Friday, August 28, 2009

Out West Day 30...Thursday, August 20, 2009...Biking in Grand Teton...A Damsel in Distress

More so than Glacier or Yellowstone, Grand Teton has got some great bike paths/trails. The weather is beautiful again this'm going to bike some of those paths/trails.
I'm relaxing with my morning coffee when one of my fellow campers, Lynn, stops by to ask for help. She's left something "on" overnight in her Prius, and the battery is dead. The camper's creed being "help one another", I don't hesitate for a second. When I drive over to her campsite, however, I see that this is not going to be easy. In order to get next to her vehicle, I'm going to have to go in from the side over some big rocks, some logs and through some trees. I have to be careful not to catch any of that on the bottom of the Escape. On the third try, I make it in and ease up nex to Lynn's Prius. Thanks to Mark Birnhart, I've got a Ford Emergency Road Kit with jumper cables. I hook those up, but the Prius still won't start. It's got a single positive pole for jump starts and the negative clamp is not getting a good ground. But a few tries with different spots, and we've finally got it. Thus started, Lynn heads for Jackson, figuring the drive will charge up the battery.
Now back at my campsite, pack up my coffee stuff and bungee my bike to the cargo carrier...and I'm off. About four miles down the road, there's a nice bike path that follows along the highway. Three hours later, I'm's lunchtime. This time, I head over to Jackson Lake Lodge for lunch. It's got a big dining room with a great view of the mountains. I order a "Game Burger" (2/3 Buffalo and 1/3 Elk meat) medium-rare with cheese and bacon...very, very good. And for dessert, some Huckleberry ice cream...better than good!
I pick up more ice for the cooler, and then spend the afternoon reading...I'm almost finished with the second book in the Teddy Roosevelt trilogy.
Before I know it, it's almost 7:00PM...dinner time. I'm not particularly hungry after a big lunch, so leftover Thai Curry is an easy meal. Soon, I'm sitting in front of the campfire enjoying a glass of Oregon Pinot Noir as the sun sets. Ten I'm off to bed early...tomorrow, I want to do a little driving around before packing up to leave the following morning.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Out West Day 29...Wednesday, August 19, 2009...Grand Teton National Park...Jenny Lake Campground

The temperature this morning is the warmest in weeks...I'm thinking high 50's/low 60's. This allows me to have my morning coffee outside instead of sitting in the Escape with the heat on.
This seems like a good day for a hike, so I pack up my hiking stuff and head out from camp along the Jenny Lake Trail. It's an easy one around the lake...pretty flat.I'm getting some good photos of the mountains which are pretty hard to miss. After three hours or so of hiking, I'm ready for lunch. So...I head back to camp and cook up a batch of those great Indomie noodles with some leftover steak...a good lunch.
I read for an hour or two, then take a break and head over to the General Store for ice. I've got two coolers with me...a new Coleman "Ultimate Extreme" for food and a smaller regular Coleman for beverages. The Ultimate Extreme is working out well...a 12lb. block of ice is lasting 4 days plus. The beverage cooler, however, requires ice every day or so.
Another hour or two of reading, and it's Cocktail Time...I'm in the mood for red wine, so I open a bottle of Italian Pinot Noir, and it's tasting really good. The Escape is so densely packed that things in the middle stay cool, even in the hot sun.
Dinner is a batch of Thai Green Curry with sliced pork and some fresh corn cut off the cob...and a batch of Basmati rice. A good meal.
Then, a nice fire, more wine...time for bed.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Out West Day 28...Tuesday, August 18, 2009...Grand Teton National Park...Jenny Lake Campground

