Sunday, August 26, 2012

Next Year's Vacation

We've selected and put down a deposit on next year's vacation. We are going on a Caribbean cruise. It has been decades since my last, and only, cruise - a three-day jaunt on a Carnival party ship.

So long ago that I wore a European style Speedo without any sense of irony. Or, like I hate to point out, my last cruise was a hundred pounds ago.

This should be interesting.

Not only do I anticipate this to be a fun-filled vacation for everyone, it will be the most freedom our daughter has had on vacation. Not that we plan to just let her loose. Bratty, obnoxious kids can ruin others' good time. But with some monitoring of her behavior, she will be allowed, if not encouraged, to seek her own fun.

Another special thing about this cruise is that we've selected the (current) largest cruise ship. For me, the ship is the destination. There is a bit of buyer's remorse at play. Perhaps we could have saved some dinar by booking a Freedom-class ship (which was the biggest up to three years ago) with, essentially, the same services. But for me, there's an attraction to the machine.

I remember that Carnival cruise. That ship, too, was either the largest or nearly so in its time. And it cowed me. The ship's size I found daunting. Last time I was at Kennedy, the sight of those huge cruise ships at port was second only to the shuttle launch I got to experience.

This may be my kids' only cruise, so forgive me for spoiling them this once. Steve may never take another ocean cruise. Sarah may do so as an adult, provided she has the resources and interest. For me, this will only be my second but perhaps not my last.

New Project

My new project is Stephen's bed. The goal is to make him a twin bed that will last him his lifetime. My original plan was to use painted plywood, but Jeff convinced me to use maple, instead, for its durability.

To make things even easier, we went with prefinished plywood. To add character (and keep costs lower) we chose wormy, brown maple for the trim and posts.

So my job is to turn that pile of wood into a sturdy (and damn heavy) bed.

Monday, August 6, 2012

Last Day in the Tetons

Summit of Signal Mountain
It was our last day of our vacation. The next day was all travel. We started with a short drive to the top of Signal Mountain, which overlooks Jackson Hole. You can see most of the valley from up there.

After that, we grabbed our snacks and rented a boat. We used that to tool around Jackson Lake. We took off from west from the Signal Mountain marina to Moran Bay, swung north toward Pelican Bay, circled around the island off Leek's marina and worked our way back. We saw elk and pelicans on this trip, which was about twenty-four miles all told.

Approaching Moran Bay

Everyone seemed to really enjoy the boating. It was a nice activity for the whole family. Later, we went for a scenic drive and another pizza at Leek's. This was one of our more memorable trips and will, for different reasons, be a favorite of ours.

Sarah at the helm
Hope steering the boat
Sarah playing at the water's edge
The Ansel Adams view of the Tetons

Leaving Yellowstone

Road elk
So it was with some measure of sadness that we left Yellowstone. One of its surprising features, to me, had been the variety of it all. Every area had a distinct and different look about it. The Lake Hotel was elegant. The small thermal basins of West Thumb and Mud Volcano were entirely different. The Canyon area had a very camper-like feel, despite the seventies chic design of the lodge and cabins. Mammoth and Old Faithful areas were tourist choked. Hayden Valley was full of buffalo. Roosevelt was very cowboy western, and rustic to a fault. Norris was a valley laid to waste whereas the Old Faithful geyser basins were flat plains. In the quiet morning, the entire landscape around Old Faithful smokes and steams. There were beautiful vistas driving along Blacktail Deer Plateau and around Mount Washburn. One was hemmed in by regrown pine across the Central Plateau. The landscape was all tumbled boulders around Golden Gate.

Our little cabin in the Tetons
But that was behind us now. It was time to enter a different park with its own, different look and feel.

We were headed to Signal Mountain in Grand Teton National Park.

On our way out of the park, an elk did her best to mimic a road buffalo. We had only seen a couple elk in Yellowstone, but would see more in the Tetons. They are more skittish than they were before wolves were reintroduced to the parks. Now that they are hunted, they run at the slightest disturbance.

Signal Mountain Marina
Mountains. A small set of mountains rising almost straight up, without benefit of foothills. When a child thinks of mountains, this is what they picture. Sudden peaks, without reason, a bit of snow on them even in the middle of a hot summer. Gorgeous.

Our little cabin was near the water, across from which loomed Mount Moran.

