We didn't take any pictures the first two days of our trip while we drove through the waste land... er... Texas. We spent several days in Louisiana not doing much, just spending time with the kids and my sister. We did a little antique shopping and drove down to Lake Charles near the gulf for a day. Lake Charles is a large lake has a couple of casinos and a couple of large bridges we drove over. No trip to New Orleans this year. We weren't sure at the time where Hurricane Dean was going to decide to go. Apparently he was just teasing and decided to go to Mexico instead.
Then we stopped off in Oklahoma just north of Tulsa to see my Cousin. We spent almost a week there as well. More antique shopping and visiting Shiatook Lake (far more activity on this small lake than there was on Lake Charles) were the highlights. We also watched my cousin's son practice with his marching band. Boy did that ever bring back memories of my own time practicing. Marching and being stopped mid step almost tripping over yourself. Yeah, good memories.
It took us a day and a half to get to the farm in South Dakota. Our cousins didn't have room to put us up with their whole family there for the wedding. So we stayed in town, Winner (about 30 miles away), a couple of nights but spent most of the day on both the farms. My great Aunt who just turned 90 kept wanting to fix us food, so who were we to disappoint her? Oh yes, we ate well there. Farm fresh milk and meat every day spoiled me.
The wedding (the reason for the trip) seemed to go by quickly (maybe because the father of the bride asked the Monsignor to keep it short so he could go home and milk his cows). Everything was kept very simple, even the Mass portion of the ceremony. The reception took place several hours later and we sat with my great Aunt in the interim so they wouldn't have to drive her all the way back to the farm. I didn't know very many people at the reception but became aquatinted with some that I had only met in passing over the years there. We laughed at and with the groom's, drunk, fraternity brothers who sat at our table. They performed what apparently is a wedding tradition with them; they sang to the bride welcoming her to their fraternity. It was fairly interesting. Sorry we didn't get any pics of that.
The reception took place in the town's bowling alley where the reception room was larger than the section with the bowling lanes and apparently the ball room of their biggest hotel. In town of only 3000 there's not many places that can accommodate large parties. Besides where can you get a large hall and have your own key to decorate and use for several days for only a few hundred dollars? The next day, they unwrapped gifts in the same hall, though far fewer people went for that. There were still plenty of good eats and fun with the family.
The following day was Labor Day and Winner held a parade in which one of our cousins marched with the veterans carrying an American Flag. Of course being in farm country they had plenty of horses, and tractors, something I thought unusual was their line up of old cars and fire engines. Then there is their tradition of tossing candy for the kids on the sidelines. I don't know if they do this in other states but I've never heard of it before this.
We spent several more relaxing days on the Farm. Some things I hadn't done there before included going to Rahn Dam where my dad broke his leg before I was born and driving all over the bumpy pasture. Then we drove off to the State Capital; Pierre, well technically we went to Fort Pierre. Another Cousin there acted as tour guide taking us to several places we went last year. However, he was a good enough guide that we saw something different at each location, and my Aunt hadn't ever been there so everything was new to her. Then it was off to Mt. Rushmore where we took the same tour as last year through Rushmore, Crazy Horse, Reptile Gardens, Bear Country and Custer State Park. Again, new things at each location. Well... except Mt. Rushmore, it doesn't really change much over time. Crazy Horse apparently did though you can't immediately tell. I've put up photos of both years for you to try and find the difference.
After we left Rapid we visited Deadwood just to see what was there (pretty much just casinos and saloons) and then onto Yellowstone. We had a tough time finding a hotel room in Cody (closest town to the east gate) apparently only a brand new hotel that hadn't been advertised had rooms. We decided to get two nights worth so we could take our time going through Yellowstone and figured we'd have just as hard of a time finding a room in Jackson.
