Month: October 2018

Week 42 – Missouri and Kentucky!

Leaving from Alton Marina, we contact the lockmaster at 6:30 AM to determine when he thinks we will be able to lock through.  The past few days they have taken groups of PC’s (pleasure craft) at 9 one day and 11 yesterday.  We have two other motor vessels and two sailing vessels accompanying us but when he says he wants us there at 7:15 a mad scramble begins.  Some of our friends race to get their dogs walked while others are just wiping the sleep from their eyes.  This is way earlier than we had anticipated being taken but we are happy because it means our travel day will be impacted less by commercial traffic through St. Louis since it is early on a Sunday morning (we chose this day with that in mind).


We all exit the Alton Marina under the bridge that looks like a mini Sunshine Skyway and move toward the lock.  When we get there, the lockmaster says that we will have to wait on a tug and barge which we can now see coming down the river. This is irritating because he had to have known that this guy was on his way and putting him through first will mean we have to wait, burning fuel for at least an hour before we can get through.  The lockmaster comes over the radio, directing us to get on the wall outside the small lock, which isn’t being used due to piles of debris, where we will be out of the barge’s way as he approaches the lock.

Looking at how fast the water is running makes my stomach tie up in knots.  I put on my PFD thinking that this can’t be safe. We are the first boat and Jerry gets us right to the wall and I am able to get a line on the bollard but the current is running so hard and fast that I can’t hold it and it is whipping our stern away from the wall which means the bow will be pushed into and scraped along the wall  if we don’t reverse out and get away quickly (have we mentioned how much we HATE locks!?!?!?).  I cast us loose which pushes the bow away and stern closer to the wall.  I yell to Jerry to give it throttle FAST so we don’t scrape the dinghy and swim platform against the wall.  Unfortunately, we now have two sailboats ahead of us who have also abandoned the idea of getting on the wall safely as well.

We are all being swept sideways towards the wall but thankfully each captain sorts himself out and we play dodge-boat trying to get back upriver and out of harm’s way.  We are angry that a lock master would direct us into a situation that he had to know was unsafe.  When the tug and barge get into the lock, we hear the tug captain remarking to the lock master how exceptionally strong the pull from the current against the lock wall is and this is from a guy that is piloting 8 barges long and 3 across and must weigh thousands of tons!

They lock him down and eventually come back for us. I am now gun-shy and scared to death to go into this lock but we do and as we hoped the current abates as we move further into the lock until we secure ourselves without incident.

IMG_7675.JPGOur group convoys out of the lock and through the next one without a problem and we round the  riverbend to catch sight of downtown St. Louis and the Gateway to West  Arch.


We rocket through the bridges and past the Arch and are almost immediately playing dodge-boat with commercial traffic.  Some of these barges are 5 across and as much as 7 long.  One boat pushing 35 fully loaded barges (called a fleet) is not to be messed with and we talk with them via VHF radio to make sure we are passing them on the side they prefer.


It isn’t a long day and we are tied up at Hoppies Marina (I use that word with tongue in cheek) which is 4 barges tied together along the side of the riverbank.  Because they are floating, the barge-docks move as the river moves, which means they are quiet and calm until a pusher goes by.  The incredible power that these guys exert is reflected in the mountains of water they leave for half a mile in their wakes.  They don’t leave a V shaped wake the way displacement hull boats do.  They throw a straight line of 4 foot water mountains behind them.


Hoppies Marina is now run by the third generation of family members who are following in their parents’ and grandparents’ footsteps.  The grandfather, father and uncle were all river lamplighters.  In the old days, there were kerosene-lit mile markers all up and down the river that the barge captains used to navigate and the Hopkins men used to travel to refill the kerosene in the lamps every other day, no matter what the weather was.  Kerosene ceased to be used years ago and the mile markers are becoming obsolete now as well, with GPS noting the mile markers clearly on the chart plotters and paper charts as well.


We help the other two boats, we’ve been traveling with, tie up and we venture into town to check out Kimswick.  It is an adorable little town but everything closes at 5 and doesn’t open again until Tuesday.  So we share a fabulous dinner at the Blue Owl and head back to the boats.  I love sleeping here.  The passing barges provide a steady hum and keep the water stirred up enough that we are rocked to sleep and are subconsciously aware of the boat moving in gentle rhythms all night.

