Sunday, August 16, 2015

Bad news bears - August 14, 2015

Well, our good luck streak came to an abrupt halt. Tony got a call around lunch that one of the items for the truck was defective. They were going to search the area and try to find another one, but it would not be until Monday at the earliest before they could get it. We were all deflated pretty much immediately. All of us were wracking our brains to come up with a solution. We all need to get back to reality ASAP. We were so much in denial that everything was going to work out perfectly for us to leave tomorrow morning. It was rather depressing news.

Once it sank it, we realized the only way to remedy the situation was for me and the girls to rent a car and drive back. Tony would have to wait for the truck and drive back alone. It’s not the solution any of us had hoped for, but it is going to work out fairly well considering. All we can hope for is that they’ll get the part quickly and he can get home safely since he’ll have to drive the 22+ hour trip alone.

Once we decided that, we put our minds to enjoying the day. We had already been to Red Rocks Amphitheater and checked out Boulder. We were nearly to Rocky Mountain National Park when he called. There was no sense in letting the bad news ruin our day. We couldn’t do anything to change it anyway.

Just before we got into the park, we saw a group of people crowded alongside the road. We stopped and about 150 feet off the road in a cropping of rocks, a bear was rolling around. He didn’t have a care in the world about all of us gawking at him. A park ranger was there to do crowd control thankfully. We didn’t have any situations like yesterday where someone tried to walk up to it. He threatened some folks with tickets if they didn’t do what he asked. We decided seeing the bear was God’s way of making amends for all the bad luck.

The park is absolutely gorgeous. Of course I took more and more pictures of beautiful mountain tops, trees, and critters. We saw tons of elk, chubby chipmunks, and deer. We were dying to see a moose, but that didn’t happen. When we got to the pinnacle of the park, a rain storm blew it. It then turned to hail. When we left Denver, it was 92 degrees. It got down to 47 on the mountain. Brrr…

The drive down the other side was just as beautiful. We were amazed at all the twists and turns of the road. The little towns we drove through are all quaint and very western-ish. There were also a couple of ski resorts. The roads are very steep and curvy. We had more than a few “hold on to your ass, Fred” moments. Only fans of the movie Smokey and the Bandit will understand that quote, and of course this family is a BIG fan!!

The reality of our situation sunk in when we got back. We emptied out the van that has been our saving grace for the past eleven days. We had to unpack and repack all our suitcases to make sure we had everything we need, but make sure it would fit into the new car. We’re not sure what size it’s going to be, so who knows if some of that repacking will have to happen again.

Tony and I enjoyed the hot tub and pool again for the evening. The girls decided to stay in. Deputy McCann thought she was going to have to serve as back up as there was some altercation across the street. Not entirely sure what was going on there, but the police were looking for someone in an apartment across the road. I shewed them inside to avoid being caught in any gunfire. I guess that’s just some of what I’m going to have to get used to with this career she’s pursuing. UGH!!

We’ve had an amazing vacation, but it’s all about to come to an end. Tomorrow will turn into a job of trying to get home. Cass isn’t allowed to drive, so it will just be me and Jen. I somehow lucked out in the last eleven days and haven’t had to drive much. I’m not looking forward to this drive whatsoever. But home will feel amazing. I’ll keep that in the back of my mind as we hopefully make quick work out of ticking the miles off this 1500+ journey.

Rewind - August 13, 2015

We survived the night at the Snow King in Jackson. We woke up to loud music extremely early. Someone must have complained, because that didn’t last long. Then there was some other buzzing noise that was also short lived (may actually have been Tony snoring now that I think about it). Finally all the folks waking up and moving about forced us to get up. None of us were too eager to get out of bed.

We checked out the town of Jackson for the morning. We had breakfast and then did some window shopping. Jackson has some really cool little shops with very unique (and quite expensive) items. We got to see dead stuffed animals of all the things we had hoped to see in Yellowstone.

The town itself is set up like an old western town. There was a stage coach that rode folks around the main square. The square itself has the four corners marked with an elk horn arch. They are huge! The local boy scouts gather and sell the horns to the town to raise money from the local elk refuge. It’s a very neat idea.

