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Grand Tetons: BEARRRRRRR!!! In which I see my first GRIZZLY … and her cubs. DUN DUN DUN.

So, a few short miles from my campsite, there is a big sign like you see at road construction sites. It says, “WILDLIFE WITH BABIES. CROSSING ROAD. NEXT SIX MILES. USE CAUTION.” I’d heard it was a BEAR. Our campground is literally the closest thing to this sign, so I was a bit freaked out by this.

I’d also seen and photographed enough wildlife by now to get annoyed by the occasional “animal jams” caused by tourists whipping off the road to take a photo of a singular bison, or, worse, prairie dog.

So when I saw a traffic jam, I was like, UGH.

Until I caught a glimpse of what it was.

Then I, too, whipped my car off to the side of the road. Where I stood on my driver’s side railing and took these photos with a long, long lens, because ain’t no way I’m creeping close to a grizzly. They can run 40 miles an hour – three times as fast as humans. So she could’ve covered the distance to my car in NO TIME. That didn’t prevent others from wandering into the field (HA. No.) There were at least 60 cars lining both sides of the street by the field where she was. The field was just after that warning sign, so now we know it was indeed a bear & her babies.

The cubs were ADORABLE. They played, wrestled, fell over. Mom was mom: unflappable. At one point she finally turned toward us, with a curious expression: “hey, what’re all these people? Whatcha guys looking at?” Then she went about her business and lumbered back into the woods, out of range of even my long-range lens.

I thought this was pretty rad, and was grateful I just happened to roll up on it! 🙂

Grand Tetons: Sunset at Oxbow Bend

Grand Tetons: Route 191

Almost back to Civilization: Chilling in the North Cascades

Destination: Bellingham

Excited for and interested in Bellingham. Islands and orcas and civilization, OH MY. 🙂

I’ll have to look up some things to do, tomorrow, at that wifi place, and then at the dealership. Two weeks later, I’m back in the dealership. BUT. It’s serendipitous that (if such a thing had to happen) I can go.

I wish the ferry didn’t cost so much. Sounds pretty cool, eh?

Not sure about customs, I guess.

Will have to get one more night in the hotel, pray they have one! Sunday to Monday, they should, eh?

Or I can see if the Air BnB has one.  X-P

Nights in Bellingham, I’ll have to do a little report on Yellowstone. Start with Wikipedia, perhaps.

And I need to get Empire of Shadows. An 800-page book about the history of Yellowstone Park’s formation? I’m there.

We’ll see how pretty Bellingham is.

Beat Poets in the Cascades

After reading about the Beat poet’s connection to the Cascades in Poets on the Peaks, I also need to find a book store, stat, for some Kerouac: Dharma Bums, [Desolation] Angels.

Can you IMAGINE a crazy drug addict up in the fire tower? Almost makes a good play in itself. Perhaps.

Mousey Roommates

I’m doing … weirdly fine. There’s the stress about the mice situation, but it’s, uh, as under control as it’s going to be. IDK. I’ve caught like ten. This is really embarrassing to tell you guys, I don’t know why. The dealership guy was like, “Yeah, you were camping … and mice got in the car. Of course.” Meanwhile, I’m having a nervous breakdown. Le sigh.

We’ll see what kind of damage they’ve inflicted to my internal wiring, clothes, etc. EEK. At this point I think they are just coming out from the woods here, rather than an internal thing. Fuck you, NPS, for your “not messing with the ecosystem*,” as well as anyone who leaves their shit out**. *I mean, really. A campground and **the people who leave their shit out are already messing with the ecosystem. The people scare away the larger predators, which makes the little guys … abundant, to say the least. So, NPS: help us out with some mouse control, y’know?

The Rest of North Cascades

Today I think I’ll do the right side of the park (east), and …

The road to Stehekin is washed out! That’s crazy. No shuttle bus, either, which is weird for a national park. For all the money I’m sure the damn Seattle City Light people bring in, this place is seriously low maintenance. The “national park” designation definitely feels like a front …

I bet people in Seattle don’t come here as much because they think of this as some crazy electric company complex, or something. I wouldn’t blame them. Newhalem has that feel.

I do need to put my new sticker on my computer! My computer is going to look pretty rad as I head to new locations. 🙂 I’ll need to keep getting small stickers, of course.

