It's summer, huzzah! It feels like it took forever for summer to arrive, and now it's just wizzing right by, eh?
We've already made numerous trips to Lone Oak, which has been wonderfully yummy. Here are Jenna, Emily, and Jason there back at the end of May.
Have I mentioned how insanely busy I've been? I meant to try to update the blog prior to all of my travels, but I was WAY too busy. Here's the rundown: From June 22–July 3rd I was in Montana/Wyoming, visiting my brother and doing the various things you will see described in this blog. Then from July 7–11th I was in Lake Placid, working at an institute there. I returned for one day before we left for our annual Bastille Day camping trip (July 13–17th). Oh and one more bit of news to get out of the way...
The day after I returned from the camping trip, Randy proposed! We're planning on getting married in January of 2009, since we got together in January (4 and a half years ago). The ring is just gorgeous, and Randy picked it out without help from anyone—he is just that good. :) So I'm very excited and the drama with my family has already begun (yay), but it's all good! :)
The other exciting news is that Barbara and Sev had their baby, Elena, on July 10th. She was 9lbs, 5oz, 21 inches... Yes, Barbara gave birth to a toddler. :D She is just beautiful and everyone is doing great. I'm so happy for them after such a difficult pregnancy! :) If you want to see pictures of the beautiful Elena Martinez, kindly visit Barbara's blog. :)
This photo was taken at her baby shower. Barbara, you are such a geek! :D Only Barbara would put a Baby on Board sign on her gift registry. :D
And now, the photos from my many travels. :) I'm going to have to divide these up into numerous posts, there are just too many amazing shots that I want to share with you all! :)
The trip to Montana was just amazing. We did hit a few bumps in the road though—our flight from Manchester to Chicago was delayed, causing us to miss our connecting flight, which was of course the last flight of the night. Luckily, the airport hooked us up with two rooms at the Hilton that night, so Grammy and I had a little sleepover before we managed to catch a flight to Rapid City on standby the next morning. :)
The plan was to fly to Rapid City, pick up our rental car, and drive to see Mount Rushmore, which we did. In 101 degree heat. It's an amazing sculpture, and we watched a very informative video about it. It's amazing what you can do with a stick of dynamite, let me tell you. :) Plus I think it's really cool that trees have started growing in the giant pile of rubble in front of it. :)
From Rushmore we commenced the two hour drive to see Devil's Tower. The roads were very straight and flat, with fields on both sides, and rolling hills. The terrain in the west is so much different than New England. Plus, there are miles between towns, which takes some getting used to. :) We passed many a cattle farm (steer—beef cows, not dairy) and even saw heards of elk and wild horses! :)
On the way into Devil's Tower National Park, my father was driving and I saw a rather unusual sign, which featured a prairie dog. I pointed this out to Dad, and at that exact instant, the car in front of us swerved to avoid hitting one that was trying to cross the road! Yep, we were traveling right through a giant prairie dog town! :)
I was not expecting prairie dogs on this vacation, and they were incredibly adorable. We all agreed that we could've spent hours just sitting there watching the little guys. They were very hard to take photos of, though. Dad tried walking closer to them, and they barked at him, it was precious! :D This was the best shot I got though (and of course I zoomed and cropped it for your benefit, I wasn't that close at all).
Once we tore ourselves free from the cuteness tractor beams of the prairie dogs, we made our way up to the base of Devil's Tower, an amazing structure that was created millions of years ago when the glaciers melted. Native Americans have legends about it. Here is one from the Devil's Tower website:
According to the Kiowas, who at one time are reputed to have lived in the region, their tribe once camped on a stream where there were many bears. One day seven little girls were playing at a distance from the village and were chased by some bears. The girls ran toward the village and when the bears were about to catch them, they jumped to a low rock about three feet in height. One of them prayed to the rock, "Rock, take pity on us--Rock, save us." The rock heard them and began to elongate itself upwards, pushing the children higher and higher out of reach of the bears, When the bears jumped at them they scratched the rock, broke their claws and fell back upon the ground. The rock continued to push the children upward into the sky while the bears jumped at them, The children are still in the sky, seven little stars in a group (the pleiades). According to the legend the marks of the bears' claws may be seen on the side of the rock.
