Monday, December 23, 2013

Back in AZ

We arrived back in Arizona and spent a couple of weeks in the southern part of the state. We didn't do much except visit our friends in Serra Vista, including Thanksgiving, and family in Tucson.  We then moved up to the Phoenix area where we will stay until February visiting friends and doctors and such. Yes, we need to take care of business just like everyone else, we just pack it into a couple months each winter. 

I thought I would give this little update and say Merry Christmas.

Sunday, November 17, 2013

Silver City, NM

After almost three months around Denver it was time to hit the road and head for warmer weather. We were very fortunate to spend a lot of time there during Mia's first 11 weeks. We headed south on I-25 and decided to go all the way down to I-10 and stay a couple of nights in Deming, NM so that we could drive up to Silver City. We really wanted to go to the Gila Cliff dwellings also but decided to save that for another trip because of the time it would take.
The one house that survived

The Big Ditch
We were hoping for a little more out of historic Silver City. There were some old buildings from the 1880's but there wasn't much of a wow factor. The most interesting thing about the town was learning about the Big Ditch and how it was Main Street when the town was first built. The short story is that a big flood went right down the street wiping out all but one building and gouged out a gully. In spite of efforts to save the street, subsequent floods just kept making it deeper and wider. It eventually became known as the Big Ditch, and with reinforced sides, it still flows with every rain. Part of the ditch now has a city park in it proving that the residents have embraced the Big Ditch.

Interpretive sign that says it all

Saturday, September 28, 2013


Two weeks old
We arrived in Denver August 24 and our focus has been on our first grandchild.  Mia was born September 6 and is, of course, cute and sweet.

Fountain Valley trail
So far we've only done one short get away and that was to Roxborough State Park which is just southwest of Denver.  It is a neat little park with it's only focus on hiking trails which is perfect for us. The trails weave around through pretty upthrust red rocks with neat formations.  Here are a few pics.

Fountain Valley trail

Fountain Valley trail

Friday, August 23, 2013

Oregon Trail

Chimney Rock
From Lander we drove east across Wyoming and into western Nebraska. This is a very interesting region for Oregon Trail history. Most of the Oregon Trail is now on farmland and plowed under, or has a highway built over it, or has been naturally eroded away.  We headed to the part of the country where there is a concentration of trail preservation.  I'll describe our visit in the area from east to west as the pioneers would have traveled.

The pioneers spent 6 to 8 weeks crossing the great plains before getting to this area. Many described it is boring (they should be so lucky) and mentally difficult because of the monotony of the flat grasslands. Finally, they saw something sticking up on the horizon.  Chimney Rock was a very welcome sight to them as it was an indication that they were nearing the end of the plains.  If they only knew the rough country ahead. The state of Nebraska has a nice visitor center here with a great view from the same angle the pioneers would have.

Mitchell Pass
Mitchell Pass
About 20 miles to the northwest of Chimney Rock (at modern day Gering, NE) they came to Scotts Bluff. This is the name of the collective rock formations that spread for several miles. Originally the trail went south of the bluffs and across the Wildcat Hills at Robidoux Pass (pronounced roo-bi-doo).  Eventually the Army assisted in making a passable trail, called Mitchell Pass, through the center of Scotts Bluff cutting off miles, time and hardship. The north end of Scotts Bluff around Mitchell Pass is now protected by the National Park Service as a National Monument. They have protected the trail through Mitchell Pass so you can see and walk on part of the trail. It was really neat to walk on the trail and see how they worked their way through the terrain.
Mitchell Pass - left of the present day
walking path where the marker stake is

Multi-lane ruts near Robidoux Pass
It is estimated that over 500,000 pioneers traveled the trail. I haven't seen an estimate of the number of wagons but it was certainly significant. When they could, they would fan out rather than going single file to try to minimize how strung out their train was while eating less dust from a close wagon directly ahead. The picture to the right is of a place near Robidoux Pass just south of Gering Nebraska where you can see several lanes cut into the top of the hill. Also in the picture is a pioneer grave site that has a fence around it to protect it from the grazing cattle. I enjoyed walking around the field through the ruts (dodging cattle) trying to imagine the passing of a long string of wagons, cattle, some people walking and some riding.

Robidoux Trading Post
A few miles away is a reconstructed trading post on the site of Robidoux Trading post.  One of the first on the trail.

