Friday, August 22, 2014

Tourism, Day Four: To Mark it, to Market

My apologies for the long delay between the first part and this next installment in the accounts of my late spring break. If you were anxiously awaiting the further tales of my peregrinations, I will say this to you: WHAT THE HECK IS WRONG WITH YOU? GET A LIFE!

But seriously, I've been a bit out of commission, since I got back from the trip. At first, it was simply the struggle for my legs to recover from the abuse they suffered, and then it was (and is) the cough. There is no confirmation that the nasty bark I developed was pertussis, but it had all the hallmarks, including, for a time, the whooping gasp for breath amid long spates of coughing. Since I was isolated from others who might not have had their inoculations updated, and, since I was showing (SLOW) signs of recovery, we decided there was no need to run the blood test and put me back on another federal list, so my health expert and I agreed to call it the same old bronchitis I used to always get, and leave it at that.

Anything odd that I may have written or said during my peak days of suffering – anything odder than usual, that is – I will ask you to pretend you never saw, or pretend that my pages were all hacked.

Meanwhile, back to the travelogue.

Thursday, 29 May 2014.

Yes! Playtime in Seattle! And I have a dollar or two set aside to buy postcards! It was approved – nay, mandated – by my friend, as she wanted to make sure we were going to get to our ship in time for the cruise, on Friday. She likes to be over-prepared, as I do, and, since the tangle over directions escaping Mount Rushmore, she wasn't going to simply trust either me or the satellite guidance system. She wanted a dry run, to mark our route.

So, as soon as everybody was awake, we packed ourselves into the truck and headed into the Big City.

All my clearest memories of Seattle have involved this.

I had tried, early on, to bring up Google Maps and my old paper thing, but when she switched on her preferred guidance device, I knew there was no point in my pulling up any more info for a while.

We got lost.

We were trying to find the access point for the pier, so that we'd know where to drop off our bags, and, perhaps, to park. The satellite guidance systems directed us to some point with approximately correct address, but at the top of a hill, with several rows of houses and apartment buildings – plus a tree-lined bluff – between us and beyond, were we got the sense Puget Sound must lie.

After going around in circles for about twenty minutes (that's in addition to the roughly 65 minutes required to travel the fifteen miles from our motel in Renton), we came upon a sign directing us to our pier. It was precisely opposite where the electronic system indicated it would be. We took our left turn at the stoplight, drove the overpass, and looped around to the empty slip which would, tomorrow, be filled with our magical transport. Today, though, it had bunches of construction equipment and men in hard hats shuffling around on the dock.

Satisfied that we knew, at the bare minimum, where we were going to embark, we headed back into the heart of the city. Well, actually, we headed for Pike Place Market, because the boys wanted a drink (it wasn't even noon, yet, but I suspect the nephew was looking to push his aunt's buttons), and to see if they could score some of that federally-frowned-upon weed that they'd heard was going to be legal to purchase and use in Seattle*.  We old ladies, on the other hand, wanted breakfast and a chance to see what was here.

She was up for souvenir shopping.

 We parked in front of this place. At the time of our arrival, the store wasn't open, and by the time we returned to our vehicle, I was too tired (and more than a little grouchy) to do any more window shopping. So, I never did confirm their advertisement that they did not, in fact, have babies – ugly or otherwise – in the store.

I must say, there are no stores with names like this in my little town…
 But I confess, the merchandise I saw from the window looked entertaining.
And I didn't see any babies – ugly or other – inside that store.
While my friend and the boys offloaded her wheelchair, I learned that parking in the city can be paid for by credit card, and that the meters wouldn't take my poor little prepaid card. After much swearing on my part, my friend interceded and used her card to pay for the parking, after which she found the plaque which said that those with valid state-approved handicap license tags could park for free.

Naturally, that set my friend off on another rant about wasted money. I apologized, but she continued for a few more minutes, berating herself for having not read the whole set of instructions first…sigh.  When she was finished, the boys headed off to find their jollies, and she and I took the nearby elevator up to the main level of the market.

Which was, as usual, crowded.

I knew it would be.