My alarm is set for 6:00AM, but I'm up before that. I packed most everything a couple of cups of coffee, a quick shower, and I'm off to Jenny Lake Campground. Weather is much better...sunny and in the 50's this morning. My luck stays with #17 is's big, comfortable, nice views.
I'm setting up my last camp of the trip...pitch the tent, lay out the sleeping pad/sleeping bag, unload the bike, set up the folding tables/chair, lay out the tarp over the firewood and charcoal...I'm in business. I read for awhile, then head over to the General Store for more firewood and ice. It's VERY crowded, and I have to lug two boxes of firewood and two bags of ice about a quarter of a mile across a huge parking lot from the store to my vehicle...several trips.
All of that work has made me hungry, so I head to the Jenny Lake Lodge for lunch. The restaurant there has been called by many the best in the whole National Park System...and it's pretty good. I order Sweet Potato and Ginger Bisque (tasty) and a big Chef's Salad (excellent). They have my new favorite dessert, Huckleberry Ice Cream, so I have a bowl of that as well.
After lunch, I pull my chair over into the shade and read for awhile. I've finished the Teddy Roosevelt Presidential years biography, and now I'm starting the first book in the trilogy, "The Rise of Theodore Roosevelt. Time flies and, before I know it, it's 6:00PM...the Cocktail Hour!
I pour myself a Margarita, read a little more, and star dinner...grilled Filet and Asparagus...wash that down with another Spanish Rioja. As I sit down to dinner, I realize that I am "sharing" my campsite...Rocky the squirrel hops over to the table...apparently unafraid of humans. After I "accidentally" drop a few cashews, Rocky's having his dinner in a tree while I'm having mine at the picnic table After dinner, I dump the charcoal into the fire pit, lay out some kindling, a few pieces of firewood...soon I've got a roaring fire. By 9:15PM or so, it's dark, and the stars are really out. That's one of the best things about're away from the bright lights, so you can really see the stars.
By 10:30PM, I'm ready for another great night's sleep.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Out West Day 27...Monday, August 17, 2009...Another Day in Jackson

My plan had been to spend two days in Jackson before heading up to the Park to camp, but this morning, I decide to spend an extra day. It's the weather...cold and rainy. When I step outside the hotel for a morning smoke, it's in the 30's with a steady drizzle. At this point, I'm thinking about skipping the "camping part" and heading for home...we'll see what tomorrow is like.
Feeling "Shakespearean" this morning, I decide to "Get Thee to a Bunnery" and head into town for lunch at "The Bunnery". Any place that makes the Food & Wine magazine's list of "Top 10 Places for Dessert in America" can not be missed. It does not disappoint...a great Chef's Salad is followed by a spectacular piece of Reese's Peanut Butter Cup Tart...excellent!
After lunch, I wander around town in search of a few souvenirs...a ball cap, a sweatshirt, a bumper sticker and a few pins. All of that shopping makes me thirsty, so I head back to Snake River Brewing Company for a few pints of Kolsch now, the temperature is in the 70's and the skies have cleared, so a beer tastes pretty good about now.
Back at the hotel, they've posted tomorrow's weather forecast...sunny. So that decides it...tomorrow, I'll be camping. Before dinner, I get things ready for tomorrow...lay out clothes, load up the coolers with ice, and purchase "provisions"...a piece, of filet (it is, after all, "beef country" here), a pork chop, some fresh corn and some nice looking asparagus...who says you can't eat well while camping!
For dinner, I decide to head back to the Snake River Grill...I want another "Steak Tartare Pizza". Sitting at the bar, I meet a couple from Chicago, Rick and Valerie. Pretty soon, Rick's trying a piece of my pizza, and I'm trying one of their roasted figs with almonds and blue cheese...excellent! We spend a lot of time talking about all of the great restaurants in Chicago, and I invite them to next year's Summer Picnic...I'm betting that they make it.
After dinner, I step out for a cigarette and meet Rachel from New York City. She's excited because she's in the process of moving to Jackson. But, she adds, her friends are all against it. Why, I ask, would anybody be against moving out here? And her reply is that "there aren't many people out here that look like me". This always sensitive door now having been opened, I raise something that's been on my mind for some time. Throughout all of my visit out West, and my stays at Glacier and Yellowstone, I do not recall seeing a single African American..."why is that", I ask? Her answer is short and direct..."They're afraid". While the cities here are pretty sophisticated, there are plenty of pockets of "red-necks" out "on the range" to speak. I remember and mention an HBO movie that I saw..."The Laramie Project", which we agree kind of sums it all up. All in all, a sobering (and sad) conversation.
Back inside for dessert, I see that they have one of my favorite after-dinner drinks, Banyuls (a Port-like fortified wine from Southern France). Rick, Valerie and I knock a few of those back before I head back over to Snake River Brewing. Several Kolsch and a few Alt beers later...time for bed. A free bus ride back to the hotel, and I'm asleep in minutes...gotta be up early tomorrow to get a camping site at Jenny Lake.

