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  1. #1

    Default 2015 - Parks and Sparks

    Parks and Sparks - June 26

    I always make up a name for my trips, and this one is no exception. The 'Parks' will become quite evident, since we intend to visit six of our national parks in Wyoming, Montana, Utah and Colorado. The 'Sparks' might not be so obvious, but there is a reason for it to be a part of the journey.

    Our first day was spent on some all too familiar interstate highways from Augusta, Georgia to Marion, Illinois. The only stopping we did was for gasoline, food and traffic, the latter of which there was plenty.

    Hittin' the Road - Next is Chattanooga

    We had a nice sunny day, but we've visited most of the sights along these roads. There are some that are still worth a picture through the windshield.

    I always like to see this railroad bridge just after entering Tennessee for the second time.

    Let me explain that caption on the above picture. We first enter Tennessee from Georgia just south of Chattanooga on I-75. Then there is a turnoff to I-24 which goes through the city and, a few miles beyond, the road enters Georgia again for about three miles. Once more the road curves back up into Tennessee and stays there on up to Nashville. And, believe it or not, there is a Georgia Welcome Center on that short stretch that goes back into the state..

    We made good time and were in our hotel in plenty of time for me to soak in the hot tub.

    Miles today - 575 Total - 575

  2. #2


    Parks and Sparks - June 27

    Day two was a little more interesting, as we traversed the state of Missouri on Route 36, which is soon to become Interstate 72. It parallels I-70 about 60 miles north of it, but it has more interesting points of interest, such as The boyhood homes of Walt Disney (Marceline) and J. C. Penney (Hamilton). Chillicothe is known as "The Home of Sliced Bread," because that is where the machine was invented. All these are along this nice divided highway with very light traffic from Hannibal to St. Joseph.

    Trivia: Did you know that J. C. Penney, the department store magnate, was the original Johnny Cash? That's right, his initials stand for the name John Cash, and I suspect he made more cash in real terms than the singer who came after him.

    We did stop in Hannibal to visit Riverview Park. It lived up to its name, with nice overlooks of the Muddy Mississippi and a statue of Hannibal's native son, Samuel Clemens (a.k.a. Mark Twain). Of further interest was that all the rivers and streams we crossed in Missouri were swollen and some out of their banks.

    Love that sign!

    I've passed the above sign many times, and I always get a kick out of its redundancy. Actually, the town of Ina, Illinois is ahead, but the exit is also "in a mile."

    The Muddy Mississippi is pretty high with all the rain the Midwest has been getting

    Old Sam Clemens has a pretty nice view of the river from atop his pedestal

    We had dinner in Nebraska City and arrived at our hotel just outside of Lincoln, Nebraska just before dark. It was another perfect day for travel.

    Mileage today - 575 Total - 1150

  3. #3
    Join Date
    Jan 1998
    Las Vegas, Nevada

    Default Always great to read reports

    Enjoying the tale Harry. Thanks for reporting and the photos.


  4. #4

    Default Parks and Sparks - June 28

    Today we drove across Nebraska on I-80 with several diversions to visit The Archway at Kearney, Nebraska's answer to The Gateway Arch in St. Louis, a genuine Pony Express Station and an equally authentic sod house, both in Gothenburg.

    The archway extends right across I-80, so you can't miss seeing it, whether you want to or not. The attraction wasn't open yet as it was Sunday Morning.

    The Archway opened in 1999 and is a tribute to 185 years of transportation history, but it is presented in a way to interest all ages, so this is definitely a family attraction. There are also some walking trails and a Trailblaze Maze for the younger generation to have some fun alongside of the main structure. There is an admission fee, but be sure to check it out.

    It's hard to believe that this Pony Express Station is at least 150 years old

    The Pony Express route followed the Platte River and is essentially parallel to where I-80 goes today through Nebraska. The station in Gothenburg is well preserved and serves as both museum and gift shop. It sits in a parklike setting in the town, and is a little difficult to find, but the effort to do so is rewarded with history you probably never knew about the first long distance mail service in America.

