Welcome to our Adventure!

Al and I are thrilled that you have found your way to our blog. We hope you enjoy reading our journal and viewing our photographs of the natural wonder of our United States of America. Let's hit the road together!
Homer, Alaska

Saturday, September 27, 2014

Socializing, Kayaking and Fishing

These past three weeks have seemed very busy here in Wyoming. One of our couples left at the end of August and we've been pretty busy with bookings, so the work weeks have been busy. There had also been the extra, end of season work to be done. The guys did a week of painting, putting on a wood preservative to all the cabins, as well as Brad and Joanne's home and barn. Laundry has been busy with doing all the blankets, quilts, mattress pads and protectors, as well as flipping all of the mattresses. That's a total of 5 hide-a-beds, 5 king beds, and 30 queen beds! I've been busy learning the office routines in preparation for more office time next year. The lawns have been cut for the last time, and we are now entering our last few days here at the ranch for this season.

In our down time, we have had some socializing to do. Our good friends from Al's Sag Harbor Ambulance days came to Yellowstone to visit, and we drove up after work one day to have dinner with them. It sure was nice to see Ed and Judy Gregory again, and I feel badly that I didn't take any pictures! How is it that we always get so caught up in talking and eating that we forget to take pictures?? We had a nice dinner at the Lake Lodge Cafeteria in the Lake Village area of Yellowstone, and as we drove back to the ranch we had snow! Now this was the first week of September, mind
you :-)!

Our second surprise visit has a funny story to it. The Moran Fire department has a benefit BBQ lunch once a year the third Sunday in September. Brad and Joanne very kindly bought tickets for the whole staff to attend and have lunch together that day. I finished getting my plate of food, and as I was waiting for Al I was checking out the items up for silent auction. I noticed one item, a small child's chair handmade with what looked like a horsehair seat, and noticed a fairly high bid on it. Curious, I looked closer, and was quite startled to find that I recognized the name of the bidder...Ron Dacuk, and old family friend from back in Sag Harbor! The area code on the phone number was even the right area code for Sag Harbor, so we took a chance that it was him and called. Sure enough, Ron and his wife Jackie were on a road trip out here and had just left the picnic. How funny is that? We made arrangements to meet that night in Jackson for dinner, and had a splendid time catching up on the past four years. I just can't believe how things like that happen :-).

We had a wonderful breakfast the following Sunday at Jenny Lake Lodge with Carol and John Herr, and met their friends Patsy and Bob (volunteers at the Elk National Refuge in Jackson) and Jann and Barry, visiting full-time RV friends. After breakfast we all drove down to Jackson Lake Dam, in preparation for a float kayak down the Snake River. It had started raining, so rather than start out in the rain, we headed to Jackson Lake Lodge to wait out the squall in front of their cozy fireplaces in the lobby. About an hour later and the sun broke out, so off we headed.

Getting the kayaks ready..some of us had inflatables, others hard shells. As this was a shuttle kayak, the guys took off and left a vehicle down at our take-out point, Pacific Creek landing.

The current is strong enough that not much energy was expended in paddling...at least at this point!

Sometimes the current carried us around in a circle, and I got a shot of our scenery behind us...notice the clouds building behind Mount Moran...better keep an eye on that!

Our wildlife sightings were on the feathery side....common mergansers...

and bald eagles. Notice this one had flown down and caught his lunch. As we got closer, her grabbed it and took off up into the trees with it.

About halfway through our float, we approached tiny rapids to negotiate, and started hearing rumbles of thunder in the distance. At this point we picked up the pace, and started paddling as well as floating. It's not a good idea to be caught on the water in a storm!

We made it with no problems to Pacific Creek landing, and wouldn't you know it, the sun came back out again! We had a great time regardless, and many thanks to Patsy and Bob for being our guides. The Snake River can be a dangerous river to navigate if you aren't sure of what you're doing, and they suggested this section as a very mild but scenic float to do. Next year, we plan on taking a float trip with one of the outfitters and going further down the river.

In the area of water activities, we also had a guided fly fishing trip that we took on September 15. Al has tried fly fishing a bit in the past, in Colorado the summer we worked there, and enjoyed it very much. After we had our fishing trip back in July on Jackson Lake, where we brought home enough fish for all the staff to have a fish dinner, Brad and Joanne gave us a guided fly fishing trip as a mid-summer "thank you for your hard work" present. We were thrilled beyond belief, and were quite looking forward to our day on the river.