Out West Day 26, Sunday, August 16, 2009...Jackson Hole, Wyoming

I'm sleeping late this first night in a bed in over a week feels good...real good. And...a shower...heaven.
Around 11:00AM, I drive into town for lunch at the Merry Piglet (Mexican)...another recommendation from my friend, Patrice. A "top-shelf" Margarita, a soft carnitas taco and a green chile enchilada later, I'm feeling pretty good.
There's a big Art Fair in town, so I wander over there for awhile. Nice stuff, pricey. Walking through the main square, I can't help but notice a hand-lettered sign reading "Free Hugs"...what a nice idea. I get one, and it feels good! I spot a bookstore and go in there. I've just finished "Theodore Rex", a biography of Teddy Roosevelt's Presidential years. It's the second volume of a trilogy, and I now want the first installment..."The Making of Theodore Roosevelt". I'm in luck...they have it.
From there, I head over to "The Million Dollar Bar" and "saddle up" for a few beers. After that, a nap is definitely in order before dinner. Awakening, refreshed, around 7:00PM and head over to "The Gun Barrel" for dinner. I've been told that they have the best Buffalo Prime Rib in town...they do. It's about as good a piece of Prime Rib as I've had...perfectly cooked, juicy...lots of flavor. The Gun Barrel is about 3/4 of a mile from my hotel, so I get a nice walk before and after dinner.
Back at the hotel, I read for an hour or two...then sleep.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Out West Day 25...Saturday, August 15, 2009...Yellowstone to Jackson Hole

I'm up before sunrise because I know that an early start today is critical. President Obama is visiting Old Faithful today, and the Park is going to be tough to maneuver with all of the security. So...I make coffee, then set about breaking camp...putting away the chair and table, packing up the charcoal and extra firewood, rolling up and stowing away my sleeping pad, sleeping bag and bag liner...then taking down the tent. All that takes two between coffee breaks...and, at 9:00M, I'm off to Jackson.
I take a different route out of the Park, avoiding the Old Faithful area...over to Canyon, through Bridge Bay and out the South entrance. I go right from Yellowstone into Grand Teton National Park...slow going because the road in Grand Teton is torn up for about five miles. I stop at the visitor's center for a map, campground information...and ask about any "unusual bear activity" (one black bear around Colter Bay, but he stays away from the campers and sleeps a lot).
Some miles into the Park, I come around a bend and see, for the first time in my life, the Grand Teton These are big "in your face" mountains...very impressive.
Soon, I'm out of the Park and arriving in the town of Jackson...a splendid place. When I park the Escape to check on some motels, I'm parked in front of a sushi bar! Several pieces of Toro, Shrimp, Salmon and a Spicy Tuna Hand-roll later, I'm feeling pretty good...civilization is good!
I check in at the Pointe Inn and Suites (formerly the Days Inn) and start unpacking. I have no clean slacks for dinner tonight, so laundry is definitely in order. Fortunately, there's a laundromat just up the street from my hotel. In between washing and drying, I read the last few pages of a history of the Lewis & Clark expedition...fascinating reading...all the more so because I am surrounded by the territory through which they traveled. I learn two interesting, if sad, facts about Merriwether Lewis...he never published his journals from the expedition (which would have made him a small fortune) and, within two years of returning from the trip, he took his own life...very sad.
After laundry, I'm ready for dinner! I really like Jackson...there's money here (think Harrison Ford) and that means great restaurants. My hotel is a mile and a half from town, but there's free bus service. A short ride later, and I'm downtown. I decide to have a late dinner at the Snake River Grill which has been highly recommended. There's a forty-five minute wait to eat at the bar, so I give them my cell phone number and slip down the street to a "divey" little local saloon for a Martini. I'm taking the first sip of my second Martini when my cell phone spot at the bar at Snake River is open.
As I settle in at the bar to take a look at the menu, two gals (Suzy and Ren) strike up a conversation. They're from Atlanta...they're husbands work constantly, so the gals have flown out to Jackson for a week of fun...horseback riding by day, eating and drinking well by night. Soon, Suzy and Ren get a table and invite me to join them. We split a nice bottle of Oregon Pinot Noir, and I have the restaurant's "signature" appetizer...Steak Tartare sounds odd, but it was sure delicious. After dinner, Suzy and Ren are off to some party, and I'm heading for the Snake River Brewing Company. They brew, among other things, the two German beers with which I am most familiar...Kolsch from Cologne and Alt from Dusseldorf. They're both grat beers so, naturally, I have a few.
Soon, it's after midnight...time to cab back to the hotel for some sleep. All in all, a great day.

