Monday, September 26, 2011

Look Out, Cleveland

Day 28-29, Sept. 23-24

This song title by The Band (which I even had on my iPod, to give us the proper soundtrack) is the appropriate one for the blog about how our almost-last day of our vacation ended.

Because of the rain the day before, and our late arrival into our Indianapolis-area campsite, we got a late start in the morning yesterday, which unfortunately made it impractical to meet our friends for lunch. They were working and we only had the window from noon-1pm to see them. We encountered traffic and more light rain in the morning, and we would not have made it to their house before 1. So we were disappointed, and decided that next year we’d better route ourselves in advance if we want to see friends on our trip.

As a result, I started thinking that maybe there was someplace else in Ohio we could stop, and suddenly thought of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Museum in Cleveland. Now, Cleveland was not exactly on the I-70 alterative route we were taking. But when I mentioned it as a theoretical possibility, Joe said, “Let’s do it!!!” So we ended up passing north through Columbus and continuing on into the city of Cleveland. Truly impractical from a number of points of view--we did not make it to our parking space (which we were most fortunate to find) until 4pm. The museum closed at 5:30. And we definitely added a few miles to our trip.

However, despite our late arrival, we both felt it was absolutely worth the stop. Since we only had a little more than an hour to visit a museum which we really would have liked to spend a whole day in, we decided to not even peek at the permanent exhibits about the history of Rock and Roll. Instead, we went to the top floors of the museum to see the current exhibit, Women Who Rock. It took up all the time we had, and we knew it would not be there a year from now, whereas the permanent exhibits will always be there.

Women Who Rock was fantastic! (BTW, the museum does not allow any photography, so no photos of the inside.) There were displays for rock and roll women from the earliest rock days (Ronnie Specter, the Shangri-Las, Leslie Gore, etc.) through all the biggest stars you could name: Janis, Grace Slick, Patti Smith, Cindi Lauper, Tina Turner, and I can’t even name all of them here--there were 30 or 40 of these displays. The most recent ones included Lady Gaga, Brittney Spears, and some that quite honestly, I’m not even familiar with and didn’t know their names! (I hope this doesn’t mean that rock and roll is passing me by!!)

Each display had a biography of the singer, her biggest achievements, and some memorabilia connected with her (record album covers, personal items, etc.). Every one of the displays also included a dress owned and worn by the singer--everything from Joan Jett’s leather and t-shirt, to a Bob Mackie original made and worn by Cher. The most amazing one was Gaga’s dress made out of meat, which she wore to, I think, the Grammy Award show. The sign explained how they preserved it after the show… really a “statement” (her remarks at the time she wore it were part of the display.) Over our heads, as we read through the exhibit, was a large screen playing videos of live performances of many of the women who were featured in the exhibit. Every once in a while a performance was so compelling that I would look up, and realize that all around the small room, visitors had stopped reading and were all engrossed in the performance they were seeing and hearing. It was a fabulous exhibit.

That was actually the second floor--the first floor had videos and background information on some of the women who were not quite considered rock-and-rollers per se, but who had been an influence in the industry, such as songwriters, folkier stars like Carole King, and people like Dolly Parton and some of the soul and gospel singers who had a lot of influence on rock music.

The entire exhibit was absolutely fantastic and by the time we finished, we had just about enough time to drift downstairs and see what else we were missing--the Hall of Fame interactive floor, where you can hear music by any of the inductees; The Wall, an installation of the stage set for Pink Floyd’s performance of the same name, and I don’t even know what else--by that time, they were shoving us out the door. Next year, our first stop will be a full day in Cleveland rocking and rolling.

We were totally pleased with ourselves for stopping, even though it had seemed crazy. Besides the museum, I realized we’d hardly been outside in several days. The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame is right on Lake Erie, and is next to a big science center, and the Cleveland Browns Stadium. As it turned out, we had to walk clear around the stadium from the parking lot, and it felt great to get a little exercise. I was hoping to just enjoy the ambience of the area a little more after the museum, but a HUGE black cloud was hovering over the area (making my title even more appropriate, since the complete lyric is, “Look out Cleveland, storm is coming through.”) I snapped a few quick photos with my pocket camera, including one of the wind generator adjacent to the museum, with the stadium behind it. Then we hiked quickly back to Mo. One note: there is no way the streets of any east coast city (New York, Philly, even Newark!) would be as empty in the downtown area as those streets were at 5:30 last night. Even driving right through the business district to get to the museum was easy and non-threatening. Where was the traffic? Where were all the people? The Midwest is simply a VERY different place.

