Wyoming Adventure, Day 8

4:45am is early in Yellowstone, and cold. But most importantly, it is an amazing time of the day free from the noise and motion of other people. When the weather cooperates, there is nothing better than being the only person around to savor the splendor of the start of a day.

I grabbed some Via instant coffee, a granola bar, and headed towards Pumice Point to launch the canoe. I’d found what looked like some good drop-off features in the West Thumb the night before, and I was determined to catch and kill some Lake Trout. Because that’s what you’re supposed to do in the park. Regardless if you keep them, you must kill them. The Park has set up gill nets deep underwater on their spawning routes to try and eradicate them in an attempt to salvage the Cutthroat population.

But I’m getting ahead of myself. The steam on the lake, the light, and the complete absence of other people, save for a research vessel leaving Fishing Bridge, made of a dreamlike experience. I had goosebumps, and only party because it was cold.

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Once I reached Pumice Point, I slowly moved the Canoe, trolling motor, and fishing gear down to the shallow and rocky shore. Still no sign of other people.

This is why you get up early

I trolled out towards where I knew the drop-off was using the same setup I use on Oregon lakes. These are hand-made lures – pink hoochies with a few beads and a smile blade (with double barbless hooks) behind a pink sling blade and a dropper weight. In small craft, you’re not supposed to venture beyond a 1/4 mile from the shore because the lake is so cold (43F).
Trolling for Mackinaw

Since I had a trolling motor and, well, the lake was glass, I might have gone a little further. In fact, I was in the middle of the thumb, surrounded by geyser steam, clouds, mountains and sun when I made my first turn and got my first strike. Woohoo!

First bite at first light

It was a little odd puncturing the swim bladder and tossing it back, but given the bear activity, I didn’t want to take fish back to the camp site. I poked, then dropped the fish back in, hoping a pelican would be nearby to enjoy the fresh catch. Oh, here’s the boat setup. Rod holder, paddle, spare paddle, trout-slayer rod (that my dad found on a lake while canoeing and has been unstoppable since), tackle, spare rod, and net. There was no way I was going to lug this stuff all the way from Oregon and not use it.

Trolling canoe setup

I did another loop and in almost the same spot, hit another fish. Puncture, drop, and loop again. On the third loop I caught my biggest trout, probably around 16″.
Gut the fish

It was now 7am, the sun was up, and the breeze was starting to pick up, so I decided I’d had enough fun that I should get back to shore while the water was relatively calm. I saw another boat just as I reeled in my tackle, but I wasn’t quite done. You see, pumice point is relatively shallow water with lots of rocks, so there were a number of lost lures that I could see from the canoe. I hauled in the trolling motor and pulled a few lures up from the bottom. Salvaging lures is yet another favorite activity, so this was a very fun and successful trip. Spending solitary time in the splendor of And it was only 7:30am.

The day hadn’t even begun. Our next outing was to see the Falls. Our first stop was the upper falls and Uncle Tom’s Trail. We opted to hike all the way down, something that was quite a feat for Michelle especially since she doesn’t like, well, cliffs and precarious-feeling ladders. But good god is the view splendid.

Panorama from Uncle Tom's Trail

Stairway is not for the faint of heart

Uncle Tom's Trail

Lower Falls from Uncle Tom's Trail

As we were getting back to the trailhead, we overheard some folks say they’d just seen a black bear. I rushed up to try and see it but instead noticed a young male grizzly above the parking lot. I wasn’t the only one though. People started swarming towards it. Some people getting within 30 meters of it. Fools! I almost sent the kids back to the car so they didn’t see a mauling and have that ruin the trip. Fortunately the bear was doing his best to high-tail it out of there. We were able to snap a few quick shots from the van as he made off.

Young Grizzly near Upper Falls

We also checked out the far side of the canyon, including Inspiration Point, and despite the dreary day, the intense colors of the canyon still impress. Getting a clear shot here was challenging though because tourists kept walking in to the frame while I was shooting.
Yellowstone River Canyon

By now, everyone was tired of waterfalls and rain, so we headed to Canyon Village and got some lunch at the dining room. It was mediocre, but warm.

Lunch at Canyon Lodge

After fighting traffic to get back to camp, we chilled at our site for a bit. The solar charger ensured that we had a full battery every day. And it was time to start preparing for the next leg of the journey.

