Glacier

(Reminder: this post is being published well after our visit, we are currently in Portland Oregon until Sept 4th)

One day during our stay in Montana, we got up early and left the house around 8!am and Rick drove the four (oops, Poppy made 5) of us to Glacier National Park where we rode the “Going to the Sun” road.

This 50 mile long road road was built from 1921-1932 purely as a scenic road across the mountains as a way for tourists to experience the beauty of the park. More about it in a bit.

Along the way we stopped at Lake McDonald Lodge for a break and a nibble. Like the lodges we visited in Yellowstone, this historic building had some of the same interesting log details but was more intimate. It would have been great to stay a night or three here.

The lake is beautiful and one can take sightseeing cruises along the shore or swim in the clear (COLD) water.

At the lodge and throughout the park we saw the red (Yellowstone has yellow ones) open topped historic “buses” that were the initial way to take the road. Now in addition to these which cost a bit, there are free shuttles or one can at least at the moment drive your personal vehicle.

From the lodge we started the road to the sun which would take us up the mountain Vanna is showing you below.

The sights along the road are incredible but the civil engineering of the major portion is what is truly incredible. Rather than a series of switchbacks that would have resulted in a significant harm to the views of the mountain, there is only one switchback near the base and then a long, long, long continuous grade up the side which follows the curves of the hillside. This single slope allows the road to be camouflaged making for a more natural scene. Though it was significantly more expensive than the switchbacks, $2.5 million in 1933 dollars or $50 million today.

Through out our stay in Montana, Gail had been showing is small patches of white blooms of “Bear Grass” but she said she hated we arrived too late to see it in full bloom. Little did she know that at the higher elevation it was just starting to do so. Such an interesting and beautiful flower.

After the long and beautiful drive up the side of the mountain we reached Logan Pass. From here one could see mountain goats on the hillsides above.

Unfortunately, couldn’t get a photo zoomed enough to show you the goats, but we did see (and hear!) marmots which are a big species of squirrel.

Below Vanna is pointing out the same peak as shown in the original Vanna picture closer to the top of this post.

Since it was getting late, rather than driving down the other side of the pass, we retraced our drive stopping at several places including a jumping rock where we watched some fools.

We had a wonderful supper at the old train station at the park entrance that included delicious bison meatloaf-unfortunately we were so hongry that I forgot to take a picture.

Poor Rick, he then had to drive the 2 hours back home where we arrived about 9. It was a long but wonderful day seeing another part of our beautiful country.

Condon Montana

(Reminder: this post is being published well after our visit, we are currently in Portland Oregon until Sept 4th)

After 8 nights on the road in some less than palatial hotels, we were thrilled when we got to our friend Gail’s house in Condon, Montana and the beautiful view from her front porch above. The view from the back isn’t so bad either!

And the house looks exactly as one would expect for a log home in Montana including the many animals hunted by her husband Rick.

Gail and I met years ago in Raleigh and she even lived with me for a month so in my first house when she was between an apartment and her first house. So that’s right, she predates Mike!

Gail happened to pull out some pictures of the trip she took with us and Mike’s Mom, Lois to New York just before a Christmas in the nineties. It’s not fair that Lois and Gail look the same while Mike and I have aged so poorly!

We surprised Lois with a horse drawl carriage ride ( yeah I know, but back then we thought the horses enjoyed it!) and even took along champagne and flutes! We was fancy!

Gail left NC several years ago and ended staying in Montana and shortly thereafter she met and married Rick-in fact they got married just before Mike and I in 2014. I found out when I called to invite her to Raleigh! LOL

We had a great visit with them both. Getting to know Rick and picking up with Gail like we had seen her yesterday…rather than the seven or eight years it had been!

They were great hosts sharing both their home and their love is Montana. Stay tuned to see some of the places we toured with them, including Glacier National Park.

Oops, almost forgot our third host, Poppy!

Bob Ross wasn’t just imagining his paintings!

(Reminder: this post is being published well after our visit, we are currently in Portland Oregon until Sept 4th)

I always thought Bob Ross was just making up the images he painted on his show back in the day. After visiting Yellowstone and the other national parks both in the US and Canada, it became clear that while the configuration of his images might be made up, he was at least in some way painting from memory too. His painting below could have certainly existed in one of the parks!

I mean compare it to what we saw in real life!

Up next, day two at Yellowstone!

Yellowstone Day 1

(Reminder: this post is being published well after our visit, we are currently in Portland Oregon until Sept 4th)

So finally made it to Yellowstone on July 10th. After our (very) early morning drive over Beartooth Pass we got to the east gate about 8 am. And within minutes we saw our first animals-Bear! Yes I know they are hard to see in the picture above but trust me, they were two bear cubs lazing in the tall grass just off the road. We kept waiting for Mama to show up but no luck. It was so exciting to see them relatively close up (wouldn’t have wanted to see them much closer!) and so quickly after entering the park. Both of us were so glad we had set the alarm for 6 am and actually ended up waking up before it and got on the road so early.

