Let the Trumpets Sound
Like an eighth grade orchestra warming up, a brassy, off-key melody rang through the air. Then silence. We waited. A lone riff broke the stillness and the tune up session returned in full swing. What a treat to be entertained by a wild flock of Trumpeter Swans!
Clad in tuxedo colors of black and white, 41 of them took center stage on Sparrow Ponds in Montana’s Red Rock Lakes National Wildlife Refuge. Moose welcomed us like ushers in a theatre. Reveling in our private concert, Greg and I sat on a grassy bank in the warm sunshine. Maybe a more convenient venue would fill the house, I mused.
“I guess we took the long way in!”, I commented when we entered the visitor’s center. “Which way did you come?”, the friendly volunteer asked. “The 22 mile gravel road over Red Rock Pass,” I replied. “Nope, that’s the quickest route from West Yellowstone,” she grinned. The trip is only about 40 miles total but the winding, narrow, rough road through the mountain pass begs you to slow down. The Sparrow Pond trailhead, a short distance from the visitor center, leads to an easy, one mile trek to the ponds, a favored retreat for swans and other waterfowl.
The swans didn’t seem to mind the small audience. In a breathtaking encore, a squadron took flight, circled the area and ….
…landed in perfect formation.
An impressive show since Trumpeters, North America’s largest wild waterfowl, measure up to four feet tall with a wingspan up to eight feet. When the refuge was established in 1935, the swans were nearly extinct, numbering less than 100 in the Greater Yellowstone Area. Today, the refuge hosts an average of 450 in the summer and about 4,500 migrating swans in the fall.
When summer crowds descend on Yellowstone, we seek solitude in places off the beaten path. Red Rock Lakes National Wildlife Refuge delivered a perfect escape!
Puddles in My Boots
After traveling 14,596 miles, Betty, our diesel damsel, needed “new shoes”. RV tire life has little to do with miles driven and everything to do with age. Betty’s rubber soles were just about 8 years old, a stretch for RV tires. Not scuffed, worn, or tread bare, she happily kicked them off for what Greg calls the Manolo Blahniks of tires! Now she’s styling and set for 6 more years of cruising.
I, on the other hand, got puddles in my boots. Squishy, sloshing, icy cold pools complete with pebbles and sand. It all started with a drive down Ghost Village Road off Highway 287 about 18 miles out of West Yellowstone. The dirt road wound along the Madison River, a favorite fishing spot and graveyard for a resort that floated down river in the 1959 earthquake. Remnants of log cabins haphazardly dot the grassy river bank. An eery reminder of the 7.5 magnitude quake that tilted Hebgen Lake, brought down a mountainside, dammed the river, created a lake and blew hurricane force winds through the canyon. A pitched roof sat crookedly in the meadow while fishermen trolled for a morning catch. It seemed a weird mix of past trauma and current recreation.
The road ended in a parking lot and we took a trail along the river. From a distance, Greg spotted an eagle’s nest and that’s all it took. We trekked for about a mile. Snags (standing dead trees) stood tall in the river like telephone poles.
Canadian geese honked and performed aerobatics in flight. Pelicans danced on the water’s surface.
Bald eagles soared. We found ourselves in our very own wild bird sanctuary! Two juvenile bald eagles sat in the nest while their parents played sentry from nearby trees.
A cry alerted us to a third juvenile obscured in the bushes on the river bank. That’s when my adventuring-loving, photograph-seeking husband threw his tripod over his shoulder and forged across slippery rocks and knee-deep, frigid water. While thoughts of “getting the photo” claimed his mind, I wondered how waterproof his 2 cameras, monster lens and other photo gear would prove to be. He grinned, pleased with his successful crossing. I waved him on and stared at the water flowing by. Eventually, I crossed. Not gracefully nor elegantly but effectively.
Sometimes, splashing through life’s puddles brings great rewards.
Nothing is more thrilling than watching grizzlies and wolves together in the wild. Ok, maybe that’s an exaggeration but it certainly is a great way to start a wildlife scouting day in Yellowstone National Park. Greg woke me at 4AM to start our excursion into the park.
A reliable source told us that a wolf recently took down an elk near Canyon Village and we anticipated seeing grizzlies there. We arrived at the site minutes before sunrise. The “Breakfast Club” had already arrived. Four grizzlies and two wolves surrounded the carcass, vying for a tasty meal. Surprisingly, even though the wolves delivered the cuisine, they didn’t have the first pickings. The grizzlies begrudgingly shared the meal with them only as they saw fit. At one point, two ravenous grizzlies wrestled each other for a morsel as their guttural growling rumbled across the meadow. Greg captured portions of the episode on the following video.
