Thursday, April 29, 2021

Post Yellowstone: Capser, Wyoming & The Drive To Valentine, Nebraska...

 As I mentioned in an earlier entry, we finally got to our hotel in Billings, MT around 1:30am. Needless to say, we were pretty exhausted.


The next day's drive was from Billings to Casper, WY, and we took our time doing it. We were in no hurry to do anything much at all, although dinner would certainly be on the agenda. We did make a stop at Little Bighorn Battlefield National Monument. I'd been there twice; once in 2013 and once while on this trip, so I didn't take any pictures.. But Jess had never been and, since it's only about 1/4 of a mile off the freeway, we decided o take a break. And, I should mention again, my National Parks pass I received at Badlands got us in for free, when we'd have paid $25 without it. 

After Little Bighorn the drive to Casper was relatively short. We got to our hotel and settled in and, before too long, we decided to get dinner. We founds a place called The Branding Iron. Advice to heed: If you ever find yourself in Casper, WY and you get hungry, go here. The burgers were pretty amazing, the beers were cold and the martinis were damn near perfect.

Jess also wanted to check out a local camera store while we were there. I told her that we'd track it down the next day before heading out. Well, as it was, the camera store was directly across the street from the restaurant where our Uber driver let us out. Needless to say, this meant it was somewhat easy to find the next day.

Casper was nice and relaxing, but the drive to Valentine proved to be one of the more enjoyable drives of this entire trip.

"Why?", you ask?

"Carhenge".

Located in the thriving metropolis of Alliance, Nebraska, Carhenge is Nebraska's answer to England's Stonehenge. I first heard of this some years back and have always wanted to visit.. A local gentleman, Jim Reinders, built it as a memorial to his father in 2007. It consists of 39 vintage automobiles, all spray painted gray.


Carhenge...


The best way to describe Carhenge is "bizarre". Out in the middle of nowhere in Alliance, Nebraska, it's a free attraction that's been featured in the documentary "Carhenge: Genius or Junk?" and in the 2007 travel book 1,000 Places To See In The USA And Canada Before You Die.

The cars used for Carhenge were all junked at some point, and Reeinders decided he could use them for his weird little project. But the Stonehenge homage isn't the only thing you'll see here. It's been dubbed an "Art Car Reserve" and, as such, has other works of art, as well:

 







Despite so many potential "blank canvases" for graffiti that can be found here, there's actually one on which visitors are allowed, and in fact encouraged, to write on. It's "the autograph car" and all you'll need is a Sharpie. When you walk onto the grounds, just turn to your right and you'll see it.


The Autograph Car...



Jessy brought her drone along...

 

Jessy's drone checking out the 1957 Cadillac....






Donations are appreciated, as there's no admission fee to enter and enjoy this roadside attraction. However, giving a donation can prove difficult. I tried to cram a $20 bill into this red, white and blue "donation" thing, but I couldn't. It was cram packed with cash. Instead, after I get back to Florida I'll contact them and find another way to donate.

Carhenge is truly one of those things you could really only ever find here in the States. It's a combination of commitment, talent, and just just weird ideas all coming together at the right time and the right place to produce something so classically American. 

Weird stuff is always fun to find when you're traveling, and you're not gonna' find too much stuff that's weirder than this...

Wednesday, April 28, 2021

Yellowstone...

The day to visit Yellowstone had finally arrived.

I have to be honest: I was a little giddy. For me, there are two "great" National Parks: Yosemite and Yellowstone. I visited Yosemite many years ago, and it was pretty amazing. Yellowstone proved to be just as amazing, if not more so.

We started our day around 10:00am with breakfast at The Book Peddler in West Yellowstone. Part coffee shop, part book store, this is a quirky little shop that has a much wider book selection than a food selection. That's okay, though. We got some really, really tasty breakfast sandwiches and drinks which we enjoyed on-site. When we got done, we hit Yellowstone Camera Store, which was actually pretty well stocked. Hey, when you operate so close to one of the nation's premier National Parks, you'd better be able to get the people what they want.

After a bunch of hemming and hawing over possible purchases, Jess decided to wait on both a lens and a tripod. I, however, went shopping. Yup; I got me a second battery pouch and a Yellowstone Camera Store hat.

A big spender, I am. Let there be no question about that.

When we were done at the store, we hit the road. Literally five or six minutes later, we were entering Yellowstone through the west entrance.

Now, this might be a good time to mention our plan: We planned to enter the park through the west entrance, cruise along until we got to Old Faithful, watch that erupt, and then head out through the east entrance and on to our next destination.

So, yeah, remember that plan.

