May 3 - Tuesday

The plan is to drive across northern Washington, over the Cascades, through Idaho, into north-western Montana then southward into Wyoming and Yellowstone Park; through the Grand Tetons and south east through Casper, Wyoming, down through Colorado to Durango and a ride on the Durango-Silverton steam train; into New Mexico, back north to Salt Lake City, west to Reno for the All-American Sheep Show in Sparks Nevada; north through eastern Oregon until we hit the Columbia River. We will follow the Columbia down stream to Portland and then scoot home some time around June 2nd.

Well, thatís the plan ... but then this is only the first day and travel plans, to where-ever, should remain fluid. Doing so allows the traveler to be open for new experiences and we welcome new experiences.

Crossing the border into Washington State was uneventful other than the pleasant visit we had with the US customs officer who, being from Colorado, recommended we drive the Million Dollar Highway. "Claimed," he said with home-state pride to be more "magnificent than drives in the Swiss Alps".

We werenít long on the I-5 before we turned eastward on Highway 20 driving along the Skagit River and headed for the Cascade Mountains.


After climbing two mile high summits the mile high altitude we stopped to admire the saw toothed mountains and the valley we were descending into. Just down the road a little further we passed an older gentleman peddling his bike and stopped again to look back at Liberty Bell Mountain.

Our conversation with the rider lasted from the time he rode into earshot until we could no longer hear each other a few seconds later.

"How long have you been on the road?" we asked.

"Two days."

"Where have you come from."

"Started in the San Juan Islands."

We were impressed.

On to the western themed town of Winthrop.

Winthrop was founded in 1891. Guy Waring set up a frontier store which attracted trappers, prospectors and homesteaders. A few short years later a narrow-gauge wagon road was carved across the Cascades linking Winthopís valley with the Slate Creek mining district. Waring also opened a saloon but, surprising to most, he despised anyone getting drunk and would kick his patrons out if they drank too heavily. A friend and Harvard classmate of Warings, Owen Wister, spent his 1898 honeymoon in Winthrop just four years before his novel (the first western book) "The Virginan" was presented to the world. The town was named by itís first postmaster after a young Yale graduate who had toured the Northwest in 1853.
In Winthrop we took the hour or so before closing to visit some of the shops and galleries that front Winthropís main western style street. We were tempted to stay but with our relaxed start this morning we felt fresh enough to move on.

Some clouds, finding it hard to scale the peaks, were left behind allowing baby blue skies to let the sun shine on new vistas. Still traveling east on 20 sharp peaks gave way to smooth foothills and a dryer climate. The kind of scenery that reminded us of cowboys and cattle .... indeed we were where history had been recorded.
Before 1900, the cattlemen had the rangeland to themselves, except for wild horses. Sheep were brought into the area and with their arrival tempers between cowboys and shepherds began to heat up. Haystacks for the feeding of sheep were "mysteriously" burnt to the ground. One night in 1903 near the spot where we now stood there was a wholesale slaughter of several hundred sheep belonging to A. A. Curtis. The sheep were clubbed and left for the sun to bleach the scattered bones. Time has healed the age old disputes between cattlemen and sheepmen.
This first night we spent in the town of Omak, Washington in Okanogan Country.  Okanogan (spelt Okanagan in Canada) country spans the US-Canada border.   Back when missionaries and explorers, for the Hudson Bay Company and the Northwest Company, first came in search of souls to save, furs, gold and silver, no passports or photo ID was needed because there wasn't any border ... just a new frontier.

It has been a pleasant start to our "2005 Rock Mountain High" journey.

May 4 - Wednesday

We started out the day at 7:30 by using the paved path around East Side Park.  Terry ran, Sherrie walked.  Omak was on the move.  A school bus picked up elementary students across the street at a townhome complex, while teens walked to the high school.  Two large lawn mowers cut the park's grass followed by robins and seagulls picking up their breakfast.  As the path wound its way closer to the perimeter friendly "good mornings" were exchanged taking away any gloom that might have come with the refreshing mist.  

East of Omak we drove through Indian Reservations (yes, in the US it is still politically correct to call them Indians).   The Colville Reservation covers 1.4 million acres (or 2,100 sq miles); half of what it once was.  

We kept seeing large mounds of dark layered rock ~ the result of built up lava that once gushed out of enormous cracks in the earth.  

The next stop was the Grand Coulee Dam.  It took 24 million tons of concrete and steel to build this dam which began operation in 1941.  Up stream the Columbia River widened and created Lake Roosevelt; a lake that now boasts 600 miles of shoreline. 

The statue shown in the picture (right) was created in 1999 to honour those who laboured on the dam's construction and is titled "After Work".

The road stretched out long and straight before us, undulating ever so smoothly.  On both sides, as far as the eye could see were rolling fields of cultivated land.  Some were a mass of emerald green blades standing about 10 inches to a foot high.  Others were brown and tan, the image of velvet where a hand has brushed the nape in different directions; and yet others looked like light brown corduroy with just a hint of grass stain where new growth pushed through to the sun.  A plane flew overhead making its decent to the Spokane airport.  Passengers must have been in awe of this patchwork quilt of fields tufted by farm buildings.

