Saturday, September 26, 2009

Island Park, Idaho

Island Park 1

After our two weeks in West Yellowstone we moved 22 miles west to the Red Rock RV Park near Island Park, Idaho. To call Island Park a town seems like a misnomer; it is a 20 mile long strip of land on Highway US 20. It has gas stations, RV Parks and various lodges spread out over 20 miles. The nearest grocery store or anything else is back  in West Yellowstone.

Red Rock RV Park is 5 miles off of Highway 20 down a secondary road and is bordered by a cattle ranch, a horse ranch and open country. I don’t believe we have stayed anywhere that was so quiet.

island park2 The view East

island Park 3 The view North.

P1020057 The view West

P1020059 The view South

We came to Red Rock RV Park for several reasons. Two Fulltime RVer couples (Gordon & Juanita and Mel & JoAnn) we met in Soldotna, Alaska last year, were here at Red Rock early in the season this year and they liked it so much that they are planning to return for the entire 5 month season next summer. When we heard this it made us very curious about what was here that attracted them  so much. Another reason we came to Red Rock is that the nightly cost is less than half of what we paid in West Yellowstone or in Grand Teton. It is good for the budget to offset the cost of those more expensive areas. We also felt that with our time at Mt. Rushmore, Grand Teton and Yellowstone that we have been in “vacation” mode; we needed to sit awhile, rest and remember that we are retired fulltime RVers and we don’t need to be in a hurry. We used our time here to sort through and edit the hundreds of photos we took in Yellowstone, bring the blog up to date, I found time to read two books and Kathy had the most quality “beading time” that she has had in a long while.

This area of Idaho nestled in the Rockies is well known for several large and apparently very good fishing lakes and Big Springs. Big Springs produces 120 million gallons of water a day and is the headwaters of the Henrys Fork of the Snake River.


The spring supports huge rainbow trout which are protected from fishing.


Big Springs also has a resident Muskrat



Monday, September 21, 2009

Yellowstone National Park


Old Faithful Geyser

More than a week since the last blog posting again. Our excuses are we stayed at a full hookup RV Park in West Yellowstone, but went into the park everyday to take pictures, due to road construction closures the already long distance between places in the park were even longer! Since we were both taking hundreds of pictures everyday it has taken us quite a while to prune the number down to something manageable.


Another reason that it has taken so long to write this blog is, how does one begin to describe Yellowstone National Park? Yellowstone National Park? It spans an area of 3,468 square miles and is larger than the state of Delaware. Yellowstone Lake is up to 400 feet deep, spans an area of 136 square miles and is larger than the state of Rhode Island. Yellowstone has more Geothermal features that the rest of the world combined. Two hundred and fifty miles of roads, over one thousands miles of trails. Those are the numbers but as with anything REALLY LARGE you have to experience it to understand how big it is.

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This was our fourth trip to Yellowstone over the past 20+ years and our second trip in the two years we have been fulltime RVers. For many years we had wanted to visit Yellowstone after Labor Day “When the crowds thinned out”, but work got in the way each time we planned the trip. This year we were able to spend the first two weeks of September in Yellowstone. The first thing we learned is that the crowd does not thin out after Labor Day. The park was just as full the week after Labor Day as it had been the week before Labor Day and remained very busy the week after that. As you will see in the blog pictures and the slide shows the weather as been fantastic. The early mornings have dropped into the low 30s, but everyday was at or near the low 70s.

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Because Yellowstone is so big and roads are two lane narrow roads with no more than a 45 MPH speed limit, you can’t get anywhere fast in Yellowstone. Another thing that slows traffic are “Wildlife Jams”. Any wildlife in view will causes a major traffic jam as people stop, some on the side of the road and some in the middle of the road to take pictures. Of course this makes it much easier to find wildlife, because when you see cars stopped up ahead you know to get your camera ready. We were stopped in numerous Eagle jams, Elk jams, Coyote jams and Buffalo jams everyday. At some locations you could count on the same animals being in the same spot everyday and usual all day. Also the connecting road between Madison Junction and Norris Junction was closed while they replace a bridge. This means that the normal 40 miles from West Yellowstone to Yellowstone Falls is now 84 miles one way. The usual 49 miles from West Yellowstone to Mammoth Hot Springs is now 117 miles one way!

