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Yellowstone (Part II), Boise, and More

Volume 24: Wed Nov 27, 2002

My zoom lens got some very nice pictures of this elk from a safe distance

After that first eventful day at Yellowstone, my memory of the following days starts to become unclear. (This trip happened way back in September, in case you hadn't realized it. I have a lot of catching up to do!) But Amanda kept a journal of the adventure, which she lent to me to help jog my memory where needed.

The September 19th entry (our second full day in Yellowstone) begins: "Woke up this morning and a female elk was walking around the campground." And that's all she had to write about the elk. Somehow, I expected more from her about that elk because I think she followed it around for a couple of hours trying to take pictures while I stayed curled up in my tent and sleeping bag wishing the cold, frigid air to go away. =) And of course, *I* wouldn't have mentioned the incident at all, except for this journal entry of hers. It's really interesting to read another person's account of the same day and notice all the things I *didn't* really notice.

For day 2 at Yellowstone, we decided to make a loop around the northern half of the park. Our first stop was at Mammoth Springs, where colorful pools of scalding water cascade, one into another. Of all the thermal features at Yellowstone, the terraces of Mammoth Springs are my favorite. While we were wandering around we spotted a beautiful elk with a huge rack on its head. Naturally me and every other tourist in the area put on our zoom lenses and started taking pictures as if film was going extinct soon. Amanda stood back taking pictures of the dozens of photographers—myself included—commenting, "And this is the OFF season!" =) Hey, I never claimed to look like anything but a tourist!

Some tourists seemed extraordinarily stupid trying to get this close to get a picture of the elk! Fortunately, the elk this them alone. This time....

At the visitor center here, there's a board with recent "bear encounters" that was fun to read in a twisted sort of way. A couple of weeks before a backpacker was bitten in the butt by a bear. The victim was sleeping soundly in their tent, minding their own business, and a bear snuck up and bit them in the tush. The hiker hiked out and reported the incident, and Amanda and I felt sorry for the poor guy since most likely his friends would harass him for the rest of his life about being bitten in the butt by a bear. Life is rough in the woods, but it can be rough back at home too! The press release also noted that the victim was unable to identify if was a grizzly or black bear that bit him in the butt since he was in his tent at the time and didn't actually see the bear. Neither of the two bear encounters on the bulletin board resulted in anything worse than flesh wounds, though, but man I wish I could read all about THEIR adventures at Yellowstone! I also got to point out to Amanda that, "Look! See, bears really DO exist out there, even if we still have yet to see one!"

These buffalo seemed inclined to lay around on the warm asphalt rather than in the woods

Then we drove on to check out Tower Falls, an impressive waterfall crashing out from between towering pinnacles of rock. It's truly a spectacular waterfall except for the fact that it seems to be forever in shadows.

Then we headed off to see the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone, a massive, beautiful, ochre-colored (I just HAD to use that word—ochre—in a sentence to show off my budding vocabulary!) canyon with a series of views called wonderfully idealistic names such as "Artist's Viewpoint" and "Inspiration Point".

These terraces of scalding water at Mammoth Springs are my favorite thermal features of the park—they look like something from another planet!

On our way back, Amanda got to witness her first Buffalo Jam. A bunch of buffalo decided it would be fun to wreck havok on the local road systems and decided to walk up in the middle of the road and lay down. Now when a several ton behemoth decides to sit down on the road and do nothing, there's not much one can do about it except give it menacing looks through your windshield and take pictures. (Not always in that order.) Naturally, cars began to pile up around the intersection, unable to continue to their original destination. Some Japanese couples went out to get a picture of their kids 'riding' the buffalo. Okay, we didn't really see that, but if I recall correctly, Amanda did tell me about people doing that in her "Deaths in Yellowstone" book. Eventually, cars started driving around the buffalo, including us, and we headed back to camp.

These are the remains of the previous hikers on the trail. Okay, maybe not, but the thermal features did claim victim

While peering over our pathetic lack of campfire (no more firewood!), another camper wandered over to me asking if that Ford Taurus in our campsite was mine. He said he had one just like it over there (while pointing in the appropriate direction) and asked all sorts of questions about how many miles it had, how long I had had it, and if I've ever had car problems with it. That last question we thought was pretty amusing. "Now that you mention it.... Yesterday, the alternator went out!" I learned that HIS alternator had also gone out awhile ago, but rather being just a plain suicide like my alternator, his was a murder-suicide and took out his car battery with it.

A couple of geysers going off next to each other

After he left, I commented to Amanda that that guy was pretty strange, asking me about my car like that. I mean, come on, it's not like it was a porsche or something really cool. It was a boring old Ford Taurus! And Amanda said he was probably just lonely since he seemed to be camping by himself. Which, after checking out his car (looked exactly like mine!), seemed to be the case. How cruel I was. I should have offered to invite him to our pathetic excuse of a campfire for a little Robert Service readings. Heck, maybe he even had wood to help get the campfire going. =)

Amanda's journal also points out a couple of interesting observations such as:

Amanda seems excited about seeing the geysers

I can tell Amanda was really having the time of her life. But sometimes you have to read between the lines. =)

Day 3 in Yellowstone begins: "Today we had frost on the tent when we woke up. We had cereal for breakfast and our bowls slid around on the picnic table."

A cone from a geyser lit up by what's left of the fading light of sunset

I was probably still in the tent thinking, "Why is it so freaking cold outside?!" I admit it, I'm a sucker for a nice, warm sleeping bag. Once I get up I'm good, but the process of getting out of a nice, warm, comfortable environment into a cold, harsh one is a tough battle for me.

This time we decided to make a loop out of the southern half of Yellowstone. This was our intended plan our first day in Yellowstone, but that plan got scrapped when my car broke down and we spent the whole day wandering around Old Faithful. This time, we made it to Old Faithful without additional assistance. We already saw everything around the area, but we still needed to fill up on gas and Old Faithful had plenty of it. Heck, we even knew the mechanic that worked there! He was there when we pulled up, and he asked how my car was doing. =)

Lone Star Geyser erupts once every three hours or so, and we happened to arrive at just the right time!

After filling up with gas, we continued on. Destination: Lone Star Geyser. It's called that because it's alone. The nearest large geyser is three miles away as the bird flies (Old Faithful). We were horrified to discover upon reaching the trailhead that there was a school bus (a SCHOOL BUS, for goodness sake!) parked there. We had a pretty good hunch that we wouldn't be alone on THIS hike. And sure enough, when we reached the geyser, dozens of 7th graders were running around having a good old time. This geyser erupts approximately every three hours, and we had no idea when it was supposed to erupt next. About the hike, Amanda wrote in her journal: "It was a nice LEVEL walk." (The emphasis on 'level' is Amanda's, not mine!) I pulled out one of my Spanish books and proceeded to learn more about some of the verb tenses. And wouldn't you know it, Lone Star began to erupt! I got Amanda back to enjoy the view (another one wouldn't come for three more hours!) and take pictures, including one of Amanda standing under the geyser so it looks like the water is coming out of her head. (Amanda blows her top!)

The geyser was beautiful. It was large, and had a well-formed cone jutting out, and after about fifteen minutes Lone Star Geyser ceased its eruption. Then we headed back to the car.

An elk, silhouetted near sunset

We drove on to Yellowstone Lake where we enjoyed more thermal features and a nice lunch at a lakeside pullout. And headed back to camp rather early this time around. A bunch of elk had been hovering in a meadow near our campsite during the whole trip, so near sunset Amanda and I wandered off to join the gaggle of tourists with cameras larger than their heads and join the fun. (And this is the OFF season!) The highlight was when we got to watch a full-sized elk, antlers extended, charging down the road after a small, green car. If I were to place bets, it would not have been with the car! But the car sped away up the hill away from the elk and got away safely. It probably gave the people driving the vehicle a healthy appreciation for the term 'wildlife'. =)

Yellowstone Falls is the largest of the waterfalls in Yellowstone

Before going to sleep, Amanda popped open a bottle of wine. Yes, wine. I know nobody else in the history of camping that's brought a bottle of wine with them—beer, certainly—but wine?! Leave it to Amanda. She mentions none of this in her journal, but she claimed the next morning that she slept GREAT! Heck, I could have zipped up the tent completely and she probably wouldn't have even noticed. So there you have it: Wine helps reduce the sense of claustrophobia. Right from the horse's mouth (or Amanda's, as the case may be).

This picture shows how quickly the terrain can change. The rotten, twisted snags once known as trees died when a thermal hot spot opened up underneath them.

About our last morning in Yellowstone Amanda writes: "Woke up this morning to another gorgeous sunny day—but also cold! When we put out the milk and OJ for breakfast, they froze while sitting on the picnic table." And that was back in September. I'm thinking Amanda wouldn't have found it as amusing if we were out there right now! =)

We drove south out of Yellowstone through Grand Tetons National Park before heading back west. Next stop: Idaho Falls. Now you would think that a city named Idaho Falls would actually have some sort of waterfall to be admired, and you'd be right. We stopped to eat at a brewery/restaurant near the falls then walked along them just to say we've "been there, done that."

Amanda writes: "This is our first night in a hotel! =) Cable TV *AND* a shower! Hurrah. We immediately took showers and then went out to find someplace to eat." And later, after watching some television, she writes, "We watched 'Roman Holiday'. Ryan really enjoyed it!" Yes, I did, but she doesn't write ANYTHING about the sobbing mass of tears she was at the end of the movie because of the sad ending. *rolling eyes* Are all women like this?! =)

The leaves started to change to fall colors during our trip

The next morning, Amanda continues writing: "What a way to start the morning. Waking up in an actual BED! Took another shower just to savor the experience." I guess eight days of roughing it were too much for this lady. =)

I try on some glasses for sale at a gift shop in the Grand Tetons

We loaded up my car and headed westward, following rarely used state highways. After driving for a half hour or so without passing a single person, Amanda made the astute observation, "Can you believe it? And this is the OFF season!" She's always the comedian. And it seemed the hotel stay did wonders for her sense of humor. =)

On this leg of our journey, we passed through the quaint little town of Arco, Idaho. Most of you have probably never heard of this town. We hadn't pretty much until we passed through it. But they've put up large billboards surrounding their city proclaiming it to be the first city (in the world!) to be lighted by a new energy source: nuclear power. The town folks seem quite proud of this dubious honor, and if it weren't for that event they probably wouldn't even bother to waste ink by printing the name of the town on maps.

But on we went, this time to stop at Craters of the Moon National Monument. This volcanic area is covered with lava, the dark and lifeless landscape giving the area its name. If you've ever walked out on a jetty jumping along from rock to rock—that's what this landscape is like with barely a hint of life anywhere you look. It's kind of neat like looking at an accident on the side of the road is neat. Not normally what I would call "beautiful", but certainly hypnotic in it's own, lifeless way.

We drove through the Grand Tetons, but didn't stop to hike any of the trails

Somewhere along this drive we discovered in one of my guide books that a Mr. Earnest Hemingway once lived in nearby Sun Valley, which is also where he committed suicide and his gravesite rests in Ketchum, Idaho. Now Amanda is a voracious reader, so I figured she'd be all over the idea of visiting his gravesite, but as it turns out she wasn't much impressed with Hemingways scribblings and it didn't much matter to her. Out of morbid curiosity, we did end up deciding to go visit Hemingway, since it wasn't more than about 30 miles out of our way.

The only clue we had for Hemingway's final resting place was our guidebook that said to look in the cemetery towards the back, or something vague like that. Nothing about WHERE the cemetery was or anything useful. But being a fairly small town, I figured we couldn't go wrong driving along the "main" road into and out of town and looking for a cemetery. After all, how many could such a small town have? And it would most likely be in a prominent place since all small towns have cemeteries on prominent roads going in and out of town. I suspect Amanda figured there was a flaw in my logic somewhere, but she humored me.

The scarred landscape of Craters of the Moon is a harsh habitant where few plants and animals can survive

And sure enough, we found the cemetery. =) It wasn't very big, but we headed towards the back of it and split up, walking up and down the graves until we found it. Yep, there was Hemingway. As far as grave markers go, I really expected something more impressive to show where one of literature's 'greatest' writers was eternally interred. But no, it was a big slab of rock, flat on the ground, with nothing more than his name and dates he lived. Lots of coins were on it, where fans could make wishes or something like that.

As we left, I shouted back at Earnest (we're on a first name basis, now) about how stupid his books were, especially writing an entire BOOK on an old geezer trying to catch a fish. And if he could think of no better place than Ketchum to live his retirement years, I couldn't blame him much for wanting to commit suicide. I'd probably want to too if I had to spend more than a week there. =) (I'm so horrible, I know.)

The Old Idaho State Penitentiary turned out to be a far more fascinating place to visit than either of us imagined!

In the town of Ketchum, we discovered an interesting method they've designed for crossing the street. On each corner of the intersection is a pole with large, red flags sticking out of them. There are directions that tell all persons wishing to cross the street to pick up a flag, wave it around while crossing the street, then deposit the flag into the pole on the other corner. This was a novelty for both of us. It seemed a little like becoming your own crossing guard. Amanda decided to try it, though, bravely setting aside all thoughts of looking like an idiot and taking up one of the flags to cross the street. It wasn't really much of an adventure, but it was funny watching her. I can only imagine this incident never showed up in her journal because by the time she wrote her journal entry, she was too embarrassed to admit it had ever happened. =)

In Ketchum, we stopped to eat buffalo burgers—made with REAL buffalo! Amanda had been wanting them all week long after seeing them in Yellowstone. I guess she wanted one of those, "Seen it, tasted it" t-shirts. =) While at the park, she even stopped one employee there long enough to ask if there was anywhere in the park where she could order a buffalo burger, but was told that there were no such places in the park providing such burgers. It would "look bad" to be protecting buffalo, then serving them up for lunch at the same time, although it's been shown that buffalo meat is not only healthier than meat from cows, but on a pound-by-pound basis, buffalo is less harsh on the environment than cows for the same amount of meat. So in Ketchum, we finally ordered buffalo burgers, and chomped down on this amazing creature.

I found myself locked in solitary confinement while Amanda roughed it in a normal jail block

And finally we reached Boise where we spent the night.

Next up: A day of letterboxing. First thing in the morning we headed off to the Old Idaho State Penitentiary where I hid a box on a nearby hill. The place was used as a prison for over a hundred years, closing in 1973 (after a nasty little riot), and now has been turned into a very fascinating state park. You can indulge all of your morbid fascinations here. There's a tatoo exhibit showing the history of tattoos (in places you wouldn't believe!) and how they were created while in prison. (Prisoners were strictly forbidden to get tattoos while incarcerated.) You can visit the gallows where the last person in Idaho to be executed by hanging met his fate. (Very professionally done—not like those tacky wooden contraptions used in the 1800s!) You can check out the cells making up solitary confinement that could drive even the baddest and meanest criminals to call for mama. The small rooms with concrete floors are completely bare of all furnishings, and the only light is from a three inch hole at the top for air to get in. In fact, they were so bad, Amanda refused to get in one for me to take a picture! And even when I walked in so she could get my picture I could feel the hairs on my arms standing straight out.

Amanda gets pardoned and prepares to leave the penitentiary

The prison also holds a fascinating exhibit on weapons used throughout history, and another exhibit showing the various forms of transportation during the time the prison was open.

I could go on forever about this interesting place. Amanda and I expected to spend maybe an hour wandering around the place checking it out, but we ended up staying there for several hours to take in all the exhibits and history of the place. If you're ever in the Boise area, this is one place you CAN'T miss! Definitely worth every cent!

From there, we headed into the heart of Boise to check out the state capital building. There's an old photo of my grandfather sitting on top of a tracker directly in front of the steps of the state capital here, and I wanted to see the place close up and in person. I pretty much had to drag Amanda along since she had absolutely NO interest at all in checking it out.

Upon getting to the capital, there was a podium set up out front but nobody around it doing anything. Took some pictures, then Amanda was ready to go. "But wait! We're all the way here, let's go inside and check it out!" Dragging Amanda along, I assured her that I've been in two other state capitals (Oregon and Georgia) and both were quite interesting inside. Surely Idaho would have some interesting stuff inside to check out as well.

Amanda checks her shades

So we went inside. And it was that easy. Carrying backpacks that for all they knew could have held nerve gas or bombs, we wandered around the capital building checking out the House and Senate rooms, the governors office, and the inside of the beautiful dome. I was amazed. After September 11th, and they didn't even have the nerve to post a guard to ask us if we were terrorists much less searching our bags. It was practically insulting. Heck, even before the September 11th attacks, my backpack was put through an X-ray machine in Georgia's capital after I passed through a full-fledged security checkpoint that made airports look like leaky ships. And Amanda pointed out, "Yeah, but, this is IDAHO, Ryan." As if that answered everything. *rolling eyes*

After a blind man rang up the postcards we bought (the register would actually say how much change we were to receive!), we left the capital. However, now there was a small crowd around the podium, and something was up! It was a "Vote for Otter" thing saying that the state—and the COUNTRY—needed Otter in office to correct all of the world's problems, and he could do it single-handedly, while blindfolded, and both arms tied behind his back. The usual garbage they put out. Amanda and I weren't too up on our Idaho politicians, but I figured out one of the guys was the governor when a man (don't know who) said to another man, "Nice to meet you, Mr. Governor," or something tacky like that.

I posed outside of the Idaho state capitol. Inside, the dome is even more beautiful.

I kept my mouth shut at the time, but later I commented to Amanda, "We could have been walking around with bazookas in our backpacks and NOBODY did anything to prevent us from assassinating the governor of Idaho!!!" Not that we were planning to, but come on—THEY didn't know we weren't psychopaths. I'd have said my assassination comment right then, except that seemed a lot like saying the word "bomb" at an airport. You just don't do it!

