the underwater shots are at the aquarium, not from our snorkel.  Soon I should have snorkeling video edited and posted on the Video gallery.  Thanks for following along on our adventures.  Next trip is Panama City Beach in the motorhome.  Yippee!

Planning a cruise?  You can get a great deal and we get some credit if you book through Cynthia Long at CruisesOnly.  Their loyalty program will give you extras like shipboard and resort credit on top of the cruise line’s best deals.  Give her a call at 617-587-6000 x 38584 and mention that Doug and Jackie sent you.

 

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Spring Arrives!

Orange azalea

Wow, it has been a few months since I last posted – mostly because we have been busy with family (Mom died in January, we welcomed a new grandson in February), meeting up with our “beer peeps” at local breweries, getting better at our hobbies (crochet and glass totems), working out at the gym and planning the year’s adventures, but NOT actually getting out and about in the Winnebago.  Not really anything blog-worthy.

But now that warmer weather is kind of here (still some freeze warnings), we have some fun stuff going on.  Big news is an upcoming cruise to Nassau, Bahamas and Princess Cay with Dad again.  He loves it and we don’t mind being the designated cruisers.  So the next blog post will probably be all about the trip with some cool pictures posted.  Besides chilling on the ship, Jackie and I are looking forward to snorkeling at Princess Cay and then checking out the grounds and aquarium at Atlantis on Paradise Island.  This trip we figure it’s time to have a look.

Other plans for the spring include a return to Panama City Beach with the motorhome and the pets for two weeks.  That should be AWESOME, since we booked our favorite campsite and should have fun paddleboarding, snorkeling and swimming.

Then in June we fly to Alaska for a cruise with my brother and sister-in-law.  We start in Anchorage and travel south to Vancouver.  Whale watching, zip-lining, dog sledding, glacier watching, train rides, tram rides, beer sampling — gosh this one will be great.  So that should be another good posting on the blog page, with pictures and probably some video of whales (we hope).

In early fall we have a long motorhome trip planned for New England to be leaf peepers and catch the fall colors.  Up through Michigan, across Ontario, into New England and over to Bar Harbor and Acadia National Park before heading back south through Pennsylvania and down the Shenandoah Valley.  Now THIS trip will definitely include a lot of our soon-to-be-favorite breweries along the way.  Already have them marked on the map!

So, as soon as the pollen stops clogging things up we can take the cover off the motorhome, de-winterize, flush and fill and get ourselves back into camping mode.  It feels like it has been a long winter and too long between our outdoor adventures.

Keep an eye out for blog updates soon.  As always, thanks for stopping by to see what we are up to.  Oh, and if you haven’t had a look at Doug’s crazy new hobby of glass totems, be sure to click the link.

Glass Totems

Happy Adventuring!

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Caribbean Jack

It seems you can’t keep Dad away from a good cruise.  He really needed this respite break and some of the family was happy to join him.  So Jackie, Jeff, Vickie and Doug set out from Charleston Harbor on Carnival’s Ecstasy for 5 days in October to enjoy the sand and sun.

Rat Pack ready for the Cruise

Sail away day is the BEST day of a cruise … you grab your colorful favorite drink and the party starts right away as you leave your troubles behind.  This was our first trip out of Charleston and the weather was just perfect to head past Fort Sumter and into the Atlantic.

Here’s to getting aboard first!

Charleston Harbor

Charleston Harbor and Ft. Sumter

Happy Jack

After a day at sea we arrived off the shore of Princess Cays.  Took an early tender and our snorkel gear to see what we could find.  Since the drink package did not include anything on the island, we all figured to spend just the morning ashore and be back on ship for lunch, drinks and dinner.  The snorkeling beach, however, was quite a surprise.  It was one of the best small reefs we have encountered in the Caribbean.

Princess Cays and the snorkeling spot

A small sandy entry point gave access to a sloping reef that was loaded with fan and pipe coral, sponges and all sorts of reef fish.  Several flounder were spotted, along with plenty of the other colorful reef fish: blue tang, parrot fish, sergeant major, angels … and a good size barracuda.  What a good morning of snorkeling (oops, no pictures).

After a Fine Meal

Dinner each night was in the main dining room and was good service with darn good food.  Dad certainly enjoyed the selection.  After dinner the guys tried their luck at the casino and the ladies did the shows.  Doug and Jeff tried a new strategy at the craps table that started out really well, but ended up working against them.  Overall, I think we all played as much as we wanted to and pretty much broke even.

Cheers!

Back to the “Cheers” program and our handy list of gotta-try drinks.  Some of us were fretting that the prepaid drink program’s limit of 15 drinks per day was going to be a concern — but we must be lightweights, because only one of us hit the limit on one night (and we agreed it was because the day started with a bloody Mary!)

