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Saturday, October 22, 2005

It all began early on Monday, Sept 26, 2005, in the rain from the never forgotten Greenville, Pa. We hit seven (7) states that first day! Sleeping in Sioux Falls, South Dakota! The real fun didn't begin until Tuesday when we made stops at Casey's Cafe where we ate our best meal of the entire trip (since rumor has it I starved us the rest of the trip). This neat landmark is in Chamberlain, SD and just of I-90 so, if you are ever in the area, do stop in and have a Bison Burger and some fresh, homemade pie.

Our Tuesday was only just getting started as we still had not arrived to the Badlands or Mt. Rushmore. The most surprising part of the Badlands NP is that it is basically in the middle of the South Dakota plains. These mountainous sand/rock formations are rather interesting, very dry but fun to see. We took tons of photos here since it was our first real landmark of the trip. Next up was a quick stop at Wall Drug which I had never heard of until this trip. It’s some “drug” store with signs all along I-90 in SD. It’s an overblown tourist trap.

At this point, we were not far from Mt. Rushmore which is just outside of Rapid City, SD. We arrived to this National Memorial and the weather had turned somewhat overcast. So, our photos aren’t as spectacular as they could be. Looking back, we accidentally spent a little too much time here at the memorial. There are only so many angles from which to get photos. The park is maintained nicely and they have a neat trail that allows you to get fairly close to the face of the mountain. It was definitely a place I would recommend visiting as an American.

After departing Mt. Rushmore, we were goofing around in the car and having quite an intense discussion about personalities. Even to the extent that phone calls were made to friends to defend our positions! Ha! This led us to breeze right back through Rapid City without stopping for some grub. Initially, we had tentatively planned to eat at Carini’s Italian Food located in Rapid City and owned by the family of one of P’s high school friends. This mishap proved to be fatal as a mere 15 minutes outside of Rapid City, there were limited to no choices of places for food. While most of the blame has been placed on the driver (yeah, that was me, at the time) for starving the passengers, I must defend myself. In my estimation, one of our many phone calls led to our ultimate 10pm dinner and futile viewing of Devil’s Tower in the dark. Yep, it was the call to JENNY! It is completely her fault with that “Eustude tanto yinz amigos!” which was distracting us from making it to Devil’s Tower. Tuesday did not end well; we ate at The Neighborhood Grill in Gillette, Wyoming at nearly 10pm!

Another interesting twist to Tuesday was the apparent misplacement of my wallet. Not fun at nearly 11pm MDT or 1am EST! I searched the car through and couldn’t find it anywhere. Checked my bag thoroughly twice and no dice. This led me to the conclusion that it had fallen out while we were attempting to see Devil’s Tower and was laying on the ground inside that park. I was ready to grab the car keys and drive a solid 40 minutes back to the park and search for it. I grabbed my headlamp and decided to search the car one more time. Low and behold, it was on the floor of the car, up near the brake pedal! I was rejoicing and thanking the Lord for allowing this and not having to backtrack. At the time, I was convinced the Lord placed it there in the car when, in reality, it had actually fallen out onto the road at Devil’s Tower. P had been praying for this back in the room while I searched. This was a key lesson in remembering who is in control and to not always rely upon my own strength.

Quite possibly the best day of the trip began Wednesday morning. It was a humorous start to the day. I had accidentally left my Nalgene on the roof of the car but thankfully a kind local guy graciously gyrated by very animatingly pointing at the roof! I can still see him pointing! We hit the road for a solid 4 hours until we arrived in Cody, Wyoming. Along the way, we drove through Bighorn National Forest and some of the Bighorn Mountains. After visiting here, I’ve added Cloud Peak (13,187 ft elevation) as one of the many places I would like to visit and hike. We have some spectacular photos from our drive through the Bighorn Mountains and we actually saw snow!

We arrived in Cody in late morning and stopped for a quick snack at Subway. Our plan was to campout on Wednesday night but we needed some supplies so we stopped at Sierra’s Trading Post and the ever reliable but giant Wal-Mart to pick up a sleeping pad for P and end our search for a gas canister for the stove. We ended up just buying a new stove. We departed Wal-Mart and next stopped to fill up the gas tank before heading down the road towards Yellowstone. This is where we had our first annoyance of the trip. I was acting foolishly cranky and Pam flat out didn’t take it. I was pumping the gas and cleaning the windshield while P was chatting on her mobile (clearly unsafe and borderline illegal while at a gas pump). So, I suppose I was a little miffed at her and thus reacted poorly. P said, “Why are you being so mean?” Immediately, I realized how I was acting and treating her and knew it was wrong. I’m thankful that Pam was willing (and always will be) to point out my outrageous attitude.