The next day is more of the same only the commercial traffic is even more dense.  As we travel the Mississippi, we not only have barges voyaging up and down the river but we have fleets of barges anchored smack in the middle of the river with pushers going back and forth across the river, bringing more barges to add to the fleet.  It is a little unnerving but we manage to stay out of everyone’s way and make it to the Kaskaskia River where we tie up along a lock wall for the night.


 There is no power or water so we are glamping but that’s not a problem.  Once we are all settled, we bring our chairs and appetizers out on the concrete wall and enjoy “locktails” together.


It is gorgeous as the sunsets and the almost-full moon casts her reflection across the darkening, calm waters.


We depart early the next morning with a soft mist rising from the water.  When the weather is cold, we really make more of an effort to eat well, doing much more cooking than we do  when it is warm.  This morning, breakfast of banana pancakes with fresh strawberry topping is eaten under way and is a pleasant way to start the day.


This section of the Mississippi is mostly wide and pretty calm unless you are passing barges.  There is a hint of fall in the trees along the bank and thankfully we have had a rebound in temperatures.  We are able to be in shorts and t-shirts again for the first time in months and we use the warmer temperatures to clean the boat – sweeping floors and cleaning the strata-glass and other housekeeping items for which it has been just too cold recently.  Working while we are underway makes the day pass quickly and we spy Little River Diversion which is our goal for anchoring tonight.


First Forty is in the lead today and they do recon as it looks like the mouth of the creek is choked with large debris.  They inch in, move up the creek and drop the hook near the bridge with us and Moon Dance (who has been running mostly on one engine today due to a failing engine water pump) following along behind.  We navigate the logs and branches to cleaner water and all drop two anchors as this is a narrow little river.  We relax into an Indian Summer afternoon and listen to the wood peckers and robins call to each other. There are turtles on the shore basking in the sun and it is so nice to be warm without a million layers of clothing on!  We have our Octoberfest dinner of Bratwurst, sauerkraut, salad and spaetzli and call it a night.


We get an early start as we will have a long day to get to Paducah, KY the next day.  It’s interesting to note that the barges never stop but run 24/7.  We are starting to be able to understand most of what they say but if you weren’t born in Mississippi or Alabama it takes a while to train your ear.  You might hear something like this:

“Is is da Crimson Rose. Yeh, will be movin on sout tru da bridge naw.  Iffn yeh wanna cumonbye, take me on da two whistles and steh unner da Ilnois span.”

Translation: The Crimson Rose is moving south through the bridge and if I want to pass I  should stay on his left side under the span of the bridge that is on the Illinois side of the river.  Mostly we just look at each other and ask, “What the %#*&# did he just say!?!?!” But we are getting better at it.

Photo Credit: Gary McMichael

We cruise for a few hours before we turn from the Mississippi onto the Ohio river and the water changes from muddy brown to the green river color that we are used to.  The number of barges anchored in the middle of the river is just astonishing and I note an important life lesson from the experience.  Looking far ahead of us is overwhelming, we can’t see which barges are under way, which are anchored or how many of them we need to interface with to avoid trading paint.  But as we move slowly and steadily  forward, our way becomes clear and we proceed along the path that we planned with increasing confidence.

We luck out with all the locks we should have had to navigate being flooded so we get to cruise right on by them without stopping and we do the happy dance!!! NO locks today!!!!


We pull into the dock at Paducah and marvel at the pylons which are 53 feet high.  The dock man tells us that just a few weeks ago the water was at 51 feet and almost came into the walls around the city!  And none of this seems to faze these people, they seem to just take it in stride but they do have a wall along the river that can be sealed off if the water rises too much.

We find an excellent Italian restaurant and the eight of us enjoy dinner and stories of each other’s experiences before strolling back to the boats.  It was a long day of cruising (97 miles in 9.25 hours) and we are all happy to be fed and tuck into bed early.


