08.22.10 :: Joseph, OR to Portland, OR

August 24th, 2010

At the top of the Wallowa Lake Tramway

Home sweet home. And just like that, it’s over. Here we are.

This morning we got up and went up the gondola near Wallowa Lake to enjoy the view from the top with the price, but not the effort of getting there. Apparently we underestimated just how cold it would be up on top. Within the first five minutes of beginning to explore the various views, Lucas slid on the dirt/gravel and gouged his hand. Couple a tummy ache, with being cold and a bleeding hand = not much fun for anyone. So, we took in as much view as we could and headed back down the gondola to hit the road.

Collectively, we decided that we were ready to go home and that, today was the day. So, that is what we did.
Charlotte, my long time friend Liz’s six year old daughter, had hand sewn us a little pouch with some sweet, original designs on the front, which contained a letter-pressed welcome home card with her artwork on it. She tied two balloons to it and had designed it to be attached to our front door, so it could welcome us home. So sweet!

Lucas was giddy at the prospect of getting home. Initially, Tillie was on board, but when we hit the greater city limits, she decided she was not so sure. I think I’m with Tillie on this one. I like the idea of being home, it’s time. However, what we’ve been doing has been fantastic and something I will never forget. I fear that I like the idea of being home more than the reality. Time will tell.

What I do know is that this has been a life shaping experience. I want to thank all of you that have faithfully read along. My intention with the blog was not so much to make our journey public, but to have a record of it to reference and reflect on. Essentially, I was hoping it would be the basis for my memory, which tends to fail me. Given that our kids are young, I thought it could be something that they could have to remind them of this summer and that they could look at for years to come. The support and comments that you all have shared along the way have been immensely moving to me. People that I haven’t heard from in years reached out to tell me how much they enjoyed and savored reading. People that I see and hear from constantly did the same.

While it didn’t matter to me if anyone was reading along, I am proud that our journey has impacted so many of you so positively. I thank you for sharing what it’s meant to you.

Here’s a look at our journey in numbers:

We passed through and visited 2 countries, 6 provinces and 21 states. We are now the proud owners of, give or take, 24 new McDonalds toys. 11, 056 is the total number of miles John drove and we spent $2622.64 in gas. On Tuesday, July 27th, 127 of you read the blog — the most in one day, but it has been viewed 4,673 times to date – if you’re reading this now, add 1. We spent a total of 43 nights in the trailer and swam in 19 pools, 2 lakes, 2 rivers and the 1 ocean. I took 9,290 photographs! Along the way we saw countless buffalo, 6 bears, 1 snapping turtle, 3 fox, 4 wolves, 1 coyote, 1 pike, about a dozen elk, hundreds of pigs, about 20 goats – mountain and domestic, a bunch of chickens, a handful of cats and many, many dogs, 8 dolphins and 20,000 motorcyclists, give or take.

And in 75 days away, we have zero regrets.

For Sale: 18’ lightweight travel trailer. All fixed up and ready for another family to create their own adventure.

08.21.10 :: Twin Falls, ID to Joseph, OR

August 23rd, 2010

in Enterprise, OR

We crossed in to Ontario, Oregon after a lunch stop in Boise. Our intention was to drive to the John Day Fossil Beds in central Oregon and camp there. While we were pulling out of the gas station though, we abruptly changed plans and decided instead, to head to Joseph, Oregon, close to Hell’s Canyon and stay on Wallowa Lake. We rationalized that since this is that much further from Portland, we were more likely to do a three day weekend at John Day than we were to make it out to Joseph and Wallowa Lake anytime soon.

John was anxious about campground availability, but I brushed it off… as my earlier post said, we have yet to have a problem and with it being the end of August, most people are no longer thinking of their summer vacation and camping trips. Most are now in full on school mode. I did call the reservation line at the Wallowa Lake campground to inquire, but since it is Saturday, I got an ‘our offices are closed’ message. When were detoured off of the main, and only, drag in Joseph, because of a bike rally in town, we noticed a whole lot of ‘no vacancy’ signs, as well as a whole lot of motor bikes. I think it was then that I realized that he was right and that we could be in trouble.

