Summer Adventure 97

My girlfriend Cathy and I decided we wanted to take a long road trip for our summer vacation this year. We planned an ambitious route from the Bay Area to visit some of the country's most spectacular national parks and monuments in Oregon, Montana, Wyoming and South Dakota. This included places such as Crater Lake, Glacier National Park, Yellowstone, Devil's Tower, Mt. Rushmore, Badlands National Park and Pine Ridge Indian Reservation. The trip took us 16 days and 5000 miles through 9 states. We stayed in a variety of accommodations such as our tent, cabins, bed and breakfasts, motels, and hotels listed on the national historic register.

Mt. Shasta, CA
We left Sunnyvale on Saturday morning July 19th in my 1996 Pontiac Grand Am with a full trunk and a large luggage compartment on the roof. We drove on I-5 towards the Oregon border.

We passed over beautiful Lake Shasta and then passed Mt. Shasta. There were some clouds around the summit and I thought I saw King Shasta sitting in a throne of clouds.

Deep Reflections

When we got to Crater Lake we had some time before dark so we decided to drive around the lake. This was my second time to the lake. I went cross- country skiing there in December 93. There was quite a bit of snow then but I didn't expect it this time. We drove around the lake and watched the sun begin to set. During sunset we stopped at an overlook and had our dinner - a nice salad and garden burger fresh off our grill.

When we awoke in the morning the lake was completely calm. There were perfect reflections of the surrounding steep alpine terrain in the deep blue water. It was difficult to tell when you were looking at the sky, the water or the mountain.

Crater Lake

Crater Lake
Crater Lake was created by the tremendous eruption of Mt. Mazama on this spot. It left a caldera that is almost 2000 feet deep. The water in the lake comes from snow and rainwater and is one of the clearest in the world. It is this combination of clarity and depth that give Crater Lake that incredible shade of blue. Sunlight penetrates much deeper than in other bodies of water and the light reflected back is a purer blue.

It is easy to see why the Native Americans used this area as a spiritual sancturary.

The only boats allowed on the lake are operated by the National Park Service or research scientists. We went on one of the NPS boat tours. In order to get down to the boat dock you have to follow the Cleetwood Cove trail from the edge of the Caldera. It drops over 700 feet to the water. Climbing back up is equivalent to walking up 150 staircases in a 75 floor building. It was definitely worth the hike. The view from the surface of the lake is truly awe inspiring.

The Assault of the Sprinklers

We left Crater Lake with our sights on Glacier National Park. That night we got as far as Spokane, WA. Before we left town in the morning I wanted to stop by Cliff Park. I had heard that there was a nice view of the whole city from there - but no one warned us about the sprinklers. The highest point in the park is a grassy area on top of an old volcanic cone. As we started to get close we noticed that the ground was pretty wet...just then a thick stream of water circled our way. We watched and figured out the frequency of the sprinklers and then went for it. We got to the top and were able to see the view but we kept on having to move around in a circle so that we wouldn't get soaked. So much for pictures.

On the way to Glacier we stopped by the National Bison Refuge in Montana. The refuge is situated on a hill looking across at the Mission mountain range. There are about 500 bison there grazing in the fields overlooking the field - they seemed to be enjoying themselves.

After the refuge we had to drive around Flathead Lake. It is the largest lake east of the Mississipi - and I believe it. It looks like a great place to vacation and relax. When we got around the lake we were almost in Kalispell, Montana.

Sunset Rainbows

As we drove into Kalispell there was a thunderstorm brewing on the horizon. I realized that it's been a while since I've seen real mountain weather. In the distance I could see lightning tearing across the sky - splitting and cracking as it went. We debated whether to eat in Kalispell or drive another 45 minutes and eat in West Glacier where the B&B was located. The clouds quickly advanced on Kalispell. Suddenly it began to rain. In a few seconds it was raining very hard. I was just thinking that the sound of the rain hitting the car was loud when it got much louder. The rain had turned to hail the size of marbles. Not wanting to damage my car I looked for shelter. We quickly found a bank drive-thru with a car port. We waited out the hail and lightning in the safety of our temporary refuge. Our decision had been made for us - we decided to eat in Kalispell.