We head out early the next day, headed for Green Turtle Bay.  It is drizzly and gray and we travel from the Ohio to the much smaller Cumberland River.  Fall has started to sprinkle flecks of orange and gold along the way.  The water is way down on this river and the roots of trees have been swept bare along the river banks. It is a wonder that most of them are still standing and haven’t been swept into the water.


Arriving at Green Turtle is like homecoming!  There must be at least 15 or more Looper boats here. Some we have met in past travels, others we have seen on the Meets App that shows where Loopers are on a map of the Great Loop and others we have heard about in “docktail” conversations.  We arrive at 4 PM and are immediately invited to docktails aboard Endless Loop, a GORGEOUS Endeavor Power Cat.

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And here is the highlight of the day.  We finally meet Mia, whose story I have heard since we left the Keys.  This family of 6 is now living, homeschooling and traveling on a 33’ boat – one dad, one mom and 4 daughters, one of whom, Mia, has a severe congenital heart defect and needs a feeding tube plus over 40 medications a day.  Mia is amazing, bubbly and outgoing, this 7 year-old passes out boat cards and swipes everyone’s pop-tops for the Ronald McDonald house in which her family lived for almost an entire year of her life while she was hospitalized.


This is an amazing story and I will leave the link here for you if you are interested in learning more about this family that is living life NOW on their second trip around the Loop!

We will stay here through Sunday, enjoying friends and doing some maintenance and will head for Nashville, TN on Monday where I hope to rendez-vous with my highschool roommate, Kathy Haines.  This is the last photo I have of us together as 17 year olds, playing for parent’s weekend at Chatham Hall!  Hope to add a newer version next week!

Parents' Weekend.jpeg


Week 41 – Off AGAIN and Back On the Loop

This is a slow week of mostly waiting.  Because of the flooding on the Mississippi and the fact that we had a guest aboard, we decide to take another road trip for a couple of days.  We leave the boat in Grafton, Illinois where we are watching the water steadily rising.  The whole marina, complete with restrooms, general store and restaurant floats but the parking lot is expected to go under water which would leave us as a virtual island.  We decide that wouldn’t be a fun way to entertain a 26 year-old and so St Louis and St. Charles become our destinations.


We drive along the Mississippi and over the Missouri rivers, marveling at how fast they are both moving and how much debris is galloping along in them.    We see whole trees, refrigerators and even several aids to navigation tangled up in huge debris mats that are rafting up behind unmoving objects like barges, bridges and docks.  We wonder: A) what happens to these islands of debris when a barge actually pulls anchor and B) does someone have the job of removing all of the wood, plastic and other assorted junk from the river at some point or does all of this eventually find its way to the Gulf?


We have a fantastic lunch/dinner at Guido’s on the Hill and decide a walk at a museum would be a great way to burn off some of the calories we have just ingested.  So, we go to the St. Louis Museum of Art and are greatly impressed by the collection at this free museum.  Each of us is drawn to different areas of the collection but we appreciate all of it.   The museum is situated in a lovely park and we wish that we had time to really explore it, along with the zoo but we want to see the arch and find our hotel before it gets too late.


Arriving in downtown St. Louis near dinner time, we walk along the waterfront and up to the museum at the Gateway Arch.  Annelise was here once when she was in single digits but doesn’t remember it.  It is an impressive structure but unfortunately, we arrive too late to take the tram to the top.  The museum gives a good taste of the history that has happened here and we learn a little more about the area before we find our hotel and crash.


The next day, we explore St. Charles which was the first capitol of Missouri and was also the departure point for Lewis and Clark’s expedition.  The town also boasts the longest historic main street in the USA.  It is absolutely adorable.

IMG_7626.JPGWe browse the Lewis and Clark museum, admiring the grit of these people who opened the door to westward expansion and marvel at the fact that on their 2-year journey, only one person died and that was from sickness.  Amazing, considering the winters they survived and the lack of food they experienced several times along the trek.  If it weren’t for the tribes of First People, who helped them, their mission would surely have been less successful and the death toll would have been much higher.


We browse through shops that are unique and full of so many fun things, especially the used bookstore!  We are all trying to be minimalists and so we are happy to look and not own any of the fun things but it is an entertaining way to spend an afternoon.  We have a great dinner at an Irish pub and return to our hotel.