We didn't know what the crop was that had been in our vision for miles and miles, so we stopped at a grain elevator where men were roping off a huge new-looking black-top pad and met Ed the manager. 

The crop was wheat.  They claim that this area is the second largest winter wheat producer in the USA.  The emerald green fields with growth well underway are winter wheat which was planted in the late fall and will be harvested in August.  The light brown "grass stained" fields were planted with summer wheat in spring and would be harvested in the fall.   These are dry land crops, meaning they do not get water other than what comes naturally.  The area experiences, on average, only thirteen inches of rainfall a year. 

"This year has been one of the driest.  If we get one good rain in May and June, it's usually enough to grow the crops," Ed explained.  "They get more rain over by the mountains (closer to the Columbia River) then here by the highway."

In answer to our question about farm size Ed told us, "They used to be mostly small farms, around 500 acres but they are giving way now to the 2,000 to 3,000 acre farms."


We admired the fresh black top.  "We used to piled the grain right on the dirt while it waited to be shipped out.   The elevator only holds 750,000 bushels but we can pile another 750,000 here outside." 

With the highway right along side we wondered if the railway had been shut down.  Ed explained that they had started to close it but with some lobbing it remains open and makes far more sense than trucking.  "We can load 92,000 bushels in six rail cars and only 1,000 bushels per transport truck.   We can only load 30 trucks a day but it only takes a couple of hours to load 6 train cars.  Plus the state doesn't have all the wear and tear on the highway to deal with." 

Coeur d'Alene (pronounced core-da-lane) was  our night's pit stop.  Early explorers gave the name to the local Schee-Schu-Umsh Indians of North Idaho because of their sharp skills in negotiating - Coeur (heart) d'Alene (like an awl).   A jewel of this pleasant community is the Coeur d'Alene Resort taking up 6 acres of land and stretching out onto the lake.  It boasts a 3300 foot boardwalk around it's marina with a 10' wood curtain hanging down to assure a calm inner harbour.  We admired the yachts and the hotel and then went up and over the bridge (see in background of picture below left) that acts as a gateway for the moorage. 
Down the shoreline we went out onto another dock and met some fellows fishing for bass.  We watched as one gentleman reeled in one he said was just the right size for dinner.  His real occupation is flying tourists in his Beaver to view the lake or to other fishing destinations.  

A conversation with the other fellow (who could cast his fishing line far out with great ease) included his continuing battle with the effects of Agent Orange after the Vietnam War. 

We finished off the evening with a pleasant stroll through a park and viewed art in one of the resort's galleries. 

May 5 -Thursday

Just a little southeast of Coeur d'Alene we left the highway to take scenic Route 7 along the eastern shore of Lake Coeur d'Alene down to Harrison.

Harrison has a population of 267 and using the commercial part of town  as a reference point (one of the largest businesses is the bait and tackle emporium) we felt perhaps 267 was a generous number. 

Outside the bike/espresso/gift/consignment shop some people were trying out a new tandem bike.  It had been donated to the shop by a doctor who had won it in a raffle and then only stored it in his garage.  Terry joined the others and shortly the shop manager had him trying it out.
"It felt a little odd," Terry said, "because you can't see the front wheel as it's directly under the driver.  You have to take that into consideration on turns."   Both the front and back pedals work in unison which is different than the "standard" tandem.
We looped back up to Highway 90 only to depart again at the Old Mission. 
In the 1840s Father Ravalli, a Jesuit priest arrived in this remote location along with Brothers Magri and Huybrechts and began to build the structure that still stands today.  They came at the invitation of the local tribe who had heard about this "medicine man" dressed in black robes. 
The mission building stands about 90 feet high and 40 feet wide.   Holes in the upright timbers held saplings; reed grass was hug over the saplings and then braided before mud was daubed to create 10-12 inch thick walls.  Boards were hewn and planed with a broad axe to create floor boards.  No nails were used in its creation.

Inside the ceiling panels carved by Brother Huybrechts start simply by the doorway and become more detailed as they get closer to the alter (as is seen in a many European churches).  Twelve side ceiling panels are plain, except for the framed molding, and all the boards are placed in the same direction ... except one.  A spiritual meaning?   The Indians made a blue stain from huckleberries, lots and lots of huckleberries, to stain the ceiling boards to look like the sky.

In the area of the alter Ravalli made wainscoting by pasting newspapers to the walls then painted them.  He also made the frames that hold the twelve stations of the cross and painted those as well to match his wallpaper (the flowered material above the wainscoting was added at a later date).
Construction of the alter is wood.  Ravalli carved the braces and then painted the lower portion of the alter to appear like marble. The moldings above the alter hold inserts that can be changed to reflect the season.  Two statues on the sides of the alter arch were also carved from wood by Father Ravalli (one of Mary and the other of St. John the Evangelist) which were later painted to look like plaster.
The sacred heart painted on the transom above the door (a substantial piece of glass in its time) was also painted by Ravalli as were paintings inside.  Since it would not be proper for a Jesuit priest to take credit for his work, the paintings are unsigned.    The metal adornments which adorn the alter and act as candle holders were made from tin cans.   Now services are held at the Old Mission only once a year.

