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Friday morning here in Jackson, WY, so let’s summarize this trip, and link it all up so when I get home I can focus on the work that calls and pays.

When:  August 19-28, 2020

Where: Flying back and forth from Birmingham, Alabama to Jackson, Wyoming. American Airlines. Tickets purchased with miles about a month before departure.

Why: Never been. It was a place we could, indeed, get to, using only miles to pay for tickets. It’s Covid Time, and cities are just not good destinations for travel for a myriad of reasons.

General Itinerary: 

August 19-22: Fly from BHM to Jackson, landing about 6:30 pm. Drive to Colter Bay in the Grand Teton National Park.

August 22-24: Old Faithful area: Old Faithful Snow Lodge

August 24-27: Mammoth Hot Springs area: Hillcrest Cottages, Gardiner, MT.

August 27: Drive back to Jackson

August 28: Fly from JAC to BHM.

I think that was just about the right amount of time. We probably could have cut out a day, but I appreciated not having to rush, not feeling as if we had to “get it all in” in a compressed amount of time.

Accommodations:

All were very clean. No one is doing complete daily housekeeping for multi-day stays, which is fine with me. Of course anything you need is provided on request.

Colter Bay Village Cabin: Vintage cabin, very nicely redone inside. No fridge or microwave. Very nice area with complete services, all food take-out, which was fine, since it was a picnic-like area anyway. Best official gift shop I went into. Wi-fi: None in cabins, but available at every office, gift shop and laundry area. Good speed, even while sitting outside.

Old Faithful Snow Lodge Cabin: Roomy, very clean, fridge, no microwave. Of course, easy walk to Old Faithful geyser features. Some food on the property – the best was the Cafeteria at the Old Faithful Lodge. Wi-fi: none in individual rooms or cabins. Available in main hotel lobby, super slow.

Hillcrest Cottage, Gardiner MT:  Vintage guest cottages, a little worn on the exterior, super clean. Kitchenette, with stovetop, microwave and fridge. Towels changed and trash emptied daily. Super fast wi-fi in cottages. Walking distance to everything you need in Gardiner.

Here’s the more detailed itinerary, with links to posts:

August 19: Travel day, first bison sighting. Arrival in Colter Bay.

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August 20: Hermitage Trail at Colter Bay in GTNP, canoeing on Lake Jackson, dinner in Jackson, initial exploration of Jenny Lake.

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August 21: Hike to Inspiration Point at Jenny Lake, then a chunk of the Cascade Canyon Trail, Signal Mountain overlook.

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August 22: Leave Colter Bay, go on to Yellowstone. West Thumb area, Kepler Cascades, two Old Faithful eruptions, one from ground level, the other from a viewpoint on a nearby hillside; Black Sand geyser area; Grand Prismatic Spring from ground level.

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August 23:  Biking in Yellowstone; Drive to Firehouse River; Paintpots: Hike to Grand Prismatic Spring overlook.

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August 24: Check out of Old Faithful Snow Lodge, on the way north.  Norris Geyser area. Stop in Canyon Village, then most viewpoints of the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone and then a few thermal features to the south. Back north, arrive in Gardiner, MT, check into Hillcrest Cottages

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August 25: Mammoth Hot Springs, various trails in the area.

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August 26: Day of driving towards the northeast entrance to the park, through the Lamar Valley. Many bison, riverside picnic lunch, fairly strenuous hike on part of the Hellroaring trail, to the suspension bridge.

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August 27: Check out of cottage, drive to Jackson through West Yellowstone because of road closures. Check into Jackson hotel, then back up to Jenny Lake for a hike partway around the lake, then to Moose Ponds and Hidden Falls. Seen: deer, moose, bear.

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August 28: Fly back to BHM!

Conclusions:

Beautiful, fascinating, a treasure. I’m grateful for all those late 19th century folks who worked hard to prevent exploitation and development of the area.

I’d like to come back. I’d like to bring College Kid, who is not into hiking, but would definitely appreciate the geothermal features and wildlife and awesome views. I’d like to do more hiking in the Grand Tetons. Kid #5 would like to explore other corners of the park and of course would like to mountain bike where he can, but I keep telling him – he has two more years until he’s 18, and so he can save all that for then if he keeps working and saves his money.

Practical Conclusions and sort-of-advice on random things: 

Basically:

GET UP EARLY AND DO THINGS EARLY. 

Or – I’ll add – late in the afternoon.

Mid-day, parking at popular features becomes impossible and ends up eating a lot of time. I mean, if you have to spend a half-hour walking to the Norris Geyser area from your car and half an hour walking back, you’ve eaten up an hour of your day and tired yourself out just to commute, when you could use that energy for more interesting sights.

If at all possible – and I know it’s not possible for everyone – do what you can to see the most popular sights at any time other than mid-day (I’d say that means 11 am – 3 or so.)

Should you stay in the parks?

If you can, probably, although I’d say it’s less important for Grand Teton NP. I’m certainly glad we didn’t stay in Jackson for that chunk, but since it’s only half an hour from most of the more popular GTNP sights, it’s certainly doable.

But Yellowstone? I was very glad to be able to stay in the Old Faithful area, for it’s a long drive from, say, West Yellowstone down there. A pretty drive, but a long one. And to do that back and forth for, say, three days, would be tiring. And considering it’s not recommended to drive at night on park roads (and after seeing bison strolling down the road during the day, I see why), getting stuff done and scene in the most-busy time – the middle of the day – would be your default. Problem is there’s no camping at Old Faithful – but there is in other, closer areas in the park, so that might work for you.