I hate crowds. But I promised I'd show my friend some of what I actually liked about Seattle, and what I liked was the art, the food, and the sense of fun. While there are plenty of places to find these things, Pike Place Market is really the most condensed pocket of all these things, along with so much more.  But the crowds meant that there were few times when I was comfortable taking out my phone…so I bought postcards of the place. As expected. Lots of postcards.

And then I bought us some lunch from Mee Sum Pastry –  the little vendor across the street from the main market, with the hombow. While I was in heaven with my curry-filled hombow (every bit as tasty as I remembered it), my friend grumbled about finding vegetables in her chicken filler. She picked at it and threw away most of what she had.

At least she didn't complain about this. How could one?

Well, it doesn't take long for my legs or my tolerance to grouchiness to reach their limits, so, after stopping to read the brass inset in the pavement nearby , and then spending a little more time looking at merchandise, I suggested that it might be nice to just rest and take in the view from the observation deck of the Market, while she tried once more to (a) contact her niece about tomorrow and (b) the boys to see if they were ready to blow this pop stand.

 I sat and looked. She wheeled about and vanished for about 20 minutes.

I sat and looked some more.

Eventually, we made our way back to the truck. The boys soon joined us there, and we packed up to head back to Renton, to our motel room. I put my feet up and massaged my knees while trying to avoid too much conversation, the boys packed themselves into the truck to look for more "liquid refreshment", and my friend spent a couple of hours doing her homework.

After some coaxing, I persuaded my friend to ask at the front desk if there were some affordable parking nearby… to which question she was informed that, since we were already staying there, and, since she was a disabled veteran, the fee for a week of secure parking would be no more than thirty dollars. That brought our total for two nights' stay and eight days' parking to $135 – a darned sight lower than the $179 that the cruise line was asking for just parking space for a vehicle for the week.  That made my friend so happy that she wandered the halls of the Renton Motel 6 until she found the laundry facilities, and she promptly returned to gather up clothes to wash.

When I'm happy, I like to simply sit and bask in the joy, or, given the opportunity, to cook and bake. When she's happy, she cleans.

We were able to arrive the next morning at the pier not smelling like we'd been camping for a week.

 Life was looking up.

*It wasn't yet. Not until the end of the next week. After we were en route home. 

missing pieces

My phone recently had a bit of a hiccup, and, it seems, in my trying to bring it back, I inadvertently deleted more than a handful of pictures from the phone's archives and their other hidey-holes. Naturally, this leads me to discover than many of the images I posted here on blogger went with them into the hereafter.

This is what happens when you try to do tech stuff when (a) you're still feverish, and (b) you're not really tech-savvy.

I'm doing my best to figure out what's missing and how much I can retrieve. Meanwhile, if you become frustrated to even the slightest degree of what I've felt, please accept my sympathy and apologies.

Thursday, July 10, 2014

It's Not the Cough

I hadn't had bronchitis in nearly a decade. Life was pretty good, at long last, I thought. And then came this summer.

After my exhausting trip out west and back, I guess my resistance to viruses was somewhat lower than it had been before my travels.

So I'm enjoying the thrill of having acquired a very nasty deep cough, exacerbated by the high pollen count triggering post-nasal drip, which, in turn, triggers a constant tickle in the back of the throat, which means a steady shallow cough, and, well, let's just say that a couple more months like this, and my abs should be bikini-worthy. Well, not really, but they're definitely getting an exceptional workout.

Several of my friends have also been hit with this bug, and I'm wondering if they discovered the one thing which I'd almost forgotten, from all my many earlier bouts with respiratory hell: if you're not careful, you can run out of toilet paper.

I'm pretty sure most people, when they hear that a nasty cough is going around, don't even imagine this could be a problem. After all, it's a cough. Just a cough. You know, a little uncomfortable lung activity. Clear the throat, force a little air past those tightening bronchi, all in the upper torso, nothing else (unless, maybe there's the possibility that you, say, throw your back out, or bite your tongue, or some such). And, if you believe people involved in show business, then a nasty cough sounds and looks a lot like Anne Elk clearing her throat.