I made an ass of myself while we were there (of course), standing and pointing at the top of it and proclaiming how beautiful the birds were that were flying around at the top of it. Huge, black birds.
Yeah, they were vultures. :D Oops. :D
We had a long stretch of driving after leaving Devil's Tower—five hours before we made it to Bozeman (where my brother lives) and another 45 minutes to Big Sky, where our condo was. Yeah that sucked. Since Dad and I were the only ones on the rental agreemant, I of course ended up taking the late-late shift driving. And the last stretch of road was all little, windy, mountain roads with very little useful signage. Mom and I were battling to stay awake, trying to find a sign telling us we were going in the right direction, and all we saw were signs saying we were crossing the Gallatin River (again and again and again) and to stop littering. :D But we made it eventually.
Day Two in Montana was spent in Bozeman, where my brother lives. We got to see his house, which is very nice, and of course visit with my darling nephew-puppy, Quannum (the husky), and his best friend in the whole wide world, Critter (the lab), who is Greg's friend Lat's dog.
Greg showed us the many sights of Bozeman, by driving around in his car with Lat, and the rest of us following him in our rental car. This made little sense. Every now and then Greg would point at something, and we had to piece together what it was he was pointing out to us based on our earlier lunch conversation. Go Greg, go. :D He did take us to a very nice little park though, where we went on a small hike and got a nice view of Bozeman.
On Day 3, we decided to venture down to West Yellowstone, to check out all of the museums and various Yellowstone-related historic sites prior to going to the actual park. We also saw quite a few of these buffalo, which local artists had painted and placed all over West Yellowstone. They were really neat! :) I've seen the cod fish in Boston, the lobsters in Portsmouth, and now the buffalo in West Yellowstone. I love art projects like this! :)
Dad thought this was a ripoff, but we visited the Wolf and Grizzly Discovery Center, where we got to learn all about the animals and see live wolves and grizzly bears! It was very hot out that day, so the wolves were all sleeping, and only two bears were out in the open. They were so cute though. This one was laying on her back, and every now and then would lift her head to look at all of the humans staring at her. :D
This grizzly was also very sleepy, and was using the rock as a pillow. So cute! :)
Mom was kind enough to take this photo of me on the bear couch in the gift shop. Not shown: the hoards of children who were being held back by their parents while Mom tried to take this photo as fast as she could. :D
We later stopped in at the Museum of Yellowstone, where we saw old horse carriages made in Concord, New Hampshire (!!!) and watched two fantastic documentaries. One was all about the fires of Yellowstone that occurred in 1988 (I think), called Yellowstone Aflame. It's not on Netflix, I just checked, but if you ever see this at the rental store, I highly recommend it. It's amazing how much of the park was scorched by this fire, and the amount of effort that went into fighting it. The other documentary we watched was about the earthquake that occurred just north of Yellowstone back in the '50s, which created a whole new lake (called, appropriately, Quake Lake). I think my favorite part of watching that film was when my brother started snoring. :D I ALMOST got a picture of him, but he woke up as I turned my camera on. Rats! :D
Here is me with Snaggletooth, a famous bear from Yellowstone, who was tragically shot by asshole poachers (who were arrested—yay!). Apparently he used to visit the park workers regularly and was very docile, and easily recognized due to his snaggletooth. I made my brother pose in front of him too, but I took that shot with his camera and no doubt it will never surface anywhere. :D
A good chunk of my time spent with my brother on this trip was spent trying to get him to be a Dupont and getting back in touch with his inner dork. He almost refused to let Dad take a picture of all of us together at lunch the day we arrived (but finally relented after Lat was like "When was the last time you saw them???"), he would not pose behind the ticket counter at the museum (it used to be a train station), and it took much coaxing before he finally relented and let me photograph him with Snaggletooth.