After the two cubs wandered further into the woods, we continued on our way and soon reached the valley where we saw Bison! These amazing animals also know as Buffalo graze throughout the park and we (and you) will see more throughout our visit to Yellowstone but as they say your first is always memorable!

I happened upon an App that used gps to tell you about the park. For $6 it was great, like having our own tour guide in the car. One of the spots it suggested we take a detour to see was the beautiful waterfall below.

We made a stop near the north gate to visit the National Park Service’s Visitor Center. Had trouble getting to our parking space due to the Elk! Once parked, I got out of the car to take a picture and one of the rangers suggested I get back in a the car, as sometimes these peaceful looking animals become less so. We loved watching the one enjoying its reflection in the window.

After our comfort stop at the Visitor’s Center, we headed to the Norris Geyser basin for our first look (and smell!) of Yellowstone’s famous Springs and geysers.

It was so wild to see the formations that they had made and to see the earth bubbling. If you want to do some reading this link will take you to an article about the various types and how they are formed. We saw more than enough during our two days and for those of you who know us, Mike doesn’t let me boil eggs due to his disgust over the smell so trust me when I tell you that he really didn’t like their smell!

It was interesting to see the colors around some of the springs. This isn’t from the deposits of the Springs. Rather, it is algae that has evolved to survive the high temperatures.

Further along the north loop drive, we saw another beautiful waterfall.

But soon it was time to see more hot springs.

From that geyser basin we then went to another, the “Paint Pots” which I remember my Grandmother taking about from her visit back in the late sixties. This area requires quite the hike, and in one of the videos below you can hear me breathing hard. It was really fun to see the kids waiting for the bubbles to burst and in some cases splash them with the hot mud.

We saved the most famous geyser for last. Old Faithful is so named because it erupts fairly on schedule. And because of this we got to watch and wait for it with just a few hundreds of our friends including the two interesting dressed and masked Asian ladies who squoze onto the bench with me.

Old Faithful looks like this most of the time…

and every so often it puts off more steam and everyone gets excited but then it dies down again….

Even the bison lounging nearby got bored and decided to get up and move on…

But finally your patience pays off and you get to see what all the excitement is about! Below the picture is a video of the full 4 minute eruption… if you want to experience it a little more what it was like!

After Old Faithful blew it’s top, we wandered into the lodge. It’s an amazing log building and has a great patio where one can watch Old Faithful from the comfort of shade and with a drink! Next time I plan on seeing it from up there!

After a slight meltdown (we had been up for over 13 hours and walked over 15,000 steps and nine floors according to our phones) we headed out of the park and to our accommodations (note I didn’t say hotel) for the evening. I had booked this room as it was the closest to the park (based on the google map) without being one of the high price ($600) or unavailable rooms at the lodges in the park. Turns out, there is a National forest adjacent to Yellowstone so our hotel was actually about an hour drive from the east gate. And the road had construction so suddenly we got worried if we were gonna make it before the reception desk closed at 10. After a quick stop for a burger (our only food other than the subway sandwich lunch we ate in the car during a previous construction delay) we hightailed it down windy roads and reached the Trail Shop Inn about 9:30.

Needless to say after getting up at 5:30 and having an exciting first day in the park and planning to get up early again to spend our second day there, we went almost immediately to bed happy to rest but having had a really great day of incredible sights!

Beartooth Highway

(Reminder: this post is being published well after our visit, we are currently in Portland Oregon until Sept 4th)

In order to reach Yellowstone, we had to go up and over Beartooth Mountain. Charles Kuralt https://youtu.be/m7QQNPsPhUU called the Beartooth Highway the most beautiful drive in America and I think he might have been right! Unfortunately, because of the hairpin turns and the heights, Mike mostly gripped the armrest and the door handle I kept my eyes on the road so we don’t have a lot of pictures. But trust us, it was amazing.

As we neared the top, we hit the ice pack and COLD! It was about 38 degrees at 8:30 am according to the Mazda thermometer, brrrr.

The ride down wasn’t quite as thrilling and we soon reached Yellowstone! Because of the number of pictures we took, there will be at least one post about each day we spent there. So be sure and come back tomorrow for Bear!!!

Cody

(Reminder: this post is being published well after our visit, we are currently in Portland Oregon until Sept 4th)

We got our first glimpse (and feel) of mountains as we left South Dakota and entered Wyoming. So weird to be driving with snow on the sides of the road on July 9th!

After driving most of the day, we arrived in Cody a couple of hours before the Buffalo Bill Museum closed. Several friends had said this was a not to be missed attraction. While it was interesting with displays about Buffalo Bill and his Wild West show (a la Ringling Brothers), and a moving (and disturbing) exhibit about the displacement of the native Americans, and a raptor talk, we both agreed that we were sure the relatively high price of admission was worth it.

However, we did enjoy our BBQ dinner that night!

Mount Rushmore and Devil’s Tower

(Reminder: this post is being published well after our visit, we are currently in Portland Oregon until Sept 4th)

They always say pictures aren’t the same as being there and this is certainly true at Mount Rushmore. After seeing pictures for all my life, to be standing at the base looking up at the Presidents carved into the side of a mountain in pretty amazing.