(I saw a cough medicine commercial where the "sufferer" sounded just like that. Honestly. Real, deep, clear-the-lungs coughs resemble this in the same way that cow pats resemble fly specks. Both are unpleasant, but there are several orders of magnitude between the one and the other. But if the advertiser is treating only this level, I can see how it might be successful. For me, over-the-counter drugs are pretty much useless.)

But there is so much more to it than just a cough. There is that moment when the body, in paroxysm, works to expunge everything. Everything. That little bit of pressure you were feeling from your bladder just a minute ago…no longer.

It's a little bit like being a kid getting ready for a long trip in the car. "Did everybody go to the bathroom?" Even if you didn't think you needed to, you still needed to, because you never knew when the next opportunity would arise, and you couldn't predict how many big bumps there were in the highway before you reached that next rest area. Moms teach you these things. So does experience.

When given a choice of teachers, go with Mom.

And, so, for the sake of my wardrobe – and my sanity, such as it is – I requested that we increase our supply of tissue rather dramatically, just in case.

Because, despite Ogden Nash's claim
It's not the cough that carries you ough,  
It's the coffin they carry you offin 
as bad as it is, the part of bronchitis most maddening, to me, isn't really the illness itself.

It's trips to the potty that drive you dotty.

Saturday, July 05, 2014

Tourism, Day 3: Just Drive, She Said*

Wednesday. I woke for the final time a little after dawn. No bear had attempted to have me for a midnight snack, so I had managed to sleep in 90-minute intervals, between trips to the facilities, for about eight hours. I considered it a record.
Say goodbye to Yellowstone 
When the others finally rose, somewhere around an hour after me, it didn't take long to empty the cooler of the melted ice, reload what foods and supplies we could, and get on the road again. My friend took first shift behind the wheel, and we flew down the two-lane highway toward the North Entrance (or, in our case, exit) of Yellowstone National Park.

Not stopping, come hell or high water
The road ran along the valley floor, mostly parallel, sometimes crossing the Gardner River (a tributary to the Yellowstone River), which, due to the melting of the snows fallen only a few days prior to our arrival, was markedly active.
We stopped, come gas station
Not too far outside the park, my friend started complaining, again, about the cost of gasoline, and announcing that she was glad we were out of the park  and away from the ridiculously high prices. So, within a half hour of our leaving the park, she was looking for a place to tank up. We found the little town of Emigrant, and got service from a little green dinosaur.

While we were there, the attendant at the gas station suggested we cross the road to have a nice, tasty, nutritious breakfast at this little place…
And extended our stop, for breakfast.
I will admit, they made a mean smoothie, and the boys and my friend seemed to really enjoy their monstrously large cookies. I recommend the Wildflour Bakery and Cafe, if you are in the neighborhood. Not only was the breakfast really good, the service was exceptionally friendly and prompt. I rather wish we could have stayed longer and sampled more…I really wish I didn't have as many allergies as I do. I'd have happily wolfed down every single item on their menu…

But, alas, we had to get moving again. The keys were handed over to the "foster son", who still enjoyed driving long hauls. My friend, sitting in the back seat with her computer in her lap, was determined we were not going to be approaching Seattle after dark. She was also still kvetching about cost overruns, even while the rest of us were enjoying the magnificent scenery around us, and noting the occasional (read: frequent) hawk and/or eagle flying by.

Needless to say, I spent the bulk of the next few hours staring out the window and taking as many pictures as I could. (This is a small sample. Click any pic to embiggen.)

Somewhere after the caboose –

yes, I measure time around the sighting of a caboose in Livingston.  Cabooses are becoming rare, since technology has made them no longer necessary for practical purposes. Call me a romantic, call me a foamer – I like the darned things, and, someday soon, I will spend a night in one.

Anyway, somewhere after we sighted the caboose, my friend decided to check the phone/internet data plan, to see how much we had left. It seems that, there, too, had been considerable waste, in her eyes. The monthly plan allowed for 20 gigabytes, five of which did we have left to last the week. She first sent text messages to her family members, then called to inform them that they were to refrain from using any more…well, you get the picture. Everybody was grounded, and she was still grouchy.

