Monday, August 24, 2015

"Take nothing but pictures. Leave nothing but footprints. Kill nothing but time."

The landscape, nature and wildlife of Yellowstone and the Grand Teton Mountain National Parks is nothing short of spectacular. It is nearly impossible to reproduce in photography what you can see with the naked eye. We hiked trails and we climbed mountains. We traveled thru forests, plateaus, and valleys. We crossed rivers, lakes and streams.  We saw gorgeous landscapes, nature and wildlife that you just don't see on any ordinary day! This trip was anything but ordinary, it was extraordinary! It went way beyond my expectations!
...and once again I say, only God could create such beauty!
I took so many pictures! It was hard not to when there is breath-taking beauty everywhere you look! I'm so thankful that the rest of my crew put up with me every time I said "Stop! You just gotta turn around so I can take a pic"! or "Pull over, pull over, pull over! I gotta get a shot"!
I've processed pictures since Day 1 of our trip and I think I might never get done! I tried to pick out the ones that really represent everything we saw in the short time we were there. I am convinced that you could spend a month in these parks and still not see everything! If you have never been there, I hope that my photo albums will pique your interest in planning a trip out West! My photo albums can be accessed HERE!
"Take nothing but pictures. 
Leave nothing but footprints. 
Kill nothing but time."

Sunday, August 16, 2015

Heading Home - Adventure Day 6

We were up around 5am - none of us slept very well last night. The air conditioning, or lack thereof, made it difficult for sleeping. It was a constant pull the blankets off because you are sweating, then cover up because now you are too cool. The air conditioner was working, just not consistently.  I was glad when I found out that the other three in my room dealt with the same issue all night! I won't go into detail on the snoring, or who was guilty of it, however I am pretty darn sure I was the only one that didn't snore! ;)
We quickly packed up, taking care to make sure our check-in bag wouldn't go over 50lbs. We were thankful that the hotel front desk had a luggage scale so that we didn't have to do any adjusting of weight at the airport. 
The hotel had a wonderful spread for breakfast - pretty much anything you would want! It was surprising how many folks were up so early and in the breakfast room! We finished up eating, then made our way to the airport, which was only about 12 miles away. We dropped off our rental car, which was a practically brand new Chevrolet Traverse - it was so nice having it all week! Drop off was super convenient! Bozeman Airport is probably one of the nicest airports I've ever been in - it was like being in a gigantic Log Cabin!
I had checked us in online and already had our check-in bag paid for, so we didn't have a line to stand in. We dropped off our bag at Delta, then sat and waited for Steve and Patti. United Airlines had long lines, so it took awhile for them to get their baggage checked. 
It was interesting tho to sit and people watch! I saw several people who were traveling with their dogs. I happened to noticed one Mom with her kids and their dog and thought she looked familiar, but chalked it up to the fact that lots of people can look familiar in one way or another. Scott mentioned her cowboys boots, and their Golden Retriever and there still was something familiar about her, just couldn't place it.
I noticed another Mom with 3 kids, 2 of which were in a stroller and they were pushing a cart full of luggage to check in. At $25 per bag to check, I tallied up nearly $200 in luggage fees for this woman! 
I saw another lady with what looked like a standard size poodle, which she took into the restroom with her on a leash! We later found out that her dog can sense when she is going to have a seizure, so he travels with her. Pretty amazing what dogs can do for people!
Steve and Patti finally got thru their line and met back up with us and we headed to Security. Lucky for us, all four of us got TVA Priority, so we went thru the short and quick line and didn't have to practically undress to go thru security. After that, we stopped for a minute to regroup our stuff before heading to our separate gates. Patti all of a sudden went to the familiar woman I had previously seen and started talking to her and hugging her. That's when I realized why she looked so familiar! This was the lady with her kids and dog and the cute cowboy boots that I noticed earlier. It was Taya Kyle, wife of Chris Kyle, a.k.a. "American Sniper". Patti was in a mess of emotional tears and Taya was just as cordial and down-to-earth nice as she could be! She hugged us, talked to us like she's always known us and she even allowed us to do a mini-photo shoot right there in the airport!
I love what Patti later posted on Facebook: "There are celebrities and there are heroes. Celebrities wont allow you to approach them or take their pictures. But the heroes let you have a pic, hug your neck and talk to you for 10 minutes and introduce you to their kids. Met Ms Taya Kyle (wife of Chris Kyle) in the Bozeman airport this morning. What an awesome and gorgeous woman. I hope God fills her life with an abundance of blessings."