Cruise Oct 2017 (67)

Rough day at the office…

Cruise Oct 2017 (65) b

Popular spot for us on the pool deck

Our favorite bar was the RedFrog Rum Bar, poolside, but we also frequented the lobby bar, the BlueIguana Tequilla Bar, Alchemy Bar (for some wild martini productions) and the casino bar (but that was tricky — had to make your bets last until the drink arrived!)  So, despite our history of craft brewery visits and beer festivals, we were quite happy to try lots of fruity and colorful concoctions.

Freeport shops

The other island visit on this trip was a stop at Freeport, but we all decided to stay aboard ship and just watch the crowds wander the shopping plaza adjacent to the ship – and to giggle at the late arrivals who almost didn’t make the ship’s departure.   It didn’t appear that the recent hurricanes had a significant affect on the two ports we visited.  Jeff and Doug decided that with so many folks off the ship, it was time to try the Twister water slide.  Pretty wet and wild affair, and we hung in there for several runs.

Waterslide awaits

Cruise Oct 2017 (95) b

Yikes!

Oh yes we did!

Overall, a good cruise and a nice ship with friendly staff and good food and drink.

Mango Magic

The point of this cruise was to make sure Dad had plenty of sunshine, good food and companionship — and that he did.

Pretty sure this was one good week for him!

Sleepy Jack

Planning a cruise?  You can get a great deal and we get some credit if you book through Cynthia Long at CruisesOnly.  Their loyalty program will give you extras like shipboard and resort credit on top of the cruise line’s best deals.  Give her a call at 617-587-6000 x 38584 and mention that Doug and Jackie sent you.

 

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Snake River Whitewater Photos

As you read in the post about Grand Tetons, we did a rafting excursion on part of the Snake River outside Jackson Hole, Wyoming.  Had one of our Best Days Ever! thanks to the folks at Jackson Hole Whitewater rafting — and you can see by the crazy expressions on our faces, this was a very exciting, Class 3/ Class 4 whitewater adventure.

Now that we are back home, I connected with the folks who took photos along the way at the Big Kahuna whitewater dunk (Float-O-Graphs) and bought my package of photos.

Doug was “riding the bull” for this section of the river, where you straddled the front of the raft.  Jackie was further back, furiously paddling to keep us moving along, but as you see, she gets equally swamped and ends up bounced into the middle of the raft.

Feel free to chuckle loudly at the “OMG” expressions you see – and watch that foot, as Doug practically disappears.

Enjoy.

 

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The Long Road Back

Vacations are wonderful, until it is time to head home.  That’s the point in our trip for us, making the long drive back east from our fabulous trip to so many great state and national parks …. Glacier, Tetons, Yellowstone, Bighorn, Custer, Badlands … my, it was a lot.  This may sound more like the “lightning round” of game shows, with many stops in many states, but we had a lot of ground to cover.

Tetons Last Day

Wyoming

We left those impressive mountains of Grand Tetons while the air was clearing just a bit and we saw them one last time.  The drive southeast took us along the Hoback River through a very scenic canyon and then into the cute western town of Pinedale.  The streets were wide, the shops all fishing and hunting themed and … woah, was that a brewery we just passed?  What luck, it was lunchtime!  We eased alongside the sidewalk, parked the van and walked back to Wind River Brewing for a delicious lunch of brats, reuben sandwiches and a flight of beer.  One stand-out was their Mango Wheat, which they unfortunately did not have in cans to-go.  Darn.

Wind River Brewing

Wind River Flight

On the nice 2-lane road south again we suddenly saw signs that said “pavement ends” .. what?? Well, one of the area road maintenance strategies is to remove the asphalt from the entire road for miles at a time (5 to 7), leaving a gravel washboard.  This was one of those instances as “whomp” we left the pavement and rattled more slowly along the gravel.  This is no fun in a motorhome towing a car – everything rattles.  After several of these no-pavement stretches we hit Interstate 80 at Rock Springs and kept driving east to reach Rawlins, Wyoming, stopping at a KOA to hook into wifi, cable TV and to check on the progress of hurricane Irma.  

We were pretty deadly on butterflies it seems …

Rawlins KOA

Rawlins, WY

Nothing remarkable, but clearer skies with the smoke of western wildfires left behind.  Next day as we got set to continue east, we noticed that we lost a hubcap on the car somewhere along the washboard gravel roads, dangit!  

Depot in Cheyenne

Accomplice Brewing

Checking in at Accomplice

Approaching Cheyenne, we checked online to find a cool brewery was in town, and since it was lunchtime again, we headed downtown to find Accomplice Brewing in the old train depot.  What a cool area that is being redeveloped.  Cheyenne seems to like their cowboy boots, many of which are decorated around town.  