I walked the boardwalks near Old Faithful with my two sisters, our footsteps transporting us back to a visit 42 years ago. What do you remember about Yellowstone?”, I asked. “It was big and smelled funny!”, they agreed. “Yep, like rotten eggs!”, I added. Laughing, we reminisced about our first family RV trip from California to New York and back. Nine of us crammed into a large camper, suitable for four!
What a blessing to re-experience the park with Donna and Sharon after all these years and spend time with brother-in-law, Mike. Donna’s hubby, Clay, was unable to join us due to work commitments. His absence brought back memories of that first trip when Donna and I left our then boyfriends, now husbands, for weeks that seemed like an eternity. According to Mom’s journal, Donna shed tears and I secretly wished the trip would be cancelled!
If memories of our first visit were fuzzy, this trip painted vivid ones. High on “the animals to see list” were moose and bear. A trip to Grand Teton National Park on Day 1 delivered a young velvet antlered, bull moose lunching in the river along Moose-Wilson road. Donna and Sharon made mental notes to add Polish pottery, specially hand-painted with moose, to their souvenir shopping lists. Lists that seemed to grow each day!
Bears showed up on Day 2 as if our ultimate tour guide, Greg, scheduled the sighting. Mama Black Bear and three cubs leisurely traipsed across the bridge near Yellowstone’s Tower-Roosevelt Junction. It may have been Yellowstone’s celebrity bears that made national news and went viral on You Tube a month or so ago. In the following days, we caught bears napping under trees, wandering across meadows and foraging close to the road.
When Mike headed to Yellowstone Lake armed with fishing poles and other fish-catching paraphernalia, Greg escorted us sisters to Mammoth Hot Springs and a 4-mile roundtrip hike to Hellroaring Creek. Descending the steep trail made me feel like Dorothy entering Oz. Wildflowers bloomed in an extravagant color-fest from soft pink and blue pastels to brilliant hues of yellow and scarlet in lush green meadows. Mountain peaks framed the river valley view under sapphire skies. The trail wound through a storybook forest filled with emerald tinted pines and wildflower carpets to a steel suspension bridge spanning the Yellowstone River. Sturdy as it was, it swayed under our heavy stomping and hopping. We voted this hike as one of, if not “the”, prettiest hikes we’ve experienced and credited the season for the award.
Back on the boardwalks at Old Faithful, black skies creeped in while we waited for Grand Geyser to erupt. Most people are familiar with Old Faithful but Grand is the tallest predictable geyser in the world blasting up to 200 feet high for 9 to 12 minutes every 7 to 8 hours on average. Compared to Old Faithful’s frequent bursts every 90 minutes or so for 1.5 to 5 minutes, Grand is aptly named. Thunder rumbled and cracked as if applauding Grand’s performance. Black skies arrived.
We hurried towards the lodge but the drama continued. Castle Geyser, which often erupts with little or no warning about every 9 to 11 hours took the stage, spewing an encore performance.
We reached shelter before walls of rain fell. Standing in the sun just minutes later, the whole experience felt unreal. Yellowstone seemed to celebrate our return, or maybe it was just showing off. Reminding us what we missed the first time.
…still rolling! We crossed our second year mark as full-time RV’ers on April 24, 2015 and still the gypsy spirit calls. In year two, we journeyed to fewer destinations, stayed longer and traveled more deeply.
Betty seemed to enjoy the relaxed pace as she wheeled us through Arizona, California, Nevada, Idaho, Montana, Wyoming and Utah. We settled into into a more comfortable routine with our 41-foot diesel damsel, trusting her to operate as expected, with healthy doses of preventive maintenance of course!
Life on the road is schooling us in becoming travelers instead of tourists. Lesson one is to travel with all senses. Close your eyes at the river’s edge. What do you hear? Water tumbling or flowing gently? What do you feel? Warm sun on your face or an icy wind chilling your cheeks? What do you smell? Fresh pines or the outhouse you are standing too close to?! It’s all part of the experience making it more alive and memorable.
The second lesson this vagabond life is teaching us is that people form the fabric of places. Like colorful threads, they weave meaning, texture, and emotions into our travel experiences. When you travel are you seeing faces or moving in a faceless crowd?