Our guide Steve picked us up in Jackson and we headed down to the Pritchard area boat launch. Once launched, we started floating down the Snake River as he demonstrated the techniques to fly fishing. Its very different from the bay fishing I used to do back in New York, but was fun in a challenging way.

Al had no problems picking it up...

and landed several beautiful cutthroat trout during the day. It was all catch-and-release, however, so no fish dinner this time.

The scenery was stunning, and where I did do quite a bit of casting, I was only able to land one fish...

but that's ok, I was content to enjoy my surroundings!

So that pretty much catches you up with the activities we have been pursuing. We are supposed to have a good-bye breakfast and hike with John and Carol tomorrow, but it looks like the weather is not cooperating, so it will just be a long breakfast. We have one more day of work here, Tuesday, and then Wednesday we pull out and head for Kentucky. We will be arriving at Green River Lake State Park on October 12, and starting work on the 14th. On the way we will be visiting friends at Chalk Creek, where we worked in 2012, and have a couple of days stay in a new state for us, Missouri, at Lakes of the Ozarks area. 

We've had a wonderful summer here in Wyoming, and are very much looking forward to returning next year. We couldn't have asked for a better place to live and work, the welcome has been huge and the friendships made I'm sure will last a very long time. Casey has really loved it here as well, and will be quite sad when we leave...it will be back on a leash for him! So we should be on the road again next time you here from me.

Friday, September 26, 2014

The Spectacular Beartooth Highway

Labor Day weekend we took our one and only overnight trip away from the ranch. I had read about one of America's most beautiful scenic highways, the Beartooth Highway, a 68-mile long National Scenic Byways All American road in northern Wyoming/southern Montana. Its been dubbed "the most beautiful roadway in America", so we decided to head up there and see for ourselves :-). Our friends John and Carol Herr thought it sounded like a nifty excursion and made plans to join us as they had Monday off for the Labor Day weekend holiday.

We met on a rainy dreary Sunday morning around 10AM and headed north to Yellowstone. It was actually a later start than planned, but we ended up having a minor veterinary emergency with Casey, necessitating a Saturday evening trip to Jackson to have him checked out. I'll spare everyone the details, but he is fine...most dog owners will understand when I say he was a little clogged up and needed his glands expressed...and we were able to hit the road as expected.

Our course went north through Yellowstone to Fishing Bridge area, where we turned east and went out the east entrance of Yellowstone towards Cody. It was a pretty steady rain all morning, so I have no pretty pictures of our drive through east Yellowstone. We made a few leg stretch stops along the way, as we both had our pups with us...John and Carol have an adorable King Charles Spaniel named Jimmy. We stopped at the Buffalo Bill Reservoir...

where we saw these really interesting rock formations
I really liked the diagonal striations of the rock wall. It very much reminded me of our excursion in Colorado, the Morrow Point Reservoir.

It was just a short distance from here to the town of Cody, where we made a brief pit stop at WalMart....our first time near one in three months :-)! We did a brief tour around Cody, seeing the Buffalo Bill Center of the West, and then looking for Buffalo Bill Village, as both couples have had offers of employment from them in the past. We thought it would be kind of fun to see what it looked like! But as we started heading north out of Cody to our overnight destination of Red Lodge Montana, trouble reared its ugly head again. John and Carol's car started having problems, and rather than head further away from a large town like Cody, we turned around to see if we could find a service station that could diagnose the problem. Remember, its now about 5PM on Sunday on Labor Day weekend; surprisingly, we did find an Exxon station with a service tech on duty, who was able to put the computer on the jeep and get a reading. Now I'm not mechanical or anything, so I don't remember what the issue was, but it was determined that they best stay put and take it to the Jeep dealer on Tuesday when they opened. Major bummer! Fortunately, we found a pet-friendly room at the Best Western, and once they got settled in for the night, we continued on up to Red Lodge. It was so sad seeing them stay behind! But I know if it were us (and I'm really surprised it wasn't!) I would have insisted they continue on as well. So we tracked our way northward through Wyoming, found a geocache as we entered Montana, and headed on to Red Lodge for our over night stay at the Yodeler Motel...seriously! It was an older establishment and pretty funky, but comfortable and reasonable which is what we looked for. After some pizza for dinner from Red Lodge Pizza Co (no we do not recommend, it was pretty awful), we collapsed into bed to rest up for our excursion along this most beautiful roadway the next day.
Breakfast the next morning was much better at the Red Lodge Cafe. An old-fashioned diner type of restaurant that looked like it had a good local draw...always a good sign. A hearty breakfast later and we were on our way to the BT Highway! I had downloaded several geocaches so we were planning on doing some caching along the way, but as I forgot the bear spray! there were going to be no longer hikes.

