United States of America · 19 Days · 130 Moments · August 2017

Our Journey to the Big Country

11 September 2017

And so the curtain comes down on this adventure. America has left me with an impression of huge open spaces, a natural wild landscape, nice people, reasonable prices and high standards in behaviour, especially on the roads. I thank Cathy openly for bringing us here and all her hard work over the last two years, planning an itinerary and sorting out all the details to make it an experience to savour. That says it all.
We loved the supermarkets.....especially the fresh fruit and vegetables and the food to go...salad bars. The peaches and plums were enormous! We found the driving relaxed and enjoyable with big roads and, on the whole, courteous drivers. Over 1,500 miles, we did not see a single incidence of road rage. However we missed the British road signs with pre-warning of destinations at road junctions a good way ahead but here the signs are at the junction which made indicating or getting in the correct lane difficult. It made map reading even more essential! We have still not discovered what Americans do with all their ice! At every hotel, there are ice buckets and ice machines with bags for ice. Can anyone throw any light on this?
LAST THOUGHTS We have barely heard an English accent in the whole of 3 weeks in the US, which is quite surprising. It may not have been so if we had gone to Florida or Disneyland! We have not seen a single policeman/woman since we arrived...not even a patrol car. We heard sirens so we know they were about we were surprised at the low profile they keep. We saw no threatening behaviour or indeed any antisocial behaviour despite being in three large cities along the way. Perhaps we chose our eating places carefully but we didn't see the obscenely large food portions we had heard about. On the subject of food, the Americans are more adventurous with their breakfasts and offer a much greater variety. I loved the coffee and certainly the opportunity to have endless refills.....not that I did.......well not all the time! We found lots of healthy options alongside the bison steaks and beef burgers.
MONDAY 11th SEPTEMBER 2017. GOODBYE TO SEATTLE By this morning we felt we had seen as much of the city as we wanted so we set off on a last wander through Pike Place Market, which puts our London markets firmly in their place. With several floors above and below ground level, stall holders sell everything from fresh food and flowers to crafts, artwork, clothing, medicines....just about anything anyone could want to buy. We continued along the waterfront to the Olympic sculpture park, which I am afraid did not impress enough to take photos, save for the general views. Then we headed back along 1st Avenue for a bite to eat before finding the light rail link to the airport. It only cost us $3 each for the trip from downtown Seattle right to the terminals at SEATAC airport. Great value. Our last night is to be spent by the airport ready for an early morning start.

10 September 2017

Returning on the ferry, we got a stunning view of Mount Baker overlooking the city. It may well be our last mountain view of this trip. My photos do not do it justice...I am putting it down to a low battery! There were also excellent views of the city skyline as we approached it in the evening sun.
Bainbridge Island was certainly very scenic especially along the waterfront in the late afternoon sun....I got a bit carried away, which is not unusual!
Whilst waiting for Sunday lunch to arrive, I spotted this advert on our map of the island.
SUNDAY 10th SEPTEMBER. SUNNY SUNDAY This has been another sunny Sunday, all the better for enjoying a short ferry from Seattle docks to a place called Bainbridge Island across the Sound. As you will see, the skyline is a varied mixture of trees, skyscrapers, cranes and mountains. Bainbridge is obviously a popular destination. It is small and quiet, with a small harbour, which is home to some very expensive looking yachts. There was not enough room for ours, so we walked around the town and alighted upon a smallish restaurant next to the harbour. Two seals lazed in the shallow water, seemingly unconcerned that we were enjoying the sort of lunch they might have appreciated. We followed the footpath around the waterside and anchored up in a park to read and take the unexpectedly warm sun a sunny Sunday indeed.

9 September 2017

Apparently, Seattle has had its first rain overnight for 71 days which, although cloudy and much cooler, has gone a long way towards getting rid of the smoky atmosphere.
Our apartment for two nights is right in the city centre and very close to the most popular Pike Place market which was crowded with people wandering amongst all manner of stalls from fruit to fish, meat to flowers and everything else besides. People were waiting patiently in long queues for the most popular eating places!
As we were unable to check in until mid afternoon, we took a hop on/hop off trolley bus to see the main sights. Our guide, who could not have been more than eighteen and looked fit for a surf beach, was very knowledgable and quite amusing. I did not realise that Seattle is the home of Amazon and Microsoft, both of whom own large parts of the city real estate. It is a pleasant mix of modern glass skyscrapers and buildings that date from 1920s on. Apparently Seattle suffered a devastating fire in 1889 which destroyed much of downtown in the older part known as Pioneer Square. It has it's viewing tower known as the Space Needle, Chinatown and a busy waterfront which not only handles large cruise ships bound for Alaska but daily commuter ferries to residential areas across the Puget Sound. When we saw how steep some of the streets were, we were glad we had taken the trolley bus.
SATURDAY 9th SEPTEMBER 2017. SLEEPLESS IN SEATTLE It is certainly not easy to sleep on an overnight sleeper and an early breakfast at 6am was welcome. This was shared with a young mum, Lauren,and Ralph, who was 4, returning from a visit to parents in Maryland on the far side of America from their home in Seattle. I shall never quite think of my two hour journey up the 303 to see my parents In the same light again! For much of the later part of the journey, the train followed the bank of the River Squamish or was cutting a narrow path through dense conifer forest. Not far from Seattle, the land produced fruit, notably blueberries.