The next day, we work in the morning and then use the afternoon to visit Meramac Caverns.  It is a privately owned, 16-mile-long cave system which is south and west of St. Louis and is open while the other cave systems that are run by the State Park system are closed this time of year.

IMG_7645.JPGWe wander through massive rooms of dolomite, a rock so dense that water doesn’t really filter through it into grottoes that are limestone.  The water filters readily through this porous rock to form pools of crystal clear water and formations of stalactites and stalagmites that are delicate at times and massive at others.  The colors range from ivory to dark green and gold to iron-produced red.  The final room is called the theater room and a video tribute to America and her troops is cast against this backdrop of living stone.  It has a definite Bible-Belt feel to it, which is reasonable, given where we are.


The next morning we put Annelise on a plane back to Denver.  I am really sad that the weather, flooding and other issues created an experience that was very different from what I wanted her to have on her visit with us but that is the nature of being boat nomads.  We are entirely at the mercy of the elements and must make mental shifts to be happy dealing with what comes at us.  Her experience on the Camino de Santiago prepared her well for this and it was nice to see how easily she flexed with what was going on.  I still wish it had been different.


We return our rental car and decide that we will move the boat to Alton Marina, a two hour journey from Grafton.  Not a big deal but Grafton has no Verizon coverage and no viable internet at the marina and we just don’t feel comfortable having to sit incommunicado for however long it takes for us to be able to move through the lock that is just downriver.

IMG_7663.JPGWe pass a lot of flooded areas but the trip is uneventful and we join a bunch of other Loopers in Alton (some we haven’t seen since Key West) to wait it out.  Along the journey, many ATONS are missing and we joke about calling the Coast Guard and telling them that they can find most of their missing buoys in the debris mats in St. Louis!


The flooding has backed up the barge traffic and they take priority through the locks.  So here we sit, expecting that conditions will be good enough sometime this weekend to begin to move down river again but in the meantime, we have great internet and cell phone coverage and so are able to research what is happening down river from us and what conditions we can expect once we start moving again!

Week 40 –We’re Back on the Loop

Our Western Loop comes to a close this week.  It has been an amazing experience to see the National Parks of South Dakota, Wyoming, Utah and Colorado.  We managed to put 3600+ miles on our rental car in less than 2 ½ weeks and saw some amazing sights but all good things come to an end.

We enjoy a lovely stop in Denver, visiting daughter, Annelise and sister, Mary.  Annelise acts as a guide and we hike the Dinosaur and Red Rocks trails, logging about 7 miles over terrain that is only challenging because there is no oxygen at this elevation!


The scenery is gorgeous and we hear some great stories about Annelise’s experience hiking the Camino de Santiago between France and Spain earlier this year.  She has some thoughtful insights and many helpful tips for us to consider as we contemplate walking “The Way” sometime in the not too distant future.


We explore the Denver Museum of Nature and Science and are very impressed with the quality and quantity of the exhibits.  The artist commissioned for the wildlife scenarios, supposedly had a sense of humor and began hiding elves within his painted backdrops.  We can’t find even one of them and wonder if this isn’t some kind of PR stunt to make you pay attention to the painted surfaces beyond the stuffed animals and their habitats.

IMG_7551a (4)IMG_7551a (1)

Photo Credit: Annelise Sandberg

We explore a heat sensor exhibit that projects an image of your body according to the heat it projects.  I put my hands up to is and it is evident why they are always chilly, the tips of my fingers read with little body heat but when Annelise does this, her finger tips show up completely black = NO HEAT AT ALL!!!


 Poor baby, I hope we don’t hit a cold spell on the boat because we don’t have a heater.  On cold mornings we put the stove on and the burners heat the cabin very quickly and very well, so we don’t really mind much.

