Sunday, September 18, 2011

8 Days & 3000 miles with Celeste

Dr Desert Flower and I took Celeste (the C70, which is Celestial Blue, and we agreed "Celeste" is an appropriate name) to Yellowstone Park last week, on a much needed vacation.  We left on the Saturday before Labor Day, and returned the following Saturday, driving through desert, high desert, alpine & prairie through 5 states - though Idaho and Montana were less than 3 miles of travel each. 

The goal for the first night, was to reach Zion National Park.  We'd been to Bryce Canyon several years ago, but neglected to go the extra 70 miles over to Zion.  DDF booked a very nice hotel within walking distance of the southern Zion park entrance, and we loaded up Celeste with a weeks' worth of clothes, snacks, alcohol, a Igloo cooler full of non alcoholic beverages, yoga mat, and the Glock 17 with Holsterman shoulder harness (who needs bear spray?) in a White House / Black Market shoe box.  It was a challenge to get everything packed into a tiny trunk that held basically 2 small roll on suit cases, the emergency road kit, yoga mat, and shoe box.  The emergency road kit held battery operated flares, jumper cables, flat fix kit, 4 bottles of STP, gloves, baseball cap, multi-tool, 2 rags, 2 plastic bags, in a large poly collapsible canvas-like bag.  Other than the STPs, nothing in the bag was needed, but it gave me piece of mind to know we had it.  Once the STPs were exhausted, a bottle of High West Rendevous Rye Whiskey (Batch 11F09, Bottle 1635) took their place in the bag.

Zion National Park was amazing.  Highly recommended to see in a convertible, with the massive cliffs overhead.  Massive, eroded, ancient rock formations, millions of years old (not 6000 years old, sorry Fundamentalists, 100s of millions, per Science).  Soaring, picturesque, magnificent valleys, we arrived at Sunset to the park's East entrance, and drove through Zion to the Southern entrance.  We bought the $80 annual pass for the National Parks, and used it frequently over the next week. We were treated to the sight of dozens of bats feasting on flying insects around the hotel and near the abysmally slow "Thai Cafe" which was run by a beleaguered Vietnamese family who could not keep up with the massive rush of German, American, and Indian patrons who flooded in as soon as the sun set at 7:45pm.  The service was polite / apologetic, and the menu over-priced, local, and organic, but it took us 2 hours to get our $65 meal that should have been 30 minutes and $40.

Dr Desert Flower and I planned our hikes through the park for Sunday while waiting for our slow Thai food. Hidden Canyon/Weeping Rock and Emerald Pools would be our primary and secondary targets, heading out of the hotel early to beat the Labor Day holiday crowds.  If we had time, we'd go up to The Narrows and Riverside Walk.

The Hidden Canyon trail was fantastic. DDF was intrepid and we scrambled over many rocks and near-shear faces holding onto chains secured to the rock face to prevent plummeting to our deaths.  The 3 mile trail was lightly traveled and very enjoyable, until about 10am when the Europeans began to infiltrate the park.  The 1/4 mile to Weeping Rock was clogged with semi-ambulatory idiocracy, as were the buses. Note: the ONLY way you can travel through the majority of Zion National Park is via National Park provided shuttle bus; personal vehicles are no longer allowed in the narrow valley roads.

The Emerald Pools trail was nice, but highly crowded and clogged with undisciplined and poorly supervised children and shambling enormous people who did not want to let people pass them on the trail.  The emerald is green from algae & bacteria that are breeding in the pool.  OK, pretty, but crowded.  We went up to the Narrows at the end of the valley on the bus, and we were overwhelmed by 1000s of idiocracy, looked at the time, and said OK, we're out of here.  3 days would be long enough to see "most of" Zion, but we spent just a morning on a holiday weekend. 

