Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Grand Tetons, Yellowstone, Bison, Moose, and Grizzly!

We drove up to the Grand Teton National Park last Friday, amazing scenery.  We took our time, stopped for pictures and got to our campsite around 2:30.  It was hot so we went for supplies and a swim down the road.  It is pretty incredible to be swimming in a cold mountain lake on a hot sunny day with the Grand Tetons behind you!  When we got back the Johnston family was at camp setting up all their gear!  We spent the next two nights with them.  Kids played cards we chatted and caught up on how our trips had been going so far. 
The next morning we drove down through the Tetons again and stopped for lunch at Jenny Lake, the 6 kids all swam (very cold!).  We then drove down to Jackson, WY and did a little window shopping and ended up at Snake River Brewing Company for some drinks and wings.  Much needed!  On our way back Sam spotted a black bear near a river.  We pulled over to see it.  Within 5 minutes there must have been 85 people there!   Everyone stops in Yellowstone area when they see someone on side of road with camera or binoculars.  
Went back for late dinner and everyone crashed.  The next morning we all packed up and we headed to Yellowstone and Johnston clan headed for Moab.   We went and got a campo site and then headed out to see some of the park.  INCREDIBLE.  First area - Grand Canyon of Yellowstone.  The pictures will not do it justice.  On the way we saw Bison, Griff was beside himself.  Took a hike down 328 steps to see the lower view of the waterfall, they say it feels like 680 on the way back up due to altitude!
Drove up and around the canyon, got to see a Peregine Falcon in a nest with 3 babies thru a guys scope. On the way back to camp, a Bison was in the road so it caused a traffic jam.  It ended up walking right next to our car, Griff could have reached out and touched him, he was excited to say the least.
The next morning it was rainy (first day of the trip!) so we decided to go and see Old Faithful.  On the way we got to see a Moose and an Elk up close.  Old Faithful was not as exciting to the kids as the animals so we did not really spend to much time checking out the geysers.  Headed around the park loop and saw awesome hot springs, geyser pools, and mud pots.  Scenery Overload!!!!
By late afternoon everyone was in agreement that we had seen enough and it was time to head home.  So we drove out of the park in the early evening.  On the way out cars were stopped.  We saw a Grizzly Bear.  It also walked right next to our car.  We have some great shots.
The drive out of Yellowstone to the East Entrance toward Cody, WY is some of the most beautiful landscape and scenery in the world.    We ended up at Buffalo Bill State Park on a beautiful lake with mountains all around, feels like a different planet out here.
Next morning we headed into Cody to see if a mechanic could tell us why our "check engine" light had come on.  $50 later he let us know that it was nothing and probably I didn't screw the gas cap on tight enough.   After a Wal-Mart supply stop, we headed East.  While driving over the Bighorn Mountains the FAN BROKE AGAIN on the van.  Same one we had replaced.  If this trip is a test of my patience, I hope I am passing.

Turned of the AC and continued over the pass, 9,660ft.  Stopped at the top and boys got to throw snowballs on August 2nd.  Tucker actually had not been feeling well for a while and this lifted his spirits a little bit.  Drove to Sundance, WY, and stopped at a campground with a pool (the smartest choice for camping with kids).  Kids swam, I made dinner, and we watched "RV" with Robin Williams, on the computer out under the stars.
Going to try and see if I can get my part again if it is still under warranty (7 days, really?) and get it fixed on the way back through Sioux Falls again.
We are aiming to be home by next Sat. or Sun.  but are going to take it as it comes, no other options really, right?
Time to make breakfast!