Around the corner we found a family resturant and took a window seat. While we ate, the storm cleared and the sun began to set. During the deep red and purple sunset there were parts of rainbows throughout the sky. You could see the rays of light from the setting sun illuminating the higher clouds and in the distance there was an occasional flash of lightning. A very fitting end to our first day in Montana.

After dinner we found our way to Mountain Timbers Lodge on dark foggy roads. It is a classic Montana log cabin that has views into Glacier National Park. Everyone was already asleep and we found our way to our room.

In the morning we had a breakfast of melons and an egg casserole and headed into Glacier. We drove over the spetacular "Going to the Sun" road through the park. There were many incredible vista points and breathtaking views everywhere. The water in the lakes is a deep emerald green. This comes from the "glacial flour" produced by the glaciers slowly scratching away at the mountainside.

That night we went on a boat tour of St. Mary's Lake. The ranger turned out to be from the Bay Area. One of islands we passed was the site of a movie set a few days before. Robin Williams was filming a movie called " What Dreams May Come" which should be coming out next year.

The next day we went for a hike in the Many Glacier Area of the park. We hiked under blue skies with big puffy clouds slowly passing over magnificent mountain valleys filled with snowfields, forests of fir trees, rocks covered with lichen and cool waterfalls. We went as far as we could until we got to a spot where "the snow bridge was out". We hiked back to the Many Glaciers Hotel and had a wonderful dinner. Next time I would like to stay at the hotel for a few days.

Glacier National Park, MT

Lane sharing with a large hairy mammal

We left Glacier and drove south through Montana to Yellowstone - which is about 450 miles away. At the entrance the ranger told us that there was construction and one of the roads was closing in 15 minutes - if we didn't make it we would have to drive an extra 75 miles. Well, we didn't want to do any more driving that day than we had we were trying to hurry. A few miles down the road the van in front of us started to slow down quickly. At first we couldn't see why but then Cathy said "There is a large hairy mammal in the road". The van sped up and pulled away and we saw a very healthy full size bison with a large beard. He appeared to be running along the side of the road. I slowly approached, drove parallel with the bison for a minute and then accelerated down the road - we still had to make it past the construction before the road closed. The bison pulled out into the middle of the road behind us although I didn't see him signal. We barely made it past the road closure.

This was only the first of many encounters we had with wildlife in Yellowstone. Yellowstone was the first national park, established 125 years ago. Since then it has become a refuge for many types of wildlife. It is very common to see elk, moose, bison and deer. I was very impressed by the sheer size of the Park. It's so big that it could take hours to drive from one part to another.

We stayed our first night at the Old Faithful Inn. The main building is the largest log structure in the world. It was built in 1904 with knotty pine logs and branches. The bathroom in our room was covered in tiles that had patterns of animals - buffalo, deer and bear. The second night we stayed in our tent and the third night in a cabin.

Clear Lake, Yellowstone
We went on our biggest hike in Yellowstone at the canyon area. In the distance of three miles we encountered a forest, a beautiful alpine lake, a bed of hot geothermal pools, a swamp and then the rim of a huge gorge. At the end of the canyon are two waterfalls - the upper falls is 109 feet high and the lower falls is 308 feet. The canyon walls were made up of these unbelievable pastel colors.

We left Yellowstone and drove east through Wyoming. The first major town you reach is Cody - named after Buffalo Bill Cody. At one time he was a very wealthy man in Wyoming. We ate lunch at the Irma Hotel which he owned. He died in Denver almost broke and was buried there. I visited his grave on top of Lookout Mountain when I lived in Boulder.

The Devil's Lightning

Devil's Tower is the mountain peak that was made famous by the movie "Close Encounters of the Third Kind" by Steven Spielberg. The formation is the remains of a volcano that stood on the spot. We stayed at a KOA Kampground that is literally 100 yards from the entrance to the monument. A violent thunderstorm rolled in that night and lit up the sky with lightning. The sight of the monument illuminated by the blue-white flashes was pretty wild.