    The Sod House is only a replica, but it is built exactly like the original ones were built and is probably a pretty close double for the one that Laura Ingalls Wilder wrote about in her novels about her Little House on the Prairie. It is located just off the interstate Exit 211 at Gothenburg and is worth a visit to see how the pioneers lived.

    The Ames Brothers lived longer than the fame of their pyramid-shaped monument

    Speaking of the prairie, the monument seen above stands out on a desolate spot outside of Cheyenne, Wyoming. It was erected next to the original bed of the Transcontinental Railroad to honor two brothers instrumental in building that mode of transport. However, over the years, the railroad was moved twice and is now nowhere near the monument, which requires a drive down a two-mile dirt track to visit it. It stands 60-feet high above the prairie

    The second monument we visited was dedicated to Abe Lincoln. It is a huge stone wall with just the carved stone head of our 16th President atop it. The monument was in a rest area at the highest point, 8,600 feet ASL, on I-80. Old Abe has a birdseye view of the pass above and just east of Laramie, Wyoming, where we spent our third night — in Laramie, not the pass.

    The stone monument to Abe Lincoln is about 20 feet high

    A little history here . . . Lincoln's Monument was erected to celebrate the Lincoln Highway Association, which oversaw the building of a continuous improved roadway across America from the Atlantic to the Pacific about a century ago. I don't know about you, but I have never heard of this until now. I only know about the Eisenhower Interstate System started when Ike was our president. I found it very interesting.

    Tomorrow will be our first day of sightseeing at the first of six national parks. I hope that Grand Teton National Park is more visible than it was the last time I visited in 2012. So far, the air has been perfectly clear of any smoke haze, and the fires that are burning in the Northwest are up in Washington and Canada.

    Mileage today - 500 Total - 1650
    Last edited by Mark Sedenquist; 12-04-2015 at 10:21 AM. Reason: added link to RTA article about the Lincoln Memorial

  5. #5

    Default Parks and Sparks – June 29

    Our destination for today was Driggs, Idaho. It is on the west side of the Grand Teton Mountains and requires a 16 mile drive over a mountain pass from Jackson Hole, Wyoming with lots of 10 percent grades and switchbacks. Of course, I knew this in advance because I stayed there 3 years ago on my Smoke! trip, but Judy had no idea about it until we actually got up into the pass. But that was at the end of our day; let me start from the beginning.

    We left Laramie early in the morning and drove on I-80 to Rawlins. Then we took Route 287 up through Lander and the Wind River Reservation, a place we had both read about in many of Margaret Coel’s Vicky Holden and Father John books. It was also the setting of the television show, Longmire, which I sorely miss since they canceled it.

    The first part of the trip up to Lander was a neat one, with lots of overlooks, hundred mile views and pronghorns galore. One thing we marveled at was the number of wind/snow fences along the highway. There were hundreds of them and the slat lumber in them looked very new, so some contractor must have made a killing on them.

    The 8-foot-high wind fences stretch across the prairie for miles

    When we topped off the tank in Lander, I mentioned the neat scenery we had seen to the clerk in the gas station, and he asked where we were going. When I told him Grand Teton National Park, he said that if I thought the scenery between Rawlins and Lander was neat, mostly sagebrush, wait till I saw what was ahead of me.

    After a detour to the gravesite of Sacajawea outside of Fort Washakie, we went through the Wind River Mountains. I thought for sure we had reached our goal and were in the Grand Tetons, but no, the Wind River Mountains are equally spectacular. We were in them for over 40 miles. Toward the end of the journey, the real Grand Tetons came into view in their entire splendor. For those of you who read my Smoke! Journals, I can tell you that I could see the mountains 100 times better on this trip. No wildfires are burning in this part of the Northwest this year.

    Many visitors have left tokens and mementos at the statue of Sacajawea

    The Sacajawea picture has a back story. As we were driving through Fort Washakie, Judy saw a sign pointing down a local street to the Sacajawea Gravesite. She said she wanted to see it. Well, it took about an hour and a stop for better directions at the post office to finally find the cemetery out in the middle of nowhere completely outside of the town. There was a nice memorial and statue, pictured above, and the grave was elsewhere in the cemetery -- we never did find it.