The road to Joseph is a one way venture. It does not connect to anything, so if we were not able to find camping here, we were going to be headed back the way we came – all 75+ miles of it, on top of a 370+ mile day. Sure enough, we pulled in to the Wallowa Lake Campground at the south end of the lake and the worker announced that they were full up. Crap.

one of four deer at our cabin, looking for a handout

On the drive in, as I was looking for campground options, up came some cabins in the area. The entrance to the lodge/campgrounds, was right near the state park entrance. We stopped in there. They had one, one room cabin left that had been a cancellation. Then she told me it was a two night minimum and it rents at $200/night. Not quite what I had in mind. She took pity on me and agreed to rent it to us for one night only. So, for one of our last nights on the trip, we’re paying to rent a cabin! Lucas was very excited!

We ventured back into town for dinner. Joseph is quite an artsy community. It is so incredibly beautiful here. I can see the charm and why people want to live here in the ‘Alps of North America’. I even caught myself checking out the real estate listings in the local magazine – and I have zero intention of moving from Portland – it is one of my favorite cities on this planet.

Since the bike festival is here, things are hopping in town and on the main drag. We found a fun brew pub for dinner with live music playing out on the patio. It was absolutely perfect.

We came home to our spendy cabin, built a fire and shared s’mores, books and games.

08.20.10 :: West Yellowstone, ID to Twin Falls, ID

August 23rd, 2010

nothing beats a pool

We had intended on visiting and spending a night with our friends Smith and Susan and their four year old twin boys in Victor Idaho, but we are all feeling the immense pull of the magnet that is home. In addition to a long overdue visit, I was selfishly hoping to check out Susan’s hand sewn line of hand–dyed hemp clothes. I’ve been drooling over them for some time: www.pasqueflower.net, if you’re interested. So, we booked on past Victor, which was well enough off of our route that we didn’t even try to stop for coffee and a play or something. Too bad. Susan’s family is from Forest Grove near Portland, so hopefully we will get to see them before too long.

We checked the McDonalds website knowing that we would have a reasonably long day.  I did mention that having a smart phone has been indispensable, for the most part, right? There were four of them near Chubbuk that had playplaces, so it looked like we would have our choice of where to stop. When we pulled off, John wanted to fuel up before stopping for lunch. He hadn’t even finished unscrewing the gas cap when a woman approached him wanting to talk about our trailer. Apparently, she’d been driving along and her son had noticed it as being the exact same as theirs. They have been having some issues with theirs too (surprise, surprise). Since it’s so new, we were the first people they had seen hauling one. We exchanged gripes and information and had a nice chat before pressing on to McDonalds. Well, on our way in to the gas station, we noticed the McDonalds we had intentionally pulled off for was under construction. That would have been nice to know – if not on the internet, at least at the exit. Bummer. According to the website, there were two others within a couple of miles, so I cut and pasted the address for the next closest one into my phone. Several miles later and past where it should have been, in the middle of a reservation, we figured it could not be right. Sure enough, we turned around and went the other direction and there is was. The kids had a blast running around and burning off some energy, but we wasted a whole half hour going back and forth.

I took the opportunity to post the blogs from the last couple of days since there was not great service in West Yellowstone. We found a KOA in Twin Falls to call home for tonight. Another great pool and a playground – that keeps us happy. This is home to where Evel Knievel attempted to jump the Snake River. Beautiful canyon on either side of the river. It is desert hot here. Cool at night, but super dry and hot during the day.

Tomorrow we should make it back into Oregon!

08.19.10 :: West Yellowstone

August 21st, 2010

can't beat bubbling mud!

We will still barely scratch the surface but, we opted to stay one more day. My suggestion was to see some more of the geyser basins, which are closer to the west entrance, nearer where we are camped, in a relative way. My rationale was that we could spend less time in the car, explore the geysers, which are fascinating, and we could come back to the campground early to swim and play.