Cavalry barracks
The next stop that the pioneers had to look forward to was Fort Laramie another 65 miles to the northwest.  Originally owned and operated by a fur trading company it was later purchased by the Army and converted to an Army fort with the purpose of protecting the pioneers and negotiating with the Indians. The fort was operated until 1890 when it was deemed no longer needed and was sold at public auction.  Many of the buildings were dismantled but others were just left. The remaining buildings slowly fell into disrepair until eventually the National Park Service took over in 1937. They evaluated each building and those that were considered 80 percent sound were restored. The remaining buildings have just been maintained so they don't deteriorate any further.
Barracks lower floor mess hall
Eleven buildings have been restored and furnished. They did a great job and we spent two hours walking around enjoying their work.

Barracks upper floor sleeping quarters
Another 15 or 20 miles along, near present day Guernsey Wyoming (about 60 miles from the Nebraska border), is a National Historic Landmark where the trail is easily seen. In this location the trail climbed over a sandstone bluff along the Platte River and after thousands of wagons had done this over the years they gradually dug deep into the stone.  These are some of the most prominent trail ruts still remaining 150 years after the trail stopped being used.
Ruts near Guernsey WY
Ruts near Guernsey WY
Just a few miles from the ruts near Guernsey is Register Cliff. This is a sandstone cliff along the Platte River where thousands of pioneers etched their names into the stone. Many of the etchings have eroded from the soft stone but hundreds still remain. We had a little stroke of bad luck here as they had a big section of the cliff fenced off while they did some maintenance on the path. We did see some of them so all was not lost.

Register Cliff etching
Earlier in the week when we went to South Pass City in west central Wyoming, we were near a very important part of the trail because South Pass was where the trail went through the Rockies.  There are supposedly some trail ruts there but they are off the beaten path and no one could tell us where to find them so we finally gave up trying.

Sunday, August 18, 2013

South Pass City

The first leg of our trip from West Yellowstone to Denver took us east into Yellowstone, then south down to and across the north side of the Grand Tetons park and out the entrance at Moran Junction. From this point to Dubois was a pretty, mountainous drive including a climb over Togwotee Pass at 9,658 feet. East of Dubois into the Wind River Indian Reservation was very pretty with red rock canyons much like you see in northern Arizona. From around Crowheart down to Lander was a dry, desolate, open land of rolling hills with mountains in the distance. We stayed at a campground on the edge of Lander so that we could see some sights in the area the next day.  One more note, we made 4 Continental Divide crossings on this one day which is a record for us.

Carissa Mine
The next day's site seeing started with us heading south from Lander to South Pass City, passing through Atlantic City on the way. These were gold rush towns of the 1860s. Atlantic City isn't set up to tour buildings or sites so we didn't stop. There are still a few people that live in each of these tiny towns. 
South Pass City street - west to east
We got lucky at South Pass City and arrived right when they were opening the first tours of the restored Carissa Mine and Mill. This mine was the reason that South Pass City existed. They have pretty much rebuilt the buildings to replicate what was here during the boom days.

South Pass City from east to west
After touring the mine and mill we headed into town where they have about 20 restored buildings and a lot of empty lots with signs indicating what establishment used to be there. Most of the buildings had fallen into disrepair but have been restored to very good replications of what they were. 
Home and office of First Woman
Justice in the world!
The most impressive building, which looked like someone must have been keeping it maintained, was the South Pass Hotel and Restaurant. You are allowed to walk all throughout the building on the old, squeaky, uneven, plank floors and look in all the rooms which have period furniture and other artifacts. The actual front desk and kitchen were really neat. The next best one is the Saloon and card room in the next building.  The saloon bar and furnishings look exactly like a photograph that they have for you to look at and compare.  Link to the South Pass City website:

Sacajawea headstone center, left
memorial to her son Baptiste (Pomp),
right adopted son Brazil
We next headed back to Lander for a quick lunch at home and then back tracked a few miles of the previous day's trip to Fort Washakie on the Indian Reservation. The attraction here is the Sacajawea Cemetery.  There is much mystery and conflicting beliefs on what became of Sacajawea after the completion of the Lewis and Clark Expedition. The Shoshone (her native tribe) belief based on their oral history is that she eventually came to Fort Washakie, because that is where her adopted son was living, and that is where she died in 1884. She supposedly helped translate and negotiate the founding of this reservation.

Statue of Sacajawea on shore of Pacific
Ocean holding a Sand Dollar which she
brought with her and gave to Chief Washakie

Shoshone Indian Cemetery - it is so
colorful with flowers (plastic),
painted crosses, etc
Informational plaques in the cemetery don't even agree on whether she is actually buried in the cemetery or if she was buried up in the Wind River mountains off in the distance. The hardest thing for me to believe about this version of the story is if she really died in 1884 she would have been 95 years old based on the Lewis and Clark Expedition writings indicating she was 16 in 1805.  It doesn't really matter, it is still fun stuff. One thing that is consistently stated is this was her homeland, so that is cool enough for a visit.