That evening we celebrate Annelise and Maddy’s birthdays and dine at Linger, an outstanding restaurant situated in the former Olinger Mortuary where Buffalo Bill’s body lay for weeks while Colorado and Wyoming duked it out over where his final resting place would be (Colorado prevailed).  The maître d’s stand is an old pew, the lights over the tables are housed in what looks like commercial ventilator vents and the atmosphere is high energy and fun.  We order a potpourri of appetizers, sides and main courses and share them, ensuring that we each benefit from what the others in the group like.  We are full to bursting but that doesn’t stop us from sharing a couple of treats along with the two desserts that arrive for our two birthday girls.  Even those who declare that they are too full for dessert partake enthusiastically.  It is a really nice family reunion and celebration and I want to kick myself the next morning when I realize that I didn’t get a photo to mark the event.

Bright and early the next morning, we depart in our rental in the pouring rain which lasts all day.  We make Omaha, NE (another state I have never been in!).  This is windmill country and we see many erected in the middle of farmland.  We also see the tractor trailer trucks, each carrying one huge blade that will be assembled somewhere out here and still later we see others carrying sections of the upright portions.  They are HUGE!



After 7 hours of passing landmarks like: the World’s Largest Covered Wagon, The Koolaid Man’s footprints and and the memorial to the Martin brothers who were riding together on a horse and were shot by Indians.  The arrow went through one brother, into the back of the other and yet they survived, apparently receiving medical attention and living well into old age.  No, you can’t make this stuff up!


The next day, we are up and out early and under thankfully clearer skies, we make it to Peoria without event.  All along the way we see creeks that are now rivers, rivers that have overflowed their banks and flooded lowlands and we give thanks, thinking that our marina should be easier to exit than it was to access (we bumped the bottom all the way into the marina).

We unload all of our stuff then Annelise and I shop to provision the boat while Jerry sees to engine maintenance.  After returning our rental car, we eat at Alexander’s Steak House which smells amazing from the outside and doesn’t disappoint once we get inside.  There are two monster-sized open pit grills, which are fired up and char-broiling meat and fish.  The salad bar is extensive and we eat till we can’t any more.  We would definitely recommend this place!

The wind picks up during the night, making the lines creak and groan and I wonder if Annelise is getting any sleep.  The front comes through, drops the temperatures and it is chilly when we depart the next morning.  The water here doesn’t appear to be much higher than it was but we are able to exit the marina without too much drama and cheer when we come to the lock.  The water is actually high enough that they have lowered the wickets on the dam and rather than wasting time dealing with a lock, we cruise right over the dam on even water.  YAY! No locks today!  The sun is out and we have a pretty easy cruise to Havana, noting whitecaps and one footers on the river due to the wind but the sun is out and we are warm enough in the flying bridge to be comfortable.  It is fun when we pass the pusher named Anne Elise.  We have seen before, higher up on the river system, prior to our Western Loop and I get a shot of our Annelise in front of her.


We dock at Tall Timbers Marina in Havana, Illinois and get out to explore the little town. We are late in the season now and most marinas up here are starting to wind down operations for the winter.  Some of the little towns that we come through have seen better days, others are revitalizing and being gentrified.  Havana is definitely one of the former but as we stroll through neighborhoods, under their spreading oak, maple and chestnut trees, we catch glimpses of how life might have looked here a hundred years ago.

We depart the next morning to a forecast of rain with a high of 51 degrees…..brrrrrr!  Without the sun to heat the flying bridge, we are not chilly, we are downright cold!  We have heating pads, which I use under my bottom sheet to heat my feet at night but they are now employed as seat heaters!  Even with two blankets and a heating pad, Annelise can’t stay warm and retreats to the cabin where the engines create a bit of warmth.


The Illinois River is a mess.  Because of recent rains, it has flooded its banks and the drift in the water is everywhere.  It isn’t just branches, although they are plentiful.  There are logs the size of telephone poles and stumps drifting along and the amount of debris tangled up behind the buoys is astounding.


If the Mississippi is worse than this, it justifies our choice to go down the Tennessee.


When we have enough service, we watch Hurricane Michael hit the shores of the panhandle and are heartbroken at the devastation it leaves in its wake.  Millions of dollars’ worth of homes have been scraped from existence and the marine industry has been dealt a blow that will probably take years to recover from.  Our hearts and prayers go out to the people of these areas and we are in no hurry to get that far south any time soon since we are receiving reports of severely limited services in that area.  We have a few months to figure out a plan to either store the boat or heed the advice of the many boats ahead of us as to conditions and plan out route home.