By the third stop of the morning, the kids refused to join us exploring the geysers, fumaroles and pools, electing instead to stay in the car and watch a show on the DVD player. Since I have the camera, and prefer to take the pictures, that left it up to John to stay with the kids while I went off to do a little exploring. Not wanting to sit in the car, Jhe found a nearby bench to sit on while he waited. Apparently I had not been gone long when, a Yellowstone Tours van pulled in to the parking spot next to us. The door opened and out piled several Japanese tourists. As they stepped out, they came face to face with the DVD watching scene unfolding in our car, in the parking lot of this worldwide, one of a kind spot. The story goes that they were beside themselves with how ‘cute’ they considered this to be and immediately pulled their cameras out to capture the moment, asking the kids if they were going to smile for them and so on. Hilarious. Tillie and Lucas I am sure, were not amused.

a thermal waterfall

a thermal waterfall

There are warnings everywhere, in no less than six languages, that this water and liquid can scald you or kill you and that some of it is so acidic it can eat through a pair of boots. While I hate to generalize, it’s very apparent that the German crowd are not rule followers and are overcome by their need to touch. Yesterday, at the Mammoth Hot Springs, there was a group of four bikers (most likely here in conjunction with the Sturgis rally), who, despite the multitude of signs, were walking on the unpredictable thermal layer. It says everywhere that this crusty layer, with hot pockets and steamy sunken holes everywhere, is constantly evolving (as quickly as overnight) and no one knows at any given moment where it is safe to walk and where you may just fall through. Yet, here they were, off the boardwalk, snapping pictures and such. When another tourist warned them that this was not the safest course of action, they seemed highly annoyed. As they got back on their bikes, John noticed them tossing some garbage onto the street. It was Lucas, however, that wondered aloud why those people weren’t following the rules.

About a half hour later, as we drove down the road, back towards Madison, we could see some more steaming holes down near a stream. At the pullout, surprise, surprise, were two bikes with German flags a waving, and wouldn’t you know it, those same bikers were down there hopping around the thermal pockets and snapping photos.

Today, as the kids were in the car, I witnessed a German woman dip her hand in the water, as it ran under the boardwalk, and we both saw a German father do the same at the Fountain Paint Pot this morning. Gotta wonder.

We did hit Old Faithful, but as we sauntered towards the biggest and most famous Geyser, there were crowds of people walking towards us – clearly we had just missed it going off. The next predicted ‘eruption’ time was in an hour and a half. I think by then, we would have been facing a more major explosion from our children. So, we decided to skip seeing Old Faithful in action and settled for it steaming instead. We did take a back road on the way home and were afforded another Geyser putting on a pretty memorable show.

The late afternoon was spent in the pool and we capped the evening off with a campfire and s’mores. A pretty good day! Tomorrow we will head to Idaho. We’re definitely feeling the pull of home now… all of us.

08.18.10 :: West Yellowstone

August 20th, 2010

Mammoth Hot Springs

Today we did a long driving loop from Madison to Canyon, where we had lunch, and then up and over to Tower, followed by Mammoth Hot Springs, before coming full circle back to Madison. Despite it obviously not being peak season around here anymore, there is no shortage of people. For the most part, it’s a non–issue. When it becomes most apparent, is looking for a parking space at one of the lots near the more popular sites and in the lunch line! Beyond that, even though there are thousands upon thousands of people moving about in the park, it is quite orderly. Whoever planned travel through here should be commended. That said, it reinforces for me that I really dislike crowds. I would much rather forfeit the popular spot and be relatively alone looking at something else and equally novel.

It’s amazing how completely different the various parts of the park are. It’s very arid and dry in some areas, lush in some, rolling hills elsewhere, geyser filled in one area, forested and so on. Crazy that it can be so vastly different in such a compact area.

On the drive from Mammoth to Madison

When we were driving back to our campsite tonight, just six miles from West Yellowstone, I asked John what he thought was up with the sky. It had become super hazy, almost fog like, whereas it had been blue all day long. As we moved to exit the park for the day was when we first noticed it on the horizon. At the campground, we stopped at the check in to ask if there was a wildfire somewhere. Indeed there is, “somewhere in Idaho”. At once reassuring and not. No one seemed terribly concerned about it.

The internet here has been very frustrating and slow. I suppose this is the case in most places where you are sharing the connection with sometimes hundreds of other people. I tend to waste so much time though, thinking, surely this time it will work. Mostly it has been trying to upload small pics to accompany the blog. Very frustrating… especially when it amounts to hours. You know how it goes – you sit down to do one thing and before you know it, hours have gone by. What’s worse, I’ve got absolutely nothing to show for it, it’s not even like I’ve caught up on Facebook or anything. At the head of the bed, there is no service, at the foot, I get almost full bars – although full bars doesn’t count for much here. Very annoying.