Goofing at Bridge Bay

Wyoming Adventure, Day 7

Today marks our halfway point for the trip. It was a fine looking morning, so Dave, Michelle and I rented a boat from Fishing Bridge to try our hand at Lake Trout fishing (a.k.a. Mackinaw trout). The Lake Trout were planted sometime after we moved away, and their deep spawning tendencies and lack of a larger predator have made them a menace for the ecosystem of the lake. They have decimated the native Cutthroat population, (some feat after the way humans decimated them in the first half of the 20th century) and rangers who have worked the lake have noticed a change in the population of otters and birds of prey now that there are fewer Cutthroat to eat.

We rented small aluminum lodge boats when I was a kid and I remember fondly as we trolled spin-a-lures and caught plenty of Cutthroats. The boat we rented was much larger, and a Klamath to boot. It was very comfortable, though we had to rely on a bathymetry chart on my phone for depth.

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We trolled a variety of different lures, including a few spin-a-lures with various dropper weights and even a few straight lines. At one point, we drifted a little too close to the shore and got snagged in some bottom gunk. I thought my navigation was sound, trying for deeper channels and ledges, but we had nary a bite. Amazingly, when we were well out in the middle of the lake, we were swarmed by gnats. Another fun fact: the PFDs that Michelle and I were wearing were my parents from when we lived in Wyoming in the 80s. Yes, those jackets were 30 years old and have been on that lake many a time.

Andy and Dave on Yellowstone Lake

We knew we were skunked, so we headed back to join back up with Kathy and the girls for lunch. After what was I’m sure an excellent lunch, we loaded up the wagons and drove up the Hayden Valley again to see the mud pots. Traffic was thick because the Grizzly mom and her cubs were out. Progress was slow, but we were able to see the cubs playing in the grass, a few eagles, and of course, lots of bison.
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At first, the bear cubs were asleep in the sagebrush and we could only see the sow meandering around. Once the cubs woke up, they were in a playful mood and we were able to see them follow mom back towards the carrion. You can see in the shot above how the two are wrestling. How adorable.

After the bears, we turned back towards the lake to check out the Mud Volcano boardwalk. The sights and smells were a treat. It’s amazing how the sink of sulfur translates so well across different languages. You could see the disgust in the faces and in the laughter of the foreign visitors. (Side note – the country of origin of the tourists was much different than when I was last in Yellowstone. The world changes, obviously.)

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It was up hear that Dave saw what he believes to be a wolf running near the mud volcano. Sadly, we couldn’t follow it to try to get a better sighting, because, boiling mud.
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After our adventure, we headed back to camp to clean up. We had reservations at Lake Hotel for dinner. IT turns out that even when camping, we can clean up pretty well.

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How lucky am I? What beauties.

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Girls at Lake Hotel

Dinner was excellent, service was great, and there were a couple buck deer with their velvety antlers right outside the window during our meal. What a treat. Afterwards, I showed the kids the medical clinic I used to visit with my dad when he was the volunteer medical director for the park. It looks the same now as it did then.

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After dinner, we went back to Kathy & Dave’s camper for some Rummy and shit-talking. Ella had a camera and was able to capture the moment, though she’s not yet the best at making sure the photos turn out before moving on to the next image.

Rummy and Shit Talking

Since Kathy got cell reception in the park at times, I used her phone to find additional maps of the West Thumb bathymetry since I was going to take the canoe out fishing the next morning. No one else wanted to get up before 5am to join me. Wimps.

Wyoming Adventure, Day 6

What trip to Yellowstone would be complete without seeing Old Faithful? Well, that was our adventure for the day. We headed over and got to see one eruption with front seats (after some waiting). The girls pretended to be excited by the false starts but it’s clear they didn’t get it. But then the eruption happened and they got why we were there.
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We also explored the amazing lodge where I’m sure I bored the girls to tears with stories of my childhood where my sister and I got locked out of our room in our pajamas and the loge staff had to find our parents. The lodge is still as impressive now as it was as a kid, however, and I still yearned to climb all the way to the top.
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After the lodge, we had lunch on a bench in front of Old Faithful. Talk about an epic lunch. The girls were scandalized by all the people who were getting off of the boardwalk and sticking their hands in the runoff from the geyser. Ella because she’s such a good rule follower, and Maddie because she’d seen the sign warning about breaking through thin crust and getting scalded. Either way, we were glad to have such well behaved daughters.