The Daily Grind

This Neil Gaiman book, Stardust, is the bomb diggity. It’s totally a kid’s fairy tale, but it’s got elements of LOTR in it. Total “hero’s journey” kind of thing. I do want to read “The Hero with 1,000 Faces” some day.

I’m clearing like, an audiobook a day, which is fun and exciting. It’s hard to read books when I’m driving all day, setting up camp, cooking is more involved, etc.

I meditated this morning, too! Excited that I finally am doing some daily practices, like meditating and writing, that were really hard to do when someone else’s work was my top priority. Blech 🙂

Grand Tetons: Moulton Barn

Look: I know it’s a barn. But it also represents a pinnacle for me. For so long, this was in my rotating screensaver package of “landscapes.” This is also an iconic image. For me to finally get there, make the pilgrimage, see it in real life — instead of at a desk!  — means a ton 🙂 So: yay, barn!

Also, this region of the park has some cool cultural history: https://www.nps.gov/grte/learn/historyculture/mormon.htm

Forty-five minutes to the nearest grocery: Notes from Cascadia

Out in Cascadia, living in the beautiful solace of aquamarine lakes and mountains also means a 90 minute round-trip drive to the nearest store, gas station, and showers.

Diablo Lake

Worth it, right? Diablo Lake. Yes, it’s really that color! Tiny debris from glaciers (“glacial flour”) reflects the sky & light, which makes it that color.

Travel Life

Finally found the showers. They were at this chi-chi campground outside the park and past town. I drove right by them yesterday because the place had recently been bought and the name changed.  The facility was actually really nice. It was newly remodeled and your $5 got you into what looked like the bathroom of someone’s house. The showers weren’t on a timer, either, so I took a big long one 🙂

In town, I also found free wifi! It was from this modular building that served as the library, though its hours were really limited so I just sat on the steps outside. Downloaded ten audiobooks, and talked to a few friends for a long time. I checked some emails, IG, FB, and texts. It was nice to plug in again … I guess ;).

The Sights

I then did the river loop trail and trail of the cedars and walked around the town of Newhalem, as well as the Ladder Creek Falls and the Gardens back there (very citizen kane, if you ask me), as well as checking out Diablo Lake again. I listened to the entirety of Mogul while I did that, and then Marie Forleo’s interview with Daymond James.

Skagit River

Skagit River from Trail of the Cedars bridge

Trail of the Cedars

Trail of the Cedars bridge, North Cascades National Park, Washington

 Details of the Day

The weather has been perfect: sunny and 75. It gets just cool enough overnight that it’s good for sleeping, but I don’t need tons of layers or blankets. Bless!

I wrote for 45 minutes this morning, too. Getting any kind of daily habit while moving around so much, and doing all the physical work of setting up the campsite, etc.

Came back and listened to a ton of Neil Gaiman’s Stardust.

Colored while making dinner and actually until almost 9:00 pm. It makes me feel better. Listened to Stardust until nearly 11, and then went to sleep listening to a guided meditation. Overall, I slept pretty well.

My air mattress is losing air more rapidly, but having the foam pad underneath has been helpful. I may have to take it out and see what’s up; it’s the one thing I didn’t take apart and clean in Missoula, so it may be time.

Nighty night!

Grand Tetons: Elk Cows in the South

The Case of the Missing Showers

Guten Tag!

I’m supposed to be a writer, so this is me writing:

I’m sitting at a picnic table, waiting for water to boil. I haven’t showered in 2.5 days.

Doing a hike right up the side of a mountain today probably didn’t help.

Cascades

Cascade Range, from my campground

Hidden Lake Remained Hidden

It was an odd experience today. I had to turn around, though went until I couldn’t go on any longer. Alone, as it was getting way hotter, and then … I smelled cigarette smoke on the trail?

Even with bear spray, my brain was psyching me out too much. All it kept telling me was that there was a cigarette-smoking loner on the loose. Phooey.

Also I hate uphills, so it might have been my brain sabotaging my hike. 😛 Except … a 9-mile, 2900-elevation gain by myself probably was a bit ambitious?

I did get up to crossing Sibley Creek, and that felt like I was in the land of dinosaurs. There was so much vegetation, huge leaves, slits of brilliant sunlight … it was awesome.