I don't have a lot of room for complaint, though, since, as a gift to me, she has provided me with her "spare" phone and included me in her service, so I can play at being the photographer. Because I was part of the "problem" of heavy data usage, I offered to pay for her to add on another ten gigs, so we wouldn't have to worry about her time studying online or my uploading photos as we crossed this great country, but she would hear none of that. Seriously. Cash. Or my lean debit card and a quick phone call to upgrade.  She simply ignored the offer. I think she needed to keep a raw point to gnaw upon.

At any rate, somewhere along the Montana highway, I stopped automatically uploading my pictures to storage, and started praying I'd have enough memory in both phone and SD card to keep my next ten days of pictures safe.

And I have to say, there was a lot to record.

From the snow melts filling the rivers
to the very soggy drive across Idaho
Welcome to soggy Idaho
to the vast open expanses of eastern Washington, just outside Spokane,

I do not think they needed that sprinkler, just then.

to the Columbia River Gorge
coming up close

gorgeous from either side
and finally, into damp Seattle.

Somewhere about Spokane, I'd just about had it with the complaints about expenses, and the declaration that we were going to drive down into Seattle, then head up and out again to find a state park beyond Everett where we were going to camp for the night – a campground, I might add, which did not promise showers, or even running water for tent campers; a campground which, according to the most current weather reports, was experiencing a rare thunderstorm (not a simple Pacific Northwest rain, but with actual lightning), and was expecting more of the same throughout the night; a campground affording little extra comfort, and no savings.

I had read, earlier, that some hotels and motels in the Puget Sound region offered free long-term parking if you stayed overnight before your cruise, so I spent a few hours surfing the internet before leaving home, just because I had this wild fantasy that we could stay somewhere with a shower at least one night before our departure. My friend had said we couldn't afford that, especially since she was going to OH EM GEE have to fork over ONE HUNDRED AND SEVENTY-SIX DOLLARS for a week's parking…except she had decided at the last minute to ask her niece to ask one of her friends to park the truck in his/her drive.

That hadn't panned out. And she had still refused to make her reservations, because ONE HUNDRED AND SEVENTY-SIX DOLLARS.

I was still trying to work out the parking situation as Spokane faded from our rearview mirror.

I was cranky. I was tired. I was especially tired of hearing from the back seat about how expensive everything was. I mean, I know full well that cruises are insanely expensive – that's one of the reasons I had never before taken one. That's one of the reasons I'd tried to talk her out of taking me on this one. It's nuts to spend the equivalent of six months' income for a week's stay in a couple of rooms in a floating city, even if that city does float to some unforgettable locations.

So, anyway. Money. We didn't have enough of it, and I'd had enough of hearing about it. I'd had $140 cash in my pocket that I'd saved from my house-sitting in January, in case I'd wanted to buy some postcards on my trip. I pulled out five twenties and said to her, "If we can find a motel for under a hundred bucks, I'll pay for the stay. Let's just get into the city and sleep in a real bed again, and see where that takes us."

She hemmed and hawed, and then her nephew started in on her, as well, offering to pay all the cash in his wallet to cover the rest, if it cost us more than a hundred bucks. Somewhere around the Columbia River Gorge, she caved and started doing some calling around, based on research I'd done into cheap motels along the interstate.

After a dozen or so calls, she found that the Motel 6 in Renton was available (and, yes, it's a meth/crack heaven, but it was near the airport, so we thought there might have been a chance of parking near there, as well), and, in fact, they would allow all four of us to stay two nights for under $90. I saw a smile on her face as she spoke to the motel personnel.

I deemed it a miracle.

She booked the room, programmed the satellite guidance system, and we were in.

Driving through the rains, through Snoqualmie Pass, we came out the other side, into the greater Seattle area, to see the clouds break and our hopes rise a bit. They left the light on for us.

I slept in a bed that night.

I was informed the next morning that I snore very loudly, which I had already warned them about.

I felt no guilt. We were near our destination, we were washed, and there was even a laundry in the building.

Things were looking up.

We could even afford the time to be tourists in Seattle itself.

