Monday, September 1, 2014

Vacation 2014: McCall Side Trip and Nostalgia Tour: Day 10

Today wasn’t exactly an adventure after all. Gregory and I drove into McCall. A place we have ventured to a million times. And the routine is always the same. Have lunch, go to Mountain Java for a warming drink, go home. The most notable thing that happened was a crazy man, was shouting “Repent, Sinners!” from a street corner. Doesn’t he know fire and brimstone are so last century?

We had a tasty pizza and gigantic bowl of tater tots at Growler’s. It was arbitrary and pretty tasty. The pizza reminded me of Round Table, which is a good thing. I LOVE Round Table, and not just because of the King Arthur theme. But I’d be lying if I didn’t admit to that being one of the draws. Afterward, we walked down to Mountain Java. See? Always the same.

On our way back to the car, we passed by the crazy religious dude who, it appeared, had just changed his sign to the “repent sodomites” sign. It’s like he knew we were coming! How sweet. Don’t make eye contact! They see that as a sign of aggression. If they charge at you, try to appear as big as possible and make lots of noise! If that doesn’t deter them, give them a bouquet of flowers cleverly accented with catnip and throw a bag of feral cats at them.

We passed by without incident, though my mind had raced in about a million directions.

We wandered into a couple of chatchka shops, and eventually returned to the car, then drove back to Pollock.

On our way back we stopped in New Meadows for a quick "nostalgia tour." Gregory points out the houses his parents lived in, the house he grew up in, the house his friend grew up in, and the trailer they moved to. Then out to the old log house, then to see his dad's first house, the school, the depot, not necessarily in that order. Today they were having the logging show. We arrived at the end of it. There was something about the tear down frenzy of the art and craft exhibitors that felt a little melancholy.

Once back at the house, I repacked the car, did some laundry, and petted the cat.

The rest of the evening was spent visiting. Jill made a delicious seafood chowder, and served it with buttery toasted bread, perfect for dipping in the creamy, garlicky broth. Heaven!

Tomorrow we begin the long journey home. It is an 8-hour drive to Fallon and I’m not in a hurry to leave. But leave we must.

Sunday, August 31, 2014

Vacation 2014: Relaxing in Idaho: Day 9

This post is more pictures than doing. Because we didn’t do much today. Mostly talked about what we were going to do today. First I decided to walk up to the top of the knoll above the house and take a couple of pictures. 

Finally we went up to a work site to help Gregory’s dad, Ron, clean up and collect his tools. The view from the top of the mountain above Pollock was beautiful and a storm was starting to form.

The work site was an addition that Ron put on a house he had built 10 years ago (designed and built!). The new work was a garage and apartment above, completely separate from the rest of the house. This was a log home and any attempt to describe it would be useless. It was just like what you see in the magazines. Beautiful rock work accents, which seamlessly became a huge fireplace. A loft workspace above a fully furnished kitchen, high ceilings and everything that mixed modern comfort and convenience with rustic log home living. I was afraid I would leave claw marks in the stone when they tried to drag me away.

I could get used to having a front porch like this.

Then they told me what it was like up here in the winter. Ummm, maybe a summer home instead? I could make that work.

We returned back to the house and basically spent the afternoon listening to the rain and sipping hot cocoa. Idaho in the rain is a magical place. Tomorrow we will have a proper adventure.

Vacation 2014: From Winter to Summer: Day 8

At 1AM or so, someone’s car alarm started going off in the camp ground. I thought it was our car and jumped up, grabbing for the keys and fumbling for the off button. Before I could figure out which one to press, the alarm stopped. I peered out the tent flap and saw the offending vehicle belonged to our neighbors.

After that, I laid awake for what felt like hours. I thought about everything. Our vacation, all the things we had done. Trying to remember it all for these write-ups. I thought about the music projects I had waiting for me back home, and new projects that I was eager to start working on. Ways that I want to try to reshape my life and routines to make everything better and more efficient.

I thought about mom. A lot. And dad. There are so many complicated feelings I’m still trying to work through. Not just what had happened, but larger questions of mortality and the purpose of everything. The rain had stopped pounding the tent (so glad, incidentally that we decided to put on the rain fly when we first set up the tent, just in case). But now that the storm had blown away, the clear sky also meant a drop in temperature. I was cold and uncomfortable and wide awake. I finally got up to take a short walk. I was too tired to be awake, but my mind was spinning, flipping from channel to channel, and I couldn’t seem to quiet the erratic stream of thoughts that kept vying for attention.