8 September 2017

This despatch is being compiled in a sleeping compartment, our having enjoyed a pleasant meal with a nice couple from Atlanta, Georgia. The train is quiet, it is dark outside and it conjures images of 'Murder on the Orient Express". Now let me see....
It seems that the forest fires, which in the past have been a natural phenomenon in forest regeneration and very much part of the cycle of things, have become more widespread and serious over the last years. There is little doubt that a warming climate with unseasonably high temperatures and a much reduced rainfall resulting in very dry conditions have gone a long way towards contributing to the destruction. These factors have also encouraged the spread of the tiny bark beetle, no bigger than a grain of rice, which has destroyed large swathes of forest and left much dry wood to fuel the fires. At this present time in Montana alone over 100 fires are being fought and over a million acres of land has been devastated. How much of this destruction is down to the changes in climate brought about by human activity, you will have to decide..... It has been a sobering experience to see how some parts of the world are already having to confront the reality.
FRIDAY 8th SEPTEMBER 2017. A CHANGE OF PLAN Today has been a reminder that events cannot always be controlled by us. The forest fires to the west of us in Glacier Park have sent smoke towards us and clouded our view of the surroundings. Having driven to the nearest entrance to the Park and seen very little, we reached the decision that common sense dictated that our stay here should be curtailed. We changed our train reservation and booked a different hotel in Seattle and boarded the train this evening. It seemed to us that not only was the visibility deteriorating but so was the air quality. If we sat around and waited, things could become serious.

7 September 2017

As evening draws in, all is quiet until a freight train rumbles through, complete with bell ringing to announce its presence. This happens more than once, but somehow seems unobtrusive, more a part of the scene. East Glacier Station is just across the road. Without the railroad, it is unlikely the town would be here. Let's see what tomorrow brings, hoping smoke does not curtail our exploration.
Then on for the last miles to East Glacier and the highway turned west towards the mountains which loomed in front of us. The train track which had crossed the continent from Chicago now ran alongside us as we entered the community of East Glacier Park Village ....the last post before entering the park and one of only two eastern entrances by road. We found our 'motel' called The Whistling Swan with a note on the door inviting us to check in with Mark at the Glacier Company Trading Post up the road. Before long we were unloading the car and settling in for the next three days.
Back on the road and a new element appeared on the land....nodding donkeys....not the four-legged kind but the fairly discrete device for extracting oil. Dupuyer came and went with a patch of green and a cluster of houses. A colourful sign of feathers and beads flashed past before we could photograph it announcing we were entering the reservation of the Blackfeet Indians. There was little obvious change e cent any dwellings appeared poorer...more like shacks and tended to have accumulations of scrap cars around them. More horses appeared roaming freely. We stopped in Browning, the only 'town' in the reservation and found a supermarket to stock up on provisions. White people were definitely in the minority.
Choteau was the place we had chosen for a lunch stop and driver change. It was slightly bigger than Augusta with several streets crisis crossing at the centre. It had a Sherrifs office, a 'city' hall, a library and technology centre with a wifi hotspot and the delightful Roxy cinema. By some railroad sidings were large silos and grain mill. But best of all, after the dry yellow landscape was a beautiful green park with picnic tables, a children's playground, lots of mature trees and a stream. You can guess where we had our picnic lunch.
A few scattered cabins marked the edge of Augusta before giving way to the vastness of the high plains that lead up to the Rockies. Occasionally a ranch entrance led off the road and disappeared as a rough track into the landscape. How isolated this area must be when the winter snows arrive.
We came to Augusta in time for coffee and a change of driver. We saw it in the distance as a line of trees in a treeless landscape and it was small. We got some searching stares from guys in jeeps as we wandered along the Main Street in search of a cafe. By chance, we found the perfect place....a little art and antique shop full of curiosities which also had a coffee bar at the back. If you have noticed that my photos look rather hazy, you might be forgiven for thinking it was the heat for we are having unseasonable temperatures in the high eighties. However the result of this heat, along with lightning strikes, was to start over 100 wild fires across Montana alone. Over a million acres of forest and prairie have been destroyed and all camp fires and barbecues have been banned. So it was smoke we encountered in a big way on our drive especially around Augusta where the nearest fire was only 10 miles away!
THURSDAY 7th SEPTEMBER 2017. FROM HELENA TO EAST GLACIER Another day of driving today to reach East Glacier National Park which broke down easily into two shifts each of 40 miles and bit on top for John! Much to our surprise and relief, getting out of Helena proved to be a lot easier than getting in and so within minutes of leaving our hotel, we found ourselves on the Interstate 15 going north. Traffic was light and we made fast progress to our turnoff to an ordinary two lane road for a more scenic route. And that it truly was! For here was the sweeping open rolling landscapes of Montana I had seen only in magazines or on TV or in the Horse Whisperer! We had the road to ourselves for miles, nothing passed us in either direction. One ribbon of tarmac which went on forever in a yellowing land.

6 September 2017

The next port of call was to be our overnight venue - the inaptly named Helena. This is not a Greek city, though it might as well be, for all the directions it offers to new visitors. As a result, we saw several unattractive industrial sites, gas stations and railway sidings. By accident rather than design, we saw a sign for our hotel. The disadvantage was that it seemed to be in an impenetrable position. We overcame this minor problem with some inventive navigation by Cathy and some unconventional driving on my part, including breaking a green filter light and obstructing traffic in at least two directions and driving on the wrong side of the road. But never mind, the hotel is fine and friendly - where's the bar? .....
As you can Imagine, the exhibits included some remarkable items and photographs of the Native Americans and of the contributions made by people whose names resound to this day, such as the Studebaker Brothers, Whitney and Jacobs. Well worth a visit. The country out of Bozeman was open and generally pretty flat. Road builders and railway engineers would have had a relatively straightforward time here. Roads are flat and fast. A train ambled past us, headed by three(!) hefty locomotives which were pulling a mere 113 wagons. Yes, I counted them! (He wasn't driving at the time!) Not to be outdone, the telegraph engineers erected an infinite number of poles. Words fail me - see photos.
The next stop after Livingston was a place called Bozeman. The main purpose of doing so was to visit the National Museum of the Rockies. Finding this place proved something of an historical landmark on its own. This is a pity because it is an impressive, modern building, but poorly signposted by a solitary direction sign which had fallen victim to an impact from an errant vehicle of some height, thereby sending people like us on an interesting, but unnecessary, journey around town. Our unlikely saviour was an elderly lady walking along a sidewalk in a prosperous residential area. On my hailing her, she discouragingly cupped her ear with her hand, giving the impression of hardness of hearing. This could be difficult. Fortunately, her hearing and directions were impeccable and we arrived within a minute or two. The museum contains exhibits of rock, fossils and skeletons to absorb anyone of even mild interest for a day or two. It certainly rivals the UK Natural History Museum.
At Livingston, we ventured into the centre In search of coffee. It was fairly easy to negotiate with an obvious Main Street dominated by the railway depot, built in the style of Grand Central station, New York by the same architect. We found a small deli to have coffee before rejoining the route to Bozeman.