So of course I took him letterboxing. :D I even carved him his very own signature stamp of Quannum, which caused me to give out my very first autograph to the lady who was working at the restaurant we ate lunch at (I had no issue with bringing my carving tools in there with me, but did Greg sit at my booth during lunch? No, no he did not. :D). The waitress was just amazed by the whole stamp-carving process, so I stamped Greg's stamp on a piece of paper for her, and then she insisted that I sign it. :D It was bizarre, but flattering! :D
Here is Greg, stamping in to his very first letterbox, The Raven. AND DON'T LET HIM TELL YOU FOR ONE MINUTE THAT HE DIDN'T ENJOY IT! :D
After finding the Raven, we followed directions to find a second letterbox, Ursus Arctos. These clues, however, were MUCH more difficult, and I think it took us 45 minutes and about 20 tries before we finally found the correct spot to start looking. I won't give it away of course, but once we realized our mistake we felt SO dumb. :D The last time the box had been found was two years ago though, so we were really excited when we finally found it. And I will also add that Greg, Dad, and I were battling over the clues, trying to figure them out, and Greg was totally into it. :)
My parents were very nice and humored me when I asked if we could find ONE more letterbox. And on our way to this letterbox, we just happened to drive down the road that goes by all of the historical sites from the earthquake that we had watched the video about.
This is Quake Lake, which was created by the earthquake, and you can still see the trees poking up through the water. It's very eerie!
After passing all of the earthquake sites, we found the sign for Cliff and Wade Lakes, and turned down a dirt road which lead off into some rolling hills. No lakes in sight. We thought this was odd but figured they were just over the hills.
SIX MILES OF DIRT ROAD LATER, we finally saw the lakes and began ascending a mountain, to the Cliff/Wade Lake campground and our trail destination. The area was absolutely gorgeous and the weather was perfect. This is easily my favorite letterbox-finding experience so far. The clues involved answering questions by reading informational signs along the trail, and then using letters from the answers to form another phrase that took us back to the final spot where we would look for the stamp. Mom and Grammy waited in the car (inside, without moving, for fear of bears, I shit you not :D) while Dad, Greg, and I went searching for the box. The trail was awesome and we had so much fun! :)
Day 4 of our trip took us on a whirlwind tour of Yellowstone National Park. We were SO glad that we had already been to all of the museums and seen the Yellowstone Aflame video prior to going there, because at the west entrance you pretty much drive right into a huge spanse of burnt trees. After almost twenty years, the new trees are only about four feet high, so it's really obvious what was destroyed by that fire.
We went to three national parks on this trip, and Yellowstone sticks out in my mind for the many animal encounters we had. We hadn't even been in the park for a half-hour when we perchanced upon this herd of elk.
These two decided to cross the road. There was no looking both ways. There was no hesitation. They just crossed, whether or not cars were coming. Luckily, the cars stopped and no elk were hurt, but it was scary! And it was amazing how unafraid the animals are of humans.
This picture is NOT zoomed. AT ALL. This big boy was literally ten feet away from me. I could see the hairs on his horns (I wanted to touch them, they looked fuzzy!). And when he decided to cross the road, the wall of people in front of him was no concern. He walked forward, and they were either getting smacked by his horns or moving over. It was mesmerizing.
In case you haven't heard, Yellowstone resides on top of a ginormous super-volcano, (which Randy's Uncle Rick made sure to point out to me many times prior to my trip, emphasizing that it could erupt AT ANY TIME :D), which is why there are geysers all over the park. We stopped at an amazing field of them, which smelled HORRIBLE, but was very beautiful to look at. The minerals in the water and steam that bubble up from these geysers change the landscape into a sea of color. The ground is gray and pink, the water is bright blue, and the earth beneath the water can be any color: orange, green, blue... it's amazing.
