Friday, July 27, 2007

The park formerly known as Glacier

After Yellowstone Kimbal and I headed northwest towards our last national park of the trip: Glacier National Park. Yellowstone to Glacier is a pretty long drive, so we made a one night stop over in Missoula, Mt. In Missoula we found a really nice coffee/tea/wine café where we parked ourselves for a day and did some serious blog updating and Kimbal did some more job search type stuff. Other than the café, we weren’t too impressed with Missoula. It could have been the heat wave though; the high temperature in Missoula ranged from 97 to 107 while we were there. So when we were done internetting, we got some groceries and quickly left town for Glacier.

We arrived in Glacier on Sunday evening and found ourselves a nice campsite at the Avalanche Campground. After we finished dinner we headed over to the campground amphitheater for our first ranger talk of the trip. This program was about bears in the park. Since Glacier has the highest concentration of grizzly bears in the lower 48 states, I wanted to learn a bit about them before I set out on the hiking trails. The talk was pretty interesting and the ranger even had us singing campfire songs. The rangers advice for hiking was to make lots of noise, so you don’t surprise any bears. Also, Glacier is pretty good about bear management, and if too many bear sightings happen on one trail, they will close that trail. For example, a grizzly bear had been false-charging people on one particular trail the week before, so that trail was closed while we were in the park. We were loud hikers while we were in the park and didn’t see a single bear. (I was a little disappointed. I didn’t want to see one up close—that would be scary, but seeing one across a meadow, or something, would have been neat.)

(Kimbal writing now)

On our first full day in the park we did the “loop hike”, which is actually an 11.6 mile one way shuttle hike. The hike started at elevation 4,500 ft in an area that burned a few years ago in a forest fire, and then progressed up to an alpine environment over elevation 6,000 ft. It started out at a balmy 80 degrees, but as we climbed it quickly cooled off to the lower 50s and windy, and we found ourselves a little underdressed.

We were promised by the ranger that we spoke with that the bighorn sheep and mountain goats would be waiting for us up there, and after hiking the first 7 miles of no wildlife other than an overly friendly marmot we were starting to wonder.

The rangers were right though, and we found a bighorn sheep about 150-ft off the trail nonchalantly munching on some grass muttering to itself “dumb tourists, staring at me while I’m eating my lunch, why don’t they go stare at the mountain goats instead”.

So we did. A little farther down the trail we came across a mother goat with her kid which hardly seemed to notice we were standing less than 30-ft away. We didn’t want to get too close to the animals, and they were standing right on the trail, so we walked up and around and continued on our way. All in all, a great hike.

The next morning we took a stroll up to Avalanche Lake from our campground to start the day.

We left the campsite and headed to the east side of the park via the Going to the Sun Road, and stopped at Logan Pass again and went up to the hidden lake overlook. It’s a mile and a half each way up a hill, and it looked pretty tame from the ranger station so I decided to wear my flip flops. Once we got over the first hill, we discovered the trail wasn’t quite as tame as we thought as it was covered in snow. We continued on anyway, and I gingerly made my way over the snow. The lake was beautiful, and well worth the slippery trip.

Sunday, July 8, 2007


Taking the short drive north from the Tetons, we came to Yellowstone – the Official Favorite National Park of Becca Hall. Not long after arriving we encountered the ubiquitous Buffalo (Latin alias – Bison Bison).

After driving around some we decided to stay at the Indian Creek campground, apparent fly capital of the park. The flies decided that the park was much too nice for us to just hang around the campground all day, so they did their best to encourage us to leave. We obliged and headed down to Firehole Canyon where there is a nice little geothermally heated swimming hole in the river, and we played in the water for an hour or two. After we partook of some rather expensive showers at the Old Faithful Lodge, and had a nice picnic dinner by the side of a river. Quite nice.

The next morning, we went for a hike that was supposed to be teeming with wildlife, but alas there was none. We cut that hike a little short and headed over to Artists Point for some great views of Lower Yellowstone Falls.

About the time we were done anyway, a storm came rolling in, so we took some more showers (twice in two days!!) and did some laundry while it was merrily raining, and thundering away outside. Since it was still storming when we were done, we went to diner and while we were at the salad bar we were treated to a huge lightning strike about 100 yards away (that’s how far you’re supposed to stay away from bears in the park also).

We finished dinner about the same time as the lightning storm ended, and headed to the northeastern corner of the park for some wildlife watching around sunset. We went almost all the way out to the park entrance, seeing antelope, elk and bison along the way. All very cool, but nothing we hadn’t seen plenty of the past few days.