5 September 2017

As if by way of saying goodbye, but also of reminding us that this territory belongs to the wildlife, this group of elk mothers and young, guarded by a male, ushered us out of the Park, but an improbable group of goats on a sheer cliff had the last word, almost looking down on us literally and figuratively. Cathy's efforts to find us a place to stay in Gardiner, saving us many miles of driving tomorrow, were rewarded by a delightful hotel in Gardiner. We are able to look over our shoulder back to Yellowstone from a balcony and marvel at the changing colours of the evening sky. Some people say everyone should visit Paris before they die. That is correct, but add Yellowstone to that.
We waited and nothing moved. So we decided to make our way towards our next stop, Gardiner, just out side the Park. The Park has been our home for four days and it will leave a lasting impression on us. How it evolves in years and ages to come is largely out of our control. It is a region of volcanic activity to outstrip just about all others, so, at a local level, the hot springs and geysers will serve as a reminder that, way below our feet, and at a wider level, there are subterranean forces at work whose power is beyond imagination. The Yellowstone River is not only very long - it has a variety of character which changes almost every mile. Waterfalls and canyons are a feature of this incredible watercourse, set way down into the earth's surface. Then there are the animals. From the tiny ground squirrels to th grizzly bears and the Eagles and Ospreys circling above, they all play their part in this astonishing place.
The Lamar valley, rising in the Absaroka range and flowing into the Yellowstone river, is the favourite haunt for wildlife watching. For with its wide open spaces, rocky outcrops and forested slopes it is home to bison, elk, bears, coyotes and wolves. The grey wolf, which was extinct within the park, was reintroduced here from the Northern Rockies and Montana and since then they have thrived. We parked up in the shade of a tree in a perfect place above the river to spot anything that moved and waited......
The road from Roosevelt to Canyon had been more than a little bit hairy yesterday and this was the route we needed to take to reach Lamar valley. This time John took the wheel and steered around hairpin bends as we wound our way up and over the Dunraven Pass. It didn't seem half so bad the second time round. We stopped to take a look at Tower Falls where Tower creek plunges 132ft into the Yellowstone river and some very dramatic rock formations along the canyon walls which gave its name to the falls. Then on to Roosevelt and the Lamar valley.
Our route to the Lamar Valley which was our ultimate destination in the far north-west of the Park, meant crossing the Hayden Valley which we had already done several times. So we had not planned to stop as we had become very blasé about the herds of bison which grand there. However, the intense peering through binoculars attracted us to pull in at a turnout only to find all eyes were focuses on a black dot by the riverbank. It was in fact a grizzly bear lounging by the water. I do not know how my camera will have coped on maximum zoom but I came away resolving to look into getting something more powerful.
Our next stop was at LeHardys Rapids along the Yellowstone River which were very scenic. No sign of wildlife but plenty of enthusiastic photographers.
TUESDAY 5th SEPTEMBER 2017. LAST DAY IN YELLOWSTONE For those of you who have our schedule you will think this is strange as we were booked to stay at Lake Lodge until tomorrow. However the journey to Helena in Montana is quite a long one so we have booked to stay just outside the north entrance at a place called Gardiner. A bonus of this, apart from greatly reducing the drive tomorrow, is that we return to the land of free wifi, TVs and fridges. Just when we were beginning to get used to the isolation! Life without a mobile phone has its attractions. Our first stop this morning was to revisit Grand Canyon of Yellowstone, this time along the southern rim. As with all these viewpoints, it was already crowded with people busy taking photographs. It gave a different angle on the Lower Falls we had seen yesterday as well as the changing colours on the canyons walls which inspired the artist, Thomas Moran. Hence the name...Artists Point. And there really was an artist there.

4 September 2017

A few more views of the canyon from different points and an osprey sitting on its nest in the most exposed place on a rock pinnacle in the centre of the canyon. It's plaintive call caught my attention. Hence the very zoomed in photograph. We returned to Lake Lodge for the last evening before moving on tomorrow.
The afternoon plan changed slightly after I missed a turning and we ended up winding our way through, up and over a mountain range arriving in our home area earlier than we had thought. We decided to visit the northern rim of the Grand Canyon of Yellowstone which turned out to be a dizzying 1000ft deep. We walked down 600 ft to the brim of the Lower falls to see the Yellowstone river plunging over a lava shelf to the canyon below. The canyon runs for over 20 miles. Zigzagging our way back up the canyon side 600 ft was a challenge but we needed the exercise!
After leaving the terrace drive, we took a look around Mammoth which, being near the northern entrance to the park was crowded with visitors. Our search for a cup of coffee proved futile so we had our lunch on a picnic table in the hazy sunshine.
Eventually we cut through a high mountain range and descended to Mammoth Springs where the combination of geothermal activity and limestone rock have given rise to some strange formations and terraces of calcite. The active areas are still bubbling and steaming whilst the long abandoned areas have fossilised trees dating back 500 years embedded in the terraces. It was accessed by a boardwalk which wound its way amongst the sights. There was a lot of steaming from some of the older visitors as they negotiated the steps back to their car at altitude.
MONDAY 4th SEPTEMBER. THE GRAND NORTHERN LOOP.....100 MILES Today is Labour Day in the USA and is a national holiday. We anticipated a busy day on the roads with people making the most of their last day or setting off for home. We were following a circular route and we had not gone very far before we came upon Sulphur Cauldron, an impressive series of steaming bubbling, boiling holes. A smelly start! Then on to a place called Norris beyond which the road is being repaired so progress was slow and it was a rough surface.

3 September 2017

On the way back, we called into the Lake Yellowstone hotel, a neighbour of ours. It was the first of the park hotels to be built in 1891 along with the cabins alongside. We had a surprise visitor as we sat on the verandah with a drink!
So far on our American journey, we have been struck by the friendliness and kindness of all the people we have encountered along the way.....on the train.....in and around Jackson and the Grand Tetons and here in Yellowstone. For some, like us, it is their first time to visit these places and, in some cases, they have driven across the country to do it. A lifetime's experience! For others, they are seasoned visitors and have much useful advice to offer. Some of these encounters have resulted in the sharing of our lifestyles despite the fact that we will probably never meet again. Many have been fascinated by our British accents and have wanted to relate their experiences of visits to the British Isles. Stonehenge was mentioned twice, which I find extraordinary in the light of the large monuments in this country but I guess age matters!
Yellowstone Lake is N.America's largest high-altitude lake with 141 miles of shoreline and is 20 miles long and 14 miles wide. It's deepest spot is 410ft deep but it averages 140ft and is home to trout in the upper 60ft. Boating is allowed on the lake but with strict controls.
Soon we came to the beautiful tranquil Sylvan Lake where we were to turn round and return to a turnout from where there was an overview of the lake. As we rounded a bend we were confronted with a huge bison grazing on the hard shoulder. John bravely would down the window to take a shot as we passed! The view over the lake was marred by the heat haze and position of the sun but we did our best. There is probably a perfect time and season for such a photo. We pulled off the road on the shores of the lake where family were having a happy time playing on the gravel beach and swimming in the lake. It was a perfect place to spend the rest of the afternoon, reading and resting.
In the distance, a group of pelicans..is there a special name for such a gathering?..,,,were feeding in the river. I hope they are recognisable from my photos as much zoom demand has been made on my camera. Now I realise why most Americans carry huge zoom lenses if they hope to capture wildlife. Several people were searching expectantly for bears along the river bank but we didn't see any. We carried on along a very sinuous route which bordered the lake and then eventually rose and headed inland towards Sylvan Pass at 8,530 ft. Sadly the Sylvan nature of the area has been blighted by a destructive beetle which has laid waste to vast areas of conifer forest.
SUNDAY 3RD SEPTEMBER. LAID-BACK SUNDAY After our 100 mile circuit of the southern part of Yellowstone yesterday, we decided to take it easy today. Sunday Mass was actually held in our lodge so no excuses not to go! It was said by a retired priest from Cheyenne....a place name straight from our childhood days...and held in the recreation room of the lodge, between basketball ends and with gym equipment in one corner. A pianist, whose moment of glory clearly came every Sunday, accompanied the hymns with such embellishment that it was difficult to keep time with him. However he was happy! The mid holiday laundry was doing during Mass so after a quick lunch we decided to take a shortish drive towards the east entrance which took us around the northern end of Yellowstone Lake and into the Absaroka Mountains. Needless to say it wasn't long before we pulled over at Pelican Creek to admire the view

2 September 2017

The Hayden valley was truly beautiful where the Yellowstone valley opened up into a broad grassy plain with gentle slopes on either side. And there were bison grazing peacefully in the evening sun. I thought I detected a smaller bear type shape in the distance and could imagine a grizzly lumbering down to the river from the woods for a soak in the river. However, it may well have been my imagination for even the zoomed image was unconvincing! The Yellowstone valley back to Lake Lodge was beautiful in the evening sun as was the view from the lodge as the sun set giving the mountains beyond the lake a pinkish hue. It had been a truly wondrous day during which at several points one felt very small and insignificant in the presence of such forces and beauty.
We left the main Geyser area and drove on around our circuit through Madison to Gibbon Falls on the Gibbon River, another scenic spot. Then on through Norris and Canyon village to return to base through the Hayden Valley. This is a favourite animal watching area especially in the early morning and evening. We soon realised everyone else had decided to do the same and the road in certain key places was lined with cars. People with folding chairs and enormous zooms were heading across open land to set up watch somewhere not very obvious.
Leaving Middle geyser basin, we set off along the course of the Firehole river and encountered a bison and a mule deer crossing the road.
We moved on to the middle geyser basin to join the throngs going to see one of the iconic sights of Yellowstone...the Grand Prismatic Spring. Best seen from above, the best you could do was stand on a bench to get some sort of view of the beautiful colours caused by the bacteria and algae growing in the hot environment.
Out of time this evening but the rest of today will continue tomorrow evening as we are having a lighter day tomorrow.
Tired and thirsty and just a little sunburnt we returned to the Old Faithful Inn , one of the first Yellowstone lodges to be built out of huge single lodge pole pine trunks. It is an impressive structure...like a giant child's interlocking building with not a nail in sight. It was crowded inside but from the internal photos, you will get the idea. Built in 1904, the internal lobby rises 80 ft in seven floors...all wood and the huge fireplace is really 8 combined using 500 tons of rock.
This was a sight we were not expecting along the boardwalk!! It caused a blockage for a while as everyone watched to see who would dare go past him. Eventually we all did!
Old Faithful was followed by what we thought was a short boardwalk which extended into about two and a half hours in searing 80+ temperatures. Every turn brought new and fascinating sights, as you will see....
Helloo...is there anyone out there? It's frightening how dependant we have become on communicating. With no wifi and no mobile signal, we are pretty well cut off from the outside world. It is not that we are on our own for it is Labour Day long weekend so half of America has descended on Yellowstone, many camping. Today we have driven a loop in Geyser country and I have seen sights which I have only ever read about and seen in Geography text books or documentaries on TV over a lifetime. I can still smell the sulphur! We surprised ourselves by spending 3 hours walking the Old Faithful upper basin, after we had seen Old Faithful work it's magic in front of a big and very patient crowd.
By the way, I gave up on porridge using a coffee maker. For breakfast, John finished off sushi and melon from yesterday's lunch and I had a houmous salad and rice cakes

1 September 2017

We are staying in a cabin at one of the Park lodges. Apart from no TV, which we expected, there is no fridge...which we did not expect. So have loaded a chest of drawers with our store cupboard of food in the hope it stays cool. I am still thinking about how to cook porridge oats in a coffee maker! Internet is by the hour and hopefully will upload our photos and enable us to continue with our Journi. However if we disappear from contact for the next 5 days, you will know why! The Americans do not do wilderness by halves!!
If you look hard enough you will see steam coming out of the ground as we drove past this part of Yellowstone lake, which is enormous.
The Lewis falls not far beyond the southern entrance to the park.
First view of Yellowstone opening up before us and the usual posing in front of the signpost!
FRIDAY 1ST SEPTEMBER. MOVING ON TO YELLOWSTONE We set off in full sun and clear sky having stocked up on breakfast and lunchtime basics for the next 5 days. We had not gone very far when we saw a cluster of cars by the side of the road and were shocked to see about two hundred bison on both sides of the road, peacefully grazing. My ambition was achieved before we had even reached Yellowstone and a fitting goodbye to the Grand Tetons!

31 August 2017

On the way down we kept our eyes peeled for signs of wildlife as it was 5 pm and were rewarded with a marmot and a mule deer. Intrigued by the name, we investigated an establishment called the Mangy Moose which turned out to have a saloon bar serving good food with a smile and offering some enjoyable acoustic music by a local duo.
Back in the village as we wandered around planning the next move, the sun started to break through the clouds. So as our ticket included the two gondola rides, we set off to return to the top and take some sunnier photos. At the top, to our surprise and delight, we found sofas and easy chairs overlooking the view. A relaxing hour of soaking up the view and the sun followed, broken by chats to those who sat next to us.
A cup of coffee at Corbett's Cabin, a tin and wooden shack on the summit of Rendezvous Mountain with an interesting wall covering....apart from John!
The views from the top were better than we had thought in view of the cloud cover but the lack of sun brought a chill as the temperature dropped to 55 degrees. Much photographing followed and encounters with fellow couples taking each other's pictures. We felt well qualified to do this after our earlier experience!
Onward and upward as Teton village shrunk before our eyes and an amazing vista opened up.
We were under no illusions that our plan to go to the top of the mountain on a tram in cloud and with showers and thunderstorms forecast might well fall short of our expectations. However Teton village proved to be a beautifully landscaped chalet style resort with easy parking and directions to all the amenities, most of which were adventure activities. The journey in the tram was smooth, lasted 9 minutes and for the first part was accompanied by a very informative commentary. We felt reassured when we heard that the tram had been manufactured in Switzerland at a cost of half a million dollars!
They moved on, sensibly. The ladies of uncertain ages gratefully collected from my pockets their sunglasses, caps and car keys. Having remained a relatively speechless spectator, offering them back their sunglasses, caps and car keys, I had to openly admit that this had been a life-changing experience. Onward to Teton Village, though I somehow felt it had much to live up to....
We thought that was that, but quality control intervened. The two ladies spotted that an offending finger had intruded into one photo and some background folk had gotten into the picture too. The First Lady left her sunglasses and cap with me and remounted the plinth, the second lady following. All was well. At this point, an elderly, distinguished gentleman and his wife/mistress entered upon the scene and asked for their picture to be taken. After a break in the photo call for the ladies of uncertain ages, the said couple stood and posed in a few romantic fashions. So taken were the ladies of uncertain ages with their images, that they asked for a couple more. Remounting of the plinths took place, but the distinguished gentleman and his wife/mistress were still in the picture. This offence prompted the First Lady of uncertain age to persuasively ask the said couple if they could move aside - which they did. The distinguished gentleman and his lady seemed content with Cathy's photo
After this wonderful breakfast, we proceeded to the town square and thought we could take some street scenes to show where the likes of Wyatt Earp and other heroes may have strolled. Having taken a couple of pictures, minding our own business, we noticed a largish black off-road vehicle draw up at the kerbside next to us. From this emerged a lady of an uncertain age but petite stature and a direct vocal delivery, asking if we'd like a photo of the two of us together. We accepted her kind offer and were pleased to return the favour for her and her companion, another petite lady of uncertain age and slightly less direct delivery. Their initial pose was normal, standing together with arms around shoulders. Their repertoire then extended to climbing on to the plinths supporting the elk horn arches and reaching across the gap between the two plinths to touch hands. This was getting interesting. Two shorts-clad women of uncertain ages posing. Cathy took the pictures for them.

30 August 2017

This was yet another tour of a region of natural beauty. The larger local citizens, such as bears, moose and elk, did not show themselves, but this is their territory, so let them be. Before we leave the area, a word about Jackson. If you took away the cars and the modern touches, the town would resemble the streets of the Cowboy era. The sidewalks are wooden, covered by wooden canopies in front of the shops. It is easy to imagine Gary Cooper walking along the street. Talking of which, a couple of quiz questions for you: Who sang the original soundtrack to High Noon? Who were the original Magnificent Seven? And no googling, please. Answers on a postcard ....
Our final destination was the beautiful Jenny Lake, so called after the Shoshone Indian wife of a well known fur trapper known as Beaver Dick. He named this lake after her and one nearby was named Leigh Lake after him, as Leigh was his surname. From here we headed back to Flat Creek Inn and a welcome rest. The drive certainly had lived up to all that was promised.
We stopped at a turnout giving a view of the shrinking glacier on Mount Moran. The sky was threatening and we heard thunder in the distance but somehow managed to escape the thunderstorms which had been forecast.
Along the lake side, set within a forest clearing was the Chapel of the Sacred Heart built in the 1930s completely in wood. It has been serving the Catholic community of the area ever since. Sadly it was closed due to a bat infestation so I was only able to photograph the lovely stained glass window through a window.
There are various adjectives to describe a chap like this, who, having danced around dominating the foreground to the sign, when politely invited to move aside, took the opportunity to pose for a photo himself. Any suggestions?
At Jackson Lake junction a dam has been constructed across the Snake river as part of a huge irrigation and water control scheme extending into Idaho.
Oxbow bend turnout......the Snake River cuts off a huge oxbow bend in its course leading to some stunning views.
Snake River overlook with far reaching views to Mount Moran (12,605ft) and Mt Owen (12,928ft).
At Antelope Junction we turned off across Antelope Flats.....no sign of moose or elk...towards the historic remains of a Mormon settlement, carefully preserved. They must have thought they were in paradise in such a fertile valley overlooked by such beautiful mountains.
This was our first day in The Grand Tetons and they certainly lived up to their name. Despite the crowds of people, the roads did not appear too busy and we were limited to an easy 45 mph sometimes reducing to 25 mph where there was a possibility of animals in the road. This resulted in a very relaxed day with lots of stops at points of interest signposted turnouts, which took us off the road to a large car park usually with informative sign boards....some of which you will see.
One for the grandchildren....a huge rotating big wheel made from knex. It looked really impressive on the window.
WEDNESDAY 30th AUGUST. DRIVING THE JENNY LAKE LOOP Breakfast: making porridge in a paper coffee cup in the microwave with John holding the extension block....a precarious start to the day. The good thing is the free coffee on tap wherever we stay. Another improvisation..using a snack bar box to prop up the adaptor. Necessity ..... Oh and look what I found in my bedside drawer!
Evening walk around Jackson looking for dinner.....lots of outdoor gear shops and bronze figures of local wildlife and the famous elk arch made from antlers. Very old style buildings dating back to 1800s made of wood with the boardwalk as in cowboy days.

29 August 2017

When we arrived in Jackson, we went from deserted highway to a busy tourist town. At the National Parks centre, we bought our pass for entrance to all the parks we would be visiting. Then checked in at Flat creek Inn opposite the National Elk refuge. Let's hope we see at least one during the next three days!
A new landscape unfolded when the road took a turn once more into the mountains to follow the course of the Snake River upstream all the way to Jackson.
From here we descended into the broad, rich agricultural Star valley with its small townships with fascinating names....Smoot, Afton, Thayne, Etna and Alpine.
We stopped at the top of the Pass to take in the views. We had the place to ourselves.
Near the small township of Geneva, we crossed into Wyoming, our 7th state, and the mountains opened out into a wide fertile area of farmland with scattered ranches before winding uphill once more along the Salt river towards the Salt River Pass.
Leaving Montpelier was like entering a new, wide open world, which is probably how the original settlers felt. This is where the discovery element of the trip really began. And how! It started with a steady climb into mountains, whose altitude reach well over 10,000 feet above sea level, which means the road is at about 5,000-6,000 feet. But there is no let up in the temperature - still in the late 80s and early 90s. How hard must life and travelling have been for the settlers? Our perspective on it all is one of wonder at the scale of everything and its outstanding natural beauty. A part of the natural environment is the wildlife, and there are numerous signs along the way reminding drivers that there may be large animals crossing the road. The mountains give way to a surprising, rolling landscape with fewer trees and more grasslands, which were probably the domain of the ranchers and cattle drovers.
TUESDAY 29th AUGUST. MONTPELIER TO JACKSON...THE WORLD'S MOST SCENIC DRIVE! Breakfast at Cooper's Kitchen was relaxed and bountiful.....a bit more interesting than the full English with all manner of tempting delights in the way of pancakes and waffles. It certainly was a breakfast with a view.