Here’s Hidden Lake via NPS, since I couldn’t deliver 🙂

Diablo Lake

It’s not Hidden: here’s Diablo Lake. Yes, this is the view from my campground. This place is magical.

Shower Sleuthing

After lunch, I went to the Visitor’s Center to text my peeps. That is the only place with service in a 30-mile radius. Then I drove around for 1.5 hours to find ice, and ostensibly to find the place with showers. There are none in the National Park, which seems to be par for the course? I don’t exactly understand that … I guess it’s an environmental thing, and a resource thing? But they could also be making money off them, in theory.

Anyway: North Cascades Visitor’s Center directed me to a campground outside of the park.

I think I drove right by it? (To be fair, I think its signage sucked.)

I ended up in a state park, which had no showers. I also drove by Cascadian Farms. Like, the actual farm of that brand. They had strawberries, but no showers.

Thank heavens for baby wipes, I guess?

Night Life on the Road
Campground in North Cascades NP

Mmmchka. It’s bumping around here.

Meanwhile, for dinner, I’m making Hamburger Helper: Hashbrowns, so that’s exciting.

It doesn’t get dark for a while, so I’ll probably work on some fiction, then listen to an audio book.

Here’s hoping not showering is a natural bug repellent …

Grand Tetons: First Glimpses of Jenny Lake (Teewinot behind it)

Grand Tetons: Solo Hike in Bear Country, then Ranger Hike to Swan Lake, Heron Pond and Half Moon Bay

Diablo Lake, North Cascades

Yes, the water really is this color. The windswept trees were crazy. That happens because they are so high on the cliff and the wind comes right down the mountain, over the lake, and back up.

The coloration of the water is caused by “Glacial flour,” tiny particles that get ground up under and in the glacier, and then come down as the glaciers retreat in the warmer season, or maybe through rain or snow.

Grand Tetons: Up close and personal with the Cathedral Group, Mount Moran, and The Potholes

Grand Tetons: The View from Signal Mountain

The Mountains Are Calling …

It’s been 100 degrees where I am, for about a week. I intended to stay in the 70-degree zone for the duration of this trip, but I guess you can’t control mid-July heat waves.

So, I’m heading back into the mountains! There are new posts scheduled everyday to catch you up on my travels, so be sure to check back every day! Or sign up for my e-newsletter, and get the latest post delivered to your inbox! They’re of my favorite stop so far on this trip … you’ll see why 🙂

For now, as they say: The mountains are calling, and I must go.

xoxo

LJP

Grand Tetons: Chapel of the Sacred Heart

Grand Tetons: Jackson Lake Lodge

Grand Tetons: Driving In

Grand Tetons: First Glimpses, Day One

Grand Tetons: Made It!

My entire trip is focused around two particular landscape/park areas I’ve been dying to see: the Grand Tetons, and Arches/Bryce/etc in Utah. 

That’s why I just powered on through the blizzard there other day, and that’s why I just spent an overnight and morning in The First National Park.

Oh god, you guys. There’s no way to do the freaking Grand Tetons justice, so I’ll let the galleries speak for themselves over the next few days. I’ve been to some other places by now, but I think the Tetons will always hold a special majesty for me. I could live there (say, next summer? :))

Here was my first glimpse, driving in:

 

 

Squatty Potty: An Interlude

 

So, I could present this sign without comment, but there is SO MUCH TO SAY HERE.

First of all: wtf*.

Then, I don’t even want to know how they got to the point they needed this.

Or the potential disasters … I mean, these are pit toilets. You do NOT want any part of your body slipping and falling into or on ANY of these things.

Then, as Carrie pointed out: OMFG WHO DESIGNED THIS. It has become my mission when I spend my full time in Yellowstone to figure this out.

*OK, so as I also told Carrie: I knew that most other cultures squat, from friends in the Peace Corps and who’ve spent excessive time in other countries, and my own time, uh, adjusting in Italy.

But, she also hadn’t seen the FREAKING SQUATTY POTTY COMMERCIAL. I mean, it’s literally using a Princess Bride –esque Prince and a unicorn shitting rainbow fro yo to explain the benefits of squatting. AYIYIYIY. So here’s that for anyone who hasn’t seen that:

And this has been your Squatty Potty interlude.

