Thursday, July 31, 2014

We'll Always Have Wyoming

If you have never been to Wyoming before, I really think it's worth a trip. It is one of the most beautiful places I have ever been (although to be fair, I haven't yet been to Santorini, Greece). 

Wyoming sunset as we drove west.

Wyoming is the least populated US state, which probably helps it maintain it's natural beauty. It's mostly just pastures - ginormous ones, and blue, blue expansive sky, with really cool geological formations.

Spotted lots of wild antelope.

This person's home has an amazing view...with horses!

All the happy horses we saw, rekindled our desire to go horseback riding (both Mike and I grew up riding horses). We'd see a herd of horses galloping through a field, and it felt like being in a wild west movie. 

part of the Teton mountain range, in Bridger-Teton National Forest

The Continental Divide Trail goes through this part of Wyoming. It's about 3,100 miles long, from Canada to Mexico. I hope one day to hike part of it. It goes through some of the most gorgeous national parks, including Glacier and Yellowstone.

The Grand Teton mountain range.

The scenery kept getting better and better, the further into Wyoming we drove. We saw a bunch of cars pulled over to the side of the road, so we stopped to check it out, and it was a wild buffalo herd!

wild buffalo herd off in the distance

a close up of the buffalo, although they're still a little difficult to make out.

We finally arrived at Jackson Hole, Wyoming, which is a skiing, snowboarding, and general outdoor activity resort town, much like our new hometown of Bend, Oregon. Only, Jackson Hole is WAY more crowded. 

Antlers, anyone? There were four of these surrounding the main park.

Since it's at 6,500 feet elevation, and a valley, Jackson Hole is disturbingly hot in the summer and cold in the winter. But it's close to the Grand Tetons, Yellowstone National Park, and tons of dude ranches. It's also got the biggest herd of wild elk in the world, thanks to the National Elk Refuge, hence the antler sculptures (pictured above). Elk shed their antlers every year, so no harm was done to the animals to make that art you see.

After a delicious lunch and a sample of the local root beer, we headed over the border to Idaho. One more state and we're home!

Root beer from Grand Teton brewery

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

The Long Road Home, Part One

The ride home to Oregon took only 4 days, but when you're seeing new stuff, in new places, each day stretches out for forever. If your relationship is in need of a recharge, being on the road will give you plenty of time to bond and talk! There's also plenty of time to practice patience, compromise skills, and communication. 

Our first day on the road, we pretty much busted through Wisconsin and Minnesota, with only a couple stops for vitals. 

Wisconsin's pretty, but also pretty boring.

Our first stop was Sioux Falls, South Dakota, and we got in early enough to visit the falls from which the town gets its name. The water pours in levels, over Sioux Quartzite rock, which is super hard and was formed from the weight of the ancient sea that used to cover the whole area. It's so hard it doesn't erode (very quickly, anyway).

The Big Sioux River has been flowing over this rock for 10,000 years.

A mother duck and her 3 almost grown ducklings - so cute!

The next day, after passing what seemed like the 100th sign for fireworks, Mike couldn't resist, and we pulled over to buy some!

If there's one thing South Dakota has a lot of, it's fireworks, and dead animals (both roadkill and taxidermy).

The local Cabela's. They also had a lion, zebra, buffalo, and many other sad dead animals.

A local taxidermy shop. They were also selling a complete Playboy collection.

On the bright side, the whole state had the cleanest public bathrooms I've ever been in. I know I talk about bathrooms a lot - what can I say? A clean bathroom is super high on my list of priorities, and I appreciate them. A big "thank you" to the good people who clean bathrooms, and clean them well. Not everyone takes pride in their job, and I salute you!

Being on the road totally allows for spontaneity, which is awesome. I just love pulling over when I see something interesting. Side note: this is one of our compromise moments. While I love to stop, Mike hates it, so we only do it sometimes...which means I didn't get to feed prairie dogs at the Prairie Dog museum. Oh well! Maybe next time...

But, since we'd both never been to an Indian reservation before, when we saw the sign for the Lakota Reservation and museum, we pulled right over. 

Bear claw necklace and mittens (circa 1890).

In a teepee - surprisingly cool in the hot sun, thanks to the top opening.

Spoons and ladles shaped from horn. It takes SO much work to make one of these.

Traveling across the country definitely shows you how awful Americans were towards Native Americans. Everything we passed was a massacre site, or a place that was fruitful and productive before pioneers and settlers arrived. The best thing I can say is, at least now they're educating people about it. We learned little bits of history that we never knew before. I think we might be a little sadder for it, though. There were definitely reflective, silent moments during our trip.