My lack of sleep sure shows well in this pic - ugh!
Needless to say, this truly was the highlight of the morning! After that, we bid our farewells to Steve and Patti, saying what a great time we all had and already started talking about planning another trip for the future! We then headed to our departing gates. 
Taya, her children and her dog were on our flight to St. Paul/Minneapolis and then were catching a connecting to Texas. They were flying first class, dog included, while we sat in coach. I wondered if anyone else had recognized who she was - didn't seem that anyone else did tho.
As we boarded the plane and got settled in our seats, it was kinda sad to see our trip come to an end. This seriously was one of the very best trips I have ever been on. There is something very-very incredibly special about good friends that once they move nearly 6 hours away, that you can pick right up where you left off every single time we get together. I cherish our friendship and I am so glad we were blessed to be able to take this trip with our very special friends. We had the best of time each and every day! I look forward to many more adventure trips with them in the future!

I am still processing the gazillion pictures I took. I will be uploading them to my Flickr page soon and will write a new post when they are added to my albums.

Saturday, August 15, 2015

Big Sky, MT - Adventure Day 5

We were up and at 'em this morning, getting everything packed up to leave. We all did laundry last night so that we could pack clean clothes, rather than dirty ones! Smart cookies, we are!
The coffee was brewing and Patti scrambled up the rest of our eggs and fried the rest of the ham. We then loaded up our SUV and took one last group picture as we said goodbye to our cozy little cabin and Yellowstone Park!
We had to be out of our cabin by 10am and I think we were pulling out shortly after 9am!
We were headed to Bozeman, MT and hoping to find a hotel near the airport. Patti and I were using our phones and desperately trying to find a hotel. Neither one of us was having  much luck. What we could find was outrageously expensive, with very few rooms available. We didn't know if the hotels were all full just from Yellowstone travelers or if something else was going on. We decided that the best choice we had was to just wait till we got to Bozeman and hotel hop till we could find an available room!
One of our planned stops on the way to Bozeman was Big Sky. We had gotten a glimpse of this gorgeous mountain on our first day and decided then that we needed to take a closer look on our way back to Bozeman. What a beautiful mountain it is!
We stopped in what is called "the meadow" in a beautiful shopping complex at the base of the mountain. There was a really nice sporting goods shop and a health food market that had all kinds of goodies! We then drove up the mountain in this fabulous residential area to view Big Sky and Lone Peak. It seemed like every curve we went around was a spectacular view of the mountain range! The area we were driving around in is a big ski resort area and obviously for the wealthy...the very wealthy!
The following pictures are views from the residential area we drove up and around. It was very mountainous with gorgeous homes built on the side of the mountain range!

On our way back down to "the meadow", a little red fox ran across the road right in front of us! I tried to take a picture, but the windshield was dirty and by the time we stopped and I got out, he had run down into his foxhole. He sure was cute tho! 
We stopped back at the health food market, then continued our trek towards Bozeman, stopping alongside the Gallatin River, which we had been following for several miles. It's a beautiful river and fly fishermen are seen fishing all along the way. 
It was time for some lunch, so we stopped at a hiking trail hoping to find a place to relax and eat lunch. There were no picnic tables, at this stop, but there was an outhouse, so that was good...well, until I went in it and saw that it had been violated in a BAD way - YUK!! That about ruined my We ate up about the rest of our leftovers from the cabin, then got back on the road towards Bozeman. 
There is a stretch of the highway where there are linemen working, which we saw on our way in last Tuesday. They were still working in about the same area. It was so interesting to see because they were using a helicopter to transport the power poles to where they needed to be placed along the mountainous region. If you look closely in this picture, (which I snapped while driving by) you can see the pole hanging below the helicopter.
The mountain range all the way towards Bozeman is just breath-taking, however this was the last good shot I got of the mountains before we started driving into heavy smoke.
Smoke from the wildfires got so thick that we couldn't see mountains at all for the remainder of our time in the area. I was glad that it didn't effect us at all for our trip until the last day!
We arrived in Belgrade, which is only a couple miles from the airport and stopped at the first hotel available. Lucky for us there was one room available and we decided we best snatch it up!
We unloaded and then headed into Bozeman, a few miles away, and shopped the entire downtown area, which was a lot of fun. We stopped at Applebee's for dinner on our way back to our hotel and then settled in for the night as we had to be up and at the airport by 7:30am.
One more post tomorrow about our last few minutes of this amazing Adventure Trip along with some closing reflections! :)