Next to the Mission building is the Parish House.  It was first constructed in the early 1850s.  Twice it was destroyed by fire and rebuilt.  It was almost lost to neglect, but has since been refurbished and is now a protected heritage site.

Our night's stop was in Missoula, Montana. 



Heading south-east towards Helena, the capital of Montana, we dipped into Drummond known as "Home of the Bull  Shippers".  It's main street commercial buildings are on one side while the other is taken up with loading facilities adjoining train tracks.  Cattle guards (a series of bars imbedded in the road, spaced at a distance not conducive to a bovine's hoof) are placed at both ends of town.  To keep runaways within the confines of town?

The Continental Divide: the high point where on one side all waters flow to the Pacific and on the other all waters flow to the Atlantic or Gulf of Mexico.   The elevation here is 6325 ft.  In the 1870s this was a toll road with half a dozen six-horse stage coaches passing each day between Helena and western Montana.  Near here, in September of 1911, Cromwell Dixon became the first aviator in America to fly over the Continental Divide.   Today a four-lane highway and an air beacon replace the buckboards and biplanes of earlier eras.

Pictures below are up [left] and over [right].

Helena, is the capitol of Montana.  Like many towns in Montana, Helena was founded by miners looking for gold.  We walked along the pedestrian street known as Last Chance Gulch.  It was here that one of the most successful gold veins was discovered and by 1900 Helena had more millionaires per capita than any other town in the United States.  It became the capital and in doing so caused the town's architecture to be preserved and commerce to continue after gold mining was no longer the main industry.

St. Helena's Cathedral, a replica of a cathedral in Cologne, Germany, dominates Helena's skyline with its 230 foot spires. 

On the recommendation of a post mistress we stopped for lunch at a little tea shop called Ryan and MacLean.  She had given us good advise. 

Before leaving Helena we stopped for gas and were delighted when a Model T was towed in.  The owner lifted the cushions off the seat and filled the gas tank below.  The tow rope was detached and the Model T left under it's own power.
Driving east from Helena it was again evident why they call this big sky country.  The sky is a baby blue and takes up most of the visual space.  Magnificent.   
We took a bridge across the north end of Hauser Lake and proceeded down its east side. 
A shell of an old homestead caught our eye and pictures had to be taken ... a future painting perhaps?   And then on the down stream side of the dam pelicans cruised the waters.
We were heading for the headwaters of the Missouri River when we saw these three as though they were waiting for the school bus.
The Missouri River is the longest (2341 miles long) river in the United States and is one of its most important, providing water for commerce, irrigation, recreation and wildlife to a large portion of the country.
If you floated down the Missouri River in an inner tube it would take you 2.5 months to reach the Gulf of Mexico.  
On July 27, 1805, nearly 200 years ago, Meriwether Lewis and William Clark passed this way. They found three small rivers coming together to make a larger river.  Lewis described in his journal how they determined this to be the source of the Missouri River.  "Both Capt. C. and myself corresponded in opinion with respect to the impropriety of calling either of these streams the Missouri and accordingly agreed to name them after the President of the United States and the Secretaries of the Treasury and State ... " signed Meriwether Lewis, July 28, 1805; thus were named the Jefferson, Madison and Gallatin rivers.


Tyler would be proud of her Gramma for putting her hand into the headwaters of the Missouri and picking out four special rocks.
We have been passing so many old barns and homesteads, each with it's own story to tell of the people who lived within ... but with time those stories are being lost.  Log cabins were introduced to North America by the Swedes and Germans.  Because they were easy to build and made use of readily available materials, log cabins became the most common building on the frontier.  
Cabins had dovetail joints and were chinked with moss, clay, old rags or newspapers and later cement.

We continued on to Bozeman and finding all accommodation booked, as Bozeman is home to the University of Montana and it is graduation weekend, we proceeded on to Big Sky.  We passed twenty or more big horned sheep grazing on the mountainside.  A little too far for our camera to get a clear picture but they certainly added to the excitement of traveling through the area.



It was a comparatively short drive from Big Sky to West Yellowstone, Montana only a couple of miles from the Yellowstone Park entrance and the border of Wyoming.

We secured a room and did the paperwork but didn't unpack; instead we headed to the Tourist Information Centre to pick up maps, literature and our park passes.  Then it was off to Yellowstone Park. 

Most of us have heard of Yellowstone Park; of how big it is, the geyser Old Faithful, beautiful waterfalls and animal life.  Were we ever in for a treat. 

Winter is leaving Yellowstone.  The willow in the marshes is golden and red.  Snow still clings to the shaded grooves of the hillsides.  Many of the elk have taken to the high country where they give birth in privacy and protection.   Buffalo are also in the middle of birthing season but, for the most part,  they like the open fields.