This area of the river seems to have less commercial traffic and is beautiful, with miles of forested shores dotted with small industrial plants and as we descend lower, we are starting to get into hilly country where there are stilt homes here and there along the shore. The river is very swollen from the rains so the stilts are a blessing in some places.


The fall colors are just starting to show and this area will be even more gorgeous in a couple of weeks.  We have the river pretty much to ourselves and are thrilled to watch multiple pairs of bald eagles soaring high and playing tag above us.

We anchor in a nice sheltered area between Buckhorn Island and the main channel because there are really no marinas for the 120 miles between Havana and Grafton and this is a little more than halfway which will make the run tomorrow shorter. I don’t think our anchor has ever set as fast or held so securely as it did when as we put it down here (and it came up clean the next morning!).  We have linguine and clams for dinner, along with a salad, and get massacred by Annelise playing Rummy 500 after dinner (her grandmother would be proud of her acumen!).


 The cabin is warmed by the generator-run stove burners, which are also heating water for coffee since we can’t run all of this and the microwave too, and we have candles lit for ambiance.  Annelise claims that it is like living in the 1800’s only with an I-pad to draw on!


We tuck into bed and snuggle down hoping for some sun and warmer temperatures tomorrow as we begin week 41!

Week 39 – The Western Loop within our Great Loop Adventure

We continue our western loop when we leave Deadwood, SD and choose to drive the Spearfish Scenic Road rather than taking the quicker route straight back to I-90 and what a great decision it turns out to be.  We pass through the tiny town of Lead and then wind up into the mountains where the road is bordered on all sides by aspens in their splendid fall attire, ranging from bright green to pinkish-gold to flat out highlighter-yellow.  Against the green pines, they seem to glow and we feel so lucky to be in this part of the country at this time of year, another couple of weeks later and we would have missed this altogether.


The road, as many do in mountainous regions, follows a creek bed and winds between up-thrust rocky cliffs, some soft and weathered and others as stark and sharp against the sky as they day they were thrust into being.  We are still in the Black Hills National Forest and some of the rocks that make up the cliffs are actually black stone.


We have noticed an unusually large number of dead pines in the forests of South Dakota.  More research shows that this is the result of the rice-sized Mountain Pine Beetle which has infested about 430,000 acres since the epidemic started in 1996, about a quarter of the 1.5 million forested acres in the Black Hills.


Two ways that humans have combatted this infestation are; spraying the affected areas and/or “cut and chunking” which entails felling the afflicted trees and cutting them into <24” sections so that the drying wood kills the larvae of the beetle.   Seeing so many dead trees leaving much of the upper mountains bare is a sad sight.

The beetles actually do serve a positive purpose by thinning out too densely populated forests and allowing the remaining ones to become healthier.  The dead trees leave air space, allowing more light into the understory.  This encourages growth of different types of trees, which use different nutrients than the pines did, thus keeping the soil healthier. It is hard to watch the devastation but we can see 2-3’ aspens taking the place of lots of the dead pines so it is also a hopeful sight to see.


We drive back on I-90 at the town of Spearfish and continue to head west where the landscape immediately changes from a rocky, scenic road through the mountains into a 4 lane highway bordered by endless plains of softly rolling hills.  We see mule deer and pronghorn antelopes in large familial groups, camouflaged against the buff colored prairie grass.  We pass some long horn cattle playing Ferdinand, sans the cork trees and boom, we are in Wyoming!


Exiting the highway, we drive north and coming over a hill, we see Devil’s Tower Monument in the distance.  It was the first US National Monument designated by Teddy Roosevelt.  You might remember it for the role that it played in Steven Spielberg’s Close Encounters of the Third Kind.


We are glad to visit it this time of year because, while it is a bit crowded, it must be ten times more so during the summer months.  Walking around the megalith, we can see some crazy people climbing the face of the rock towers and we suppose that getting up must be hard but coming down must be even worse!


The pines at the foot of the tower have prayer bundles tied to their branches by members of some of the First Nations people who still consider this to be sacred ground.  This experience is definitely amazing.