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I had written a response to a comment in the Grand Teton blog entry “I think with Nature and Landscape photography 80% of it is just being at the right place at the right time. The lighting changes moment by moment, clouds come and go, shadows move and grow, the wild animals wander around and do whatever they feel like. In any national park you can drive the same roads, walk the same trails day after day and hour after hour and the scene is always different than it was in the past.”. Nowhere is that more true than Yellowstone National Park. Geysers and hot springs change minute by minute. The interaction of the erupting water, steam, prevailing wind and the sunlight changes the scene every second. It is simply amazing to be walking along and to suddenly have geyser start to erupt!

For the first time the blog has multiple slideshows. There are too many slides to embed the slideshows into the blog entry so you will have to click on the title to see each of the slideshows.

Yellowstone 2009 General slideshow

Yellowstone 2009 Geyser Basins slideshow

Yellowstone 2009 Lake area slideshow

Yellowstone 2009 Wildlife slideshow

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Grand Teton and Yellowstone National Parks

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Today’s blog entry was written by Kathy.

Our next destination was Grand Teton National Park for 6 days. Even though this is our third time to Grand Teton National Park, I just love seeing those wonderful jagged peaks soaring into the Wyoming sky!!


The trip from the Mt. Rushmore area was beautiful through the Black Hills. However, you come out on to this very arid plain that goes for hundreds of miles! It was similar to places in Nevada and Arizona, only the sage grows there.

It was close to 500 miles from Hill City, WY to Grand Teton National Park, WY, so we broke up the long drive and only did 220 miles to Casper for one night. We continued on to the Grand Teton the following day. You travel up from the flat land to pine trees in no time! There was a long construction zone just after Dubois. It delayed us a little with the one way traffic, waiting for the pilot car and zigzagging to avoid the potholes! We were so glad when we were back on nice hard black top again! Oh dear, how much stuff has fallen inside the Monty?? (Fortunately not too much went flying!)

Before you get through the Pass, you can see the mountain peaks miles ahead! Promising photo opportunities ahead!!

This should be great, our first time camping in a US National Park with the Montana!! We had reservations at Colter Bay RV Park adjacent to Jackson Lake, with full hook ups!! As with many national parks, they were built in the 1940’s when RV’s were a lot smaller and camping was less complicated. Unfortunately, due to cutbacks, they haven’t had any funds to update the campgrounds. This park has nice long pull through sites, as well as back in sites. We opted for the stress free pull through. Built into the side of the hill and terraced, most of the sites required extra leveling blocks to get the rig half way level! Probably due to erosion during the winter months, there were few “level” sites.

On the plus side, the General Store, the Colter Bay Café and the Colter Ranch House Restaurant were within walking distance of our site! Less than a quarter mile! We tried both places and had wonderful food at both! They also had a Laundromat, Horseback riding and rafting reservations office right there for your convenience. Plus walks along the shore of Jackson Lake were easily accessible, with excellent views of the peaks, great for morning shots of Grand Teton and Mount Moran!


Our first day there, we decided to drive the “loop”, looking for wildlife in the big valley below the peaks. We only saw a pair of Sand Hill Cranes and ravens! Where are the buffalo and elk?! The other two times we were here, in the month of July, we saw lots of each! Coming to Moose Junction, we head back north along the base of the mountain peaks with majestic views. Big puffy clouds would appear in the early afternoon, which made for great pictures, but it also meant a thunder storm by the evening!


To Raider’s chagrin, the first 2 days there were like that! He is so traumatized by thunder storms in Montana’s Rockies and then in South Dakota’s Black Hills, that he just hears heavy rain and he’s panicking!! What can we say, he’s a “California Dog”, where we rarely had thunderstorms!

On a clear sunny day we did a day trip down to Jackson Hole, taking a scenic drive that places you almost at the feet of the big mountains and Jenny Lake. Great fun photographing the peaks from there! We continued on to Jackson Hole, just to give our furry buddy a chance to stretch and walk about town and window shop.

Jackson WY 3009

We returned to Colter Bay on a different route, to check out another campground in the park called Gros Ventre. This is only for dry camping or boondocking, no hookups. Camp sites were nice, not on top of each other, under the cottonwood trees, and a few big rigs had the only sizeable sites available. One section allowed generators, the other didn’t, which sounded fair to people camping in tents. It was a totally different climate there then up at Colter Bay. A lot warmer, more arid and some foothills block your view of the big Teton peaks. Still it was very quiet during the day, so we stopped and had a picnic lunch to enjoy the warm day.


