Monthly Archives: June 2013

Moab

What to say about Moab…  Nestled between Canyonlands and Arches National Parks and seated at the edge of the Colorado River, Moab has whitewater rafting, rock climbing, hiking, mountain biking, and miles of Jeep trails. This is a great outdoor activity mecca with a laid back vibe, just like our favorite mountain towns. One big difference, Moab’s not mountain. It’s desert – and it’s hot!

We’ve been looking forward to visiting Moab for years, really, and were excited to spend nearly a week exploring the area. As usual, we ran out of days long before we could have exhausted all the adventure possibilities. We spent one day paddling Class II and III rapids on the Colorado, another day driving through serious 4×4 terrain in Arches National Park, and even worked in some amazing rock climbing and canyoneering. There are plenty of slot canyons to hike through and boulders to scramble over, but technically, it’s not canyoneering unless you have to use ropes. We started our canyon adventure with two long rappels, the first about 90 feet and the second an incredible 110 feet of mostly free-hanging descent right next to Morning Glory Arch.

The area around Moab is otherworldly, with red rock towers and winding rivers. The formations and exposed rock we saw in Arches were 65 million years in the making! We had to remind ourselves that the same forces that created those amazing arches is still working – eventually they’ll all collapse. It was incredible to be in an ever changing landscape that so clearly shows geological forces at work, both long term erosion and violent upheaval on a grand scale. Along with the Mother Nature, Moab’s inhabitants have left their mark as well. There are dozens of excellent pictograph and petroglyph sites within 30 minutes of town and even a remarkable rock covered with fossilized dinosaur tracks. This place has been occupied for a while now!

One thing that we really had reinforced in Moab? Water is critical! We always had two Camelbaks loaded with water and ice, plus a couple of bottles in a cooler stashed back in the Jeep for post-hike refreshment. Just breathing in the hot, dry air has a dehydrating effect and we learned to really appreciate the shaded streams along the canyon floors. We got a great tip from a local and on our last day and found our way to a secluded swimming hole right on the edge of town. The cool water cascades over small rocky ledges and collects beneath giant boulders in big, sandy-bottomed swimming holes. It was a great way to cool down and wrap up our visit.

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To the mountains…

We broke camp from the Fishing Bridge campground, following the shore of Yellowstone Lake south before winding down out of the mountains along the Snake River toward Grand Teton National Park. Well, I say “out of the mountains” only because we dropped down through some gorgeous peaks and came out in a broad valley beneath the towering Grand Tetons. Even on the shore of Jackson Lake, though, we were still at over 6700 feet elevation. When John Muir wrote, “The mountains are calling and I must go,” I think he had a place like this in mind.

Beneath the peaks of Mount Moran and company, just inside the northern edge of Grand Teton National Park, lies Colter Bay Campground and Marina. After a short, beautiful walk along Lake Jackson, we decided to make this our base camp for exploring the park. Over the next few days we rented a boat, fished for cutthroat and rainbow trout, drove the Jenny Lake Scenic Loop with spectacular views of the mountains, and finally got to have a fire in camp.

On our last night, we backpacked several miles from the String Lake trailhead to a spectacular campsite on Leigh Lake. We pitched our tents, then hiked another mile or so further with our fishing poles to Bearpaw Lake. Just off the trail near the lake, we discovered a pine tree shredded by what must have been a massive bear paw – close to 12 inches from one edge of the claw marks to the other! On the way back to camp, we were extra diligent with the hikers’ bear chant, “Heeey, bear! Comin’ through, bear!” The mosquitos swarmed us briefly at dusk but a good roaring fire and cool night air eventually combined to give us some relief. We ate rehydrated camp meals, finished the evening with s’mores (of course!), and stargazed by the lakeshore.

The next morning we woke to truly amazing views of Mount Moran, Grand Teton, and a whole series of mountain peaks extending north toward Yellowstone reflected in the mirror surface of the lake just steps from our tents. Bridger says that there’s no better way to wake up than to a campfire and hot chocolate but that scenery comes close! After breakfast we hooked packs back down from the bear pole, pulled our food out of the bear box, rolled up tents, and headed back to the trailhead where we loaded up and drove down into Jackson, Wyoming. What a cool mountain town! At the Snake River Brewery, we found real craftsmanship – a metalwork wall piece inspired by a Van Gogh painting (we recognized it from seeing the original in Chicago) and Zonker – their delicious, award-winning stout. The next morning we left it all behind, following the Snake River down along Bridger National Forest, trading bison herds for cattle ranches on the wide valley floor. Next stop – Utah!

