Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Southern Charm

I had another post in mind for today, but my Flickr photo account says I've used my limit for this month and won't be able to upload more photos until the first of November, unless I upgrade to a paid account. Unwilling to do that, I thought I'd just share this cute story that someone sent me in an e-mail:
Two informally dressed ladies happened to start up a conversation during an endless wait in the LAX airport. The first lady was an arrogant California woman married to a wealthy man. The second was a well -mannered elderly woman from the South.

When the conversation turned to their children, the California woman started by saying, "When my first child was born, my husband built a beautiful mansion for me."

The lady from the South commented, "Well, bless your heart."

The first woman continued, "When my second child was born, my husband bought me a beautiful Mercedes-Benz."

Again, the lady from the South commented, "Well, bless your heart."

The first woman continued boasting, "Then, when my third child was born, my husband bought me this exquisite diamond bracelet."

Yet again, the Southern lady commented, "Well, bless your heart."

The first woman then asked her companion, "What did your husband buy for you when you had your first child?"

"My husband sent me to charm school," declared the Southern lady.

"Charm school?" the first woman cried, "Oh, my word! What on earth for?"

The Southern lady responded, "Well, for example, I learned to say, 'Well, bless your heart.' instead of saying 'Who gives a crap?'"

Sunday, October 28, 2012

Rocky Mountain National Park 2012

From Dubois, Wyoming, we traveled to Estes Park, Colorado for a visit to Rocky Mountain National Park.

On September 25, at the recommendation of Park Rangers, we decided to drive the unpaved Old Fall River Road, a spectacular 11-mile drive to the Alpine Visitor Center at the top of Fall River Pass at 11,796 feet above sea level. From there, we had the option of traveling down the west side of the Rockies toward Grand Lake or returning to Estes Park by way of the paved Trail Ridge Road.

Following are pictures from that day.

Mountain Bluebird 

A small waterfall near the roadway

Doug, shooting some video of the beautiful yellow aspen

Another small waterfall

Doug took this shot with our new HD camcorder. He didn't even know he'd pushed that button.

View from the Alpine Visitor Center at Fall River Pass

A storm brewing at the Alpine Visitor Center

When we left the Alpine Visitor Center, we drove a short distance down the west side of the national park, toward Grand Lake. We hadn't gone far before we spotted an osprey in the top of a tree. He was pretty far way, so the picture isn't wonderful; but I couldn't resist including it.


This was another scene along the west side of the park.

We didn't drive far down the west side but turned around and returned to Estes Park by way of the paved Trail Ridge Road. By the time we reached the Alpine Visitor Center again, those lowering clouds we had seen earlier had become dense fog, misting rain, and spitting snow. We parked at the visitor center for awhile, hoping for a change in weather before continuing. But the weather showed no promise of changing. So we started on back toward Estes Park through the fog, rain, and snow. Once we got down to a lower elevation, the snow stopped and the fog lifted; but it was still raining.

Since the weather was not cooperating, we decided to drive to Loveland for an oil change for our vehicle and supper for ourselves. It was getting dark by the time we returned to Estes Park. As we entered the town, a large bull elk strolled across the highway in front of us. Again, the photo, taken at dusk through the windshield of a moving car, isn't sharp; but I wanted to include it anyway.

Elk in town

We heard elk bugling in the national park, but we didn't see any there. We did, however, see several herds of them scattered around the town of Estes Park.

We had planned to spend another full day at Rocky Mountain National Park, but the nasty weather didn't show any sign of improving. So we dropped a few of the activities we had planned and headed for home a day early.

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Go Fast, Sweet Chariot

After our day in the Tetons, we spent the night of September 23, in Dubois, Wyoming. The next morning, we had breakfast at the cafe next door to the motel. Our waitress, Betty, was a slender, soft-spoken young woman who was sporting an enormous belt buckle...the kind that are sometimes given as awards in rodeo events. We asked about it, and Betty said she had won it. We asked what event she had competed in.