Yellowstone National Park would be our next destination. After checking Google Maps, we discovered it was closer to drive from the Tetons to the east side of Yellowstone National Park than it would be from West Yellowstone. There is a major road closure in the Yellowstone, which really extends your driving distance. So we did a day trip up to eastern Yellowstone. We went past Lewis Falls and Lewis Lake, named after Merriweather Lewis, though he never got to see it himself.


Our drive took us around beautiful Yellowstone Lake. It is larger than Rhode Island. (Actually you only get to drive around a portion of it because it is so huge!) Then on to Grand Canyon of Yellowstone, with all of its gorgeous waterfalls!


There are a series of stops where you can get out and see each section of the falls and canyon.


At one point, we could see a couple of young Osprey chicks sitting in their nest, hollering for Mom to feed them NOW!! I really think the one was so adamant he was saying, “and don’t forget the Fries!!” Their voices echoed off the canyon walls! Mom brought them a nice juicy fish, which they polished it off in no time! They are almost the size of the parents, flexing their wings as they stood on their lofty perch! Fledge time is just around the corner for them!


We saved the Geyser Basin over by Old Faithful for when we would stay in West Yellowstone, MT, it’s a shorter drive from there. However, we did get to see Dragon Geyser, belching steam from its cavern depths and bellowing sound roaring up at you! In 1985, our youngest son, Kevin, was only 2 ½. When we walked past there, he really did think there was a dragon in his cave!! I couldn’t help but agree!


Friday, Sept. 4th, we woke up to a bright sunny day, perfect for traveling. No rain through the 8 mile construction zone between Grand Teton and Yellowstone. Happily, we saw our nation’s Recovery Act in motion, as they repair the highway systems of Wyoming and get more people back to work. It had been a few days since we had gone through this area, but we could see a lot of progress. They are working 24/7 to get the road work done before winter arrives!!

With only 90 miles to travel to West Yellowstone, we took a break for lunch along the Madison River. It was a perfect day to take in the view and relax! Where are all of the buffalo and elk? They must really be hiding out from the “paparazzi tourists”! We did see a couple of gaggles of Canada Geese working the river for lunch. However, they were keeping a wary eye on Raider! They must have thought he was a red wolf!

Continuing on down the road, we came to the town of West Yellowstone, Montana, where we stayed in May 2008, at Grizzly RV Park. It is one of the best RV parks we have stayed at in all of our travels! It has a beautiful layout of the camp sites, grass on both sides of your rig, very accessible utilities, plus you’re not on top of your neighbor bumping slides. They have the friendliest staff that bend over backwards to make your stay enjoyable.

Ah, it feels like “home”.

Many more pictures on the slideshow

Saturday, September 5, 2009

South Dakota – Campground and Birds


Our site at Rafter J RV Park

While visiting all of the great sites around Mt. Rushmore we stayed at Rafter J RV Park. This RV Park has 200 sites spread over 160 acres. We have never had a site as large as the one you see in the picture above. It was also very quiet and had free WIFI.

Another thing that Rafter J had was BIRDS! Just sitting at our campsite we would see both adult and juvenal Mountain Blue Bird catching grasshoppers. Flocks of Barn Swallows, Chipping Sparrows and the White Winged sub-race of the Slate-gray race of Dark-eyed Juncos.


IMG_5792-Immature Mtn Blue Bird




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Friday, September 4, 2009

South Dakota’s Hidden Treasures – Part 2 Jewel Cave National Monument


Jewel Cave formations

Jewel Cave was designated a National Monument in 1908 to protect what was then thought to be a small but beautiful cave. Today cavers have mapped over 140 miles of passages making Jewel Cave the second biggest cave in the world. Using the volume of air that comes out of the cave scientist estimate that Jewel Cave has over 3,000 miles of undiscovered and so far uncharted passages. Yes, over 3,000 miles! Today it takes the survey team 10 hours to travel from the elevator that takes them into cave to the last position mapped.

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The above three pictures show some of the Calcite Crystals which the cave was named after.

Jewel Cave is a much wetter cave than Wind Cave; it has miles of twisting passages and some of the formations that one would expect to  see in a “wet” cave.


Cave bacon

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Examples of flowstone


In the center of this pictures is a long hollow “soda straw” formation. It took millions of years to get that long.


Beginning the long walk back to the elevators. This tour had over 760 stair steps!


Again frustratingly, of the over 140 mapped miles of the cave only about 1 mile is opened to the public.

Many more pictures of Jewel Cave on the slideshow: