Liralen Li (liralen) wrote,
Liralen Li

Road Trippin'

So when we realized just how much time we were going to be spending in Karen's basement, we decided to do some traveling. Not as much as we thought we might have to do when we thought we'd be living on the road until our house was done, but more than we would if we'd been able to move straight into the new house.

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.

Several years ago, the Eurovan had the radiator overhauled before a trip we made, and the people who did it didn't tighten the cap for the fluid on all the way, so on one of the mountain passes, the engine seized, and we were stuck somewhere in Montana for a while before we could rent a car and leave the Eurovan there for repairs. John went back for the van a few weeks later, and on the way home, he camped in Grand Teton National Park. He loved it. Loved it so much he wanted us to see it the way he had, and so it became our first destination.

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.

The site was lovely, level, had a fire pit, and was close to the bathrooms. And each camp site had a "bear box", that brown box on the right behind the picnic table, which all the signs said that all your food or food-related items had to go into that or into your car. It was great to shove our cooler and food boxes into that instead of in the van, because it gave us more room to move around in the van at night.

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.

It was a good thing, too, as it turned out to be a four hour hike, around Jackson Lake in order to visit two others (Heron Pond and Swan Lake), and to talk about the various biomes that are all in the one national park.

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.

It was pretty spectacular.

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.

That was amazingly cool. The Grand Teton is that big mountain on the leftish of that picture, and the mountains all around it are kind of glommed in with it. *laughs*  The fun part was that the ranger was really into the whole thing, and since she was a birder, she could identify the birds by their calls. Both the ospreys and the bald eagles were far more twittery than I expected, high thin calls, but an osprey flew over our heads. The one thing I was sad about missing was a fishing kingfisher, but we hadn't brought birder glasses. The hike itself was only about six miles, we went really slowly and stopped at all kinds of spots for a discussion about the biomes, which included lake, sage brush tundra, and other things. We ended by the shore of the lake that we started by and we got back to the campsite in time to make a quick dinner and pop some popcorn and really enjoy the fire.

I have learned to like camping over the years, and the Eurovan really makes it a lot easier, because the bed in the back of the van is a familiar surface, and I've adapted pretty well to it, especially with the memory foam pad we have on top of the seats. I love the campfires, the simple meals, the minimum of shelter against the elements, especially when the bathrooms have actual flush toilets and running water for washing my hands. After doing the Wild and Scenic Rogue River where we had to go out in the woods with a roll of toilet paper and nearly all of China's public restrooms being true horrors, I am so grateful for even a clean pit toilet with plenty of toilet paper and hand santitizer. Small luxuries.

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.

It was raining pretty hard in the morning. When I went to the bathroom to bush my teeth a lady plaintively asked me if it was going to rain for the entire day, and I had to honestly answer, "I don't know." It's interesting how freeing it is to be able to answer with that. We decided that the rain was a sign, and that we needed to move on. We got everything into the van and we headed into Yellowstone, the south border of which touches Grand Teton National Park.

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.

I'm not sure how much we stopped to see that time and it was so long ago, Jet was willing to stop wherever we wanted to take a look at things. The last time John and I were here, the weather was so cold that steam obscured nearly everything, so it was nice to actually see the mud pots and boiling pools not just hear them. It was fun to revisit and get to show Jet some of the more active features.

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 loved this particular shot with the mom's hand on the hood of her child's sweatshirt. This was along the trail between the two points, and there was a good view of the Upper Falls along the way. I loved all the trees hanging on the edge, some of them the park service had taken down for safety's sake, but some of them, like this one, they'd just left hanging on to the edge by their deep root systems.  I really want to paint something like this sometime, maybe with the Yellowstone Valley in the background.

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.

Then we got to Artist Point again, and I really wish that I painted with oils, as the combination of elements is just not something that watercolor is all that good at, but it's possible... There's the daughter of the lady who curates the gallery at our church who has done exactly this view on a small sheet of watercolor paper in watercolors. I want to put this picture John took on my big screen at home and take a full sheet and go at it. It would be something else.

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.

