Saw More of the West

After visiting Mount Rushmore and Devil’s Tower we headed across the Rocky Mountains to Yellowstone National Park.  The first night we stayed in the Mammoth Springs Lodge.  The room was VERY small and had a bathroom down the hall.  The Mammoth springs were very fascinating.  As the steam and water push their way to the surface, they bring various minerals with them that form interesting terraced structures or form multi-colored pools.  Below is a picture of one of the multi-colored pools.  You can see all the steam rising up from the nearly-boiling water.
Steam Vent at Yellow Stone
One of Many Multi-Colored Pools at Geyser Basin

Of course we saw Old Faithful Geyser.  Old Faithful is not as clock-like reliable as it once was because of an earthquake in the 80’s that changed the underground “plumbing” of the geyser area.  Still, if goes off every 90 minutes or so.  Not far from Old Faithful, however, is a much more impressive geyser, the Grand Geyser, which blows about every 11 hours.  We were lucky enough to catch the 15-minute, 40-feet tall event.  Tremendous!

The next two nights we stayed in one of the cabins in Old Faithful Lodge.  These too were quite small.  Bathrooms and showers were in another building.  It was fun going to the bathroom in the middle of the night with a flashlight hoping to not run into a bear or moose.  In the evenings we gathered in Old Faithful Lodge at a small table in the common area.  From there we had a picture-window view of the gyser.  Since it was cold in the evenings, it was good to be inside.  We had bought a brick of cheese and a box of crackers and played dominoes all evening while watching the occasional geyser eruption.

Dominoes in Old Faithful Lodge
Each Evening We Gathered in Old Faithful Lodge for Cheese and Crackers, Dominoes, and a Great View of Old Faithful

 One of the best things we did at Yellowstone was get off the beaten path.  We took a three-mile hike to find the Fern Cascades.  The trail head was not well marked, but the trail was.  We saw no other people for three hours as we hiked through the woods and found the “falls.”  In fact it was so quiet, the kids and I started singing Kingston Trio songs to ensure we didn’t surprise a bear.  We left Yellowstone after three days in the park.  On the way out the South gate toward the Grand Tetons, we passed by the waterfall shown below.  There was a lot of dead-fall stretching two thirds of the way across the river below the falls, so of course, the kids had to climb out on it.

Buck at Water Fall
This is Me in Front of a Waterfall Not Far from the South Entrance to Yellowstone.

 We saw elk, deer, beaver, sheep, bison, and bear in Yellowstone, but we didn’t see any moose.  Finally on our second day in the Grand Teton National Park we saw a moose during our float trip down the Snake River.  We also saw three bald eagles perched in trees.  The views in the Grand Tetons were superb.

Moose Seen from Float Trip Down the Snake River in the Grand Tetons National Park

 After visiting Candy’s brother in Boise, ID, we headed to the Rocky Mountain National Park in Colorado.  We only had a day and a half there, which was about a day too short.  This place was probably the most scenic of any of our stops during the trip.  Incredible views and hikes.

Surdu's in Rocky Mountain National Park
Surdu Family in Rocky Mountain National Park

 On the hike, Candy and I kept a leisurely pace while the kids rushed ahead and climbed rocks.   Below is a picture of a hiding place that Sam occupied at one point.  The four-mile hike began at about 9500 feet and climbed to over 10,000 feet.

Sam Found a Hidey Hole During our Hike in the Rocky Mountain National Park

 From the four-mile hike we took another three-mile hike to a waterfall.  The picture below shows Candy near the base of the falls.  She and I stopped to take some pictures.  The kids kept climbing.  We looked up to see Sam dancing on a cliff just over the top of the falls — on the other side of the river.  It was too late to do anything about it.  We didn’t know how they got across, and they couldn’t have overheard me over the water if I had tried to call them down.  On the way back, however, Sam slipped on a rock and fell up to her chest in ice-cold mountain water.  Fortunately the water was only a foot deep there, so she didn’t get swept over the falls.  You can imagine the conversation with Tommy about poor choices that followed.  We let Sam stay in here ice cold, wet clothes until we made it back to the parking lot; we figured she’d remember the lesson better that way.  🙂