“Hey, you got any good food to eat?”, a middle-aged man called out to me from the driver’s seat of his SUV as I walked past in a remote area in Yellowstone. “No, do you?”, I questioned, taken aback for a moment. “Nope, just waiting to use the head!” he chuckled, grinning brightly, his wife shaking her head in amusement. We laughed and chatted briefly, our day brighter by this kooky greeting and jovial encounter.
In a gift shop, I met an elderly gentleman, his eyes soulful and kind. He acknowledged my greeting with a wistful smile. And then he told me his story. “This is a special trip for my grand daughter and I”, he began. “My wife and I planned to bring her to Yellowstone, but last year my wife was stricken with cancer and within 4 months she was gone.” His grand daughter, a young woman in her twenties, nodded. As Grandpa shared bits about their trip, his smile grew and his eyes sparkled. Their pilgrimage in remembrance of the woman they loved was creating healing, cherishing memories. And in that moment I knew she was traveling with them.
In year two, we never felt far from family and friends. You welcomed us when we showed up on your doorsteps. You graciously met up with us on the road. You rode along with us on our blog and encouraged us. Our travels are richer because of you! Thank you!
Enjoy our following photo reflections of year two.
“Again? You’re going there again?”, a friend questioned. “Don’t you want to see something new and different?” And therein lies the secret. As travel author, Michael Palin said: “The trouble with traveling back later on is that you can never repeat the same experience.” True, but not a bit troublesome for us! And so, here we are again in West Yellowstone, Montana exploring Yellowstone National Park. For a fleeting moment, I wrestled with the notion that another 5 -1/2 month stint from mid-April through September might be less thrilling, most sequels are. Greg answered with a vow to “do things differently”.
Any concerns of tedious repeat performances dissipated the moment we arrived. It felt like a nostalgic homecoming of sorts, welcomingly familiar yet strikingly different. Bright blue skies and oat-colored meadows replaced last year’s muddy clouds and mountainous snow piles. Morning frost glistened on grassy meadows. An unusually mild winter surrendered early leaving spring to control the season.
This unpredictable, boiling, roiling, volcanic wilderness lured us back to our favorite sites to show off new looks and fresh insights. Coupled with our promise to explore differently this sequel may outperform the original score! Journey with us on our first month’s photo safari and rediscover Yellowstone.
Bison appeared more robust. Apparently, they dined well during wintertime!
Bears woke early from snowy slumber.
The Beryl Spring Mama Grizzly and her three cubs eluded us last year despite hours of scouting for them. It is rumored that two cubs were swept away during a river crossing last spring. We encountered her and the surviving cub on our first visit this year and hung out with them frequently over the following two weeks! Enjoy the short video of wild grizzlies foraging for food.
Rivers tumbled healthily down canyons. Hiking trails not typically accessible in early spring ushered in trekkers.
A bull moose greeted us on our third day in the park. Much better than last year’s 3-month search and sighting outside of the park!
An owlet peered out of its nest as if to say our decision to travel back was wise indeed.
I crouched on the uneven, rocky terrain with a death grip on a chain bolted into the rocks. Unable to move, I stared at the shoelaces on my hiking boots. Fear cloaked me as I envisioned the 1,300+ foot drop on each side of the narrow, half mile spine leading to the top of Angel’s Landing, in Zion National Park. “Let’s go back”, Greg encouraged, “It’s okay, we’ve gone far enough.” Flooded with relief, I low-crawled back to safer ground, not a bit embarrassed by my grounds-eye view of boots trekking past me in the other direction! That was 25 years ago. “Someday,” I promised, “I will finish that hike!”
Fast forward to the present. Standing at the trail head, I stared up at the 5,785 foot high peak.
What made me think I could conquer my nemesis at the wise age of 60 when I failed as an energetic 35 year old? Dismissing the thought quickly, I turned to Greg for inspiration. “So, if I make it to the top, you’ll buy me an Angel’s Landing T-shirt, right?” With his promise, we followed our boots up the path.
Angel’s Landing received its name from early explorers who described the flat peak as a place “only an Angel could land on”. The name conjures up visions of fluffy white clouds, majestic views and soft landings. In reality, it tests one’s grit with the fear of heights and hard landings.
Rated as “strenuous”, the trail ascends 1,500 feet in 2.5 miles through a series of switchbacks but it’s signature feature, the treacherous last half mile, begins where the paved path ends. A narrow, rocky fin, with chains and footholds in some sections, stretches high above the valley floor boasting sheer drops on both sides. As we completed the last 21 switchbacks, I felt surprisingly calm. “Maybe the wisdom that comes with age hasn’t kicked in yet,” I mused.
