Tuesday, October 11, 2016

Big Sky Country; exploring southern Montana and northwestern Wyoming

 Debbie and I were thinking about taking a trip to Washington this fall to spend some time at the Smithsonian.  After we looked into the lodging, transportation and other logistics, we decided we’d rather not spend our vacation time in a big crowded city. It just didn’t seem like it would be very relaxing. Besides, if we wanted to fight crowds in a big city we could just go to Dallas and ride around on buses.

 After considering a few more places, we settled on a plan quite different than a trip to D.C.. We flew to Bozeman, MT, rented a car and drove around Yellowstone and on to Wyoming. We ended up in Billings, MT a week later and flew home from there.

 We arrived in Bozeman around 1:00 PM on Sept. 20. We picked up the car and drove around Bozeman a while then headed south to check in at the lodge. 

 Debbie picked Rainbow Ranch Lodge on the Gallatin River. Here’s their web site: http://www.rainbowranchbigsky.com/
 The drive to lodge was like a fantastic sightseeing tour. The road curved back and forth across the cold clear river while we climbed into the mountains. The golden aspens were intermingled with the dark green evergreens---spruce, pine and fir. The sky was mostly cloudy with a few blue patches where the sun shone through at times like a spotlight.  As the mountains became steeper and steeper we could hardly see the tops of them through the car windows. All the time we were going up the temperature was going down and when we reached our destination it was a cool 56 degrees.

Gallatin River near Rainbow Ranch Lodge

The road from Bozeman started in the prairie and climbed into snow topped mountains.
Club house and dining room.

Our room was on the bottom floor right behind...


Huge fly sculpture in front of club house.

Another fly for really big fish.

Pond in front of our room.

 If you followed the link above you saw the rustic beauty of the lodge and its setting. Debbie pick a great place for us to call home for four days.

  The first day we got settled in and talked to a few people about the surrounding area and about Yellowstone park. That evening we made a tentative plan for the rest of the trip.
Tyrannasarus (behind me).

 The first morning we drove back into Bozeman to see the Museum of the Rocky  Mountains. The highlight of the museum was the fossilized remains of a  tyrannosaurus discovered several years ago.

 The third day we went to Yellowstone

 Shortly after entering the park we saw a huge bull elk and his harem of cows on the far side of the Madison River. We stopped and took a few pictures and then headed for Old Faithful.

 A couple of miles from the elk we saw a small herd of bison milling around by the side of the road. The biggest one in the group wouldn't move for anything, not that anybody was trying to move him.
Elk herd across the Madison River.

We drove the car as close to Old Faithful as we could then walked a quarter mile and waited for it to erupt. It was actually kind of disappointing; not much to it.

 The area all around the famous geyser is a waste land. There are hundreds of places where putrid smelling water is spraying into the air. The ground is either crusted over or has hot water standing on it and looks like a hazardous material dump.  Where the ground isn’t level the hot water drains into the cold river producing more steam.
 The ground heaves and grumbles from the affects of the hot rocks and magma in the volcanic plume below the Yellowstone Caldera.
Debbie was stalked by a panhandling bird.
 We stopped to take a picture of the geothermal activity and were greeted by a raven which had no tail feathers. I don’t know if he had been injured by another animal or by the hot chemicals in the water. Regardless, the poor bird had been reduced to a parking lot beggar.
The amount of area already affected by the heat from the magma below Yellowstone is scary.


 On the way out of the park we past the herd of elk again but this time the bull was in the river with one of the cows. It looked like he was trying to keep her near the other cows and prevent her from crossing the river.

  Then I heard another bull bugle from upriver. The larger bull, in the river, lifted his head to catch the scent of the second bull and started toward the bank. He came out of the river with his antlers back and bugling. In a couple of seconds he spotted the smaller elk and start walking toward him at a fast pace. It didn't take long before the smaller bull turned around and left. The larger bull returned to his harem quickly and began to walk in circles around the cows. I guess he was making sure they were all still there and no more intruders were in the area.

This event alone was exciting enough to make the trip to the park worthwhile.

The larger bull came out of the river bugling.
The small bull heading back to where he came from.
 We had initially planned to cut across Yellowstone Park and go to Cody, WY to the Buffalo Bill Cody Center of the West. Luckily we watched the weather the night before and found out there was a possibility the road would be closed in the higher elevations because of snow. Rather than chance having to back track we went around the park and stayed in the lower elevations.

 When we got to Cody we checked in to our hotel and went on over to the center. It is called a center because it houses four museums. There are separate  museums for firearms, the Plains Indians, western art and natural science.

 Volumes could be written about this center. All I can say is if you are ever near Cody you have to spend at least a day at the museums.

 From Cody  we went to Billings, MT where we relaxed and got ready to go home.

This was the best trip Debbie and I have been on. It was also a lot different than the trip to Washington, DC, which we had initially considered.  Just for grins I looked up the population density of Washington, DC, Wyoming and Montana. Well, DC has the highest in the nation with 9856.5 people per square mile, Wyoming has 5.8 and Montana has 6.8. I still want to see the Smithsonian some day, however, I am glad we decided to make this trip to a part of the country where there is some elbow room.