Candy Near the Base of the Waterfall Where Sam Took an Accidental Swim

 From Rocky Mountain National Park we stopped in Ft. Leavenworth, KS, and then spent half a day in Hannibal, MO, learning about Mark Twain’s boyhood and seeing many of the sites that inspired Tom Sawyer.  The trip through the caves was intersting.  We also spent a couple of hours at the Gateway Arch in St. Louis.  The next day we stopped at a truck stop for gas and drinks.  A man in the truck stop had just won a prize from the claw machine.  Since his kid didn’t want it, he gave the chicken hat (seen below) to Tommy.  He wore it all the way home, including trips into gas stations and restaurants.

Tom with Chicken Hat
Tom with His Prized Chicken Hat

It was a great trip.  We have lots of photos and memories.  It was great quality time.  The trip home felt rushed, because I needed to get back to work.  While the trip was already 17 days long, another three days would have made it feel more leisurely, and we would have arrived more rested.

Seeing Still More of the West

Yesterday, 10 August, we headed set out after a really nice continental breakfast at the K Bar S lodge.

Sam and Candy in front of K Bar S
Sam and Candy in front of K Bar S in the mountains around Keystone, SD

Our first destination was Devil’s Tower, WY.  We were worried about getting into the park.  There is a huge motorcycle rally going on this week in Sturgis, nearby.  Apparently up to 500,000 bikers show up for the rally each year.  The Rangers at Devil’s Tower were well prepared for the huge influx of people.  Parking was well organized, extra stations were set up for people to get bottled water, etc.  While traffic was heavy we were able to get into the park and find parking very quickly.

If you are not an excellent mountain climber, what there is to do at Devil’s Tower is admire the scenery and take a couple of different hikes around the base of it.  The kids had fun climbing around the boulder field at the base of the monument for a while.   We spent three hours at Devil’s Tower, about an hour longer than we thought we would, but some of that time was consumed in just getting in and out through all the bikers.

Tom, Candy, and Sam at Devil's Tower, WY
Tom, Candy, and Sam at Devil's Tower, WY

(By the way, while the vast majority of the bikers look “different,” they were well behaved, quiet, and made no trouble.  Tommy wanted to know why all the biker women walked around half naked, to which we had no answer.  This seems to be a case of not judging a book by its cover.)

Bikes at the Entrance to Devil's Tower
Bikes at the Entrance to Devil's Tower

While there is debate over the exact mechanism that created it, the scientists agree that Devil’s Tower was once the inside of a volcano.  The outside eroded from wind and rain.  The long streaks that you see in pictures are the seams between long columns of once-molten rock.  These columns are actually hexagonal in horizontal cross section.

From Devil’s Tower we headed up into Montana to visit the Little Big Horn battlefield.  At the visitor’s center, we saw the 17-minute movie, which was pretty good.  The battle has a lot of maneuver, and I thought some better graphics and overhead maps could have helped understand what is a confusing engagement.  There are no step-by-step descriptions of the battle in the visitor’s center.  We drove the battlefield tour, some of which is on Park Service land and some of which is on the Crow Indian Reservation.  The drive along with the descriptions of events in the park booklet gave a fair understanding of the battle.  I would have liked more time there and some time with a Ranger; however, we had arrived late in the day and two hours was about all Candy and the kids could tolerate.

Buck near 7th Cavalry monument on Last Stand Hill at the Little Big Horn Battlefield
Buck near 7th Cavalry monument on Last Stand Hill at the Little Big Horn Battlefield

After two days of driving and site seeing, the kids enjoyed the pool with a long, curving water slide at the Rodeway Inn in Hardin, MT.  Today we just have a three-hour drive to Yellowstone.  I’m off for a six-mile run before everyone wakes up.

