Taking the Scenic Route – Conclusion

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The final post on our recent road trip:

As much as we enjoyed Yellowstone, the time had come to move on. Only twenty-five minutes from West Yellowstone is Quake Lake. The lake was created after a terrible earthquake struck the area in 1959. For approximately six miles, the highway parallels the lake where you can see the effects of the earthquake and landslides. The visitors center was closed (due to Covid-19), but it provided a lovely view and plenty of outdoor information to help us understand what happened here.

On the Continental Divide in the northern Rockies, Butte, Montana is best known for its rich mineral deposits – especially copper. Headframes, which are old mining structures that tower over the remnants of a mine, dot the town. We visited the historic district where Butte’s colorful past can be seen, and drove to the Granite Mountain Mine Memorial, dedicated to the 168 men who lost their lives in a mining disaster in 1917.

After an overnight in Missoula, Montana, we made an early morning stop at Ninemile Ranger Station, a historic remount depot and working ranger station, complete with a self-guided tour. It has served packers, firefighters, and pack animals in this area of forested mountains since 1930, and bred mules for 32 years to assist with fire suppression.

We spent several hours in charming Wallace, Idaho – the silver capital of the world.  For over 100 years, Wallace has been the world’s largest silver producer, making it the richest mining town still in existence. The entire town is listed on the Nation Register of Historic Places.

We made it to Coeur d’Alene, Idaho in time for lunch with my nephew who lives there, and my sister and her husband who were visiting! We loved our time with them over the next few days, but it’s of little interest to anyone but family, so I’ll spare you the details!

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When we left Coeur d’Alene, the forecast looked nearly perfect for Glacier National Park, but we had one more stop before we got there: Kootenai Falls and Swinging Bridge. We hiked along a dirt trail from the parking lot, over a railroad bridge, through towering trees and large boulders, downhill to where the Kootenai River surges over a 300-foot drop in elevation. It was quite impressive! A swinging bridge provided access to the opposite side of the river, but I wasn’t brave enough to cross it!

Glacier National Park was one of our most anticipated destinations… and our biggest disappointment! We knew that Covid-19 had a significant impact on the schedule for the National Parks, so when we planned our trip, we checked the status of each of the three main parks on our agenda. Glacier National Park was the last of the three to open, and even though their website said to expect “reduced services and abbreviated schedules”, we booked a cabin for two nights and hoped for the best. Imagine our surprise when we found out “reduced services” also meant no road access to a majority of the park! In early July, the Going-to-the-Sun Road (the main road through the park) was only open for 16 miles! We certainly didn’t need two nights of accommodations to see 16 miles, but here’s what we did see:

Rain in Glacier on the morning we left seemed appropriate somehow – but the clouds disappeared, and the sun began to shine as Montana opened up to Big Sky country!

We got to Billings in time for lunch at a brewery and made an afternoon stop at the Little Bighorn Battlefield National Monument. The National Park Service describes Little Bighorn as “a place of reflection” which memorializes the US Cavalry and the Lakota and Cheyenne Indians in one of the last armed efforts by the natives to preserve their way of life.

We spent the night in Sheridan, Wyoming which has a great downtown with historical buildings, murals and over 100 permanent pieces of art on display.

Four hours from Sheridan is the Crazy Horse Memorial, the largest mountain carving project in the world. It is under construction on privately held land in the Black Hills of South Dakota.  When completed, it will depict Indian warrior Crazy Horse riding his horse and pointing off into the distance.

Only half an hour from Crazy Horse is the famous Mount Rushmore, one of this country’s most popular national monuments. The gigantic faces of four U.S. Presidents carved high on a granite mountain was the most crowded of all the places we visited. Obviously, not everyone in this country wants to see our historical treasures destroyed!

We had lunch at Firehouse Brewing Company in Rapid City, stopped in Wall to see the famous Wall Drug Store, and took the Scenic Loop Byway through Badlands National Park. This 31-mile stretch of two-lane road takes you past incredible cliffs, buttes, and rock spires with plenty of places to pull-out for a better view.

We arrived in Mitchell, South Dakota on the last night of our trip after driving through a fierce thunderstorm. The following morning, we stopped on our way out of town to photograph the Corn Palace, a building on the city’s main street covered in murals made from corn and other grains.

IMG_E0678 (2)Surprisingly enjoyable was an unplanned stop at Falls Park in Sioux Falls. This breathtaking hidden gem provides various viewpoints of the Big Sioux River as it drops 100 feet in elevation over the course of the 123-acre park.

The next thing we knew, we were home… a great place to be after two weeks on the road… but what a wonderful two weeks it was!

