A Travellerspoint blog

7,000 Mile Road Trip Plus Iceland, Part 4

South Dakota. Missile tour, Prairie Homestead, Badlands NP, Jewel Cave NP, Crazy Horse Memorial, Mt. Rushmore NM.

sunny 70 °F

I got up with the sun and retraced my way back to I-90. The police tapped on my window at 2am, just checking on me they said. The lady at the campground warned me that they would. Crossed the Missouri River and stopped at the first rest stop for bathroom, clean up and reload my water bottle. I saw a sign for the Minuteman Missile National Historic Site and decided to stop. It is just off I-90 and worth your time IMO. It was 8:30am and I walked up to the Ranger standing outside and listened to his information. They would open the doors at 9am and offered tours every half hour. I was in the first 6 and was given a ticket for the 10am tour. That gives everyone a chance to watch the movie on the cold war, then tour the exhibits. You have to drive to the Delta 01 Launch Control Facility to start the tour. I drove over to Delta 01 and joined my group. Jim, our guide actually worked at a launch control facility while in the Air Force then came out of retirement to to give these tours. His photo is on the wall and several on the tour recognized his name when he introduced himself to us. We walk inside the facility, take the elevator down to the launch control area. Now we know why only 6 are allowed each tour. The elevator only holds 7 adults. We learn about life underground for the airmen that control the missiles. It was very cramped quarters but I popped off a few shots for my blog. We were very fortunate to have such an expert on the Minuteman Missile and the launch procedures. The ranger at the desk told us how lucky we were to be taking the tour today. The summer crowds were gone, the weather was perfect and the free tours would end soon. I looked it up and he was right. You now have to book your tour online, $6.
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30 minutes later we were back on top and I headed down 240 for Badlands NP (BNP). I stop at the Prairie Homestead Visitor Center to see if it is worth my time & money. I decided I don't want to spend the $7 to walk around old buildings. There is a real 1909 sod house on display but I am content to just use my zoom and get a few shots.
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Down the road to BNP, I stop at the VC for my stamp, map, exhibits then take 240 back towards I-90. I got some decent photos of the erosion that makes BNP noteworthy. On my way out of the park, I see a line of cars pulled over. This usually means animals are in camera range. There is a prairie dog town close to the road so I pull over as well. I try to get something worthwhile, but really needed a bigger zoom than I have, Five minutes later I am back heading for I-90. I did not allow much time for BNP as I had been there many years ago and would not be taking any of the hikes. Just get some photos and move on.
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240 joins I-90 at Wall so I stop for gas, food. There must be hundreds of signs for Wall Drug as you travel thru South Dakota. They claim they spend $400,000 and their signs every year. Ted Hustead started it all 1931 by offering free ice water to all that would stop at his store. The road to Mt. Rushmore brought thousands of travelers thru Wall and he never looked back. Now there are signs all over the world declaring how far they are from Wall Drug. My GPS takes me right to the place. The huge parking lots are a clue they get plenty of visitors daily. RVs and big rigs have their own parking lot. I go inside to see what all the fuss is about. I had not had anything to eat but pop tarts and granola bars so far, so I head for the restaurant area. The prices are a bit steep but the line is what deters me. There must have been 30 people in line before me. No thanks. Wall Drug is huge and packed with tourists. It looks like they have taken over several stores over the years and just kept getting bigger. You walk from room to room, each one full of kitschy stuff. Anything you want with Wall Drug on it, they have it. Plus souvenirs with the theme of Indians, buffalo, South Dakota stuff and everything else you could possibly want. I don't need any more souvenirs so I am in/out in 15 minutes. I found a gas station that also had a Subway sandwich shop attached. Paid for both gas and veggie sub and headed for Rapid City.