I wrote my postcards in the van, on the little camping table in the back while John and Jet drove, and napped a little, and drove some as well. With three drivers the longer drives were a lot easier, so I'm grateful for Jet's new learned abilities and the fact that he's willing to practice freeway driving with some instruction from John. Jet also kept me company up front for some of my stretches and it was wonderful to just talk with him about anything and everything.

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.

Especially when we stopped for ice cream at this little outdoor spot at the Genuine Ice Cream Company. My no sugar alone rule means that I can't eat something that is just sweet (without proteins and fats) or that I can't eat a sweet without company to regulate me to some degree. It's not just a "diet" (with air quotes, of course) rule, I've also found that anything that is too sweet makes me feel kind of ill and not happy and sluggish brained. But with Jet and John, I do want to still really enjoy a sweet treat once in a while, especially immediately after dinner.

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.

The next morning, when we were walking to breakfast, there was a herd of big horn sheep right outside our Big Horn Hotel. They were eating the branches and green plums from the plum tree there, pulling off parts of the tree along with the green fruit. Breakfast was amazingly good, at the same little cafe John and I had hit when we were here, Riko's Family Restaurant. The over medium eggs were exactly that, the tater tots crisp and an amazingly good substitute for hash browns, and all the meats beautifully cooked. The toast was British style, dry, cooled, and great with jam.

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.

There was a good view of the mountains all around when it wasn't raining, which wasn't that often while we were there. After throwing a few chairs onto our site after we signed up and paid for it, we headed up into Banff to peer at burned forests with signs warning people to not stay too close together so that they wouldn't get all taken out at once. It was haunting to see the sheer amount of damage, and actually walk into it all and smell the smoke and feel the crunch of burnt wood beneath my boots. The tiny seedlings were coming up everywhere as well, so it was fun to see what was coming in after the fire.

We kept going up to see Peyto Lac and then the Columbia Ice Fields with the glacier that had retreated tremendous amounts, going from somewhere past the parking lot to a solid hike to the foot of the glacier. They still offer bus rides onto the ice with crampons to walk out on the ancient ice. The rocks there were especially fascinating, particularly the once that had been worn to perfect flatness with the skid marks of tons of ice sliding over their tops.

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.

We woke to mist and sprinkles, had a quick cereal breakfast, packed everything up, putting the bedding into the back area of the van and headed as early as possible to Lake Louise. We arrived just in time to get one of the last few parking spots in the lot near the hotel. We gathered all our hiking gear, had water bottle and extra layers, and started up the trail to the Lake Agnes Tea House.

Of course, we walked by the historic Lake Louise Hotel and the view that everyone gets right off the tour buses. Jet really loved the view, and it was the first time he'd seen it. John and I had gone up to the other tea house the last time on a much longer hike. So we wanted to do this other one this time.

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.

But halfway through was Mirror Lake and a good view of the Beehive (we'd hiked a Beehive mountain in Maine that looked remarkably similar but was a nearly all boulder hopping kind of hike). Mirror Lake was perfectly still, and there were two paths on either side of it, one looked shorter but was likely steeper and another longer and more meandering. We decided on the shorter one up, and figured that the longer one would be easier on my knees when we went down again.

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.

At the top was a beautiful little lake, Lake Agnes, and the view of a glacier and mountain behind it, and a little tea house, smaller than the one at the Plain of the Six Glaciers. It was the same make, though, rough hewn wood, plenty of outdoor seating. The staff had to hike in the fresh goods each day and a helicopter would fly in the staples once a year. No flying for the people. *laughs*

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 ordered tea and scones, my favorite Assam, and the scones came with strawberry jam and were crisp on the outside and tender on the inside. After the hike, sitting still got chilly, so I put on all my layers and the hats so that I wouldn't get chilled, and we happily ate our snack and then went to find the pit toilets up a path, away from the lake. With as few people as made it all the way up, the pit toilets were clean, well stocked with toilet paper, and had hand cleanser in plenty by the door.

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.

It was a beautiful hike and we were all really glad that we did it. And it only took the morning. Lunch was just some of our cheese and crackers after we got out of the Lake Louise parking lot to make room for someone else; and we headed into Banff to find a laundromat to do all our laundry. It was easy to find in the heart of town, and we got pretty good parking. We wandered around town as we waited for the washer and the dryer and scouted out various places to look at and maybe have dinner.