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Taking the Scenic Route – Part One

Taking the Scenic Route – Part Two

Taking the Scenic Route – Part Two

1032137361Here’s more on our recent road trip. Remember, our agenda was Kansas City to Scotts Bluff to Grand Tetons to Yellowstone National Park to Northern Idaho to Glacier National Park to Mount Rushmore to Sioux Falls and back to Kansas City.P1040430

Between Scotts Bluff and the Grand Tetons, we stumbled upon old Fort Laramie, Wyoming, once the principal military outpost on the Northern Plains. With the end of the Indian Wars, Fort Laramie was of little importance and abandoned by the US Army in 1890.  Eleven of the original structures have been restored and Fort Laramie is now a National Historic Site.  As with most of the National Parks on our agenda, the visitors center and indoor facilities here were closed due to Covid-19 concerns. The park grounds were open, however, and Park Rangers were present and more than willing to share information. It was a Park Ranger who suggested we visit the Oregon Trail Ruts and Register Cliff which were also in the area.  We are glad we took his advice!

The Oregon Trail Ruts is a State Historic Site and a National Historic Landmark. Remnants of the pioneer trail can be seen all over Wyoming, but the tracks here are the best-preserved set of Oregon Trail ruts anywhere along its former path. We walked the short trail uphill to where 4–6 feet deep gouges were cut into solid rock by the wheels of wagons between 1841 and 1869. The geography of the area forced thousands of wagons heading west to cross the ridge in exactly the same place, resulting in the permanent ruts.

Register Cliff was an important landmark during the westward movement across the United States. It was a key checkpoint for travelers to verify they were on the right path, and it became custom for them to record their name and date of passage in the soft sandstone of the cliff. Many of the inscriptions at Register Cliff are from the 1840s thru 1860s—the peak years of travel along this stretch of the Oregon Trail.

Another stop before we reached the Grand Tetons was Ayres Natural Bridge Park, located just south of the Oregon Trail. Crafted by the hands of Mother Nature, it is one of only three natural bridges in the country with water beneath it. Weary pioneers would relax here, making it one of Wyoming’s first tourist attractions!

We spent the second night near Riverton, Wyoming and got an early start the next morning so we could enjoy as much time as possible at Grand Teton National Park. Unfortunately, the closer we got to Grand Teton, the colder and rainier it got… and the rain turned to snow just before we reached the eastern entrance. Our plans to stop at every scenic overlook inside the park no longer made sense as the low clouds and fog severely limited our visibility. I know there were mountains at the Grand Tetons, but we didn’t see them!

We made our way to the park’s southern exit, then further south to Jackson Hole. Lunch at Snake River Brewing was a wonderful experience. So good! So clean! We took our time leaving Jackson Hole, hoping the sun would burn away the fog back at the Tetons. It did not! So, we left Grand Teton from the northern tip and drove the few miles between it and Yellowstone’s southern entrance.

Yellowstone is a huge park containing 2.2 million acres of land and 370 miles of paved road. It is 66 miles from the south entrance to just outside the western entrance where we had booked accommodations for the next three nights. In the little town of West Yellowstone, we checked into the cutest lodgings of our trip and hoped for better weather in the days to come.

We loved Yellowstone! We experienced everything from desert-like landscapes to green alpine meadows;

from cool rainy mornings to glorious blue skies;

from hot bubbling geysers to cold trout-filled streams;

from bison, bear, elk and crows to graceful trumpeter swans;

… and from congested roadways to nothing else around us but natural beauty!

Our only disappointment was that a portion of the main road was closed in the northern section of the park.  Also closed inside the park were lodging and dining facilities, so we packed a lunch each day and enjoyed picnics immersed in nature. All other visitor services were very limited, including restrooms with running water. Here is an assortment of images from our two-and-a-half days in Yellowstone:

Next: Part Three – Glacier National Park and the route home

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Taking the Scenic Route

17IMG_8494 (4)IMG_8467 (3)3My husband and I had never been to Yellowstone National Park, so when we started thinking about a road trip, Yellowstone was at the top of our list. During the planning stage, we learned my sister and her husband would be in Coeur d’Alene, Idaho visiting my nephew for the Fourth of July, so we added Idaho to the agenda… and since we would be so far north anyway, why not include Glacier National Park as well! We filled in the rest of the itinerary with things we wanted to see and do along the way! We live near Kansas City, so here is the route we took:

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Packing for this trip was unlike any packing we had ever done! We crammed an entire laundry basket full of cleaning supplies: Clorox wipes, hand sanitizer, disinfecting spray, extra tissues, and paper towels. We also took a digital thermometer and plenty of disposable face-masks. To minimize our exposure at stops for snacks, we took another basket full of food and a cooler with bottled water and tea. For hiking in the northern national parks, we took bear spray, mosquito nets, bug spray, binoculars, hiking boots and raincoats. Then, of course, were all the normal items we would need, including clothes for both warm and cold weather – and cameras! Needless to say, the car was full!