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I ate while driving and in less than an hour was in Rapid City. I follow the signs to the Information Center and get some maps and advice. I told the lady my plans to camp in Wind Cave NP (WCNP) until the Buffalo Roundup. She calls them for me and tells me they still have spots available. Her advice was to take 79 South to Hot Springs. A quick look at the map and you realize that you are going too far south and have to go back north to WCNP. She tells me that going thru Custer State Park (CSP) and taking 87 South is very slow going and time consuming. I believe her and get rolling. I set my GPS and cruise control and set off for Hot Springs. I cruise the town looking for grocery stores, restaurants, motels. I see one motel that looks affordable and stop to chat with the guy at the desk. Rates are not too bad until the day before the Buffalo Roundup, then it jumps to $100+. He tells me there are only a few places open for dinner now. I stop at the China Buffet to get prices. She tells me it is $10 for the dinner buffet and they have a TV. I told her I would be back for food and Monday Night Football. A quick stop at the store for bananas, bread & water. WCNP turns off the water today in the campground and the rates are cut in half. I figured I would need a few gallons over the next 4 days. I then head up 385 to WCNP. I stop at the Visitors Center (VC) to verify they still have empty slots and the price has been reduced. Over to the campground, find a spot and pull in. Most NP campgrounds are so big that you drive in, find a campsite, mark it and then drive back to the entrance to reserve and pay. This campground is small enough that I just walk back to pay. I got 4 nights for $18 because I am a senior and the water was shut off today. I meet a Chinese girl that is at the pay station at the same time. We chat a bit and she tells me her name is Hanling, now living in Kentucky. I botched pronouncing her name and asked if 'Hailey' was OK. I think this has happened to her before. Many Americans probably mispronounce it first few times they try. Hanling was gracious enough to let me slide by with Hailey. I told Hanling my plans asked if she would like to have Chinese food in Hot Springs. I was pleasantly surprised when she said yes. We agreed to roll in about an hour. She had to set up her tent, and I wanted to take a sponge bath plus get my van ready for sleeping. I drove back to Hot Springs, parked and we went into the China Buffet. The lady running the place recognized me from earlier, greets us and seated us in a booth. One of the things I like about buffets is that once your drink order is in, you can help yourself. We both picked what we wanted were eating in minutes. I found out Hanling had been born in China but now living & working in the US. With a PhD in Engineering, she had landed a job in Kentucky at a consulting firm. I was impressed. My years at UNLV in Education could not stand up to a PhD! After eating, we went into the banquet room where the TV was located. After an hour of football I drove back to WCNP. Said goodnight to Hanling and hit the sack. I was up at first light and got my oatmeal going. I said goodbye to Hanling as she was heading to North Dakota and Teddy Roosevelt NP. After BF, I cleaned up and decided to tour Jewel Cave NM. Up to Custer then on 16 West. Parked, got my jacket and camera then headed for the cave tour booth. Jewel Cave is a constant 49f (9c) so you will need a light jacket. I paid my $6 for the cave tour and went into the VC. Got the stamp for my NP passport and waited for my tour to be called. Elevator down to the cave and follow our guide thru the cave. Jewel Cave is huge, 3rd longest in the world and not all of it has been explored yet. It was discovered by two local prospectors in 1900. They felt cold air blowing out and decided to explore what they could. Teddy Roosevelt designated Jewel Cave a National Monument in 1908. It was named Jewel Cave because the calcite crystals inside the cave resemble jewels when the light hits them. We listen to our tour guide tell us about what we are seeing. Cave photos are tricky but took what I could. They warn you when you book the tour how many stairs there are. They are not kidding. Anyone with mobility issues simply could not do this tour. About an hour later the tour was over and we took the elevator up and out. They do have 2 hiking trails at Jewel Cave, but 90% of the park was burned by wildfires in 2000. It will be decades before it looks anything like it did before the fires.