Our first excitement was seeing buffalo.  There they were right on the bank of the river while we stood on the other.   We had seen buffalo in domestic enclosures but these were wild ... just doing what they do.   
Little did we know how many we would be seeing and how very close they would get.

Minutes later a traffic jam - Yellowstone style.  Some buffalo (bison - same thing, different name)  were the cause.  It is a phenomenon which happens regularly in Yellowstone .... and not once did we mind.

A short time later we got out of the car to observe from a hill top more buffalo in a large pasture.  Much to our wonder and delight these bovines came up the hill and passed close by. 

If they took any notice of us at all, it was with complete disinterest.

After passing, a number of them swam across the river and joined some elk grazing on the other side.


It was raining by the time we reached Old Faithful, so we took refuge in the lodge while awaiting this famed geyser's approximate time of gushing.  

After going through the gift shop (the only purchase a postcard for Tavis and Tyler) we spent some time talking with artist Earl Cacho. 

Earl started drawing when he was four years old.  His first art lessons of any kind were the ones he took in high school.  He sold his first oil painting at the age of seventeen.  His preferred medium is watercolour.  Tourists favour his animal paintings (he was painting a wolf's head while at the time) but he enjoys diversity from Indian peoples, portraits and paintings of civil war reenactments to animals and landscapes.

When we told him of our amateur efforts he was very encouraging.

It was almost time for Old Faithful to blow, so we joined the others in finding a favourable spot to photograph the occasion.

Old Faithful turns out to be a bit of a tease.  Those, like us, with digital cameras took many pictures and clicked at every tease.  Those using film waited until the real thing was confirmed. 

Then the real thing happened.  Click.  A bulletin pops up on the screen of our camera: "Battery Exhausted". 

So we watched. 


More buffalo viewings on our way back from Old Faithful.  Each time we were cautious of our distances.  Buffalo can be unpredictable, the brochures warn, especially mothers with babies.

The night was spent in West Yellowstone and we looked forward to another day in Yellowstone Park.  

May 8 - SUNDAY

Our first pictures of the day were of Trumpeter Swans.  

At this point on the Madison River, the water slows down and meanders through the rich silted floodplain.  Trumpeter swans feed on the lush aquatic plants and sometimes nest on the riverbank.  Though their large nest mounds appear exposed on the marsh, the swans get a clear view of approaching predators. 

Despite frigid temperatures, many swans, Canada geese and mallards winter in the thermally warmed waters.  Swans often return to these same nesting grounds year after year.

 Another day, another Yellowstone traffic jam.  These commuters would make short business of anyone who exhibited road rage!
The elk must have gotten an earlier start because it looked like they were already on their first break.
A marmot just watched like some supervisor.

We turned north at the junction (where we had turned south yesterday for Old Faithful), and passed the tuff cliff.

 Once dense clouds of volcanic ash flowed across Yellowstone.  Rock fragments in the ash were so hot they welded together and flattened as they settled.  A series of such ash flows formed the light coloured rock (a welded TUFF) like the one exposed in the cliff (shown left).   Water, frost and roots erode the cliff now.  Severe earthquakes cause sudden rockslides and send boulders tumbling off the cliff.


Yellowstone is waterfall country.  Abundant runoff water, precipitous fault scarps, steep-sloped lava flows and abrupt differences in rock hardness all contribute to the number and variety of Yellowstone's waterfalls. 

A hot spring's colour often indicates the presence of minerals.  In a clear blue pool, the water is absorbing all the colours of sunlight except one -- blue, which is reflected back to our eyes.  Sometimes another factor joins with light refraction to give a spring its colour.  This 27 foot  (8 meters) deep pool (pictured right) is lined with yellow sulfur deposits.  The yellow colour from the sulfur combines with the reflected blue light, making the hot spring appear a magnificent emerald green.

Hot springs create different water temperature environments for living things.  Cisterns Spring's brown, orange and green colours represent species of visible algae and bacteria, each requiring a different temperature environment.  Only a handful of hard-to-see species of bacteria can live where spring water is near, at, or above boiling.  As water gradually cools - by moving away from its source -- it creates lower temperatures ideal for these colourful species of algae and bacteria.

Hot water bacteria have a value beyond beauty.  Some of the park's hot water runoff channels produce an enzyme used in DNA "fingerprinting" and testing for the virus that causes AIDS. 


When Steamboat Geyser (shown left) erupts, it can rocket a column of scalding water 90-120 meters into the air (2-3 times the average height of Old Faithful).  Odds were against us witnessing this drama since Steamboat's eruptions can vary from 4 days to 50 years apart.   The small eruption we did witness was about 7 meters in height. 
The view of Roaring Mountain with its many steam vents, reminded us of sections in the Rockies after the August 2003 fires.
In contrast the marshy areas were alive with willows showing their spring colours.
Speaking of colours ... Orange Spring Mound looked like a melting Creamsycle. (See Terry standing to the left in picture lower right.)

Heat dwelling bacteria and algae grow abundantly in Orange Spring Mound's water, creating tapestries of living colour.  How does such a mound come to be?  
Yellowstone's volcano heats water deep underground.  Under great pressure, the water percolates upward through buried limestone, dissolving a mineral called calcium carbonate.  After bubbling through several vents along the top of the mound, the water starts to cool and evaporate and the leftover calcium carbonate or travertine is deposited adding another layer to the mound. 