Friday, August 14, 2015

Grand Teton National Park - Adventure Day 4

Just like clockwork, I heard those coyote again last night around midnight. This time I woke Scott up to hear them! We heard them again early in the morning when we were brewing the coffee. It wasn't long when Patti came straggling up the stairs and plunked on the couch and said she was exhausted - she didn't think she could make it thru another day. She then asked me if I was on crack or something and just where I get all my energy - haha! I managed to guilt her into heading to Grand Teton National Park for the day! ;) Steve finally came straggling upstairs and Patti got to work on scrambling eggs and frying some ham for breakfast. We all made some bagel club sandwiches and loaded up the cooler for the day. We all agreed that we were a little tired of the same road thru Yellowstone and couldn't bear to take that route for a third day to head to the Grand Tetons at 45mph. We looked at the map and decided to take the long really long route via Idaho to get back to WY. Steve wanted to go thru another state anyway to check off all the states he has been in, so we set off with the map and GPS for Adventure Day 4!
Some people might call us crazy, but we opted to take the 2 hour 25 min route over the 1 hour 51 min route with almost twice the amount of milage. It ended up being quite a scenic route tho to see a whole different terrain from what we had seen the past 3 days. It was raining off and on the whole way and I was a little disappointed that we might be driving all that way for a rainy day. When we got to Driggs, we stopped at a really nice grocery store and talked to a couple from Texas who had been to the Grand Tetons the day before. They were heading to Yellowstone for the day and wondered what the best route was. They said that GTNP was very congested - lots of people - I hated to tell them that YNP would no doubt be the same scenario for them! They gave us a few highlighted places to check out, but we ended up just sort of following the park map to navigate some highlights.
After what seemed like forever, we finally made it to the park entrance!
We drove thru a winding dirt road thru heavy woods for awhile before we reached the Welcome Center. It really was a beautiful drive. It was raining, so we decided to stop and go inside the Welcome Center, which was full of all kinds of information about the park - really very interesting! There was a huge map display that we could walk around and see all the features of the park. 
One place I really had my heart set on was going to Morman Row - I've always heard it's a fantastic place to get some awesome photos of old barns with the Grand Tetons in the background. Unfortunately the road to Morman Row was closed due to bad road conditions. Since it was raining, I figured I wouldn't get the fabulous shots that was in my mind's eye anyway. 
We headed back to the car as the rain stopped and the skies were slowing trying to lighten up. This was the first glimpse of the Grand Teton's that I captured! I was a bit disappointed that it was still so gloomy with heavy clouds hanging and still spitting rain off and on. I was just hoping and praying it wouldn't last all day.
 Oh what beautiful sights of these majestic mountains we saw as we traveled towards Jenny Lake! It was breath-taking beauty!
We arrived at Jenny Lake and blue skies were just starting to appear and Patti was reading us all about how Jenny Lake got it's name. Jenny Lake is named after a Shoshone Indian woman who married an Englishman, Richard Leigh. Jenny, and their 6 children died of Smallpox in 1876.
Jenny Lake is estimated to be 423 feet deep and encompasses 1,191 acres. It is considered to be a major focal point in Grand Teton National Park, with many hiking trails, scenic boat rides, and quick access to the major climbing route onto the tallest peaks of the Teton Range.
We had originally planned to take a boat ride across the lake and do some hiking, however after three days of hiking at Yellowstone and the iffy weather, we decided to pass on the boat ride and hikes and just enjoy the beautiful scenery from where we were at. 
After leaving there, we stayed on the Teton Park Road, heading to Signal Mountain. We drove the road up to the top of Signal Mountain and ohhhh what a view!
The white square in the middle of the photo is actually the river and dam at Jackson Lake.

 We thought this US Geological Survey Medallion was pretty neat at the top of the mountain.
Another view from up top of Signal Mountain!

After coming down off the mountain, we headed towards Jackson Lake Dam. 
The views on the way were nothing short of spectacular!