After the museum, we crossed the famous Chamberlain Bridge and headed to the Badlands National Park. 

The Chamberlain Bridge, which crosses the Missouri River.

Mike at the wheel! Awesome Badlands rock formations in the background.

The Badlands span 244,000 acres of pretty desolate terrain. It got its name from French fur trappers who found it pretty rugged and lacking in water. Oregon actually has its own Badlands, so it's not the most original name!

Back in the day, they had all sorts of animals - bighorn sheep, black-footed ferrets, bison, and foxes. All of these animals had to be reintroduced in the 60s, because of course, humans destroyed their environment, and they got crazy domestic diseases from dogs and whatever. But now their populations are being managed by scientists, who estimate the park can sustain about 300 sheep and about 60 or so bison. And, the Badlands is the only place in the world with a self-sustaining population of black-footed ferrets! 

We tried the local cafe, which had a frybread "taco" with seasoned ground bison. It was a little too Americanized for our tastes, but it was filling!

The views of the Badlands spires were stunning. They have beautiful stripes of color from layers of sediment, formed over millions of years. But if you want to see it, you better get here, because they erode at a rate of 1 inch per year. 

the view on the drive into the park.

the spires seen from the parking lot of the Badlands Park cafe.

It would totally suck to be a pioneer in this area.

After the Badlands, we stopped at Mount Rushmore. We were eyeballing a huge thundercloud that looked ominous and threatening, but we made it to the monument before the storm broke. It made for a couple awesome pictures. 

a moody and dramatic sky behind Mt Rushmore

A shot of the right side. You can actually hike it, if the weather's nice.

We got ice cream at the cafe, which is the thing to do up there, because Thomas Jefferson is credited with the first ever ice cream recipe. But he only made vanilla - boring. We got mint chip. And then the deluge of rain started. 

We made it down off Mt. Rushmore and out of the Black Hills going like 10 mph, with our hazards on, until a crazy ass hailstorm started in with the rain. In July. It was so intense that we couldn't see, and had to pull over on the side of the road. I took a video, so you, too, can experience what it was like in our van during the hailstorm! 

This was the pile up of hail on the windshield wipers and on the street. I think it was mostly the noise on the van, though, that freaked us out. I thought for sure the hail would dent him, but Big Willy held up like a champ.

This was our second summer hailstorm. What a year this has been so far! The storm subsided after about 15 minutes, and we headed onward into Wyoming, through a mud river. 

Once we got through the craziness, Wyoming was like entering a promised land. It was a very welcome calm after the storm.

Hello, Wyoming. I don't have words.

I'm not religious, but I can see how people who live in these remote areas, are. They live with the unpredictability of nature, somewhat isolated, and with a lot of things outside of their control. I can definitely understand a need to have an explanation. Plus, it is just SO beautiful out here, that you can't help but feel a sense of awe. The world feels unexpectedly delicate and so vast. It is truly spiritual.

Up next: our adventures through the Grand Tetons, a nuclear power plant, and Craters of the Moon National Park!

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

My Kind Of Town

The view of Chicago from our flight in.
It's that time in my life - the time when your parents tell you to get all your stuff out of your childhood house, because they're moving/downsizing/ready to turn your room into a home gym-craft room-etc.

You know the stuff: high school yearbooks, stuffed animals, a box of pictures of the ex (or exes, as the case may be), mix tapes, participation awards for that one time you joined that one club, and in my case, boxes and boxes of journals, full of childhood dreams, teenage angst, and early 20s apathy. 

And so, Mike and I found ourselves in Chicago, knee deep in nostalgia. My nostalgia, anyway. 

Last time we were here, it was bitterly cold, and his introduction to the windy city was a quick tour of the sights, pointed out from the comfort of the car. It's no surprise he felt kind of blah about my hometown. 

This time, I was determined to show him how awesome it is here. We took the train down to Union Station, and cabbed it to Michigan Avenue. First stop? Mike's favorite store, where he got a souvenir Chicago t-shirt.

This makes the 3rd flagship Burton store we've visited!

Then we did the parks, and the Cloud Gate, also known as the Bean. Seriously. It's on Google maps as "The Bean."

Cloud Gate - a.k.a. "The Bean," by sculptor Anish Kapoor.

And of course we had to visit Buckingham fountain, also famous for being in the opening sequence of the TV show, "Married With Children."