-LJP

Day 13: The Blizzard

Have I mentioned the weather was jumping all over the place out here? Mountains, I guess.

 

I woke up and lolled about Gillette, knowing I only had a few hours’ drive to the campground in Buffalo, where I would let the storm pass.

 

Yeah.

 

After a slow start, reorganizing some stuff, indulging in unlimited wifi and showers and taking extra helpings of fruit from the free breakfast, I went to the Rock Pile Museum, at my dad’s behest. It was actually very interesting.

 

I also found out that Gillette is one of the energy capitols of America – and that a small company my friend works for is HQ’d there. More signs from the universe.

 

Then I hit the road, figuring I’d make it to the campground with plenty of time to set up and then chill – spacing out the set up/break down as much as possible.

 

Yeah.

 

When I left Gillette, it was 76 and sunny. I was feeling good.

 

Just like the day before, it was rolling hills and sunshine most of the way, until a bit before I started getting to my destination, the Big Horn National Forest.

 

As I crossed into yet another unbelievably gorgeous and foreign-to-me landscape, I had to wonder if it was Narnia out here, or some other fantastical place? Or maybe the weather Gods just have a plan for me?

 

As I pulled closer to the mountains – mountains! – the skies began to darken.

 

“Oh no, do they have tornados on mountains?” (Your thoughts get weird when you’re alone.)

 

Nope.

 

They have snow.

 

It is June, and I drove through an actual blizzard. At 10,000 feet. On a mountain top.

 

It was sleeting. Fortunately, the National Forest Service had built good roads. There were beautiful overlooks and turn outs, optimizing the park’s dramatic features – river canyons, mountain lakes, etc.

 

I rolled up to the campground in the middle of this.

 

I knew almost immediately I would not be staying.

 

First, it was sleeting horizontally across the beautiful lake, directly into the campsites. I was shivering. The weather showed no signs of letting up.

 

Then, as I was pulling up to investigate, a shabby creature shuffled toward me.

 

I’ve been in a lot of campgrounds, and this figure was not just camp dirty. His sweater was torn and soiled. His face hadn’t been washed in weeks. Of course, he ambled right up to my driver’s side window to ask if I’d seen the campground host, so he could get a forecast.

 

I kept driving.

 

It was exhausting, and I really wish I’d spent more time in the beautiful country I instead pushed through. It’s the closest to reactivating my old shoulder pain that I’ve gotten so far.

 

I made it to a WalMart in Cody, WY, “just outside of Yellowstone,” and got some food and called my mother, since I finally had cell service.

 

The Big Horn National Forest, Ten Sleep, the forest and river outside of the east entrance of Yellowstone – this is all beautiful country. I passed a wild mustang (horse) preserve. I passed a million different landscapes.

 

As I left Cody, the sun came out, lighting up the river that runs through the park before Yellowstone proper.

 

It is also one of the most active bear habitats in the country (world?), so you can only stay there with a hard-sided unit I was jealous of my cousins, who would be staying there in an RV in a week or so.

 

The thing about this part of the country is that everything takes longer than you think.

 

By the time I reached my campsite, down around the figure 8 that is Yellowstone, it was nearly sundown.

 

The drive was beautiful. Beautiful. It looked like something out of Tolkein. Then, the park is in the mountains – mountain tops. The drive in goes by the giant Yellowstone Lake. I couldn’t believe I was in America. There were mountains across this blue-grey lake, a color I’ve never seen and am not sure how to describe. It glittered in the sunlight.

 

There was still snow by the side of the road, too. More cold.

 

I finally got to my campground. I was nervous – this was my first night in Bear Country, as a billboard on the highway loudly reminded me.

 

Lo! The man who checked me in … went to Michigan State.

 

We talked for a while, about majors and life paths. He’s retired and he and his wife live in a RV there for the summer. Imagine! Living in Yellowstone. So cool.

 

Bear Country

This was my first night camping in bear country, so I grilled my new friend about it.

 

When you drive into Yellowstone, there are signs everywhere, with a giant bear paw print (including long, long claws) in the middle: “BE BEAR AWARE. FOOD STORAGE REQUIRED.”

 

Ditto when you pull into the campground.

 

The dumpsters and trash cans are different, too: they are special, bear secured ones.