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Monkey Wrench, Corn Palace, Badlands, Mt. Rushmore

So we went to see Keith at The Monkey Wrench in Sioux Falls on Tuesday morning.  The part arrived at 10am and he had it in and our oil changed at 12:30.  He was great and like the can of Spam we brought him very much (a variety that you can only get at the museum or in Australia, Black Pepper Spam).
So with our AC now working, we were off.  First stop - Sioux Falls Park.  Very pretty park area in downtown Sioux Falls.  We looked around and had some Spam sandwiches.  Then on the road to the Badlands.  Long drive through nothing.  Lots of farm land.  Very little to see.  Harry Potter.  We did stop at the Corn Palace for a break.  It was interesting.  Originally built entirely out of corn annually 100 yrs ago, it is now a permanent arena with lots of corn on, in, and decorating it.  They play basketball in it in the off season.  At about 7pm on Tuesday evening, we drove into the Badlands National Park!  Incredible, you drive for hours and see nothing and then: wow!  We went and got a campsite and I made dinner while the boys headed out exploring for a while.  The next morning we got up and got going and drove around the park.  We did a short hike up to the top of a bluff and nearly walked right by a long horned sheep.  He was 20ft from us!  Lots of picture stops, pull offs to see things, and just looking around.  The pictures will not do it justice.  Just incredible geology, color, intensity.  We went to the southern part of the park to try and see some Bison.  No luck. We drove out the bottom end and came onto an Indian Reservation.  It was a long time before we hit a gas station and we were all getting a little nervous that we were going to be walking in the 98 degree heat again.  Oh yeah, hot again all day at the Badlands!  We made it to gas and headed for Rapid City to get close to Mt. Rushmore for today (Thurs.).  We got some supplies and when we came out to the car it was raining.  We got in the car and it started to come down sideways and with huge lightning.  Then we drove up the road a mile and everything was covered in hail.  I mean covered like they had just gotten 2 inches of snow!  Very weird.  So we decided to not chance the crazy weather and got a hotel room in Hill City.  After dinner we went up to Mt Rushmore and saw the evening ceremony and lighting of the monument.  Very cool.  Went back up there today and took lots of pictures and learned about how it was made, amazing.  Drove thru the Black Hills (very pretty) and across Wyoming (lots of nothing) to a little town called Dubois.  It was about 6.5 hours of driving this afternoon to get us close to Grand Teton Park, we should be able to get there by mid day tomorrow.  Meeting Amy and Michael Johnston tomorrow afternoon at The Flagg Ranch Resort outside of Yellowstone.  I will finally have some time with adults, much needed! 

Monday, July 25, 2011

A week on the road, swimming, Spam, and Sioux Falls

Wisconsin, Minnesota, South Dakota
Well we are a week and a day into our trip.  And are STILL not at the Badlands.  It feels like we are traveling in covered wagon!  The heat really slowed us down.  We did laundry and the boys all got buzz cuts in Madison.  We left early afternoon and headed for Cave of the Blue Mounds. It was very cool.  We camped out at a State Park nearby and they had a pool with a diving board.  Lets just say the boys were doing backflips for hours.  The next morning (Sun.) we went back to the pool and then headed north to La Crosse a 2.5 hour drive.  We found a great campground that had 2 pools!  So we spent the night and swan some more.  This morning I ordered the part I needed for the van and had it shipped next day to Sioux Falls.  We left the campground around noon: destination - Spam Museum.  It was a nice diversion in the middle of the drive (6.5 hours today, and very hot, not using AC until the car gets the new fan!).  We got some cans of Spam, a couple t-shirts and then back on the road.  Lots of corn fields, wind turbines, and straight flat road.  Thank god for Harry Potter books on the iPod.
We hit Sioux Falls around 6:30.  It was still mid 80's and weather reports are for thunderstorms, soooo... we are at the Sheraton!   Which is good, since I am now seeing local weather alerts for strong thunderstorms and hail.
Tomorrow the van gets fixed just down the road.  We should be in the Badlands by 4pm!!!!!

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Heat Wave and Water Park and Van (again)

So when I was planning this trip I did not account for record temperatures!  So we are adapting.  We have stayed in some hotels the last few nights as it has just been to hot to try and sleep outside.  We also went to Six Flags Great America, north of Chicago yesterday to get relief from the temps.  We spent the entire afternoon in the water park!  The van is also feeling the heat and one of the fans that cools the engine is acting up and needs to be replaced!!!  Not easy getting parts always for the Silver Bullet, so it is on order and will be in Sioux Falls on Wed.  This is putting us in a bit of limbo as we could be in the Badlands by then, but need to slow down in order to coordinate the repair.  Oh, well, maybe this is a sign to take is slow and not try to jam too much in.  After all, Sam didn't even remember going to Wrigley Field the next day!!!!
We are in Madison, Wisconsin this morning (Saturday).  Going to Cave of the Mounds later after we do some laundry and then heading for a campsite on the Mississippi River!  Tomorrow is supposed to be mid-nineties again so......Mall of America!   We need a sponge or two, they might have some.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Wrigley Field