Out West Day 24...Friday, August 14, 2009...Driving thr Beartooth Highway

My friend, Patrice, strongly recommended that I drive the Beartooth Highway in Montana. So, this morning, I'm taking a look at the map and see that the Beartooth starts right outside the northeast entrance to Yellowstone. The late Charles Kuralt called the Beartooth the most beautiful stretch of highway in America, so I've got to see that.
The trip takes me through a new section of the Park, up some low mountains and then a descent into the Lamar Valley...very beautiful. I meet a few buffalo along the way and finally exit the Park into Cooke City, Montana. The Beartooth Highway is a 24 mile stretch of highway through the Beartooth Mountains and it is, indeed, photos don't do it justice.
When I have reached the end, I turn turn around and head back the other way...equally striking because I'm viewing the same terrain from a different angle. When I get back to Cooke City, I'm thirsty, so I stop in a local saloon for a beer. I really enjoy the conversations that I overhear while traveling, including this exchange between a middle-aged couple...

Her (pointing to the Jaegermeister dispenser behind the bar): "What's Jaegermeister?"
Him: "It's a German beer."
Her: "Beer? Those are three pretty small bottles in that machine."
Him: "It's a really strong beer, so they serve it in little glasses."

Back at camp, I start packing up because tomorrow morning, I leave for two days of R&R in Jackson Hole before heading back into Grand Teton National Park to camp. Dinner is another grilled cheese and bacon sandwich...with a little Spanish Rioja to wash it down. My last campfire in's getting cold again...time for bed.

Out West Day 23...Thursday, August 13, 2009...Back Down South

I really want to do the Elephant Loop hike, so this morning, I'm heading back. Unfortunately, my bear "friends" are also back, so the trail is again closed. Thumbing through my Park guide, I find another interesting hike a little further south out of Bridge Bay to the "Natural Bridge". It's an easy hike...a mile or so through the forest, then another mile along an abandoned road. The "Natural Bridge" is impressive...a big hollowed out rock formation...and a nice spot for a hot lunch of...what else...ramen noodles.
I hike back to the Escape after lunch and head plan is to look for little side roads and drive to some new places. First, I drive the loop to Firehole Lake...very pretty...and...more thermal geysers/springs/pools. Next, I drive the Firehole Canyon loop...only two or three miles, but very great views of some big falls...great photos.
Now it's late to camp. I've got another steak left, so I slice that and stir-fry it in some "Indonesian Penang Curry paste (thanks again, Ed and Molly) and serve it over some Basmati rice. Then, a few Heinekens around the campfire and off to bed.