    I later learned that there is lots of controversy about where Sacajawea is buried and when she actually died. Some say she died in her 20's and is buried in North Dakota, while this site gives her age at death as 100 and her burial with her two children here at Fort Washakie. Who knows which is true, but you can visit her at either location. I prefer this one.

    For our Aussie, N-Zed and Brit contributors, Sacajawea is the revered Shoshone maid who accompanied Lewis and Clark on their epic journey to the newly acquired Northwest Territory. She was instrumental in guiding them through hostile Native American lands.

    The Wind River Range is as impressive as Grand Teton National Park

    It was only mid-afternoon when we reached Moran Junction, the northern entry into the Grand Tetons, so we took a few hours and drove the 40 mile park road, stopping at every lookout and overlook. We had always driven Route 89 in past visits, which only skirts the park about 5 miles distant. The 12,000-foot peaks look so much more detailed from the one or two miles distance inside the park. They seem to be bending right over you!

    Such a fantastic view of Grand Teton NP from up close

    The famous Elk Antler Arches of Jackson Hole, Wyoming

    One of the elk antler arches above stands at each of the four corners of the park in the center of Jackson. Not to worry; the elk shed their antlers every year, so none was harmed in the making of the arches. They just get picked up off the ground.

    Upon leaving the park, we drove though Jackson, which was very crowded, and started into that aforementioned mountain pass across to Idaho. Our main reason for driving 70 miles round trip beyond Jackson is that the hotels in and around Driggs are about half the cost of the ones in Jackson. Of course, it is a neat drive, too.

    If the rest of the trip goes as nicely as this part, the one word to describe it will be "Magnificent!”

    Mileage today - 425 Total - 2075

  6. #6

    Default Parks and Sparks - June 30

    We arose nice and early to get a good start to a long day of sightseeing. But before we could leave the hotel, Judy noticed that a hot air balloon was being inflated in the field near our hotel. I got out the camera and snapped several shots of not one, but two balloons from inflation to launch. They were taking passengers over the Grand Tetons, a fun summer activity.

    This was fun to watch and was a successful launch

    Next, we drove back over the mountain pass to Jackson and up Route 89 past Grand Teton and on to the south entrance to Yellowstone. On the way, we got some good photos of the Tetons from a distance and watched some cowboys herd about a dozen bison across the road in front of us.

    The view from the top of the pass was really promising a great day ahead

    In case you're wondering, that is my own panoramic photo

    We arrived at Old Faithful just after the geyser eruption, so we had a 90-minute wait for the next one. We used most of the time walking around the loop trail and seeing the other geysers in the vicinity. Old Faithful did its thing at 12:30, and we spent the next half hour locating our car in the parking lot and exiting with the rest of the traffic.

    I never tire of watching geysers and Old Faithful is a neat one

    One element I forgot to factor in when I did my trip planning was the huge number of tourists we would encounter with the resulting time delay. It added a lot of extra time to each stop. We have always traveled in the off-season before.

    A quick lunch of PB&J was next, followed by a neat visit to the Grand Prismatic Spring, a deep blue pool with (believe it or not) blue steam rising from it. The geysers and springs of Yellowstone are just beyond belief!

    Then I made a return visit to the White Dome Geyser, the one that had given me a nice cool shower on my last visit to the park in 2012. While we waited for it to do its geyser thing, we were joined by over a dozen others. It took about a half hour before it erupted, but it didn't disappoint us.

    It was raining with thunder and lightning in the background — a good effect

    Shortly after our geyser shower, we got another one in the form of a thunderstorm. It poured for less than an hour, but it washed all the road dust and bugs off the car. We had nice clean windows once again. The sun quickly came out again like the rain had never happened.

    We spent the rest of the afternoon visiting several of the geothermal wonders in the park plus some really cool waterfalls. There are several rivers in Yellowstone Park, and all have several waterfalls. I love cascades, so Yellowstone is a dream come true for me.

    Gibbon Falls is a slide waterfall, but no swimming is allowed

    Another unforeseen problem we encountered was road construction. About ten miles of the road we took up to the northern entrance at Mammoth Hot Springs was one lane dirt road, so you can imagine the slow and bumpy condition of the roadbed. Some of the sites we intended to visit were not open as a result of the construction, unfortunately.