I just think for all those central features in the park – Old Faithful, Norris, Canyon – staying in the park is better, if you can swing it, because you can hit them earlier and avoid crowds.

After this year, hopefully, too, things will be back to normal and there will be more accommodations actually open.

But for the north section of the park? Well, the Roosevelt Lodge is closed this year, and that seems to be a good place to stay, but for now, with that option off the table, I’d recommend staying – if you are wanting to see things in that area – in Gardiner MT, not at the Mammoth Hot Springs Lodge in the park, and for two reasons – there are lots of hotels in Gardiner, so you have more choices – and food. Especially this year, I’d imagine most people staying in Mammoth ended up going to Gardiner for most of their meals anyway, rather than one more take-out from lodge vendors.

And finally – my rule of travel and of life, in general. You can’t do or see everything. Don’t make that your goal, even if you know you’ll never be back in this specific place again. Take your own limitations into account, accept them, embrace them, be grateful for what you can do, and dive into the moment, where ever you are.

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—1 —

First, St. Augustine, who’s in the Loyola Kids Book o’ Saints, under “Saints are people who help us understand God.” The first two pages:

— 2 —

Secondly…well, we’re back. And about to be gone. So here’s what happened today.

We packed up and left Gardnier, WY, at the north end of the park, about 7:30. We were met at the Yellowstone entrance (which is right there) with the news that not only was the road I knew was closed still closed because of fires (between Old Faithful and West Thumb), but another road  – the alternate I’d been assuming would be our way out – was closed as well, because of an overturned gas-carrying 18-wheeler. That one, between Canyon and the lake (below is a campground map – first thing I grabbed – it’s the road between Canyon Village and “Fishing Bridge” campground.)

So here’s a map.

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You can see the problem. There would be no way to get from Gardiner, in the north, to the South entrance, which then would get us on the road to Jackson. It was going to be a 3.5 hour drive, straight shot (you can’t go over 45 on most park roads), and we were planning to take our time and see things we’d missed and maybe take another look at some geysers.

But with that news, the route had to shift, didn’t it? Like, dramatically – out through West Yellowstone and out and over further west, then south through Idaho, to Jackson from the west. Adding not only distance, but time as well. Okay, champ, I’ll settle in to drive, you settle in to sleep.

And now is the part where I tell you that I just learned that as of 8am this morning that road between Old Faithful and West Thumb was opened. I don’t know why they didn’t know that at the entrance gate at 7:35, but it is what it is. No regrets. It’s fine – we saw some lovely sights along the way.

— 3 —

I shook traveling companion awake not long after departure to take in the Roaring Mountain – it used to emit this steam with a lot more force and noise (hence the name), but it’s still impressive.

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After that – the drive to West Yellowstone is gorgeous, with stunning cliffsides lining the road.

Then….Idaho. So, new state! That means three new states added to our list with this trip, and I’ve now realized I’m up to 45. Only Oregon, Washington, North Dakota, Alaska and Hawaii remain.

It also means that one traveling companion awakened and learning where we were, it was a steady diet of Napoleon Dynamite quotations until the Tetons loomed into site again – and from the west, they are quite lovely. And we were delighted to see that we could, at last…actually see them, since the smoke from the fires further west had evidently dissipated.

— 4 —

Once over the pass, we took a slight detour into Teton Village, since I was curious what a ski village would look like. I’ve known folks who’ve traveled to the area to ski, and I confess my image of what that was wasn’t exactly what I saw, and not just because it’s summer. I guess I imagined something more bucolic and rural, not condos crammed at the base of a mountain. Huh. Well, it’s probably real nice in winter and obviously people like it, so they can have it.

On to Jackson, lunch, since it was a little early, wander around a bit, since it was still early, finally gain access to hotel.

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This is not from our hotel, but from the balcony of a shop. See the arch? It’s elk antlers, and there’s more of the same on the square, and one at the entrance into the Jackson airport terminal, as well. 

— 5 –

Then back into the car and back up to Jenny Lake – about 30 miles north. We had hours of daylight left, so why not get in some more hiking to points we’d missed before? The route was partway around the lake to the Moose Pond trails – no moose where seen – there– and then up the rest of the way to where the boat had dropped us before, the starting point for hikes to Inspiration Point, Hidden Falls and then the Cascade Canyon trail, which we’d walked a good bit of on Friday, and greatly enjoyed.We decided the best use of our time would be to get up to Hidden Falls and then take the boat back to the other side. Which we did, getting back to the car by 7, back into Jackson by 8, then to dinner at Bubba’s Barbecue, which was excellent. 

— 6 –

And so…..animals today? Lots of elk, of course. Two does with their fawns crossing the road near the Visitor’s Center on this end of Grand Teton NP, and then, on the Jenny Lake hike…

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— 7 —

And….

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I think he was in the same spot 45 minutes later when we rode the boat across the lake, because I could see a group of folks on the trail there, looking down. For video, go to Instagram. 

As per usual, I’ll do a post– probably tomorrow, from the airport – describing our itinerary and accommodations choices, for anyone contemplating a similar trip.