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I looked at my map and decided to visit Crazy Horse next. I stopped to take a few photos of the burned area then on to Custer. Up 385 North a short distance is entrance to the Crazy Horse Memorial, I pay the $11, and into the building They have built a new visitors center since I was last here about 15 years ago. Take in the movie, the indoor exhibits then outside. There are plenty of Chinese tourists here all getting photos of the huge sculpture of Crazy Horse off in the distance. It is so big you could put all the President's heads at Rushmore on just the head of Crazy Horse. Those working on it admit they will not live long enough to see it finished. It is financed by entrance fees, no tax dollars used here. This is my third time here and doubt I will come back. Not that much progress in last 15 years that I can see. A few have speculated that it will never be finished. What is certain is that all of us here today won't be around if and when it is finished. I asked a few visitors to take a photo of me with both the model of the sculpture and real thing off in the distance. After about 30 minutes out on the plaza, I decided I had seen enough. I went back to my van to switch into shorts. It had warmed up considerably since this morning. It was another perfect day in SD. Sunny, warm, light wind.
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As I walked to my van, I saw Hanling's car parked 2 over from mine. I recognized it and then checked the license plates to be sure. I changed and then fixed a PB&J sand plus an apple for lunch. I wanted to see her again so decided to wait until she was through touring the Crazy Horse Memorial. I greeted her when she got to her car and found out she had been over to Jewel Cave as well. I was a tour behind hers and then we both headed for Crazy Horse. She was going to visit Mt. Rushmore next and so was I. I followed her over to Rushmore and realized we made a mistake. Last time I was here they did not charge for parking. Now they do, $11 per vehicle. We could of left one car at Keystone and saved $11. Too late now. We each paid $11 to park and walked beneath The Avenue of the Flags. At the top of the amphitheater you have the best view of the President's heads. We both got our photos and then decided to walk the President's Trail. You get some interesting views of the heads as you walk the trail. Certainly worth doing if you are mobile enough to climb some stairs. There are a few exhibits at the end plus a small gift shop. I bought a Mt. Rushmore bag and we headed for the parking lot.
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Hanling had booked a motel in Rapid City so I followed her there. I needed a Walmart for a folding chair for the Roundup. I left mine in Vegas and would need one in a few days. All of us viewing the Roundup will have hours to wait before they drive the buffalo past the viewing area. I bought some bananas, apples plus the chair and I was done shopping. Hanling found a Pizza Hut on her phone that was not too far from her motel. I put the address into my GPS and we would meet there in a few hours. I went to a Wendy's to use their wifi then read until time to meet. I used my GPS to find the Pizza Hut and got a surprise. It was for take-out only and not a real restaurant. I called her and said we needed to find a different pizza place. The problem was that my GPS is 10 years old and the pizza place close to her motel was not in my GPS. The street was not on my GPS either. Hanling was kind enough to drive to the Pizza Hut so I could follow her to the Pizza Ranch. The Pizza Ranch turned out to be a great choice. It is a buffet style with salads, soup, bread sticks, and dessert plus pizza. All for $11, a bargain IMO. I gave it a good review on TripAdvisor. We had a great meal and I had a good dinner companion. I got to know more about Hanling, her job and life in Kentucky. All too soon it was time to say goodbye, again. She could not stay for the Roundup and needed to head for Teddy Roosevelt NP. I had basically the same itinerary, but she would be 2-3 days ahead of me. She had noticed one of my headlights was out. I used my bright lights as much as possible on the drive back to WCNP rather than drive with 1 headlight. I set my GPS for WCNP but made a poor decision. I should have gone thru Hot Springs again but followed my GPS instead. It took me thru CSP instead. The lady at the Information Center was right. 16A & 87 has too many curves and slow speeds to make decent time to WCNP. That route may be shorter mileage wise, but not time-wise. I got back to my camping site about 10pm and turned in. What a great day. The weather was perfect, toured Jewel Cave, Crazy Horse, Mt. Rushmore plus had dinner with Hanling again. Hopefully we can stay in touch meet again one day.