I returned to the tent hopeful I would be able to sleep. I shut my eyes for a moment and suddenly it was light and the alarm was going off. Time to end the camping and Yellowstone part of our adventure. We were able to pack up quickly, and a good thing too, as it was about 40 degrees outside. The cold rain from the night before felt even colder as we tried to shake it from the tent. My hands were ice.

We haphazardly threw everything in the car and hopped in the car to get warm. After my hands finally thawed, we mapped our next destination: Ron and Jill’s house in Idaho, a short 7-hour jaunt over hill and stream. We opted to take the north road through Montana and down into Pollock from the north, rather than approach from the south. It was only a little longer and way more interesting drive.

We set out and had three notable stops. Two are food related. The first was the Woodside Bakery in the city of West Yellowstone, Montana (incidentally, my first visit to Montana!).

State line!!! New area unlocked!

As soon as we walked in the place smelled of sugar and butter. A large inviting case filled with breakfast pastries welcomed us. We ordered sausage, egg, and cheddar croissants and they were THE tastiest ever! It took a while, but so worth the wait. You could really taste the love.

Next stop was in Bozeman at the Museum of the Rockies. I was a little underwhelmed, because I was led to believe this was an amazing dinosaur museum. I love dinosaurs, and am in a constant state of wanting to see them, but I feel bad in saying it wasn’t the most spectacular museum. The best part was the three archaeologists actually working on specimens behind glass. They were so life-like, chiseling, grinding and scraping away at their respective fossils. There were some cool displays, like the dino models that were half fully realized, and when you walk around to the other side, the other half was only bones, revealing the structure. But overall, I enjoyed the Museum of Ancient Life in Utah better.

They did have a really cool gecko exhibit with 20 different geckos from all over the world in cool terrariums. It made me want a gecko. The only downside to that was a video with some guy, completely unaware of how creepy he sounded, talking about specialty breeding certain kinds of geckos, referring to them as living art. Whatever, Dr. Mengele.

The other notable stop was in Missoula at Caffe Dolce. This is the kind of place that could just serve bags of food. Everything was tasty even the dinky-looking little salad was not to be underestimated. It had big deep flavors between the arugula, walnuts and goat cheese. We devoured a lamb burger and a chicken burger, all the while growling at the other patrons. My lamb burger!

After we were escorted out, we just headed straight to our destination, and state line!!!

We arrived safely. As we exited the car in Pollock, it was now 92 degrees! We were greeted by the Frye’s new cat. (They were forcibly ab-dopted). Gregory received a welcoming bee sting. We finally got a shower after three days, and did a bit laundry. We had a delicious dinner and dessert lovingly prepared by Jill, and got to relax a bit. I’m just looking forward to making up for the missing hours of sleep.

Saturday, August 30, 2014

Vacation 2014: Yellowstone Grand Loop: Day 7

The roads in Yellowstone are basically shaped like a number 8. We entered at the south part of the lower circle, and drove up the left side, passing by Old Faithful, which is about halfway up the bottom loop. Madison, where we were camping, is located on the left side, just before the bottom loop meets the top loop.

Today’s adventure was to drive the upper loop clockwise.

Gregory had today planned out that we would end at some of the prettiest stuff that Yellowstone has to offer. Our first stop was at Gibbon Falls. There were no monkeys involved here. Just water trickling over rocks. There is a cool wall though. The focus of this stop seems to be more about the history of the man for whom it was named, rather than on the feature itself. On the waterfall scale, I give it a 5.

A couple of small stops later we arrived at the Artist Paint Pots, which are a variety of colorful bubbling mud bogs. White, red and milky blue pools dotted the landscape, and smelled more like an easter egg painting party. Big thick mud glopped and splatted with boiling hot goop. There was not enough parking here, so we triple parked, hoping the minivan driver would have enough prowess to get out without mangling all the cars in the lot. When we returned to the car they were apparently successful.