We headed back to Denver and had a fairly long drive ahead of us. None of us were really in the mood to get in the car for such a long journey. But as we drove out, we had the Teton Mountain range on the right side of us and the Rockies on the left. It was a beautiful drive. The wide open spaces of Wyoming are beautiful. We drove nearly the full height and width of it on our return.

The last leg of the trip was the same exact road we had left out on. It was funny how in the short amount of time that we had traveled through there, we already had made funny memories. We passed the McDonald’s that Cass had to eat at. We passed the gas station where we partially filled up because Tony nearly ran us out of gas. We passed the section of land where we argued about plateaus, mesas, and buttes. Good times and good memories.

The thing we kept saying was how impossible it felt that we had accomplished so much in the ten days since we had been on the road going in the other direction. We traveled over 4400 miles, saw 7 national parks, went through seven different states, and saw two major cities. We sea kayaked (but saw no whales), saw quite a lot of different wildlife, and did an Eskimo plunge into a glacier river.  We laughed, ate, drove, and took hundreds of pictures. Fortunately, we also didn’t kill each other.

We made it into Denver and Tony’s sweet Aunt Maxine insisted we stay at her house while she and Uncle Jack went back east for a short trip. We took advantage of their complex’s hot tub and swimming pool after dinner. It felt great to soak in the hot water. We all crashed for the night, knowing we’ll have a busy day tomorrow of more sight seeing.

Thursday, August 13, 2015

Disappointment - August 12, 2015

After such a wonderful day yesterday, we were all geared up for animal nation in Yellowstone. As we first drove in the park, we saw a prong horn deer. We just knew it was going to be the day we all hoped for in seeing big game. Boy, were we wrong.

Due to time constraints, we only got to make a backwards S through the park. We went down the side that they said had the most bear activity. We even went down a 6 mile dirt road (don’t tell the rental company) that we just knew was going to produce some animal sightings. It didn’t.

So much of the park has had forest fire activity. It’s really difficult to see through the woods as the younger trees coming in are all about eye level from the car. We managed to see a couple of elk, a white tail deer, a couple of herds of buffalo from a long distance, a ground squirrel, and a robin (Tony wanted me to make sure to include that find!).

We managed to see Old Faithful blow her top without any problems. We probably only spent 4 hours in the park total. I couldn’t seem to get the crew motivated this morning. For one, I turned off the alarm at both 6 and 7 a.m. I just couldn’t drag myself up after such a long day in the car yesterday. It set the tone for the rest of the day.

We made our way through to The Grand Tetons and they were as gorgeous as ever. We got there right at sunset and took some beautiful pictures. Jen decided this was her favorite park. It’s somewhat of a strange park. You don’t actually get to drive over to the mountains. You just ride alongside of them and stare in amazement at their rugged beauty.

As we were headed out of the park, two bull elk were right off the road. There were lots of folks out of their cars taking pictures. There was an Asian woman that walked right up to it and nearly touched it. Of course she scared it away and ruined the pictures for everyone else. We were more than annoyed!

That was sort of the theme for the day. Everywhere we went, there were RUDE people. We didn’t even have to get out of the car to interact with these jerks. As we were doing the speed limit through the park trying to enjoy the beauty, cars were passing us left and right. It really is a shame that folks can’t stop and enjoy the beauty of nature. I think they were just hurrying to the next big attraction to take their selfies to post on FB. UGH!

We’ve somehow managed to get a day ahead in the schedule. We’re heading back to Denver tomorrow. It’s a seven hour drive that I’m sure we’ll manage to turn into at least twelve. Let’s just hope Tony doesn’t find a taxidermist this time with a 50% off going out of business sale. Our goal is to go back to Denver and maybe hit Rocky Mountain National Park Friday. That will make a total of 8 national parks this trip if we can manage it. We had only planned on 6 originally, so we’re ahead of the game!