We arrived at the park at around noon or so. We got our map, and the park ranger advised us that only the roads depicted in blue and black were open. Upon inspection, we found that the road to the east entrance was shown in orange. If you're keeping score at home, this is adverse impact #1 to our plan.

But moving on.

After being in the park for about five minutes, we saw what everyone hopes to see: a bison. There it was, just lopin' alongside the road. We weren't certain, but we decided to treat this as our one bison sighting of the day:

 


Now, we might have been a bit low in our estimate of just how many bison we would actually see. In actuality, there are, by some estimates, up to 5,000 bison in the park. With so many in the park, you can certainly expect just a few. We ended up seeing hundreds of them. Some were loners, others were in herds, both large and small:





This one is my favorites of all the bison photos. He posed for a portrait, so I figured I'd take one...




Now, bison are hardly the only wildlife in the park. There are deer, elk, wolves, foxes, pronghorn, bear; a host of animals, both dangerous and not so much. We found a non-so-dangerous one when we came around a turn and saw a fox sitting in a clearing:

 


It seemed odd that a fox would just be sitting in a clearing in Yellowstone while those pesky humans were photographing it, but it just sat there.

It just sat there until it rammed its snout down a hole and came up with a mole of some sort.

Dinner is served:


 

Now, as cool as it is to see and photograph the wildlife in the park,the wildlife's not the only reason to visit the park.There are countless geysers and springs to photograph. If you've never experienced it before, it's what's known as a "target rich environment".

While most visitors will want to visit the Grand Prismatic Spring, there are literally hundred of others to photograph: We found a much smaller one which was pretty picturesque in its own right:

 



One of Yellowstone's geyser fields...


Of all the geysers, the geyser king is, without question, "Old Faithful". One of the most common questions you'll hear, almost anywhere in the park, is "When will Old Faithful erupt?"

Now, you might think it's a difficult thing to predict. After all, Mother Nature will do as she damn well pleases, right?

Well, the reality is that scientists have gotten to the point where they can accurately predict the eruption, within 10 minutes, about 90% of the time. In this case, we were told it would erupt at 2:50pm. Actual eruption time? 2:49pm.

Not too shabby:


 

Old Faithful...


Now, something to keep in mind is that, while most people take the time to drive themselves around the park, there are a number of tour companies who'll happily do the driving for you, and they'll provide narration throughout your tour. There are a number of them listed on Google. Be forewarned, though, none of them are inexpensive. Depending on your departure point, the costs start right around $260 for a full day trip with a private guide:

 


Now, let's go back to that aforementioned plan...

When we first got to the park, the Ranger gave us a map. Any roads show in blue or black were open. Roads shown in any other color were closed. As we looked at the map, the first thing we noticed was that the east entrance, and the road leading to it, were orange.

Of course, this failed to meet our criteria for being able to exit the park.

The road to the northeast entrance, however, was shown in black. "Excellent", I thought. This wouldn't take us out of our way too far, and we wouldn't fall behind on our schedule all too much. So, we got in the car at Old Faithful, and made the 40 minute drive to the northeast entrance. It was a short drive to the town of Cooke City, where we decided to fill up and get a bite to eat. The Prospector Restaurant, in the Soda Butte Lodge, was the only game in town, so we went in:


Soda Butte Lodge in Cooke City, Montana...

 

Some nice warm food recharged our batteries a bit, and we were all ready to hit the road. We'd be taking Route 212 out of Cooke City and onto our next destination.

Well, that was the plan, anyway. Remember the plan?

Yeah.

While the park map showed that the park road leading to the northeast gate  was open, it said nothing of whether or not the road would be open beyond that. We quickly found out that it would not be. In fact, it was covered in snow.

A lot of snow.

So, we basically had only one other option which didn't include driving all the way back to the east entrance and staying another night in West Yellowstone, and that was to try to north entrance to the park. So, we reversed course, drove back to the northeast entrance to the park, and began the 40 minute drive to the northeast entrance. It was a bummer to have to do this, but there really weren't any other options. 

We got to the north entrance, exited the park, and found a gas station. After speaking with the proprietor for a bit, we were assured the roads were clear. So, we developed a plan to drive as long as we could reasonably stay awake. We'd gotten to the park about 11am. It was now about 10pm and we were tired. After looking at GPS and assessing our own road-worthiness, we decided we would stop in Billings MT, about three hours away.

Our day finally ended when we got to out hotel. It wasn't hip and it wasn't fancy, but it was comfortable and getting a late check-out the next day wasn't an issue.

All in all, with all of the recalibrations we were forced to make because of road closures, it was an absolutely amazing day. It's difficult to describe Yellowstone National Park in just a few words, and I have my doubts that the words I've written here suffice. But go see for yourself. 

It really is one of those places which truly defies description...