When we reached Scout’s Landing, the “go, no-go” point, Greg eyed me eyeing the long 1/2 mile ahead. I smiled. To my delight, the chains on the ridge were now handrail height. No low-crawling for me this time!
We stepped gingerly onto the ridge, climbed up rock faces, stood in crevices allowing descending hikers to pass by on skinny ledges, and…..
…. made it to the top!
Dizzying, panoramic views surrounded us.
I learned two things in that moment. First, unconquered fear has a way of growing enormously over the years but shrinks sharply when challenged. Secondly, the terrifying views I so carefully avoided on the way up were impossible to ignore on the way down.
With my souvenir T-shirt in hand, I realized this was simply one more way to celebrate 60!
You’ve heard the cliche, “What happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas!” And so, we left it all in the glitzy, entertaining, neon “scenic byway”. Yes, the Strip is actually on Nevada’s official scenic byway list. To be sure, Las Vegas is a fun, exciting destination but after a few days we found ourselves craving a respite from all the glitter and headed for the open desert.
Our day-long scouting trip led us into a corner of Death Valley, about 2 hours from the Strip. Immediately, this vast wilderness earned a spot on our “go back and stay” list. Silence hung heavy in our ears, broken only by the wind’s whispers. A refreshing contrast to the casino floor cacophony we had become accustomed to, yet seemingly as loud. Craggy mountain walls splashed mocha, coral, sea-foam green and brilliant red as if a painter had gone wild. With just a few hours to explore, we made a quick stop at the Furnace Creek Visitor Center before driving to Badwater Basin, the lowest point in North America at 282 feet below sea level.
We walked about a 1/4 mile out on the dry, salt encrusted flats, boots crunching with every step. Why? I’m not sure. Maybe to make the experience more real.
It was reminiscent of our visit to the Dead Sea, the lowest point on earth at 1,360 feet below sea level. We couldn’t just stick our toe in the water, we had to go in and float in it! With our hiking boots warmed up, we took a short hike in Natural Bridge Canyon before driving to Dante’s View, billed as “the most breathtaking viewpoint in the park”. Overlooking the floor of Death Valley from a mountain top 5,475 feet high was truly breathtaking.
Inspired by our Death Valley scouting trip we donned our safari hats and explored a couple other desert playgrounds. Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area, just 17 miles west of the Strip, a popular hiking, biking and rock climbing area is a fun, quick getaway. The13-mile scenic drive from the Visitor Center winds through the canyon delivering dramatic views and easy access to trail heads and picnic areas. I couldn’t keep Greg on the trail so we scrambled over red boulders and rocky ledges close to climbers scaling vertical walls. Another find, Valley of Fire State Park, about 58 miles from the Strip, reminded me of a scaled down version of Arches National Park with dramatic, red sandstone formations and, of course, don’t forget about Hoover Dam.
I’m not much of a gambler but…odds are, if you leave “it” in Vegas, you will likely find some high pay-offs in the desert.
You may recall a year ago with your support and encouragement we ventured into the publishing world of travel writing and photography. We stuck our toe in the water and submitted a short, 200-word article with one photo which was published in MotorHome Magazine last May. Today, we are pleased to announce our first feature article and photo spread published in the May 2015 issue of MotorHome with two more articles awaiting publication dates!
And so, we thank you again for spurring us on with your continued encouragement.
The serpent rose from the desert floor and ribboned across the road, towering over us. Its dragon-like head bared fangs and spike-like teeth, frozen in mid-roar.
“Should we wait for the tail to cross the road?”, I asked. Greg smiled and drove the car onto the sand to get a closer look. “Incredible!”, I exclaimed staring up at the gigantic, rust colored creature. Stretching 350 feet long it arched across the sand, tail and head separated by a two lane road.
Our day trip to Borrego Springs in the southern California desert led us to the magical outdoor “gallery” at Galleta Meadows Estate, a unique collaboration of land preservation and art. The private estate is open to the public thanks to the generosity of the late Dennis Avery, whose passion for open space and paleontology inspired him to commission famed metal sculptor, Ricardo Breceda’s renditions of life-size and larger-than-life prehistoric animals. The project grew and today an eclectic mix of dinosaurs, mythical creatures, raptors, camels, wild horses and more dot the desert scape. Unsuspecting visitors could easily be caught by surprise. There are no entrance gates. Creatures merely begin appearing along Borrego Springs Road transforming the desert into a surreal fantasy land.