Out West Day 22,...Wednesday, August 12, 2009...South to Yellowstone Lake

Last year, I only had a few days in Yellowstone, so my explorations were limited. Today, I decide to visit some areas that missed. My plan is to drive east to the Canyon area, then south to the Bridge Bay and Lake areas. I stop for lunch at the Yellowstone Hotel...a great sandwich of Italian ham, mortadella, fresh mozzerella, and balsamic vinaigrette on an Italian roll.
After lunch, I decide to hike the "Elephant Loop"...four or five miles in on a moderately easy trail. But...about a mile or two in, I come upon a large group of hikers heading out. You can't go in any farther, they tell me, because Park Ranges have closed the trail...bears. OK, I'm not anxious for a run-in with any bears, so I hike back out...I can come back tomorrow.
So, I drive further south to get a few photos of the's pretty...and BIG...the largest lake at this altitude in the world. I also run into more geysers/springs/pools...they're everywhere.
Lots of traffic heading back to camp, so it's late in the afternoon again when I return. It's a grilled steak, and boiled potatoes for dinner...with a few glasses of Chilean Carmenere for dinner...excellent. A few hours around the campfire...another great night's sleep.

Out West Day 21...Tuesday, August 11, 2009...Another "Photo Day"

If nothing else, I have slept well on this trip. With the exception of one restless night at Glacier, I'm in my sleeping bag (with the added cold-weather liner) by 10:00PM and sleep until 7:00 or 8:00AM.
I have some good "campmates" and some not so good. For the first few days, a couple from San Francisco and their son camp next to me. Their son, around two years old, has "pinkeye", but he's a pretty scrappy kid. They are planning to move to Poland next year, so we talk a little about Eastern Europe and my visit to Prague a few years ago. Tonight, I'm having my favorite "camping meal", Tandoori Chicken, and I have way more than I can eat alone. I see that the California couple and their son ar having a can of baked beans for dinner, so I invite them over for chicken...which they love, particularly the little guy.
Behind me are camped an ever-changing cast of cast of characters who are working as contractors for the local utility company. They've got a trailer parked on the site, and there's a new "group" every other day. They're very loud and stay up very late at night. They have brought their own wood which they pile in the fire ring, douse with copious quantities of gasoline, and set ablaze. Within five minutes or so, they're roasting hot dogs in the fuel-scented fire.
I spent the day today taking more photos. My plan is to spend time in all of the geyser basins shooting black and white as well as digital photos. In the morning, I spend a few hours close by at the Norris Geyser Basin before heading down to the Old Faithful Lodge for lunch. They have a pretty decent burger, so it's a good lunch. to Biscuit Basin as well as the lower and middle basins for photos.
Last year, I visited at the end of the season, so the crowds were relatively small. Not this's jammed with people. Add in some significant road construction, and it's difficult and time-consuming to get around.
It's again late in the afternoon by the time return to my campsite, so I'm going with my "staple" for dinner...a grilled cheese sandwich with bacon...delicious!
A few hours around the campfire with a few glasses of Australian Cab before bed...another successful day.

Out West Day 20...Monday, August 10, 2009...Back to Mammoth Hot Springs...Lunch in Gardner

It's still cold this morning, but not as cold as prior mornings...40's rather than 30's. It's overcast, but no rain...yet.
I decide to drive up to the northern entrance to the Park at Mammoth Hot Springs (where I camped last year). I plan on going out of the Park to have lunch in Gardiner and get gas. Because of the rain and cold, I've spent a lot of time sitting in the Escape, reading with the heat I've burned up a few gallons of gas.
The place where I had planned to have lunch, the Sawtooth Deli, is closed...and my dining options are pretty limited. I end up at a little pizza place for a good, but not great, calzone. After lunch, I fuel up and buy ice and firewood before heading back into the Park.
I spend the rest of the afternoon hiking around Mammoth Hot Springs and taking photos. This year, I have brought my old Canon AE-1 SLR camera in addition to my digital. I want to shoot a few rolls of black and white film which I think will work well with the bleached-out, steamy and barren landscapes at the different "thermal areas" in the Park. Obviously, I can't post the black and white photos, but you can see them when I get back. In the meantime, I shot a bunch of photos with the digital camera.
By the time that I finish at Mammoth, it's late in the afternoon. Back at camp, I open a bottle of Spanish Rioja, heat up some leftover Bratwurst with a batch of those great noodles from Indomie, and relax around the fir before bed.