    We did visit the Mammoth Hot Springs terraces, a frosty wonderland of white. And then, as we approached the Hot Springs Lodge, there were a small herd of elk lounging on the lawn, a sight I had witnessed on my last trip to Yellowstone in 2012. What is great way to finish this day!

    Acres of white terrace and dead trees look other-worldly

    The buck is lying to the left and apparently has no challenger to fight off today

    The short drive into Gardiner, Montana was uneventful, and we enjoyed a good meal at our hotel on Hellroaring Street,. Tomorrow we will revisit Yellowstone to complete the figure eight route and see even more sights.

  7. #7
    Join Date
    May 2011
    Southern California


    I think those elk are there pretty much permanently. I remember seeing elk on the hotel lawns back in 1976!!!!

    Where did you stay in Driggs? That's where we stayed, in '14, and I believe it was a Super 8.


  8. #8


    Quote Originally Posted by DonnaR57 View Post
    I think those elk are there pretty much permanently. I remember seeing elk on the hotel lawns back in 1976!!!!

    Where did you stay in Driggs? That's where we stayed, in '14, and I believe it was a Super 8.

    Yes, the elk herd is permanent. In fact, there is a sign across the street from the fort that tells about them. The last time I was there, another male elk was trying to cull some of the females and the two were fighting. It was very interesting to watch.

    We also stayed at the Super 8 in Driggs. It was the second time I stayed there, and the price was right. Also, the first time I got a nice backlighted sunrise picture of Grand Teton.

  9. #9

    Default Parks and Sparks - July 1

    This was our second day in Yellowstone Park. The guide book recommends a minimum of 2 days to see enough of the features in the park, but suggests that 5 days will allow you to visit everything there is to see. Well, we don't have 5 days to spare and we don't do a lot of hiking, so the minimum seemed adequate, and we did see everything we planned.

    We started at the North Gate and drove to Mammoth Hot Springs, where we turned east along the Rim Road toward Tower-Roosevelt. On that road we stopped at 2 waterfalls, Undine Falls and Tower Falls, and visited a high overlook of the Calcite Springs. Just past Tower Falls the road winds over Dunraven Pass, which has several areas where forest fires in 1988 burned thousands of acres of trees. Much of it has grown back, but the bare, burned trunks of the old forest are still standing, sentinels to the devastation.

    Undine Falls was still in shade, but a pretty cascade.

    Calcite Springs is that white slope and with field glasses you can see it actually boil

    We did miss some good sights due to the heat, including some beaver dams and a lot of petrified trees. Both require long hikes out to them from the road, and we wanted to save our hiking for the coming attractions. At least it is more shady at the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone.

    Tower Falls is so named because of the stone spires at the brink

    There are many waterfalls along the creeks and rivers of Yellowstone, and one of the most spectacular is the Lower Yellowstone Falls. You can see it from both the north and the south rims of the Yellowstone Canyon, but my preference is the view from Artist Point on the south rim. We did drive the North Rim Road to several overlooks, but one of the most disappointing ones was Inspiration Point. There used to be a long finger of rock out over the canyon that afforded a great long view of Lower Yellowstone Falls, but it has been eroding over the years, and is now so badly broken that you can just barely see the edge of the falls from it. It didn't seem worth the loop drive out to it.

    There is another waterfall, Upper Yellowstone Falls, less than a mile above the famous lower cataract, which is equally neat, but it doesn't have the open canyon views. It is accessible from the South Rim Road, and we went to it and actually walked to the brink of the upper falls. There is also an overlook for the upper falls a short distance farther down the South Rim Road. For those who don't mind lots of stairs and elevation changes, there are trails down into the Yellowstone Canyon to some other views, but we aren't that adventurous or healthy. One such trail, called Uncle Tom's Trail, has hundreds of stairs.

    Uncle Tom's Trail is mostly Uncle Tom's Stairs. No thanks!

    At the end of South Rim Road is my favorite overlook of both the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone and the Lower Yellowstone Falls. It is named Artist Point for good reason.

    One really cool sight from the rim overlooks is the osprey nests situated on several of the tall spires of rock down in the canyon. They are easy to spot, and are best viewed through binoculars or a good telephoto camera.