Continuing our desert safari, we slung our backpacks on and followed our hiking boots up the Palm Canyon Nature Trail in the Anza-Borrego Desert State Park. Always on wildlife alert, we scouted for Peninsular Bighorn Sheep as we trekked the rocky, easy-to-moderate trail under bright sunny skies. Greg patiently waited each time I stopped at a numbered marker, pulled out the guide and read a snippet aloud describing a feature along the trail. In the lead, he called the numbers out to me but by #7, he seemed to miss a few. I think he secretly hoped I would too! Personally, I found all my 14 recitations quite informative. We saw beavertail and cholla cacti, inhaled the scent of desert lavender, and learned that the Cahuilla Indians lived in Palm Canyon because of its flowing stream and afternoon shade provided by tall canyon walls. The trail turn around point, a circle of giant palms near the stream, was aptly named an oasis. Stepping into the circle, we relaxed in the refreshing damp coolness and shade of the palm frond ceiling.
Greg suggested we take an alternate trail back. Hmmm….. better bighorn scouting or no re-runs of trail marker readings? Despite scouring the terrain, the bighorns remained elusive. Until, buff colored “rocks” seemed to move in the valley. Hoping the heat wasn’t getting the best of us we scrambled down the trail and to our delight we found a herd of 15 Bighorn Sheep, including 5 rams, grazing in a dry creek bed. Aware of our presence, yet undisturbed, they continued munching for about an hour as Greg’s camera shutter clicked away. A fitting ending to our hike in the desert as Borrego means “sheep” in Spanish.
To start the New Year, we thought it would be fun to participate in the WordPress writing challenge: “Ice, Water, Steam…What does it mean to be the same thing, in different forms?” coupled with this week’s photo challenge: “New”.
Same, yet different creates new. A play on words? An oversimplification? Maybe. But consider the words of Greek philosopher, Heraclitus, “No man ever steps in the same river twice, for it’s not the same river and he’s not the same man.”
As our travel adventures continue, I take these words to heart. I must confess I don’t really know much about this ancient philosopher or if any of his other words-of-wisdom would resonate with me. But these ring true in my world.
Living the gypsy life as full time RV’ers plays out like a colorful kaleidoscope of travel escapades resembling sitcoms, tear-jerkers, documentaries and all genres in between. We aren’t the same people we were when we embarked on this journey almost two years ago and yet reflections of our former selves will disembark in the future.
So, in 2015, let’s embrace life’s constant change and stick an oar in that river to choose a path and not just be swept away!
“Yikes! I don’t like this at all!”, I squeaked as our ATV headed down a steep, narrow trail towards a hairpin turn thousands of feet above the valley below. Panoramic views grew huge as we approached the cliff edge. My imagination escaped and I wondered…..if we don’t make the turn will we fly off or tumble and roll down? Greg negotiated the tight curve deftly and I relaxed. “Wow! That was incredible! ”, I exclaimed as we headed towards the seemingly safe turn tucked against the mountain wall with no valley views. And so my mood flip flopped as we serpentined down the mountainside. That’s what we get for riding our rented “baby” ATV with experienced, veteran off-roaders and their larger, more powerful machines!
However, we quickly learned that our compact, side-by-side Razor did have some advantages…..no 3-point turns or sliding into curves on cliff edges for us! Plus, we fit easily through narrow gates, avoided monster ruts by skirting along skinny banks, and crossed a bridge too small for the big guys!
As Vehicle #3 in the Fearsome Foursome ATV Line-up, we followed the leaders feeling comfortable that Sharon (Rosanne’s Sister) and hubby Mike tailed us to keep watch or pick up the debris as fate may have it!
Riding about 100 miles that day on the Paiute Trail from our RV Park in Marysvale, UT, we climbed up snowy mountain peaks, skidded through mud, snow and ice, traveled forested trails, rock-crawled dry creek beds, teeter-tottered on rutted paths, sped downhill and raced the flats (although “baby” ATV’s 55 mph max left us in the dust of the mighty machines’ 75 mph!).
Along the way, nature treated us to breathtaking views, aspens clothed in rich autumn foliage, deer grazing in meadows and peaceful rivers.
A day trip to nearby Bryce Canyon with Sharon & Mike topped off the week.
Thank you Mike & Sharon Wallace, Dave & Terrie Schulte and Bob & Debbie Audenried for a fun adventure!
Farewell Utah….Hello Arizona!
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