We stop for lunch at an amazing place I find online, called Pokey’s in Gillette, WY.  We walk in and there is a wolf hide, lots of mounted heads and a framed knife collection on the wall along with some taxidermied predators!  We are definitely in the right place!


We split a Buffalo burger and it is delicious but the Mountain Man Mushrooms are to die for (I saw them on their menu online and it was what sold me on visiting this spot).  They are large mushroom caps filled with a combination of ground venison, boar, elk and buffalo and then topped with melted cheese. WOW!!! What a lunch!


Our waitress is a hoot when we compliment the wild game-stuffed mushrooms.  She asks if we eat carp and when we respond in the negative, she replies, “Whew, lots of people I ask actually eat those awful fish.  So if you don’t eat carp, NEVER eat an antelope!” she says.  “They are tough and really sagey tasting! I call them “prairie carp” because they are so nasty!”  We laugh about this over the next few days as we go past giant prairies full of sage and pronghorn antelope.


We spend a quiet night in Buffalo, WY and drive toward Cody the next morning.  The temperatures drop as we climb and the pines and prairie grass here are limned with frost.


There is snow on the ground as we enter Big Horn National Forest and it is just stunning.  The rest of the drive is never dull, especially when we are slowed by a group of cowboys and girls moving a large herd of Red Angus Cattle from their pasture land down to the lower lands along our road.  We laugh at all the moo-ing and mothers trying to keep their babies on the proper path.  This phenomenon slows us down a lot but we don’t care, it’s very entertaining!


Eventually, we pull into Cody in time to take in the Buffalo Bill Center of the West and Museum which is definitely a great find (thanks, Mom), especially since we are in time to see the last day of the Bierstadt painting exhibit.


He has been one of my favorites since my kids and I studied this area during a unitstudy on Cowboys, Indians and the Wild West.  Bierstadt was one of the first conservationists and used a lot of metaphor, illustrating the demise of the buffalo, First Peoples and western world of that era.


The museum has a fine collection of western art and a separate collection of all kinds of firearms that have been used here. We are happy to have visited here.  We retire early and rise early for our trip into Yellowstone.


We are again taking a scenic route and we wind through foggy mountain gaps where sunlight is just beginning to peak through.  The fog clears as we climb into the mountains and an hour later we are in Yellowstone.  Almost immediately we catch sight of a coyote loping along the meadow beside our road and we snag a pretty good shot!


We had planned to do the north route but as weather for the next day is iffy, we decide to do the southern route first.


We are lucky to walk up just as Old Faithful is erupting and walk a loop in time to see it go again! It is pretty amazing how this one geyser is so predictable when most of the others can erupt anywhere from a few hours to a few months apart.


For those of you who have been to Yellowstone, you know that there is no way that words do justice to the sights and for those of you who haven’t been, my advice is to make this a plan in your near future, it is that amazing.  We spend 2 ½ days and cover almost all of the roads within the park, glimpsing lots of wildlife and amazing sights but we know we could spend much more time in this magical place and never run out of things to see and do.

IMG_7265.JPGThe terrain is amazingly varied and diverse in a relatively small geographical area and around every corner is a sight that amazes us.  The wildlife is also very cool and we catch great shots of bison, elk and some curious smaller critters too.


I will post a few photos of the sights here because trying to describe it all is crazy!



Our last day in Yellowstone, we rise early to try to catch the sunrise over Grand Prismatic and unfortunately weather is not our friend.  As fast as the sun is rising, the clouds are scudding in on a cold front to stand between the sun and us.


The temperature is 42 degrees, the wind is blowing straight at us at about 25 mph and we are freezing!  While it is a little warmer due to the hot spring, we are absolutely soaked from the mist and shivering before we finally give up with the few photos we have.


 When my mom visited, the conditions were such that the sun shot rainbows all through the mist from this amazingly colorful spring, we’ll have to take her word for it!


We drop down out of Yellowstone and into Grand Teton National Park.  The first glimpse of the mountains across Jackson Lake is breathtaking and it only gets better from there.  We drive with lots of oooohs and aaaaahs because the aspens are on fire and the mountains are majestically imposing.