We tried to not be disappointed in Yellowstone today since it was a bonus park. But not seeing the wildlife that we love sure made it hard not to be. With that and being around all the inconsiderate people, it may have slid down the favorite park list a bit. Maybe we’ll have to come back again to give it another shot. I don’t think that will be difficult. I’m always game for exploring national parks.

We’re staying in a rather shady motel in Jackson WY tonight. Again, not planning ahead, all the hotels were full. We feel lucky that we got what we did. We walked downtown after a very late dinner. It has a little bit of the Gatlinburg feel to it. Not really our kind of town, but it will be short lived. We’ll check it out tomorrow in the daylight and be on our way.

Our vacation is winding down, and so are we. We’ve had a wonderful time seeing all the sights, but we’re not as young as we once were. The girls have even reached the point of dreading getting in the car. They really aren’t looking forward to trading the cushy van in for the truck for that trip home. Speaking of, we got a call that it won’t be ready now until Friday evening. Keep your fingers crossed they can make that happen. Else, it’s going to tighten the schedule and cause some problems. We’ve been so lucky for the remainder of the trip after the bumpy start. We don’t want to go backwards!

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

Cardiac arrest - August 11, 2015

Today was amazing. We stayed at the perfect place last night. It had a train that ran close by that woke us all up at an ok hour. We realized breakfast was over at 9 so we all yanked on clothes and headed to the restaurant. Dinner was much better, but we all found something edible.

We were supposed to wake up at 5:45 to see if the local moose came to the pond outside the restaurant for breakfast. That didn't happen. I woke up, but Tony refused to get up. We still haven't seen any big game while we've been out here. The funny thing is that back home we have to stop and gander at any and every deer we see. It has barely been a blip on Tony's radar at the deer we've seen out here. We hope to remedy that tomorrow at Yellowstone.

We decided to go into Glacier on the east side since we had to travel so far to find a room last night. It was totally the best way to see the park since so many people start from the west side. We ended up turning in too soon but that was a great uh-oh. It routed us back around to where we needed to be. Along the way we got to see a beautiful lake, sheer rock mountains, and a hawk. Gorgeous.

Once we got on the right track, we started seeing burnt forest. We all sat in stunned silence in the car. This was old burn versus what's burning now. It was miles and miles as far as the eye could see of what looked like tooth picks standing. It was a very solemn drive into the park. It almost felt like driving through a graveyard. Tony even likened it to driving through an Indian burial ground.

But the good news is that the new growth is prosperous underneath it. The small pines are probably about a foot tall. The further we drove, the taller it got. In looking at the landscape, I'd say the large majority of the park has burnt at some point. There are so many patches where you can tell it's burned. Some are small areas and others are vast acreage. A natural state for a forest, but still hard to swallow being a tree lover.

We got to the area that is currently burning. We didn't see any flames, but the charred ground and trees still reeked of fire. We did see one small trail of smoke high on one ridge. One whole section of the road into the park had all the pull outs blocked. The trails in those areas were blocked off, too. The smoke on one section was so bad visibility was limited. But it soon cleared and with the trees limbs gone, we saw much more of the park than we would have otherwise.

The views in the park were simply stunning. We ran out of superlatives to describe one ginormous mountain peak from the next. The mountains were layered in valleys of trees at the bottom, to large meadows of wild flowers, to then sheer rock. The rocks are layered in various colors that range get in color from yellow, green, red, pink, white, gray, and black. 

There were mountains that formed a single, pointy, rocky peak, some that formed a ridge of multiple mountain rocky peaks, and others that were a solid rock plateau. There were so many beautiful water falls and rivers gushing down the crevices we lost count. 

At Logan's Pass, which is the pinnacle of the mountain range, we dropped over to the other side. A sign said it was an eleven mile descent to the bottom. Crazy gorgeous doesn't cover it. We also decided having the monster truck in that park would have been a very bad idea. The roads were pretty narrow. We also discussed how bad it would be to have car problems on the road. It wasn't mush later that we saw a car with a flat tire blocking traffic. Fortunately there was a park ranger there helping them. We were glad it wasn't us!