On Saturday, my mom treated my sister, Mike, and I, to massages. We had lunch at Bob Chinn's Crab House, and Mike also got to cruise around and bond with my Dad, in his DeLorean. Later that evening, we went to the Phish concert at Northerly Island. To quote Ice Cube, "I gotta say, today was a good day. "

From Mike's FB. I forgot to take a pic of him in the car!
Phish playing on the right, in purple/pink, with Chicago in the background.

After the concert, at the harbor

While we were taking the water taxi back, Navy Pier's fireworks were going off!

On the way home, we passed a White Castle. Mike had never been to one and wanted to go, so I reluctantly turned into the drive through...

"Just order me whatever I should get."

One bite into a slider with cheese, and Mike's like, "what IS this? Is this meat?"

"It's steamed meat."

"Steamed meat?"

"That's how they do it, that's their thing!"

"This is disgusting! Why didn't you warn me?!"

"Why do you think I didn't order anything for myself?"

And thus ended his White Castle experience, never to be repeated again.

On our last day, I got to catch up with lots of family friends that I grew up with, who all have their own kids now. Although I feel exactly the same, I guess I am getting older! It sort of sneaks up on you. 

I'm the third from the left, in between my sister and brother. Pic by Bill Kwan.

To top off our awesome week, my Dad decided his van would like Oregon. So we skipped out on our flight home, loaded up my childhood belongings, and we're on the road back to Bend with the newest member of our camping fleet! I would like to introduce you to: Big Willy. Road trip post coming up next!

Mike and I, about to hit the road in Big Willy! Pic by Bill Kwan.

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Disconnecting...Just For A Minute.

Mike and I love our internet. It ranks way up there on our "must" list, right behind electricity (only because that's necessary for the internet), and right before air conditioning (who needs it when you can Google "how to stay cool?"). 

But without being disconnected, you can't fully appreciate being connected. And this is totally one of the biggest reasons we love camping. Camping reminds us to be grateful for everything we have in life - our health, running water, electricity, our pets, our world, and of course, the internet.

So on a random weekday, after we'd spent hours silently staring at our respective lap tops, we decided to take off and explore one of the Cascades lakes - a series of lakes and reservoirs off the Cascades Lakes Scenic Byway. I immediately started planning the food, because if you're car camping (versus backpacking), there are no excuses for eating crappy food. I mean, you need something to make you feel better about having to deal with a pit toilet. 

Fresh figs and honey goat cheese, wrapped in prosciutto. We're fancy camping!

Cheating at dessert, thanks to Trader Joe's

We decided to go to Crane Prairie Reservoir, which is waaaay on the other side of Mt Bachelor (but had promises of few mosquitoes and an amazing view). We passed about a million other campgrounds on the way there. The really great part, was that even though this was one of the furthest campgrounds from our house, it still only took us an hour to get there. All these super close, beautiful places to explore, are totally the reason we picked Bend, Oregon as our new home.

Crane Prairie Reservoir with the Three Sisters Mountains in the background.

There are tons of sites (140) at this campground, and we probably counted only 15 campers other than ourselves, so we had our pick. We ended up choosing a site that backed up to the forest, hoping we'd see some wildlife.

Our campsite (left), flanked by an enormous downed tree. I loved how the
tree was growing in the rock and still has boulders entwined in the roots!

The forest was really beautiful and since sunset is so late up here (around 9pm), we had lots of time to hike around. We looked for mushrooms, but the ones we found were sort of dried out, as it hasn't rained up here in a few weeks. But I'm not complaining! I love being on the dry side of Oregon.

Exploring rock formations near our campsite

What can I say, I love tree stumps.

Searching for a good spot to fish

We only spent one night and headed back to our pets early the next morning, but not before Mike caught these beautiful pictures of the sunrise:

love the mist off the lake!

We returned home from this beautifully cool alpine lake to a heat wave back in Bend. A house without air conditioning, that can be deadly for bunnies. So we bought SJP an air conditioning unit, and in the meantime, made her an ice cube tray, which she greatly appreciated!

SJP in her ice bath. She loved it and licked the ice cubes.

SJP's freshly cleaned pen with the air conditioning unit. She is one lucky bunny!

We needn't have worried about the heat, because later that week, it freaking hailed. One second it was 85 degrees out, and the next thing I know, Mike's calling me from outside, "I think it's hailing!" 

And now we're off to Chicago, where they're having a cool summer. Climate change, anyone?