Our next stop was at the Norris Geyser Basin. There were some incredible colors here. Big pools of that mysterious milky blue with rusty edges, and also dark brown, white, yellow, and bright green lined the shallow waterways. Gregory remarked that if someone were Imagineering a Yellowstone Park re-creation and painted the rocks to match these colors, people would probably complain that it didn’t look natural.

Mammoth, our next stop, has some of the most iconic images associated with Yellowstone, which are those colorful terraced fountains. Being late in the summer, only one was really boiling over. The landscape was mostly white and gray with orange-rusty accents. By this time it was hot and the sun was rather unmerciful. Thankfully there wasn’t any shade and lots of stairs. Perfect! And I really had to pee.

Along the way to the next location we stopped occasionally to admire the scenery and breathe in the incredible fresh mountain air. There was a fire several years ago, and the remnants of it are still evident as dead limbless trees rise eerily above the dense copses of eager new growth.

The next several stops were along the Grand Canyon of Yellowstone and here the reason for the name of the park became clear. The walls of this incredible canyon are comprised largely of yellow stone and large dramatic falls cascade down the river in bluish-green. We stopped at Tower Falls, (waterfall scale: 8) and a couple of other overlooks, one of which included an appearance by a couple of female bighorn sheep.

The grand finale for the day was the upper and lower falls at Canyon Village. This is just a spectacular part of the park, and I was so thankful that Bear had saved it for last. We decided to start out along the south rim first and would back track to the north rim later (and eat dinner there too).

We stopped at the upper falls (waterfall scale 9) and it was an okay view from across the river, decided to hike down “Uncle Tom’s Trail,” which provided a view of the lower falls. Don’t be put off by the name; this is a different Uncle Tom. And don’t be fooled by the map, which shows a small straight line. That shit is straight down for what feels like three miles.

Just before we headed down, to the bottom, there were a couple of fawns, still with their spots, at the top of the mountain.

And with mama.

The trail was originally constructed from ropes, which after traversing the 328 steps down on an easy metal stairway, I can’t even imagine. And heading down was the easy part. The landscape was lush from the humidity of the falls, and the air was full of delicious pine and mossy earth. It was intoxicating.

At the bottom of the stairs, the view was spectacular. I have never seen a waterfall like this! There was so much water! And it fell so far! This was the most amazing waterfall I have ever seen. As a bonus to the experience, there was a cute chipmunk trying to get into a girl’s backpack.

So just to the right of the falls at the top, there is a small platform, and that was where we would go next, right after Artist Point, which is just a bit further along the south rim. But first we had to reascend the 328 steps, and they were super steep, by the way. Lots of rest stops and taking it slow and steady.

Here is the view from Artist point, a little further down river and much easier to get to than the bottom of Uncle Tom’s Trail.

We decided to back track up to the north rim, and check out the falls from the different angles. So we hopped in the car and headed back to the appropriately named North Rim Drive. Getting to the upper falls was a short walk, but it required walking down some stairs I can only call “treacherous.” They were very uneven and the hand rails became our friend.

The lower falls, once again had the more challenging hike. After about 12 switchbacks on a shakily paved path, we made it to the top of the lower falls, with nothing but a chain link fence separating us from a seven-mile plunge to our doom. I don’t know how high these falls actually are, but it was such a spectacular view.

Finally blind from having used up our eyesight by looking at too much amazing stuff, we decided it was time for prime rib at the dining hall. Unfortunately it wasn’t nearly as good as last night’s, but we had the help of a bold spicy Syrah to get us through. While we were eating a storm had rolled in over the park, and as we drove through the night, lightning gave hints to the surrounding landscape and horizon, and intermittent rain made that amazing air smell even more amazinger. We rolled down the windows on a number of occasions until it got too wet or too cold. Eventually we would warm up and the windows would have to be rolled down again.

Once back at our campsite, we quickly got ready for bed knowing we would sleep well, after the fifty miles of walking up and down a million stairs. Once comfy in our blankets and sleeping bags, we drifted off to the sound of rain.

Vacation 2014: Old Faithful: Day 6

Well the night’s sleep was not great. I opted for a cheap sleeping mat, and boy did it suck. I was too cheap to spring for an $80 mattress and my regret-o-meter was up to maximum. I was ready to shell out twice that to make the evil ground stop its uncomfortableness. Sadly there was nothing I could do, but try to get through it. It’s a first world problem, but I’m fucking blogging about it, and you’re reading this on a computer, so whatever.