From the stadium area, we managed to find our way through the spaghetti maze of interstate highways (71, 271, 480, 90, etc.) and get ourselves to I-80 (Ohio Turnpike) eastbound. And then we drove until about 9:30pm, when we stopped at a rest area in Pennsylvania. We had a very good night’s sleep, and slept late, until almost 9am. But we are now on the last leg of our trip. Joe just made us a fantastic lunch of chicken burritos topped with guacamole and salsa--super yum!! We have stopped at a Flying J to dump our tanks for the last time, and then we have no real excuses to stop until we get home. We are at mile 173 on I-80. Since it’s between home and Penn State, it hardly even counts as “away.” So, I guess I’ll be uploading this last blog at home. What a long, strange trip it’s been, as the Grateful Dead would say. Strange and wonderful, and we can’t wait to do it again.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Meet Me In St. Louis

Day 26 and 27: Sept. 21-22, 2011

For lack of time and for the fact that yesterday, we drove all day without stopping, I am going to combine two days in one blog. Yesterday we woke up with a lovely lakeside view. Joey walked Roxy and saw a fish jump in the lake!

We decided we were not in the mood to sight-see, however, and would rather get back on the highway. This would give us more time today, and we decided we wanted to get as close to St. Louis as possible yesterday so we could go to the St. Louis Zoo today. Plus, I think we were both starting to get a little antsy as the end of our trip draws nearer.

So that’s what we did. We drove about 500 miles yesterday. I was rather upset when we entered Missouri, however. Kansas had a wonderful Welcome Center; Missouri had nothing. Nada. No welcome whatsoever. Since I didn’t have a map of the state, other than in my atlas, this was disappointing; and since we had no AAA book for the state, it was worse. We had no idea what attractions we might want to see--which was one reason we settled on the zoo. We are lucky that the AAA Tourbooks are loaded into our GPS, and that helped a lot in finding a campground in the St. Louis area. I think Missouri is making a big mistake not having tourist info readily available... is there nothing about Mark Twain here? What about Lewis and Clark? And any number of things we don't know about already? I know I'd like to come back through Kansas with some more time someday, but Missouri is kind of a big gap in my knowledge as of now.

We managed to find a state park just outside of the city of St. Louis, using the one map I did have, and the GPS. It was a nice park, but not on a par with many of the others we’ve stayed in. We did cross the Missouri River for the 2nd time just as we were approaching the park, near sunset.
This morning we woke up and it was drizzly. We went to thezoo; when we got there it was still drizzly. The zoo, btw, is free--but I should let you know, if you ever come in an RV, the cost to park an RV is $24. Hah! Anyway, we spent a few wet hours at the St. Louis Zoo today. A number of exhibits were closed; most disappointing I suppose was the elephants--as usual, our timing was bad. TOMORROW is the debut of the new baby elephant; today, the whole exhibit was closed off. So we didn’t get to meet the new baby girl. We did love some of the other exhibits, however. My favorite today was the giant anteaters. They are so exotic and I think their markings are beautiful.
And here are a few other animals we met today.

Around 1:30 or so we went back to Mo, put on dry clothes, and had soup and sandwiches for lunch. At that point I realized, I needed to lie down and take a nap. So Joe read a book and I took a nap for an hour. At 3pm, we finally packed ourselves up and started driving. Wouldn’t you know, at that point the rain had stopped? As we left St. Louis and Missouri, I managed to snap some quick photos of the St. Louis Arch and the Mississippi River. It was cloudy and dark-ish, and we caught up with the rain on the Illinois side of the river. So it was kind of a tiring drive today.
We drove until we were just past Indianapolis, and stopped at a KOA here. I wanted the wifi, and I want a hot shower tomorrow (I could have had one at the state park this morning but I overslept after not sleeping well during the night.) It is pouring rain, and I just would like it to be done by tomorrow, but the rain forecast is for more showers. Not that we can complain--we had NO rain at all except for an occasional nighttime sprinkle, until we got to Kansas.