 

Then, when you register for your campsite, you actually have to sign a paper that says you are aware you are in bear country, and will follow the federal and campground regulations for food and “other” storage.

 

The other is interesting and was the most surprising stuff I learned. Tom explained that the reason you can’t have water bottles in your tent is not because of the water, but because the bears like chewing on the plastic. They also are attracted to lots of scents humans now use in their cleaning and toiletry products: mint, etc. So you can’t brush your teeth or wash your dishes at the campsite – they provide “dishwashing sinks,” which are in a secured closet in between the men’s and women’s bathrooms. No bug spray or any toiletries in your tent – including chap stick. Crazy.

 

Feeling reasonably satisfied that I was where I was meant to be, and that the park and campgrounds were doing a decent job, so I wouldn’t be immediately eaten by a bear, I bid him adieu and got back in my car.

 

I instantly remembered my biggest Q and hopped back out and ran back up to his window.

 

“It’s okay to have bear spray in my tent, right?” I said, in a timid breathlessness brought on by terror and altitude.

 

He chuckled. “Well, they don’t like that taste much, so you’ll be okay.” I swear he winked.

 

I threw my tent up in the middle of the tenting field, loop D (there are ~450 campsites at this campground, one of five reservable ones in YS), put in the basics for sleeping, and got in and shivered. Cold and wet is very hard. Cold is hard enough, but wet sharpens the edge.

 

The shivers also probably came from being not quite sure what to expect on the wildlife front, but I had my bear spray in the tent with me, so I figured I’d at least have a shot of surviving an attack.

 

There were four young men at the site behind mine, around a large fire. Everyone else around me was families.

 

I finally fell asleep, and slept pretty hard. I’m sure my body thought we were going back into hibernation.

Day 12: Wyoming, Mishaps, & Devil’s Tower

Today my plan was to get to Buffalo, WY, a nice stop on the way to the Tetons.

I took the long way, route 14, to Devil’s Tower.

There was something about crossing into Wyoming. I really liked it. It helped that it was sunny, but I liked the wide openness and the verdant feel. There were more farms here, rather than just prairie. More rolling hills.

I also incidentally took the junction through Sundance, which was kind of cool. I made it a point to look for Robert Redford, but couldn’t tell which farm may be his.

These are the kinds of places where a rugged older actor, like Kevin Costner or Jeff Bridges could be wandering around in a ball cap, and I’d miss it. I kept my eyes peeled a little better after that.

Devil’s Tower

Devil’s Tower is incredible cool and mystifying – even to geologists, it turns out. There are about three theories, but no one agrees.

It’s so big and solo that you can see it far off in the distance, before you get there, which is cool.

They have a nice visitor’s center and a trail around it. You can camp there too, which is neat. It was a bit too far from where I was hoping to be, or I may have.

For more: https://www.nps.gov/deto/index.htm

I did the trail and then hit the road again, through Wyoming’s back roads – where the speed limit is 70. The one road I was on felt like I was driving through someone’s ranch. It was also next to a huge lake – which had a fence around it, so you couldn’t access it. That made me appreciate all the publicly accessible land I’ve been around.

Then, on my way through a tiny junction [read, 45 mph “town”] connecting the 70 mph back road to an 80 mph highway, I got pulled over. By a state trooper. Going [redacted for mom] over the speed limit.

I have a lead foot, and have been lucky in the past. People did warn me that out of state plates are a prime target out west, so to be on the lookout.

I was so out of practice with being pulled over that I opened … my driver’s side window. The kid state trooper, about my age, looked a bit like Todd (!) from Breaking Bad. He smiled and knocked on the passenger side window. “This one,” he said.

He asked where I was going and how fast I thought I was going.

I told him, and made a to-do about the speed limits out here.

He then noticed my Michigan State shirt. “You from Michigan?”

“Yes, and I went to State.”

“Ah, I’m from Tawas.”

“No way! I’m from Midland!” (They are like, 45 minutes apart.)

He smiled and looked down at the pile of stuff in front of my glovebox. “Do you think you can get your registration and insurance out of there?”

I laughed – a little nervous. I know cops don’t like when you reach for stuff. “I can, I will just need to move some stuff.”

So in an overly cautious manner, I said what I was going to move before I would. “Ok, I’m just going to move this bag … OK, now this pillow …”

Finally got to them. “I’ll just take these and run them, and we’ll see,” he said.