Great way to serve yourself!

Something special at this brewery was a pour your own feature.  In the tap area you choose the style of glass you want (pilsner, sampler, snifter, pint) and then choose from 14 beers.  You get a plastic magcard to record your samplings, place it against the screen above the tap and it tells you how many ounces you are pouring and what the final cost of your pour is.  You settle up when you leave.

 

Since it was lunch, we ordered a plate of pork nachos (on house kettle chips) that hit the spot, with a couple of pretzels and beer cheese to go with it.  Nice bit of heat to accompany the various brews on tap.  We liked the sours, saisons and hefeweisen.  

Nebraska

Back in the camper again and heading down the road, we crossed into Nebraska, a new state for us, and made it to Ogallala to stop for the night. Driving through southern Wyoming and into Nebraska was pretty much a lot of sagebrush scrub flatlands, becoming a bit more cornfields and crops in Nebraska, but still pretty wide open plains and not a lot of trees.  Ogallala’s campground was in the middle of a cornfield and you could smell the corn on that warm night.

Kansas

Salina KOA

From mid-Nebraska we turned south after following the Platte River and stayed the night in Salina, Kansas.  Lots more cropland, as the land flattened out and you could see hay, corn and soybeans being harvested.  The next day we were approaching Wichita round about lunchtime and lucky for us there were several breweries in town.  Well, you could hardly pass up the chance to stop for gas and then have lunch at one of them, so we found ourselves a nice big parking lot near the Old Town section of Wichita and headed for River City Brewing.  We were very impressed with this part of town, which had brick-cobbled streets and many old warehouse apartment conversions and plenty of restaurants and shops.

River City Brewing

Ordered a flight of beer at RCB and Jackie got a thin crust pizza that was delicious (she shared some) and Doug ordered mac ‘n cheese with Kansas City sausage and barbecue sauce on top – really good food.  Nice spot and easy access for us.  Back at the camper, Kodi and Merlin were quite content and off we went to find a spot for the night further south.  I found myself humming Glen Campbell songs along the way …

Oklahoma

We crossed into Oklahoma, another new state for us, and found an odd city park along a lake just off Interstate 35 north of Oklahoma City.  The city of Perry had this grassy bluff of 10 pull-through campsites, full utilities, on a pay-at-the-box basis.  What fun – just four of us there for the night, listening to cows in the distance and looking up into a dark night sky.  Oklahoma has very few trees, too.  Mostly grasslands and cropland, but you sure can see the horizon easily.

Arkansas

Lake Dardanelle

Ok then, more driving yet to go.  Up and out in the morning, we passed around Oklahoma City and drove east into Arkansas, making our way east on Interstate 40 to Russellville and another cool discovery: Lake Dardanelle.  It is an impoundment of the Arkansas River and the state park that offered camping was quite nice.  Maybe 4 of us in camp that night.  Our goal was to make it to Hot Springs National Park the next day to stay in their campground, but it was not reservable, so we wanted to get their early.  It was not a long trip, only an hour and a half, but it was a “scenic” route, which we know means curvy, hilly and slow going.  But we got there, got a nice spot and unhitched the car (back-in sites) so we could also go into town.

Hot Springs National Park

Hot Springs can give you the impression that it has seen better days, and indeed it has: around the turn of the century.  The hot baths that sprung up because of the hot mineral springs are all now part of the national park as bathhouse row and you can tour a few of them.  

A few still operate as bathhouses and spas, and one, to our delight, was a brewery.  I think maybe we have the strangest luck, finding these beer joints nearly everywhere.  We had to patronize Superior Brewing, ordering a flight of 4 beers each and texting family about it, when Alex hit us back to say they had been there last Christmas.  Nearly the same seats at the bar, too.

Superior Brewing inside the bathhouse

A flight from Superior

So we walked around town, noticing that the downtown businesses were trying for a turnaround, several of them pretty decent shops and such.  We stopped to splash our hands in one of the open spring pools, only to learn that “ouch” that water is hot!  Unlike Yellowstone’s steam vents, geysers and hot springs, nearly all of the hot springs in the park and town were capped off years ago by the government.  But a few are free spigots for you to fill your jug – just be aware it is HOT spring water.

Louisiana and Mississippi

Still more miles to go, so we set off again the next day toward our destination of Grayton Beach, Florida.  We were still a couple days off, so our next stopping point was south through Arkansas, into Louisiana and over to Vicksburg, Mississippi.  Arkansas really flattens out as you go south and east toward the Mississippi River, with lots of cropland that was being harvested.  The overnight at Vicksburg was a Good Sam campground connected to the riverside casino.  Basic spot with utilities, but we did avail ourselves of the free shuttle to the casino to get something to eat (unfortunately, a less than average meal) and watch the sun set over the river.  That was worth it, not so much the smoky casino.