After lunch, we checked out the discovery/education center where the girls learned a little more about the park (as did we). We weren’t there too long before we decided to wind our way around the wood boardwalk and explore the other geysers, hot pots, pools, terraces, and variety of algal rafts (aka scum) until the girls were actually tired of hot water and stink. They loved it for a good 90 minutes though, given the variety of different ways that hot, stinky water can come out of the ground.

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Done with the loop

After Old Faithful, we drove north to Grand Prismatic to try and see the splendor of it’s amazing colors. Turns out, so did plenty of other people. There’s a short walk up, but the sheer size of the pools is amazing. Giant, turbulent pits of boiling death. It must have been amazing to watch the eruption, but I’ll take not getting burnt over a close up seat.
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Just as we were about done at Grand Prismatic, something funny happened. I lifted Ella on to my shoulders so she could get a better view for a picture. When I lifted her up, her shoe caught my elbow and flew off the boardwalk and down into the moist runoff of the geyser. It was well out of arms reach and I sure as hell wasn’t going to get off the boardwalk out of principle (and fear). But I sure as hell couldn’t leave a purple and pink Croc sitting in this amazing piece of nature. So I carried Ella back to the car (she was so embarrassed) and grabbed my tripod and ran back. I was able to extend my tripod to it’s fullest, lay flat on the edge of the boardwalk, and extend my arm out and extract the Croc. The smugness I felt for my problem solving wasn’t shared by many because it was on the downhill side and during a lull in foot traffic. A few people chuckled at my misfortune but offered no support or congratulations. Tourists.

Here’s a recreation:
Saving a shoe

And here’s another of the Grand Prismatic. Epic.
Grand Prismatic

We decided to make a grand loop of the trip, so we headed towards Madison, then to Canyon Village before winding back to Fishing Bridge. We got a surprise between Madison and Canyon though when it started to snow. In July. No biggie. It didn’t last long, and by the time we hit Canyon, it was just heavy rain, which lasted most of the way back to camp. We sat in traffic in the Hayden valley, which is apparently the norm, but we also saw some great herds of bison, and an elk, which didn’t cooperate for a photo.
Velvet Elk

When we got back to camp, the rain had passed. The girls played among the lodgepole pines, and even put together a pretty spectacular fort with some other kids. That, after all, was one of our motivations for getting a camper; the quick, fleeting friendships that occur within a campground. Anyway, the girls were having a grand old time when a Xanterra van pulled up and two contracted employees got out and said the kids couldn’t build stuff because it damaged the scenery or something. Oh, and we couldn’t take it down because they had to do it. But they had a flyer for us. This is what you get when you contract out work in the national parks. Miserable lackeys who hate fun. I was telling another park staff about it later, and she remarked “yeah, that’s why we’re called Xanterrorists.”
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For the record, I hate the privatization of National Parks and such. This type of work should be a calling, not a job. Imagine if someone outsourced the clergy at your churches, synagogues or mosques. That is what the parks are; temples to the glory of this land.

Wyoming Adventure, Day 5

Today we left the Tetons behind and drove north to Yellowstone. I mean, after one last trip to the lake with coffee. The morning was beautiful and we finally had the weather we’d been hoping for.

Michelle and the tetons

It was a relatively quick drive, and the SW corner of Yellowstone was not a place I was all that familiar with. But when we arrived at the entrance, we clearly weren’t alone in our excitement. There was a huge line of vehicles waiting for their turn to get a picture with the sign. We opted out, knowing we’d be in and out of the park at least a few times.

Entering Yellowstone's south gate

We stopped briefly at Moose Falls to see the falls. We were all excited, and sitting in the car was getting old.
Moose Falls

It didn’t take very long to reach Bridge Bay campground, and after winding our way through the massive collection of loops, we arrived at our very steep spot and spent quite a while trying to park the camper in a way that wasn’t too scary. None of us were the happiest about the angle, but I guess we’re all here so it held it’s spot. Note to self – get more wood blocks for balancing, leveling, etc.