Mt Moran taken from the front side of Signal Mountain
We were getting hungry for lunch, so stopped at Chapel of the Sacred Heart to stretch our legs and find a picnic spot. This chapel was built in 1937.

 We found a great picnic spot on the shores of Jackson Lake.
What a view and the skies were clearing to a beautiful day!

It didn't take long for us to head down to the shoreline and take our shoes off to walk in the crystal clear water! That was until some locals warned us of the leeches! Ack!!!
That comment got us out of the water quick and shoes back on our feet!

 It was just a beautiful setting tho with all the stones, the clear water and mountain range!
Jackson Lake is a beautiful lake and really quite large, but not as big as Yellowstone Lake. We got back on the road heading to the Jackson Lake Dam - oh what beauty for our eyes to see! This shot was taken on the bridge above the dam.

 While on the bridge, I got this shot of an Osprey in flight!

 This is the view on the dam side of the bridge - so serene and beautiful!
We then headed on toward Colter Bay, where we stopped at the Marina to have a look around. This was quite a large marina that was all tucked into a pretty bay with gorgeous views of the mountains! 
We talked to a local, who told us that the boating season there is very short - only from about June thru September. There were some beautiful boats docked there and I just couldn't fathom the expense in such elaborate boats for such a short season to enjoy them!
 This was our view as we were leaving Jackson Lake and heading 
north towards Yellowstone.
 We crossed the Continental Divide again as we headed back to West Yellowstone and our cabin, completing a huge circle for our full day of travels!
When we got back, we stopped in West Yellowstone and hit the gift shops again and ordered some pizza to take back to our cabin. This is our last night at our awesome cabin, tomorrow we head to Bozeman for the last night of our Adventure-filled trip!

Thursday, August 13, 2015

Yellowstone National Park - Adventure Day 3

Another great night of sleep and like clockwork I heard those coyote again only this time I heard them twice! The first time was nearly at the exact same time as the night before and then I heard them again around 5am! It was that same coming in from a distance, getting closer, then fading away!
The sun was rising with a beautiful blue sky and it looked like a beautiful day was off to a great start! Scott got the coffee brewing and soon Steve and Patti were up and breakfast was cooking! Eggs, bacon and toasted bagels with fresh brewed coffee! We all made our sandwiches for the day and packed up lunch, plenty of water and snacks in our handy Scout cooler. 
Today's plan was to drive the upper loop, however we had to pass thru a few areas that we had explored yesterday to get there. We missed the Grand Prismatic Spring yesterday, so that was our first stop today! It was truly a highlight of the park!
The colors were so vivid - quite a sight to see!

It was pretty amazing to also see bear paw & bison footprints. You can't tell from the photos, but  the prints are under a very shallow depth of crystal clear water!

It was so cool to see the water boiling up & the beautiful shade of teal!

We spent quite awhile in this area - there was just so much to see! After this, we headed towards Tower Falls, with more bison blocking the road and walking along the side of the road. We stopped at Dunraven Pass for a picnic lunch.
Patti was checking off all the wildlife we were seeing and a Raven was one of them! 
This one just happened to be in our picnic area!
 All the pines in YNP are so tall and narrow, so I couldn't resist taking 
this shot as I looked up from our picnic table!
After lunch we traveled thru Dunraven Pass with beautiful views of Mount Washburn! The road had many hairpin turns as we gained elevation along the road. The views were breath-taking. We finally found a place to stop, stretch our legs and take in the beauty! 
If you look very closely in the next picture, you can see Steve just right of the center of the photo. 
We all climbed up top for stunning views in all directions!

We continued on our journey towards Tower Fall - it's amazing how 
the terrain can change so quickly! We finally arrived at Tower Fall and had a short hike to the viewing area. It was pretty crowded and I had to wait to be able to snap a few photos. It was also extremely hot - really had not ever expected to have TN heat in WY!

While I was snapping pictures, Steve and Patti headed down a path that was off the Falls viewing area. I overheard a few people say that the path to the falls was closed, so Scott and I decided to just wait for them to come back up. We waited and waited and then I talked to a few people coming up and asked where the path led to. Several said "just the river", like it was no big deal. I figured we weren't missing anything, so waited a bit more. I then told Scott that they are no doubt waiting on us to catch up, so we headed down the path. It wasn't long and we got this view!
About midway down to the river we met up with Steve and Patti. It was a steep decent to the river with switch-backs the whole way down. After the views, I told them we just HAD to go down to the river - could not pass it up! About that time we saw several Asians coming up and one was crying - we were clueless about what she was crying about and we figured it must be from the breath-taking beauty, that it no doubt just made her emotional...later we would figure out that it was entirely a different reason - haha!
We finally reached the river and really had a super steep and slippery dirt path to get to the river, but it was oh so worth it! The Yellowstone River is just plain gorgeous! 