*In case you were wondering about the title:

Friday, June 27, 2014

On Crossing Boundaries

Today there are confirmed reports that a Mexican Helicopter crossed the border into Arizona and fired upon US border guards. Now, if you look closely at satellite images of the region, you can clearly see there is a road running parallel to the border, making it obvious to anybody where that border is.

In other words, this was not a "mistake".

But, hey, let's give them the benefit of the doubt.

Let's pretend that they had NO CLUE where they were, or how they got there. Or, as with the case of Sgt. Andrew Tahmoressi, helicopter traffic in the region was funneled north in such a way that there was no possible opportunity for them to turn back from the border, so, unlike our marine, they chose to fire off their weapons in panic as soon as the …erm…skyway opened up.

Yeh, that's the ticket.


This is not the first time people in official Mexican uniforms have made forays across our mutual border and fired at our law enforcement officers. Maybe some of them were accidental, but as more and more of this sort of thing is happening, and as officials in Mexico seem to be as enthusiastic as Obama in encouraging people to send gang members into our border states among the disease-ridden children, it's about time a few people in Congress start taking threats seriously.

And, why not start by suggesting that, as a gesture of good faith, since we've sent their "accidental crossers" back right away, since we've practically apologized to them for their stupidity/cupidity for years, maybe they can start truly atoning for their errors by (a) returning our hostage marine, and (b) getting their cops to stop taking more hostages hapless people into custody for making a simple mistake. And, maybe they can continue by actually defending the border correctly – that is to say, they stop people from coming in from their south and crossing the entire of their country unchecked as they make their way into our lands.

But I guess that's too much to ask. After all, our own government doesn't seem to give a tinker's damn about our border security, either, let alone care about the safety of those who are tasked with said border security, or those who live near the border, or those who have to pay taxes to support the agencies which offer "free" public aid to every last illegal border crosser who asks for it, even as the same government denies support to the veterans who made life so cushy for the people in that government…

I'm sorry. I fear I may have created a run-on sentence. But that's far less troubling than a runaway government supporting runs on our border.

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Tourism, Day 2: the Upside and the Downside, part 2

Let me see… where was I? Oh, yes, arriving at Yellowstone, and stopping at Fishing Bridge's visitors' facilities.

But let me backtrack a little.

Back to the entry gate, in fact.

As the very helpful ranger offered us the free entry, she also gave us a stack of papers, including the park's newsprint guide pamphlet, as well as a plain, unadorned sheet of standard paper with simple print, instructing us as to how to behave around the wildlife.  In bold ink it said "DO NOT APPROACH THE ANIMALS."

It pointed out that bears can run three times as fast as the average human being, so you probably wouldn't beat it to your car, if it decided to come after you.

It pointed out that bison have repeatedly gored visitors who underestimated their speed and strength.
The water looks so cooling, until you notice the steam in the background…

It mentioned that elk and deer were also capable of doing a body permanent damage. In fact, it said "Do not even feed the ground squirrels."

So, what did we see people doing as we first rounded the bend at the top of the lake? A pair of idiots far across the field, being ushered away from where they had been trying to approach a black bear. A little farther up, a bunch of photographers in the field right near some bison, and a handful of rangers gesticulating for them to get the hell back. By the visitor's center, somebody holding out crumbs to a ground squirrel.

Congratulations, humanity, you've produced people stupider than Darwin can account for.

It's a good thing I don't feel responsible for them, or I'd have been yelling.

Instead, I was shopping.

We popped in first to use the plumbing, then to ask questions at the visitor's center, and admire a lovely, gnarled old tree
Gnarly, dude!

followed by a short drive across the street to the gift shop, aka the Fishing Bridge General Store. The rest of the crew bought a pile of stuff…a blanket, a hat, some buffalo jerky, souvenir drinking glasses, and other odds and ends. I, the Big Spender, bought a magnet for Mom, and some postcards.

I asked the clerk at the counter which route she recommended for us to get to Old Faithful, since, already, my friend's patience with tourism was waning. She suggested we follow the southern route, along the lake,
One of the backwaters

as it was slightly more direct and awesomely scenic. We decided to take her advice. I have no regrets. Not when I got a chance to keep looking at this body of water.
The last days of May, and it was still this much frozen over, this year.