Tomorrow we hope to meet some friends for lunch in the Columbus area, and then drive into Pennsylvania for the night. And we hope to be home on Saturday night. So this will most likely be my last blog from "on the road." It's been another amazing trip, and it almost seems like a dream already. That's why I write these blogs--so I can remind myself of everything we've done and seen. I know all too soon I'll be back in the usual "stuff", and dreaming of our next vacation.

This Looks Like Kansas, Toto!

Day 25: Sept. 20, 2011

There’s not much to say about today for this blog--a rarity in our travels! We left our beautiful state park campsite this morning just after 8:30. It was really one of the nicest state parks we’ve experienced, although we’ve seen a lot (and are at another one tonight.) The lake was lovely this morning, as was the air, cool and refreshing. I slept great and felt wonderful this morning when we pulled out.

We headed south on I-25 toward Denver, but got off the interstate after only about 20 miles to make a wide detour around the big city. I really did not want to run into rush hour traffic there. I was sorry to leave the Rocky Mountains in the distance, however--we are going to miss them until our next trip west.

After we picked up I-70, we concentrated on driving. I did most of eastern Colorado while Joe read his book; I must say, the landscape was the most boring we have seen *anywhere*, and I didn’t even regret that he won’t take pictures. There was nothing to photograph! Gently rolling hills occasionally, but mostly flat, and with just nothing to see. All the crops have been harvested, the hills had no vegetation or interesting features, and we didn’t even see many cows grazing. Just a lot of nothing. You would never know that Colorado is considered one of the most scenic states. Everything worth seeing, pretty much, is west of I-25.

Just before we got to the Kansas state line, we took the exit for Birmingham, which has an original and perfectly restored carousel. But alas, it was closed after Labor Day. We could look through the windows of the carousel building and see it--it really is beautiful. We love carousels. But it was disappointing not to be able to ride it or hear the “military music” it plays on its calliope.

So we got back on I-70, crossed into Kansas (a new sticker!) and stopped at the welcome center a few miles later. This was a very well done center, I thought, and the lady who helped me was very good. Kansas is very clever--they know that a lot of folks are just travelling through on the Interstate. So I was given, among other things, a brochure which is called “Kansas I-70: America’s Main Street.” It follows along the interstate and tells what attractions are at each of the major cities that the road goes through. Of course, “major cities” is a relative term. We did see things which seemed like fun (and I was sorely tempted to travel a parallel road in order to see America’s Biggest Ball of Twine!), but we realized as we sat at the welcome center that we were crossing a time zone, and suddenly it was 3pm, and we were only just eating lunch. So we felt a bit pressured for time.

I didn’t take many photos, but we do have one question: does anyone know what these reddish plants are in the fields? We passed a lot of them, and we can’t figure it out.

In the end, we drove about 200 miles of the 450 which Kansas has in store for us, and got off the highway to spend the night at Wilson State Park. We were surprised at how quickly the landscape changed as soon as we left the interstate--Kansas does have some very pretty places!
Joe caught a nice photo of the sunset sky just as we arrived at the park.
This park is on a lake (big fishing area, again) and our campsite is literally beside the lake. I can hear the water lapping against the shore, and the breeze is lovely. The only downside is, we are back in bug-land. I always forget that there are so many fewer bugs out west, and it’s always an unpleasant surprise to encounter these little gnatty things again.

We chose this park because it was close to an attraction we thought we’d go see tomorrow morning, but now we may change our plans. The attraction doesn’t open until 10, which will put us back on the Interstate at 12, most likely. So instead I think we’ll hit the road earlier and go see something further down the road tomorrow. Another problem I am finding, though, is that some things we would like to do have, like the carousel, shut down since Labor Day, or only run on weekends. So I am not at all sure what we will do tomorrow. We are currently about 1462 miles from home.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

From Loveland With Love

Day 24: Sept. 19, 2011

Today just goes to prove, we have no idea where we will end up by the end of the day, even though I spend hours planning our route and itinerary. We went with serendipity today and what a great day!