We headed up to Park City Utah via I-15, and took a 20 minute detour to see Kolob Canyons on the East Side of Zion.  I-15 runs RIGHT PAST the Kolob Canyon entrance, and Dr Desert Flower reluctantly agreed to my suggested detour.  Kolob was as if Sedona and Bryce Canyon had a child and fed it steroids to make it gigantic.  It was stunning in its beauty. But we did not tarry in Kolob, sine we had a Hilton Honors reservation for 50,000 points at the Waldorf Astoria in Park City, and had lots of Mormon country still ahead through which to travel.  We made it to Park City just before dusk, and quickly headed to the High West Distillery to get dinner.  Sadly, when we arrived at 9:05pm, the kitchen had just closed and would not re-open, but Dr Desert Flower had one of the best and dirtiest martinis of her life, and the bar keep recommended Butchers, just across the street, which satiated the hunger built from a long day's drive.  But we were not yet in Yellowstone, and needed to get to Wyoming.

On Labor Day, we drove and drove, through the Wasatch National Forest, into Wyoming, back into Utah, back into Wyoming, into Idaho, back into Wyoming, and then to Teton Village Wyoming, West of Jackson, arriving again, just before dusk.  The traffic heading SOUTH from Teton & Yellowstone looked like a diaspora of RVs, 4WDs and Harleys.  Very few were heading towards the parks, which gave us a degree of confidence that the parks might not be too crowded.  We were delusional.

Teton Village connects to Grand Teton National Park via Wilson Road, a winding, mostly paved, heavily pot-holed, no-shouldered, winding road that meanders through the Southern tip of Grand Teton National Park.  [Note: it does amuse me, that "Téton" is French slang for "breast", those silly 18th Century French trappers!].  We saw deer and our first moose along Wilson Road's twisty drive.  Grand Teton was "even more beautiful than I imagined" DDF told me. I'd seen Grand Teton and Yellowstone some 35 years ago on a family vacation where we drove out from Indiana in a Dodge RV, and I'd recalled that it was beautiful.  I'd been to Milano, Lecco, and Morbegno along Lake Como, which I think is also stunningly beautiful, but I will not argue.

The first day in Yellowstone was Tuesday the 6th.  We drove up to Old Faithful and the swarms of idiocracy, Europeans and Asians who were waiting for the main attraction to spout.  While we were there, we hiked around and were treated to Beehive, Riverside, and Daisy geyser eruptions as well as seeing a lone bull Bison lumber near the parking lot - our first and only Bison (and they are Bison, not Buffalo) that day.

After escaping the gravitational pull of the masses of humanity at Old Faithful, we drove up to Midway geyser basin, and say the pools and the enormous Excelsior geyser.  Realizing the shadows were getting longer, and we had 100s of miles of Elk country to drive through, we headed back South to Teton village.   The drive South was sadly uneventful, without a single animal being visible, all the way back to Teton Village.  We had a delicious meal at Game Fish, and vowed to start much earlier the next day.

Wednesday the 7th we drove up through Grand Teton again and through Yellowstone's south entrance.  Passed the throngs at Old Faithful's turn off, and headed north towards what we hoped were the Mammoth Hot Springs and many animals.  We had Celeste's top down and enjoyed the 45 mph scenic drive. Stopped at the Norris Geyser Basin to look around by DDF's heel was hurting her so we didn't go too far (and idiocracy was thickly clogging the NGB).  Along the drive to the Mammoth Hot Springs we saw many amazing water falls, gorges, and mountain landscapes.  It was a very pretty day indeed.

Mammoth Hot Springs wasn't Hot, nor was it a flowing spring, nor was it the picturesque blues and greens as the promotional propaganda depicts it.  It was a large grayish formation of dry calcium carbonate, with many weathered walk ways to climb.  Eh.  But it was afternoon and we were hungry, so we stopped for some over priced warm goat cheese salads at the Xantera run Mammoth Springs Hotel restaurant.  During lunch the idea hit me... 'we're going to Montana'.  I'd not been to Montana in more than 30 years, DDF never had been, and we were less than 2 miles from Montana, so why not?  It was the best idea I had all day!  =)

Just north of Mammoth Hot Springs we ran into a traffic jam, where rangers were trying to keep tourists from approaching a large heard of elk who were enjoying a lush green lunch in the wetland valley that leads into the town of Gardiner Montana at the North Entrance to the park.  With the top down, DDF got some great shots of elk close-up (more of those later) as she took off her shoes and stood on the passenger seat.  It was the largest concentration of wildlife, and the closest we got to any during the trip.