The same kind of thing happens at Angel Terrace (right), Palette Spring (below left) and Minerva Terrace (below right).

As we climbed to higher elevations in Yellowstone Park we found a lake still skimmed with ice before reaching "The Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone".  

The canyon varies from 800 to 1200 feet in depth and from 1500 to 4000 feet in width.  Its length is about 24 miles.  The upper two and a half miles is the most colourful and has been inspiration to many artists and painters.  Hot spring activity has continued through the ages altering the lava rock to produce lovely colours which are largely due to varied iron compounds.

There are still steam vents and geysers at work on the canyon walls.  Can you see the steam vent in the picture to the left?  At the centre point of the picture, look just slightly up and left.
Any time cars are parked along side the road or in a pull out, it is usually a sign of a photo opportunity.   One particular stop encouraged us further to buy a camera with a telephoto lens so it could see more of what our eyes see in the distance.  
This time it was a grizzly bear.   He wasn't taking notice of the tourists and their cars, nor the Park Ranger who was keeping an eye on the tourists so no one did anything foolish.  Instead the grizzly seemed to be hunting gophers for he would smell the ground and then quickly dig.
More buffalo on the road and the camera clicked. 

A marmot on the side of the road peeked out from between rocks .... it kept watch as we walked closer.  The camera clicked.

Across a river we saw more buffalo with young, and not wanting to hurry out of the park, we stopped and watched with fascination as one would watch a campfire burning.

Some of the moms were trying to encourage their young to cross the river.  In a shallow spot, though the current looked fairly fast, one brave soul took the plunge and stood beside its mother ... but not for long ... then it headed back to shore.  We watched longer and soon most of the others swam across.  When the moms had to swim, the babies swam as well being carried a little further down stream before making it to the opposite shore.
It is such an awesome thing to watch everyday survival for these animals.  We felt privileged.
At another pull-off, a fellow was setting up his tripod.  We stopped in to see what was fascinating him.  Well, there was plenty.  The next hour was spent watching a real "National Geographic" episode unfold.
The gentleman from Minnesota caught us up to date as to what had been happening.  A buffalo had just given birth and she was licking it and trying to get the calf to its feet.  A coyote was roaming the area and had just devoured two ground squirrels.  His activity in the area was of great concern to the new mother buffalo.  Watching with some concern were a pair of Canada geese. 

The little calf got to its feet and trembled on new legs.  The coyote continued to hunt and came closer to the Canada geese who fled to the water.  The coyote found the geese's nest.  Taking one of the large eggs in its mouth it walked a short distance away and ate the egg.  The geese watched from the safety of the water but did nothing else.  

The Minnesota gentleman had now got his tripod set up with camera and telephoto lens and offered us a close up view. 

The buffalo mom never took her eyes off the coyote.  The calf, resting from the ordeal of figuring out its first steps, lay back on the ground with mom standing directly over it.  The coyote returned to the geese nest and took another large egg in its mouth.  This time it traveled some distance away, dug a hole, buried the egg and marked the spot with urine.  He didn't waste much time returning to the nest, taking the third and then the fourth egg, trotting off some distance and repeating the burying procedure and returning.  While he was gone, the parent geese hesitantly approached their nest but as the coyote again came back they returned to the safety of the river. 
The Minnesota gentleman could view inside the nest with his telescopic lens and told us that there was a fifth egg and that it was broken.  The coyote took the last egg only a short distance and ate it as the mother buffalo continued to guard her new born and the geese paddled in the water close by.  After finishing, the coyote kicked dirt over the now empty nest with his back feet, urinated on top and trotted off. 

Our parked cars caused others to gather and we shared updates to new arrivals.  During the times the coyote was not near by our attention was drawn to a Trumpeter swan and an otter. 

Now that the coyote was off in the distance the Canada geese approach their nest but only close enough to catch the scent left by the coyote.  Mother buffalo now turned more of her attention in getting her baby up and nursing.
We returned to our hotel room in West Yellowstone with our emotions in high gear with all the wonders we had seen during the day.


May 9 - Monday


We left West Yellowstone and Yellowstone Park and headed south.  Because of snow, the southern route through Yellowstone Park was not an option so the route we took was just inside the Idaho border. 

It was a cloudy rainy day, but the antelope and moose we encountered didn't seem to mind at all.

Admittedly, we were a little disappointed when our first good sight of the Grand Tetons was supposed to come into view, the clouds obstructed our appreciation.  The Tetons, three giant mountain peaks, were a famous early western landmark known to fur hunters and mountain men.  Perhaps as early as 1819, French-speaking trappers were calling them the Trois Tetons (the three breasts).  More prosaic English speaking mountain men named them the Pilot Knobs, but the romantic French name stuck. 

Flanked by rock formations more than 2.5 billion years old these three granite mounds gained their height less than 9 million years ago ... very young as mountains go ... and they are still getting taller.   Over the past 250,000 years, glacial ice has sculptured the peaks out of hard granite.