We stopped at numerous pull outs along the way for photo opps. The girls hate that phrase. We're taking pictures at break neck speeds. I just pass the camera to whomever has the best view point and say "Photo opp"! The biggest problem is two windows have to go down to stop that gosh awful air pressure imbalance in the car. Wind whips through the car for a bit, and then all is well. We've gotten some beautiful shots for sure.

At the bottom of the mountain, we were following a river that got bigger and stronger as we went because of all the glaciers melting into it. We stopped for the obvious photo opp. Jen found a trail down to it. We had not hiked all day and felt we couldn't really say we'd been to the park unless we did, so we went for it. Once we got down there we realized just how beautiful it was. It was crystal clear. It had a bluish tint to it from all the glacier water. We could see each and every little pebble in the bottom. 

As I looked down on it, I got this strange urge to jump. I asked Jen if she'd do it, she agreed immediately. We then looked at Cass to see if she'd go. At first she refused. I had to sell it to her that we had clothes and towels in the car. The hard part for her was she had big hiking boots on. I knew she'd need them on to climb out of the water that was lined with rock walls. She finally caved, and said she'd go. 

We were going to go one at a time, but then decided to all go together. Cass then chickened out of that proposition. Jen and I said we're out of here, and at the count of three, jumped. It felt a tiny bit like Thelma and Louise. My adrenaline was pumping up to the point I was airborne. It was about that time I remembered what the feeling of falling felt like. The bottom of my courage fell out, but I was shit out of luck in backing out. 

The next shock was hitting the frigid water. As soon as I hit the water I thought maybe I was wrong to be so eager to take the plunge. It was damn cold. I popped up and immediately wanted the ejection button. I looked at Jen and saw the same look on her face. Our original plan was a bit flawed from the start. We were to swim back up stream to get out. Problem was, it was at a white water drop. We swam, but we didn't get anywhere. I gave up pretty quickly and started for the closest rock. 

It's amazing what frigid water temperature does to a body. I think my heart may have stopped on initial impact. Then my brain seemed to stop working. Cass jumped in right after we did. I sort of remember her jumping in, but all my brain could think about was survival. Getting out of that water was first priority. I'm glad Tony caught it on camera, because my memory of it is extremely foggy. 

Once we hauled ourselves out, we started warming up quickly. We then had to figure out how to cross back over. We decided to go down the river and see if it got more shallow so we could cross. We had to boulder a few places, but we found a spot. The bad thing was the water was moving very swiftly through some big rocks. We decided to back up a bit and cross in the water. 

It's amazing how quickly the brain forgets sometimes. It didn't look like it was that far to cross in the water. I hopped right in the water without thinking. Again, the the water took my breath. We scurried across and felt like bosses when it was all over. 

My skin tingled for the better part of an hour after our excursion. I kept saying I wish we could do it again. For me, it was the highlight of the trip so far. Everyone loved Glacier Park. It will be hard to top for the remainder of what we're going to see.

Tonight we drove into Bozeman, Montana to stay before heading to Yellowstone. We saw that park on our last trip. We loved it best with of all of the critters we saw. Since we haven't seen any so far this trip, it may still take the cake if we can score some big game sightings there.

As the trip is coming to a close, we're finding it more and more difficult to stay in the car for long stretches of time. I had to beg everyone to continue on to Bozeman tonight to make tomorrow's trip to Yellowstone shorter. When we're in the parks, riding is no problem. It's just the long distances in between them that are so tiring. Yellowstone is a HUGE park and will take a long time to get through. We're planning to stay in Jackson tomorrow night. We're all looking forward to it and The Grand Tetons. After that, it's back to Denver.

The warranty company approved about 75% of the costs of fixing the truck. They're supposed to be working on it and have it ready for us to pick up on Friday. We're mostly in denial that there will be any issues with that schedule. We're just thinking positive. We've had enough heart issues for one trip!!

