The two trips were one to take Jet north to Canada to see some of the sights that John and I saw up there when Jet was in Europe, and the other is going to be to Seattle to stay with John's mom and explore a bit with her and revisit a lot o the amazing Asian restaurants we loved when we were there over Christmas. Jet insisted that we try new things, go to places that we didn't go on our trip so that we'd have a fresh perspective, too, and it worked out really well with John's ability to plan and research things.</div>
I'm going to give you the full photo album right up front, so you can see all the views (many have some information on the side and I think you can see the info by clicking on the picture and clicking on the circle with an "i" in the middle. I'll just pull out a few as I talk about why and what we got out of the places we visited.
All the reserved campgrounds were full, but there were a few campground in the park that were first-come-first serve, so we left Longmont Sunday afternoon, stopped in Rawlins for the night, and then headed into the park first thing in the morning. We arrived at about noon, and found a lovely spot in a half-full campground.
We got settled very quickly and walked around a little lake to the Vistors' Center, and got a good taste of just how many mosquitoes there were going to be. I was swarmed by them on the lovely little trail, they didn't seem to notice that I was covered in sunscreen and shouldn't have attracted them at all. At the Vistors' Center we hit the grocery store as well for the last things we wanted, including a package of Jiffy Pop; and we found out that there was a Ranger led hike at 4 pm. We didn't look long enough to find out how long it was, but we all wore plenty of mosquito repellent, had our good hiking boots on, hats, and I had John refill my quart sized water bottle before we left.
I was utterly surprised by this lake, not that far out from the visitor's center, which happened to be completely covered with wild water lilies. They kept the water both shaded and very still, so it was a perfect breeding ground for mosquitoes and all the things that eat them too, from frogs and toads to lots of fishes that eat the larvae, and then dozens of waterfowl and the animals that prey upon them as well.
There were a lot of various kinds of ducks, Canadian geese, swallows, and a good number of raptors, including osprey and bald eagles. And a whole flock of ducks were talking amongst themselves on the shore and they all stopped quacking at each other and all their heads swiveled when this guy appeared.
The fox was utterly unconcerned about us humans, and the ranger was not too happy about that, and even unhappier when it saw us and came closer, obviously looking for a handout. But when it was pretty clear we weren't going to be tossing anything its way, it turned and wandered toward the ducks. Eggs and duck are both tasty, but the whole flock tracked the fox's every movement and it was pretty clear that they were going to act in concert, so it took off along the trail, panting with the heat.
The next lake was called Swan Lake, and while the trumpeter swans weren't around, there were other heron, cormorants, and a few beaver dams that looks like nothing more than big piles of sticks along the shore. The beavers actually came out to take a look at us, a baby and a bigger one who watched both the baby and us pretty closely.
When we settled in our sleeping bags that night I realized we'd traveled the full arc from when we started getting rid of stuff to show the house and ended up with nothing more than what was in our van and on us. And it was enough to just be with my little family and just enough stuff for a few days living. It's been a long road, which had very little to do with our physical distance from home and everything with emotional and mental distances from our stuff owning us to where we had only what we needed. Admittedly, more than some people have, and with a wealth of reserves waiting in the wings, but... for a while it was nice to have things be very very simple.
When Jet was a child, we'd come through Yellowstone on the way home from Seattle, and a fire had gone through some of the southern part of the park, which we'd seen while exiting to the south. There were thousands of tiny seedling then, which are now grown up to good sized trees, much like Jet. Not the towering thicket of the mature trees, but well on their way. It was fun to see them be so big and think that they're about the same age that Jet is.
There was also a hike on the Yellowstone Canyon wall that we weren't able to do from Uncle Tom's Cabin last time because the entire area was closed for renovations. This time that area was wide open, so we went there, and hiked a good ways along the trail toward Artists' Point, but a good deal less than halfway there I decided I'd had enough, and it would be better to just head back to the car and drive to the point.
I do love painting what's there, but not in the position I'd like for it to be in the picture. *laughs* But the idea of trees clinging to the cliff edge is one that I love, and I want to plant more of those. Yes, there is a gradual build up of ideas that I want to set paint to paper or canvas. It's harder when I'm going through parks with the boys because we don't really stop, and I don't want to get eaten by mosquitoes.
Jet took one look and said, "Oh. That's why they call the park Yellowstone."
Yes. This is why.