As we set out for our first destination we encountered big banks of fog. As the geysers and steam vents flow throughout the night, the cold air keeps all that close to the ground and so you get beautiful views of foggy mystery in the morning sun.

Today began and ended at the Mona Lisa of Yellowstone: Old Faithful. There is much more than just this old geezer—I mean, geyser—here. Boardwalks take you all around the area to all sorts of bubbling burbling boiling water spouts. There were a couple of bison wandering cluelessly through the fields. It is quite a large complex with stores, a grill (fast food, counter service), cafeteria (self serve) and dining (a traditional restaurant-style table service). There is a store, gift shop and hotel.

The Yellowstone hotel inspired Disney’s Grand Californian Hotel in Disneyland. The lobby has a huge ceiling probably five or six stories. I could look up exactly how high it is, but that would require typing, and looking and thinking. Here I can just type a bunch of garbage and speculate on assumptions. You know, like the news.

Another thing that is interesting about Yellowstone was its diversity. There are people here from all over the world. I heard German, French, Chinese, Japanese, and possibly Korean (I’m not familiar enough with the nuances between Chinese and Korean), Spanish, Portuguese and Indian. I heard British accents, Southern accents, and unitentifiable eastern European accents. Even in the restaurant our waitstaff had listed next to their name where they were from. Our water girl was from Taiwan and our waiter was from Czech Republic. I saw rugged camper types, rich people that were not dressed appropriately, from tourists to locals, and we were right in the middle.

It is amazing to consider this is all volcanic activity at its source. it is also surprising there aren’t more sulfurous vents in the Earth. Besides, seeing a steaming river is entertaining. If only I had my bikini…

It was time to head to a new spot, and so we headed up to Midway Geyser Basin. We ended up spending about five hours here and it had the most spectacular hole. It was hard to see it so Gregory pointed out a hill across the road and figured there would be a really good view from up there.

There was plenty of stuff to see up close. Great orange and brown streaks made up of bacteria and worlds too small for the naked eye to see, thriving in a colorful terrestrial system, radiating in colorful bands from the blue orb was something both otherworldly and yet, more connected to the earth than we are. We simply rely on its location in the solar system, its gravity and the sustenance it provides. Trifle. But this seems like essence of the earth itself. The interesting layers and plant and microbes that live on those small worlds that make up the varying colors, fed by the waters from the vast boiling blue sun.

It’s like, super, mega existential…and stuff.

We walked away from the crowd drawn to this marvel, and sat beneath a super swell pine tree to have lunch.

After a bit of cloud watching, we walked across the road and hiked to the top of the hill for that better view. Wow.

Just wow.

And wow again.

After we had a few moments to enjoyed the vista, and take enough pictures to document it better than Google, we were shortly joined by a group of elderly Asian ladies dressed in their finery, each one seemingly color coded, which it would have been hilarious to see them trying to climb up that hill.

We decided that it would be a good idea to return to the Old Faithful area for dinner and wander around to some of the other things we missed, have dinner and watch the sunset. Gregory ordered an amazing slice of prime. I had some cordon bleu thing that was good, but couldn’t come close to the quality of that prime rib. It was a nearly perfect slice. I didn’t take a picture of it because pictures of food often look gross.

They are either too shiny, which makes it look greasy, or someone takes a picture of soup or chili which almost unfailingly looks like vomit or diahrreah. I’m sorry to kill the mood, but it does. Please stop taking pictures of soup, chili or sauces of any kind. Unless you have studio lighting, and plastic models, please ask yourself, “will this picture make someone gag?” before you take that picture of your plate of slop.

Instead here are pictures of the incredible sunset.

It gets noticeably cold about a half an hour before the sun sets, and even colder once it disappears from view. The cold air does increase the drama of the geysers erupting however. All that hot steam in the cold air made Old Faithful look so dramatic just after sunset. There was enough light for Gregory to get a couple of pictures of it. I watched, contentedly sipping hot cocoa.

And with that, it was time to call it a day, and we returned to our humble campsite near Madison.


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