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After situating our camp, we headed over to Fishing Bridge RV park, where Kathy and Dave were camping. The Fishing Bridge campground I grew up with had closed years ago because of bear problems, and the newer namesake RV park only allowed hard-sided campers due to the risk. (of note, a few weeks after we got home, a hiker was killed by a bear not far from the RV park)

Racing at Fishing Bridge

After settling in, we walked over to the Fishing Bridge general store, the nature center, and took a look at the lake. The nature center was a lot of fun for all of us, and the kids got a chance to see what they were going to be looking for over the next week. I got excited looking at the lake bathymetry model and the big lake trout mounted on the walls. We meandered back after picking up some trinkets and local beers and had dinner at the big camper. We played amongst the fallen lodgepole pines.

After dinner, the four of us decided to drive up the Hayden Valley to see if we could see some wildlife as sunset approached. We first stopped at a roadside stink pot so the girls could truly experience Yellowstone. Peeeeee-yew.

Who smelt it dealt it

We lucked out because a bear had just killed a bison and had been feeding on the carcass for the last day. Traffic made it clear that we were in luck, and we managed to park and join a gaggle of people who had been cordoned off a safe distance away from the bison pile. As luck would have it, we managed to see the mom and the two cubs that were with her. They could be challenging to see in the sage, but we got a positive sighting, along with a herd of bison, before heading back to camp. What a thrill! Less than a day in the park and we’d already seen a Grizzly.

Girls glimpsing their first grizzly

Of note. We did not roll away that night. So apparently our chocks, blocks, and leveling legs all held.

Oh, and how freakin’ amazing is the Hayden Valley? I could die!
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Wyoming Adventure, Day 4

We thought July 6th would be a write-off day. The girls spent the night with Kathy & Dave so Michelle and I could get up early and head in to Jackson to try and sort out the van. We still didn’t know what would happen since all shops had been closed over the holiday weekend. So we left camp full of apprehension and a certainty that the day would be an expensive one.

Fortunately, that bleak feeling was quickly diminished by the stunning beauty of the Tetons. Our drive back to town put us on the plateau nearly alone. We saw maybe one or two other cars and got sublime views of the mountains.

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We couldn’t call a tow truck until we got to town and were certain the van hadn’t been towed. Fortunately, it was there, and there wasn’t even a ticket on it. Apparently my hand written plea worked. Or maybe no one was working over the holiday weekend. We called the AAA approved truck who let us know that there were only two shops in town that were AAA – the tire shop, who would be so busy as to not get around to the van for a day or two, and their shop. So we went with them. And they were able to order a part from Twin Falls and get things working that day. It was the alternator and the battery terminals were bad. Watching the van get loaded on the flatbed, then hauled through town was something.

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Michelle and I got coffee at Smiths, the Kroger grocer for the area, then strolled through the backroads of town where I continued to bore Michelle with childhood memories of where I remember a playground being, and this one time when I though I heard a kid getting spanked by wait staff at a restaurant, which seems preposterous now, but I remember being on my best behavior the rest of that trip. We also stopped by a paddling shop and looked at 14′ rafts with angling frames. They had one on sale for $4000 which would have been a lot of fun to take on the Snake if we had time to do so. I was actually really bitter about not getting to canoe from below Jackson lake on the river for a bit. It’s one of the reasons I brought the canoe, but travel is full of surprises.

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We continued to walk around and got a t-shirt for Hilly (which we’ve somehow lost), a few clothes for Michelle, and a sweet jacket for me that was on clearance. We then met up with the rest of the crew and walked around town for a bit, then had lunch at Snake River Brewing, which was excellent except for Michelle’s cold and unmelted grilled cheese (which she sent back).

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When we got back to camp, there was a note from the rangers that they had confiscated our empty water jug because there’s a no coolers outside campers rule in the park. I guess I get it, but it’s an empty water jug. But while we’re talking about coolers, the insulated growler that I filled with ice water in Burley still had a lot of ice in it. Not bad!

The rest of our stay we talked about what was next. Yellowstone. Which is probably good since we had showers for the rest of the day.

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Wyoming Adventure, Day 3

July 5th started with the slam of the bear-proof dumpster door. It was chilly and overcast. I hooked up the dead battery to the solar panel, hoping it might charge enough to start the van. Michelle and I walked down to the lake front and checked out the marina at Colter Bay. The visitor center was nice, and we looked in to renting a boat, but the weather didn’t inspire confidence.