John Colter is credited with discovering the valley in 1808 while he, with only his gun and a 30 pound pack, asked the Indians to join his trapping business.  After several escapes from the Blackfeet, he returned to Missouri.

Reaching the summit of the Teton Pass (8431 feet) we looked down into Jackson Hole. 

The "Hole" created by the uprising of mountains in the area was the favourite hunting grounds of Davy Jackson.  Other fur trappers referred to the area as "Jackson's Hole" ... shortened over time to Jackson Hole.   The town is named Jackson (also after Davy).  So when you are in Jackson, Wyoming, you are also in Jackson Hole.

Jackson appealed to us from the moment we drove through town ... a western town with class. 

We settled in and went to the recommended Bubba's for Bar-B-Q. 

As a result of another recommendation, we finished off the evening by having a beer nightcap at the Million Dollar Cowboy Saloon.  When a customer saddles up to the bar there ... they really saddle up ... as the bar stools are saddles.

May 10 - TUESDAY

The weather was inclement.   A stroll around town took the place of a morning drive to get a better view of the Tetons. 

Jackson is set up for tourists, but not in an abrasive manner. 

One gift shop we entered was heavy into taxidermy.  Along with the serious stuffings they had some comedy scenes like raccoons fishing and roasting marshmallows over a camp fire (picture right).

If you have someone on your Christmas list that prefers to blast and stuff their own catch well then, how about buck-shot Christmas lights to liven up the season of peace and good will to all ... good for both indoor and outdoor use. 

The visitor's centre in Jackson is a great facility.  They do have a display of stuffed elk, but they are also connected with the National Elk Refuge.  Approximately 7,500 elk spend each winter at the refuge.  In the spring after bulls shed their antlers and the females  head up into high country to calf, the local Boy Scouts are allowed to enter the refuge area and collect all the discarded antlers.  These are then sold by public auction each May.  Designers purchase antlers for furniture, light fixtures, clothing buttons and gift products.  Some are purchased by those who will use them for medicinal potions.  The auction is held in Jackson's town square.  All four corners of the square are embellished with arches made of elk antlers. 
For clarification:  Horns on an animal are permanent, whereas, antlers on an animal naturally drop off each year and they grow another set.  The number of "points" on an antler do not indicate age, as some believe, but are an indication of health and vitality.  The better fed and better health a male elk is in, the larger the set of antlers.  Perhaps not of importance to humans, but to a female elk ... "

Even though the skies did not get any brighter and the forecast for rain did not change, we drove out to Jenny Lake in Grand Teton National Park.

The lake was named after Richard "Beaver Dick" Leigh's wife, Jenny who lived in the area in the 1800s.  The 200 foot deep lake was created and fed by a glacier, similar to the others in a chain of lakes at the base of the Teton range.

We were becoming concerned about the weather forecast of snow and decided not to delay our departure from Jackson Hole the next morning.



Heading south to warmer and drier weather.   Part of the route we would take was forged by early explorers, trappers and a multitude of pioneers.

We paused at the junction of the Snake and Hoback Rivers.

 John Hoback, Jabob Reznor and Edward Robinson were legendary trappers from Kentucky.  They were the first white men in this area.  In 1811 they guided an  expedition of 61 people and 118 horses, heading for Astoria on the Pacific Coast, through the northern part of what is now Wyoming to the Snake River.  At the junction of the Snake and Hoback Rivers the group passed through Jackson Hole, over Teton Pass and on to Henry's Fort in Idaho.  The guide/trappers were detached from the expedition at that point in order to trap beaver. 

The following summer the eastbound Astorians, met the trappers in the wilderness, starving and destitute, having been robbed by the Indians.  They were given clothing and equipment and continued hunting and trapping until the winter of 1813 when they were killed by the Indians.  From that time on, the stream and canyon became known as The Hoback.   [Information from Teton County and Sublette County Historical Societies.]

Further down in our day's drive we came to the spot where the first protestant service was held in the Rocky Mountains. 

It was on Sunday, August 23, 1835, Jim Bridgers and Kit Carson's brigade of trappers and Indians and the Reverend Samuel Parker were north bound.  The basin was then known as Jackson's Little Hole.  While the Reverend Parker was delivering a sermon to the motley group, buffalo appeared.  The congregation left for the hunt without staying for the benediction.  [Information by Sublette County Historical Society.]

The buffalo are now gone but we saw mule deer.

We passed an Oregon Trail campsite.  It was part of the immigrant road suggested by mountain man John Hockaday.  He told the pioneers that by using this route they could avoid the alkali plains of the desert, shorten the trip to the Pacific by five days and have access to more water, grass and wood.  In 1857 his suggested route was improved as a wagon road by the US government.  As many as three hundred wagons and thousands of cattle, horses and mules passed each day cutting a trail deep into the dirt of the plains and mountains.  The trail is now marked at all accessible points with brass caps.  [Information from Sublette County Historical Society]
Both weather [rain, snow, hail, sleet and sun] and landscapes [desert flats to snow capped mountain summits] were diverse today.
Cousin Laurie had asked through an email, "Isn't Ted with you this trip?"