Made it to Chicago (after taking a bit of a round about trying to get some gas in the industrial section of Chicago, people were looking at the VT Eurovan very strangely).  Dropped off the car to get the wiper motor, cabbed to our hotel, and headed to lunch and the game!
Had some great burgers at Club 162, then into the game.  Our seats were amazing (thanks Dave Knight and Jeff).  We sat between 3rd base and home plate, about 15 rows back, in the shaded area.  Wrigley is awesome, you are so close to the field, small atmosphere, everyone very friendly, in fact the owner of the team even came by and said hi.  No seriously, he did!  He came to see someone in front of us and then stepped over the seats, said hi to us and gave the boys each a game day baseball (stamped with the date and teams).  He told us about his trip to the Badlands a few years ago with his 5 kids, he then bored us with stories of his plans to fix up the ball park and make the bathrooms and concessions better (whatever).
So that was cool.
Went back to the hotel and laid on the beds in air conditioning (was 98 today, 110 with heat index).  Then went to Gino's East - Chicago Deep Dish Pizza.  Now bed.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

8 hours, 4 States, 2 Great Lakes, Harry Potter

Today was a long drive day. We left our campground south of Buffalo at 10am and headed for Chicago. The goal was to get close, and we did. We drove through Pensylvania, Ohio, and into Indiana. Lots of vineyards, miles and miles, then corn, miles and miles. We ended up at Indiana Sand Dunes State park and went swimming tonight. Turning in so we can get an early start tomorrow. Going to Wrigley Field for a Cubs game. It is supposed to be 98 tomorrow! We are staying in the city with AC tomorrow night! Also getting the wiper motor replaced while in town (thanks Sheri!). Hopefully it is not so hot that we cannot enjoy some of the city. Looking forward to my first beer of the trip, if anyone has any good brewpub recommendations, send them along!!!

Monday, July 18, 2011

Niagra Falls...the hard way.

So today was our first full day on the trip. We left Bristol late Sunday afternoon and made it to a campground north of Utica. We were up and on the road at 8:30 this morning ready to hit Niagra Falls by lunchtime. But, it started to rain partway there and our wiper motor stopped working properly. It would go, then stop, then go, etc.
I pulled over at a service/rest stop in Oneida, and they agreed to look at it. After about 20 min. The mechanic came out and stated that the motor was overheating and had to be replaced, it would take 2-3 hours to get part and put in.
So we went across the street to the Casino!! We wandered around got smoothies and then headed over to the sports complex. They had an indoor driving range, so we hit golf balls for 40 min. It turns out that Sam is quite a natural!
When we got back to the shop, the mechanic pulled me into the garage area and explained to me that the motor they ordered (refurbished) did not work, so they put mine back in, there would be no charge. Really! 3 hours and we were right where we started!!!!
So we headed to Niagra Falls. Awesome! We saw the falls, did the Maid of the Mist, and took lots of pictures. We are now on Lake Eerie about an hour south of Buffalo. Tomorrow we will try to get as close to Chicago as we can! There is a garage waiting with the wiper motor we need there.

Sunday, July 17, 2011

The Journey Starts Today

I bought a 2002 VW Eurovan Weekender in 2005.  My wife Pam and I were both teachers and thought it would be perfect to take our three boys away in for summer trips.  One year later she was diagnosed with Hodgkin's Lymphoma and we were in treatments and transplants for the next 4 years.  She lost her battle 1 year ago.  We have decided to go on this journey for her, and with her.
Our destination:  Yellowstone National Park, The Badlands National Park, and anything in between, around or near.  Whatever rolls our way in the next 3-4 weeks.  We will be at Wrigley Field on Wed. and Niagra Falls on Monday.
Tucker, Sam, and Griffin are excited and a bit nervous, as is dad.  We will keep you posted when we can. On to  our adventure!