I did all the driving, about 12 hours worth through Yellowstone that day and you know what, I didn't mind. It was such a beautiful, soothing, and interesting drive. We saw all kinds of wild life, more than I remember seeing when we visited as a kid. When I was there before, we didn't really stop at any of the interesting sights other than, of course, Old Faithful. So it was wonderful to see the different types of geography in such a small area. From the smelly Mud Volcanoes to the mighty Kepler Cascades it was almost too much to take. We saw Old Faithful twice, once at night, too dark to take pictures, and then the next morning as we drove through on our way out. We were lucky to see anything as the morning had been quite foggy. The day was foggy enough to keep us from seeing the Grand Tetons clearly so the rest of our sightseeing was what you don't see often in California; trees changing colors.
We arrived in Vegas after drying through the rest of Wyoming, Idaho and Utah (we took the long way) where we met my boyfriend and the rest of our bowling league. I bowled crappy. So no, I didn't win any money. We saw David Copperfield that night, quite a decent show. I was a little disappointed in the fact that he mostly did disappearing/reappearing tricks. There were several other neat ones like where he basically squished himself until there was no room between his feet and his head. It was time to head home after that at least for a few days for me.
Then there's the camping trip to Utah with my boyfriend. I had a whole four days to organize myself and get ready for my second trip. You know the saying most people use after a vacation when going back to work; "I needed a vacation from my vacation." Well, I finally got to have one and I gotta tell you; it was worth it. At first I thought this camping trip was far too close to my other trip but it was just what I needed to reset myself. I was with someone different so that helped and we did things that were almost a complete opposite of my other trip. I certainly did more hiking than I had in the past year. The main point though was for me to see all the places my boyfriend liked to camp.
We started by driving through Vegas to St. George. We got a hotel the first night as there's not many campsites around there. There were however some picturesque overlooks of the city. I got my first taste of what I'd be doing the rest of the week as we hiked through rocks and such at one of the overlooks. We drove on to Cedar Breaks that is described as a mini Grand Canyon. Here I also had my first look at hoodoos (spire type rock formations) and arches as well as Bristlecone pine trees and other plants plus more hiking. Not far away (13 miles), is where my boyfriend likes to camp on Panguitch Lake. Despite what they had told my boyfriend over the phone they closed up the campsites. In fact they had just closed the last one that day. So we were left with no choice but to go back to Cedar Breaks and camp there. We had fun as I built our first campfire. Well, okay, we had to go beg one of the other campers to help as it wouldn't stay lit. I had the right idea building the teepee shaped fire but I didn't pack the logs close enough together not to mention the wood was wet from the rain the day before. By the time we ate it was getting late and cold, so cold our hot chocolate turned to cold chocolate within minutes.
We let the fire burn out while we went to bed in our jackets and all and huddled together to try to stay warm. It didn't help. I didn't get much sleep as I couldn't stop shivering a strange animal cry also kept going on for a while. I worried about the fire for a short time but as soon as it started raining, I didn't give it another thought. I did however think it strange when the rain became quiet, too quiet. The sounds of the coyote or whatever it was stopped. Then it sounded as if something slid off the tent. I prayed it wasn't what I thought it was and tried to go back to sleep until I couldn't hold it in any longer and had to go to the bathroom. I opened the door of the tent and said "Aw Crap it's all white." Yep, my fears had been realized. my boyfriend didn't understand but I didn't stop to explain. After I returned, he asked again but I was too cold to answer.
I watched the light of the sunrise come through the tent and hoped it would melt some of the white crap. Unfortunately, by the time my boyfriend woke up not all of it was gone. He asked yet again what I meant. "Snow, it snowed last night." He didn't believe me as he wasn't any colder than normal, so I opened the door for him to see. He wasn't prepared when he stepped out of the tent for just how cold snow could be and he began shivering. We packed up the camp as quickly as we could, in between warming ourselves up in the car. Neither of us were prepared for snow. After all it was his first time. We didn't stop to go fishing on the lake as we planned and kept heading to Manti in the middle of Utah, hoping, as it was 4000 feet lower, that they wouldn't have snow there.