Back to ordinary life very, very soon. But in these days, of course, “ordinary” is anything but….

For more Quick Takes, visit This Ain’t the Lyceum!

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Thanks to decent wi-fi (more than decent – excellent  – thanks place that I’ll name when we’re gone!), I can get this done for you this evening instead of my usual routine, which has been: write it on the word processor at night and then attempt to load photos at 7am when hopefully fewer people were trying to be online at the otherwise quite nice NPS accommodations.

(For the record – a cabin at Colter Bay in the Grand Tetons and a cabin at the Old Faithful Snow Lodge – both wonderful in every way.)

The day began with me stressing out a bit about the next few days. Not because we might or might not do here, but because of what something called Laura is doing down south. We are flying home via Dallas later this week, and I just started worrying that this hurricane would disrupt travel throughout the Southeast, and it would be better for us to try to get home tomorrow. Well, I called, and yes there were seats, but I’d have to pay $$$ for them (I got these tickets originally with miles) and I’d missed the no-cancellation-fee timeframe for the night-before-the-flight’s hotel in Jackson, and I’d lose the money for the last night here, and so, I just said oh well, we’ll chance it and just hope we can make it home in time for the Organist to practice before Sunday.

Nothing compared to the plight of those in the storm’s path, of course. Nothing. 


So here we are, in a part of the park that is certainly gorgeous, but without the set of  obvious “must-sees” that one finds in Geyser or Canyon country. Plus, there’s a major road (between Tower and Canyon) that is closed for the year, which makes travel down that way circuitous and those sites inaccessible unless, of course, you are backcountry camping which we are most decidedly not.

So we are taking this time to meander. We had one major site to check off today, and then rest of the time, we’ll be driving, stopping to walk/hike a bit, see something interesting, and then get back in the car and drive some more.  This part of the country is so gorgeous and so different from our usual stomping grounds that taking it in that way is more than satisfying.

I’d thought about rafting on the Yellowstone River – but Kid just did some of that a couple of weeks ago (on the Ocoee, not the Yellowstone, of course) , and wasn’t keen enough on the possibility for me to spend the money. I also thought about heading up to Bozeman to the Museum of the Rockies, which is, indeed, open, but today was so pleasant, we decided we’d rather just have more of the same tomorrow.

First stop was about five miles south of Gardiner to the Mammoth Hot Springs site of Yellowstone. You can read more about it here(and if you ever saw the first Star Trek movie, know that it was Vulcan, with modern elements erased. ) It is also the headquarters of the entire park, and historically quite important as “Fort Yellowstone.” 

The nationally significant Fort Yellowstone-Mammoth Hot Springs Historic District is in the northwestern portion of Yellowstone National Park on an old hot springs formation. The buildings on this plateau represent the first development of administrative and concession facilities in the park.
For the decade after 1872 when Yellowstone National Park was established, the park was under serious threat from those who would exploit, rather than protect, its resources. Poachers killed animals. Souvenir hunters broke large pieces off the geysers and hot springs. Developers set up camps for tourists, along with bath and laundry facilities at hot springs. Civilian superintendents were hired to preserve and protect this land from 1872 through 1886. The good intentions of these early administrators, however, were no match for their lack of experience, funds and manpower. Word got back to Congress that the park was in trouble and legislators refused to appropriate any funds for the park’s administration in 1886.

Invoking the Sundry Civil Act of 1883, the Secretary of the Interior called upon the Secretary of War for assistance in protecting the park. The Army came to the rescue and in 1886 men from Company M, First United States Cavalry, Fort Custer, Montana Territory under Captain Moses Harris came to Yellowstone to begin what would be more than 30 years of military presence in Yellowstone.

The hot springs themselves are primarily large travertine formations – cliffs, hills and terraces – formed by the water dissolving limestone and such. Read about it here. 

It was interesting, but right now, there’s not a lot of activity going on – it’s totally unpredictable and constantly changing – so what we saw was certainly worth seeing and studying, but it wasn’t nearly as mystically magical as most of the photos you’ll find online suggest. Still, very weird to see this landscape sticking up in the midst of life-filled mountains.

We saw the formations in the lower terrace area, walked around the historic buildings and then decided to head back to our lodging to eat leftover pizza from last night before heading out again.

At which point, the first stop was the Rescue Creek trailhead.We walked perhaps a quarter mile into vast, open fields, watching a trio of elks, including a calf, from a safe distance. (video at Instagram).

Hopped in the car, stopped at the 45th parallel (halfway between the North Pole and the Equator).

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Then to the Lava Creek trail,  where we walked for a bit further, down to the Gardner River, spending some time watching elk on both our left and right take the waters – doing a weird move with one of their back legs to get water on themselves, it seemed from a distance. Then the hike back up the hill to take in the upper terraces (more easily driven than walked) and then down to the  Hoodoo Trail for rock scrambling.

Yes, I’m sixty,  no, I’m not an athlete or a super-hiker or outdoorswoman and yes, I can think of other activities I’d “rather” do – in a way, but on the other hand, since this is about helping one of my kids experience things he’s interested in, and I’m in a position to make that happen, well, of course there is nothing I’d rather do. Not that I’m selfless and all sacrificial (because, when you get down to it, this is no sacrifice) – but because I have the perspective of a parent who has kids who’ve been out of the house and on their own for twenty years now. That day is coming for this one, too, and not too far in the future. This is it. Before  know it, this moment will be gone, and I don’t want to look back on it and say, I spent that time obsessing about my own thing  – well, good for me. 