From the north entrance, we meandered down the east side of the northern loop, to tower Roosevelt and onto Canyon Village.  Along the way, we encountered a herd of Bison crossing the road.  Moms with cute calves.  Males posturing and challenging each other.  About a 100 cars gawking, parked, or crawling past.  "Maintain at least 50 yards between yourself and Bison or Elk" the park safety brochure advises.  These Bison were 5 yards away, next to the road.

The "Grand Canyon of Yellowstone" was lovely, and a massively deep cut gorge, but it was far away, non-interactive, and clogged with throngs of crowds, we so skedaddled down to Yellowstone Lake Village, saw the hotel that we tried to book (but which had no vacancy) and onto Grant Village, and South, out of the park.  Along the shores of Lake Yellowstone, we saw massive plumes of smoke rising from the natural fires caused by lightening strikes on the far eastern shore.  The smoke made for a hazy, camp-fire-smell-in-the-air sort of day, but most of it was blowing to the East.  Down through Grand Teton again, we made our way back to Teton Village.  Masa Sushi in Teton Village served a delicious, affordable, and congenial dinner, where I had the opportunity to speak to an elderly Parisian couple completely in French after we finished our meal. 

Thursday was designated as "Grand Teton" day, as we were just about Yellowstoned out, and the 2 hour commute to Yellowstone was taking its toll.  DDF found that there were guided boat tours of Jenny lake, and a hiking trail on the far West side up into the foothills of the Tetons, so we spent the morning being toured in a boat along with 40 other people (we were the youngest couple in the crowd, strangely) by a ski-instructor & mountain climber who also works as tour boat captain in the summers.  A refreshing hike through the woods, and it was nearly 2pm (more pictures will be in future posts). 

We drove Celeste out to the Lupine Meadows were we snacked on nuts and dried fruit, while watching a pair of sand hill cranes walk through a field about 50 yards away.  Then onto "Antelope Road" where we'd heard there might be some pronghorn antelope.  Indeed, there were several of the goat-like herbivores.  Rain was threatening, so we had to put up Celeste's top, and as we rounded a bend in the road, we encountered another mass of cars, gawking.  This time, it was a herd of moose.  Several bull moose (antlers on their foreheads, but no big sticks in their hands, as a nod to Mr Young, my HS English teacher), and a mom and her calf, near the town of Moose (of course).  A ever-friendly and helpful park ranger was there answering questions (and wasting everyone's tax dollars of course!) who had sets of binoculars for people to borrow, a moose pelt, and a set of antlers.  Someone asked the ranger "Do they allow hunting for moose?" and the ranger replied "Not in the park, and on a very limited basis, as the moose population has really dwindled in recent years."  Bet'cha Sarah Palin would love to field dress one - if she could recognize it from a caribou

It started to rain, we drove Celeste to Jackson, and ate over-priced food at a restaurant recommended by DDF's co-workers that was "eh" - a good $40 meal that we paid twice as much for, and were, again, the youngest diners in the place at 6pm.  6pm IS sort of early, but we'd only snacked for lunch and had done a great deal of hiking and site seeing throughout the day.  A nice hot soak in the roof top hot tub at the hotel, and a good night's rest, we were ready to head to Moab UT on Friday.

Now, the route from Utah into Wyoming was a beautiful trip through the Wasatch National forest, until you arrived in Wyoming.  Then, the traveler could definitely see Wyoming was "open for business".  Bill boards blanketed the road side, polluting the views.  When we got off the interstate and headed north on Labor Day, it was reminiscent of Tijuana or parts of rural South Carolina or New Mexico along the I-40 with abject poverty side-by-side with junk-yard motif crude industrial exploitation of the region's natural resources.  Utah, pretty.  SW Wyoming, pretty ugly.  I didn't want to go back that way.  So we charted a course down US191 through the Leucite Hills and Badlands towards Rocks Springs, alongside Flaming Gorge, and onto Vernal Utah.  Along the way, mining trucks shed rocks that cracked Celeste's nice new windshield in two places - but Accurate Glass in Phoenix was nice enough to repair those last week (we've got $0 deductible glass coverage on our auto insurance). 