If you're interested in the Sacajawea controversy, here is an interesting link I just found:

Friday, August 16, 2013

A salute to Rangers

Our stay here in West Yellowstone ends tomorrow when we start our trip back to Denver for the birth of our first grandchild. Our three month stay here has been nothing short of fantastic.  The scenery has been well documented but I haven't said enough about the people (not the tourists, the residents).

We love West Yellowstone.  All of the people are really nice and friendly.  We have met countless full-time RVers like us.  Many come back year after year to work seasonal jobs in town and in the park. These seasonal people are essential to the experience in town and the park. Hats off to them for tolerating tourists. The ultimate nod goes to the hearty people that stay year-round to maintain and prepare the town for another summer's onslaught of tourists. They have made it a great little town and deserve a hearty salute.

But the real heroes are the Park Rangers and all of the park employees. I'm talking both the National Park Service and the National Forest Service. There is a big difference in the responsibilities of the two agencies but they share a common purpose and that is to ensure a great experience for all to enjoy our national parks and forests. We've seen first hand (especially Ann working in the Hebgen Lake National Forest Service office) the life and efforts of the extraordinary people that work for the Forest Service. They are outdoors people through and through. Most spend their days out in the forest performing various tasks that protect the forest and wildlife and maintain the services for the public to enjoy. They come back each evening exhausted and dirty but with a huge smile on their faces. Some stay out for days at a time working and camping in remote areas. We have never met more salt of the earth, genuinely nice, friendly, helpful people. We are truly blessed to have met them.

The National Park Rangers and employees may not spend so much time roughing it in the forest but their task is also daunting, protecting the parks from tourists (yes, I worded that properly) while making the experience of the tourists the best that it can be. These, too, are remarkable people. Keeping a smile on while trying to control over a million tourists a season takes a very special person.  Salute!

As you visit our National Parks and Forests, if you meet a Ranger or employee please give them a hearty thank you for what they do. This will be a new habit of mine from here on out. No more taking it for granted.

Sunday, July 28, 2013

Virginia City Montana

We saw some neat historic buildings and towns on the east coast last summer but our time in Virginia City, MT rivals any of that.  This was a mining boom town in 1863 and served as the territorial capital from 1865-1875. Over 150 original (yes, original) buildings still stand.
Street view

Street view
 What is really interesting about a lot of the buildings here is that many haven't been overly restored, they've just been maintained, so you get a true feel for the life and age of the building. Like most towns of that age, there have been many fires over the years. Some buildings show the black, burnt scars left from fires that didn't totally destroy them.
The sign says "hastily built". No kidding.
It's amazing it is still standing.

When the gold ran out people slowly left, but the town was never completely abandoned. There are a number of stores that were abandoned over time and when the proprietors left they just left the goods that were left on the shelf. These stores were preserved with goods intact creating fantastic, perfect little museums. On the flip side, the oldest continuously operated store in Montana still exists and thrives in town. 

As I review my pictures I see that, like scenic views, the pictures just don't do justice. They don't capture the charm and feel of the scene. If you are ever in the area and like history, I suggest you plan time for a stop and enjoy the experience first hand.

Territorial Governor's Mansion (on left)
That's a humble mansion.

Grand Tetons

View from Jackson Lake Lodge
We made a weekend trip down to the Grand Tetons National Park and Jackson Hole. Alex and Dana are near Jackson at Teton Village for a couple months working at the Grand Tetons Music Festival so we stayed with them for a couple nights.

Cascade Canyon

They call it Hidden Falls because people
are always standing in your picture
blocking the view.
We had a basic touristy weekend just seeing the sites, hiking to Hidden Falls and riding up the gondola.

We drove down through Yellowstone National Park and came back to West Yellowstone via the Idaho side of the Tetons. The Idaho side looks a lot different as it is open farmland versus the Wyoming side being more mountainous as more (smaller) mountains continue to the east of the Tetons.

The Tetons off in the distance across
potato fields in Idaho. This is zoomed some.
Taken just north of Ashton about 35-40
miles away as the crow flies.

Monday, July 15, 2013

Weekend Road Trip

View from Fire lookout tower
We love beautiful country and we love visiting historic places. We made a 3 day road trip this weekend (in the car) that satisfied both of these passions. We headed out early Friday crossing Yellowstone National Park from our home base in West Yellowstone to the northwest entrance (exit) to the park. This entrance is connected directly with the Beartooth Highway, a National Scenic Byway
(, ( If you are not familiar with National Scenic Byways following this link for general information:

View from Fire lookout tower
Numerous people recommended the Beartooth Mountains to us so we looked into it. As we were looking at the map we realized that the other end of the drive would put us near Billings which, in turn, put us near some things that were on our wishlist.  Next thing you know a plan was formed.