    This Osprey nest has an adult and two juveniles, but they're difficult to see without binoculars or telephoto lens camera

    Upper Yellowstone Falls is lesser known, but is equally spectacular

    Lower Yellowstone Falls from Artist Point on the south rim

    After having a picnic lunch, we drove to yet another cataract called Virginia Cascade. It is a slide falls, one that looks like you could slide down it from top to bottom. The problem is that it is nearly impossible to climb back out of the canyon into which it falls. Besides that, it isn't allowed by park rules.

    Virginia Cascade requires a drive down a rutted dirt road with no guard rails

    Finally, having seen our fill of falls and geysers and hot springs, along with some elk, bison and deer. We left the park through the West Gate and took a very scenic route from West Yellowstone to Bozeman, our resting place for tonight.

    Mileage - 270 Total 2530
    Last edited by Harry Kline; 12-06-2015 at 08:51 AM.

  10. #10

    Default Parks and Sparks - July 2

    Neither of us slept well last night; consequently, we were awake and raring to go at 5AM. We were on the road by 6 with a rather long day ahead.

    Our first destination was Butte, Montana, a city built on a mine. We went to the Berkeley Acid Pit, where we viewed the partly water-filled surface mine with a Ph reading of 2.4 and a depth of 1.600 feet. It is 7,000 feet long and 5,600 feet wide and was known in its heyday as the largest open pit mine in the world. The material removed from the mine between 1955 and 1982, its short operations span, gave Butte the nickname, "The Richest Hill on Earth." It was impressive, but more interesting was the fact that there are ten thousand miles of mine tunnels under the city drilled to a depth of 5,100 feet. You would think the town would collapse, but the bedrock is apparently very strong.

    Berkeley Acid Pit had a nice reflection off the still water in the mine

    We were also able to see the tall statue high above Butte called "Our Lady of The Rockies." However, we once again encountered that nemesis that plagued my last trip, smoke! There are wildfires in Washington and British Columbia, and the smoke is drifting eastward. I hope that it will clear somewhat tomorrow when we plan to drive across Glacier National Park.

    Our Lady of the Rockies is a 90-foot statue of the Virgin Mary on the Continental Divide overlooking Butte, Montana and looks quite eerie up there

    Leaving Butte in our rear view mirror, we headed north to Helena and a short distance beyond it, for a two hour boat trip through Gates of The Mountains, so named by the Lewis and Clark Expedition in 1805 when they went through the deep canyon on the Missouri River. The river wasn't dammed back then, so the canyon was hundreds of feet deeper when Lewis and Clark passed through it. Even today the scenery was stunning, with sheer cliffs and hills 800 to 1,000 feet over us on either side of the boat.

    Gates of the Mountains has wildlife, petroglyphs and rock formations

    Ancient people drew these petroglyphs on the canyon walls
    (Use the magnifier on your device to see them closer)

    Back on the road after our boat excursion, we continued up I-15, this time driving through several canyons and mountain passes of indescribable beauty. Then in the space of two minutes, the landscape changed from mountains to flat prairie reminiscent of Kansas and Nebraska.

    Our guide on the boat had suggested that we stop at a small state park outside of the town of Ulm up near Great Falls. We took his advice and took a short side trip to First Peoples Buffalo Jump State Park. There was an indoor interpretive center and then a walking trail of several miles up onto a bluff with a sharp drop off. We went through the first half, but opted out of the walk in a blazing hot sun. It is the only park I've ever seen that doesn't have a single tree in it. We did learn what a buffalo jump was, though; something that I have heard of in the past, but never understood until now. (I leave it to you to look it up on your search engine)

    Our day ended just outside of the small town of Shelby, but we also passed through a badlands just before we arrived there. We are just 50 miles east of the entrance to Glacier National Park, which we hope to drive through tomorrow on the scenic byway called "Going to the Sun Road." The smoky haze has either dissipated or never reached here in the first place, so we're looking forward to a clear day in the park.

    This cliff is the most significant part of First Peoples Buffalo Jump State Park

    A mini badlands in the middle of Montana near Shelby

    Mileage - 325 Total - 2855

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