Girls in

We headed back to the campground and had breakfast. The girls had cereal and some gigantic and delicious blueberries that Kathy had brought, and Dave made cheesy breakfast sandwiches for us. What a great way to start a morning.

Michelle and I then tried to sort out the cooler, where we discovered that lots of the contents had frozen, even things like the lunch meat, eggs, and yogurt. We removed food that we wanted to eat the next few days. So in a way, the dry ice was successful, but maybe a little too successful.

The girls and I went back down to the lake to explore for a bit, then on our way back to camp (it had started to sprinkle), we saw a scruffy fox running down the road, listening to the grass on the roadside. Then, it pounced in to the grass, pulled out a mouth full of greens, and dropped a vole on to the pavement. The fox quickly picked up the vole, took a couple big bites, then swallowed it. And with that, it kept running down the road. What a sight!

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We all piled in to the rental van and headed towards Jenny Lake for a hike. We encountered a large herd of elk near the Moran Junction, and went for a hike along part of Jenny Lake. We took some photos, but then headed towards String Lake for another hike. We ate lunch before the hike at the trailhead, and the girls played the classic game of walking from fallen tree to tree without touching the ground. They befriended a couple other kids who were there with their family, but had to leave when they got their kayaks and headed for the lake.
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As we hiked up String Lake towards Leigh Lake, we encountered a bull moose cross the trail, then cross the lake. I was able to grab the girls so they could see it as it crossed the lake. While it was on the far side of the lake, munching on greens, there was a snap of wood and the moose jerked its head and looked in to the trees. I looked where the moose was looking and saw the back of a grizzly bear as it fumbled through the brush and soon disappeared in to the trees. Its fur was wet from shoulders down, and it’s back line was so very recognizable. Michelle wouldn’t let me cross the bridge to see if I could find it again.
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We hiked the rest of the way to the Leigh Lake portage, which was an amazing view. The portage is right by Boulder Island, which is a very picturesque scene with the Tetons rising behind it. We goofed around on some boulders, and the girls were able to climb to the top (with some help). We slowly made our way back towards the car, still hoping for another glimpse of the bear.
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It kept threatening to rain, so Michelle, Kathy, and Dave hung out at the campsite and the girls begged to go swim. I stopped by the marina to try and get a fishing license, but in Teton, you need both a park and a Wyoming state license, and they only come in 1-day and 1-year options. At 4pm, and knowing the girls were going to be swimming, it wasn’t worth the money. The girls did swim in the lake, which shouldn’t surprise me since I did the same at their age. But as they swam, I watched a huge bank of clouds slowly engulf the Tetons and pulled the kids out of the water as the weather turned ugly.
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We had Salmon two ways for dinner. Brown sugar glaze, and mayo/garlic rub. Both were delicious, and you can never go wrong with grilled asparagus and couscous. I love how well we eat while camping.

Wyoming Adventure, Day 2

We thought we were waking up early on day 2, but thanks to the time zone change and the incredibly effective curtains, it was actually 7:45am. We had planned to be on the road by then. So we woke the kids, took a quick shower, and hoped in the lines for the continental breakfast. It was… better than nothing. It turns out that if you wait until that late to eat, you’ll be joining everyone else at the hotel.

The van smelled horrible (like slaughter facility bad) and we picked up more dry ice to ensure that the cooler would remain cold. We tossed the cilantro because it froze and was very stinky. We did get on the road by 9:30am, but that delay meant that Kathy & Dave went from 50 miles behind us to 80 miles ahead of us, even though they were on the high route through Arco. Our route was uneventful, but it was fun to wind back & forth across the Snake River while Michelle read Percy Jackson. Good road trip reading.

We stopped in Twin Falls, ID for lunch at the Fred Meyer. We all picked out our own meals and the girls miraculously picked a rainbow of colors of mostly plant material. Everyone was full and happy as we left Twin Falls and drove across rolling hills of barley, wheat, and potatoes towards the back side of the Tetons. We decided to take the Pine Creek road. May have been a bad choice.