We were wrong. While there wasn't that much on the ground, we didn't want to take the chance of getting stuck in it again. Not to mention it's a dirt road up there which would not be pleasant to drive on if it did snow. It was bad enough that it was horribly muddy and we grew several inches just walking to the bank of the reservoir where we did fish for a couple of hours.
My boyfriend caught a baby fish fairly quickly. I caught moss one after another. The dark clouds overhead grew ominously and we feared being caught in rain, let alone snow so we were getting ready to call it a day when I got a nibble. I thought it had let go but then it tugged hard. I had caught a fish! I pulled it in. I had actually caught another fishing line that was tangled all around my hook, but at the end of that line was a fish. While I question the legitimacy of the catch my boyfriend says it's fair and square 'cause it wouldn't have lived long as it been caught on the line by the gill. He wasn't huge, maybe 12 inches long (bigger than my boyfriend's catch) but we threw him back anyway as he wasn't really big enough to eat. my boyfriend said he will probably die soon though.
We stayed in Salina that night because that is the town where we had to get breakfast the next morning. my boyfriend's favorite place to get a ham and cheese omelet is there. It's called "Mom's Cafe." Yep, it's a small mom and pop cafe, and as you'd expect from such a place the waitresses were friendly and the food was good. The one thing that sets it apart is that the owner's office is right there in the middle of the room so "Mom" is working on the books while you eat.
We drove to Moab on the eastern side of Utah the next day. What should have been an hour and a half drive was more like five or six as there are several scenic view areas along the way. These aren't just places to pull over and look at the pretty scenery. No, they're places where you can go for a hike, climb rocks, buy Indian jewelry, and go the bathroom, then do more hiking and see pretty scenery. There was one view area in particular my boyfriend was looking for but he couldn't remember which area it was in so we stopped at each. Wouldn't you know it, it was the last one. It's called Spotted Wolf Canyon where you can walk out on a narrow Plateau to view the canyon. I had a lot of fun doing something so daring I wouldn't have normally done (especially with my mom around since she's afraid of heights and doesn't like me getting too close to big drops like that). After the view area, we went to an interesting tourist trap called "Hole 'N the Rock." That's where a guy built his house literally inside of a rock and then saw Dead Horse Point (a place where a bunch of horses died years ago). We didn't make it to Canyonlands, maybe next time.
Visiting Arches was a long day, perhaps the longest of my life, next to some of the all day, video conferences I had with Westwood when I worked at LTX. As its name suggests, it's an area where there are many arches formed into the sandstone rocks. We started off fairly early and stopped at all the major places there were to stop but most were not close to the parking areas. It only cost $10 to get in and we quickly found out why it was so cheap. They hardly have any paved paths and most were hard long hikes. Oh the hikes were certainly worth the view but I think in a couple of instances they could have put the parking lot closer to the thing you were viewing without too much extra effort.
Delicate Arch (the most advertised arch) was the worst, and apparently the hardest hike. Had I known this I wouldn't have done the hike before it that was to view it from far away. We did that hike because we couldn't get a parking space at the trail head so we went to the viewing area. The viewing area closer to the arch was up 15 million steps and just about wore me out. Well, we went back to the trail head after that and got a parking spot.
The hike began off easy going by the homestead of a family that lived there early on, over a bridge of a small stream and up a sloping path. Then it began to get difficult. After some steep steps, I saw the steep rock face you had to march up with no handrails or even a place to sit and rest and my head began to spin. I told my boyfriend to go on ahead, as I knew I wouldn't make it, not after all the other hiking we'd done that day. So I sat on a nearby rock with a measly, bare tree for shade and waited, and waited, and waited some more. People passed, everyone said the hike was worth it, but I just couldn't do it. There was an old guy that I talked to for a while and he wasn't sure if he wanted to do the hike. I told him what I saw and he said he'd go look and decided then. He never came back. I hope he made it. Of course none of the other people I had seen go up came back down while I waited so I knew it was quite a ways. When my boyfriend finally returned he agreed I wouldn't have made the climb but there was so much to see up there that I missed. Maybe next time if I go fresh without any prior hiking. But even he was exhausted after the hike.