If you got a postcard from me during my trip, chances are I mailed it from the post office that was RIGHT ACROSS THE STREET from this herd of elk. This is an island in the middle of a small township in Yellowstone. There were probably 50 adult elk and babies meandering around this patch of grass. And some idiot tourists were actually trying to walk up to them (morons). I just think it's awesome that the animals in Yellowstone own the place. I wouldn't be surprised to find out they wander in and out of the buildings there too. :D
This is a good example of the scenery you're driving by throughout Yellowstone, gorgeous views of mountains and trees, but that's not why I put this photo in my blog. Oh no it's not. :D See those trees at the bottom of the photo? When my brother, father, and I got out of the car to take pictures, there was a rustling in those trees. After Dad had taken a shot or two, the rustling continued, and he looked down at them and exclaimed, "Guys, it's a bear! No really, it's a bear! Get in the car right now!!!" and ran to the car. Greg and I were like, "A bear? Really?" and stepped closer to try to see it. Suddenly, two woodpeckers flew out of the trees. We nearly died laughing. :D My grandmother, who had waited in the car, said that Dad's face was priceless. He will never live that down, we joked about it the whole rest of the trip. :D
Here is a beautiful river that snakes through Yellowstone, which has rapids and waterfalls along it, and amazing rock formations. We stopped next to it many times.
One of those times included a hike down switchback after switchback to see this waterfall. We're talking 0.7 miles worth of switchbacks. I started getting nervous as people climbing upward passed me, sweating profusely and panting heavily. Mom almost stopped and waited for us at one point, but finally agreed to go the whole way, and it was worth it. The waterfall was amazing. But the walk back to the car... not so much. :D
As we continued along our journey, I pointed out that the only buffalo we had seen on our trip were off in the distance, not even worth taking photos of because they were so far. Not 20 seconds later, we had to pull over because an entire herd of buffalo had decided to cross the road in front of us.
Again, this is not zoomed in ANY way, and you can see how close people were to them. Watch as the mommy buffalo stops to let her baby walk in front of her. I think this is my favorite camera-captured item of the entire trip. I'm SO PROUD of this little video! :)
If you're having trouble viewing the video, try clicking here.
During late afternoon, we made it to the lodge that the firemen had spent so much time trying to protect during the fire in the '80s, and saw why—it is amazing. It's the biggest log structure I've ever seen! We had ice cream out on the giant deck there, where you have a clear view of Old Faithful.
My family decided that they would finish their ice cream, and then head down to Old Faithful to watch it erupt, which it was scheduled to do in about 45 minutes (give or take 10 minutes). I, however, had different plans.
You guessed it: there were letterboxes to be found! However, my search was delayed when my family decided that they didn't want me, a grown woman of almost 30, to walk in the woods by herself. On a trail in a national park by one of the most-visited sites EVER. I was angered by this. I decided to leave, and my father followed me, complaining the entire time about how he was going to miss Old Faithful's eruption. The trail we took was gorgeous (of course), with many little foot bridges and such, and eventually we found the spot where the letterbox should be. The clues stated that it was under a felled tree. There were about 20 felled trees there. So we started looking, and we looked, and we looked, and Dad complained that this was the only chance in his life that he had to see Old Faithful, and I told him to go, and he finally did (hooray!). So I continued looking, and looking, and at one point thought I encountered other letterboxers but couldn't bring myself to ask which way was north because I was hot and sweaty and tired and frustrated... and then I heard Old Faithful erupting.
So I ran back down the trail, catching glimpses of the water spewing up above the tree line, but I pretty much missed the whole thing. As I got to the bottom of the trail, I met up with Dad again. Luckily, he had made it down the trail in time to see it erupt, and had come back to help me find the box. I gave up at that point though, it had been a long day. But I was sad to have missed seeing Old Faithful. Thank goodness Dad got to see it erupt and I hadn't ruined it for him though.
On the way out of the park, we passed by a giant bald eagle's nest, with the proud papa (I assume) perched just above it. We saw so many other animals too, a black bear mama and her cub, a coyote, and a bazillion more elk. Yellowstone is an AMAZING place. I'd go back there in a minute!
Luckily, this wasn't the last I saw of Yellowstone.