Alabama

This next day we drove around Jackson toward Hattiesburg and further south around Mobile and Mobile Bay to camp at a spot off Interstate 10 just west of Pensacola, Florida..  It was so hot and humid as we pulled in, all we wanted was to connect to electricity and get the AC going.  It seems that the engine AC lost charge and was only spewing warm air out of the dash for the past two days, and we were now definitely back in the humid south.  As Jackie is trying to connect the electric, a whopper of a thunderstorm was brewing and crackling around us.  All connected, but nothing happened.   Seems the circuit breaker in camp was not working.  Asked the owner to move us, he had to check it out for 10 minutes (uhh, not working, right?) and then we got the ok to move sites.  BAM! The thunder struck, Jackie quickly connected, we leveled up and huddled inside while the rain came down and the temperature inside dropped, finally.

Florida

Still wet and humid the next day, we made our final drive along I-10 into the Florida panhandle and Grayton Beach State Park.  Quick as we could, we disconnected the car, made camp and headed to the beach for a swim.  Gorgeous water, beautiful beach — we cooled off and shed the dusty west.  Dan and Terri from home were vacationing here this week and the plan was to meet up and revisit some of our favorite breweries here.  First night we had a delicious meal at Café 30A, told tales of our bold adventure and watched the sun set over the gulf.  

Dan, Terri, Jackie and I at Craft Bar in Grayton Beach

Another night we drove to Grayton Beer company and enjoyed some of their brews while munching on sub sandwiches.  Plans for Idyll Hounds the next night were to be followed by a visit to a local music spot for open mic night.  Dan and Terri wanted a chance to play a set and have some fun.  Well, the AC repairs nixed plans a bit …

Since the AC in the engine section of the RV seemed to quit the moment we hit Mississippi and the hot, humid weather, I called a mechanic to pay a visit and make repairs.  Steve, the Mobile Mechanic arrived and pronounced the AC compressor bad, in fact bad enough that we would not have made it home without a breakdown. You may recall that just last October we had that replaced, so I will be arguing the warranty with the shop back home.  Two days later we had a new compressor and were ready to roll again.  Thanks, Steve.

Idyll Hounds

Our brewery visit plans were almost ruined, but all was not lost.  We did manage our Idyll Hounds visit and then went on to Craft Bar to try a few other regional beers and have some good eats.  What fun with our really good brew peeps from home!!  Thanks, Terri and Dan.

Grayton Beach State Park is beautiful and you can’t beat the white sand beaches and clear water for swimming.  This part of the gulf and Florida missed the fury of Hurricanes Irma and Harvey and, combined with the sunny weather, was just delightful.  

Soon it was time to make one final hitch connection for the car, pull up the leveling jacks, bring in the slides and head for home.  As we drove through Alabama on our way to Georgia, we marveled at this long journey and how far we had come: north from home across the heartland to the Rocky Mountains and nearly over the Canadian border;  back down through the central plains along the Mississippi River to the gulf shores.  We saw so many special places, spectacular scenery, amazing wildlife and had so many unique experiences that surely we will be thinking of this trip for months to come.  

Sixteen states, 5,700 miles, one dented-up Rav-4, one missing hubcap, three grizzly bears, one cracked windshield, seven moose, two bald eagles, six wolves, one AC compressor, three black bears, two weak house batteries, herds of buffalo, several geysers and a lot of hiking … are we the winners of the Amazing Race yet?

Thanks for joining us along the way.  I hope it will help you plan your own adventures and bring you as much fun as we had.  Let us know what you liked!  

Until next time, when the adventure continues …

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Grand Tetons Moose Hunting

Smoky in the Tetons

Getting from Yellowstone National Park to Grand Tetons National Park is not really a long drive at all.  It took us maybe an hour and a half, through the John D. Rockefeller, Jr. Memorial Parkway (a link made possible by the family’s donation of land).  That meant we actually got here earlier than the Coulter Bay campground wanted us.  No problem, we simply unhooked the car, fixed lunch and walked to the camp store and visitor center.

Coulter Bay Camp check-in

Coulter Bay campsite

Once in our pull-thru campsite we actually then took off 30 miles for Jackson, or Jackson Hole (it seems to go by both) to restock on groceries at a beautiful Albertson’s market.  The town seems to be trying for a wintertime mecca along the lines of Vail and the Colorado ski towns.

Some of downtown Jackson Hole

One of several elk antler arches

Lots of timber, rock and steel in construction, and a bit pricey around town.  Naturally we had to stop in at the local brewery for lunch and a flight.  Snake River Brewing was a great spot to hang out.

a Snake River Brewing

Snake River Brewing

Jackson’s town square was really cute, with several arches made of elk antlers.  Since it sits next to the National Elk Refuge, it plays up the animals.