There were several good arches we missed after that just because each hike to them was at least a mile. We decided the next time we go that way we'll do it in a different order. The next day we headed back the way we came. We stopped at a couple of the overlooks that weren't accessible from the other side of the freeway and made it back to Panguitch before it got dark. We tried to do some fishing but it was too windy.
And talk about wind, the next day when we went to Bryce Canyon my boyfriend was almost blown off the cliff. We were told Bryce was something we could drive through in a couple of hours. It's not. Sure it's only 32 miles round trip along a canyon rim. The canyon has more hoodoos than anywhere else. There's many places to hike and to see some of the wonders you have to go a little ways to get to the edge (not as far as in Arches though). The colors there are so fantastic because you can see almost every layer of what's called the Grand Staircase. So we were there all day and we still didn't do but a small portion of the hikes.
The next day, we drove out to Zion expecting to spend a couple of days there. Apparently people had it confused with Bryce as Zion is the park you just drive through. Oh there's still plenty to see and it still took us all day, but it wasn't what we expected. We drove straight through first just to get to the campground before it filled up. Oh and we got in for free! Apparently September 29th is National Public Lands day and so every National Park in America has free admission (remember that for next year).
To keep air quality up most of Zion is only accessible via bus so we took that bus and stopped at every stop seeing the sights. Most were short easy hikes but some like at the Emerald pools were not nice. After Arches I was too tired to go farther than the lower pools (I should have bought that damned walking stick). Still, that area was a charming fantasy land of greenery. Our favorite spot was the Weeping Rock where life abounded. Sandstone soaks up melted snow and such and eventually works its way down until it hits harder rock and seeps out dripping as if the rock were weeping. Many signs in the area said we were in the middle of the desert but I didn't believe it and after seeing the pictures I'm sure you won't either. There were many other hikes we didn't even try, especially the 16 mile hike that takes you over a 3 foot ledge with a 4000 foot drop on either side. But we saw people walking it.
The next day we drove back along the main road in Zion to see the stuff we missed the day before, which meant going through the mile long tunnel a couple more times. The area on the east side of the tunnel is drastically different from the west. The rocks all have a crisscrossing pattern due to wind erosion and there is far less plant life. You could almost imagine that area being a desert but not really.
We left Zion after that and stopped as soon as we saw Elk on the side of the road. But wait, these elk were behind fences! I didn't know that people raised elk on farms, this one allowed you to go right up to them and feed them. I got close enough without it. They also had buffalo, long horned bulls and horses. After nearly being impaled there (my shirt got hooked on an elk's horn) we left to drive up to a reservoir that's inside Zion but not in the park area. One of the Rangers told us it was a long drive but very scenic. So we drove, and drove and drove. There wasn't much scenery other than a canyon and a bunch of dead trees that were evidence of a fire gone through there a while ago. After more than a half hour, we looked at the map and discovered we weren't even half way. Deciding it wasn't worth it we turned around.
Because of that diversion we didn't reach Hoover Dam until late and we just barely got in there before their last tour. As it was we were lucky to get all our pictures in before it got dark, that is after he found a place to buy batteries that weren't already closed. The place hadn't changed much since my last visit 20 or so years ago, other than they don't let you get too close to the turbines and such. Plus there's a new bypass being built to divert traffic from the bridge. The traffic was backed up quite a ways so that will help. They eventually want only foot traffic on top of the bridge. In the middle of the bridge (not pictured) is the state line. It is possible to stand in two states at the same time on top of the bridge. This is also the time change line between Pacific and Mountain time so that got confusing too.
We ended our trip by visiting my boyfriend's step-mom in Henderson. She has a marvelous view of Vegas from her front window. It's especially fantastic at night with the glowing lights. We arrived home the next day and I rested for a week. I still have aches from all the hiking but I think it was well worth it.
I hope you enjoyed reading this as much as I enjoyed writing it. Please send me any comments you might have, good or bad. Copyrighted 2009 by Christine Schnell. Go ahead and share it with others just keep my name with it.