My friend…I can't speak for her.  Still, she says it was mostly worth it. Except for the horror of finding out that gasoline is nearly forty cents more per gallon inside the park than it is outside it. This she discovered at the visitor center at Old Faithful, while she and the boys filled in the roughly fifty minutes before the next eruption of the geyser by filling the tank.

She had a little trouble not bringing up the waste of all that money from having not gotten filled up in Cody when she told the boys to. She talked about it pretty much steadily, all the way from the walkway around the geyser back to the truck, and then that particular issue came back up repeatedly for the next two weeks.

On the positive side of things, though, the drive to and beyond Old Faithful
They were there
was stunning and filled with wildlife, especially bisons. We saw them at nearly every open glade.
Biffalo, buffalo bisons
The scenery was gorgeous, and, I imagine that a couple of years ago, it was lush and green

 at every turn, but there was still a lot of evidence of 

last year's big fire.

The drive north from Old Faithful, and then Madison and beyond, goes gradually from a cozy, nestled drive lined by trees and occasional bears doing what they do in the woods, to a suspended roadway daring you to drive recklessly faster than 10 miles per hour, lest you drop the twenty thousand leagues to the river at the canyon bottom, to, finally, the twisting loop to get you from the top of the Mammoth Hot Springs to the village below, where we were expecting to spend our night. 

Somewhere in the middle of the worst of it, Z decided to start pushing his aunt's buttons while she drove, talking about how drunk he wanted to get "right away tonight when we get to the campground". This pretty much guaranteed that (a) he wasn't going to get what he wanted any time soon, and (b) neither was anybody else. We were not going to stop at any of the scenic pull-outs to take pictures or stretch our cramping legs. Not that I really wanted to dangle my legs over the side of a cliff, or stand and inhale the steam of a sulfurous stack of hot springs' formations, but it would have been nice to document some of the awesome vistas for myself. 

Ah, well. At least I saw Mammoth Hot Springs from their base.

The campground was just a half mile or so beyond the edge of the village, around a bend and blocked from view by a lovely high hill.  As we pulled up to the entry, there was a short line of cars, which, at first, made us all a little anxious, but my friend got out, walked up to the office, and, after a couple of minutes, came back smiling.

Not only did they have a campsite we could occupy for the night, but it was really close to the restroom facilities, it had running water (no shower, though), and it was half price for disabled veterans. Our total savings on fees for visiting the park would end up almost making up the difference in the cost of a tank of gas. But that still didn't stop the "I told you so." 

Ah, well.  The boys and my friend unloaded the camp chairs, the coolers, and whatever else we needed for the night. Then, while they pitched the tents and put all the loose tasty bear temptations (other than my inconveniently, untimely messy self) into the truck cab, I went for a ride on my bicycle, just as the sun disappeared behind the hill. 

A few hours later, the sun went down. We had had a fine supper (I cooked. I'm good at that, especially when I can do it while bicycling across Cornwall) of all those varieties of hamburger patties and hot dogs they'd bought at the WalMart in Cody, cooked over a briquet-and-wood fire, and I was exhausted. My friend took a nap, then did some homework. I packed it in for the night around 8:30, long before dark, and long before anybody else in our party was even close to nodding off.  I didn't expect to sleep straight through the night, due to said bodily issue, but I was determined to get the as much as I could, in whatever way I could. I needed the rest, since I'd had a short, none-too-restful night in Cody. 

Besides, the next day was going to be a long one.

Deja vu all over again: Illinois lawmakers order 7 to testify over Quinn's anti-violence program

Once more, an Illinois governor is near the center of a corruption investigation

Illinois legislators have voted to subpoena seven former state officials to answer questions about a troubled 2010 anti-violence program started by Gov. Pat Quinn.…
The individuals include Quinn's former chief of staff, Jack Lavin, and Barbara Shaw, former director of an agency that was responsible for the $55 million Neighborhood Recovery Initiative.
Ah, life in Illinois is always so predictable!