We promised ourselves we would stop often to lessen long periods of time in the car – and simply because we could. So, three and a half hours after we left Kansas City, we made our first stop in Lincoln, Nebraska to see the Sunken Gardens – one of the 300 best gardens in the country, according to National Geographic. The gardens were constructed during the winter of 1930-31 as an opportunity for unemployed men to earn money during the Depression.

My husband likes beer – craft beer, in particular – so when we travel we are always on the lookout for local breweries. Whether you like beer or not, a local brewery tends to possess a certain charm and they are often spotlessly clean. We felt safer inside a sparsely crowded brewery for lunch than a fast-food restaurant, so we ate in one nearly every day! That explains our choice of the Kinkaider Brewing Company after our stroll through the garden. A “Kinkaider” is what a settler was called in Nebraska after the Kincaid Act of 1904, which provided each settler 640 acres upon payment of a $14 filing fee. The brewery had a historic hand-carved bar, original framed prints adorning the walls, and a unique and varied menu!

Three more hours down the road we found an original Pony Express Station in Gothenburg, Nebraska. The station was donated to the City of Gothenburg in 1931. It was the perfect place for a brief afternoon break.

We made it to Scotts Bluff, Nebraska – our goal for the first night. Having seen pictures online of Scotts Bluff National Monument at sunset, we wanted to witness it for ourselves. We didn’t have much time for the hiking trails, but we did manage to find a perfect spot to watch the sun sink below the horizon… and it was glorious! We got our pictures, drove through the rest of the park, then headed to our hotel and called it a day.

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For those of you curious about accommodations during this virus, I was extremely impressed with the efforts made by hotels to keep us safe. Most had contactless check-in procedures, rooms which had been cleaned and vacant for at least 72 hours, and constantly “covid-cleaned” common areas. Everywhere we stayed appeared to be immaculate, but I still wiped down the frequently touched surfaces and generously sprayed each room with disinfectant. I doubt we have ever had cleaner accommodations!

The next two posts will contain less commentary and more photos highlighting the best parts of our trip: one post on The Grand Tetons & Yellowstone, and another on Glacier National Park and the route home.

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A New Attitude!

We have finally returned from our much-needed travel break with a fresh, new attitude and a positive outlook during difficult times. Travel has a way of putting things into perspective, of making us see just how minute people and things really are in the grand scheme of things. Yes, problems in our world abound, but this too shall pass! That realization helps us to live a life less ordinary, to follow our dreams whenever possible, and to leave our burdens behind every chance we get. With a plethora of rewarding experiences and lasting memories, I’ll have countless new stories to share. You have been warned! Travel posts ahead… with lots and lots of pictures of the beauty in the USA.

It’s Only Words #8

Road Trippin’

A road trip this year was never the plan – the plan was international travel! Our European river cruise was booked over a year ago, but COVID-19 put an abrupt halt to all non-essential travel so our plans had to change. Just like everyone else, we were disappointed about the things that would never be, and we struggled to understand the new “normal”. Being stuck at home 24/7 for weeks and weeks did have one advantage – it gave us plenty of time to come up with Travel Plan B. Instead of packing our passports, plane tickets and cruise vouchers, we will load up the car with hand sanitizer, face masks and disinfecting wipes, and hit the road for a good old-fashioned summer driving adventure. We will roll down the windows, crank up the music and social distance to the point of being rude! Why not – gas is cheap! So, take care everyone. We’ll chat again in a few weeks.

It’s Only Words #7

Foto Friday #92

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In the foreground of the photo above is what is commonly referred to as bogland. A bog is a wet area of soft, spongy ground consisting mainly of water and decaying plant matter called peat. Peat bogs are prevalent in Ireland along the mountain slops of the west coast and throughout the midland. They form in areas of heavy rainfall and near poorly draining lake basins created by glaciers during the most recent ice age.

For Nancy Merrill’s A Photo a Week Challenge: Water

Photo taken in Ireland to the North and East of the Cliffs of Moher

Foto Friday #91

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Over 2,000 years ago, Pompeii was a thriving settlement in an emerging Roman state until a terrible eruption of Mt. Vesuvius buried it in the year 79 A.D. Volcanic debris, flames, and thick clouds of smoke and ash filled the skies on that fateful day; but during our visit, the only thing in the clear blue sky besides wispy white clouds was erratic condensation trails from overhead jets — something the doomed people of early Pompeii would never have seen.

For Lens Artists Photo Challenge: Old & New

Foto Friday #88

To better appreciate the structures in this photo, I cropped out the street and most of the tree to the right. Photo taken near Freiburg, Germany.