Next, we stopped for a few quick photos of Buffalo Bill Reservoir and a cave in the cliffs nearby and it was on to Yellowstone National Park. After stopping off for some photos at the entrance, we sat for a good 15 minutes waiting for construction vehicles to move through as they were working on the road. Not the best introduction to one of the most popular National Parks. After getting in, there were spectacular views everywhere and our first encounter with wildlife was a herd of American Bison right near the shores of Yellowstone Lake. We also grabbed a few photos of some small geysers/hot springs along the way. Our next stop was at Lewis Falls where we crawled out on some logs in the Lewis River to take some cool photos.

We proceeded to the south entrance and out towards Grand Teton National Park. I must say, it’s rather amazing to be in two different national parks during the same day. Wyoming grants us this privilege and it is definitely not one you want to miss! We stopped at a few different spots to take some shots of the Grand Teton Mountains which consist of three main peaks. Impressive. We also spotted a moose and a baby moose not far off the road. Sunny day and some of the photos have a glare to them. The awesome town of Jackson, Wyoming is only about 15 minutes to the south of the Tetons. We stopped in at the Million Dollar Cowboy Bar for some drinks and grub and to watch the Red Sox lose to the Blue Jays. I kinda wish we had walked around the town a little more but it was getting dark and we wanted to get the tent set up.

So, we headed back out of town to the Gros Venture Campground inside Grand Teton National Park. It was decent with bathrooms. It was a crazy chilly night and my 40 degree sleeping bag was barely enough. We both woke up in the middle of the night to use the restroom and I ate something so that my body had some food to burn and create heat. This helped me sleep much better. We were amazed by how clear the sky was and the wonderful array of stars displayed before us. If only we had a camera good enough to capture this moment! We could see the snowy complexion of the Milky Way galaxy!

Elk day. Montana. More elk. More waterfalls. Old Faithful. Missoula, MT.

You might be wondering why Thursday was tagged Elk Day…well, we hit an elk with the car while traveling back through Grand Teton NP towards Yellowstone and Old Faithful. Oddly, I was going to drive this day so that P could enjoy Yellowstone and take some good pics. Yet, when we stopped for coffee in Moose, Wyoming, she decided to keep driving, not sure why but from an insurance standpoint it probably was better.

We really were not hurrying and not traveling over the speed limit (a rarity for both of us) and we had just spotted a coyote in the field. We were talking about some music and I was messing with the iPod when I hear P say, “Whoa, we are going to hit it!” and I look up and here an elk is slamming into my side of the car. Scary! I ducked! Unfortunately, we are afraid the elk was more hurt than the vehicle. The passenger door would not open but the door was fine. There were major dents in the front fender portion, the hood and two small dents in the door. The side view mirror was bent back but snapped right back into place. The headlight was not cracked, just displaced and the windshield was not cracked. An amazingly small amount of damage compared to what could have occurred. We were able to keep driving, no flat tires, no airbag bursts or anything. Thankfully, P was able to swerve enough that we really did not hit the elk too badly but we fear her left rear leg was broken. She did get up out of the road and limp off into the woods. Once we arrived to the Ranger Station at the entrance to Yellowstone, we informed the ranger on duty. Sadly, this was a good 15 miles from where we hit the elk. Clearly, this was our most traumatic and exciting event of the trip! It was storytelling time now!

After the Elk incident, we stopped at Kepler Cascades and took some awesome photos near this waterfall. We actually decided to climb down near it to get some cool shots. Next up was Old Faithful which is definitely a sight to see. It is just amazing what God has placed in His creation for us to enjoy. We stopped a few more times before exiting Yellowstone and we were actually in Montana upon exiting. I drove the remainder of the day as P made some calls to the insurance company and to family and friends. We arrived in Missoula fairly early in the evening and crashed at the Sleep Inn after getting some solid grub at Jaker’s Grill.

Now for the final push to Washington. Not much going on in Montana or Idaho. It started raining once we were close to Idaho. Get this, P really wanted to eat at McDonald’s on Friday (we had not eaten much fast food at all so far on the trip, thankfully) but I wouldn’t give in this easily. If you don’t already know, I pretty much boycott all fast food and for various reasons. Feel free to read this book for more propaganda. So, I suggested we play “Rock Paper Scissors” to decide if we would eat at McDonald’s or not. She won. It tasted good.

So, we arrived to our hotel in Seattle around 5pm and crashed for a few minutes. Both of us fairly exhausted from all the traveling. We were to meet up with my friend JT and one of his friends for the Seattle Mariners game at SafeCo Field. We also wanted to check out the REI flagship store in downtown Seattle which we did prior to meeting up with JT for some food and drink at FX McRoryr’s prior to the game. SafeCo is a cool ballpark but they closed the roof, which was dumb. It was fun to see Ichiro play and get his 200th hit of the season. He became the only player in MLB history to have at least 200 hits in each of his first five seasons. Pretty cool.

Goodbyes are sad. My flight was at 6:20am to Denver and on to Philadelphia. Back to Pennsylvania…for now.

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