We are undecided whether we will stay one more day or press on again tomorrow morning. The kids are not quite as enthralled and moved by Yellowstone as John and I are. Although we’re ready to be home, we recognize that once we are, things will get ‘back to normal’ pretty quickly, so we’re trying not to rush it and take advantage of almost the full amount of time John was granted in leave.

08.17.10 :: Cody, WY to West Yellowstone, MT

August 20th, 2010

Black Sand Basin Geyser

This morning we enjoyed our first free pancake breakfast at the KOA. Hot fluffy pancakes fresh off the griddle, not having to get your wallet out and no clean up, is a pretty good recipe for breakfast.

Yellowstone National Park is a lot wider than I anticipated. I had envisioned a short drive to the West Entrance, drop the trailer off and come on back to do some exploring. The constant eye candy, coupled with traffic and animal sightings meant that, with stops, it took us about five and a half hours to go less than 150 miles. We made lunch at Black Sand Basin, just north of Old Faithful, and saw some super cool, active geysers –possibly the most jaw dropping natural phenomenon that I’ve ever seen – between the colors, the temperatures and boiling water shooting up out of the earth in great fountains, it was truly amazing.

Fortunately, we have yet to be turned away from a campground. In almost three months, we forfeited the one and only reservation that we bothered to make – back in Calgary when we needed to have work done on the trailer. Since then, we’ve been less inclined to make them. We don’t know with much accuracy where we will be a couple of days down the road and it defeats the purpose of being somewhat self contained to have to plan ahead, not allowing for whatever comes up. If there was one place that we anticipated that this might be a big problem, it was Yellowstone. From the tales we’ve been told, you need to book many months, if not a year, in advance to secure a spot. I suppose the fact that many schools have already resumed and that we are in the latter half of August has worked in our favor, since we found availability at the first campground we called. That said, I do not doubt that this would have been an entirely different scenario had we been rolling through here in mid–July.

Lake in Black Sand Basin

At dinner, in addition to reviewing everyone’s favorite part of the day, we recounted the list of wildlife that we’d seen to date, on our trip. Tillie was excited to announce that she remembered seeing, “Buffalo, deer, cantaloupe, elk, a beaver and fish.” Speaking of wildlife, when we were leaving Cody, earlier today, I had wanted to stop in at this shop to see about a huge wicker moose – sounds strange, but it looks neat. My parents have one at the cottage and it had been in the back of my mind for years, that it would be fun to have one to hang over the fireplace in Portland. When I saw it hanging at Sierra Trading Post and asked about it, she told me they had bought it just down the street. John wanted no part of it, which surprised me, but, given that, I didn’t even bother to check it out. At dinner though, he brought up the idea of getting a stuffed jackelope head for one of the kids’ rooms?!. I thought he must be kidding, but he really meant it. No idea where that came from, but we will not be perusing real jackelope heads anytime soon, if I have anything to do with it.

Food will not be amongst our fond memories of the last ten weeks, with a few exceptions. After tonight’s barely passable fare, we wandered down the main strip in town. We came across an ice cream shop and stopped in for some dessert. Then we crossed the street to a great local bookshop – like a very mini and super disorganized version of Powell’s City of Books, in Portland, where they have both new and used books available side by side.

Tomorrow’s agenda is more of Yellowstone.

08.16.10 :: Buffalo, WY to Cody, WY

August 18th, 2010

Cody Night Rodeo

Mornings in the trailer, are generally the same. Lucas wakes up to find that Tillie has already made her way into our bed at some point in the night. He then joins us for a morning snuggle. Shortly thereafter, arguments ensue about who will be where, and how much room they have, and who wants to be located in between whom. This morning was no exception.

Given that the trailer was still hooked up to the car, getting out of Buffalo was pretty quick. Today’s drive was spectacular and we made it to our campsite in Cody by early afternoon. This KOA has a really nice swimming area with a regular pool, a kiddie pool with fountains and a fancy in–ground hot tub. Our early arrival allowed for lots of time to be spent enjoying all three.