I felt like this shot was too wide so I reduced the size. By placing the steeple at a third, the flowers in the foreground are near center and the out-of-focus tree on the right is gone. I also cropped out the rail at the bottom, straightened the frame and brightened the color. Photo taken in Strasbourg, France.

For Lens-Artists Photo Challenge: Cropping the Shot

City Scene: Prague

prag2Our visit to Prague, the capital city of the Czech Republic, was part of our very first tour of Europe. After a memorable few days in Vienna, we boarded a bus for two nights in Prague. I was not impressed as we approached the city, and I started to wonder why we ever left Vienna! But the closer we got to the historic center, the better I felt. The buildings became more pristine, more varied in architectural detail, and the streets began to narrow. So narrow, in fact, that as we approached our hotel, I was amazed that our bus driver had not demolished a few parked cars along the way.

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We checked into our room with instructions to meet in the lobby before dinner. Many in our group chose to rest, but remember… this was our first trip to Europe! We were not about to spend our free time in the hotel! We ventured out on our own and immediately found the Powder Tower, one of 13 original Gothic gates that separated Old Town from New Town Prague. The tower of the gate was used to store gunpowder in the 17th century. A merry mood greeted us on the other side of the city gate where trees had been adorned with decorations and colorful crepe paper. It was May 1st – a holiday in Prague, so there was an atmosphere of celebration and excitement: a band was playing, the aroma of smoking meat filled the air, and people surrounded tents where vendors displayed their wares.

We pulled ourselves away from the festivities and returned to the hotel in time to leave with the group to a typical Czech restaurant for dinner. It was a delicious meal served with plenty of beer, as beer is preferred over wine in Prague. In darkness abated only by dim streetlamps, we walked through the cobblestone alleyways from the restaurant back to our hotel. A light rain had fallen, forming distorted images and eerie shadows – the perfect setting for a cold war spy novel. I was grateful not to be alone, but rather in a group led by an experienced, knowledgeable guide!

Prague was founded more than 1,100 years ago at the crossroads of several trade routes. The Vltava River now bisects “the City of a Hundred Spires”. We began our day with a walking tour of Old Town Square in the heart of the historic core. The dominant presence among all the colorful baroque buildings is the Church of Our Lady Before Tyń. With its Gothic twin spires and pointed arches, it was the inspiration for Sleeping Beauty’s Castle in Disney’s Magic Kingdom. We walked past the Old Town Hall with its medieval astronomical clock where the 12 apostles appear every hour on the hour for an animated show. We also went inside St. Francis Seraphicus Church, a striking baroque-style structure built in 1233.

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And then – the magnificent Charles Bridge! From the grand entrance gate on one end to the fortification tower on the other, this historic stone bridge is truly a remarkable sight! King Charles IV laid the first stone of the bridge on July 9, 1357. Construction was completed at the beginning of the 15th century. The bridge is lined with 30 Baroque statues which symbolize significant religious figures in Czech history.

IMG_0392 (3) The most amazing sight from the bridge (which is always crowded with tourists, vendors, and street performers) is Prague Castle perched at the top of a hill overlooking the Vltava River! While we waited for a bus to take us to the castle, we ordered drinks at a riverboat cafe so we could take in the view a little while longer.

IMG_03941(3)The Prague Castle is the largest medieval castle complex in Europe and dates back to the 9th century. Today it is the official Office of the President of the Czech Republic. The complex includes viewing towers, courtyards, art galleries, museums, a monastery, several palaces, St. George’s Basilica and St. Vitus Cathedral. It is the spires of the cathedral that poke the city skyline and can be seen for miles.

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We toured the hallowed interior of St. Vitus where in front of the main alter is a marble mausoleum and royal crypt containing tombs of Bohemian kings and their coronation jewels. There are several small chapels inside the cathedral, including the Chapel of St. Wenceslas which houses the tomb of the “Good King”.

At the courtyard wall, we checked out the amazing views before heading back down to the bridge through the winding streets of Prague. We stopped at a few shops along the way and bought trinkets to take home as souvenirs.

The evening was ours to do as we wished, so we decided to have dinner at an outdoor café – with a healthy dose of “people watching” on the side. We finished dinner just as an organ concert at St. Giles Church was about to begin. This beautiful 13th century church is Gothic on the outside, Baroque on the inside, and is home to a remarkable organ that is the largest in Prague. The organ has 3500 reed-pipes and an acoustic quality which draws some of the finest organists in Europe to perform here. The classical music and breathtaking candle-lit altar made for an extraordinary experience. It was gratifying to know the price of our tickets would contribute to the upkeep of this glorious church.

Evening had turned to dark – and unlike the previous night – we were completely comfortable in our surroundings. Oh, what a difference a day makes! We strolled through the streets of Old Town as if we were visiting a dear old friend. The next morning we would head to Salzburg, but the night belonged to Prague… a spectacular city scene!

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