Here ends the lesson.

Back to the lodging to clean up, then out for a decent dinner (bison burger for him, trout for me) here. 

More of the same tomorrow, but in another direction…..

Big Sky Country is right….

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On to Yellowstone.

Which is…amazing. At least the geyser areas. To me, the experience has been a bit like seeing the Grand Canyon was.

“Yeah, yeah, I get it. I’ve seen pictures. It’s big. Got it.”

And then you go and…well..it’s grand.

Same here in Yellowstone. I’ve seen pictures. I’ve seen hot springs here and in other countries (Italy, Honduras). I’ve seen bubbling mud (Sicily). Old Faithful? Sure. Iconic. Got it.

And then you go and…well…

 

I’ll just start by saying that once we got into the park, we headed for the West Thumb area, on the way to our first couple of nights near Old Faithful. Saw our first little tiny (relatively) bubbling pile of mud and I immediately thought…Okay, when is this whole damn thing going to just blow and take us all out?

Because the energy in just that small hole was…astonishing. And I tried to imagine all of that happening times infinity in this caldera and there’s one more reason to get right with God.

Also, after a day of wandering these features, you immediately understand the mythological associations of the underworld, death and satan with steaming, sulfurous cracks and holes in the ground. Of course harmful things dwell down there.

Shall I trace the day? I’ll try although  the wi-fi here is terrible. And my T-Mobile doesn’t work at all. Wifi is far worse than it was in Grand Teton NP (neither had wi-fi in cabins, of course, but the Grand Teton NP – Colter Bay – wifi, where they had it (offices, laundry, outside of stores) was fast and not annoying. This is annoying. At least it was tonight, but perhaps that’s because everyone on the property was trying to access it.

(And don’t say…oh, just get away from it all….Guys…I’m a single parent with many irons in the fire, a kid just restarting college in a time during which every day various schools are “pivoting”….so yeah, I want to stay in touch.)

So, quickly:

Leave Grand Teton. Get into Yellowstone. Stop at Moose Falls. Tell some guy that the berry he was wondering about was huckleberry, then praying I was right as he popped it in his mouth. Stop at Lewis Canyon overlook, marvel at the devastation of the 1988 fire, still evident 32 years later. Wonder how much 3 big Yeti coolers being trailered by a family ahead of us could possibly cost.

Get to West Thumb, marvel at our first geysers and springs and such.

Stop at the Kepler Cascades.

On to Old Faithful which, at 3 in the afternoon my son kept saying, “This reminds me of Disney World.” Yes, it was crowded. But it thinned out mightily after five, and our early evening visits to features outside the Old Faithful area were quite pleasant. No, we weren’t alone, but they weren’t packed, and everyone just seemed so….happy. Really. Just content to be out and about and seeing beautiful, strange and wonderous things with family and friends.

The negative here is that services are greatly reduced. I don’t mind no daily housekeeping at all– stay out of my room! – but the stores on the property – which are the only stores around for people, you know, staying here – closed at six. SIX! Even the Grand Teton shops stayed open until 8. But I understand they are understaffed. It seems it is a combination of not really being able to plan staffing, considering no one knew how the summer was going to pan out, as well as restrictions on  the normal dormitory- type accommodations for the seasonal workers. What I read is that they can’t share rooms, so that cuts possible staffing by half. That may or may not be true, but not only are those services reduced, many of the hotels are closed and, sadly some of those fantastic NPS visitors’ centers (like the one here at Old Faithful – closed) and there are no ranger programs.

But anyway, on to the water bubbling, erupting and surging from the earth around here.

It’s so very strange. The Old Faithful area is desolate and dry except for the geysers and ……We arrived just as Old Faithful was to erupt, and it did not disappoint. We then (since the room wasn’t ready) took a hike up a nearby hill from which one could watch the eruption from above. Just as impressive from up there. We then wandered around the other geysers and ….in the area (180 of the 200/250 in Yellowstone are around here), finally got into our room (and I say finally because it took two sets of keys and a security person to figure out what was wrong with the lock), chilled for just a few minutes, then hit the road for some geyser areas that are in easy driving distance. First the Black Sand area.

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Which, as I walked up to it, brought to mind some sort of hellscape. Sulferous odor, bubbling liquids everywhere that would kill you instantly if you tumbled in them, steam rising from the ground, dead trees standing in dark, still pools. Beautiful, fascinating, but still an interesting reminder as to why “sulfur” and underground are associated with evil and death.

Up the road to the Grand Prismatic Spring and the associated Excelsior Geyser. Gorgeous. Warm steam rising from Excelsior like a spa. From ground the level, the Grand Prismatic is impressive, but we think it will be even more so above, so we’ll try that today or tomorrow.

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It was, by that time, getting dark. So we returned to the Old Faithful area, found food – halfway decent noodle bowl from the cafeteria that wasn’t a burger, at least. Successful re-entry into room.

Not many photos because of the wi-fi. I wanted to artfully distributed them throughout the post, but to heck with that. And not too many right now. Come back in a week and perhaps I’ll update with more photos. This has taken too long, time to get back to the room, awaken the traveling companion and rent some bikes.

And if you want to beat the crowds at Old Faithful? Come early in the morning!