The Beartooth Highway (BT from now on) is the highest elevation roadway in the northern Rockies. It goes from a lush forest ecosystem to alpine tundra in just a few miles. The area boasts 10,000 mountain lakes, 20 peaks reaching over 12,000 feet in elevation, and 12 national forest campgrounds. This is one of the earliest overlooks, looking to the west.

Looking towards the east, where we came from. We're not close to being at the top yet!

Casey was having a stare-down contest with this chipmunk.

We stopped at this parking area and took a short hike down to the lake...easy viewing in case of bears...

and some pictures of the pups for those who have been missing them :-).

getting closer to the top...isn't it gorgeous?

It keeps getting more beautiful...

and as you can see, colder! The hats came out....

and gloves as well. This is at the actual Beartooth Pass summit, 10,947 feet high. The wind was blowing something fierce...

as you can see from Casey's ears blowing back! 

We started descending down towards Beartooth Lake, with a few short stops along the way to walk and let the dogs swim in the crystal clear lakes.

Beartooth Lake, with Beartooth Butte looking over it. The white-capped mountains were left in the far distance now.

We had an awesome view of the Absaroka-Beartooth Wilderness Area from the top of...
Clay Butte Fire Lookout. There was a geocache up here we had to find :-).

Beartooth Falls was another geocache spot...

requiring a short "steep" walk up towards the rapids at the head of the falls....

with another short "steep" climb up to the top of the hill. Yes, we started out way down at the sidewalk!

The falls were spectacular though, well worth the effort to see.

As we wound our way out of the forest, we arrived at the west-end town anchoring the BT highway, Cooke City. I don't know why I was expecting more, but this was pretty much it ;-).

We had a late lunch here at the Bistro Cafe. It was ok, fairly pricey for what we had but you have to figure where we are...miles from anywhere! After lunch we continued our drive back to Moran through the northeast entrance of Yellowstone. 

It was a long drive, and a lot to pack in in just two days. There were so many places you could stop and go for a hike, have a picnic lunch, even in Cody there's a couple days of things to see and do (good because poor John and Carol were stuck there for a few days before they could leave!). I had read that even though the BT Highway was only 68 miles, to leave yourselves at least three hours to do it due to the switchbacks and slow speeds. I think it took us 6 hours by the time we stopped at all the points of interests, picture spots and geocaching. I truly loved this drive and rank it up there in the top three drives we've done since going out on the road, the others being our jeep trip in Ouray CO and our drive along the Cabot Trail on Nova Scotia. For anyone not in shape for backpacking into the wilderness, its the perfect drive to see the spectacular scenery generally obtainable only by some strenuous activity :-). It should be on all travelers' bucket lists!

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Finally... More Kayaking!

Last summer, while in Maine, we decided to splurge and buy ourselves an inflatable kayak from Inflatables For Less. They had the tandem kayak, the SeaEagle 330 on sale, and I couldn't resist. We did use it once in Maine, for a wonderful paddle on Long Pond, but ended up never getting it wet again that summer. Nor that fall of 2013 in Kentucky, and even this past winter in Homosassa we never got out for a paddle. That will just have to change this winter! One of the draws for us to the Homosassa/Crystal River area were the numerous rivers and springs to paddle. We do have hard shell kayaks in Florida that we leave there, but so many of our friends have and like the SeaEagle inflatables that we thought it would be great for traveling with us.

We had done the String/Leigh lakes paddle with John and Carol Herr earlier in August, and on one of our excursions Carol had mentioned she wanted to kayak on Yellowstone Lake. Being such a huge lake, with easily changeable weather conditions, she had been advised to go with an outfitter rather than by ourselves. In cruising for information, we came across O.A.R.S., advertising guided kayaking trips on Yellowstone Lake. It sounded good, and they gave us a local employee discount of 10%, so we signed up for Sunday August 24, a day both couples were free of already planned activities. Since it was an afternoon trip, we planned on going earlier in the morning and exploring the West Thumb Geyser Basin first.

Well, the weather was looking pretty iffy a few days prior, but we figured if we changed the dates at that point, we were going to lose 50% of our costs, which would really make the trip pricey. So, in John's famous words, he said "Let's go and get it done!". So we bundled up...not only was it rainy, but it was also very chilly, a high in the low 50's was forecast) and headed up to Yellowstone that morning.