IMG_7428.JPGWe stop at Jackson Lake Lodge, on Leland’s recommendation, and we are not disappointed by the view or the food.  The Mural Room looks out on the mountains and is elegant, quiet and a place to rest the senses until the food arrives and then it is sensory overload!  We enjoy the elk chili, a smoked trout Caesar salad and a vege grilled cheese that are all wonderful!


We drive the park loop twice, taking the back loops, stopping to take photos along the way and waiting behind a truck where a man is inserting snow poles along the roadways in anticipation of the snow that is expected to fly hard and fast this weekend and we are thankful that the timing of this spontaneous trip worked out so well.   The parks have no crowds (unless an elk or buffalo are spotted) and many of the services are closed or are closing so if we had come even just a week later our experience would have been drastically impacted.


For days now we have been looking for a moose and have yet to spy one even though we have been up and out early in the mornings.  We do see family groups of elk and it is always fun to hear them bugling to one another across the roads.  They definitely stop traffic!


The aspens are much more lush and plentiful in Grand Teton National Park than in Yellowstone and they are flaming slashes of gold and pink against the green pines.  We comment to each other that we have never used the word “WOW” as often as we have during the last couple of days!


Leaving the park, we travel south to Jackson Hole.  After I graduated from college, my dad spent a couple of years driving the United States and I remember him saying that Jackson Hole was his favorite spot on his trip and we can see why.  It is a fun town in a gorgeous setting.  We spy a spot called the Million Dollar Cowboy and with a name like that we cannot not go in.  I love it, the barstools are saddles!

I think Jerry is less enthralled than I am but he humors me and we saddle up, enjoy a local beer and then walk the town, noting that the town square has arches at each of its four corner that are made of elk antlers, which are shed and collected at the nearby elk sanctuary.


We wander into a store and the sales girl mentions that there was a moose in her back yard that morning and proceeds to show us a photo of a HUGE bull moose on her phone.  We cruise the neighborhoods searching for our own moose near the forest at dusk but to no avail.


The next morning dawns cloudy, cold and rainy but there is no time to wait for fair skies. We have a great time at the Jackson Hole Rotary Club and move on! We come down through the Bridger-Teton National Forest where evidence of the recent fires is obvious.  We pass huge tent cities, set up to house the firefighters who have come from all over to contain the flames and we can see where planes have dropped red fire retardant material all along the verges of the highway.  We spend the night in Green River, WY with an amazing view from our windows.


The plan for the next day is to drive Flaming Gorge which will take us from Wyoming into Utah and then into Colorado.  Off we go and the views are impeded by the weather but it is still a lovely drive.  We find a turn out called Sheep Creek Loop and decide to take it.  It is off the beaten track and is a secluded and quiet dirt road that winds between geologically rich cliffs.  We see rabbits and wild turkeys (much smaller than their Florida cousins) and stop to enjoy the music of a stream as it falls over the multi-hued rocks along its path.


Further up the road I see something moving and signal to Jerry to stop. It is a bull moose and his cow, together in a small clearing.  Jerry stops the car and I leap out to snag photos which turn out not as clear as I would have liked but we have our MOOSE!!! We are so happy watching them watch us until an idiot in a pickup, towing a camper, lumbers around the bend spooking our moose into the forest.  It is all we can do to be civil to him as he passes us but we are.




We exit out of Sheep Creek Loop, winding ever higher into the hills and the rain becomes snow again as we climb.  It is lovely and we carefully drive through it until we watch it transform back into rain as we descend into the Flaming Gorge Dam area.  We decide we can do Dinosaur National Park today and then spend the night half way back to Denver.  The museum here is amazing. It is an actual excavation site that has been enclosed into a museum and it is fascinating to see all of the bones of huge dinosaurs that were caught and preserved in the strata.  This area would be fascinating to hike when the weather is good and hopefully we will be back.



We are so blessed to have been able to do this western Loop inside our Great Loop adventure.  We close the week looking forward to seeing family in Denver, scooping up daughter, Annelise and taking her back to the boat with us for a couple of weeks of river travel before she needs to return to her new home in the mile high city!