Our aim for the day was to actually get through the whole park and end up as far north as we could get into the night, so that we could end up in Canada the next night. But we didn't really want to compromise on what we saw in the park while we could be there, so we did one last stop in the park at Mammoth Springs, where we wandered around the various springs, dead and living and then went to the Post Office so that I could get some postage stamps and then we ran north.
It's not something that we do that much at home when we all have things to do. Jet's working, has a whole library of games, supports Humble Bundles, so has a lot of things to just pursue on his own. It was really nice to just sit with him and talk about random stuff.
We decided, together, to push the drive, and we stopped in Bozeman, MT to have some dinner and after a little searching, we found a lovely little spot called Copper Whiskey Bar and Grill, which advertised having small plates, and one of the things my eye homed in on was the demi-glace poutine. The rich depth of flavor in the demi-glace really made the dish, and it had plenty of beautifully crisp fries and good cheese curds as well. Jet also got an open-faced burnt ends sandwich which was served on a slice of what I would have called Texas Toast, and I told him to dip the bread in the remains of the demi-glace and he was a very very happy young man. I had a salad, and was not sorry for the choice.
And this locally crafted ice cream did the trick on all counts. It had enough fats to slow my sugar uptake and since it was immediately after a meal, that helped, too. And, on top of all of that, we had decided to try and make it all the way to Butte, and were going to be arriving so late and leaving so early in the morning that it would be really difficult to hit Big Dipper, our preferred purveyor of ice cream. So it was nice to get a small cone in the rain and eat it under the cover of the shelter right there by the cart.
We made Butte fairly late, and left early, went north through Wyoming via Whitefish and up to Radium Springs in Kootney National Park. We arrived early enough to go to the hot springs and have a good long soak in the hot pool. It was wonderful. Since the water is heated by decaying radioactive elements far below the surface, there is no scent to the water, but it is superbly hot. After dinner, we walked to the local grocery store to look around, and I found a kilo bag of fruit and nut muesli. We hadn't brought cereal and we were going to camp while in Banff, Kootney, Yoho, and Jasper, so I bought the bag. The checkout clerk said, "That looked really good. I might buy some myself," while checking it out. Since it was an a rack of nuts, trail mix, and dried fruit bags by the same manufacturer, I had to agree.
We took off from there into Banff, looking for the campgrounds that were first-come-first-serve, and with the weather, and the fact that it was still Thursday, we were able to find a half-empty campground at the foot of Protection Mountain near The Castle.
The rain came in, and we headed back south to the campground, and along the way, we thought we'd stop at a Lodge to see if we could have dinner there, but it was reservation only and more than an hour wait for the next table for three, so we decided not to do that, and headed into the shopping mall near Lake Louise. There was a little restaurant that wasn't quite a cafeteria in the top of the mall, and we ran through pouring ran to get into there. We ate simple food, fish and chips and the like and really enjoyed it. The prices were still high, as we were in a national park, but not nearly as bad as at the other higher end restaurants.
Full and warm we headed back to the camp, and the rain eased enough for us to set up the van. Some of our bedding had gotten wet in the clamshell on top of the car, the driving rain had gotten through to a certain extent, but the campsite had an enormous pile of firewood, and so we were able to built a roaring fire, and the heat dried out most of the bedding, and we went to sleep in forty degree darkness, all wrapped up snug in the van.
But right in one of the pastures by the hotel, we saw a sign warning of bears and that that particular trail was closed. It really looked like it was the main trail up to the tea house, but refusing to be deterred, we walked along the lake, only to find that further on was the trail up to the tea house and that particular trail was not closed, only the one across the open meadow. It turned out that the bears liked that open space, not the woods up to the tea house.
So we started up. It was a much steeper climb than the one up to the Plain of Six Glaciers tea house, but I just chugged on up, breathing pretty heavily, but I just kept going and both boys were happy about encouraging me as we just took step after step up the zigzagging trail. Most of it was in the woods on the slopes, and there weren't many open spots for looking down at Lake Louise, unlike the other trail, which was wide open to a lot of different vistas.
We were right, part of the steep path up included some trail that was nearly nothing but tree roots all gnarled together and holding the trail in place, another section was just a stair out over the abyss, and a very short spectacular section that was by a waterfall. You can just click on the picture to the right to get to the other pictures of that section of trail. I was pretty happy that I could do it, even with my limited lung capacity. I had to breath pretty hard, but neither my lungs or my legs gave out.