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—1 —

Oh, I should mention – for those of you who only check in for these takes – since last we spoke, I’ve driven to Kansas, flown back home and then flown out here…to….Wyoming!

Previous posts here and here. 

Yes, bears have been seen.

— 2 —

Friday night:

Sitting here doing laundry – two whole days worth, but it filled the machine – and catching up here. Thanks, wi-fi (not available in the cabins)

Remember: videos can be found on Instagram. On the day of, in Stories, many kept in posts. 

First, a Covid-era traveling report. This will be adjusted, I’m sure, as we move on, but here’s what I’m observing. Very busy. The flight to Jackson was full. Jackson last night was packed out, restaurants to (adjusted) capacity. Every NPS campground is full. I’m sure the other lodgings are sold out, although I will say I didn’t reserve these accomodations until a month ago, and there were still vacancies then. But there are just a lot of campers – and of course, there are always are out here, but considering the number of rental campers I’m seeing, the numbers are even higher than normal. Why? Because people, first, want to GET OUT. They have kids who are doing remote learning so why not? And camping strikes people, I’m guessing, as more hygienic than staying in hotels and eating in restaurants. You camp, make your own food, and hike outdoors? Covid can’t touch this. Or at least has a much lesser chance.

Just got the clothes in the dryer, so on to today.

— 3 —

Up quite early to get down to Jenny Lake, about a half hour’s drive. It’s a super popular spot because well, it’s beautiful, and there are a number of interesting hikes that begin in that area. The Internet advised me to get there early because the parking lot fills up and the line for the boat shuttle across the lake gets long.

So, we were indeed out of the cabin by 7 and on that boat at 7:30. There weren’t many cars in the parking lot and we just walked right on the boat, but by the time we drove away around noon, the parking lot was full and folks were parking on the road.

I’ll mention that at 7:30 am, there was a line of cars waiting to get into the campground, though.

So, across the lovely lake in that early chill with the absolutely gorgeous mountains as a backdrop. I’m really glad we did this hike, not only because, well, it was a good hike, but because it gave us a chance to actually see the Grand Tetons – up close, visibility was fine, but as the day progressed, from any greater distance, the smoke from all those fires in the West continued to obscure them.

— 4 —

We hiked up to Inspiration Point, and then continued on the Cascade Canyon trail. We didn’t go the whole way – we made the judgment call at 10 that we’d been going for two hours, which meant (we are geniuses!) it would be two hours back, and we didn’t really want to finish up much later than noon. I’m guessing we did about 2/3 of the trail. I’m glad we went early because the numbers of folks meeting us going forward as we were returning was staggering, with probably half of them stopping to ask some version of , “See any cool animals up ahead?”

Answer was “no” because the cool animal we’d seen was at the beginning of the hike – this guy.

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But no bears out there today.

— 5 –

It was a gorgeous, gorgeous hike. The author of a book on Grand Teton hiking that I’d read said in his opinion, the Hermitage Point trail we did yesterday was the best in the park, and that I can’t figure out. That was nothing compared to this, with soaring mountains on either side,  walking above a rapidly coursing creek, studying the snow packs melting into streams.

— 6 –

Then to Dornan’s for lunch – a good (according to my son) Buffalo burger. Some conversation about doing a float down the Snake River – in other words, something that involved sitting rather than walking – but there was little interest. So we drove instead. Drove to check out the famed “Mormon Row” – a frequently photographed site (picturesque barn with the Tetons in the background) and then something I was curious about – the Gros Ventre Landslide site – in 1925, a massive rockslide occurred, and there’s a spot with information and access to walk around the tumbled rocks a bit. According to this: Open.

Nope. We drove out there and the site was cordoned off. I’m guessing it is because they are about to resurface the very potholed road. That was too bad, but the good thing was that you can see the gaping hole in the mountain anyway. So that wasn’t a wasted twenty minutes by any means.

Then back for a rest, then out again – first stopping to buy sandwiches at the general store, then to Signal Mountain, with an overlook to the east (lots of land) and west (Lake Jackson.) It was nice, although, again – the smoke-shrouded mountain had a certain effect, but not the optimal effect.

— 7 —

However – two sites made the trip even more special. First was the sunset. Unfortunately, none of our photography could capture it. While this picture is sort of nice, what you should know is that in Real Life, the sun and its reflection on the lake were equally brilliant shades of orange. It was one of the more stunning sites I’ve seen.

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And then, near the bottom of the hill…this fellow. Calmly munching, ignoring us all. Which is good. No complaints there.

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For more Quick Takes, visit This Ain’t the Lyceum!

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I’ll be posting snippets and observations from our NYC trip last week over the next few days.

(No, I don’t take a blog/social media break for Lent. This is my work, so…no.)

One of the many highlights of our trip was the opportunity, on Thursday afternoon, for my organist son to meet and play the historic (built in 1868)  Erben Organ in the Old Saint Patrick’s Cathedral.

Here’s the website for the organization supporting maintenance and restoration of the organ.

And the Cathedral website.

Lana, of the Friends of the Erben Organ, was very generous with her time. She met us in the afternoon after we’d stuffed ourselves in not one, but two different Chinatown spots, talked to us about the history of the instrument, showed us the distinct factors of this type of tracker organ, led us around the back to see the innards, both in rest and in motion as she played, and then let my son play – no organ shoes were packed, so it was socks on the pedals.