We opted for an evening float trip down the Snake River. It wasn't a well-received plan by all. My daughter had grown tired of looking at things, hearing about things, etc. She just wanted some quiet, family time. So we hemmed and hawed. But hearing that only we were interested, we decided to go ahead. A private tour for just us.

View from the Snake River
Kids oaring the raft
Stephen enjoys being the guide

Mount Moran
The famous Ansel Adams photograph of the Tetons and the Snake River was taken over a section of river that we rode, so we had a somewhat different vantage of the same spot. Since we were alone, my kids got a chance to oar the raft. Along the way we saw several elk, a bald eagle, and a couple beavers. It was a relaxing way to end the day.

Sunday, August 5, 2012

I Shall Make This

I saw these tables at the Snow Lodge. I will make us one. Maybe out of oak instead of pine, though. The design is really simple, actually. Gives me an excuse to buy a chisel, too.

Geysers All Day

Old Faithful
Waking at the Old Faithful Snow Lodge, we dedicated the day to a geyser hike. I was developing blisters on the toes of both feet, but I bandaged myself up with mole skin and made the most of it. I'll be damned if I was going to let something as trivial as pain keep me from seeing this. Besides, my family was fighting off a cold so they were being troopers, too.

So, one last push before taking it easy the rest of the way.

After breakfast, we watched Old Faithful, again, then pressed on to see the thermal features of the Upper Basin.

Roughly following the Firehole, we made our way to Morning Glory Pool, then back a slightly different route to see what we had bypassed on the way out there.

By the time we got back, I was hurting and everyone was ready for lunch. I ended up cutting holes in the bottoms of my toes to drain them, then I bandaged myself up as good as I could to let me continue for the afternoon. We took a scenic drive along past Firehole Lake and Canyon, then stopped at the Midway Geyser Basin.

There we saw Excelsior Geyser, Turquoise Pool and the Grand Prismatic Spring. I, also, counted nine lost hats.

By day's end, we had seen enough of the thermal features of Yellowstone. Surely, we did not even attempt to see them all, but after awhile every hot, bubbling pool looks like the previous hot bubbling pool. Just like your first bison is magical, the twentieth one nice, the fiftieth one an irritation if it's blocking the road.

Still, upon leaving the next morning Hope wished to see Old Faithful just one more time. The rest of us thought she was nuts.

Old Faithful Inn and the Upper Basin
Old Faithful from a distance

Steve and Jim at Giant Geyser

Morning Glory

Shield Spring

Us in front of Castle Geyser

A hot spring pool

Firehole Lake
Grand Prismatic Spring


Leaving our Western Cabin in the Canyon area, we spent the day exploring geyser territory.

Norris Basin
Our first stop was the Norris Geyser Basin - the hottest part in the park. Pools as caustic as battery acid, heated to boiling, turned entire valleys into wastelands. The juxtaposition of such alien features nestled in high range pine forest made this all the more interesting and bizarre. This was evidence of earth's magma core finding a thin spot in the crust.

A hot spring at Norris

A geyser in the forest

After Norris, we had a quiet lunch at a wooded stop. Then we drove along the Firehole River to the geyser basins that contain Old Faithful and several other major geysers. We got to witness an Old Faithful eruption before dinner before settling in for the evening.

Although one typically associates Iceland and Scandinavia with geysers and hot springs, more than half the world's geysers are located right here, in Yellowstone.

There is another major thermal area under Lake Yellowstone, completely hidden from view by several hundred feet of water.

Old Faithful
Old Faithful Inn is one of the more interesting buildings I've seen. Several stories of open rafters support it's steep roof. An open staircase provides access to a parapet on its peak. Since it is closed to the public, I can only imagine the view from up there.
Interior of the Old Faithful Inn

Baby Buffalo, Horses, Lava and Travertine

Baby bison
We checked out of the Lake Hotel and drove to the Mammoth Terraces. Along the way, we stopped at Sheepeater Cliffs. Those exposed columns of hexagonal rock was a lava flow from the super volcano that is Yellowstone Park. A marmot lives among those stones, which we got to see.

Further up the road we visited the travertine terraces that are Mammoth Hot Springs. Here, unlike the other thermal areas of Yellowstone, the waters bring up dissolved limestone which precipitates out as travertine. The hot water actually comes from the Norris Geyser Basin, some twenty miles to the south. Mammoth can be thought of as a limestone cavern turned inside out.