We were stuck behind a motorhome from Florida on a windy, small road, but the route was gorgeous. Eventually we passed the RV and had an unrestricted view of the valley as we climbed an ever steeper road towards Teton pass. Things started to warm up and we shut off all accessories, including unplugging all the phone chargers. The oil temperature light came on just as we were peaking at the pass, and the van really struggled to climb the last mile. I think we never got above 15 MPH during the last stretch, and Michelle and I were both very nervous and started to regret the scenic route. At times, we’d look up the valley and think “that can’t be the road. That’s way to high/steep!”
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We stopped at the pass to let the van cool down and to take in the amazing view of the valley and Wilson below. The girls bravely stood on rocks high above the valley while Michelle tried her best not to scream. It made me proud.

Wyoming Adventure

As soon as we started driving down the steep grade, the cool air was able to bring relief to the car’s temperature. But once the oil started to cool, the brakes started to warm. We kept the van low gear most of the trip down, but the air was full of hot brake smell, and we had no way to tell if it was us or the cars and trucks ahead of us. We finally made it down to the bottom and the van was back to normal. Once we were in the valley bottom, we made our way through Wilson, navigating between all the revelers on the Snake River, and made our way in to Jackson Hole. Kathy had said the town was busy, but neither of us was prepared for what a circus the town was.
Welcome to Jackson

I dropped the ladies off in Jackson so they could enjoy the town and I would set up camp and come back in for a 4th of July dinner. As I left town and rounded the corner and climbed on to the plateau, my heart nearly burst with joy as the Tetons came in to view. Seven months later I still get goose bumps as I write this thinking about the view. The mountains were certainly beautiful, but the sage, the aspen, the river, the grass, the sky all opened up some long dormant memories and I felt a feeling of belonging I did not expect. But this is why I wanted to come back to Wyoming. I took a picture, but as you can see, it does not do it quite the justice it deserves.
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The drive was amazing, and I was the first to get to see antelope, buffalo, etc, and texted back and forth with Michelle about what license plates we saw. I was greeted at the RV park by hosts from Oklahoma and Texas who were awaiting my arrival since Kathy and Dave had already arrived. Our site was in the L row near the bathroom. I set the camper up and moved the food in to Kathy & Dave’s trailer, and put the cooler in Dave’s truck. The food was still well frozen.

As we drove back towards Jackson to meet the ladies, the alternator sounded like it was working hard. 10 miles out of town, the battery light came on. We turned the AC off to Kathy’s dismay, and limped in to town. Right as we enter the town, the car died. I was able to restart it and pull in to a parking lot, where it died again. The battery and the alternator were toast, and it was the 4th of July and the next day was Sunday. AAA offered that they could tow us somewhere, but no one was open until Monday. Talk about SOL.

Michelle, thanks to the marvel of smart phones, was able to find and rent a minivan in less than 15 minutes. So while I was still swirling in despair, Michelle’s quick thinking meant that we weren’t stranded an hour away from the campers and stuck on a weekend. Crisis (mostly) averted.

We wandered around town and ended up going to a fancy Mexican restaurant that Kathy & Dave thought they’d seen on a Food Network show, but given that the show was supposedly about dives, this place must not have been it. The food was freakin’ delicious. I had carnitas tacos and two AC Golden lagers. The meal and beers helped me come down off a borderline nervous breakdown, but so did knowing that we at least had a car to keep us moving for the weekend.
Hatch dinner
After dinner, we made our way back to the campground, which kind of stunk. Someone’s sewer connection must have been loose. It was a little warm, but we opened up the windows and crashed.

Wyoming Adventure Day 1

Ready to launch
We woke up around 4:30am, finished cramming the last few bags in to the van, loaded up the cooler with dry ice, and fumbled around with the canoe and its parts until we were ready to hit the road. Only an hour late. 7am isn’t a bad start though, and we started the license plate game with a New Hampshire plate shortly after we left. The drive was gorgeous at that time in the morning, and we made it as far as Pendleton before needing to refuel and use the bathroom. We stopped at a Sinclair station, the green dinosaur logo, an old memory. We were able to climb the Blue Mountains with no problems, and I was relieved once we cleared the summit.

And we're off!