For those of you not familiar with organs – and I don’t claim to be familiar, just vaguely aware – most organs, even pipe organs, that you see and hear today are electric and/or digital – since the two major actions of the organ – the movement of the air through the pipes and the connecting between the keys and the valves – are powered by electricity.

Of course, before the advent of electricity, this wasn’t possible. So organs were entirely mechanical. The key/valve action was by tracker action, and the air moved through the pipes by human-powered bellows.

(You may have seen old, smaller “pump” organs – in which the organist has to manually, with his or her foot, pump a large pedal to keep air flowing through the instrument. In larger organs, it would take another person to do so – in the case of the Erben Organ, there was a large wheel at the back to turn that would activate the bellows. Now, that element is electrically powered.)

There are pros and cons to electrical v. tracker action organs. My limited understanding is that an ideal instrument is a combination of both.

Playing an historic tracker action organ certainly is a different experience than playing a modern digital pipe organ, though. As my son said, he had to work a lot harder to produce sound (because of the force required to push the keys, in contrast to the light touch required for an electrical instrument), and because of that, the experience was more like playing a piano – which he, honestly, prefers to organ – than his usual instrument at church/work.

The pipe organ really is an amazing instrument – when you think about the large pipe organs that were being built even in the 14th and 15th centuries, the level of technological skill and knowledge required is astonishing.

Here’s the Facebook post on the afternoon, and here’s the Instagram post from the Friends, and from me, which includes a bit of video.

Please support them if you can – and support all your local church musicians and sacred music endeavors!

 

 

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Let’s bullet point this. It’s faster.

  • Day began at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Oldest (NYC resident now) is a member, so we got in as guests on his membership. My main focus was the Making Marvels exhibit,which lived up to the promise. Really well done and interesting.
  • After we toured that exhibit together, we split. Kid went to wander on his own, I spent most of my time, as is my wont, in the medieval and Byzantine sections.
  • Above and below are some photos. I don’t take a lot of photos in museums (and didn’t take many today, period), but I loved the statue of St. Anne holding Mary holding Jesus (and a book of course), and the thoroughly charming nativity, with the lovely detail of Joseph warming Jesus swaddling clothes. I think the figures above him are shepherds. I’m guessing.
  • Oh – to backtrack a bit. We ended up on a subway that deposited us at the Natural History Museum stop, on the opposite side of the park from the Met. So we enjoyed a nice walk across (could have taken a bus, but why – it was chilly, but pleasant) and saw a couple of tourist gaggles gathered around squirrels, taking photos. Do they not have squirrels in Europe? (They were all European)
  • Then a very slow (is there any other kind) bus down to Koreatown, where we dashed in for the traditional bucket of fried chicken bits here. 
  • I had heard about this Sony Square space and was under the impression that it was some large play/new product space that would be entertaining for some. We walked down there, saw a line of folks corralled outside, went inside to find that it’s a Sony space, yes, but it’s very small, it changes focus every month and gee, we just missed the month of Playstation focus, and now it’s all about some K-pop band which was appearing there that very night – hence the lineup at 2pm already. Not much to do, so we moved on….
  • …down towards lower Manhattan. We had only the vaguest sense of what we were about, since I am thinking that Thursday is the day to do Chinatown. We ended up, well, in Chinatown/Little Italy. Grabbed a couple of slices of pizza, then decided that we might as well try to find Bret and Jemaine’s apartment (in Chinatown)– found it! Thought about Inner City Pressure. Might or might not have sung about it.
  • Then the other party decided he would like to see a particular John Wick location in the Wall Street area – the first one on this list. Got on a bus, got off, walked along the South Street Seaport, saw some ships, then made our way up Wall Street to find the spot. Took appropriately posed photos.  My phone was just about dead by this time, so I don’t have the photos.
  • Subway back up to the hotel for a break, then, at Ann Engelhart’s invitation,  over to NYU for a Catholic Artists Society talk by James Matthew Wilson.Very interesting and thought provoking.
  • Went with Ann up to Penn Station, where she got on her train to Long Island, and we went up 34th to the DSW to get some shoes for someone whose present shoe situation wasn’t really working for all the walking happening.  It was about 9 by then, someone was hungry, I looked it up and saw that Katz’s was open until 10:45, so one more subway ride downtown (we’ve probably come very close to getting our money’s worth out of the 7-day pass after 3 days…) and there we were. Fifteen minutes –  not much longer than it would take to drive to Chick-Fil-A back home.
  • Figured out the initially confusing ordering system (you’re given a ticket. You go to the right spot at the long counter and order what you want, the guy marks it on the ticket, you go get drinks and sides, that guy marks your ticket, and when you’re done, you either pay with card at the counter or cash at the door. It’s really not that bad – although it wasn’t busy when we were there, so the vibe was relaxed…no inner city pressure.  )
  • I wasn’t hungry, but I did get a taste of this incredibly, ridiculously tender corned beef.
  • Then back up to the room. I have no idea what we’re doing tomorrow. Maybe I’ll figure that out right now.
  • There are all kinds of ways that travel educates you. You learn about history, you learn about art, you learn about the place to which you’ve traveled – who lives there, how the place works, what the patterns and habits of life are, how people cope. It also educates you through the encounters you have with other human beings – if you’re open to those encounters. So, you can answer a question from an elderly woman who approaches you on the subway at 10:30 at night, and having answered her question, hear, in the course of five minutes, her life story, including   how she moved to NYC when both her children were enrolled at Juilliard, how they are both highly accomplished professional musicians and about the program she runs for young musicians, and oh…you’re a musician? Let me give you my assessment of all the major college music programs and my advice on what direction to go in, and this is my stop and here’s my card….good-bye!