Posted by vegasmike6 19:51 Archived in USA Tagged parks Comments (0)

7,000 Mile Road Trip Plus Iceland, Part 5

Deadwood, Chainsaw art, Mt. Rushmore,Wind Cave tour, Custer State Park

sunny 70 °F

I was up with the sun and fixed my oatmeal. I decided to visit Deadwood, Sturgis and then Mt. Rushmore at night. I knew they had an evening program and since I would be close, it made sense to hit that on the way back to Wind Cave campground. Drove to Custer, then on to Deadwood. The leaves were just starting to turn color at this elevation and stopped to take a few photos. I just blundered my way around downtown Deadwood until I found the Visitor Center. I had to pay to park but it was only a quarter for 30 minutes. There is free parking in Deadwood, but not in the historic section. I got my maps and headed out. I wanted to visit their library to check my e-mail then started walking historic Main St. I found the saloon where Wild Bill Hickok was killed and looked at the exhibits. The saloon recreates the killing of Wild Bill several times at day but the next performance was hours away. Main St. is full of souvenir shops and all were running sales because the summer was over. I bought a Sturgis hat for my nephew and a few Deadwood coins for myself. Next up was Mt. Moriah Cemetery, the 'Boot Hill' for Deadwood. This is the final resting place for Wild Bill Hickok and many others. Deadwood has plenty of tourists because Wild Bill got killed here. The TV series 'Deadwood' helped as well. I doubt they would have had as much success if Wild Bill had been killed in nearby Lead (rhymes with heed).
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I had asked at the VC about a laundry and auto parts store. I was told both were over in Lead, only 5 miles away. I did a load of laundry, my first since leaving Steve's house in Mass. Read my book while waiting and had a PB&J sand, apple, banana for lunch. I found the auto parts store, paid for a new headlight and ask who could put it in for me. The counter guy said he could and within 5 minutes he had it in. I gave him $5 and headed for Sturgis. It was on the way but a waste of time IMO. It is a special place during motorcycle week, but just a regular town the rest of the year. Drove to Keystone and got out to get some photos of the wood carvings for sale. Jarrett Dahl does chainsaw art while you watch. Worth a stop IMO. It is just outside Keystone on your way up the hill to Rushmore. I showed my parking pass at the entrance to the parking garage (good for 1 year) and walked to the amphitheater for the evening program. It is impressive, worth doing, once. I doubt I will make the effort again. A Park Ranger introduces a film explaining how Gutzon Borglum and 400 workers carved the president's faces between 1934-1941. Then she asked all veterans to come onstage to be recognized. It was impressive how many vets were in attendance that night. I got a few photos of the veterans on stage, the four presidents and then drove back to Custer, 385 to WCNP, bed about 10pm.
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I got up with the sun, had my BF, and over to the Visitor Center (VC). There is no water in the campground and I used their bathroom to clean up. I signed up for the first cave tour and waited for my start time. Wind Cave was known to the Lakota Sioux who spoke of a hole that blew air. The first recorded discovery was in 1881 by Tom & Jesse Bingham. It is recorded that Tom Bingham's hat blew off his head the first time he looked into the opening, the second time his hat was sucked into the cave and never found. We walked behind the VC to the natural opening to Wind Cave. The elevator is next to the natural opening and we all go down to start the tour. It was a decent tour, but if you only have time for one cave tour, I would recommend Jewel Cave NP. It just has better cave features than WC. Back on top, I decide to spend the day in Custer State Park. I want to find out where to park and the best way to view the Roundup.
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On my way to CSP, I stopped at the Wind Cave sign on highway 87. Several bison were using the corner of the sign to scratch themselves. Got some good snaps and moved on. At the West entrance, I paid the $20 fee and took the Wildlife Loop Rd to the buffalo corrals. I saw a sign for prairie dogs and took the dirt road to have a look. Got a few snaps and moved on. Plenty of deer, elk, antelope and bison were out this morning. Burros were wondering around the loop road and most cars slowed or stopped to get a photo. I took a few from my van and moved on.
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They have erected large tents close to the corrals and I pull in with many other vehicles. CSP rangers are giving advice on the Roundup, parking, pancake BF, etc. I saw some buffalo were being herded this morning. I joined many others in getting some photos of what was going on. We could hear the crack of the whips the cowboys were using to herd the buffalo to the corrals. I was told that they were getting a few dozen in the corrals today. After they had that group of buffalo in the corrals, I drove to the CSP Visitor Center.
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This VC is newer and nicer than most National Park VC. They have a film on CSP narrated by Kevin Costner. It is very well done and highlights the park, bison and has a section on Sylvan Lake. After the film, I stopped at the Game Lodge, but they were closing early because of the Roundup tomorrow. I wanted to check my e-mails but would have to go to Custer for that. I went to the Custer library and logged on. After e-mailing and checking the weather for Glacier & Yellowstone, I decided to visit Sylvan Lake. Took 89 North to Sylvan Lake and walked about halfway around the lake. It really is a pretty lake with huge granite boulders in and around the shoreline. It was time to head back and I took 87 South. This section is really slow going as the road twists and turn continuously all the way back to Wind Cave. You go thru the Needles Eye Tunnel. This is a very narrow, 1 car at a time tunnel. RVs and large trucks simply won't make it thru the Needles Eye. I get out to take a few snaps of the tunnel and of the Black Hills. 87 It is very slow going but very scenic as well.
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It took over an hour to get back to the campground and it was starting to get dark. I had decided I was going to go back to the China Buffet in Hot Springs rather than fix eggs and go to bed at 8pm. As I was getting ready to leave, the sky lit up in a beautiful sunset. After the show was over I drove back to Hot Springs. The lady there ask where Hanling was and I told her she had moved on to Yellowstone NP. After eating, I watched Thursday Night Football until they closed at 10pm. I missed having Hanling there to socialize with. Eating alone just is not much fun. Back to the campground and time for bed.