The view of the Elkhorns and the Wallowas was stunning, but the van was getting warm (it was already 92F), and we were behind schedule, so we had to scrap our plans for lunch in Boise and stopped in Baker City. We tried a few places and eventually ended up at a place called the Brick Yard, which was kind of like a sports bar and a Hard Rock Cafe. The food was decent, but the service slow, and given our missteps with other restaurants, the stop ended up being 90 minutes.

Wyoming Adventure
Ella at the brick yard

After lunch, we ventured further east, hitting the last bump of mountains before reaching the Snake River and Idaho. We would follow the Snake all the way to it’s source over the next couple days, so it was fun to share that with the girls. I even told them that if they peed in the Snake River near Jackson, it would eventually end up flowing by our home on the Columbia River on its way to the Pacific Ocean. The pee part made them snicker, but they also paid attention to it.

The speed limit in Idaho is 80MPH, which was a surprise because I was now suddenly even more annoying to other drivers. I increased my speed to between 65 and 70MPH, and we made it to Boise by 3pm. We stopped at Camping World to pick up a tablecloth for Kathy, and then explored Sierra Trading Post, where we each walked away with some great finds. The girls, some slip-on shoes (that they wore the rest of the trip), Michelle some skorts, and I got some cheap fly fishing gear, including some stupidly cheap leader and tippet.

The last stretch of the drive was somewhat windy, but the girls watched Dumb & Dumber (Michelle and I enjoying just the audio), dancing back and forth over the Snake River, and we rolled in to Burley around 8pm after a long day of driving. We grabbed dinner at Chadwick’s Grill and Asylum for a mediocre dinner that was surprisingly good after the long drive. We stayed at the Best Western, which was one of the most pleasant hotel experiences we’ve had. The pool and facilities were great, and we splashed and played for the last hour of open pool time with a lot of other happy travelers. The water felt exquisite after the long drive, and cooled us off. We watched a little bit of The Terminal before collapsing. 12 hours of travel down.
Troopers at Chadwicks

Maui 2014, days 5 & 6

Monday morning, the girls and I watched Bravest Warriors while Michelle was out for a long run. Hell, vacation is like one long Saturday, so why not watch some cartoons? We snacked on dry cereal, coffee, and milk & honey (the obviousness isn’t lost on us) and eventually finished off the leftover Chinese food (fried rice is the breakfast of champions). When Michelle returned, we went down to the shore to watch the eight or more turtles awkwardly trying to get themselves off the reef. The baby turtles are absolutely adorable.

So, we got a little later of a start, but we headed over to Keiki beach in the late morning sun. After setting up camp, the girls and Michelle tried snorkeling for a bit and I slipped away to try the Mala Ramp/Wharf again. This time I entered from the actual boat launch since it was empty. The launch is very easy compared to the reef, and I found a bunch of golf balls among the junk on the bottom. The visibility was poor initially, but once I rounded the corner, the visibility improved. All along, the reef and life among the rocks and poles was already pretty good. But when I started towards the derelict pier, the visibility improved and the reef teemed with life. The reef itself, growing on the collapsed hulking masses of decking, was spectacular. The variety of reef rivals anywhere I’ve seen on the island, and the odd structures created by the collapsed piers makes for a truly interesting experience.

I swam slowly out towards the terminus of the wharf, which is marked by a pole with a diamond sign (as indicated by the dude in the dive shop) and saw lots of fish – much bigger than in the places I’ve been on the trip so far, and in much bigger schools as well. There were some schools of Trevally (which look delicious) that easily surpassed 500 fish. As is somewhat common, turtles were also active, though not as easily spooked as in other places. Some of the younger turtles (adorable), were not nearly cautious enough of a dork in a white shirt who kept rinsing goggles and snorting air out of his leaking snorkel. I eventually arrived at the pole inidcating the start of the (former) wharf. The depths was too great for me to really do much since my cold was causing problems with equalization. Still, I tried a few dives, marvelled at the schools of goat fish, tickled a few urchins, and slowly worked my way back. I admit, I was bummed. Defeated even at not having seen a reef shark. The guy at the dive shop said he sees them almost 100% of the time. So as I worked my way back, I dove down to check out every overhang that looked like a good place to relax. Nothing. Though I did see some bastard divers go by with their “not having to surface for air” superiority. As I approached the bit of the still standing wharf, the visibility decreased quickly. The water was turbid and it made the snorkeling awkward and unpleasant. But as I crossed the reef back towards the launch, I came across a white tipped reef shark mellowing in a sandy patch between reefs. The excitement and trepidation coursed through my veins and I had to dive in for a closer look. The shark was a little over four feet long and just splendid in it’s movements. It didn’t care too much for my awkward advancement and tried to move away, but I kept following. After a good ten to fifteen feet of chase, it bolted and I was left alone, exhilarated, and wanting to see another.