 

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Well, we’re back!

As per usual, I’m going to collect my thoughts in this space and do a bit more systematic collection of what and where and a bit of why. Go to the end of the post and to this tag for the posts and this page for posts on many (not all) of our bigger trips over the past few years.

Just a reminder, first, of the why:

My youngest son has had a deep interest in Mayan archaeology for years, inspiring three and a half trips so far.

The first, to the Yucatan in 2014, the second to Guatemala in 2017, the third, this one to Honduras, and the half? Our Holy Week trip to Mexico City and Puebla in 2018. I say “half” because only half – maybe even less – of that trip was attributable to his interest (which would take us here – not Mayan, of course, but general ancient Mesoamerican will do) – the rest of it was about my wanting to spend Holy Week (their spring break that year – they were both in school) somewhere where they did Semana Santa right. And so Honduras.

He’d been talking up Copan for a while, as a major site still on his list (and one that I would be wiling to take him to, unlike, say El Mirador – for that four day trek into the jungle or whatever it is, you’re on your own, sir). The other purpose of this trip was to experience some intensive Spanish instruction.

My first thought was Antigua, Guatemala, with Copan tacked on at the end. Antigua has been on my radar for a while – I wanted to go there during Holy Week in 2017, but for some reason I changed my mind and off we went to Mexico City and Puebla (which was great).

The more I thought about Antiuga as a focus for this trip, though, the less sense that made. Spanish lessons would take up at least a half of each day, and Antigua, while it is an interesting place, didn’t, I think had enough half-day activities that would really interest him to fill the rest of those “school” days – the major activities that would interest him (volcanoes, the lake) would take at least a day.

After doing some research, I saw several people in online discussions mention Copan Ruinas itself as a good place to learn Spanish. The more I looked into it, the more attractive it was – it seemed as if there was a lot to do during those half days, and he was interested in the archaeological features anyway (which ended up taking up one full day and two half days). And then my son pointed out the Celaque National Park in Gracias would be an interesting place to see. So there you go – the major focus of week one, with the added few days at the end.

Where to stay?

I often do apartments and rental homes when traveling, but honestly, now with only the two of us most of the time, the need for space isn’t so pressing. In addition, in this situation, since I wouldn’t be renting a car and wasn’t really sure how I’d be getting around or even the details of what we’d be doing outside of the Copan ruins and Spanish school – I thought a small hotel or B & B would be a better idea than an independent apartment. I could, I thought, use the help in planning and coordinating that a B & B owner could provide.

November 9-17

In Copan, I settled on the Casa de Cafe – a fantastic choice, if I do say so myself. I’m very glad that we spent a week in this almost idyllic spot. I would say it’s on the “Outskirts” of Copan, but when a town is about ten by twenty blocks…are you really on the “outskirts” if you are four blocks from the center? Nah.

Owners Howard (American) and his Honduran wife Angela, also own some rental properties and a boutique hotel in Copan. They’ve created beautiful, peaceful spaces in this busy little town.

This was our room, inside and out.

Breakfast was served every morning – your choice of drink, of course, fruit, freshly squeezed juice, and then either the offering of the day (omelet, traditional Honduran breakfast, pancakes and so on) or simply scrambled eggs and toast – or nothing! Along with housemade hot sauces and marmelade (pineapple). The cafe also functions as a stand-alone restaurant. There were other guests – but only a couple of days in which the place felt full. Most of the guests, it seemed, were French – someone I met staying in another hotel confirmed that yes, her hotel was bursting with French tour groups as well. These tours usually begin flying into Belize City or Guatemala City, take in Tikal, various natural sites in eastern Guatemala, perhaps include Antigua, then swing down to Copan Ruinas and then back up to Quirigua …or perhaps it’s the reverse order. Let’s just say that the French are keen on seeing these Mayan sites – are you?

The level of service here (as well as at the place we stayed at in Gracias) was superb. Frequent offers of coffee or tea, prompt and thorough room cleaning, and great assistance in planning activities and transportation. If you’re even faintly considering a trip to Copan Ruinas – the Casa de Cafe is really a great place to stay (they do have family rooms as well.) Then it was off to Gracias.

 

November 17-21

The place we stayed in Gracias had a similar vibe to the Casa de Cafe – clean, simple rooms in a lush garden setting. Owned by a Dutch woman assisted by an excellent mostly local staff, the Hotel Guancascos sits on the hill upon which the Fuerte de San Cristobal stands sort -of-tall. Gracias itself is bigger than Copan and as a busier, lest tourist-centered vibe, as well as being a little more prosperous, it seems. The Guancascos seems to be a slightly bigger place that the Casa de Cafe, but that might be because it’s laid out differently. The restaurant, though, is definitely bigger and more clearly established as a stand-alone – and in a lovely setting, on a large porch/patio overlooking the city. A great place to eat breakfast (provided with the room) as well as just park yourself in the afternoon when you have to really want to do your Spanish or in the evening when you need some Me Time.