HT: Iowahawk –

Saturday, June 21, 2014

Tourism. Day Two. The Upside and the Downside, part 1

On our fourth morning of vacation, but our second day of playing the tourists, I rose ahead of my companions. Somehow, between my irksome female issues and the fact that this was my first time sleeping in a tent since I was in my teens, I was not so greatly inclined to sleep in. The bed wasn't entirely uncomfortable, but I needed to be up every two hours to answer a call of nature, so when the night began to fade into predawn light, there was not much hope I could lie back and fall asleep.

The positives: we were camping at a very nice state park, where the outhouses were clean and with limited arachnid occupation. The small pump nearby provided clear, fresh water. Our campsite was accessible for wheelchairs and people who had difficulty traveling any real distance afoot. It was not raining or freezing, and, yet, it was too cool for many insects to bother us.

The negatives: we were downwind of that outhouse. We didn't get the camp pitched until far past midnight, so I was going to be exhausted no matter what. The natural occurrence my mother's generation so quaintly referred to "my communist aunt" came to visit with a vengeance, and was disinclined to ease up during the night. I was going through my hygiene supplies at a faster pace than I'd expected. I was feeling not only my age, but the stress of travel.

But with my oh-five-thirty run to the head, I saw the beginning of the day as it built behind the hills. That made everything else seem less significant.

Click any picture to embiggen it
I sat and ate a protein bar by the side of the hill, and enjoyed the view for an hour or so. Maybe more.
Sun's come up, now. Time to hit the road.
The thing about the cool climate in the mountains is, while it keeps the bugs at bay, it's not exactly comfortable for those who have circulatory problems. I enjoy it, because I'm well-insulated by nature.

My friend woke feeling every bit of the chill. It was then that she announced she had packed no warm clothes, only shorts and other summer articles. We were going to have to backtrack a couple of miles, into Cody, to the Mart of Wals.  That suited me just fine, since I was seeing my own necessities dwindling at an alarming rate (what is it about stress which makes one's body betray one?), so when the boys finally dragged themselves out from their bedding, we packed up the truck again and headed into town.

It took a while to do our shopping. Aside from the essentials we both knew we needed, I picked up a collapsible cane to serve as a substitute for the old club I'd left behind, plus a pack of baby carrots to nibble on all day, and she picked up some charcoal briquettes, a couple bags of ice, and a stack of groceries (mostly meat), for herself and the boys. 

Repacked, we set out again, heading past the local landmarks and gas stations, and into the wilderness once more. Well, it's not really so much wilderness, on the eastern approach to Yellowstone, until you get really close to the entry gate. Up until then, there's plenty of civilization leaving its mark on the landscape.

It's that nice middle ground every western-movie-watching kid dreams of.

As we neared Yellowstone National Park, the road went from valley runs 

to foothills, 

to the snowcaps

in less than an  hour.  By 11:00 we were at the gate, prepared to pay our $25 entry fee for the park. 

And there was more good news. 

The young woman working the booth asked which one of us was the disabled veteran who owned the license tags on the truck. My friend waved her hand from the back seat and said the truck and its plates were hers, and then asked, why the inquiry? The ranger informed her that disabled veterans have free admission to the national parks, and that admission includes all those who are in the same private vehicle.  

Woo HOO! freebies! We established that, for all the agony and frustration, sometimes it's good to be a disabled veteran or to have one as a friend and traveling companion.

From there, we headed inward, toward Yellowstone Lake, following the map included in the papers we were issued with our pass. 
Yellowstone Lake. Winter hadn't quite quit it, yet.
It was coming up on time to get out and stretch our mangled legs, as well as to use the head, seek nourishment and souvenirs, and generally take care of our needs. We made our way to the first major stop, the Fishing Bridge tourist center, with restrooms, information center, and General Store.

From there, to more adventure.

Friday, June 20, 2014

Monday On the Road, or, Across the Plains and Into the Hills, part 3

Ah, adventure! My friend, whose purse was virtually emptied while planning this trip, is a different sort of traveler from me. I like to take my time, stop and see as much as possible along the route to wherever I am going. She, on the other hand, likes to get there and get back. The stuff in the middle is an interruption to her plans.