After playing in the ice cold water for a bit, we started our way back up the path. Steve and Patti decided to create their own short-cut. Scott stayed on the path because he was carrying my camera backpack for me. I just had my camera strapped around my neck, so figured I could take the short cut too. That was all fine and dandy till I had to stop and snap a pic of Steve and Patti's butts because I was laughing at them. 

That's when I dropped my lens cap in the powdery dirt. GREAT! I was straddling a tree trunk as I performed acrobats to reach my lens cap. It was filthy, so all I could do was put it in my pocket. At that point I decided since my camera now didn't have a lens cap on it, that I best make my way back to the path and follow that up. 
The path was STEEP the entire way up and it was so HOT! We had to keep stopping every few minutes to catch our breath...that's when we realized that the Asian woman that we saw crying was no doubt crying because she was in pain from climbing up the tall ravine! 
We reached the top and then spent a good amount of time in the Gift Shop enjoying the air conditioning before we left the horribly congested parking lot. 

Next stop was Calcite Springs Overlook
An interesting feature running along the opposite wall of the canyon, is a line of uniform volcanic pillars. The basalt columns testify to a more active volcanic period in Yellowstone's past, when a 25-foot layer of lava flowed across the land. It was an amazing sight!

We stopped at Tower Roosevelt with more spectacular views... 

...then headed thru Blacktail Deer Plateau... 
...where we were greeted by some Pronghorn Deer!

Next stop was beautiful Undine Falls

We passed by this beautiful stone church... we made our way to Fort Yellowstone.

The sage you see in the foreground is a common sight all over Yellowstone!
We then decided to do the drive tour of Mammoth Hot Springs, rather than the boardwalks.

The view up top was amazing!

We also were excited to see more Elk!

We then headed past Indian Creek, Grizzly Lake, Twins Lakes, seeing a swan
and more Hot Springs along the way.

Back along the Gibbon River we saw more Elk!

...and ducks...

 ...and geese!

After leaving there, we were headed back to our cabin when Steve mentioned that he thought he saw an eagle. I asked Scott to turn around and I told Steve that if it ended up being a Buzzard I was gonna kill him! LOL! Scott turned around and stopped off the side of the road and sho 'nuff it was an eagle across the river! I got my 70-300mm lens attached and headed across the road to get some shots! 

Being across the Yellowstone River, he was still a ways off, so I was going to get closer to the river for a better shot. That's when I just happened to look up and saw this!

I quickly snapped this pic from the distance of where I was standing, then proceeded to walk closer. Scott, Patti and Steve were all in the car and looking at me like where in the world was I going because I was walking away from the one across the river. I pointed up to Eagle #2, which was right there almost over my head! I couldn't believe it! I walked up as close as I dared and took a gazillion more shots at close range! None of these are cropped, so you can see just how close I was to this majestic bird! It's been on my bucket list to get a shot of an eagle and here I was in the perfect spot!

He just sat up there at full attention and so majestic - it was an awesome sight!
I waited and waited, after I took shot after shot, hoping he would fly to his mate across the river, who was calling for him. You might know, that as soon as I turned and headed for the car, he took flight and I totally missed it! I really didn't care tho, because I had gotten my prize and could not have been more thrilled at the experience!

We got back to our cabin, cleaned up, changed clothes and headed into West Yellowstone for a delicious dinner at Three Bear Restaurant. Patti and I had stuffed trout and it was excellent!!

After dinner and some shopping, we headed back to the cabin where the skies were full of stars! I just couldn't resist getting a few shots of the amazing Milky Way.
I gotta admit that while I was out there taking these shots, in the pitch black of night, I was a little fearful a bear might show up and scare me! So very thankful that I got the shots without getting eaten by a bear - haha!
...and at the end of this day
all I can say
only God could create such beauty!

It's off to bed to dream about tomorrow's trip to Grand Teton National Park...