The site has dealing with the crowds and parking down to a fine art. Entrance to the site is free but we were disappointed that our newly purchased annual National Park pass doesn’t cover the $10 parking charge here. Oh well, it was money well spent. While you can see the mountain easily from the highway, being in the trees below or better yet at the base of the gravel created by the blasting of the hillside let’s you see the true scale of the carving.

The scale can also be seen in the model Gutzon Borglum, the sculptor used to direct the over 100 workers where to blast. He used the scale model (1″ equals 1 foot) along with a plumb bob to give the workers dimensions to use up on the actual mountain.

After leaving the actual site we drive part of a loop around the park through some interesting tunnels. After leaving the park we made a drive by of the Crazy Horse Memorial. Mount Rushmore was completed in 14 years (1927-41) whereas Crazy Horse carving was started in 1948 and is still very far from completion. I am doubtful it will be completed in my lifetime. When it is however it will be incredible as you can see in the picture showing the model of the sculpture with the actual hillside in the background. The heads at Mount Rushmore are 60′ tall-whereas Crazy Horse’s will be 90′ and his arm 263!

From there we headed towards Devil’s Tower. This rock pillar was left after the surrounding Hill was washed away over millions of years. It was amazing to see it from the distance and then up close also.

Leaving the Tower we headed towards Cody Wyoming after an overnight halfway there.

The Badlands

(Reminder: this post is being published well after our visit, we are currently in Portland Oregon until Sept 4th)

The Badlands hadn’t been on my radar until our friend Gail said we “had” to visit this national park. OMG, just amazing. Suddenly in the middle of nowhere, you feel like you’ve been transported to one of the alien planets in Star Trek.

It’s very otherworldly until you see the sign warning about rattlesnakes or come across Big Horn sheep grazing or jumping across the rocks-you’ll have to look closely at the video, who knew sheep wore camouflage?

We have hundreds of pictures of this amazing park, but the few above hopefully give you the idea.

Next up Cody Wyoming!

Da Plains

(Reminder: this post is being published well after our visit, we are currently in Portland Oregon until Sept 4th)

It didn’t take long for us to leave the rolling hills of Wisconsin and reach the Great Plains. Wow, corn for miles and miles (and miles!)

And when we thought we had seen all the corn we could we got to Mitchell, South Dakota and The Corn Palace. The original palace was built in 1892 as an exposition hall to showcase the area’s major crop. Since then the building has been rebuilt and is an arena used for community events, concerts, basketball games, etc. including the annual Corn Palace Polka Festival!The exterior corn murals are replaced and redesigned each year with a new theme. The designs are created by local artists using various types and colors of corn.

Our next big stop was at the Missouri River. This site if the rest area was originally one of Lewis & Clark’s camps. The view (and wind) across the River was amazing. Adding to the scale was a beautiful statue honoring the native people.

Our multi day trip across the plains is almost complete. This is the first time I have been at ground level to see this part of our beautiful country. It’s truly awe inspiring to see the land appear to go on forever, and to think about the natives and the first white settlers and the hardships they endured. I mean we only had a few crappy hotel rooms! And we got to have some delicious rhubarb pie.

Next post will be about our first visit to a National Park-The Badlands.

Taliesin

(Reminder: this post is being published well after our visit, we are currently in Portland Oregon until Sept 4th)

Frank Lloyd Wright’s first commission was a windmill in 1896 for his two aunts located on his family’s farm near Spring Green Wisconsin. This was followed by a school for them. Later in his life, he moved on an adjacent plot with his mistress (later wife #2) where he used the building built for his aunts as the school for his students and built a house for himself and his mistress. He named his compound Taliesin as a nod to his Welsh heritage. It means Shining Brow.

Below are pictures of the school, which was built in the early 1900s.

The school includes a theater added later. All of these and the studio are still in use by architecture students.

Nearby is the house and office where FLW lived and worked. The title photo of this post is from the balcony outside the bedroom wing. The structure in the foreground was built for birdwatching. As with most of his houses, it included carports which were a new invention.

Between the house itself and the wing which housed Mr Wright’s office (and his secretary’s apartment) is the beautiful courtyard shown below.

As with all of his work, (and of all great Architects) it is the attention to detail that astounds me. The gold leaf on the ceiling to reflect light and warm the space or the beautiful stone work made to resemble the natural way the rock is found in nature. Just incredible…especially given how innovative it was for the time.

Our last stop (and our first) was of course at the gift shop. The foundation uses what was FLW’s last design as the tour’s visitor’s center. The building was originally built as a restaurant and was completed after his death. Today it has a small cafe as well as the ticket desk and gift shop.

We did a drive by of Spring Green and it is easy to see FLW’s influence in a number of buildings including this bank and it’s drive through.

So ends (at least for now) our FLW tour. We leave Spring Green headed to Condon Montana to visit s long time friend from Raleigh, Gail and to meet her new hubby. Hope you’ll join us for the drive which will include corn (some people call it maize), bears, waterfalls and SNOW!