Visitor Center at National Elk Refuge

The NER visitor center was pretty cool, featuring a herd of elk inside (stuffed), but we didn’t see any on the long drive through the sagebrush flats.  One lonely bison, not the large herd we were warned about.  A few small groups of pronghorn, that’s all.  Once back in camp we reviewed the park literature and maps and plotted out the next 4 days.

Since the Tetons were all but invisible in the smoke of wildfires, we decided the first day should be a local hike around the Coulter Bay area.  This is a different sort of National Park, because the whole backdrop of the park is the Tetons – they rise up out of the sagebrush flats and tower over the Snake River, Jackson and Jenny Lakes below.  You almost don’t interact with the mountains; you just gaze at them and hike to their base.  And if you can’t see them, it diminishes the experience.

Beaver lodge on Heron Pond

Beaver dam … but no beavers active

So our hike took us to Heron Pond and Swan Lake, which were marshy beaver ponds that looked like prime spots for moose.  Our goal here in the Tetons is to find moose!  The hike was a bit like walking on bowling balls, since the rounded stones are pretty much everywhere, and we did see two beaver lodges and a beaver dam, but no beaver and no moose.  Had a nice lunch next to the pond though and then made our way back.

Around Jackson Lake

Jackson Lake shoreline

Whitewater

Next day was to be a big adventure for sure.  We had booked a small-boat whitewater rafting excursion on the Snake River and were ready for action.  With quick-dry clothing and water sandals on, we joined the others on the school bus and rode the half hour to the drop-off point.  We were using Jackson Hole Whitewater Rafting, although there are many other outfitters in town, and the total group was 4 rafts, both small and large.  We snapped into our lifejackets, grabbed a paddle, paired up with a family of six (raft of 8), joined our river guide Sky, and set off into the river.  Air temp was 80 or so, water was probably 65 degrees.  Clear and swift.  As we moved along, Sky gave us instructions, we practiced our paddling moves and got into position.  Doug and Adam, were the two lead paddlers in the front, Jackie a few spots back.  But everyone paddled when told.

And what work it was.  Splashing and bouncing our way through some rapids, we paddled, spun around, hit the waves and cheered as we made it through.  Soon we got some total dunks and did a high-five with paddles.  Ah, but it gets better.  Someone could volunteer to “ride the bull” at the very front, one leg in, one leg out, holding tight on a strap.  Stuart volunteered first and got some good dunks.  About halfway down the 9 mile trip Doug took the front spot and got totally drenched in the Big Kahuna rapids.  In truth, the entire raft got doused, Jackie was bounced to the center of the raft and we all were very wet, but excited.  Photos were cleverly captured at that spot and they reveal a wild ride and crazy expressions from the crew.  What a rush. I highly recommend it.

Moose Hunt

Discovery Center at Grand Teton NP

Thursday was to be an early morning drive to a spot just off the south end of the park where beaver pond marshes were known to have moose.  Up at 5:30 a.m. we were off to find those critters for sure. Just past Jackson Lake dam we spotted a beautiful bull elk on the shoulder of the road with a beautiful rack, a female just a bit further – a good sign that we were finally going to see wildlife today.

On the road along the marshes we noticed a Wildlife Management pickup and a ranger in the roadway, which meant something was nearby.  Yes, there was a bull moose not far off, sloshing his way through the marsh.  We tried to stop for a look, but he waved us on.  When we got the chance, we turned back around for another look, but he was moving farther off and out of sight.  Darn.

Moose at last!

We found a small parking area, pulled in and followed another group to the bank of a large wetland.  We were probably 50 feet above the marsh, so it was a good chance to scan for moose.  Nothing.  Heading back to the parking lot, we met one of the other couples who had also been scanning the area for moose and they said “you just missed the female and calf …”  Really??

Actually, they were still moving along the water’s edge, so we hustled and huffed our way further along to watch them.  What fun, as they moved along, in and out of the water, eating the willow shoots and other greens.  Junior would stop and look up at the crowd on the hill every once in a while, mom paid little attention.  Good day for moose.

Drove back on Moose-Wilson road and were rewarded by a great view (and pic) of the bull moose.  Awesome!

We made our way north back into the park, stopped at another beautiful visitor’s center and then to Jenny Lake.  The plan was to follow a short hike to the other side of the lake to see Hidden Falls, have lunch and hike back.  All the maps had this listed as about a 2.5 mile hike one way, so we were pretty confident it was do-able.  It did give us a good look at the mountain peaks, even though still hazy.