The sweat-inducing wait for a verdict, and the prayers, began. I really can’t afford a big ticket.

The time-space continuum that exists in doctor’s offices and getting pulled over finally ended. He had a paper in his hand. Shit.

“I’m just going to give you a warning, this is the paper that explains. This is a small town, wouldn’t want anyone getting hit,” he said. I looked around and saw no one – not in parking lots or windows or anywhere near a road.

“Yes sir,” I said.

Needless to say, I’ve (mostly) followed the speed limit since.

Also, Justin and I discussed how you can drive about up to 80 comfortably, but anything over 80 requires concentration, so it isn’t as fun. Like, at 80, I can have one hand on the wheel, change the radio, eat, whatever else you do while driving long distances. Anything over 80 requires two hands and eyes peeled.

So, at the speed limit, I continued. I had about two hours to go.

Wyoming is cool because there’s just huge expanses, but it’s not as boring because there are rolling hills, farms, small towns or ranches, and the giant sky ahead of you, putting on a show.

In fact, the further west I drove, the more of a show the sky was putting on.

Wy-zard of Oz

I knew there were storms in the forecast, but it’s been a bit hard to pinpoint the exact weather, since I don’t know exactly where I am going to land, and since the distances I’ve been covering have been so vast.

I also grew up in the country, and am well familiar with severe storms and tornado weather in the summer.

The rain started as I passed one of the few major towns I’d see on my drive, Gillette, WY.

There was just something about the shape of the clouds ahead: their purple-ish color, and the eerie, sand color that was being projected below them.

As I passed the sign for my destination county, I instinctively turned the radio on. The alarm was beeping. “If you are in an automobile, find shelter right now. A tornado has touched down in Johnson County. This is a warning of the public …”

I found the first “emergency vehicles only” turn around (exits are few and far between in this sparsely populated country.)

I sped back to Gillette, the last city I’d seen.

I made it to a gas station, where I filled up and took a breath inside to figure out where to stay. My hands were shaking.

I used TripAdvisor and “splurged” a bit on the Quality Inn. Glad for that – I drove by the cheapest option, and it was a motel that had been fitted into an old strip mall (not in a good way.)

Again, the Universe smiled on this:

As I walked into the lobby, I passed a man who had a walkie-talkie. I assumed he worked there.

The check-in girl was nice, and I told her I was glad they had a room, so I could avoid the tornado.

She smiled and pointed to the guy with the walkie-talkie. “You should talk to him. He works for the Weather Service.”

My jaw like, hit the counter.

In case my car decided to pull a Wizard of Oz and fly off in a tornado in the middle of the night, I went back out to my car to get my most valuable stuff. The guy with the walkie-talkie was standing at the entrance, watching the sky, listening to the talkie.

“Some weather, eh?” I said.

“Oh yeah. Look at this, this is the first time Wyoming has ever gotten an ‘extremely severe’ weather alert.”

I sighed: of course it was.

He showed me his work phone’s email – an official @ .gov email. Crazy.

I told him I was supposed to camp there, and was grateful there was a place to stay.

He told me that his daughter lived that way, and showed me some pictures of the big country place she’d bought. He added that I should move my car around to the other side of the building, since the wind was coming this way.

I did.

Hotel Life

It was interesting to spend the night in a hotel – mostly for the unlimited access to wifi and showers.

I reorganized some of the stuff I’d brought in, piled up the stuff I needed to mail, and hit the hay early-ish.

The storms abated over night, so I didn’t need to worry. I slept pretty dang good, in a bed I realized was twice the size of my tent.

Western Caffei-nation

As you ride along some of the byways in SD and WY, there are these little “espresso barns.” Literally. They are basically turnouts off a medium-level road (byway, between a highway and a backroad). You pull up to a shed with a little take out window. I’ll have to start noticing the names. But that’s a thing here, apparently. Which is interesting, because that seems like it should be an East Coast thing. But it’s in Italy and stuff, so maybe it’s only from the coast to the Mississippi that this is not a thing. This being espresso barns and the promotion of espresso, specifically; this country’s ridiculous caffeine addiction (plus sleeplessness epidemic) is in full swing (hey Monster.)

Wind Cave: Cute spring fawns!

Custer State Park

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