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Saturday, July 21, 2018

GOING FOR THE GLACIERS

    We’re crossing the country willy nilly.  Without campground reservations we rarely know where we’ll end up each day. This gives us flexibility, a serendipitous chance for surprise, the opportunity to figure it out as we go.
    We peer at maps and ask questions every time we cross a state line. The welcome center’s experts have most of the answers. 

 
     When we entered Wyoming we asked "Rosie",  “Can you suggest unique a place to camp  between here and  Grand Tetons National Park?”  She was quick to suggest Sink River State Park,  “You can camp next to a tumbling mountain stream that disappears into a cavern”.  We were sold and six hours later we were being amazed by it.



      The turbulent water really does veer into a cave then, two hours later, gurgles up under a trout pond nearby.
      We met Art there. When he’s not teaching theology on the south side of Chicago, he is living inside this tear-drop wooden mini-home that he crafted himself. It’s great meeting fellow travelers and hearing their stories.


     My wife, Francesca, isn’t all that comfortable with this no-plans plan. Still, it has worked out so far.  We’ve found terrific places to park our camper van for about twenty bucks a night. In the Grand Tetons we got the worst spot but still, from our plot dusty plot, we could see distant buffalo and the magnificent peaks beyond.
  
 
       Thirty miles to the north, where the Tetons end, Yellowstone National Park begins…and so do the traffic jams that come with it. 
     Popular parks are teeming with people this time of year. I think its because the President intends to turn them into fracking farms, golf courses, and shopping malls. To hell with the elk. 


         Yellowstone, with more thermal activity than any other place on earth, has about thirty super sites to see.  There are psychedelic thermal pools and mud volcanos but Old Faithful, by far, gets most attention.  Every 90 minutes  thousands of tourists converge to watch it spouts up 80 feet.  After  a few minutes of bubbling, steamy drama it takes an eighty-five minute rest.  When thousands of  people try to leave they cause a one-hour traffic jam. Ten minutes later a new incoming traffic jam begins.
 Pi is not crazy about the cool weather.  It dipped into the 30's one Yellowstone night.




   We met Jake there who enjoys and posing with visitors as a Tyrannosaurus Rex.  He told us it is very hot inside his inflatable costume.
   The next day, we saw him waving to visitors 80 miles away at the park’s north entrance.  It’s what Jake does for fun.
   If you plan it right, you can have a perfect Yellowstone experience.  Old Faithful performs 24/7 and with so much open space, you can get far from people and closer to spectacular vistas.


    While this place is fantastic it can also be dangerous.  Silly swimmers die ignoring “Danger: Waterfall!” signs.  We watched a mother advise her son to pose closer to the edge of a 1000-foot gorge and a teenage girl walking much too close  to a boiling thermal pool. 


    The beautiful blue water can kill you in seconds.
 
Each time I thought, “Am I going to see this person die?”  I suppose  stupidity is just another form population control. 
    The last time we visited Wyoming’s great park we asked a ranger, “Do the bears here really bother people?”. He replied, “Oh yes, a tourist was killed just yesterday”.

      We’ve carried bear spray ever since.  The $50 cans shoot condensed pepper thirty feet. When Ranger Richard told us they can disarm a bear 95% of the time and mimes even more than that, we were sold. He added that two weeks ago, a chaperone on a school field trip accidentally set one off sending sending the whole crew to the hospital.  We are very careful with our red bottle.

      We have seen bears from our van but they seemed more interested in blueberries than us.  A local told us about a man who, years ago, was tossing marshmallows to a hungry bear at her campground. When he jammed the pack into his back pocket to leave, the bear ran after him and clawed open both the pack and his posterior.  
Ouch. I bet he never does that again.

 ON TO MONTANA!

    
    We took a break from the bears to drive three hours north to Butte, Montana.  We’d been looking forward to their annual folk festival for months.  We attended in 2014.

    There was free camping in a city park for this fantastic, 3-day event.  Every hour you have a choice of enjoying music on any one of five stages, each set a block apart in the center of town.  It is really a world music event.
On the first night we heard great groups playing klezmer, bluegrass, cowboy, French jazz, and Chicago blues.  On following days there were musicians performing from Africa, Colombia, Siberia, and, a nearby Indian reservation.
   On Friday night we danced to thumping Zydeco.
The ever-smiling C.J. Chenier and his New Orleans band wore us out! 

     The festival is free, paid for by local businesses and donations collected by large men in kilts.  You’re so glad to be dancing, drinking beer, and hearing great music that throwing money into their buckets comes easy.


    When the music ended we headed north to Glacier National Park.  

Perched on our country'snorthern border, this place with it’s rugged peaks, mountain lakes, and fast-disappearing chunks of ice, is “America’s Alps”.  

        Many people take mountain tours in 
these 1936 buses, They are very accommodating with comfy seats and canvas roll-back roofs. 

     We had our own touring bus and rode it across the park’s famous “Road to the Sun”.  It takes ’til July for the snow to melt enough to allow passage over the Glacier's’s tallest peaks.  At one stop I tried meditating  beneath a snow cave.  Later I saw a sign telling me this was as stupid as tossing marshmallows to bears.
    Oh well, what do I know, a Florida boy who’s rarely seen snow?

   Outside Whitefish, Montana, a man was selling fresh-picked huckleberries.  I always wondered about "Finn's" first name.  Now they were here, fifteen bucks a pint.  We had them on ice cream.



CANADA IS CALLING

    It’s hard living in a country led by a raving idiot but now we had a chance to escape.  From the highest mountains we had seen Canada.  