28 August 2017

As always the Mormon church was one of the dominant buildings in town, centrally placed and with a huge car park which declared it was only for church use! They clearly have large numbers attending their services. We wondered if it is partly this reason that we could find nowhere in town to buy a beer!
Many of the buildings resemble the original homes of the early settlers, some in need of some tlc and there is much reference to the early pioneers who settled here.
Montpelier has the hospital for the wider area. It displays on the screen a welcome to all recent births as a slideshow!
I will leave it to John to say a few words when he wakes up tomorrow about our stopover in Montpelier. Suffice it to say we appear to be the only visitors to our motel and dinner at Dan' s delicious diner did not produce what John would have considered fish and chips!
We passed through a town called Paris population 206. At its heart was a Mormon church with display boards outside. Within seconds we had been spotted and offered alleys and a guided tour. As time was getting on, we politely declined and continued on for the last 11 miles.
We have been surprised by the willingness of people we have encountered to engage us in conversation when they heard our accents. Within minutes of asking us to sign his visitors book, the man at the viewpoint centre was chatting to John about our Royal family and all sorts. So I took a photograph of the two of them discussing Butch Cassidy. The journey down opened up some stunning views of the lake as we got nearer with the pretty town of Garden City, which was a very small town, in fact. It was clearly well placed for fruit growing, hence the name, for we saw melons, raspberries and peach trees with outdoor roadside stalls selling the produce. Our road ran alongside the lake with a mix of grand and very humble homes on both sides of the road.
On the final climb, we reached a turnoff for a viewpoint. The landscape below opened up before us with the aquamarine colours of Bear Lake set against a backdrop of yet more mountains. The view was hazy due to the heat and no photos would do it justice. Black hawks were circling on the thermals close by.
We now switched to Highway 89 which lived up to all I had read about it. For 40 miles we wove our way through the Logan Canyon. The scenery was spectacular and my photos will not do it justice as they were taken from a moving car. The road climbed to a pass, dipped to a broad open plain within the range only to climb again over the next divide. We thought of the hardships of the original pioneers who must have carved this route on horseback and with wagons.
Just outside Ogden we left the Interstate to find a lunch spot and followed signed for a reserve by the lake. However a sign saying 'End of pavement' stopped us in our tracks as the road surface changed to a gravel track. We did not want to have a flat tyre on our first day....in the middle of nowhere. Where we pulled over, could well have been any part of Somerset with rhynes draining the flat land, willow trees and teasels, sedges and bulrushes growing. Only the mountain backdrop gave the place away.
Leaving Salt Lake City seemed all too easy until we missed a vital sign and found ourselves on a motorway to the airport. However we managed to weave our way through the grid of streets until we picked up Interstate 15 heading north. This took us through some small towns with stark mountains to the east and the Great Salt Lake to the west. Unfortunately, fleeting glimpses of it in the distance was all we were to see.
What really surprised us was the Cooking school within the store as well as a dietitian's office!
MONDAY 28th AUGUST. HEADING NORTH ON FOUR WHEELS There's always a feeling of nervous anticipation when picking up a car rental....you never know quite what you will end up with. But you can be certain it will not be the Ford Focus you clicked on when you booked. The 'or similar' turned out to be a smart Hyundai saloon which took us a while to locate in the underground car park as several other people were pressing their panic buttons at the same time setting off a chorus of horns. We decided to negotiate the local supermarket car park to stock up on snacks, fruit and water. It was a joy to walk around this independent local store with its huge array of fresh food, carefully set out.

27 August 2017

And a word from her....... Salt Lake City....an urban island in a desert.....modern skyscrapers against a backdrop of rugged rocky mountains that barely look real. Big skies and intense heat. Wide streets. Visit on a Sunday and you will struggle to find a cafe open in the day or see any locals in the streets. ..... When did we last think of Sunday as a day of rest? You might be wondering about the salt lake.....well that is for tomorrow when we become independently mobile and pick up the car! Now the real journey begins.
The Mormon centre is Temple Square, 35 acres of buildings, gardens and fountains. To do justice to the place, I suggest you visit www.templesquare.com/explore It is obvious that the organisation has at its disposal billions of dollars to have constructed such an establishment. It is a far cry from the original pioneers who endured terrible hardships to cross, firstly, the Atlantic, then 1,300-odd miles of the continent to settle here. The Mormons are influential here and one has the feeling that much of what happens involves them. There can be no doubting their sincerity and persistence, but the size of Temple Square's buildings triggers in my mind the question as to whether it, and St Peter's in Rome, along with any number of beautiful ecclesiastical buildings are any more statement of religion than the humble Bethlehem. I leave that for you to ponder.
Sunday, August 27 Salt Lake City is a city in the desert. Consequently, it is hot. 32 Celsius, which is 90F in old money. The desert mountains form a backdrop to a city of some high-rise, but also some low-rise, buildings. One of the tallest is owned by Wells Fargo. For those of you with black and white televisions, and longish memories, that was a famous western programme shown weekly on BBC on Saturday evening. The era of the Cowboys is preserved in quite a few shops and houses, whilst later, inter-war buildings not only remain among some of their taller neighbours , but are rightly accorded explanatory signposts which tell the passer-by the original purpose and designer of it. As it is Sunday, there are relatively few people about. The streets are not only quiet, but also clean and without litter. A major reason that people are not much in evidence is that this is the home of the Mormons. Their belief is that, once people have been to church, they should go home and be together.
TO SALT LAKE CITY Last photos of the journey as we crossed from Colorado into Utah and left the river behind and entered a very different landscape....arid colours and bare rocks with strange shapes hewn by wind and water. A semi-arid world of flat barrenness with small dry shrubs. Little sign of life, animal or human, although we did spot the odd deer fleeing from the track. Last three hours after dinner were in the dark but we didn't miss much until we finally chugged into Salt Lake City only half an hour late. A real bed and good wifi for the next two days and an interesting city to explore.