On the way back, we stopped at a relatively uninhabited pullout on the side of the road, and found a ranger setting up his scope to look at the hill in front of us. A couple more cars pulled in right after us, and there was one silver haired gentleman that caused Becca to do a double-take. After taking the binoculars from me for a closer inspection (he was only about 100-ft away) she confirmed that the gentleman was indeed Anderson Cooper. After some deliberation, we decided it was best to admire him from a distance, and instead to talk to the ranger, who was very helpful. He told us that yes, he was Mr. Cooper, and they were doing a story about wolves in the park, which they expected to come over the hill at any moment. He showed us a grizzly bear in his scope on the hillside he had found, and when the wolves showed up, he showed us those as well.

Around that time, Mr. Anderson Cooper, the ranger he was interviewing, and 2 cameramen headed over towards where the wolves were to get a better shot for the interview, with Anderson carrying his own equipment. That’s him in blue, second from the left with the incredibly shiny hair (although you can't see it in the picture).

We stuck around for a while longer taking turns with the binoculars, and ended up seeing 2 or 3 wolves running around before it finally got too dark to see. We drove back to the campsite elated, with Becca’s decision on her favorite National Park firmly cemented in her mind.

The next morning, we headed out the west entrance of the park, and within 10 minutes of leaving the campsite, we came across a brown bear (same thing as a black bear, Latin alias – Ursas Americanus) 40-ft off the road. Used to being gawked at, it pretty much ignored everyone watching it while it ripped the top off a log, gobbled up all the bugs inside, and then trotted away into the woods.

We thought for sure we were done seeing cool wildlife in the park, and then only 20 miles from the park exit, we saw a coyote trotting along the side of the road, which looked up at us nonchalantly as we passed, and the turned into the woods for a little more privacy.

Yellowstone did not disappoint.


It was the Monday before the 4th of July, and we headed into Teton National Park looking for a campsite. Since we got there just after lunch, we secured one of the 3 remaining sites that day in the Signal Mountain campground, and subsequently watched about 20 cars, trucks, and RVs circle the campground first naively hopeful, and then with the crestfallen look of someone slowly realizing the music had stopped, and they were left standing in a big game of musical campgrounds.

We waited out the midday heat in the shade reading our books (I took a cue from the local animals and took a nap) and in the afternoon headed over to Two Oceans Lake for a short (6-mi) hike. We didn’t see much wildlife, but Becca heard some rustling in the bushes pretty close by at the end of the hike, which after talking to some people at the trailhead was a mama grizzly with a couple of her cubs. We were pretty relieved to have missed each other.

After the hike, we went back to camp, made dinner, and sat by the shore of Jackson Lake and got some good pictures of the mountains.
Early Tuesday morning we drove down to the Jenny Lake trailhead, and started off towards Lake Solitude. It turns out the name wasn’t entirely appropriate when we got there, but it was definitely nice. 18 miles, a few blisters, 4 tired legs, and several bug bites later, we returned. We headed back to the campground, to the lake to cool/wash off, made some dinner, and went to bed well before the sun was down.

On Independence Day, we rented a warped plastic canoe for the outrageous price of $13.50/hr, and floated around on the lake for a little while. I once again proved to myself exactly how well sunscreen works when I missed a big spot on my stomach and ended up with a rather unattractive and uncomfortable red splotch that I’ve been wearing around for the past few days. Afterwards, we went swimming, read our books some more, made some dinner. Our fireworks display was au natural, and one of the better ones I’ve ever seen. Judge for yourself.

Saturday, July 7, 2007

A day on the road...

On Sunday morning we rose early and went for a morning hike in the Mt. Zirkel wilderness area. It was a 7 mile roundtrip up to a beautiful alpine valley and lake (Three Island Lake). However, as you may notice in the pictures, almost half of the pine trees along our hike were dead. This is because for the past 10 years most of Colorado has had a problem with bark beetles, which eat the bark off of pine trees, eventually killing the trees. It used to be that the winters were long and cold enough to kill a decent amount of the bark beetles, so the trees and beetles had a healthy relationship. With global warming, more and more beetles live through the winter, and the forests just can not sustain the current beetle population. It’s all very depressing and motivating at the same time. I’m sure you all understand why it’s depressing, but it also motivates us to keep making additional adjustments to our lifestyles, to better serve our earth.

After the hike we headed northwest toward the Grand Tetons. As we drove through northwestern Colorado, we spotted a pronged-horn sitting on a bluff over looking the road, way cool. A little further down the road (in northeastern Utah) we noticed a big grey cloud rising up over the mountains ahead of us. We got a little closer and decided that it was a pretty large wild fire. We gawked at the huge smoke cloud for a while, but then passed it by, leaving the fire in our rearview mirror. It got to be around dinner time, and we decided that we should set up camp and cook some dinner. So, we stopped at a fairly deserted campground in the Flaming Gorges National Recreation Area. After being at the campground for about 10 minutes or so, I started to get a bad vibe, felt light headed and realized that I smelled smoke. Kimbal quickly identified that we were downwind of the wildfire. Well, that made me pretty uncomfortable, and Kimbal was starting to feel sick too, so we decided to pack up and press on towards the Tetons for a few more hours. When we left the Flaming Gorges valley, I looked back and could see the entire area just blanketed with smoke, yuck. The next day we heard that the wildfire was almost completely uncontained and on the move, so I’m pretty glad that we moved on.