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

Glacier, August 10, 2015

This road trip is starting to take its toll on everyone. We got in fairly late to Spokane and no one wanted to get up early to head for Glacier.  I had set an alarm for 6:00, just laid back down. We all slowly got moving and finally headed out around 9:30.

We sat downstairs for a bit watching people as they came in for breakfast. There was one couple that had 4 or 5 kids that were having an argument. There was a woman that came rushing in asking for a locksmith. She had locked their keys in the car and had a plane to catch. As we were leaving, we saw them finally getting into their car. She started crying once they got into their car, and I so knew what she was feeling!

We’ve had a lot of evidence that our Mom’s are watching out for us. We think they worried too much in our initial shenanigans they’re doing their best to keep the rest of our trip uneventful. We’ve had near misses with car accidents, I nearly lost Tony’s cell phone today when I hopped out to get a picture and it was in my lap (fortunately I had left the door open and Tony saw it on the ground), and we’ve been able to find lodging even at peak season out here without reservations.

If there’s one piece of advice I’d give anyone traveling out here, it would be to make sure you have reservations. We’ve spent a considerable amount of time calling places and dropping in to find that everywhere is booked. Even though I had planned 6 places where we’d need reservations, I never made them. After the rocky start, I didn’t want to jinx us by making reservations that we may not be able to keep if we had any further problems. But like I said, we’ve always managed.

Some places have been nicer than some. Tonight we nearly had to stay in a complete hole in the wall. We’re not entirely sure what it was, but it looked like a small trailer converted into a hotel. You couldn’t even open the door to the place without bumping into one of the beds. You had to close the door and shimmy around the bed to get to the little bathroom. Cassidi who is our picky hotel queen refused to stay!

We went on down the road and found a really cool place that is a cabin. It is part of a complex of cabins out in the middle of nowhere. We had a wonderful dinner in the restaurant that overlooks a small pond/lake. I asked if wildlife ever came up. They told us a moose usually does. We waited, but no moose. We’re supposed to get up super early to go look for him. I’ll be surprised if Mr. McCann ventures out that early.

We’re in the final push through Glacier tomorrow and then we’ll head south. We hope to hit Yellowstone before we get back to Denver. I think everyone is ready for some rest, quiet/alone time, and to not sit in a car for hours. We’ve done reasonably well with tolerating each other. No homicides have been committed just yet. We still have a week to go, however.

We’re hoping Glacier is fully open due to all the wildfires. We saw a bit of it this evening before we decided we better head out to find a place to stay. We had hoped to stay in the park, but everything there was booked, including the campsites. We saw a place that looks like it was recently damaged by the fires. It’s sad to see, but we realize it’s a necessary evil in nature. I just wish they could be controlled burns instead of these crazy blazes.

Tomorrow will most likely be another slow moving day. I’ve grown weary of being the vacation nazi and am fine with whatever. They all just have to suffer the consequences of losing sleep when we have to be somewhere in order to stay on schedule to get back to Denver. I knew it would come to this, but there wasn’t a thing I could do about it. Some things in life are just a given. And whirlwind vacation trips are exhausting… perod!

Monday, August 10, 2015

Pacific NorthWest - August 9, 2015

Today we reached the furthest point west on our trip. We got up extremely early to do a sea kayaking trip in search of orcas. After we were on the water, our guide told us he’d been in WA for 4 months guiding and hadn’t seen a whale as yet. It would have been nice had he told us that before we paddled around an island for 3 hours! Oh well. We saw an eagle, harbor porpoise, and a couple of seals. We felt successful because no one fell out of their kayak.

When we finished, we headed to the little town of Anacortes for lunch. They were having an art festival so we got the added bonus of seeing street performers and local art. We wandered around for quite a while before we decided to get back in the car to head for the North Cascades park.

The park was another drive through park. It had numerous snow caps and amazing rivers and lakes. Actually, there are three dams in the park. The water is an emerald color. Simply gorgeous. We have taken picture after picture along this journey and not a single one captures the true beauty. We keep taking them though.