We started out as planned, driving into downtown Cheyenne to the Union Pacific Railroad Depot, which is now restored as a museum and visitor’s center. I was interested in the Union Pacific Railroad because the company helped build the first transcontinental railroad, which followed the route of the Oregon Trail, the Mormon Trail, the California Trail, the Pony Express, and… after the railroad, the Lincoln Highway and now, Interstate 80. We learned about all this last year when we went to the Great Platte River Road Archway Monument in Kearney, Nebraska. And the second reason I was interested is because of the movie Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, when Butch’s gang kept robbing the same train and Mr. Woodcock wouldn’t open the train doors because, “I work for Mr. E.H. Harriman of the Union Pacific Railroad, and he ENTRUSTED me….”

When we got to the Depot, we had to decide exactly how and to what extent we were going to explore the city of Cheyenne itself. Cheyenne has no less than 3 museums which AAA gives a Gem rating to. But it was a beautiful sunny, not-too-hot day, and neither Joe nor I really felt like going to a museum (besides, how much cowboy, frontier and westerward expansion collections can two New Jersey kids be expected to take, anyway?) We decided to be relaxed and instead we got tickets to take a 90-minute trolley ride with a narration of the history of Cheyenne. The tickets included admission to the Cheyenne Depot Museum.
So after parking Mo and Roxy a couple of blocks away, we took a 90 minute trolley tour. Before it started, we had a little time to read some of the many historic markers in Depot Plaza, a park- like area with sculpture, seating, grass, and ambience. One thing that stood out was all the large painted cowboy boots--Cheyenne had a project like other cities, where they invited various artists to paint cowboy boots to tell a story. We always love that kind of thing--we’ve seen cows in Chicago, seagulls in Ocean City, MD, and some others of the same ilk. So I took photos of the cowboy boots whenever we saw them.

Our tour guide was really excellent--I think she was a frustrated actress, because she didn’t just narrate, she made a dramatic presentation of every story she told, even if it was just facts and figures. We saw all the historic buildings in downtown Cheyenne, and heard all kinds of fun stories. Cheyenne was a city which was founded and expanded in literally *months*, just before the railroad came to the town. It was wild and woolly and had the nickname “Hell on Wheels”, but so many wealthy folks from the east also came to the new town (to make even more money! Or because they were officers in the army, which guarded the town as a strategic position in the Wyoming Territory) that the city was quickly semi-civilized.

Many old buildings still remain and are being lovingly restored. And there is a lot of western influence everywhere--the city really trades on its image as home of the famous Frontier Days Rodeo. But the thing Joey and I noticed most was that although the city looked really nice downtown, there were so few people! So little traffic. NO congestion of any kind. It was really bizarre. I would have been comfortable driving Mo through the very center of town, right in front of the Capitol Building--there was just no significant traffic. This is what it’s like out here--so much room, and so few people compared to New Jersey, that everything looks “empty”.

After our tour, it was lunchtime, and then we went to the Depot Museum. I really enjoyed it--it was cool looking at all the old photographs of the city being built up, and the influence of the Union Pacific. This city literally was founded from scratch in 1867, so its growth is documented from the very beginning. I loved the quotes from the local newspaper, which started up almost immediately and chronicled everything of importance that occurred. The Depot itself is a historic landmark, and is really beautiful, in that old-wood, tiled and elegant way of public buildings from the beginning of the 20th century.

The trains are still very much present, although there are evidently no passenger trains anymore. But the tracks run right along next to I-80 (we saw a lot of trains while driving yesterday) and right through Cheyenne. We heard them all night from our campground, and probably almost a dozen went through while we were downtown. They say about 90 trains PER DAY (!!) go through Cheyenne.

By the time we finished with the museum, it was already 3pm, and we decided we needed to get going. So we found our way to I-25 South, and drove 7 miles until we crossed the state line into Colorado. We stopped at the visitor center in Fort Collins, because I wanted to see if there was anything fun we could do east of Denver--almost everything touristy in Colorado is based around the Rocky Mountains, which by the way showed up immediately in the distance and got closer and closer as we drove.