Most of you will be as amazed as we were at her answer. It was chariot racing.

It seems that chariot racing is a very popular winter sport in the western United States. Of course, that encounter with Chariot-Racing Betty sent me to the internet to do a little research. What I learned made me want to do a blog post about the subject. Betty and her husband, John, graciously provided me with some photos with which to illustrate the post.

That's Betty driving the team on the right.

According to my research, chariot (cutter) racing was begun in the 1920s as a way to pass the time during the long, cold winters. Cutter racing is said to have originated on the main street in Thayne, Wyoming when the dairy farmers would bring their milk to the creamery and make bets on who had the fastest set of work horses. As the competition grew they would bring their saddle horses to run and eventually went to smaller sleds known as cutters. Over time chariot racing became more sophisticated and the sleds were replaced by lightweight cutters, which were basically chariots on skis. When there wasn’t enough snow for the cutters, it was trucked in for special events.

To alleviate the need for snow, the cutters’ skis were replaced with wheels, and they later evolved into high-tech aluminum and fiberglass chariots with shocks that can be adjusted to track conditions.  Each team has two horses pulling a chariot, and two or three teams run a straight quarter-mile race in about 22 seconds, or at roughly 50 miles an hour.

Chariot racing is not for the faint of heart. As in harness racing, horses can spook and turn over the chariot, reins can get caught on equipment, and chariots can drift into one another and crash. It’s a dangerous sport.

Quarter Horses, Paint Horses, and Appaloosas dominate the sport because of the short racing distance, and their breed associations have approved chariot racing as an activity that earns points and recognition within their breeds.

A closer look at the chariot and another team raced by Betty and John

The thrill of victory...Betty was awarded this hand-blown glass trophy for winning the Norman Epler Memorial Race, held each Presidents' Day weekend in Saratoga, Wyoming. Betty and John have each won one of these highly coveted trophies.

Racing partners...and friends, too

John and Betty allowed me to choose from a huge selection of pictures that included both of them in races. I opted to narrow it down to a select few photos that featured Betty, since she was the one who first introduced me to the subject of chariot racing and since her slight build and gentle spirit made her seem an unlikely participant in the sport.

Still, it didn't seem right to leave John out completely.

And, finally, one last photo to illustrate how very different life in Wyoming is from life in Indiana:

It's been a pleasure getting acquainted with John and Betty. I hope our paths cross again.

Thanks to Hilary at The Smitten Image for including this post as a Post of the Week.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

A Smoky Day in the Tetons

On September 23, we drove from West Yellowstone, where we had been staying, down through the South Entrance and, from there, to Grand Teton National Park. Before leaving Yellowstone, though, we stopped to see Kepler Cascades.

Kepler Cascades - Yellowstone

Then we continued on to Grand Teton National Park, known for its majestic mountain scenery. Unfortunately, the smoke from numerous wildfires almost completely obscured those mountain views.

Grand Tetons hidden by smoke

Another view of the smoke-covered mountains with some fall color in the foreground

By mid-afternoon, the thick smoke had lifted, leaving the mountains in a smoky haze.

Since the mountain views were disappointing, we went looking for wildlife. The park newspaper suggested that the road between the towns of Moose and Wilson offered good opportunities for bear sightings, so that's where we headed.

We hadn't gone far before seeing this moose grazing in a small pond.

A little further down the road was this big bull moose.

And this is the crowd gathered to photograph yonder moose.

After getting our photos of the bull moose, we returned to our vehicle and were preparing to continue on down the road. Before we could work our way out of the jumble of cars parked haphazardly by those hurrying to photograph the moose, we looked across the road and saw a bear in the woods. (Sorry, no picture...again) Sitting on a log not 20 feet from the bear was a man.

My first thought was that he had seen the bear and had foolishly gone over there to get a photo. The bear was just passing through, gorging on berries as it went. When it was gone, the man came across the road to where several of us had been watching. He looked a little shaken. It seems he had just gone over there to sit on that log while waiting for his wife or friend to shoot some pictures of the moose. The bear came through the woods, surprising him. So he just sat very still and waited for the bear to leave. I suppose he felt reasonably safe, with all of us standing across the road watching the whole drama unfold.