   Heading north, an hour later, we crossed the  Canadian border sporting huge smiles. What a a relief being in a Trump-less country, one that seems to have as motto, “Be nice”. 
  Yesterday we hiked up to a glacier and came down to soak in a hot spring. 

   Where we’ll end up tomorrow. who knows? We have no reservations.

                _________________________
      

Tuesday, July 17, 2018

SMOKEY MOUNTAIN HIGH

    We’re rolling across the country in our golden camper. Zipping through the Smokies, we visited friends, Fred and Phyllis Fevrier, outside Lexington, Virginia.
They left the Grove long ago for twenty-acres east of Jump Mountain. 


     In town we visited he grave of Traveler, Robert E. Lee’s beloved horse. The General lies inside the chapel next to it. So do his embroidered slippers and his blue-tinted glasses.

     
    

    The Red Hen restaurant is three blocks away.  It made world news a few weeks ago when Sarah Sanders was refused service because, as one local put it, “She's the spokesperson for the lying fascist that is destroying our country”.  Others, who disagree with this opinion, were protesting outside.
   



"I dreamed I supported the Red Hen in my Mango Republic  t-shirt"

   Dylan and Natalia, on their own camping adventure, joined us for two days.  They fed us exotic mangos as hummingbirds flitted around the Fevrier porch. 


  


 When it got hot we floated down the Maury River.

    The Fourth of July was a busy day.  We kicked it off at "Natural Bridge", once owned by Thomas Jefferson.
     
     In Galax, Virginia, we enjoyed a parade featuring stock cars, fire trucks and Appalachian Shriners pretending to be hillbillies (easy for them!). 

Fireworks followed at ten.

  The next day we finally began driving west through Tennessee. Camping in our new van for the first time went well.
The walk down to the lake, not so. We were re-introduced to chiggers, the  lil’ bugs latch on and don’t let go for a week.  Ouch!   

    At Nashville International Francesca jumped on a Colorado jet. Her son and his wife live in Boulder.


   Entering Missouri, Pi and I crossed the Mississippi next to St. Louis’ McDonald’s Monument.  We stared at it long enough to 

almost hit the car in front of us.


   




The two of us camped one hundred miles west in Graham Cave State Park. Pi and the cave

   The ranger there, Graham Harris, told me the cave, and the 500 acres around it, has been in his family for 200 years. They bought it from Daniel Boone’s son in 1816.  The Harris family gave the cave to the state in 1930 after 10,000 year-old artifacts were discovered buried inside. 
   The Graham family had been using it to shelter hogs.
   The park itself seems undiscovered. Out of 95 camping sites, only five were occupied in perfect summer weather.  It was just the opposite of the Miami-Style park traffic jams we encountered later in Yellowstone.


   As a bachelor on the road, I spent the next night resting at a Kansas rest stop.  Evenings spent next to an Interstate bring out the hobo in me. Twenty others were doing the same thing along with a dozen truckers, a motorcyclist and and a family of five holed up in an SUV.  I chatted with a toothless old man who accepted my sandwich.  He offered me his last Pepsi.

    I played catch with a hippie boy named “True” and watched another man curl up in a sleeping bag on the hood of his car.  Sharing a bathroom with him in the morning, he told me it was good for his back. 




  We were
impressed by old-school playgrounds and
"The Big Easel" in Kansas.

  






 





   I am not one for presidential libraries but here I was passing through Abilene, Kansas, the home of President Dwight Eisenhower. 
   Pi and I walked around the 20-acre grounds that include his boyhood home. After that, I offered to take her to the Greyhound Hall of Fame across the street. 


    The next day I rolled into Colorado to re-unite with my darling wife. We took the kids to a tea house for dinner, enjoyed a waltzing lesson on the plaza outside, and walked the dog next a tumbling mountain stream.  If we had lingered two more days, we could have witnessed the annual Raft to Work Day there.  It’s a Boulder thing, wearing a suit as you ride an inner tube down a freezing river.
    But Wyoming was calling and by dawn we were gone.  Heading north we can almost see the buffalo.












Tuesday, July 3, 2018

FAMILY MATTERS

         How many Skittles will fit inside a ketchup bottle?  Guessing this was one of many week-long activities at this year's Terry Reunion. 
 Dozens of us are gathered in a bulging North Carolina beach house to share food, conversation, and our common ancestry.

   I came up with a list of activities to keep it interesting. We had classes in portrait drawing, macramé,  and making glow-in-the-dark mini-sculptures.  
   Bill and Francesca showed us how to make cappuccino and bread.
   



    On the beach the younguns and I played hot potato,


and inside, we used the dining table for ping-pong. The paddles, fashioned from steak knives and cardboard, served us surprisingly well.


 

We kept the two-year-olds busy playing hide-and-seek. Here Rylan and I are bonding under the ping-pong table. A fake tree was all that was needed to hide Francesca. 




 

    By far, the most popular activities were baking on the beach and eating. We enjoyed unlimited granola bars, ice cream, and cake.  My little brother got bigger, he just reported that added nine pounds. Reunions can do that.

  My parents had six children and every night
one of us was in charge of feeding forty. We were reminded that Jello, with grated carrot
suspended in it, could be considered a salad.
Cool Whip and Velveta were hot commodities. 

 While it sometimes it seemed like a processed food fest, every night there was at least one healthy option (a spinach pie, for instance, on  Bruce’s Pizza Night)
 

 
       Last Wednesday my wife and I presented a “A Vegetarian's Fantasy” with a wide selection of spuds, stuffings, and three kinds of cole slaw. To keep everyone happy we also offered a tall pile of bacon.

    On Saturday morning everyone hugged and said goodbye. We’ll do it again again in two years, a little older and a little wiser knowing you can fit 328 Skittles into a ketchup bottle.
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