I have to say, when the people staffing the visitor center can’t think of ANYTHING to tell you to see in the eastern part of their state, it’s kind of discouraging. So I discussed how to bypass Denver and went back to Mo. Little did I know that serendipity had stepped in--Joe had picked up one brochure, for Loveland, Colorado. It seems that Loveland bills itself as a “work of art”--the entire city is full of public sculpture, including several parks and sculpture gardens. Loveland was only about 16 miles south of us, so we decided we would stop there and see some of the sculptures.
We used the brochure’s map and our GPS, and found Benson Sculpture Garden. It was in a residential neighborhood, a large grassy park with no vehicle entrance point. We simply parked by the curb, leashed Roxy, and started walking through the park. It was about 5pm, a lovely time for a stroll, and the sculptures were fantastic. The shadows made it hard to get good photos of many of them--which is probably lucky for this blog, since uploading photos is so hard!

When we found a plaque describing the place, we learned that the property had originally been a homestead which the Benson family had given to the city, to be kept as a wildlife and wetlands area. Indeed, the center of the park was a large pond, surrounded by cattails and other plants, and all of the grassy areas in the center were “natural”, not mowed or otherwise altered. Some of the statues made obvious use of the natural landscape.

But the entire perimeter was lush lawn, and many sculptures were set into the grass. As Joe said, we HAD to walk on the grass to look at them and read their titles and the artists’ names.
So we had the most delightful evening stroll for an hour or so, passing other families with children and dogs, and just relaxing and enjoying ourselves. There are over 100 scultpures in this park alone--there are other parks and places all over Loveland with sculptures. It seems to be a “lovely” place to live!

Now it was 6:30pm, and time to really think about dinner, and where to spend the night. And once again, Loveland was just perfect--there is a state park right at the edge of the city! No wifi, of course, but electric hookups, hot showers, and a lake next to our campsite. With a fantastic sunset just as we arrived. So that is where we are tonight, and when we woke up, we had no idea of spending ANY time here whatsoever. Just goes to show you. Joe’s angel of inspiration was directing us today.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Housekeeping in Wyoming

Day 23: Sept. 18, 2011

It’s always a bit strange spending the night at an interstate rest area--on one hand, no one ever bothers us and the highway noises are never as loud as you might expect. But we always wake up early, and it’s a conducive way to get an early start. So we were actually back on the road by about 8:30 this morning.

We had several priorities and a general direction in mind. The former included finding water--we discovered before dinner last night that we had run out! I’m referring to Mo’s tank of water, which we use for washing dishes and flushing the toilet--for drinking and cooking, we use bottled water, which we still had plenty of. But it is disconcerting to turn the tap and get nothing! Usually we top it off whenever we get the chance, but we must have missed doing that, or else we used a lot. Also Joe wanted to change Mo’s oil, since we have travelled over 3,000 miles. The general direction was: east on I-80 to Laramie and Cheyenne, and then south to Denver and a connection to I-70 east.

50 miles down the road from our rest stop, we stopped in Rawlins at a Flying J for the water fill-up, gas, and tank dump. By then it was just after 10, so with the help of our Next Exit book, we found an auto parts store in Rawlins. Joe bought oil and some other stuff so he could change the oil and filter, and repair the boo-boo Mo got when we tangled with the rock the day before (the muffler to the generator had gotten knocked off.) It only took Joe an hour to change the oil and fix the muffler--he is amazing! I did some internal housekeeping meanwhile--washing the dishes from the night before, now that we had water, sweeping, and putting away stuff that was floating around.

At 11:30 we left Rawlins and drove another 100 miles to Laramie, arriving just at lunchtime. We went directly to the Wyoming Territorial Prison State Historic Site, a “gem” attraction in the AAA book. We ate lunch, then went in to find out more about the only prison which had ever had Butch Cassidy behind its bars.
The place turned out to be very interesting. The prison building itself was built
in 1872 and was used until the very early 1900s. Then it was taken over by the University of Wyoming, which used the buildings and land as an experimental stock farm. It was restored and renovated in the 1990s using rigorous archaeological principles, and the panels explaining how the building was rebuilt were very well done. They did make use of their Butch Cassidy connection, however!
Most interesting were the stories of the prisoners, and the information about daily life in the prison, from the pov of not just the prisoners but the wardens, the guards, and people who came in to give the prisoners some access to culture, religion, and education. They had people of every type as prisoners at one time or another. This is a panel about Julius Greenwald, a Jewish immigrant from Poland. He was a cigar maker by trade. The plaque says that he shot his wife at a “house of prostitution”. One is left to assume that he found her working there. A nearby panel referencing the problems of domestic violence mentioned that women sometimes worked as prostitutes to bring more money into the family. Evidently if this is was Mrs. Greenwald was doing, her husband didn’t appreciate it. But it’s certainly not the usual story of a Polish immigrant to America! While he was incarcerated, he made cigars which were sold all over the country. This was not that unusual--a number of the prisoners were able to pursue their trades in prison and this made money for the lessee of the prisoner laborers.
Besides the prison, the historic site includes renovations of the wardens’ house, the broom factory, and several buildings left from when the site was used to raise stock. So it was later than I’d expected when we left, and we still had to stop at yet another Walmart. We needed some basic groceries and a few things for Mo. It’s amazing how we run out of *something* we need almost every day--I suppose it’s because we keep everything in small quantities. We did have an unexpected bonus as we left the store, though. The clouds in the sky were extra-dramatic, and there was a semi-circle of sunrays coming through the clouds. I pointed it out to Joe, and he said, "It's heaven!" If nothing else, this photo shows how big the sky is out here, but I think you can see the rays, too.
By this time, I had realized that no way would we make it any farther than Cheyenne tonight, and that is where we are, at a campground in Cheyenne. As usual, we had wonderful scenery on the road here. We are hoping to see a little bit of Wyoming’s capital tomorrow, before we get back on the road.

A Relaxed Shabbat in Flaming Gorge

Day 22: Sept. 17, 2011

We spent a peaceful night in our exquisite campsite last night, except for the fact that at some point it started to rain. We have been very lucky with weather on this trip (as we usually are!), but it’s always preferable not to have to deal with rain, especially when you are in the mountains. These narrow windy roads can be scary enough sometimes, without the added worry of being wet. So when we woke up and it was raining quite hard, we simply went back to sleep! I didn’t have a lot planned for us today, and the first part--take a boat onto the Flaming Gorge reservoir--was obviously scratched due to the weather. Which meant a sleep-in!

We finally got out of bed around 9am, and really took our time getting breakfast, and by the time we finished, the rain had stopped and the sun was out. The sky was blue, and it was just a gorgeous, albeit cool, mid-morning. So we took a short walk on the trail to the Firefighter’s Memorial, which the campground was named for. This was a plaque overlooking “our” valley, dedicated to three firefighters who lost their lives while battling a forest fire in the national recreation area. It was a beautiful spot for a tribute like that, looking over the trees and valley.

Then Joey and I had a discussion--should we do anything else, or maybe we should just set up our lawn chairs, and read our books and gaze out over the view all day. It would have been a perfectly fine thing to do, actually! But then we decided we would at least go take a tour of the Flaming Gorge Dam. So off we went.

The dam tour was very interesting…the dam is just huge. It’s too bad we didn’t get to really tour the Bonneville Dam when we were there, but the shape seemed very different. We had views from both sides, and from the bottom.

Besides admiring the white concrete of the dam itself against the red rocks, we also admired the wingspans of the turkey vultures who were drifting on the air currents in front of us. Our guide pointed out how several of the birds were perched on the struts of the nearby tower, warming themselves in the sun. One of them had his wings completely open to catch the rays--it seemed like a very sane thing to be doing just then, because the weather had really warmed up. If you look at the photo close-up, though, you can really see how ugly these birds are.

After our tour, it was 1:30, so we ate some lunch and then thought maybe we would rent a boat on the lake after all. So we went to the nearby marina, but by the time we got there, a big black cloud was coming up and the wind had picked up again, and the warm day had disappeared. We figured we’d freeze on the lake, so then we had to decide: back to the campground, or continue north back towards I-80 and our eventual trip back home? We decided to head north.

As soon as we crossed the dam again, however, we had to take a brief detour so I could photograph the dam from the river side (the photo I posted above). The Green River at that point is fantastic for tubing (alas for the cold weather we’ve had here!) and fishing, especially for trout. In fact, we saw a lot of fish at the base of the dam during our tour.
We parked Mo in a parking lot which is set up for boaters and rafters. The lot is still about 400 feet or so above the river; the put-in point is down below and then they have to bring the car back up to park it. We found a foot path leading down to the riverside, and we started to walk down it It was steep, with a number of steps just a little too high for my comfort. I was dressed too warmly for this--the path was all rock, no shade, and the sun had come out again, and I was wearing jeans and a sweatshirt--but I followed Joe and Roxy, taking photos all the way. They seemed to have no trouble with it.
We got to the bottom and it was REALLY nice--the river moves very quickly there and the sound was so lulling, and there were very few people around besides us. I enjoyed sitting on the rocks, and Roxy joined me, despite the fact that they were steep. She managed to get to the edge for a drink despite the angle. However, when it came time to climb back up, I realized that the steep hike was just too much for me. So Joe gallantly left me with Roxy at the bottom of the path, climbed back up, and drove Mo down to pick me up. I have simply GOT to get in better hiking shape for our next trip! On the other hand, if I had climbed up the path, we would have gotten caught in the rain--because as soon as Joe got to the bottom to pick me up, the sky clouded over, and it started raining on us as we drove back up.

A mile or so along the road, we had to stop for yet another viewpoint--the dam and reservoir area from the south. It was still raining lightly but not too much, and I was able to take some more photos. I’d say this place is well worth a visit, especially for people who like to fish! And if we come here again, we have got to come when it is warmer--I was so disappointed not to go kayaking or rafting or something on the lake or river. It really is a water-lover’s ideal destination. Not too crowded, and views to be gaga for. I took this panorama photo, I hope it comes out okay in the blog (click on it to make it show up on the entire page.)

The two-lane highway from Flaming Gorge to I-80 is marked as scenic on the map, and it really is amazing. I thought I’d seen a lot of panoramas and overlooks already, but this was really something else again. We left the lakeside and soon after crossed back into Wyoming again (the 6th time on this trip we’ve passed a “Welcome to Wyoming” sign!) I think maybe Utah and Wyoming could be in a competition for the most beautiful vistas. We stopped at one place where we just couldn’t stop drinking in the views--the shades of dark and sage greens, the red and white and gray striped rocks, all blended together. It was fantastic. I tried another panorama for this.
It was about 5pm when we finally got to the interstate near Rock Springs, WY. We stopped at a Flying J to fill the gas tank, and the stop was delayed slightly by a small entanglement between Mo and a rock next to the parking lot (why do people decorate with rocks, anyway? They are just hazards!) After that, we drove a short 1.5 miles to the Wild Horse Viewing Area. Southwestern Wyoming has a large population of wild horses. Because they have no natural predators, the herds increase very quickly, putting a strain on the rangeland and leading to starvation for the horses. So the Bureau of Land Management counts and culls the herds regularly, and they put the extra horses, burros and mules up for “adoption”. There is a wild horse corral facility in Rock Springs, and there is a place to view the horses. They were GORGEOUS.
Joe has been admiring horses all along our trip, and he wanted to adopt one of the little frisky colts we saw prancing and dancing in the corral. There were more horses than I expected, and they looked to be in excellent condition. If you are interested, it costs on average about $185 to adopt a horse, and the requirements include an enclosure of a mere 20’ x 20’. Of course, that seems a little small for a horse who grew up running free on the range. But the food is probably better in captivity. Anyway, that was a very fun stop.
By then it was 6pm and we got back on the highway for about 45 minutes. We stopped at a rest stop to make dinner, and then decided to just stay here for the night. So that’s where I’m writing this--the Mile 144 rest area on Interstate 80 in Wyoming. I have decided to set a new course home, however. Nothing really fabulous is jumping out at us to visit along I-80, and for a mere 150 miles more, we can route ourselves home via I-70 instead. We travelled I-80 west on this trip (as well as in 2010 and 2008) and east last year from mid-Nebraska onward. We’ve never taken I-70 east, and we took it west back in 2007, but only as far as Indianapolis. So we are going to swing south from Cheyenne, WY to Denver, and then pick up I-70. Besides being new scenery, this will also give us two of our missing Midwest state stickers--Kansas and Missouri, bringing our new state sticker total to 6 for this trip (and leaving us with a mere 6 states in the continental US to visit in Mo!)


Day 21: Sept. 16, 2011

Our day was a little bit off-kilter somehow, but it was a nice day with a great ending. We left our campground and headed for Dinosaur National Monument, about 20 minutes south of Vernal. I confess to being a little apprehensive about this visit. For the past five years, the major attraction of the monument has been under rehabilitation. This is a wall of natural rock known as the Fossil Quarry, about 150 feet long and two stories high, which is studded with partially excavated, identified and labeled dinosaur bones. The Visitor Center was built around the wall of rock, but unfortunately it was declared to be unstable about five years ago. They had to close the center, and they have been rebuilding it.

The grand opening is October 5, and it was extremely frustrating to me to realize even before I left home that when I got here, I was not going to be able to see the part of the park which makes it interesting to me in the first place. I was hoping that perhaps they would have finished ahead of schedule, and that the new center would be open before the “grand opening” celebrations. The park, of course, does have its own pretty colored rocks also, although this is not what it's special for.
We got to the temporary visitor center, but I already knew from talking to others that they were NOT ahead of schedule. So we did the only thing that was available to us: we took a shuttle out to a short trail near the fossil quarry. The rocks we saw were from the same geological levels as those in the quarry, and so are also full of fossils. A ranger met us, and took us on the walk and pointed out bones which were embedded in the wall. This is a femur of a large brachiosaur (the plant eaters with the long necks.)
They of course are not labeled or identified for the most part, and in fact there are not that many of them (although if we had x-ray vision, I’m sure the rocks were full of them.) The reason the park is located in this spot is because of the profusion of dinosaur bones and other related fossils--much like Fossil Butte which we saw yesterday. It is unusual to find such a variety and number of bones in one place. They have uncovered many different species of dinosaur, from babies to old age (and in one case, a fossilized developing egg), in great numbers. This photo is of a dinosaur’s spinal vertebrae. Most of the other photos just show what look like little brown shmears against the gray rock. Not too impressive, especially after the ones we saw yesterday at Fossil Butte.

So on one hand, the visit was enjoyable--the scenery is gorgeous, and we DID see dinosaur bones and some other fossils in the rock we were climbing on. But it was a very short presentation and it was obviously put together as a stop gap for tourists, so that there would be *something* to see. The temporary visitor’s center had several casts of skeletons uncovered in the area, but that was it. Even had we wanted to do other things, there’s not that much to do. There is a very short road to drive along, with some petroglyphs and a log cabin at the end. There is also the Colorado part of the park--there is a separate entrance a few miles away, over the state line, and there is a 30-mile scenic drive inside the monument. But “Utah has all the bones”, as one of the visitor guides said to me, and we have seen so many scenic drives in the past few weeks, we simply were not ready to go on another one.

So we drove back to Vernal, where we searched out a shady side street to have lunch. After that, we stopped at the post office and the grocery store, and it was already almost 3pm. We left Vernal and drove north toward Flaming Gorge. On the way we passed another reservoir (unfortunately I can't remember the name, but it sure was pretty!)
We made a brief stop at a trailhead which led to a dinosaur trackway (a lot of fossilized footprints), but discovered once there that the trail was quite long, and we were too tired and it was so late in the day, we just didn’t feel like it. We did see some spectacular red rock scenery, however!

So we continued driving north and went to the Flaming Gorge Dam Visitor Center, to get some bearings for tomorrow. There was some rain while we drove, and just at the top of the pass, we encounterd something white-- probably hail, but perhaps snow. It didn’t last long, and then the precipitation stopped.

We arrived at the Dam Visitor Center at a little before 5, which was right before it closed, so I was very glad to get there. I asked about campgrounds (a lot are closed already), boat rentals, and tours of the dam. I picked up a few more maps and then they closed up the building. I did get a few shots of the reservoir, however, while Joe and I looked around a bit.
Then we went to find a campsite. We ended up at a campground called Firefighters Memorial Campground (for its proximity to the Firefighters Memorial--what else?). It is up at about 7,000 feet, in a lovely tree-filled area with paved level sites. The best thing though is the view--we are backed up not far from a cleft in the mountain, with a wide valley and then more red rocks on the other side. There are lots of rocks on our side, too--our picnic table and fire ring are perched on them, and even close up and broken under our feet, they are simply SO red that it is amazing--I just adore this color.
So anyway this campsite rates a 10 despite the lack of electric hookups--it is exquisite. We’ve been reading, and had dinner, and are going to bed soon. I didn’t sleep well last night so I’m hoping for better tonight, and tomorrow we have a nice day planned.