But, I need to be fair and return to my family, so I returned to the boat launch, head above the skuzzy water, and walked back to see the family. They were all sunning on the beach, warming after a long snorkel. I tried to whisper what I’d seen but my excitement prevented the message from quietly getting to only Michelle and the girls heard. I explained what I’d seen, and how I tried to follow the shark but it had bolted and didn’t want me following. This seemed to appease the girls and we played “find the golf ball” while Michelle soaked in the rays and her book. Later, we headed out to snorkel together, though not intentionally, when I signaled to the girls that I’d found a turtle. I also found a brittle star fish that I showed the girls, but it was too much like a spider for them to enjoy. Michelle and Ella were able to enjoy the turtle from a respectful distance while I worked with MG on her whole breathing, standing, talking while snorkeling thing. She’s doing pretty amazing for a five year old, but the mask fit is admittedly poor and she was struggling with draining it and staying afloat. I think we might have figured out the draining thing, but we’ll have to try again to see if that works. After some snacks, we headed back to the condo and swam for a while.

Later, we headed out to dinner at MaLo down the street. Amazingly, we got in without a reservation and were seated outside. We started with Mahi Mahi ceviche, which was amazing, and played some classic dinner games. Ella and Michelle had a more emotionally (and productive) game where “I am Happy” was the answer to the hangman game, while MG and I struggled with the few words she knows how to spell and the whole “order” of things. But she beat me at tic-tac-toe. Dinner itself was only so-so. Michelle’s pasta dish was decent, though she kept giving away the good bits of seafood to the girls, who had ordered noodles with red sauce. I got the stir fry instead of the whole fish, which I regret. It was above average for Lahaina, the service and view were great, but we finished the day with some excellent shave ice and ice cream before utterly crashing for the first solid night of sleep (for the kids) thus far.

Day 6

I woke up this morning to roosters crowing. Hard to ignore. The girls trickled out and we watched cartoons, had coffee and milk/honey, and lazed about until Michelle got up. She egged me on to go for a run, so I did. I ran upland a bit, running for a while on the old railroad tracks, then winding up through some business park loops. I was lost, but I managed to get a good view of Lahaina from up top before returning to sea level and breakfast.

The high surf warning officially ended this morning at 6am, but the wind was a little high still so we headed south to Kehei and Kamaole Beach III where we’d had such fun two years ago with the Eivas. There was still wind and surf which obliterated the visibility, but the girls had an absolute blast playing in the water. The waves were predictable, reasonable, and fun. Ella took to boogie boarding like a champ, and was in the water on her own for a good two or more hours. Maddie had limited luck with the boards, but was content to be out with her sister for long periods of time. Michelle and I lounged up-beach, tried snorkeling in the sand, and enjoyed our kids. I broke out one of the coconuts that the girls had harvested a few days back and opened it up with my knife – a laborious and blister-causing task, but the coconut and its water were delicious. Michelle, MG and I savored the liquid, then enjoyed large slivers of coconut. You could tell the other people on the beach were hella jealous. The knife alone wasn’t adequate to open the coconut, but we’d brought along a combo beer/wine bottle opener and I used the corkscrew to open up the nut to drain the liquid. So, future note to self stranded on a desert island – take a pocket knife with a corkscrew – or at least an awl.

We played in the surf as a family, built a giant “sand bath” with walls and towers, and dug a trench for water to fill the tub. And we might have had our fill of rays for the day. As we drove home, it became clear that we’d pinked up a little more than expected. Not burned, but close. Careful.

We finished the day with more Mahi Mahi and shrimp tacos that were devine. A recommendation for everyone out there – fall in love with someone who likes food as much as you do, but cooks even better than you do. We savored the grilled shrimp and Mahi Mahi as the sun set, watched a little bit of Babe and (ugh) the Voice, then everyone crashed hard. In fact, I need to go crash with them now.