Partway along a ranger told us there were moose at Moose Ponds, a short diversion.  So of course we had to go, and we got a great look at another female in the pond, munching on something underwater.  Her calf was nearby, but we couldn’t see it.

At Moose Ponds, naturally

Back on the main trail it was a definite uphill climb.  As I recall, we had gone up almost 700 feet.

A narrow slice across a boulder field was downhill for a bit, with a great view of the lake below, but we knew it would be uphill on the return.  Just before the falls we stopped to have lunch and catch our breath.

Little further along, and downhill, we found the falls.

Hidden Falls

Nice, but it was quite the hike to reach.  You can shorten the journey by paying for a boat ride across the lake, which we opted not to do (after all, we were tough hikers).  But on the way back we were reconsidering the wisdom of that decision.

In fact, it got downright tedious and exhausting as we kept going uphill … until it finally began to slope down toward Moose Pond and finally the parking lot.  Checking our fitbits and also Jackie’s phone step tracker, the hike came in at over 10 miles!!  Not what we had expected.  But we made it, just a bit sore and weary from the effort.

Arriving in camp we were delayed by a mule deer doe and two youngsters, as they crossed the road in front of us.  They do have a peculiar “bouncy” way of running.  So it really was a good day for critters.  Dinner was a quick bite at the lodge restaurant, a couple glasses of wine in the Winnebago to recover and off to bed.

Kodi at the Tetons

That meant the last full day would be restful.  We did some laundry, checked the weather and news online, called Dad to review Hurricane Irma evacuation plans and then made some plans for our next destination.  It was probably best, since the sky is once again hazy and smoke-filled.  You can’t even see the mountains across Lake Jackson, which is right along the campground.  They say there is a chance of thunderstorms tonight, but it seems doubtful.  Crazy that it is so dry in the upper west and so wet from hurricanes in the south and southeast.

Sunset at the lake

Finally clear on last morning

Tomorrow we break camp and head southeast ourselves, hoping to pass Rock Springs toward Cheyenne.  From there it will be one nighters across Nebraska, Kansas, Oklahoma, Arkansas and Mississippi until we reach Grayton Beach on the panhandle of Florida.  Probably won’t be another post until we are in Florida, but I do appreciate that you are following along on the journey.

Stick with us, there is more to come (and one day soon, some video from my gopro)!

 

 

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Truly Wild in Yellowstone National Park

Smoky sunset at Townsend

Magpies at dusk

Two nights in Townsend at the Canyon Ferry Lake area along the Missouri River was a needed break to take care of some housekeeping in the motorhome and just a break from our hike-a-minute schedule. But we were anxious for Yellowstone National Park and trekked out of town easily and through Bozeman (too early to stop at the breweries, darnit) toward Livingstone and through really thick smoke from wildfires. You could see the shrouded mountains of the Gallatin Range as we passed through to Gardiner at the entrance to Yellowstone.

 

Town of Gardiner

Victorian Inn

Time for a beer and elk tacos

Very cute town and a perfect stop for lunch on a patio overlooking the Yellowstone River. We noshed on elk tacos washed down with some local brews (remember, that is one of our trip objectives… sampling the local beer). Stopped at the Yellowstone Forever shop for some advice and Jackie was convinced that we needed to have bear spray while in the park. We found out where to rent canisters and holsters, so we were now prepared to enter the park.

Roosevelt Arch – northern entrance

Trying to recreate the picture from 1969

And what a huge park it is. A pretty big change even from Glacier. Driving distances between key sights are in the 30 – 50 mile range and the landscape is quite varied, going from the soft rolling hills of the north that are mostly dry sagebrush scrub and alpine grasslands interspersed with bands of spruce (and the remains of previous wildfires) to the vast stretches of lodgepole pine in the middle of the park. The Van did its best winding upward to Mt. Washburn (10,243 ft.) and back down toward Yellowstone Lake and our campground at Fishing Bridge. Everything starts at about 7,500 ft elevation here, so the altitude still takes getting used to. Campground is pretty darn big, with campsites staged tail-to-tail to maximize the number of units in the space, but it works for us just fine. Complete hookups means we can run the heater if it gets cold or the AC if it gets hot (both of which it does).

Campsite at Yellowstone

So what is there to do in this vast, strange land? Over the course of six days we did the typical tourist things with a few surprises. We find you just can’t be too quick to judge an area until you stay a few days while things change and evolve, both from a weather perspective and the appearance of wildlife.