We decided to continue on to Spokane this evening to hopefully get some time in Glacier tomorrow afternoon. We rode through a little place that looked like an old west town. It would have been nice to find a place to stay and spend the evening there. But one draw back was that too many people were there. It was sort of a mini Gatlinburg.

It’s been another long night of driving. Fortunately Jennifer has done the majority of the driving in the last two days. Tony had another dud day for some reason. We’re all laughing at him as he’s the one usually making fun of us for dragging. I can only imagine the shock his body is in after all his London travels on top of all this driving. He hurt his back just before the trip and no amount of massage, stretching, or ibuprofen seems to be helping him. He just needs rest. Maybe in a week or so.

We have moments of crabbiness and then moments of belly laughter. We’re making new memories that one day will be reviewed in much the same manner as we’re rehashing our old memories now. The girls never remember much about our first west trip. All their memories are our memories regurgitated or pictures we took. Hopefully with them being older this time, they’ll remember.

We are all in need of some rest. I don’t think we’ll be getting any of that in the very near future. The schedule is quickening in pace it seems. We’re expecting to be back in Denver this Friday to pick up the truck. We haven’t heard from the guy on the progress at this point. I’m sure we’ll hear something tomorrow. We’ve mostly been in denial about those first 72 hours of the trip. These last few days we’ve managed to enjoy without incident. We continue to knock on wood hoping our good luck will hold out.

We’ve had a great time in the Pacific NorthWest. The parks are gorgeous, the people have been nice, the cities held different surprises, the ferry ride from one corner to the other was interesting, the weather has been beautiful, and we’ve crammed every day full of activity from sun up to sun down. I don’t think we could have seen or done anything more than what we have. But we have left some things undone so we’ll have to return. Later… much later.

Sunday, August 9, 2015

On schedule, August 8, 2015

Last night we decided to sleep in until 8:00 today. Jennifer said it’s the first time she’s ever considered getting up at 8:00 as sleeping in. Last night wore us to a frazzle. "Mr. I can sleep when I die" spent the day in the back seat sleeping the majority of the day. I think we’ve found his Achilles heel. He drove the large majority of our first week. Jennifer took over the wheel today. I’ve pretty much decided that every time I drive, I do something I shouldn’t. I’ll just let them drive.

We went to breakfast today at a really nice diner in Port Angeles. It’s a beautiful little town at the top of the Washington peninsula. Olympic National Park was just south of the little town. We decided on a route that would hopefully let us see a good bit of the important sites of the park but still make the ferry we had scheduled in Port Townsend. We saw the rainforest, the beach front, and the mountains from afar. Cass was unhappy that we didn’t make it to the visitor center where you could view Mount Olympus. But the weather was rainy and cloudy and we wouldn’t have been able to see the top of the mountain anyway.

Port Townsend was also a neat looking place. We didn’t get to even drive through it. We made it to the ferry with about 45 minutes to spare. We got in line and headed across the water. We didn’t see any whales or critters other than seagulls. It only took about 30 minutes to cross. On the other side, we saw beautiful farm land and rainbows everywhere. Simply gorgeous.

We’re finding that this country that we’re living in is vast, beautiful, and holds its own unique qualities every mile that we travel. While some things may look the same as the next, there is always something that separates it from everything else. Today I had a wish that I could store every site I’m seeing like the pictures that I’m taking. There are just so many views to take in. And pictures simply don’t do them justice.

We got into our hotel this evening earlier than we have to any along the way. Our energizer bunnies are running low on umph! Tomorrow is going to be another busy day of seeing what the next bend in the road holds. It will be the last day that we’ll stay on schedule with what we planned before. From here on out, we’ll have to fast forward things a bit. We’re not entirely sure how we’re going to do it, but as always, we’ll get it done. It may just be a little more painful than we expected.

It’s hard to believe we’ve only been at this a week. I’ve gotten to the point where I’ve forgotten some of what we’ve already seen. We’ve been so focused on moving forward, reviewing hasn’t crossed out minds. I’m grateful for all the pictures and the words of these blogs. One day I’ll be able to look back and appreciate all we’ve done. However, right now, I could go for a 24 hour nap!