Out West Day 19, Sunday, August 9, 2009...A Break in the Weather...A Short Hike

It's really cold this morning...temperature dropped into the 30's again last night...but at least it's not raining. I've planned a nice hike for down to Biscuit Basin and pick up the trailhead to Fairy Falls...four miles in/four miles out...and a nice view of the Falls.
I load my pack as follows...
Bear Spray
Bear Bell
10 Cliff Bars (energy/snack)
2 packages Cliff "Shot Blocks" (electrolyte replacement/energy)
5 packages Peanut Butter Crackers
2 Hershey Bars with Almonds
2 packages Reese's Peanut Butter Cups
Emergency Blanket
2 packages "Gourmet" Ramen Noodles
Titanium Pot/Cup
"Pocket Rocket" Stove and 2 canisters iso-butane fuel
Digital Camera
35mm. Camera and film
4 Bottles of Water
Swiss Army Knife
Insect Repellent
By 10:00AM, I'm at the trailhead and ready to go. But I'm having difficulty finding the Fairy Falls Trail, and soon find myself on the trail to Mystic Falls...which I hiked last year. It's a nice hike, so I settle for that. Arriving at the Falls, I cook up some noodles for lunch, snap a few photos and hike out.
Back at my campsite, I relax with a few Margaritas and grilled Bratwurst for dinner.

Out West Day 18...Saturday, August 8, 2009...More Rain

It rained most of the night and, as I wake up around 7:00AM, it's still raining. It's also cold...really cold. My tent is covered with ICE! August! Talking to people later, I find out that this has been the wettest and coldest summer at Yellowstone in many years. It's already being referred to as "The Beginningless Summer". hiking's another day of reading.

Out West Day 17...Friday, August 7, 2009...Norris Campground

I'm up at 6:00AM and on the road a little after 7:00AM. About fifteen miles or so into the Park, I realize that I do not have my cell's somewhere back in West Yellowstone...panic. Now I have to make an "Executive decision"...turn around and go back or continue to the campground and go back later. I opt to continue on to the campground. Arriving at Norris Campground, I am lucky to find a campsite right away. So, I register for seven days and start setting up camp. Once settled in, I head back to West Yellowstone. First stop...the "Dude", but no luck. So...back over to Bullwinkles and, fortunately, the bartender has my phone. I didn't see it the night before because it was obscured by many empty "Jaeger" shots.
Heading back to Norris, I've eaten up a good part of the day on my cell phone hunt. It's overcast and rainy (again), so I decide to just hang around my campsite and do some reading. Having finished three books already, I'm now on my fourth..."The Devil in the White City" about the 1893 World's Fair, and the struggle of the architect, Daniel Burnham, to put it all together (he was successful, and the Fair stamped Chicago as a "world-class" city).
Not much to report today besides reading, grilled cheese sandwich for lunch, and a steak for dinner.

Out West Day 16...Thursday, August 6, 2009...Down the Gallatin to Yellowstone...Dude, That's My Motel!

Another late night at the Eagles in Bozeman, so I'm moving a little slow this morning. By the time that I pack up and get on the road, it's early afternoon.
It's a beautiful drive from Bozeman to West Yellowstone along the Gallatin River, but it rains intermittently. I get to the Wes Yellowstone Park entrance around 3:00PM and find that all of the campsites are's a hotel tonight. Swinging back into West Yellowstone, I find a room for the night at the luxurious "Dude Motel" where I have the following exchange...
ME: "Dude, you have any rooms available tonight?".
DESK CLERK: "You're in luck, dude. We have one room left".
ME: "Dude, I'll take it".
DESK CLERK: "You got it, dude".
After checking in and unloading, I head across the street to "Bullwinkles" for a few cocktails before dinner. Later, I walk further into town for dinner at Sydney's Mountain Bistro...a very pleasant place. I have a big grilled Ribeye with garlic mashed potatoes, a Caesar salad, and several glasses of a very good Malbec. Now full, I head back to Bullwinkles for a nightcap or two before heading off to bed. The Park Ranger at the gate recommended that I get to my campground (Norris) no later than 8:00AM in order to get a spot.