We arrived at the West Thumb Visitor Center, and headed inside to warm up a bit :-). We discovered we were about then minutes away from the start of a Ranger-led tour of the basin, so we decided to join up with the tour. Our Ranger Nina gave a good tour, about 2 hours long, of this smaller geyser basin. It was pretty cool out, so there was quite a bit of steam to contend with as we took pictures.

The boardwalk was quite close to the geysers and springs, so I was able to get some good close-ups of the thermophiles and bacterial mats around the geysers.

This geyser had some really interesting run-off right down to the lake.

One of the more interesting features of West Thumb is this cone that is actually in Yellowstone Lake. It's called Fishing Cone. The folk lore behind the name tells us that as people used to catch fish in this area, they would immediately dunk it in the boiling waters of Fishing Cone to cook the fish. 
This is no longer allowed :-).

We were pretty chilled by the end of the walk, and although we had brought sandwiches with us to snack on before our kayaking started, we decided a hot lunch at the restaurant was in order...much better than eating cold sandwiches outside at a picnic area in the cold damp weather...at least we told ourselves that! We headed down the road to the Grant Village section of Yellowstone, where we were going to meet the kayak guides. The Grant Village Dining Room had a nice selection of hot sandwiches and we totally enjoyed warming up in the restaurant before heading out to the lake.

We met our guides at the boat launch promptly at 2PM. We waited awhile for another group that was supposed to show up, but they never did, so we bundled up and off we went.

Fortunately, it did not rain on us, but the wind did pick up a bit. You can see in this picture how many layers of clothes John and Carol had on! We had just as many I think :-).

As we kayaked along the shoreline, we slowly realized we were heading right back to the West Thumb Geyser Basin...the same area we had explored this morning! It was a bit disappointing, as we were expecting to paddle to an area that was not able to be seen by foot.

It was interesting to see the area from a different angle, from the water side rather than the land side.

We saw some interesting stone formations along the lakeshore. The itinerary said we were also supposed to paddle to Lakeshore Geyser, but if we did, I missed it somewhere along the way!

In spite of the weather and the extraordinarily uncomfortable kayaks, Carol still had a big smile :-).

As we paddled back to Grant Village, the mountains in the distance had fresh snow covering them. Being a little turned around as to my directions (it's real easy to do in Yellowstone!), I asked our guide which direction that was...oh, it was southeast, down east of the Tetons and over the Togwotee Pass. Right by us! Remember, that date is AUGUST 24...and look at all that snow!

So, we finished up our paddle, thanked our guides, peeled off layers of clothes and headed back home for the day. We had dinner at Flagg Ranch, at the northern end of Grand Teton National Park, which was ok. It wasn't fabulous, but we had a great waiter that we enjoyed chatting with, so he kind of made up for the lackluster meal. The four of us discussed our paddle trip and decided it was nice, but definitely not worth the cost...the value meter was not good. It was definitely a paddle we could have done on our own. The guides were very good, however, we just felt it was a bit on the pricey side and also we have never been in such uncomfortable kayaks before. It really detracted from the overall experience. But I am proud of us for not giving in to the elements and having a good time anyway!
Earlier that week we had signed up for a dinner cruise to Elk Island in Jackson Lake, offered by a concessionaire within Grand Teton National Park. It sounded like fun, and we decided to join our co-workers Kenny and Jody on the trip. As the afternoon progressed, it started to cloud up, but the cruise went on, so off we went!

It was a nice trip across the lake, and we were stopping at Elk Island, No-one is allowed on the island unless on the dinner cruise, or by special permit for back country camping. Once we landed, we disembarked and headed off to the chow line.

There was plenty to eat, and I think they liked it :-)!

There was just enough time after eating to take a short hike up a STEEP hill to an overlook of Mount Moran. It would have been much nicer if the clouds had cleared, but you take what you can. Kenny and Jodi have been working with us this season here at Luton's, and we've had a great time together. They've decided to join us at Amazon in Kentucky this fall as well :-).

It was a nice excursion, but once again, I felt that the value wasn't there for the price we paid. It would have been nice to have a longer time to relax on the island and enjoy the campfire they had built there. But it felt very rushed, like "eat and get back on the boat"! It's funny, but both adventures we did this summer that we had to reserve and pay for weren't as much fun as the ordinary, and free, hiking and kayaking we've done. And yes, there's a couple more adventures to tell you about before we wind up our summer here.

And, for those of you curious about our plans for next season, we have been honored with a request to come back to Luton's next summer, and we have accepted. Its a wonderful place to live and work, a beautiful playground for the summer, and positively the nicest people to work for. So anyone heading this way next summer, give us a shout and stop by, we'd love to see you!