View from lookout at 10,954 feet
As you exit Yellowstone onto the Beartooth Highway it starts as a bit underwhelming. The drive across the north side of Yellowstone is so beautiful it is really hard to beat. That being said, the Beartooth Highway did not disappoint. After we got past Cooke City the drive slowly became more and more scenic. We took a side jaunt up to a fire lookout tower that provided almost a 360 degree view of the surrounding mountain ranges. As we continued on each mile took us higher than the last until we reached 10,954 feet. At this point we were above treeline so there were no issues with trees blocking our view.
View from another pullout. Can you
see the lake?

The slow decent down was a continuous, amazing view.  The switchbacks with many hairpin turns gave an excuse to go slow and enjoy. There are many turnouts that we utilized to stop and soak it in. By the time we got to Red Lodge the descent was complete and we had gone down about 8,000 feet.  We went on to Billings to a hotel, poised for some history the next day.

Last Stand hill with memorial on top
The next morning we headed out on a loop with the first stop being the Little Bighorn Battlefield about 60 miles from Billings right off of I-90. This battle is probably next only to Gettysburg in American History fame. It was interesting to see the location of the battle and hear (a version of) the story on why (historians think) Custer did what he did and why he never stood a chance. There are tons of books out there but that's not my kind of reading.  Doing the ranger led interpretive walk while on location is much preferred for us. Here is a link to more info:

Battlefield in one direction 
Our next adventure for the day was to visit Pompey's Pillar. We first heard about this while visiting Lewis and Clark Corps of Discovery sites and museums in Montana 2 years ago. It was too far out of our way on that trip but it went onto the future must-see list. We decided this weekend's road trip was the perfect time to make the visit. I can probably safely assume you have never heard of Pompey's Pillar so here is the story in a nutshell. On the return trip of the famous expedition Lewis and Clark had split up to explore two different areas of interest to them. William Clark's route took him down the Yellowstone River.
William Clark's engraving.
Protected under glass.

Pompey's Pillar
One day he climbed this big rock to get a view of the surrounding area and he saw some ancient Indian carvings on the rock.  He decided to carve his name and the date on the rock and noted that he had done such in his journal. He named the rock after Sacajawea's son who he had nicknamed Pomp. This is the only physical evidence that still exists on the entire Lewis and Clark expedition. It is the only place you can be absolutely certain that you stood where he stood.  One of those chill up your spine moments. Here are some links to info:

We stayed at the same hotel and returned home the next day by driving west on I-90 to Bozeman and then south on Highway 191 back home. That section of I-90 runs next to the Yellowstone River so you can let your imagination go thinking about what Clark saw 210 years ago as he traveled that route. One thought I had was that he was only 60-100 miles from what is now called the Mammoth Hot Springs in Yellowstone National Park. I wonder what he would have written in his journal had he seen those formations.

Thursday, July 4, 2013

Earthquake of 1959

Hilgard lodge fell into Hebgen Lake
About 35 miles northwest of West Yellowstone is the site of a huge landslide in Madison Canyon. The great earthquake of 1959, between 7.3 and 7.5 on the Richter scale, caused 80 million tons of rock and debris to break off one side and slide at a speed of 100 mph into, and across, the canyon in 20 seconds! The slide buried everything in its path and the hurricane force winds it caused tossed cars and campers around. The slide hit a campground burying 19 people and injuring many more. Further up the canyon other people were injured and killed from falling debris, collapsing roads, and literally being blown away by the wind.

Earthquake Lake natural dam
See slide area on left
The slide blocked the Madison River creating Earthquake Lake, or as they call it here, Quake Lake. The water backed up rapidly causing fear of what would happen to the Hebgen Lake dam upstream as well as what would happen to the slide area as pressure from the backed up water became greater. These fears forced one of the largest-ever mobilizations of the Army Corps of Engineers to quickly cut a spillway to release water in less than 3 weeks. 
Highway 287 fell into Hebgen Lake
Today, there are a number of interpretive signs and pullouts along highway 287 which runs along Hebgen Lake. There are still remains of buildings that fell into the lake and you can walk along the old highway to the point where sections of it also fell into the lake.  

Right on top of the slide that formed Quake Lake there is a visitor center, interpretive signs and lookouts where you can take in the magnitude of what happened.
From top of slide to other side where
it came from. Look in lower right corner
to see where the two large boulders in
the next picture came from

Quake lake from top of slide.
Two large boulders carried across at
100 mph now rest here
During our touring of Yellowstone National Park we have seen a number of references to thermal activity stopping or starting when this earthquake occurred.

Below are a couple of links that give a few more details.

See the right side of this sign for
a pictorial description of the slide