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.

So good to have an outstanding meal, and Jet really appreciated it and the quality of all the elements. I especially loved that by sharing all the elements of the meal we all ate really well, but didn't overstuff ourselves.

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.

John got the fire going, and we ate breakfast out of the cooler, the Museli we'd bought in Radium Springs and some fruit yogurt we'd found at one of the grocery stores in the little shopping area by Lake Louise, and coffee we'd bought pre-ground with water boiled on the camping stove we'd borrowed from Tonya when we'd discovered that our usual camping stove was packed away in one of our storage units. *laughs* We were so grateful for our old neighbors lending us what we needed.

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.

John and I were there in 2016 and 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.

We also got in early enough that the hotel (sometimes I'm convinced that true Heaven is a hot shower) we were going to stay at wouldn't let us check in, yet. They were still cleaning the rooms, so we decided to go up to Lake Bertha and see the waterfall that fell from the lake down to the upper and lower Waterton Lakes.

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.

The lower falls were very pretty, though it was difficult to get a good camera angle on them, and we were cheerfully distracted by a whole crew of EMTs who had gathered in the parking lot at the bottom of the hike with a stretcher on huge fat tires. The crew of eight ran the stretcher up the trail, taking turns, pausing for plenty of water, and they were followed by a helicopter that dangled a person in a harness by a platform on one of its landing gear.

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.

Dinner was at Zumi's again, as the menu just appealed to Jet as it had to us, given that nearly everything else in town was a pub or brewery menu. And after dinner we had some ice cream and then headed up to the Prince of Wale's Hotel to look at the view from the bluff up there.

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.

We had breakfast at the Breakfast Spot, that shared time with the Pizza Spot and a coffee shop that made the coffee for them. And then we walked out to the waterfall just outside of town to take a good look at it and just have an easy walk.  There wasn't all that much more we could see, so after the walk and checking out of the hotel, we headed south.

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.

But, in Billings, we had to go to Big Dipper, since we missed doing that in Montana on the way North. It's a local, tiny chain (of three or four shops?) that is only in Montana, and they make their own ice cream. All three of us have "singles" which can be split into two flavors, which is basically a double by any other name. There's also a "kid's size" that is the actual "single"? But they had a coconut curry flavor this summer that the boys both had to try and really really enjoyed.  I had a good time with my usual cardamon and this time they had a Turkish Coffee, which, like its namesake, is coffee with cardamon in it it and it was a perfect foil for the pure, creamy cardamon ice cream.

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.

We kept going south the next day, stopping in the middle of the day in Cody, Wyoming, where the Buffalo Bill museum named The Buffalo Bill Center of the West exists. John's father's father, who was from the Ukraine, had a deep admiration of Buffalo Bill, and back in the 20's or 30's deliberately went out of his way to see the Buffalo Bill's grave which is in Golden, CO. This one, however, was dedicated to him because the town was named after him, and there was not only a huge collection of stuff from his days on the road with the Wild West show, but also the entirety of the Winchester gun collection AND everything having to do with competitive Rodeos and the Cody Roundup and Rodeo.

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!

We had the last of our cheese and crackers at the Center, and then headed further south to John's destination of Thermopolis, WY. It has one of the largest collections of real dinosaur fossils in the country along with what they've advertised as "the largest natural mineral hot springs in the country!!" Exclamation points included.

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.

The next day was mostly just a run south to home, but we made one surprise stop at the Chugwater Soda Fountain in the middle of the day. It was so hot and we'd had a huge breakfast in Thermopolis, so the boys didn't want anything to eat but a milkshake or ice cream soda. I had to have some protein with my sugar, so I got a chili dog with cheese and onions, and it was obviously homemade (not canned) chili from their slow-cooker. So good. And the ice cream sodas were really really good, and were made with Italian syrups that were normally used for Italian sodas or flavored coffees at coffee shops; but they made really amazingly good ice cream sodas, too. So these days if a restaurant serves both Italian sodas and ice cream, Jet has started to ask for the ice cream in his soda.

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>
Tags: adventure, camping, family, food, grateful, travel

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