Posted by vegasmike6 19:07 Archived in USA Tagged parks Comments (0)

7,000 Mile Road Trip Plus Iceland, Part 6

Buffalo Round-Up, Devil's Tower, Yellowstone NP, Grand Tetons NP

overcast 55 °F

I got up at first light and packed the van. I would not be coming back to Wind Cave after the Roundup. Sept. 30th and the Buffalo Roundup was the fixed date that influenced when I returned from Iceland and my drive home. I headed up 87 to Custer State Park (CSP). Everyone says to get up at 5am, and get in line. They open the road at 6:15am but I found out the day before that they start moving the buffalo about 10:30am. I should of asked about 4 Mile Draw Road yesterday as it cuts off many miles and time when heading for the South Viewing Area (SVA). It was bumper to bumper from shortly after the West Entrance Station to the SVA. No charge to enter CSP on roundup day. I had a banana, granola bars as I inched along towards the SVA. As we got closer to the SVA, the cowboys and cowgirls were riding along the road. Many would chat with you as we drove by them at 5 mph. They told me that you have to prove to CSP that you have the riding skills to participate in the Roundup. Buffalo are fast, mean and don't like horses. According to the riders, it is an honor be picked.
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I made it to the SVA about 8:30am. I got my chair, day bag with camera, water, granola bars out of the van and walked towards the fence that separates the buffalo from the crowds. I decided to sit on the road as it was 3-4 people deep at the fence and the road is several feet higher than the fence. I chatted with those around me and we all waited for the action to begin. It was overcast and cooler this morning, it had been perfect weather the previous 3 days in SD. Around 11am we see the riders and trucks start to move the buffalo towards the corrals. I take as many photos as I can as the buffalo move from right to left in front of us. Any photo you see from the Roundup that is a side view, it is from the SVA. The North viewing area has the head on shots. Within 30 minutes the buffalo are past us and it is time to pack up and leave the area.
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I got to my van before most of the crowd but got caught it the traffic trying to leave. They let each row go in turn and there is no hurrying the process. I had asked a Ranger if the 4 Mile Draw dirt road was open, he told me it was OK to use. I decided to take it as it cuts off both time and mileage to get back to 87. It is very scenic on this road and even though it is dirt, my van had no trouble. Took some photos and got back on 87. Headed South to meet 385 and back to Custer. I wanted to go to the library and check the weather in both Teddy Roosevelt NP and Glacier NP. Once on the library computer, I got the forecast for both. Bad news for me. Both were getting colder and snow was predicted in the next few days. Teddy Roosevelt is famous for their grasslands, buffalo, wild horses and big game. I had already seen as many buffalo as I wanted to see and decided not to drive hundreds of miles out of my way for more of the same and perhaps wild horses. I headed West on 16, past Jewel Cave NP, 85 North towards Devil's Tower National Monument (DT). I stopped several times to take photos as DT came into view. DT is impressive as you drive towards it. A 1,267 ft (386m) tower that juts out from the Belle Fourche river valley. DT was once hidden by soil but erosion has brought it back into view. DT became our first National Monument in 1906 by order of Pres. Teddy Roosevelt. DT certainly has the smallest VC of all the National Parks that I have visited. Got my stamp, bathroom and then walked the path to the base of DT. The Tower Trail wraps around DT but I only walked about 30 minutes of it to get some exercise and photos. Unless you are a rock climber, DT is only worth a few hours of your time IMO.
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I stopped in Gillette for gas, food. On to Sheridan then picked up alt 14 thru Rowell then Cody. It was now raining and alt 14 is a 2 lane road. I saw a sign for Elk Creek State Forest. I was tired of driving in the rain and just wanted a break. Found a quiet spot, crawled into my sleeping bag and called it a night. The rain helped me get to sleep and for once I had a decent night's sleep in my van. As soon as I saw some sunlight, I retraced my way back to alt 14 and headed for the East entrance to Yellowstone NP (YNP).YNP was established by Pres. Grant in 1872 and is considered the first National Park in the world. YNP is huge, mostly in Wyoming, it is 3,468 sq. miles (8,983 sq. km). Free entry, got a map and headed for Yellowstone Lake and Fishing Bridge. It was a nice day early, sunny, not cold. The clouds & rain rolled in a few hours after I arrived. Got some nice photos Yellowstone Lake and the surrounding area. YNP has had some major fires over the years and millions of dead trees are still in evidence. It will take decades before these areas look like a healthy forest again.