Buffalo Bill Center of the West in Cody houses four excellent museums.
This is a library in Billings, MT. It just happens to be across the street from Western Pawnbrokers, the best pawn shop I've ever been in. They have everything from Indian art to one of the largest selections of guns you'll find in any one store. No books though. They're across the street.

Monday, September 29, 2014

Up the Inside Passage and Into the Interior of Alaska

 Bill an I just got back from a voyage to Alaska (Sept 10, 2014 thru Sept 24, 2014).  Below is a map of the our travels.On this trip we covered plenty of miles on both  land and sea. After flying a few hours from DFW, our ship voyage began from Vancouver, B.C..
                          Below is a summary of the ships log showing the ports and the distances:
 1681 Nautical Miles equals 1861 Statute Miles. After the sea portion of the trip we traveled for another week on trains, buses, boats and cars.

One of many sea planes landing at the busy port of Vancouver, BC.

Vancouver is a beautiful place.

Before long we were out to sea. On The Inside Passage you are in sight of land  most of the time.

                                                              Sunset after a long day.
It seemed like it took an hour for the sun to finally go down on the first day.

 We steamed north most of the night. I woke before daylight and stepped out on our balcony into the cold morning air and discovered we were in port at Ketchikan, AK
 After breakfast the gang plank was lowered and we took off looking for adventure.

After freakfast we boarded a small boat and headed for Mystic Fiord.
Eagle in Mystic Fiord.

Volcanic spew; Mystic Fiord

Harbor seals on an Island in the fiord.

 Fiords are deep inlets carved out by glaciers. That accounts for the steep hills and mountains that rim most fiords.

                                                    Back to Ketchikan to board the "Mothership".

The second night we traveled to Juneau. Though the island of Juneau is the state capital, there are no roads leading to the mainland. You have to travel by boat, plane or ferry.

We left the ship and went looking for whales on a catamaran. To everyone's surprise, we ran across two pods of killer whales before we spotted any humpbacks.

The Orcas  weren't even supposed to be here. However, as the climate warms and the ice melts they go farther north every year. On the Atlantic side of the arctic the Orcas have begun to feed on the  narwhals,  giving the Inuit natives some serious competition.

                                                                   The little fin is a baby.

 This humpback whale is diving. The water here is up to 400 feet deep. Soon these whales will migrate to Hawaii where the have there calves, then they all star back to Alaska in the spring to fatten up in these waters. In the fall the cycle start over again.
                                    It is a mystery why sea lions gather on this island each fall.
Harbor seals showing off before being eaten by killer whales...

The guy on the left is more concerned about impressing the girls than he is about the killer whales. He may loose his head over a...never mind.

The glacier is calving or dropping icebergs in to the fiord.

                                                                       Mendenhall Glacier.
                                                         Chilly waterfall next to the glacier.

The photo above shows the complete water cycle. The water evaporates from the fiord. The clouds of vapor rise until it is cold enough for the vapor to condense and the drops fall as rain or snow. When the rain, or snow land on the glacier they bond to it and slide down hill until they fall back into the fiord. Then, the whole process starts again.

 The train up to White Pass from Skagway.

 Marker for the trail used in 1898. The visibility is poor because of the sloppy gray clouds we were in.

Look for the track near the top of the hill.

Old steam locomotive in Juneau.

The front of this building in Skagway is made of pieces of driftwood.

An eagle on the way  to musher camp. Below are some sled dogs in training.

These two pictures show our ship down the hill at the port. Look closely above the point of land on the far side of the fiord and you can see the top of the ship.
This is a 10X view of the previous photo.

Downtown Skagway

 The big fan on this locomotive is for blowing snow off the railroad track.

        Glacier Bay
I suggest you put your coat on for this part. You don't want to get a chill...
The Grand Pacific Glacier.

 Bill and Dennis on the top deck.

I'd hate to fall in this salty water slush.

 That night, after leaving Glacier Bay, we traveled in relatively open water. The sea caused the ship to pitch and roll. The cabin was creaked much like the the sound of an old wooden boat in a movie. The sound of the water against the hull was audible each time the ship rose and fell. The constant movement and gentle sounds provided ideal sleeping conditions.

College Fiord.

Next stop:  Talkeetna and it's three rivers.

 The structures in this homestead was eighty feet from the river bank when they were built in the 1960s.

 When we went ashore the tour guide carried a weapon in case there was trouble from bears.

 Dead-fall trap. If you can read there should be no danger.
 Trapper's line cabin.
 Tree growth on a spruce.

 Town down Talkeetna.

The mayor of Talkeetna is a cat named Mr. Stubs.
 Denali National Park.

 Dall sheep.

 Old dog house at ranger line cabin.

 Carol Charley is an Athabaskan native.



 Riverboat ride on the Chena River in Fairbanks

This float plane took off right beside our boat.


Chena River.

 Alaskan pipeline.

 Gold dredge near Fox, Alaska.

 Lobby of Fairbanks Airport. When we left to head home, Sept 24, 2014, it was 25 degrees.

 Some extra photos: