National Parks and Monuments, North Carolina mountains, North Carolina State Parks

Wild Hare Retreat

After RBG died, I decided that we really did have to get away. I had waffled until the last minute, but I found a place that we could afford that met our criteria during the week this week, an airBnB place called Wild Hare Historic Farmhouse Retreat right on the Blue Ridge Parkway near Sparta and Stone Mountain State Park, only about an hour and a half drive away. The first night we “glamped” in a 1968 Avion travel trailer parked on the property, and then we moved inside to a room with a private bathroom and a Jacuzzi tub. There is a creek with rapids and a small beach on the property, which was my main criteria. I wanted to get next to running water over rocks.

Now I am sitting at the dining room table of the BnB and the only other person in the house this week is one of the owners, Cara, who is very friendly.

Today is a rainy day, but other than being quite chilly the first night, the weather has been lovely.

On the way up here, we stopped at Stone Mountain State Park for a couple of hours, and I have to wonder why it is that we haven’t been up here in over twenty years. It is a pretty short drive and a really lovely park. We hiked a little and hung out beside a pretty creek with a little whirlpool at the top of the rapids.

Then we went into Sparta and ate inside (!!!!!) at a pizzeria but the tables were well spaced out and the staff and most of the customers were masked.

Then I got a major migraine and so I can’t give you a good description of staying in the travel trailer that night. I will say that the sleeping arrangements were comfortable and it was well equipped enough that we could have stayed in there for the week as we originally planned.

The next day I explored the property and the creek, and we drove to Galax, Virginia and had lunch (inside again!) at a combination antique store and cafe called Briar Patch Marketplace and Cafe on Main Street. The sandwiches and soup were very good (oh my God, that pimento cheese!!!) and they were doing all the covid precautions right. It was 2:15 p.m. by that time and there weren’t many people there.

We moseyed around the antique part and it was one of those consignment malls with a lot of different booths. I found a treasure trove of old books for very cheap that were amazing for the kind of collage that I do. I knew that I was in serious danger so I left after picking out three books in five minutes. I do NOT have room for more books. As it is I have started stacking them on the floor. Unfortunately when I went up to pay THAT person was not masked. I handed him my credit card and stepped back in a hurry. Then down the street the music store we wanted to go into had three guys without masks just inside the front door. So we headed back to Sparta.

We visited a local potter’s studio and then hit the Food Lion to get me some Allegra and some snacks. That night I don’t think Sandy ate anything but I munched on Goat Lady Dairy marinated goat cheese and crackers and was happy. We sat beside the fire pit and Cara joined us and brought marshmallows to roast under the stars. Then we enjoyed the Jacuzzi in our bathroom and it was a great one!

Wednesday was warm enough that I waded in the creek and collected a few rocks. Sandy started a drawing for a watercolor of the springhouse. I sat on the back porch listening to the water down below and lo and behold, my muse came back, finally! Next post.

That night we went early to a nice restaurant in Sparta called Crave, and our meals, chicken marsala and spaghetti with Italian sausage, were excellent. We both had desserts that were amazing – tiramisu and Italian cheesecake. We were going to visit the local brewery but had to waddle back to the car and so we came back and spent a quiet night reading and watching TV.

I would be content staying here at the retreat the whole time, actually. There is delicious water straight from the spring, cats, and chickens, flowers and herbs, the sound of water over rocks. I am more relaxed than I’ve been for a long time. I suspect that I will come back. They are not open all the time though, because they are heading to their other job as captains on a catamaran that hosts three couples in Florida! So Scott is already down there getting ready for that gig.

This morning I have been playing with collage. See the next post.

Tomorrow we go back to Greensboro.

National Parks and Monuments, New Mexico, Santa Fe

Bandelier National Monument

As much as I’d like to show some photos of the Georgia O’Keeffe Museum, which was our first stop on Thursday morning, somehow there are no photos. My camera was dead and I know that Sandy and Cherie were clicking away. Hmmmm. Spirits interfering? Anyway, the camera worked outside the museum. As you might expect, seeing so many of her paintings in one place was very inspiring, and it made me want to reread the biography of her that I read several years ago.

Cherie dropped us off to get our rental car after this and said goodbye. We immediately drove out to Bandelier National Monument. If you haven’t been there in recent years, access has changed during the main tourist season. You park about 20 minutes away and a shuttle bus takes you down to the Visitor’s Center in the canyon. Nice ride, and allows you the leisure to view the walls of the canyon which are riddled with holes.

Once there, Sandy was finally able to do a hike up to see petroglyphs. I was not feeling well either. This particular trail was paved and easily accessible, with lots of benches along the way to stop, rest, and observe. Opportunities were there to climb ladders up into some of the cliff dwellings in some areas. We chose not to do those. Our walk back took us along the creek at the bottom of the canyon.

If you go to my photos on Flickr and open them on a large screen, you will likely see many petroglyphs. As we stood there looking at these walls, we kept finding more. The holes in straight lines indicate where the lodgepoles supported the roof of the rooms that were built in front of the cliff. Some holes were hollowed out and worked into rooms inside the rock. The walls of these pueblos were usually covered in plaster. The pictograph below was found behind some plaster and preserved against the elements.

Then we headed up high, high, high on the High Road to Taos, where our AirBNB apartment awaited us in Truchas. We were tired but we had to eat. So down the mountain roads we went to the Ranchos de Chimayo Restaurante, an award winning, friendly, and surprisingly inexpensive place with lots of charm. It was our 32nd wedding anniversary. Hard to imagine sometimes. We learned a lesson about drinking alcohol at high altitude – it packs a much larger punch.

It was chilly and the wind whistled around the house. Lorey had built a fire in the woodstove to warm the apartment. I could have easily holed up in this cozy place full of books and art and beautiful textiles and read for three days.

Chaco Culture National Park, National Parks and Monuments, New Mexico, UNESCO World Heritage sites

Chaco Culture National Historical Park

We got on the road early on Monday morning and headed for Chaco Culture National Historical Park, which is way down a washboard rutted dirt road surrounded by desert and the Navajo Nation. It is well worth the trip, but be prepared for sun and bring food if you need a meal because it is a long way to the nearest restaurant.

This is a UNESCO World Heritage site as well as a National Park. It was a major trade and ceremonial center for the Puebloan peoples who visited and lived here. Cherie and I headed up the cliff trail near the Visitor Center. Sandy was having altitude adjustment problems and sat below in the shadow of a ruin to take in the sights and photograph us from below. (By the way, this vertical foray kicked off my vertigo and I had to be very careful on the way around!)

Then we joined a ranger to explore and learn about the Pueblo Bonito, which was once a four-story structure. Actually, I guess it still is. The bottom two floors were filled back in after excavation to keep it stablized. So what you are looking at in these photos are the two upper floors!

There were more petroglyphs near the hole in the cliff that the ranger said lined up on the north/south axis with another across the canyon, but they were difficult to photograph in the sun. I noticed online that there were really great petroglyphs down a long trail where we had neither the time or energy to hike. Too bad. I love ancient art and the mysterious symbols. Maybe I will get to go there again one day.

Because it is so remote, this is an International Dark Sky Park. Wouldn’t it be great to camp here and look at the stars! May seems like a good time to visit because it wasn’t very crowded when we were there. Of course, it was a Monday, so not many families were there. Mostly a lot of seniors or near seniors with trekking poles, like us.

Then Cherie, heroic driver, drove us to Santa Fe through country that looked like Hollywood western movie territory. I could imagine cowboys and outlaws riding through the sage. We stayed at Santa Fe Sage Inn. It was a very nice hotel for the price, and they had a great hot buffet breakfast. We pretty much hit the bed and rested for the next day.

Aztec Ruins National Monument, National Parks and Monuments, New Mexico

Aztec Ruins National Monument

We stopped at Aztec Ruins National Monument on the afternoon of Sunday, May 12. This is an easily accessible, compact, 900 year old pueblo great house site. You can explore it in an hour with no climbing or hiking. Despite the name, this is NOT an Aztec site. It is one of the communities that branched out from the Chaco Canyon center. Because of this close connection, it is also a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

That night we stayed in a Super 8 in Bloomfield, New Mexico that was surprisingly nice! We ate Texas style BBQ and tacos across the street at Serious Texas BBQ. North Carolinians can be quite snooty about BBQ. I’ve never been a big fan, which makes me a heretic here, but I’m not fond of vinegary food. I ate a brisket BBQ taco and peach cobbler with ice cream. Delicious.

Next stop: Chaco Culture National Park

Fossil Butte National Monument, Idaho, Idaho-Wyoming trip, National Parks and Monuments, Utah, Wyoming

Fossil Butte National Monument, and going home

There seemed to be historical markers about the Oregon Trail or California Trail or Mormon pioneers everywhere we went. I like the way Idaho paints its historical markers. Our metal ones might hold up to all kinds of abuse (and we saw one marker in Idaho that had been destroyed by a wildfire) but the metal ones with just type are so boring compared to Idaho’s artful markers.

We crossed back over the state line to see Fossil Butte National Monument, near Kemmerer, Wyoming. The visitor’s center was extremely interesting, with a timeline that led from the beginning of geological history up to the present, beginning as you drove up the road. The spatial aspect of it was mind-blowing. I am fascinated with geology but if I studied it for long my head would explode. Seriously. The fossils within were excellent too. A nice follow-up to our trips to four other fossil-related National Monuments in the last five years.

We didn’t spend long here. We needed food and we had turned our thoughts to returning home. A side trip to Kemmerer filled our bellies at a sweet little diner on the main drag and then Sandy wanted to take the quickest way to Salt Lake City, so instead of the scenic route, we took Interstate 80, where the speed limit was 80 and every big truck in the area was zooming through. The wind was up and I can say that this was my least favorite part of the trip. I had a death grip on the wheel while Sandy napped, and then he awoke to watch me drive a long fast descent into Utah. There was a time when a drive like this would not have been possible for me due to panic attacks. I am a flatlander from the swamps of coastal Carolina. But I’ve gotten a lot of experience driving in the past ten years so I did not relinquish the wheel. I would not choose this route again if possible.

We ate at a chain restaurant because no independent restaurants nearby were open on a Sunday night, and stayed at a chain hotel. Early in the morning, we returned the rental car. We drove around Salt Lake City airport three times – what a confusing place! Our plane stopped on the runway and returned to the gate because of an engine problem. One man insisted on getting off the plane. I think he was scared. But the engine was repaired and we made it to Phoenix in time to catch our connection. Southwest delayed its flights to give us a little more time, which was nice.

Flying into Raleigh Durham Airport, we didn’t know what to expect. Our car smelled dank, but it was fine. The pilot had said that the storm had moved to our west, but the drive home wasn’t bad. My friend had cooked us dinner. We had a great time, but we were glad to be home and see our kitties.

Now where will we go next?

Grand Teton National Park, Idaho, Idaho-Wyoming trip, Montana, National Parks and Monuments, National Wildlife Refuges, Wyoming, Yellowstone National Park

Saturday: Yellowstone to Soda Springs, Idaho

^^^The inlaid wooden map that gives the Map Room in Mammoth Hot Springs Hotel its name. The Carolinas were very much on my mind.

Saturday was another day of perfect weather. We left Mammoth Hot Springs Terrace behind and drove north to Gardiner, Montana, for coffee and breakfast at the Two Bit Saloon and to fill the gas tank, since Montana gas was cheaper. Then we drove south on the same road we had been on the day before, except we kept going at Yellowstone Falls through the Hayden Valley. Trumpeter swans swam in the river below us.

We stopped at the general store at Yellowstone Lake for coffee, ice cream, and a hot dog. This is a HUGE lake. A lot of this area is still coming back from the big fires several years ago. We decided we didn’t have time to see Grand Prismatic Spring and the West Thumb Geyser Basin. Too bad, but that’s a reason to come back. 🙂

A quick stop at Lewis Falls and down John D. Rockefeller Memorial Highway through Grand Teton National Park again. This time I saw the beginning of a wildfire in a canyon that turned major after we left. I think it is called the Roosevelt Fire. We listened to KHOL community radio from Jackson Hole and a New Wave program that was great for the drive.

We stopped at the National Wildlife Art Museum to see the sculptures and I bought a beautiful coffee mug with an aspen design in the gift shop there.

We drove through Jackson and south on Hwy 89, along the Snake River Canyon where we had rafted on Tuesday. Near Etna, we decided to take Hwy 34, a back road through the Caribou-Targhee National Forest and past Gray’s Lake National Wildlife Refuge. I’m so glad that we did because it was absolutely lovely. It also was a part of the Oregon Trail, as many of these older roads seem to be.

In Soda Springs, Idaho, we were hungry and tired. We ate at a restaurant that I won’t name, because I don’t recommend it, and settled down in our room at the Caribou Lodge, an older hotel/lodge that was very inexpensive and comfortable and clean and had friendly staff. I recommend it if you don’t need air conditioning. I find these old hotels charming and I wish that more of them had survived here on the East Coast.

Idaho-Wyoming trip, National Parks and Monuments, Wildflowers, Wonderfulness, Wyoming, Yellowstone National Park

Yellowstone National Park, Day Three

On Friday, Judy joined us again and guided us to the areas where wildlife is most often spotted. We drove to the Lamar Valley where wolf watchers scan the meadows for members of the packs that were re-introduced there years ago. Judy spotted a wolf and aimed her spotting scope at it so we could take a look. This area with its wide vistas was stunningly beautiful in a difficult way to capture with a photo.

We saw hundreds of bison in this area of the park. At Soda Butte, we joined a small crowd of humans where the bison were very close. The little ones pranced around and butted heads in play. When one large male decided to cross the creek in a place where he could have come at us quickly, we all backed toward our cars while he eyeballed us. Fortunately nobody in this group was stupid enough to think that stare meant that he wanted to be petted.

^^^Click the photo above to see a video of the bison herd.

At the top of Mount Washburn we stopped because someone said there was a grizzly on the hillside across from us. It must have slipped into the trees by the time we parked and got out. The pink of the fireweed was beautiful, though.

One of the big attractions is the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone and Yellowstone Falls. We viewed it from Artist’s Point and walked down to the edge of the upper falls on the other side of the canyon.

Here’s a petrified redwood tree stump from a time when the climate was very different here. There used to be more of these, which is why this one is fenced off. People, please. This is why we can’t have nice things.

More wildflowers

We said goodbye to Judy and she headed back home to get ready to go on her next backpacking adventure. I admire this woman so much! Thank you, Judy, for your companionship and guidance on our trip!

There was a large bull elk wandering around our cabins with his harem of does. Rangers stayed close to make sure people stayed back from this one. Elks were in rutting season and we heard their bugle calls every morning and evening.

That night we ate in the Mammoth Hot Springs Dining Room and planned our trip back through the two national parks south toward Salt Lake City the next day. We decided that instead of exploring Salt Lake City on Sunday, we would swing east in Wyoming and pick up a fifth National Park/Monument for our list: Fossil Butte National Monument.

critters, Idaho-Wyoming trip, Montana, National Parks and Monuments, Wonderfulness, Wyoming, Yellowstone National Park

Yellowstone National Park, Old Faithful Geyser Basin

I guess that I thought Old Faithful would be one solitary nature soul surrounded by humans looking at their phones. In a way, it was, but it was one feature in a large field of thermal pools, geysers, and bubbling springs called the Upper Geyser Basin. While we waited for it to erupt, Judy and I went for a walk around the basin and Sandy hung out at the Visitor’s Center, then saved us seats on the benches for the main event.

^^^Aurun and Anemone Geysers?

Beehive Geyser was one of a few major geysers we did not get to see erupt. It’s just bubbling here. After Old Faithful erupted, we could see a large geyser erupting beyond the trees. We think that may have been Riverside or Grand Geyser. We saw so many geysers – honestly, I had no idea.

^^^Click to see the video of Old Faithful erupting.

The inside of the Old Faithful Lodge was almost as impressive as the geysers.

^^^Critters on the way back to our cabin.

That night we decided to drive five miles to Gardiner, Montana, just outside the northern entrance to the park. We ate bison cheeseburgers at Wonderland Cafe, and they were excellent. I was able to text with my sister and get a wifi signal to check in back home where everyone was prepping for a major hurricane.

Idaho-Wyoming trip, National Parks and Monuments, Wonderfulness, Wyoming, Yellowstone National Park

Yellowstone National Park, Day Two

Judy met us for coffee and we got on the road reasonably early for us. First we drove up to the top of Mammoth Hot Springs Terrace where a good photographer obliged us to take photos of the three of us. This is the lookout over the top of the terraces. You can see the hotel complex in the background on the top photo.

We meandered around the upper terrace and then we went to the Artist Paintpots and then the Fountain Paintpots which was a delight in all senses. We walked the trail up and around to see the mudpots. Bloop, bloop, bloop. Sulfur smells. Crusty textures. Unexpected color.

Artist Paintpots. Click photo to see the video of the mudpots.

Fountain Paintpots:

As artists, Judy and I were particularly drawn to the patterns and colors that the different kinds of bacteria make in the thermal pools.

Judy brought us lunch, which we had “Western style” in the parking lot of Black Sand Geyser Basin.

Okay, break for a new post.

critters, Idaho, Idaho-Wyoming trip, Montana, National Parks and Monuments, Wyoming, Yellowstone National Park

Wednesday: North to Yellowstone

We eased out of Driggs after breakfast and a handmade doughnut at Yeti’s Post and a quick visit to the kind folks at Teton Arts Council. Instead of going back through the parks, we chose highways 33 and 32 to enjoy the flowing hay and wheat fields and small towns in the Teton Valley on Idaho’s side of the range. Once we got to Ashton, the well traveled Hwy 20 took us into West Yellowstone, Montana, the home of the western entrance to Yellowstone National Park and the Grizzly and Wolf Discovery Center, a non-profit rescue and education center for grizzlies, wolves, and birds of prey at the edge of town.

Our timing was lucky, because the grizzlies in the area that the public can view included Grant and Roosevelt, two brothers who wrestled in the pool. We learned a lot about wolves, although the wolves in the exhibit area were only interested in sleeping. I did catch one doing downward dog between changing nap spots, but not on camera. They are about to open a river otter section. All the animals and birds in this center cannot live in the wild on their own. Most were brought to the center as orphaned cubs or injured birds. Some had become habituated to eating human food and would have been destroyed if they had not been rescued.

Well, hey there, Miss Ground Squirrel.

Rolling into Yellowstone National Park, we saw anglers, elk, and bison in the Madison River. We turned toward our destination and stopped at the Norris Geyser Basin, hiking down to see Steamboat Geyser, which had become active early that morning. This is the world’s tallest active geyser, going up to 300 feet in a major eruption! There was a long boardwalk trail that led to many other geysers and hot springs in the basin. We did not go farther, but I did check out the Porcelain Basin before we left. Parking was a bit scarce, so I can’t imagine what it must be like in July or August on a weekend.

^^^Click to see the video of Steamboat Geyser erupt.

Can you imagine building the boardwalks that cross these thermal areas?

There was major road construction between Norris and Mammoth Hot Springs, where we were renting a cabin, so there were times that we sat in stopped traffic. We had our first up-close and personal view of a bison. One casually walked down the yellow line between the two lines of vehicles. The other munched at the side of our lane.

^^^Click the photo to see the video of the bison.

Once we got to Mammoth Hot Springs Terrace, there was a large herd of elk in the meadow between the parking lot and the terraces. We would learn that this herd hangs out around the hotel and headquarters complexes there, including in front of our cabin.

We checked in to our cabin, which was comfortable but had no bathroom, TV or wifi. I was becoming increasingly worried about the forecast for Hurricane Florence, and I did not have phone service. The front desk told us that one of the bartenders at the dining room bar was from North Carolina and to ask him to turn the TV to the Weather Channel. We did this, had a couple of drinks and ate huge appetizer plates at the bar for dinner. In the middle of the night we regretted the drinks, since we had to dress and go to a separate building outside to go to the restroom! It wasn’t that bad, though, I just haven’t had to do that in a long time. I’d stay there again. It was much more comfortable than camping, and not terribly expensive. I found out later that I could get on wifi at the Visitor’s Center for free, but the wifi in the whole park was unreliable and generally reserved for park operations. Understandable.

Next: More geysers, steam, bubbles and bloops.