When we got to Vernal, after we had lunch, I asked the nice cashier lady and local kid who was flirting with her at the gas station if Colorado Route 139 was a good road to travel upon, to get down towards Moab, ie free of pot holes, nicely paved, few or no mining trucks, and her reply, verbatim "whatcha drivin?"  I pointed to Celeste at the pumps and both the cashier and the beau pining for her said "I wouldn't take that car on that road".  The boy added "there's lots of drilling trucks on that road".  Ah yes, the West, drill baby drill. Extract, Extract, Extract (but in the middle of nowhere, where there's lots of resources, that's excellent place for the underpants gnomes ... better there, than in my back yard).  So we opted instead for the longer route of heading West on US191 around the Unitah Indian reservation and Patmos Mountains.  So Close to Colorado... but that'll have to be another trip (I've been there before, but DDF has not).

3 hours later, we approached Arches National Monument from the north, and were able to drive around the park just before, during, and after sunset.  What a beautiful, preserved, national treasure Arches is!  Every American should go to Arches, at some time in their life, and see the natural wonders there.  DDF has booked us at the Aarchway Inn in Moab, and it was a nice hotel, next to (and $30 cheaper than) the Holiday Inn Express, on the north side of Moab.  After an adequate Mexican meal at Miguel's Baja Grill we set our alarm for an early breakfast, got a good night's rest, and headed back to Arches by 9am. 

5 hours in the park, 100s of pictures later, along with 2 good hikes, and we were headed south to Monument Valley with high expectations, down US191 to US163.  I relinquished the driver's seat to Dr Desert Flower for the first time during the trip - it had been a week and she'd not driven.  Passing several dozen Mormon churches along the way (it's Utah) we drove through a massive thunderstorm just before reaching Monument Valley, which washed off most of the bugs from Celeste's grill.  Monument valley is run jointly by the Navajo Nation and the National Park Service (a modest $5 entrance fee, per person).  There's a beautiful over-look there that one can look down in the valley, but the roads are rough, unpaved red dirt, and it had just rained.  We remained in the over-look gift shop, and did not torture Celeste as we would have abused a rental car if we had one, going down the recently rained-up, bone jarring, bumpy & muddy dirt trail.  We got some great photos of Monument Valley were one large butte was being rained upon while the neighboring buttes were in the sun (to be posted later as well). 

It was late in the afternoon, we were only about 2 miles across the Arizona state line, and had a good 5 hour journey ahead to get home, so down US163 to US160 to US89.  I drove Celeste and we reached Flagstaff by dusk.  Our favorite downtown Flagstaff eatery, Pesto Brothers, was replaced with some kind of coffee bar, sadly.  So we at organic crepes made by a girl with a large green bone jewelry through her nose - as there was no wait and I was worried that Celeste would be towed from the bank parking lot where she was resting while we dined.  (A home google search finds Pesto Brothers still alive and well, on the West Side of Flag, by DDF's iPhone couldn't find them - probably because it is GPS oriented and the new location is more than a mile away).

Almost home (and full of crepes) we headed down I-17, and mother nature put on an amazing light show as we descended down 5000 feet across the Mogollon rim.  MASSIVE thunderstorms were building north of Phoenix towards the rim, with cloud-to-cloud lightening brilliantly illuminating the night sky.  Unfortunately, along with massive thunderstorms, comes the chance of hail, and a few miles north of the Sunset Point rest stop in Yavapai county hail began =(  We dashed for the safety of the ONE bridge we knew existed under I-17.  By the time we exited the highway, the hail stopped (of course).  DDF's iPhone slowwwwwly loaded the current radar without 3G service in the middle of no where, and we cautiously continued to Phoenix and made it home without encountering any more hail. 

When we made it home by 9pm, the cats were out of food, one of them had puked several times around the house and ants had found several of the piles of cat puke (yummy!) that needed to be cleaned up.  Our water heater had exploded in the garage, Celeste's windshield was cracked and she was 3000 miles less new, but it was good to be home and sleep in our own bed again.  Now, to sort through two digital cameras and one iPhone worth of photos...

No comments:

Post a Comment

Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.