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My camera quit working and see that my batteries are depleted. Canyon Visitor Center is the closest place to recharge them. It was raining pretty hard when I got to Canyon and ran inside. Most outlets have a sign near them that telling you not to charge any batteries. This must be a real issue to post signs at each outlet. I found an outlet upstairs behind a couch and plugged in both my phone and camera batteries. Walked the exhibits, then watched the film on YNP. I then got in line to talk to the Ranger. She told me that all campsites were taken except Lewis Lake. Lewis Lake campground is about a two-hour drive from Canyon and it would be full before I got there. I retrieved my batteries and headed for Norris, then Madison. I remembered Madison from my winter trip to YNP with Chris a few years ago. Used the bathroom at Madison and decided to drive over to West Yellowstone (WY). It started raining again as I drove to WY. Chris and I stayed in WY and I knew it had a McDonald's plus an Information Center. Had lunch then went in the Center to talk to them. The Center has 4 sections: Rangers are answering questions about YNP, the Chamber of Commerce help with all thing WY, Montana & Gallatin-Custer National Forest have reps as well. The lady at the WY section told me there were no motel rooms available under $100 tonight. I really did not want to camp outside the park in the rain either. She confirmed that rain/snow was predicted for tomorrow and I decided right there I would head home. The fastest route would have been to retrace the way Chris and I had driven. Take 20 until it ties into I-15 South and head for Vegas. But, I decided I wanted to see what I could of YNP that day and also drive thru Grand Tetons NP on the way home. I went back to Madison and followed the Yellowstone River towards Old Faithful. I saw some bison close to the river and stopped. When I was heading back to my van, I saw some elk moving close to the road. Back on the road, I see a line of cars on the shoulder of the road. That means animals so I pull over as well. There is a large herd of bison in the meadow and thought it worth a few shots.
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I then drove to Midway Geyser Basin for some photos. It was crowded with RVs, cars and bus after bus of Chinese tourists. I thought in Oct. the crowds would be much smaller than the summer crowd but I was wrong. The campsites were full and every viewing area and parking lot were packed. I stopped at the same place we did during our visit in the winter. This is old ground for me so I just snapped a few shots and moved on to the Great Prismatic Spring parking area. It was so full I had to circle around until someone was leaving. This is Oct. and YNP was packed. It must be unbearable in the summer months. It started raining again so I got what photos I could and headed for Old Faithful. It was packed with cars and tourists as well. Finally found a parking spot, then a long hike in the rain to Old Faithful. I missed the eruption by about 5 minutes as the crowds were heading for shelter because of the rain. I popped a few anyway and headed indoors as well.
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Hit the bathroom, the gift shop for a YNP bag, a quick snack of granola bars and headed for home. I was tired of the rain, the crowds and living out of my van. I drove to West Thumb, then headed for Grand Teton NP. Stopped for some photos at Lewis Lake and kept on truckin' south. Jackson Lake and Jenny Lake offered some good photo ops so I stopped several times heading for Jackson.
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There were some dramatic clouds over the Tetons as I neared Jackson and several cars had pulled over. A few miles later I see dozens of cars off the road. As I get closer I see why. Buffalo are milling across the road and that is worth a photo. Some were getting out of their vehicles but I just shot a few as I slowly drove by. I have plenty of buffalo pictures at this point. No need to get out of the van with bison this close.
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After Jackson, I got on 89 and decided to drive until I got tired. My goal was Evanston WY but got tired of driving in the rain on 2 lane roads. It is both tiring and dangerous. Stopped for gas at Cokeville and saw that RVs and big trucks were parked for the night. After gas and bathroom, I parked next to some RVs and called it a night. I woke up while it was still dark, but had to pee and knew I was not going to get back to sleep anyway. I fired up my Honda and headed for I-80. I-80 wraps around Salt Lake City and ties into I-15. I drove until to Cedar City, gas, food and knew I was only 3 hours from Vegas. I got in around 3pm, unloaded my van and was happy to be home. My 7 week, 7,000 mile long road trip was over