Monday, April 26, 2021

The Road To Yellowstone...

Our stay in Boise, and the majority of the drive to West Yellowstone, was comfortable and uneventful and, when you're on a two-way cross country trip, "uneventful" is good.

For the most part, the road we were traveling, US-20, wasn't very busy at all. There was some traffic, of course, but nothing like you would see if you were driving on a freeway around Chicago or Cleveland. Add to that the fact that the scenery out here is so much better and, well, you'll begin to understand why this was, for me, a great drive:

 



We had a few photo ops here and there which, when you get into this part of the country, with its amazing topography, I guess is bound to happen:




We spent the most time out of the car when I spotted to moose (mooses?) in a shallow river. They were a ways away, and it was all I could do to get close enough with the 400mm I had at my disposal:



Despite what we were seeing along the drive, we were eager to get to Yellowstone Park. Jess is a wizard at making hotel reservations on the fly, and she got us a couple of rooms at the Stagecoach Inn in West Yellowstone, which lies just outside the west gate of the park:


The Stagecoach Inn in West Yellowstone, Montana...


The lobby of the Stagecoach Inn. Rather rustic...


You mean your hotel lobby doesn't have these?


The rooms we were in were rather spartan, but they were certainly comfortable.

And haunted.

Before I went to bed, I set the thermostat in my room for 72°. When I woke up, I was shocked at how cold the room was. I looked at the thermostat and it read 63°. Now, perhaps there's some rational explanation for this but, if there is, it completely escapes me. I turned the thermostat up to 78° and, in short order, the room temperature was comfortable.

Now, despite how cold it was in my room, the temperature outside was a completely different story. It was right around this time I began to second guess my decision to leave my winter coat at home:

 

No no no no no no... Just no...

I wasn't quite prepared for how cold it would be up here. Okay, so we're not talking arctic cold, but it was still pretty damn cold. The nice thing is that the temperature went up quite a bit and, if there was no wind, it was actually pretty pleasant.

So, after a stop for breakfast and a walk through one of the umpteen souvenir shops in the area, we decided to make our way to the park. It was a day we'd been looking forward to since we started talking about this trip, and it turned out to be a day we won't forget for some time...


Saturday, April 24, 2021

And So It Begins: US-20 (aka: "The Big Daddy")...

So, while the trip west was a success, it's the trip east which is the primary focus. It's really the reason I left St. Augustine in the first place.

US-20 passes through 12 states, from Newport, Oregon to Boston, Massachusetts. Its 3,365 miles makes it the longest road in America. The route is roughly parallel to I-90, which is, as you might surmise, the longest interstate highway in the United States. Most of US-20 is rural, two lane highway, which means it runs through those small towns that you tend to find on rural, two lane highways. Those small towns often have a wealth of weird and quirky things to see and photograph.

In Newport, we first stepped down to the beach at our hotel. This would be our unofficial starting point (the official one is the intersection of US-20 and US-101):

 

The beach outside our hotel in Newport...


The "official" starting point of our drive across the country on US-20...

 

Before leaving Freeport, we decided to get some breakfast and take a few pictures around town. Even though the weather wasn't ideal, we figured we'd probably never be doing this again, so why not? The Yaquina Bay Bridge is pretty picturesque come sun or clouds, so we hung out there for a bit:

 


 

There was no place in particular we were headed. We expected we'd go as far as Boise. The drive alone was going to be in the neighborhood of nine hours and, when you tack on time for meals, fuel stops and leg stretches, eleven hours would be well within the realm of possibility.

So, we simply decided to stop and look at whatever it was we saw along the way. In some cases, we came across some rather bucolic, picturesque scenes, such as this covered bridge in Chitwood, Oregon:



What we didn't expect, though, was when we exited the far side of the bridge (where this photo was taken), we were sitting on an unpaved road that actually looked more like someone's driveway than a public thoroughfare (and I remain unconvinced that it wasn't):

And then there are those things which you can only try to figure out. This dilapidated barn refers to something known as "BurntWoodstock". From what I can surmise, it was intended to be some sort of west coast version of 1969's Woodstock Festival in New York. Apparently, though, all that's left of it is this barn:

 

The "BurntWoodstock" Barn in Eddyville, Oregon...


You know, it's great to hit the road and seek things out to see and photograph and, to be sure, that would be a very important component of this trip (check out future blog entries!), but it often takes a fair degree of planning, especially when you're trying to stay on a single road; in our case, US-20. We just don't want to deviate more than an hour or two off our intended route.

But then there are those times of complete surprise. In this case, It was when I mentioned to Jess that were in in Bend, Oregon.

"Oh, we need to go to the last existing Blockbuster Video!"