They offered various types of tea, some sandwiches, scones with jam, and I think some soups and breads and the like. Not a huge menu, but more variety than I would have guessed.
We enjoyed the view, and I chased some absolutely enormous ravens throughout the area for a while and then we headed down the long way, which was, indeed, easier not just on my knees, but on my breathing as well.
When it was all folded up we headed over to the very first national park that Canada had every made, and it was over a dispute over natural hot springs in Banff! We got to tour the small natural hot springs and see the hole the original discoverer found. He'd actually lowered himself into a twenty foot deep hole in the ground, and bathed in the basin at the bottom when he found that the water was hot! *laughs* Jet was saying, "Who would do that?"
It was fun to see all of that and the natural springs that ran above ground around the site of the modern mineral springs spa.
We then looked up a lot of various restaurants in the area, walked to most of them and looked at all their menus. Finally, we found the Saltlik Bar and Grill, which specialized in Alberta beef. We weren't super hungry, and the prices were fairly spendy, so we decided to split two steak dinners and order both maple Brussel sprouts and a wedge salad as our shared sides. The steaks were a skirt steak of Alberta beef and a tenderloin from a buffalo raised on the same plains with blueberry butter. I was curious about all the items and was very happily surprised by how good everything was.
The Brussel sprouts had been roasted until they'd caramelized, and then glazed with Canadian maple syrup so that it caramelized as well, and they were chewy, sweet, and delicious. The wedge salad was nearly half a head of iceberg lettuce sliced into thick wedges and topped generously with bacon crumbles, lots of blue cheese, and a creamy ranch dressing with some perfectly ripe cherry tomatoes as a garnish. The steaks were the star of the show, though, the skirt was tasty, chewy, perfectly medium rare and tender as anything. The tenderloin was perfectly seared, and so tender I cut it with my fork, and the blueberry butter lent a rich fruity side note that really complemented the flavor of the meat. It was so good all the food was gone before we thought to take a picture. The steaks did come with baked potatoes with all the usual toppings, but they ran out of sour cream right as they were bringing the topping holder over, so our waitress went back to get it reloaded, and by the time she returned we were through nearly everything but the potatoes.
We then made our way back to the campsite under overcast and mist. Castle Mountain in the picture to the right looms over out campsite, so beautiful to see it on the approach that night. It had been fairly dry all day, so we were able to build a big campfire and sat around it, talking, for a few hours before getting ready for bed. It was pretty cold that night, I was very happy for my wool hat and socks in my sleeping bag, and we woke up to snow on all the mountain tops around us.
It was cold enough that we decided that we weren't going to go further north and try to camp in Jasper, instead, we decided to go south and try our luck with warmer weather in Waterton National Park. John and I remembered Waterton very fondly in the time we got to stay there when Jet was in Europe and really were looking forward to taking Jet down the little canyon where all the moms had brought their kids to play in the water with all the colorful rocks there. Little did we know what had happened there.
in 2017, nearly a third of the park burned in a huge wildfire that swept through. There was another smaller fire in 2018, but the aftermath was that most of the public areas of the park were surrounded by the burnt sticks of the old aspen groves that had stood all over the mountains.
We arrived in the early afternoon, and from the entrance in, we saw the burn. It was on all sides of the road into town, and even onto the small peninsula that held the Prince of Wales Hotel. It was obviously stopped before it got up the slope to the hotel, and the road provided some firebreak. And the road out to the little canyon we'd loved was flat out closed, as the fire had burned across the prairies there and had damaged the roadway enough that cars weren't allowed, though bikes were.
The trail was flanked, on all sides, but the burnt remains of the forest, but, as you can also see in the picture, the wildflowers were taking utter advantage of finally getting ALL the sunlight, and they were going nuts. There are also thousands of aspen seedlings (fingerlings? What is it when they grow from the old rootstock of the dead trees?) amid all the lush greenery. The new life coming out of the old ruin of the burn. There were lots of people up there, since nearly all the other trails were closed, but that made it kind of hopeful as we worked our way up, knowing that nearly anyone could get to the top, even when they were in sandals with a wheezing old bulldog on a lead.
Eventually, we saw the helicopter drop the person and the platform up by the lake, fly away, and then fly back to pick up the stretcher with someone in the stretcher covered by a bag to protect them from the wind, and the person strapped to a line by the stretcher to keep it all stable as they flew everything back to town.
That was pretty exciting.