The rooms were, as they’d been in Copan, immaculate, and kept so every day. Guancascos is working very hard and consciously at being eco-friendly, so water is solar heated, and there are other environmentally friendly features. Both hotels feature purified water whenever you need it – at the Cafe de Copan, when you walk by the kitchen and there’s someone in there, I’d just ask them to fill the carafe – and at Guancascos , purified water jugs are provided through the hotel. My impression is that drinking bottled water is pretty standard for everyone, not just foreigners, in Honduras.

As was the case the Casa de Cafe, Fromie, the owner and her managing partner were unfailingly helpful in helping me get things set up – in correspondence they gave me feedback on actually getting to Gracias from Copan (more on that tomorrow), on getting from Gracias to the airport on the 21st, and then in setting up ways for us to get to activities – Fromie’s son drove us to the zipline and thermal baths, they set up a guide for us for the Death March up the mountain in Celaque National Park, and they arranged that driver for the airport journey.

Not a lot of folks were staying there when we were, although they were expecting a big tour group of hikers this weekend. I spoke to a couple of American medical missionaries staying there one night, and it seems that this is a important clientele – as it is, I assume in much of Honduras. So there you have it!

Sometimes apartments make sense – when you need the space, when hotels are stupidly expensive for what you get, when people are going to need to eat food that needs to be prepared by you at times frowned upon by the local restaurant culture, and when you just want to live in a neighborhood, with the locals (although AirBnB has kind of, in intending to meet that desire, ruined the possibility in many instances), and are just fine with minimal interaction with other human beings like desk clerks and housekeepers – but then there are other times when you do want that interaction – and even need it. I personally have soured on AirBnB in the last year, not only because of their Woke Politics, but also because of the many questions and concerns raised about their business practices, lack of renter support and impact on neighborhoods. We have no huge travel plans for the near future aside from a couple of trips to Charleston over the various upcoming holidays and one to NYC in February, but if I do go the apartment route again, I’ll be trying to do so outside AirBnB – I did it before their rise, and I’ll do it again! But really, as I mentioned before, with just the two of us doing the bulk of the traveling now, a place like this is just fine

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All the Honduras posts so far:

Sunday 11/10: Mass and a wedding. Touring the Copan ruins with archaeologist David Sedat

Monday 11/11: Spanish school and Macaw Mountain

Tuesday 11/12: Return visit to the ruins

Wednesday 11/13: Las Sepulturas and El Rastrojon ruins near Copan

Thursday 11/14: Hacienda San Lucas and Los Sapos

Friday 11/15-Saturday 11/16: Last day of Spanish school, a day-long coffee-farm tour on horseback; Luna Jaguar hot springs.

Sunday 11/17: Traveling from Copan to Gracias, Honduras. Mass. Settling in. 

Monday 11/18: Ziplining the canopy and more hot springs

Tuesday 11/19: Hiking the El Gallo trail in Celaque National Park

Wednesday 11/20: Fuerte el Cristobal; relaxing, preparing to return

 

 

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…and then in the air. Four hour drive to the airport from here (they say) and then a couple flights and then boom! Home!

Which will be great, although this was nice, too:

 

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Gracias, Honduras, 6:30 am, 11/21. Hotel Guancascos.

I’ll be back tomorrow – maybe even late tonight – with Friday takes, and then spend the weekend pulling together my traditional post-trip set of posts summarizing things.

In the meantime, don’t forget Advent is coming – and in particular today, I’ll call your attention to this daily devotional, which begins on the first Sunday of Advent this year, and continues to December 31, 2020:

 

 

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…we climbed a smaller hill, did Spanish homework, and rested.

Perhaps we should have gone back today, but I had no idea how much time we’d actually want here, not knowing much about the area. We were essentially “done” last night, and not just because the 10k hike did us in…there wasn’t much left to see that was within walking distance. But that’s okay…it would have been insane and painful to go from yesterday to a 4-hour drive to the airport and the flights back home.

So it was good to have a day to not do much.

That smaller hill is right behind our hotel, atop of which stands the Fuerte San Cristobal. Nothing much happened there, and there’s not much to see but the views, but it ate up about twenty minutes, so there’s that:

Below is a good view of the Celaque National Park mountain range. The highest peak is, well, the highest peak in Honduras. I believe our Death March took us to the high peak on the left.

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We wandered into the town for some food. Lunch happened at this small cafeteria right across from the square and the church. It was homey, excellent and cheap (of course) – about $4/plate.

(Exterior, chicken, cerdo (pork), interior garden)

Here’s the San Marco church in the daytime. If you look at photos of it from the past, the trim is painted gold.

Then it was back to the hotel for much of the afternoon, where he worked on Spanish homework, I wrote a bit, and we watched the utility workers doing repairs and replacements on a series of poles down the street in front of us – the reason, we can safely assume, the power was out most of the afternoon.

Eventually, we made it back downtown, where we got our final Honduran meal from here, in the square. Roger helped us order – he’s a native Honduran who moved to the US, lived there for over two decades, became a citizen, and has recently returned here to help his mother.

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Then dessert in a cafe kiosk in the square which features and upstairs looking down on the park. I couldn’t get any panoramic shots, but I did get this weird looking tree:

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And that’s it from Honduras – probably – unless we get stuck here tomorrow, then who knows what I”d have to say?

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