Following are a few more photos from this visit to the Tetons.

The T. A. Moulton Barn on Mormon Row

The John Moulton Barn, also on Mormon Row

A last look at the Tetons in the late-afternoon light

Sunday, October 21, 2012

Yellowstone National Park 2012, Part 3

After our hike to Fairy Falls on September 21, we went looking for elk. They're much harder to find in Yellowstone these days than they were 10 or 12 years ago. We used to see them everywhere in the park, even during daylight hours. It seems they don't emerge from the cover of the trees now until dusk. It may be that the reintroduction of wolves into the park's ecosystem has reduced their numbers.
Whatever the reason, by the time we located the elk, it was too dark for my camera to capture any photos of them.

I did, however, capture this lovely sunset.

And this equally lovely moon.

The following day was spent at the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone. What a beautiful place!

Yellowstone Canyon from the Grand View Lookout Point on the North Rim

Yellowstone Canyon and Lower Falls from Artist Point on the South Rim

A closer look at Lower Falls from Artist Point

The couple that took our picture at Artist Point live about 30 miles from our home.

Upper Falls

After viewing Upper Falls, Doug wanted to walk down to the beginning of Uncle Tom's Trail, which is essentially a staircase of 328 steel grate steps, descending 500 feet down the side of the cliff to a view of the base of Lower Falls. We had just gotten a new high-definition video camera, and Doug wanted to get some video of that famous staircase.
So we started down the steep switchback trail which would bring us to the top of Uncle Tom's Trail in about a half-mile. The elevation was about 8,000 feet; and we've already established that it's hard for us flatlanders, who live at or near sea level, to breathe at that height when standing still, let alone when hiking.
We met another couple who were also curious to see Uncle Tom's Trail, and the four of us walked together down the steep half-mile trail leading to the staircase. As we walked, we talked and found ourselves really enjoying our new friends, who were from Nevada. I didn't get their names, which I have regretted ever since.
As we neared the last hundred yards or so before reaching the staircase down into the canyon, we could see that the trail was increasing in steepness. Since we were within sight of Doug's goal, and since our return was going to be all uphill, I told Doug I'd just wait there while he went and got his pictures. He suggested that I go on back up to the parking area with the Nevada couple, who had also decided not to go any further.
The Nevada couple seemed concerned about me as I came gasping up to where they waited, and they insisted that I walk with them. I knew I'd be slowing them down since they live at an elevation of 7,800 feet and weren't having to deal with the whole breathing issue. But they insisted. They walked very slowly and stopped often for me to catch my breath.
When we reached the parking lot and they realized that Doug had the key to our car, they insisted that I accept a Gatorade from them, as well as a stem of grapes. Then they went on their way, and I sat down in the shade to wait for Doug. When he wasn't back within 10 minutes or so, I knew he had decided to go all the way to the bottom of Uncle Tom's Trail.
He rejoined me in about a half-hour. He said he had started down, just to get some pictures of the trail. Before he knew it, some old man coming up the trail told him he had only about 87 steps to go and that he should keep going. So Doug did. I can't believe he did that whole trail in only a half-hour. And not a single snapshot to show for it.
Later that same day, if you can believe it, Doug decided to take another strenuous hike, this time to Red Rock Point, which is across the canyon from Uncle Tom's Trail.

Red Rock Point (You can see the trail and the viewing platform to the left.)

That tiny speck nearing the bottom of the stairs is Doug

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Yellowstone National Park 2012, Part 2

Geysers, Friends, and Falls

Yellowstone National Park is home to some 10,000 thermal features, over 500 hundred of which are geysers. In fact, Yellowstone contains the majority of the world's geysers. I can only imagine what the first people to see this place must have thought when they saw all the steam vents, boiling pools of water, and towers of water shooting from holes in the ground.