John went up with his big lenses for the views along the trail, and then on the way down, he took a bunch of photos of the wildflowers. Take a look at the album, some of them are really gorgeous.
I hadn't ever been in the hotel, before, and it was a lovely old-fashioned surprise. So 50's! Elegant and still a little rustic with the wiring showing, and the beams of real wood and wrought iron work. The gift shop had entire sets of fine china for tea, as well as the usual tourist kitsch. I was really glad that I'd gone in to look.
The hotel also had a recreation building next to it, which had a pool and a hot tub, and we went in to just soak the hike-aching muscles of the week in the hot water. It was so good, and sleep was easy and warm in the comfort of the hotel room.
The Canadian border station for the Canadians was a very modern, sleek affair, and just a little further south was the US station, which was far more rustic with copper eave liners, and open wood. It was interesting seeing the difference. We had our passports and nothing in particular on board other than us, and we had no problems.
We made a beeline to Billings, wending our way through the Blackfeet Reservation and then down through Great Falls and lunching in Shelby. It was nearly the last of our cheese and crackers, so we figured it was almost time to head home.
I often get the huckleberry, but there's only so much ice cream I can have in a single sitting. *laughs* It was all so good.
It was an amazing collection of Western art, memorabilia, and history. And really lent credence to what John and I have been saying for decades, "We moved 1200 miles East to live Out West." The history was all fascinating and stuff that probably isn't taught anywhere else. And one of the displays included a map of everywhere his show had gone, and we were pleased to discover that he had, indeed, gone to the Ukraine, and had toured along the western border of the country, with three different stops! So George's father could have seen the show when it was there!
The fossil collection is extensive, and there are some very enthusiastic docents giving the most up-to-date version of the history associated with the local finds. There is a huge dig right near the center and they're gathering the money to allow for better access to the digs for people who want to work on them. There's all kinds of camps available for people who want to try their hand at digging for fossils. That was kind of cool, but we weren't there at quite the right time to do that, and it was pretty spendy as well, and while we loved looking at the built models and all that they had there, it isn't really a dream of mine to dig for fossils.
In Thermopolis proper access to the hot springs is licensed to several commercial enterprises that had pools, play equipment, lockers, towel rentals, and nearly everything you might want for a day in the water. There was also, however, a state park facility, which had nothing but one covered outdoor pool and one indoor pool, two locker rooms with showers, and a park ranger at the front desk asking people to sign in. The hours were limited, and they were only open from like 11 am to 4 pm on a weekday, but they were open and the water was kept at a toasty 104. They recommended not staying in for more than 20 minutes, but for a free soak, that was pretty much all I wanted.
So we headed into the locker rooms, changed, and met out in the outdoor pool. It was fed with the hot water and enough cold to keep the temperature bearable. The water was just a little murky and smelled of sulfur, but it was deliciously hot and the pool had plenty of concrete benches with handrails scattered throughout. So we could just sit and soak and relax. It was amazing.
When we first arrived in Thermopolis, we'd actually checked into our hotel, the Elk Antler Inn, before we explored the rest of town, and when we checked in, they were shoveling hail off the upper walkways of the second story building. There had been a tremendous thunderstorm just before we got into town, and when we finished our showers at the Inn and headed into town for some dinner, we knew that the One-Eyed Buffalo had delayed its opening until 6 because of the hail.
We waited outside the diner, with a few other families, and one of the showed us pictures of baseball sized hail. There had been house windows smashed, and we'd seen one family duct taping the back window of their car closed. We were really lucky we missed it so narrowly.
Dinner was good. Simple food with local brews, but the restaurant was completely swamped with people at the beginning, so it was a little slow. And we walked back to our hotel with the sunlight slanting down from the West. And I bought a glass from them just to remember the whole trip by.
It's a fine idea to pick up along the way.
Then we found out, the next day that a tornado had touched down in Chugwater that afternoon. So we managed to dodge that, too. One thing I will note is that for our entire trip, there was a decided wealth of water all through the West. That's not the usual thing, especially in late June, early July. The reservoirs aren't nearly as full as you can see the one above is, and it was so utterly green it was crazy compared to the usual mid-summer golds.
All in all, a good trip and successful in getting our minds off of and away from the moving out we'd had to do. It was truly relaxing and there were lots of good, memorable moments. I think my favorite is still the tea house on Lake Agnes. That was so much fun and satisfying to do the hard climb. But it was all fun, and better shared with John and Jet.</div>