Seeing the West

After returning home in July, I spent a couple of weeks getting settled into my new job, meeting people in my new organization, and doing battle with the IT folks.  (After three weeks, they still haven’t gotten my Email working properly!)  I didn’t go directly on vacation, because 1) the kids were in a series of Summer camps and 2) we planned for our vacation to begin with our family reunion in Mark, IL, (population 400-500, depending on the source of the information) on 6-7 AUG.

Family sitting under pavilion in Mark, IL
Family sitting under pavilion in Mark, IL

The reunion was largely planned and organized by my Cousin Linda and my Aunt Margaret.  As usual, the Illinois part of the Serafini side of the family bore the brunt of the preparations.  As the Serafini side of the family is Italian, the reunion involved a huge amount of food, which included Linda’s famous masticioli recipe, my Aunt Margaret’s famous canolis, and something called bognacalda (sp?), which is reputed to be the first food dip invented.  Bognacalda is essentially garlic, anchovies, and butter cooked down into a paste with some whipping cream added at the end.  You dip bread, cabbage leaves, and/or celery into it.  You also don’t spend much time around other people for a day or two.

I also had a chance to visit the graves of my paternal grandparents and the old family house.  My grandfather was born in 1914, and my grandmother was born in 1918.  As I spent most of my Summers in Mark with my grandparents, it still feels to me that an era ended when my grandmother died two years ago, just a couple years after my grandfather.

From Mark, we headed West.  The first day (7 AUG) was a killer, 12-hour drive.  We stopped at Brooklyn, IA , where they’ve put up a nice display of American, State, and Service (e.g., Army) flags.  On these vacations, we like to avoid chains and hit mom-and-pop places, so for lunch we bought some ham sandwiches at the local grocery store, just about the only place open on Sunday in the town.

On the 8th we continued West, stopping in Mitchell, SD, to see the Corn Palace.  We arrived in Keystone, SD, mid-afternoon, after a stop for lunch at Al’s Oasis.  Al’s Oasis had billboards along the highway for miles, like South of the Border (between North and South Carolina along I-95).  It wasn’t nearly as large or involved as South of the Border, but it made a nice one-hour break.  We spent two hours in the Badlands National Park, including a mile or so hike and climbing a few rocks (which was authorized).  The scenery in the Badlands was amazing, something between the Bryce Canyon, the Grand Canyon, and the Painted Desert.

After checking into the K BAR S lodge in Keystone, SD, we headed up to Mt. Rushmore.

Surdu family at Mt. Rushmore, 8 AUG 2010
Surdu family posed on the Grand View Terrace at Mt. Rushmore, 8 AUG 2010

Arriving in the evening, taking photos was a problem as the Sun was to the left and behind the monument.  We were able to get a few good shots.  This photo, because of lighting, looks fake, like we posed in front of a green screen.  We were actually there!  In the evenings, they hold a nice ceremony.  It began with the park ranger describing the hardships of the 1804 Lewis and Clark Expedition, a 10-minute movie on the history of the four presidents featured and the making of the monument, and a salute to veterans.

The presentation and movie included more political correctness than I would have liked.  I’m getting really tired of revisionists who want to recast everything in terms of today’s social outlook.  The description of the Lewis and Clark Expedition harped on the involvement of Clark’s slave.  Lincoln’s achievements were overshadowed by the Emancipation Proclamation, rather than the preservation of the Union.  Roosevelt’s position on the evils of big business were described, but there was only passing mention of the Panama Canal or the creation of the national parks.  (By the way, it was the Panama Canal that was cited by the sculptor as the reason Teddy Roosevelt was included on Rushmore.)  Finally, I really wish people would just sing the national anthem the way it’s written instead of “interpreting it” like some Vegas lounge singer.

So far, this has been a nice trip.  We have a short drive today, with stops at Devil’s Tower, WY, and the Little Big Horn battlefield.  Then we’ll spend a couple of days in Yellowstone National Park.