On Friday, September 21, Doug and I headed for Old Faithful Geyser Basin, where we were to meet up with fellow bloggers, Betsy and George. I knew from reading Betsy's blog that she and George had interests similar to Doug's and mine. When we realized that we were both planning trips west over the same span of days, we looked for where our trips might overlap each other. That turned out to be Yellowstone National Park.

As we pulled into a parking space at Old Faithful, I received a text message from Betsy, saying that she and George were sitting among the crowd gathered to watch the next eruption of Old Faithful Geyser. So we went in search of them. Of course, the crowd were all facing toward the geyser, and Doug and I were walking along behind them. Still, I recognized Betsy as soon as I saw her, even from behind. Of course, it helped that she was wearing her camera vest.

Betsy was alone when we found her. George had responded to an alert from a Park Ranger that Beehive Geyser was preparing to erupt. Beehive doesn't erupt nearly as often or as predictably as Old Faithful, so it's a rare opportunity to be present when it goes. George had run down the boardwalk to be in front of Beehive for that eruption, hoping he'd still be able to get back in time for Old Faithful's eruption.

We took the seats that Betsy had saved for us on the bench in front of Old Faithful and proceded to get acquainted as we waited. Meanwhile, in the distance, we could see the eruption beginning at Beehive.

Beehive Geyser
Before Beehive's eruption was over, that small geyser in the background was also erupting.

George joined us in time to see Old Faithful's eruption.
Old Faithful Geyser

Linda and Betsy enjoying a picnic lunch between Old Faithful eruptions.
(George took this photo with my camera.)

Old Faithful erupting again after our lunch.

After watching the second eruption of Old Faithful, the two couples parted ways. George and Betsy were off to hike to Mystic Falls. Doug and I decided to hike to Fairy Falls.

The hike to Fairy Falls was a 5.2 mile round trip, but the trail was easy. The first mile of it was along the back side of Midway Geyser Basin.

Blue steam from Grand Prismatic Spring in Midway Geyser Basin, seen from the Fairy Falls Trail

After the first mile, the trail turned and traveled 1.6 miles through a new-growth forest.

Evidence of the 1988 fires still remains and, no doubt, will for years to come.

Fairy Falls

Fairy Falls was beautiful, and we felt well rewarded for the hike, even knowing that we faced a hike of 2.6 miles back to the parking lot where we had left our vehicle.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Yellowstone National Park 2012, Part 1

Yellowstone National Park's Grand Loop Road forms a figure 8 in the center of the park. We entered from the Northeast Entrance through Cooke City-Silver Gate, Montana.

When we reached the east side of the Upper Loop, we dropped south a couple of miles to visit Tower Falls. After the long drive over the Beartooth Highway and then through Lamar Valley to the junction with the Upper Loop, Doug was ready for some ice cream at the Tower Fall General Store. To our dismay, the store was already closed for the season.

The beauty of the falls made up for the lack of ice cream. The 132-foot drop of Tower Creek, framed by eroded volcanic pinnacles, is very picturesque.

Driving north again on the Upper Loop, we soon came to the beautiful Undine Falls.

September is the season for the elk rut (mating season). On previous visits, it was common to see groups of elk throughout the national park. It's not so common anymore, most likely due to the reintroduction of wolves into the park several years ago. But there was no shortage of elk around Mammoth Hot Springs. When we reached the Mammoth Hot Springs historic district, we found the largest group of elk that we were to see anywhere on this trip.

This bull looked totally whipped.

Rustic Falls, located just south of Mammoth Hot Springs, on the western side of the Upper Loop.

Gibbon Falls, near Madison Junction

We spotted this Bald Eagle along the West Entrance Road the following morning.

A short side trip through the Firehole Canyon, on the west side of the Lower Loop, led to Firehole Falls, pictured above.

Mule deer in the Firehole River

Firehole River

There is so much beauty in Yellowstone National Park that it's hard to pick a few representative pictures to share on the blog. So, of course, there are more to come.

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