We decided to have dinner in Cody before making our way to the nightly rodeo at the far edge of town. Our first stop though, was Sierra Trading Post. For those of you that don’t know – Sierra Trading Post is a big outlet, overstock kind of outfit, they carry a great variety of items, all at a discount. The bulk of their business is catalog based and we’ve ordered a bunch from them over the years.

08.15.10 :: Hill City, SD to Buffalo, WY

August 17th, 2010

Aladdin General Store

Somehow in the middle of last night, both kids ended up in our bed. Given that it is not very big and there is no ‘extra space’ – since the bed is walled in on three and a half sides, there was some middle of the night opinion sharing about who was hogging all of the room and blankets. My favorite accusation came from Lucas – “But I’m just laying here and she’s putting her hair in my eyeballs.” Despite all of this, we did manage to get some sleep.

Given that we had such a productive day yesterday, we decided to press on towards Yellowstone. We had decided to do a short detour in order to see Devils Tower – a National Monument near the Belle Fourche river in Wyoming. When we crossed the state line from South Dakota, we stopped at the visitor’s center to gather information about the state. The woman working there was very helpful. We asked her for a lunch suggestion on the way to Devils Tower. She recommended Cindy B’s restaurant in Aladdin.

Only when we got to the restaurant did we realize that Aladdin is a town of 15 people – it’s kind of their claim to fame. The town is comprised of a century old store and this restaurant. Apparently everyone from town and that number again, were seated and anticipating lunch when we arrived. An hour later, we were still waiting for lunch. When you’re five and you’ve been frequenting McDonalds, waiting an hour for your lunch is unbearable, which is then in turn almost unbearable for your parents. Our lunch did finally arrive and it a welcome change from the usual.

Devils Tower

The flyer put out by the Forest Service recounts one of the legends of the Kiowa tribe, about how Devil’s Tower came to be. I was reading it aloud to John, but Lucas, who had been playing his Leapster in the backseat, was fascinated by the story and insisted on hearing it several times. The story tells of seven sisters and their brother, they were playing tag when the brother turned in to a bear with fur and claws and began to chase them. There was a tree stump nearby that invited them to climb aboard, which they did… the children prayed, in order to get away from the bear and in response, the tree stump then grew and grew, so high into the sky that the girls were lifted up into the heavens and they became the stars of the Little Dipper. All the while the bear was clawing away at the tree, which left behind the claw marks in the rock. It really does look like a tree stump that has been clawed and you can see it from miles and miles away. Due to our extended lunch, we just stopped long enough to take some pics and stamp our National Parks Passports (which we discovered yesterday at the Wind Cave gift shop).

Tonight we are in Buffalo, WY. There is a good amount of construction going on here at the moment. I’m not certain who they serve or what the draw to Buffalo is, but there are a ton of new hotels in this town. We won’t be sticking around long enough to determine the answer. Tomorrow, we are hoping to make it to Yellowstone. That said, I saw in one of the publications today that there is a Sierra Trading Post outlet store in Cody, which is about four hours from here. We thought we’d have to wait until Boise for Sierra Trading Post… so, we may only make it as far as Cody tomorrow. Once we hit Cody, it’s not all that far to the Park. The car is hooked up in anticipation of a fairly quick departure.

08.14.10 :: Hill City, SD

August 15th, 2010

A buffalo in Custer State Park

Well, we are definitely out of the heat! I caught John this morning wearing a hat and sweatshirt that he had been lobbying to mail home since Muskoka. I rifled through my warm clothes at the bottom of my bin and found my down vest. Heaven. The high today reached about 75 with perfect sun and no humidity. As far as I’m concerned, you really can’t beat that. Evenings are way cooler, which means no A/C and actually needing blankets. How novel.

Apparently weather is not the source of our problems. We still had a meltdown episode this morning that made me think heading straight home immediately after breakfast would be a good idea. I reconsidered once peaceful and charming Tillie arrived back on the scene. It’s not like once we hit the Portland city limits all behavior will cease. In fact, I’m anticipating we’ll have an equal adjustment period once we get home.