Posted by vegasmike6 18:48 Archived in USA Tagged parks Comments (0)

Day Trip, Indian Wells Art Show

General Patton Memorial Museum, Spectrum Art Show, Mojave Reserve sunset.

sunny 85 °F

A good friend of mine, Gregg Albracht is a professional photographer and stays at our house when he comes to Vegas. Gregg has changed his focus from regular landscape& horse photography to a more artsy, abstract type of photos. He has shown me his portfolio of his new work, but I have never seen his work full sized and framed. He told me that he had signed up for the Spectrum Art Show at Indian Wells mid March. I told him I would come down for the last day of the show, March 20th. He called Sat. the 19th and ask me if I was coming. I said yes and told him I would be there for lunch. Sunday is when many of our California visitors head home and I-15 South gets very busy. I saw that there is a General Patton Museum not far from Indian Wells and decided to stop there first. I was out of Vegas by 6am and took US 95 South to Needles to avoid the traffic going to the LA area. Turned onto CA 62 to 177, meeting up with I-10 at Desert Center. I made it to the General Patton Memorial Museum before 10am. Paid the senior price of $5.50 and hit the bathroom! I drove non stop from Vegas and needed a break. Now I was ready to walk the museum and get my photos. There is a continuous film on General Patton running in the first room. It told the story of how the Desert Training Center was picked for training tank and armor crews before shipping them off to fight during WWII. Over 1million men were trained at the DTC before WWII was over. The Patton Museum sits where Camp Young was at Chiriaco Summit.
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After touring the museum, I put the hotel address into my GPS and got on the I-10 to Indian Wells. Turn by turn it took me right to the parking garage of the Renaissance Indian Wells Resort. I got my camera and headed for the Art Show. You see the outdoor exhibits first and since it was not going to get any cooler than now, I took as many as I wanted before finding Gregg's booth.
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I went inside and found Gregg. He had a great location, right by one of the doors going into the convention area. He asked me to man the booth so he could hit the restroom. They were still serving a light lunch when I got there. We had some OJ and toast. Not a great lunch, but hey, it was free! We had a nice chat and then I strolled the show to see what else was on display. This is the first year for Spectrum putting on the art show at Indian Wells. Attendance was OK, but certainly not busy. Spectrum told Gregg that they would give him a deal on a booth for their new York show in April. I have not found out from him if going to New York was worth the time/effort. Here is Gregg's website if you like his work.
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Around 3:30pm I decided to start heading back to Vegas. I said goodbye to Gregg and had a granola bar once I got back to my van. I was not going to take the same route home, so I head for Palm Springs on I-10. I did not want to stay with the heavy flow heading for San Bernadino so I got on CA62 that leads to Twentynine Palms. I stopped at a Wendy's and had a salad, frostie and headed on a small road that ends at Amboy. Very few cars on the road at this time of day. I had been on this road many years ago when I went to Palm Springs via Cima, Kelso. I saw a gorgeous sunset as I was getting close to Kelso and stopped. I stopped several times until the sun set and just kept trucking to I-15. It took about 4.5 hours to get home this way, but it was much more scenic that than just getting on I-15 at Barstow. It was a long day, but worth the time & money to see Gregg's photos displayed and see that sunset.
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Posted by vegasmike6 20:14 Archived in USA Comments (0)

Off to see the Northern Lights I

Flight to FAI, Chena Hot Springs.

sunny 0 °F

Seeing the Northern Lights (NLs) has been on my bucket list for a few years. When Chris was here in August, I told him I wanted to fly to Fairbanks (FAI) AK to view the NLs in Jan. His vote was 'no.' OK, I would check with my friends and see if anyone wanted to make the effort to see the NLs this winter. All voted no either because of cost or cold weather. OK, I would go alone.

I started my planning and found out it would be best to be there with a new moon. With that info, I looked at the calendar and decided on Feb. 3rd through the 10th. New moon was Feb. 8th, so my entire week in FAI would be as dark as possible. Unfortunately, to get the best price, I will arrive in FAI at midnight. All the cheaper flights: LAS-FAI leave Seattle around 9pm, arriving in FAI at midnight. I picked the 9th Ave. Hostel for my bed and e-mailed Cho, the Korean owner. I needed a lower bunk as I am too old to climb up to the top bunk. He locked in a lower bunk for my 7 days and told me taxis would be waiting when I arrived.

Feb. 3rd arrived and I drove over to McCarran's park & ride lot. Best deal IMO for my situation. You can park for free for 7 days and take the shuttle bus over to the airport. $2 each way. I parked, bus to T-1 where Delta flew to Seattle. Flight OK, had plenty of time in Sea-Tac, ate, teeth, walked, stretched, read my book. Alaska flt 117 left at 9:30pm for FAI. Got in on time and got my gear together. I only had a carry on bag. If it did not go in that bag, I did not bring it. Rolled my bag outside and got my first intro to AK. It was zero, (-17c) outside! Back inside, got on my gloves, hat and rolled my bag to the next taxi in line. He knew where the 9th Ave Hostel was and off we go. About 15 minutes and $20 later, I was there. A 'closed' sign was in the window, this is not good news at 12:30am. Knocked on the door and then saw the sign, 'door is unlocked'. Cho was waiting for me and checked me in using his smart phone. Swiped my credit card and a receipt was sent to my e-mail. There is a computer in the front room for all to use. I checked my e-mail and there was the $210 charge for 7 nights at the hostel. I joined Scott, Nancy & Debbie at the kitchen table and had some hot chocolate. They were on the same plane and got in 5 minutes before me. All 3 were there for the Yukon Quest dog sled race. They volunteer each year and are friends of Cho. He showed me my bunk, stored my gear at the end of my bed. After about 30 minutes of chatting with Scott, Nancy, time for bed. I used my flashlight rather than wake-up a guy sleeping in the lower bunk across from me. My long first day was over.