26 August 2017

FOLLOWING THE COLORADO The journey to Salt Lake City lived up to all that was promised with amazing rock formations on either side of the valley as the Colorado travelled through a series of long and winding canyons alternating with wide open grassy plains with the occasional farm or small cluster of houses. After Denver, free ranging cattle, grazing on short tussocky prairie grass, replaced arable farms. And soon even these gave way to forests of aspen and with larch and spruce higher up. We passed fashionable chalet style resorts which came into their own in the ski season.
CROSSING THE CONTINENTAL DIVIDE After breakfast, we managed to get a seat in the observation car and before long we were joined by two volunteers from trails and rails who gave a commentary on the next part of the journey. Here the train climbed to 9,200ft in a series of loops and tunnels to cross the continental divide. We went through 24 tunnels including the 6 mile Moffat tunnel which was begun in 1922 and opened in 1927. On the other side of the divide, the track clung closely to the banks of the Colorado River from a narrow rocky stream full of rapids to a wide meandering river in a huge valley.
Overnight we changed to Mountain time and went back an hour. So we are now 7 hours behind UK time. As light is coming, I am seeing a changing landscape from cultivated fields of crops to open grassland with wild flowers.....the original prairie country. Photos are rubbish from a fast moving train with reflections in the glass but they give an impression.
SATURDAY 26th AUGUST INTO THE ROCKIES It is 515am and I am looking out from my sleeper at a dusky dawning landscape...still flat with scattered lights of settlement after all those bumpy night miles. We went to bed at 930 after our evening meal in the diner. We were joined by a couple from Dublin of all places! So, easy conversation over the meal as we exchanged snippets of our lives. I wonder if we will bump into them again over another meal. It was a roomette with the emphasis on the 'ette'! You simply had to slide sideways into your bed and try not to move. I have discovered, late in life, that I am claustrophobic. Hence the top bunk where you could not sit up was definitely out of the question....thank goodness for a chivalrous husband!

25 August 2017

Four hours into our journey, we crossed the Mississippi at Burlington and passed from Illinois into Iowa. The landscape was much the same with the growing of corn and soya dominating but the settlements seemed more frequent and more modern.
Occasionally we passed a random cluster of houses close to the rail line and with several grain silos close by. They were mainly made of ship lap often white or cream and many looked rather poor and neglected, perhaps a reflection of the poverty which has hit this part of America.
Once out beyond the suburbs of Chicago, the landscape was predictably flat and quickly gave way to huge expanses of corn and soya with no hedges or fencing to take up space. A treeless landscape where every scrap of land is cultivated and sparsely populated by small farmsteads built of wood where the barns were often larger than the house!
This moving mass of humanity was variously humoured, guided or cajoled by an amiable Amtrak staff. The first officer to greet us seems to have disappeared into the background. This is not surprising, given the emergence of the Head Girl, a lady called Dolores, as far as I could determine. She seems to know what's happening, so that's all right. The next watershed is dinner, so we hope our fellow guests will be quiet and able to communicate in English. Hope springs eternal.....
Four hours into our journey, we crossed the Mississippi at Burlington and passed from Illinois into Iowa. The landscape was much the same with the growing of corn and soya dominating but the settlements seemed more frequent and more modern.
FRIDAY 25th AUGUST. JOURNEY ACROSS AMERICA Moving on today across America 1608 miles to Salt Lake City in Utah. We are travelling on the California Zephyr and the journey will take 34 hours! So, started the day with an all American breakfast back at Sunny Side Up. This time I thought I would really go American with some buckwheat pancakes with bacon. They duly arrived all 5 of them complete with cinnamon butter and maple syrup! I ended up taking 2 away in a box for lunch.

24 August 2017

Chicago by night We were delighted to meet up with Greg, my cousin's son, who had spent his summer teaching art on a residential camp for disadvantaged children. We exchanged 'notes' on what we had seen over an evening meal in an interesting and vibrant restaurant called The Gage. Afterwards we returned to our hotel, taking in the Magnificent Mile in twilight.
Millennium Park A perfect antidote to the concentration of buildings with little sky or sun was the area alongside of beautiful parkland catering for all the community needs from children's play areas to formal gardens and outdoor stages for mass entertainment. Intriguing sculptures, like the Bean which reflected the buildings in the background, were scattered throughout the green area which extended to the shores of Lake Michigan. Here you could enjoy the open sky, sunshine and fine views across the lake. We were struck by the greenness of the city. It is a true 'garden city' for every street is a gardener's delight with a range of plants rarely seen outside a botanical gardens from orchids to bamboo. Every street is tree lined and every building adorned with colourful and overflowing window boxes. There were even community market gardens and wildflower areas.
Exploring Chicago Not long after, as we walked down Michigan Avenue known as The Magnificent Mile, I realised to my surprise how captivating an urban landscape can be. For I found myself walking along with my camera in my hand; there were just so many beautiful buildings to be photographed. Some of the oldest skyscrapers with ornate features jostled for attention with the latest glass structures. The Chicago Tribune building erected in 1924 was probably the most memorable with stonework resembling the most ornate Oxford college. It had small pieces of structures from all over the world such as the Berlin Wall and an ancient Chinese temple embedded into the lower walls with inscriptions. Trump tower paled into insignificance beside it. It gradually became obvious that Chicago is definitely an architect's paradise and there were specialist tours along the river and by bus to see the different buildings. The densest concentration of tall buildings was inside an area known as the Loop.
Thursday 24th August. Breakfast out! As most accommodation here is on a room only basis, we started the day with breakfast out and found the perfect place with tables on the pavement in the morning sunshine....it was called Sunny Side Up. The menu was truly amazing with a huge range of cooked breakfasts from omelettes to pancakes with all manner of tempting fillings, as well as granola with fresh raspberries and blueberries. Even the special coffees were intriguing....doughnut coffee? By chance we found we were next to the catholic Cathedral of the Holy Name so thought we would take a moment to peep inside. It was possibly one of the most beautiful cathedrals I have seen. Built in 1874 following the great Chicago Fire, it is a mixture of marble and granite with a rich redwood roof. Simple lines and timeless design with a remarkable organ, it radiated warmth, peace and tranquility.
Green Chicago We were struck by the greenness of the city. It is a true 'garden city' for every street is a gardener's delight with a range of plants rarely seen outside a botanical gardens from orchids to bamboo. Every street is tree lined and every building adorned with colourful and overflowing window boxes. There were even community market gardens and wildflower areas.