Well, yes he is.  Admittedly he has been hiding out in the back seat of the car (intimidated by Yellowstone's wildlife we suppose) but is now up front and making his presence  known on this trip.

Here (left), Ted is looking at Blue Mountain just before sunset.  Fifty-five million years ago extreme forces within the earth's crust caused rock layers to lift and buckle upwards forming what is now called the Blue Mountain Anticline in the middle of relatively flat land.  
Ted wanted to stop and smell the flowers, but we had some miles yet to cover before reaching our goal of Grand Junction, Colorado.

Now and then we paused along the way to watch elk, deer and big horn sheep.

We wondered about the history of a deserted ranch and watched the sun set on some wispy clouds.  Was the cold damp weather behind us now?



Today's goal is Durango, Colorado.  To get there means driving through the San Juan mountains over the "Million Dollar Highway".

The San Juan Mountains have long posed a barrier to travel and, therefore, a deterrent to the area's economic growth.  Rocky trails were the "roadways" for early miners who had to transport their ore by pack animals.  Having to deal with such obstacles made most claims unprofitable.  Master road-builder Otto Mears attempted to better conditions by building a wagon road through the San Juans, but the difficult terrain and unpredictable weather drove freight cost high still leaving the mines unprofitable.  In 1889 Mears built the Silverton Railway route to the mining district creating a truly economical shipping option. 


Ironically, Mears's wagon roads were paved in the 1920s (including today's US 550 - the "Million Dollar Highway") and in doing so has brought into the region its most economical commodity ... tourists.
The town of Ouray sits on the north end of the Million Dollar Highway.  It owes it's beginning to the Denver & Rio Grande Railway.  It was once a place of wealth and importance.  But the railroad is gone now and as the area's mines declined so did Ouray.  Today it stands among Colorado's best-preserved Victorian Towns nestled in a valley shadowed by 13,000+ foot mountain peaks.   

Up into those mountains we drove.  Certainly we have such awesome views near home but that did not diminish our appreciation of the magnificent scenery.

Described by some as "the most beautiful drive in the continental United States", there are different school's of thought as to the nick name - the "Million Dollar Highway".  One theory says it's because of the low-grade gold ore that went into making it's road bed, another is the millionaires that used the highway to transport assets and still another theory is the "million dollar views".  Which ever, the journey offered a number of high elevation passes with sharp switch-backs and steep drop-offs.
We stopped in Silverton for an introduction visit.  We would come back tomorrow on the Silverton on the Durango-Silverton train.
In 1860 an number of prospectors found deposits of gold and silver along the Animas River.  Winter weather, Ute Indians and the looming Civil War kept the original prospectors away for at least ten years.  By that time news had spread and 1,000+ prospectors ventured into the high country.  Even though the Indians protested they could not halt the inexhaustible flow of miners and settlers that followed. 
In 1874, Silverton was designed and soon became the business centre for the mining camps along the Animas River.  Silverton attracted the attention of many, including the Denver & Rio Grande Railroad.  The first train from Durango rolled into Silverton in July 1882.  A year later Silverton boasted a population of 2,000 people, 400+ buildings, 29 saloons, several hotels, 5 laundries, 2 banks and a bawdy red-light district.  There were "respectable" families as well.  From the very beginning an imaginary line ran down the centre of Greene Street dividing the law-abiding, church-going residents from the gamblers, prostitutes, variety theaters, dance halls and saloons.  In May, 1883 a Grand Jury brought in 117 indictments against "lewd women".  Prostitutes were fined $5 plus court costs, gamblers were fined $30 plus court costs and dance halls that opened on Sundays were fined $25.   Although the fines were levied, gambling and prostitution were generally accepted (as long as they did not move to the "respectable" section of town.  One of the reasons it was accepted was because the fines were needed as revenue for the growing community. 

We continued south on the "Million Dollar Highway" to Durango.
May 13 - FRIDAY

There is still romance and excitement in the heartbeat clickity-clack of wheels rolling on twin ribbons of steel and billows of steam and smoke huffing from an iron horse.  

"All aboard!"  

We pulled out of the Durango station at eight o'clock in the morning for the forty-five mile ride to Silverton. 

The engineer blew two longs, a short and a long on the whistle warning those within hearing distance that he had the right-of-way through a crossing.  As we did, this narrow-gauge steam train left horseless carriages and their drivers behind and we rolled forward into the past.

It took eleven months to build the railway but when  it was complete it changed a grueling two day journey by mule (if the mule behaved) into a three and a half hour trip. 

Conductor, Frank, took our tickets.

In 1949, Hollywood began to use the Durango-Silverton steam train in movies.  One of Marilyn Monroe's earliest appearances in movies was aboard the Durango-Silverton train.  John Wayne was another star who joins the railway's celebrity history pages.


We sat back and enjoyed the experience.

The first Silverton Depot was built in 1882.  Some kind of structure had to serve as a station until the townsfolk and the railway could agree on a location for a permanent station.  One thing the townsfolk and the railroad do agree on today is that if they had to agree on a site for the station today, they would still disagree.

The 4th of July, 1882 was to be the first arrival date of the train into Silverton.  Grand festivities were planned, miners came into town for the big event and the townsfolk were ready in their finest finery.  When the train finally did pull into Silverton on July 8, the fanfare was rather anti-climatic and there were few witnesses as most miners and workers  had returned to their jobs. 
In Silverton we had time to lunch at the Pickle Barrel, browse through gift shops and listen to a piano player in a hotel on the respectable side of Greene Street.  

Terry, with his wallet out and ready, had other ideas on Blair Street ... but ... the Shady Lady Saloon was closed. 


Anyway ... the train had turned around and was now boarding for its return trip to Durango.

It had been a great day.  The weather cooperated.  The ride and the scenery were everything we could hope for.  A wonderful memory.

With four long toots of the whistle, the engineer told the rear brakeman to prepare to stop.





We left Durango heading west.  We were about to head back even further in time than the Silverton-Durango train.  Our destination was Mesa Verde National Park.  National Geographic Traveler named Mesa Verde as one of the fifty "must see" places of a lifetime.   From our travels to Hovenweep National Monument we had some idea of what to expect at Mesa Verde and our anticipation grew as we drew closer.


Square House

Mesa Verde (Spanish for green table) is an archaeologist's Disneyland.  It speaks, in visual terms, of people who lived between 600AD and 1300AD and built their communities  clinging within alcoves of canyon walls ... for protection from the elements ... could it also have been protection from invaders?  It is these very same overhanging cliffs that have preserved their dwellings for over eight centuries.  Mesa Verde, America's first World Heritage Site, is a place with many more questions than answers:  Who were these people?  How did they live each day?  Why did they leave?  Where did they go? 

Archaeologists are still putting together some of the answers.  Will they one day answer them all?  Probably not.   In some way, the mystery is part of the charm for multitude of visitors who come each year. 

The park presents to visitors numerous communities.  The earliest tell of people who were hunters and gatherers while the later settlements depict Ancestral Pueblo farmers who grew crops atop the mesa and stored the foods they reaped.  

With a casual glance into the distance these ancient villages blend into the tree studded rocky terrain.  It was so in December 1888 when two brothers-in-law on horse back, searching for stray cattle, peered purposely through the falling snow.  They didn't see their strays but what they did see was to become known as the "Cliff Palace".



In the years that followed, artifacts were removed from the site and most are now in private collections.
The only way to see the Cliff Palace (the largest of the cliff dwellings) up close was to go on a tour.   A steep path led the way down.  The Park Ranger explained how the builders had used local sandstone and mortar of clay, ash and water.  Some of the walls and floors took advantage of the existing stone outcrops.  One such rock was showing a serious crack.  Park authorities, careful not to alter this heritage site, felt it necessary to reinforce the rock to avoid destruction of the buildings it supported.  When they dug down to place the rebar support rods, they found thick wooden beams placed there centuries earlier by the Ancestral Pueblo - a testament to their skills and intelligence.  Earlier buildings showed rough hewn stones while later buildings exhibited honed brick shapes.

At one point the archeologists thought that around 500 people might have lived in the Cliff Palace.  More recently they believe that many of the structures were used for food and seed storage and that perhaps 100 people called this home (not counting visitors).


Returning to the top of the mesa took steep paths and a series of ladders.   

The Mesa Verde museum gave us a look at some of their tools and decorative items.  Pottery represents the highest artistic expression of the ancient Pueblo Indians.  Mesa Verde pottery is noted for its clear, black, geometric designs on a grayish-white background.  The decorations were painted freehand and indicate a remarkable sense of balance and design.
We were able to continue our self-guided tour in another canyon by going down to the dwellings at Spruce Tree House the third largest settlement at Mesa Verde.  Spruce Tree House boasts 130 rooms and 8 kivas.  
Kivas are ceremonial rooms, usually round, built below ground.  Their strong roofs were used as court yards where food might have been prepared and children played.  A ladder allowed entrance into the centre of the room where the fire was place and smoke rose through the hole.  Another hole on the surface was tunneled down into the kiva to provide air for the fire.

Another small hole was dug into the dirt floor of the kiva; this hole is called the Sipapu, a Hopi word for "place of emergence".  Much like the Christian's story of Noah's arch, Hopi's believe that a previous world was destroyed with only a few surviving to begin a new world.  Each time the Ancestral Puebloean climbed up the ladder and emerged into the brightness and business of their community they might have been reminded of "emergence".   An interesting observance shows that in all kivas the main shelf of the kiva, the emergence hole, the fire and the air duct are all placed in a row from north to south.  We had seen a number of kivas without roofs, but at Spruce Tree House we were able to climb down into a complete kiva.
We stayed the night in Cortez.  Our room gave us a pleasant view of Mesa Verde in the setting sun ... although a beautiful sight, it did not hint of the ancient treasures it held within its canyons.


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