Thursday I was up early, 6:30am. I don't sleep very well in my own bed, let alone a single bunk with a guy snoring. Had some hot chocolate, e-mailed, waited for someone else to come upstairs. Scott came up and I got some news. Cho had flown to China shortly after I checked in. The reason for the 'closed' sign was no more guests would be allowed in until Cho came back in 2 weeks. Scott, Nancy, Debby would be running the hostel in his absence. I asked about walking to the store and was told Debbie has a daughter in FAI and they could use her car. They walked over to get it, came back for me and we went to Safeway. I bought my oatmeal, bread, apples, bananas, eggs, PBJ, etc for the week. Back to the hostel, meet the guy snoring, Till from China. Two brothers from Mexico, Andre & Fabio were having BF. They were bunking in the downstairs living room. Cho put 2 bunk beds in that area when you come down the stairs. The other room is for ladies. At least this week. That room has its own bathroom. The guys use the one upstairs. Andre told me they were off to visit Chena Hots Springs. OK, see you this evening. Quiet day, read, computer, TV. When the bros. came back around 6pm, I asked them how it went. They ended up not renting a car and just did some sightseeing downtown FAI. They would go to Chena Hot Springs on Friday. I asked them if it would be alright if I joined them and paid half of the rental. They agreed and we chatted, dinner, TV, computer, my exercises, bed at 10pm.

Friday I got up early, oatmeal, toast, computer, and waited for someone else to get up. By 10am the sun was up, the bros. had BF and then called for a taxi. We went over to Enterprise Rental and Andre started getting a car. The roads were clear, no snow in FAI for a month. But, he wanted the Dodge Challenger that had all wheel drive. OK, my half was $40 with insurance. We had the map and headed for Chena. It is about an hour outside of FAI and colder as well. The resort sits in a valley and cold air settles in the valley. FAI was about 15 (-9c) when we left, Chena was 8 (-13). Parked, photos, found the building for the hot springs. Paid the $15 to use the facilities for all day. Chena has a box of bathing suits available, free to use. We all grabbed one, changed, showered. They have several indoor hot tubs, but we wanted to outdoor main hot springs. With no footwear, we stepped lively on the concrete to the warm water. It was around 102 (40c) and has a sand bottom. Really a nice set-up. I recommend visiting Chena when you are in FAI. We stayed in too long, almost an hour. You really start to feel weak if you overdo it. Out, shower, time for lunch.

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We decided to visit the Ice Museum while we were there. Signed up, $15, had lunch at the snack bar in that building and waited for our tour. Chena has a proper restaurant, but we made do with soup, sandwiches. Tour time arrives and we follow our guide over to the Ice Museum. It was close to where we parked. There are double doors to keep the temp at a constant 15 (-9c) so the ice won't melt. It was warmer in the building than out! We lasted about 30 minutes, had our photos and wanted to warm up in the car. Final photos, fire up the car and head back.

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Andre turned the Dodge back in and Enterprise drove us back to the hostel. Scott, Nancy & Debbie were treating all of us to a chicken stir fry dinner. Cho keeps the hostel at a constant 70 (35c) so we got out of our cold weather gear and waited for the big meal. Great dinner, some of us even had seconds! Friday had been a good day and was glad I could tag along with the brothers to visit Chena. I would not have rented a car and done it on my own. Friday was clear but cold and conditions looked good for viewing the NLs. Most vans leave FAI at 10pm, so I had plenty of time after dinner to decide. I called and they thought it would be a good night for viewing, clear skies. It is $75 to go out to Chandalar Ranch, so I called and signed up. The van came, paid the driver and then make the rounds of FAI hotels to pick up the rest of the group. The NLs were on display when we got out of the van at 11pm. Unfortunately, by the time I got downstairs and ready to shoot, the clouds rolled in. A wasted night as the NLs were not visible all the way to 2am when we drove back to FAI. Win some, lose some. Friday night was a loss.

Posted by vegasmike6 15:45 Archived in USA Comments (0)

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