I don't know if Otter won the election or not, but in the long run it probably doesn't really matter either. However, the next day, we did hear on the radio that the state capitol was opened up for tourists and such for the first time that week since the September 11th attacks. I guess our timing is just impeccable! =)

While walking back to my car, Amanda told me she was glad I dragged her into going to the capital, because it really was interesting and she didn't realize what she'd be missing. I told her I'd have to start making sure she visits more capital buildings in the future. =)

After finding a couple more letterboxes, we stopped to visit Ayrn, another letterboxer neither of us had ever met before, but what the heck?

We had a wonderful time chatting with Ayrn the rest of the night. Turns out Ayrn's parents wanted a boy to call Ryan, but when they had a girl they rearranged the letters to spell Ayrn. =) Well, I thought it was a cute idea, at least. *shrug*

Can you see the governor of Idaho in the photo? Look closely, because he's there!

Anyhow, we ended up spending the night at Ayrn's place before heading off for another fun-filled day of letterboxing.

The rest of the trip mostly consisted of driving with finding or placing random letterboxes along the way. Our plan was to make a loop out of our trip, going back west along I-84 into Portland, and north back into Seattle.

Amanda's such a goofball, and I finally escape solitary confinement

One town we drove through was Halfway, Oregon. I read that it's called that because it's near the 45th parallel—halfway between the North Pole and the equator for those not up on their geography. (Technically, it's four miles away from the 45th parallel.) Amanda found a reference that it's called that because it's halfway between Baker City and Hell's Canyon. Regardless, it's a pretty unimaginative name in both of our opinions, which is probably why a small, start-up Internet company was able to talk the town into renaming itself Half.com for a year and erect a large billboard proclaiming itself as the first dot com town in America. Which is an even bigger irony when you consider how un-tech-like and dull this little noname town is. But now Amanda and I have bragging rights to visiting the first (and only, as far as I know) dot com city in the world. Later Ebay bought Half.com, which is why you can read press releases on Ebay's website about this little, unknown town—that didn't even show up on many maps—suddenly started receiving national media attention from a dot com publicity stunt.

I'll point out one other landmark we passed along the way, which is a life-sized replica of Stonehenge overlooking the Oregon/Washington border. Anyone living in the Pacific Northwest for more than a few months probably knows of it even if they've never actually visited the place, but it's amazing that such a wonderful oddity is so little known outside of the area.

We follow in the footsteps of Oregon Trail travelers

Amanda gets a terrible fright from this buffalo!

It was created by a strange man named Samuel Hill. If you've ever heard of the phrase, "What in Sam Hill....?!", there's a good possibility the phrase came into existence when travelers spotted this life-size replica of Stonehenge in the middle of freaking nowhere and genuinely wondered what Sam Hill was thinking while creating this monument dedicated to the soldiers of Klickitat County that were killed in World War I. The monument isn't what Stonehenge looks like today, but rather what it would have looked like before the ages of time turned them into ruins. If you ever find yourself wandering around about 100 miles east of Portland with nothing better to do, this is definitely a place worth checking out.

In Portland, we stayed the night at yet another letterboxer's adobe, Funhog (who's on this mailing list, so I HAVE to mention her by name) and chatted all night about our adventures and carving stamps.

Before heading back to Seattle, we stopped at a corn maze since Amanda had never had the thrill of getting lost in large mazes made of corn. It seems to be a rather recent development—the rise of corn mazes—and they're a hoot to run around in. Especially if it's night and you're using flashlights with dying batteries and it's raining outside. Amanda and I went in broad daylight on a beautiful, clear day, but it was still fun. (I can speak from experience about that night adventure, though, from running around in the dark last year with another friend—also called Amanda—on a wet, muddy night.)

As we ran into the bumper-to-bumper traffic of the Seattle/Tacoma area, I nodded to Amanda and said, "Can you believe it? And this is the OFF season!" =)

A view overlooking Hells Canyon

And after 3,217 miles, we pulled back into Amanda's apartment complex finally completing our two week adventure across five different states. For you east coast folks out there, I'd like to remind you that our states are VERY LARGE, and five states for a single road trip is a lot of ground to cover out west! =) As Amanda wrote in her last journal entry for the trip: "It's good to be home!"

Never fear, though, my adventures have not ended with the road trip, and you'll be hearing more soon enough.


— Ryan

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