Living on a Volcano
You learn quickly that the central part of Yellowstone is a collapsed and covered volcano’s caldera. The hot springs, geysers, fumaroles, steam vents and mud pots all come from the hot magma below. Air and water are heated and vent to the surface with all sorts of minerals. Some of the water is so clear and beautiful you want to take a dip. Not a good idea: it’s 180o to 190o. Other pools have rings of color surrounding them. Cyanobacteria and algae living in the water help give them their colors. We tried to see all the hot spots, from the steam and plop, plop of Mud Volcano to the roar of Dragon’s Mouth to the colorful hot springs like Grand Prism and the geysers like Old Faithful, Steamboat and Castle. Lots of stinky, sulfurous steam around. There are even steam vents and pools of boiling water along the shores of Lake Yellowstone. In the early morning you see steam rising from all sorts of places in the landscape – very eerie.

Old Faithful

Old Faithful

Wildlife
Some of the first driving we did across and around the park we were disappointed not to see anything. The lodgepole pine forests were pretty much one-note, many areas that had burned over in the past had a lot of downed logs and new green trees coming in, but no wildlife that we could see. However, once we crossed into the Hayden Valley along the Yellowstone River, things changed. There were several herds of bison along the river and trumpeter swans floating in the water. We later spotted one elk cow in the woods just off the road, lots of other single bison, and a lone bald eagle perched near Lake Yellowstone.

Killdeer

Gray Jay

Bald eagle

Trumpeter swan

Elk with a keeping careful watch

But we wanted wolves and bears! We spoke to some of the park rangers and were told of three areas to check out: one was in the spruce/fir area near Mt. Washburn where black bear were spotted getting cones from the trees, one was the Lamar River valley in the far northeast and the other was a bison carcass in the Hayden Valley that was attracting bears.

The traffic jam

The crowd on the hill, early

The “carcass”

The main attaction – the grizzly

We had planned all along to go to the Lamar Valley to spot wolves, so that was our main destination one evening. On the way we passed through the Hayden Valley and soon saw a massive traffic jam on the road. Cars were lined up on both shoulders of the road and there was quite a crowd on the hillside – that had to mean something good. We quickly grabbed our camera, binoculars and spotting scope and rushed to join everyone. Sure enough, there was a very large, dark grizzly moving away from the dead bison. I would guess he was 300 yards off. Ravens and even a bald eagle were swarmed over the carcass and the grizzly moved ever closer to our hillside spot, perhaps as close as 150 yards downhill. We snapped some pictures and marveled at the sight. He soon drifted to an area out of sight and where everyone was banned from following.

Folks with good spotting scopes were noticing some grey wolves across the river popping their heads up every so often. One of the rangers explained there was a pack here with two gray females, three black males and a gray/brown male. The older gray female had given birth to five pups this year, so they were pretty excited for the pack. We watched for a while then decided to head on up to the Lamar Valley as planned.

Bighorn sheep

Scoping the Lamar Valley for wolves

Once in the valley we tried to spot some action or some clusters of cars that might be watching something, but it was pretty empty except for some fisherman and a couple of bighorn sheep. Doug suggested a bluff that overlooked the river so we set up the scope and scanned around for about a half hour. All we found were some herds of bison and figured we ought to go back to where we knew there were wolves near the “carcass” (as it is now known) and go with a sure thing. Back we went.

Watching for wolves

Bald eagle leaving the scene

It was even more crowded than before, with easily over a hundred folks on the hillside: scopes, chairs, stools, kids … crazy scene. We found a spot to plant the scope, watched both the carcass and the other side of the river for some action. No bear, but the bald eagle suddenly took wing, a white pelican flew down to the river, sandhill cranes flew over and into the valley and we began to spot the wolves popping up from the grass again.

Best I could do with 300mm lens at dusk

Then we were treated to a spectacular event. As it became darker the six wolves became more active and moved toward the riverbank. The alpha female led the way as they moved in and out of the grasses and along the river. They would stop, group up, jump around and wrestle, lick snouts and then stop to survey the scene. Not sure how deep the river was at that spot, but it was pretty wide. Down the bank they moved as we watched through our new scope (great close-ups), binoculars and long lens of the camera. Doug tried to get some shots, but the combination of low light and distance made it tough to get crisp pictures, as you can see. Naturally, the attachment for the scope that connects the phone camera to the lens was… back in the car. No time to run back.

The wolves, maybe a half mile off

Lead female separated from the pack by a wide margin and we almost lost her. Then someone spotted movement farther off and we thought we had three sandy colored coyotes moving in. We had a good look at them as they headed toward the wolves when we realized they were the young wolf pups coming to join mom. We watched a very playful reunion, tails flipping, pups wrestling … clearly she had given them some signal to join in.
The pack never did cross the river as it got darker and harder to see them. We packed up and considered ourselves very lucky to have seen this pack behavior.