The next few hours drive provided an absolutely spectacular sunset! Since we were driving west the sunset seemed to go on and on. We just couldn’t stop marveling at the natural beauty and wished that we knew something more about photography so that we could adequately capture it. We did our best anyway.

Long after dark we ended up finding a dependable KOA campground to spend the night, with smoke-free air and showers too. A good ending to a great day.

Steamboat Springs

As we left Rocky Mountain National Park we only had one thing on our minds… showers! So, we headed to the lovely town of Steamboat Springs, Co. and managed to secure a decent room at a downtown motel. Ah, to be clean again! (See, there were no shower facilities within the park, so we were rather ripe after four shower free days.) Once we were settled in and clean we had some dinner a decent Italian restaurant, and went back to our hotel room to be lazy couch potatoes and indulge in the Daily Show.

For the majority of the day on Friday and again on Saturday morning we hunkered down in a nice internet café, so Kimbal could do some more job searching and applying. While Kimbal was dutifully applying to jobs, I read and did a little bit of window shopping. And I have to say that a few hours in I started to get antsy, and was wishing that I could apply to some jobs myself, but all in due time.

We did manage to have a bit of fun in Steamboat too. On Friday evening we went to a very nice natural hot springs. Supposedly it’s clothing optional, but everyone there was well behaved, and clothed. It was beautiful, relaxing, and very hot! We had to keep working our way down to the cooler pools because we just couldn’t take the heat. Also, Kimbal and I were already really relaxed, I mean we’ve been on vacation for over two months now, so we didn’t stay at the springs for too incredibly long because relaxing soon turned into boring. On the way out, we passed a few coyotes on the side of the road.

Saturday afternoon it was really hot so we decided it was time cool off with a tube ride down the Yampa River. The tube ride was pretty decent, with some fun abrupt 2 ft drops. It was a great way to spend a hot afternoon. That evening we decided to do something cultural, and went to the rodeo! It was my first rodeo, and I didn’t know much about them before we went, but Kimbal filled me in, since he had been to a few at the Cow Palace in the Bay Area when he was a kid. It was a really great time… I especially enjoyed the barrel racing, and, of course the bull and bareback riders were very exciting to watch. Really, the real talent at the rodeo are the guys that distract the bull after the rider has fallen off. Man, that’s a scary job. I do wish that the announcer had kept his republican propaganda to himself. Talk about alienating people, geeze. We were there to see the rodeo, not to be converted into republicans. Even with all of his bull crap, we still managed to have a great time.

Rocky Mountains

After Jeff’s, we stopped at the National Renewable Energy Lab before headed on to Rocky Mountain National Park. Due to 9-11 they no longer give tours (booo) and, from the looks of the public exhibits, they’re currently under-funded (I blame the current administration). Nevertheless, we did learn a few interesting thing about conserving energy.

We arrived at Rocky Mountain National Park and secured ourselves a campsite on the east side of the park. We did two good hikes on the east side of the park. On our first full day in the park we hiked in the bear lake region, and did a loop hike up to a number of alpine lakes. The hike was really beautiful, but on our way down it clouded up a bit and before we knew it there was thunder rumbling in the sky. Luckily, by the time it started raining we were back below the tree line. Here’s some pics from this hike:

On our second morning in the park we hiked up to the peak of Deer Mountain. We hiked pretty quickly, and it felt great to really get our blood moving. The top of the mountain was in the clouds, so no view, but nevertheless, it was a great hike.
After our morning hike we hopped in the car and headed west over the mountain pass that is the highest paved road in the lower 48 states. We stopped near the top to do a short hike and take some photos. The air sure was thin, and the mountains sure were gorgeous. We saw some elk, marmots, pikas, and some other unidentified small rodents on our second hike of the day.
Once we got to the west side of the park we got a great campsite that overlooked a stream and meadow. To round out the day we did one more short hike along the headwaters of the Colorado River. Back at the campground that evening, and again the next morning we were serenaded by elk calls. Their calls were really beautiful, haunting even, like a really high pitched brass horn, or something. We ended our stay in the park with a long hike up to Granite Falls. The falls were really beautiful, and the rest of the hike was pretty picturesque too. Unfortunately, the west side of the park is very mosquito infested, and boy, do they love Kimbal. So, we didn’t really take time to enjoy the scenery. Luckily, there weren’t too many mosquitoes right by the falls, but we really scurried the rest of the hike. I think it was the fastest that we have ever hiked, 13.4 miles in just over 4 hours, including our lunch stop.