Devil's Tower, WY
The campground actually shows the Spielberg movie every night right in the shadow of the tower. They have a movie screen hanging on the side of a building. During parts of the movie the wind was blowing so hard that the bottom of the screen was lifting off the wall. The combination of the wind, lightning and the movie itself made some scenes extra dramatic.

Crazy Horse Monument, SD
It is a couple hours drive from Devil's Tower to the Badlands/Mt. Rushmore area in South Dakota. It was a rainy overcast day when we got to the monument. The scuplture of the presidents is impressive but it was hard to appreciate after the incredible natural beauty we had just seen. We also drove down the road to see the Crazy Horse monument. The project is completely funded by private donations and will be the largest sculpture in the world when it is completed in 2050. So far they have the head mostly done.

The next day was another rainy day. We decided to drive into Rapid City and see a movie. We went to see Airforce One at Rushmore 7. After the movie we drove to the KOA Kampground in Badlands National Park. We checked into our kabin, relaxed, read and listened to the rain against the roof.

Badlands National Park

We were fast asleep in our KOA Kamping Kabin when we heard some rustling on the porch. It sounded like a wild animal was clomping around and pushig against the door. We cautiously approached the front window to peek outside and saw a little girl (maybe 6) trying to open the door. When I openned the front door she turned around to her mother and yelled "I'm sorry Mom" (actually it sounded like I'm sowwwy Mom). They were staying in the next Kabin and she got confused. It was the closest encounter we had with a medium sized mammal.

That day we drove through the Badlands. Millions of years ago this land was covered by a shallow sea. Pressure from the continental plates caused the land to rise and the sea was drained away. This was followed by years of erosion by several rivers. The result is a landscape filled with irregular ravines, fantastic ridges, low hills and cliffs that looked liked they were painted with soft brush strokes of red, brown, grey and white.

Badlands National Park, SD
We drove south from the park and entered the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation and stopped at Wounded Knee. Wounded Knee is the site where in 1890, US soldiers massacred 150 men, women and children. Perhaps 100 more people froze to death in the bitter winter when they fled from the army. The army considered the "battle" to be the end of the Plains Indian Wars and eighteen congressional medals of honor were awarded to the participating soldiers. Sioux leaders have remarked that they will not rest until those "Medals of Honor" are revoked.

It is a sobering experience to drive around the reservation. It is like a third world nation in the middle of the US. Most people are unemployed and are very poor. They are subsisting from welfare which is in the process of being cut (welfare reform). I think there could be some successful community development programs but the leadership would have to come from the federal government - and this has not traditionally been a good relationship. The native Oglala Sioux that we did speak with were very friendly. We bought a "dream catcher" from a 16 year old girl. The description of the souvenir was hand written on a scrap of paper. She didn't have an extra copy for me. We drove through the rest of the reservation and then to nearby Hot Springs, SD.

Hot Springs - Evans Plunge

In Hot Springs there is a public pool built on top of a natural spring called Evans Plunge. Water from the springs filters up through pebbles on the bottom of the pool. Five thousand gallons of water an hour flow into the pool and overflow into the river. There are three large water slides that empty into the pool. One is called "free fall" and is particularly steep. We had a lot of fun going on the slides and playing in the pool.

South Dakota was the furthest east we went. Now we had to start back home. It turned out that we had an extra day so we decided to drive back through Colorado. I wanted to take the opportunity to show Cathy around Boulder - where I used to live.

In Boulder we drove up into the surrounding hills. In one of the fields in Boulder Mountain Parks we saw eight deer - four of them were large bucks. That was more deer that we saw in Yellowstone.

Rancho Doro

On the way back we stopped at Cathy's brother Robert's house in Grass Valley. We liked his B&B the best - the price is right and they treat you like family ;-)

It was good to get back to Sunnyvale but it all seemed to go by too fast. I think next time we might fly into Jackson, WY or Kalispell, MT, rent a car and spend a week in the park.