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Yellowstone

The Rocky Mountains are simply amazing. We only skirted them last fall as we were making tracks for Minnesota and the Boundary Waters but we always planned to come back for a proper visit. Yellowstone National Park in northwest Wyoming is one of the most spectacular natural wonders in the world, combining towering mountains with boiling hot springs and geysers, all covered in lush meadows, forests, streams, lakes, and wildlife. It was like a tremendous drive-through wildlife safari, the American equivalent of the African Serengeti Plains. We saw bison, elk, deer, pronghorn antelope, foxes, coyotes, marmots, big horn sheep, mountain goats, and a lot of birds. Oh, and did I mention bears? Yes, we saw three grizzly bears, including a young bear about 30 feet away that I surprised as I walked around the front of our bus one morning.

Of course, we saw Old Faithful erupt a couple of times (cool) but we also had perfect timing to catch the irregular and somewhat unpredictable eruptions of the Beehive Geyser and the Grand Geyser (very cool!) as we walked around Geyser Basin. We also got off the beaten path every single day to hike the beautiful trails in the park. We hiked the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone, with its beautiful upper and lower falls, wound our way through sagebrush and a Douglas fir forest to Hellroaring Creek, and made the short, steep hike up to Trout Lake in the Lamar Valley. We loved it and were glad to have gotten in before the annual crush of visitors in July and August. We saw all of the major attractions, wildlife at every turn, and still didn’t come close to seeing everything Yellowstone has to offer. We can’t wait to come back!

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Looking back…

If we haven’t said this before, our favorite thing by far about this road trip has been reconnecting with family and friends all across the country. Not everyone wants their picture on our blog, but looking back, we wish we had a picture of every wonderful meal we’ve shared with people we love on this trip. Unfortunately, we have found that we take fewer pictures when we’re hanging out with our favorite people than we do seeing the sights.

Speaking of friends and family, we were lucky when our schedule opened up and our route took us to the mid-west. Our first stop was Gentry, Arkansas to visit family. Even though the kitchen is in the middle of renovations, Aunt Jerrie kept us well-fed and made us feel right at home.  Sam had lots of room to run with a new friend, and Uncle Gary brought out paintball equipment for the boys the first night we were there. Ouch! Uncle Gary gave us a behind the scenes VIP tour of the McKee Baking Company factory, where he has worked for over 30 years.  We got to watch Oatmeal Creme Pies from start to finish— mixing, baking, cooling, frosting, wrapping, boxing.  It was fascinating. At the end of the tour we completed the cycle with two final steps – unwrapping and eating! Back at the house we waited out tornado warnings, threw frisbees for the dogs and played dominoes ’til midnight. There’s really nothing like family.

Also in Gentry we visited the high school where Ayrril and I met and started dating (much to the amusement of the boys).  Callie and Jeff met us at Crystal Bridges, a world class American art museum, just up the road in Bentonville. The Norman Rockwell exhibit was excellent and our company for the evening was even better. On our last day we met Adam and Jennifer and their kids for breakfast. It was so great to have the chance to catch up with more friends that we haven’t seen in a decade.

Our next stop was Leavenworth, Kansas, a place that most SF guys have managed to narrowly avoid throughout their careers. Jeff and Kim made it impossible to miss, however, and we had a couple of very relaxing days hanging out with them. It was like being on vacation – staying up late, sleeping in, great food and cold sangria. Much as we would have loved to stay longer, the mountains were calling, the homeowners association was beginning to look askance at the big bus parked in the neighborhood, and we had to move on.

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Out of the woods…

So, we’re a long way from Memphis! Since the last post we’ve made our way into the Great Plains, visited family and friends in both Kansas and Arkansas, and hit the Rocky Mountains. One of the unfortunate (or fortunate?) side effects of being in the back country of western Wyoming is a nearly complete lack of connectivity – cell phone, wifi, or otherwise. We’ll be catching you up over the next few days with plenty of pictures from Yellowstone and the Grand Tetons. Stay tuned!

 

 

 

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