Continuing around the upper loop, we stopped at Roosevelt to go on a horseback ride on the range to a steak dinner, and back. As we rode through Pleasant Valley, a thunderstorm passed to our south. The steak dinner was great, complete with cowboy coffee (brewed over an open fire), soda, coleslaw and potato salad, cowboy beans, peach cobbler, NY strip steak, and the like.

Here is the recipe for the beans.

8 oz. ground beef or sausage
8 oz. bacon, dice ¼-in
1 onion, dice ¼-in
1 can pork & beans
1 can kidney beans
1 can lima beans
1 can butter beans
½ cup brown sugar
2 tbsp cider vinegar
1 tbsp spicy brown mustand
½ cup ketchup
1 tsp garlic powder
salt and pepper to taste

Brown meats in a skillet and drain.
Saute onions with meat.
Stir in remaining ingredients (beans drained and rinsed).
Bake @ 325 F for 45 minutes or simmer for 1 hour.

Once the day was over, we went to Canyon Lodge where we had a Western Cabin reserved. This was, for a family of four, the very best place we stayed. I was figuring the opposite, quite frankly, but we had a quiet cabin (no one in the adjoining unit) with a nice view and a very large room.

Road buffalo
Sheepeater Cliffs
Mammoth Hot Springs
Stop for a drink at Lamar Valley

Jim on Dually
Dinner on the High Plains

Saturday, August 4, 2012

Day at Lake Yellowstone

Solitary bison
Our following day, stationed at Lake Yellowstone, was a busy one.

Dragon's Mouth
After breakfast, we headed to the mud volcano area, where we saw both the thermal features and our first bison. We saw several more bison, a herd as well as individuals, in the Lamar Valley.

Just after lunch, we took a boat tour of Lake Yellowstone out of the nearby marina. The ranger talk on board was a little goofy, but we had fun and saw the remains of a sunken ship and a bald eagle.

Lake Hotel from the water
Back on land, we went to the canyon area to enjoy the Yellowstone canyons and waterfalls.

Hot springs, wild animals, and water would continue to be the major themes of this vacation.
Waterfall-induced rainbow
Yellowstone Canyon

Lower Falls

Thursday, August 2, 2012

To Lake Yellowstone

At the Tetons
The following morning we set off for Lake Yellowstone, with stops at Mormon Row and the West Thumb Geyser Basin.

At Mormon Row we photographed the most photographed barn in the world with the Tetons in the background. A classic shot. We also enjoyed a picnic lunch, explored the small collection of hot springs at West Thumb, and drove along the lake to the famous Lake Hotel.

Mormon Row
Lake Hotel

The Lake Hotel was built in 1891 and exudes a quiet elegance even today. Its large dining room overlooks the lake, but like the hotels of its day the rooms are small. The nearby Lake Lodge was a mush less formal affair.

Stooling stool

I'll take a quick break from reporting on my vacation to complete a little side project.

My disabled son continues to learn the finer points of using the bathroom, but he is such a little guy that his feet don't touch the ground. Our other stools are too big for this purpose, so I fashioned him a little stool from some left over cherry plywood and stock.

It is held together with pocket screws and glue.

Jackson, Wyoming

Beer at the summit of Rendezvous Mountain
We spent the first full day of our trip in the Jackson area. Once I finished my beer on the summit of Rendezvous, it was back down the mountain for us (and a scenic trip on a ski lift). Finished with Teton Village, we went grocery shopping in Jackson (better prices at Smith's on the south edge of town than at Albertson's). Having simple picnic breakfasts and lunches worked well for us on this trip.

Famous antler arch
Cheese crackers, potato chips, soda, peaches, cherries, granola bars, radishes, water, cookies - of such things were made breakfast and lunch. Dinners we ate out. At this, I must mention Calico. Situated between Jackson and Teton Village (a short drive from either) was this wonderful little restaurant. Perfect for families. It had a nice lawn on which children and adults played. The wrap around deck accommodated our party nicely, with views of the mountain sunset. The food was good and a good value. Three different locals recommended this restaurant to us, each saying it was their favorite.

We spent the rest of our first day just exploring Jackson. There was the shoot out street play, various art and souvenir shops, and restaurants in town. I liked the pine sidewalks and kitschy Old West atmosphere. What a fun introduction to the area.

Old West Shootout