Years ago, like probably most other American families, we had a membership to a video rental store. In our case, we actually had memberships to two: Hollywood Video and Blockbuster Video, which proved to be the mammoth; the one that most Americans rented from. Consequently, I had to wonder what the odds could be that we would end up, entirely by chance, in the same city as the very last operating Blockbuster:

The last existing Blockbuster, located in Bend Oregon...

Blockbuster was started in 1985 and, at its peak, had around 9,100 stores worldwide. They employed about 25,000 when they ceased corporate operations in 2010. Now, with just this one privately owned franchise, Blockbuster employees three people.

There was a poster for the movie "Hook" hanging in the window.

The remainder of the drive to Boise was comfortable, if not a bit long. Our next day would take us to West Yellowstone MT, which is just outside the west entrance of Yellowstone National Park.

And that was truly an amazing day...


Friday, April 23, 2021

Seattle...

The goal of this first leg, of course, was to get to Seattle to visit my daughter and her fiance.

I've been to Seattle a few times before, and the weather has always been pretty hit or miss. However, the weather gods blessed me with some spectacular weather for this visit.

 My first full day in Seattle, Friday, my daughter wanted to take me to her new favorite camera store, Glazer's. It's a great store and, if I lived in Seattle, I'm sure it would suck a fair amount of funds from my wallet on a regular basis. 

I can't say I actually "needed" anything, but "need" is such an ugly word. As it ended up, I decided to buy this Nikon N50 (can you say "film"?), with a really crappy lens, for $39.00:


My very first Nikon...


My daughter can process film in her kitchen, so we also picked up some film and some chemistry so she could process a roll I shot driving cross country. It's a bit time consuming, but it's a pretty cool set up. I'm shooting a roll on the way to back to St. Augustine, and she'll take that roll home with her and process it.

Following our visit to Glazer's, we drove around a bit. Now, in the past, this would always include a visit to the grave on Jimi Hendrix at Greenwood Cemetery in Renton. This trip, though, we elected to, instead, visit Lake View Cemetery and the graves of Bruce Lee and his son Brandon, who was accidentally killed while filming the movie "The Crow" in 1993:





From Lake View Cemetery we took a drive to Kerry Park, which offers stunning views of downtown Seattle and the Puget Sound. We decided we'd return that evening to do some photography. I'm glad we did, because I'm pretty happy with the results:

 

We arrived to a very crowded Kerry Park about a half hour before sunset...


Downtown Seattle...


As the locals might say, "The mountain is out." Mt. Rainier on an exceptionally clear evening...

I got a lot that I'm pretty happy with, including some of Mt. Rainier. As the row flies, Mt. Rainier is about 60 miles from downtown Seattle, so getting even decent shots at that distance is rewarding. But my main focus was to photograph the Space Needle. I'd done it before, but always on cloudy days and overcast evenings. The weather had been so clear, though, that I didn't want to pass up this opportunity:


The bright area on the right side of the image is T-Mobile Park, where the Seattle Mariners play...

 

Now, as I said, my experience with photographing the Space Needle has always included clouds or rain, so I was ecstatic to have this chance. The Space Needle was built for the 1962 World's Fair and, at 605 feet, was the tallest building west of the Mississippi River:

 
Seattle's iconic Space Needle...

On Saturday, I got a hold of my cousin Corbin, who lives not far from my daughter. We decided we'd meet up at Pike Place Market because, well, if you don't live in Seattle it's just someplace you go.

So we went:

The main part of Pike Place Market is made up of vendors selling flowers, fruit and fish. Then there are the restaurants which all seem to have an amazing view of Puget Sound:

 








It was good ton see Corbin. I hadn't seen him a couple of years; not since he was part of a race team competing at the Rolex 24 in Daytona. We grabbed a couple of beers and dinner, and basically spent a few hours getting caught up:

 

My cousin Corbin...


Me, Corbin, my daughter's fiance Dom and my daughter Jessy...


The funny thing is that Corbin's folks, my cousin Karen and her husband Paul, only live about seven hours from me, but it seems as though I see their son more often!

Finally, there was one more individual I needed to get to know during this visit.. He's a bit stand-offish at first but, the more you hang around, the more he warms up to you. After day two, Watson decided I was worthy enough to have him rub against my legs. By day three he was no longer dating away when I tried to pet him.

Watson's a good dude:

 

Watson approves. Eventually...

As much fun as I had in Seattle, the reality is that it was coming to an end. On Sunday Jessy and I would be heading south before beginning the drive on "The Big Daddy", US-20.

The trip west was a success by every measure. Now to head east...



Back In The Saddle...

Seven years ago, I was hired by St. Augustine Social Magazine as a photographer. It was a real magazine with a shiny cover and pages and an ...