We packed a ton in to today, although we did not leave the campground with those intentions. South Dakota is stunning. Neither of us had any idea how absolutely beautiful it is here and just how much there is to see. First up, after playing at the deluxe campground playground and feeding the horses we can see from our campsite, was to do one of the driving loops of Custer State Park. Along the way today, between Custer, Wind Cave National Park and Mt. Rushmore, we saw bison (huge amounts), antelope, prairie dogs, deer and mountain goats! Big wildlife day, which the kids loved. All of the animals were all in pretty close proximity too – which makes it way more exciting.

Cave popcorn

Halfway through the Custer loop (which was incredible), we saw signs for Wind Cave, which was on our radar, as it had been recommended to us by two friends. The kids were interested, so we detoured in that direction. Within fifteen minutes of arriving, we were on an elevator down into the depths of the cave for an hour and a half tour of one teensy weensy part. The tunnels, passages and rooms that have been discovered in Wind Cave are vast, yet in an extrememly concentrated area – it’s really incredible to see it all mapped out. This cave is not a wet cave, so really different looking from the Virginia cave that I spent three days inside, years ago with some fellow instructors from Outward Bound. The kids seemed to enjoy the tour, although I suspect that Tillie in particular was somewhat bored after the first ten minutes. Case and point, part way through, she was insistent about reminding us all that John had promised her that she could press the button to unlock the car once we returned to the parking lot.

Tillie at Mt. Rushmore, checking out the adjacent hillside with binocs

After the cave, we returned a different way and stopped in Custer for an early dinner, since the kids had basically eaten pretzels for lunch. On our way home, we returned to Mt. Rushmore to see it in the daytime.

All in all, a fantastic day of no travel. Tomorrow we will move towards Yellowstone.

08.13.10 :: Kennebeck, SD to Hill City, SD (Mount Rushmore)

August 14th, 2010

Wall Drug and a couple hundred bikes

This morning, we were definitely not the first folks on the road! We showered, cooked a real breakfast of farm fresh eggs, thanks to Rudd and Becky’s chickens, and hit the playground before heading out.

We put Wall Drug on today’s agenda. If you don’t know what I am talking about, then you have not ever been in the vicinity of South Dakota. Even before you hit the state, billboards abound announcing that you can get free ice water and $0.05 coffee. Incidentally, if you’re a newlywed on your honeymoon, coffee AND donuts are on the house. Once you are in the state, every other billboard, or more, is for Wall Drug.

Bikers are EVERYWHERE!!! 2010 is the 70th annual Sturgis bike rally, so it must be a big one. The sound of motorcycles everywhere, although harmless, is disconcerting – it puts me on edge. After Wall Drug, we were going to stop at Subway to grab a sandwich before heading in to the Badlands National Park to find a place to picnic. The line to order a sandwich was twenty deep, so I did an about turn and walked straight back out the door. We settled for what we already had in the fridge instead, which was probably a good thing.

Badlands National Park

The Badlands was a very worthwhile minor detour. It reminds me somewhat of Dinosaur Provincial Park, but it’s like nothing I had ever seen prior to this trip. You can see each layer of sediment and dirt and imagine how the landscape changed over time.

Given that we meandered so much today and stopped several times, our day was long despite mileage that was about half of what it was yesterday. When we arrived at tonight’s campsite, the kids wanted to hit the pool. So we did. It’s finally cooler! Yay! Today was in the upper 70s – just the way I like it. The pool here is 86, so as long as you are in the water, you’re warm. They also have a hot tub. We were walking back to our campsite, wet from the pool, when Lucas announced that he wanted to go back because he was cold. I thought he meant back to the hot tub to warm up one more time, but he was quick to let us know that that is not at all what he meant – he meant that he wanted to drive back from where we’d come!! We’re so fickle, always wanting what we haven’t got.

As we were leaving this morning, we ran in to a fellow who had just come from Mt. Rushmore. He clued us in to an evening show that they put on that includes a short movie about the history, significance and making of the monument, as well as it being lit up as the grand finale. So, on his recommendation, we went to see that tonight. It was really moving and worthwhile.

We are staying here for two nights so that we can enjoy this area. There is a LOT to see and do here.