Two mornings later we got up early to check the “carcass” on our way to a hike on Mt. Washburn and found another crowd lined along the bluff. Set up the scope, WITH the phone attachment this time, and got some shots of the grizzly sleeping and then moving along the riverbank. Over the hill and across the river folks said there was a pack of wolves that we could not see; but we did hear the pack howl and yelp for a good few minutes. Awesome. Things went quiet and we headed further on to the Mt. Washburn trailhead at Dunraven Pass.

The bear spray

This was going to be a challenging hike, uphill as much as 1,400 feet, and we really didn’t intend to go the full 3.5 miles. But the trail was wide and the day was sunny and warm, so we decided to go 1.5 miles, catch the amazing view, and then head back. On our way back a lone woman came huffing up the trail toward us, flushed and holding her can of bear spray. “A black bear just crossed the trail back there, you better have your spray ready.” Well, we had one can with us (Jackie’s was back in the car, Doug wouldn’t go back for it earlier, tsk, tsk). Ok, the can is almost out of the hip holster as we approach the area.

Black bear in the brush

Well, the picture was taken in a hurry …

Cautiously down the trail we went, scanning the woods for movement. Yes! There… not 50 feet from us was a dark brown lump moving in the brush. We got a good look at him as he dug and scrounged around, not really noticing us. Tough to get a good photo, what with all the trees in the way, but we had a good look at him and quietly pointed him out to another pair of hikers walking by. He ambled further down the hillside and out of sight and we continued on down the trail, totally satisfied with our decision to try this hike today. Of course everyone we passed hiking up the trail asked “did you see the bear?” and we relayed what we knew. Not sure how word of the encounter got downhill so fast.

Sometimes it is good planning that puts you where the action is and sometimes it’s just luck and a good sense of your surroundings. We had seen plenty of fresh scat on the trail, heard a ruckus of squirrels in the trees in about the same area and pretty much knew there was a chance of finding one of these bears. Maybe our training as wildlife biologists helped.

The “carcass” was a bonus for everyone who got to enjoy the bears that came and the wolves and scavengers who tried to join the action. We did hear that two bears got into a fight at the spot and one wolf had managed to sneak a bite while the bear was feeding, so if you stayed around long enough, it would have been a good sight.

Oh, and on the last night in camp, Doug was sitting out and saw a fox dash along the woodline along the campground, maybe only 50 feet away. How cool.

Hikes
Our impression of Yellowstone is that it is much more of a driving park than a hiking park, compared to Glacier or Badlands or Zion. Each of the different natural attractions is separated by quite a distance of boreal forest, alpine meadows or sagebrush scrub. There are plenty of spots to hike, they just tend to be long hikes of several miles, not something we were prepared to do on a daily basis. We hiked part of the aforementioned Mt. Washburn trail for 1.5 miles in and about 1,000 ft. up in elevation (to 9,700 ft., huff, huff) and got to see our black bear, plus plenty of Clark’s nuthatches, ravens and hawks.

Clark’s nuthatch is jay sized

Ravens are big.

Other hikes were on the boardwalks around the thermal areas, such as Norris geyser basin, Old Faithful and the Upper geyser basin and mud volcano area. Just because it is boardwalk, don’t think it doesn’t have some climbing – it does.

Natural bridge

We hiked in to see Natural Bridge and thought the surrounding woods were perfect for elk, but nothing was seen. A really nice morning hike through Pelican Valley only turned up a single bison, but we were darned sure there were bears around. It was probably our off-key singing that kept them away (and noisy hiking is so not what we do).

Waterways
Yellowstone Lake is the huge center of the caldera, feeding the magnificent Yellowstone River as it meanders through the Hayden Valley. Soon it carves through the rock, creating a beautiful waterfall and what is known as Grand Canyon of Yellowstone. There are several good vistas to see the falls and canyon and it all appears different from each view. One of the “must see” stops in the park, even if you have to wait a while for a parking spot.

 

Lodges and facilities

Old Faithful Inn


Yellowstone is another one of our great national parks that has this combination of CCC buildings of massive stone and timber, ‘60’s era “Jetsons” modernism and new environmentally sensitive lodgings and visitors centers. We lunched in the dining room of the Yellowstone Inn, marveling at the timber construction and real-wood touches.

Visitor’s Center was fantastic

We also had delicious flatbreads at the Canyon Lodge – part of their ‘60’s era modernization. The campground, however, needs some attention. Our loop was a pot-hole filled roadway of gravel and mud and the sites were tail-to-tail tight packed, but not as well-maintained as a KOA (but priced that way). And vault toilets throughout the park are few and far between, usually well used.

So our trip to Yellowstone National Park definitely was all we expected and more.  It is far larger than you imagine and it really remains very wild. It faces many challenges, from wildfires (which are really essential), from overuse in the more popular areas, from a public that doesn’t understand that wil