Somehow, though, I managed to persuade her to stop a few places in the middle of our journey.  I already mentioned, in small detail, our first tourist stop on the road. I'd picked it out because I knew the boys would get a kick out of it.

Ah, yes. The boys. The family arrangement is not exactly a typical one. Both boys are in their early twenties, with all the youthful tendency toward indiscretion that might entail. One, I will call "Z" is my friend's nephew, with a developmental disability which leaves him perpetually, intellectually, around second grade. He is fun, enthusiastic, and eager when he wants to be, and, like any young boy, can become irksome and frustrating when he chooses to obsess on something. All in all, though, he is a good kid, and probably always will be.

The other boy, "A" has no actual kinship to anybody else in the group, but my friend took him under her wing when his own blood relatives failed him, so he views her as his mom and mentor. Under her guidance, he has gone from a pothead to a surprisingly industrious young man (although he still enjoys letting loose on weekends and holidays).

These are the boys who helped clean out my house. I owe them much. And, so, I worked to make sure the trip had stops they would enjoy. Thus, Carhenge. Also thus, Mount Rushmore.

As we climbed from the rolling plains up into the Black Hills, the weather was not so nice. The sky was as black as the hills, and the wind started to pick up. Driving into the town at the base of the mountain, I was afraid we'd have my childhood travel experiences all over again.

The rain gods love me. Or, maybe I'm just like that lorry driver in Dirk Gently's Holistic Detective Agency, and the rains think I'm a god.
Fortunately, as we rounded the hill and drove up to the visitors' center parking lot, the clouds parted and gave us a magnificent vista.

By this time, of course, my friend was in no wise inclined to climb a large facility on her own, so she broke out the chair, and we headed uphill.

I am told this mural in the visitor's center is to give us scale. All it did for me is give me the sense I was being watched, so I felt a strong desire to pick my nose, just for the helluvit.

We didn't stay very long – really, much as I like art and Americana, is there a good reason to stay all afternoon staring at this work? We bought some souvenirs (okay, I stocked up on postcards, and bought Mom a magnet for her collection), and then we hopped back in the truck and hit the road again, aiming to cross more of America before we rested for the night.
Originally, I had suggested a couple of free campgrounds as recommended by folks online. These places were within a rational distance of Mt. Rushmore…that is, as we set out driving, we'd have arrived at either of my top choices just before dusk, so we could pitch our tents using the remaining light from the sun.  Somehow, though that plan flew out the window. As we arrived at Buffalo, Wyoming and stopped to fill up the gas tank, my friend asked a police officer parked at the station about the best route to Yellowstone. She didn't want to be a whole two-plus hours out.

The officer of the law recommended following the road we had turned of onto, through town and out the other side, through the pass, and on up to Cody.

To hell with sleep before dawn.

Now, there are several different ways to get to Cody from Buffalo, but this kindly lawman suggested the scenic route right before sunset. Scenic routes are wonderful to take during daylight hours, if one is relaxed about one's schedule. One might remember that we were running short on both of these.

Impending glory
Nevertheless, other than a terrifying drive down a steep canyon with full dark upon us, at least we had a chance to stop before our descent to see this:

The rest was darkness. And driving. Somewhere past the turnoff away from Thermopolis, we hit a hare, causing my friend much grief, as she imagined thumper in the throes of a painful (if stupid, for bolting in front of us) death. As we arrived in Cody, WY, we saw Cinderella's coach turn to a pumpkin, and found out that KOA doesn't have a night manager there, or a nearby one with any manners after midnight. They lost a paying customer because nobody could be bothered to answer the phone after dark, and the toll-free number only gave us the home of the manager for a campground more than an hour in the wrong direction.

After checking a few motels and finding them to be booked solid due to the holiday weekend, we finally stopped at one of those 24-hour gas marts and asked for help. The clerk very kindly directed us to Buffalo Bill State Park's campground.

Somewhere close to 1:30 a.m., we bedded down.

I was up again by 5:30.  The rest of them rolled out by 8:00.