11 July 2017

Roadtrip 2017

Here we go again...

Day One: Sioux Falls

With the onset of sweltering temperatures in Kansas City, we find ourselves heading north, to enjoy...well, probably those same sweltering temperatures but at a higher latitude. First, stop, Omaha!

We got there around 0930 and headed to a new "kid zone" full of sweating exasperated parents and their gleeful, soggy progeny. Kids loved it! This is the Slip'n'Slide Natural River Rock and Head Injury section.

Some sort of baby, or perhaps pygmy, goats here but we were on a strict time budget (and remain somewhat so, hence my abbreviated descriptions!) so we headed from here to the big cats.

Amusingly the keepers seem to spread bits of meat around the entire cage for this jaguar, who had to have a little Easter Egg hunt, I guess if Easter eggs were the carcasses of those below you in the food chain.

White Bengal tiger...

Snow leopard was outside panting. Or at least what looked like panting. I'm sure he was thinking, why DIDN'T I go with that nice zookeeper group from Kamchatka...

They have a lot of tigers here. Pete's favorite animal, he tells us.

North American black bear seeking repose in the shade. Debra is hopeful that this is the only bear we will see on the trip.

Desert Dome was a bit niffy at first, but artificially cooled air is welcome regardless of its piquant aroma.

Water monitor relaxing. Then we went into a dark exhibit for nocturnals, but I won't bore you with the awful pictures I shouldn't have tried to take.

Another quick stop at their aquarium. I liked the cut of this fish's jib.

They have a shark tunnel filled with tuna, shark, rays, and "miscellaneous" (an old Simpsons reference, I'm afraid). How it doesn't devolve into a massive bloodbath is a mystery to me, but I imagine it has something to do with Monsanto, aqueous-delivered chemtrails, and a massive piscine conspiracy that goes all the way to the top. I was taking a pic of this shark when a ray decided to photobomb.

Another type of ray that Debra thought looked happy...

Back to the road...a quick jaunt over the river back to Iowa and on up towards Sioux City. We decided to stop in there at the Sgt. Floyd monument, like we did the last time we went up there. It's an impressive structure, but then, I haven't seen the Washington monument...

The river and the highway down below, a decently tall bluff (for this particular section of flyover country).

Back on the road. We saw a "Lewis and Clark Recreation Area" and I imagined their expedition party rounding a bend in the river and their eyes delighting upon a pristine playground with swings and monkey bars, at which they amused themselves for hours on end before resuming their expedition. Maybe not exactly what they meant by recreation area. Then up to Sioux Falls, South Dakota. The USS South Dakota Memorial there houses artifacts from the (now scrapped) battleship of that name, that served extensively in WWII. Peter, of course, loves the scale models, and this was a big one:

I tried to convince Debra that THIS is what we need for our living room:

The flag taken from the Imperial Japanese battleship Nagato which surrendered at the end of the war...it was the flagship of the fleet that attacked Pearl Harbor.

It's a pretty nice, well, they don't call it a museum, but it's small, compact, and free (donations accepted). Lots of history there, too bad we were trying to pack so much in today...

Outside they have the yard ringed around with a wall simulating the shape and size of the South Dakota. Here's one of the big guns.

The screws:

And up front, one of the anchors and a section of substantial chain.

One more stop...Sioux Falls is so named because...no, I've done that joke before. Anyway, they have waterfalls here, with some very interesting quartzite rock.

Would've been a bit more comfortable, perhaps, at a lower temperature, but we got some of the spray.

Might have to come back here. Quite a nice area.

But for now...got to head to the hotel's built-in water park. Screaming children await. Tomorrow, we head across Dakota (North Dakota bristles at my shorthand I'm sure) towards the Black Hills.

Day Two: Badlands and Black Hills

So, last night we had a nice evening in the odd hotel waterpark at the Sioux Falls Ramkota. Kids conquered the water slides of their respective skill levels. The morning we decided to stay for the breakfast at 7am, since we had a voucher for it, but what we didn't pay in dinero, we paid in time. Eventually though we headed out on the I-90 across South Dakota. First stop, the Minuteman Missile Museum. As we were walking up I noted the banners showing an Ohio class, an ICBM, and a B-52, and I was prattling to the children about the three pillars of the nuclear triad when the park ranger overheard me lifting her routine and vouched approval (usually I'm told I'm too quiet to be heard).

This was originally painted on a subterranean bunker door and has long been one of my favorites. I was a sucker and bought the T-shirt on my way out despite Debra's insistence that "you can't wear that out..."

Note to my wife's Aunt Phyllis, professional cake-maker: my birthday is July 27th, day after we get back.

Gretchen, just like several years ago at the Strategic Air Command Museum in Nebraska, was highly conflicted about the complex issues posed by nuclear war, deterrence, and Mutually Assured Destruction. Which is a good thing for her, it is undeniably an ethically complicated thing to consider. Peter, on the other hand, is a bit younger, and very practical...PUSH THE BUTTON AND ASSESS THE DAMAGE FROM GROUND ZERO!

Thence to the short Window Trail in the Badlands. Debra opted for an old school form of sun protection.

I made the comment at this viewpoint that it would be an ideal spot for stereographic imagery...the 3D aspect is not perceptible in normal photos and it is much less impressive this way.

This was a valley overlook we stopped at briefly and then, we decided to head back to I90 via a shortcut, an unpaved road, since Gretchen wasn't feeling great on the curves of the park loop road. We got almost all the way there when Debra had the realization that there may not be an onramp for that road, since there was no park ranger station to take admissions fees. We kept on and were lucky to find the onramps there, despite their absence on the map. Note to self, the Badlands are a bit on the honor system.

One of the benefits of cutting back to I90 early...stopping at the decommissioned Minuteman missile silo. The glass cover was added (over the partially opened concrete hatch) for display purposes. Just a few hundred yards off the highway...makes you wonder how many of these, and where, are hidden in plain sight.

The Minuteman. An ominous visage of nuclear deterrance.

OK, so yeah, we could use a little less sobriety and a bit more jollity in the day, so hie hence to Wall Drug. The kids were enamoured with this splash park. Those various holes in the ground would erupt randomly like geysers and the children were pleased to stand over them in anticipation. Sort of like an Old West Bidet Experience.

Debra likes this place because it's basically like a low rent Disneyland / Frontierland.

The kids continue in their denial of jackalope science. I think they are being paid by jackalope denialist lobbyists...the CONSENSUS IS HERE.

Last time we were here, which is readable on the blog...errr...sometime two years ago, three year old Peter cowered in abject terror of this animatronic T-Rex.

Once we got into the Black Hills and more towards Keystone, the skies opened, and hail and severe thunderstorms kicked in. We pulled off and noted a lot of flooding, but eventually got to our destination with only a residual light prickle falling.

The overhang from the noses cause a pattern, after the rain, that makes the presidents appear in need of Kleenex or Sudafed.

The ponchos were a wise choice of Debra's, although there's part of me that wonders at the idea of wearing ponchos during a very light misting rain, while eschewing them when high pressure jets of water are forced upwards towards one's seatpants (as a recreational pursuit at Wall Drug)...anyway, probably made sense to bring them along.

We then went to attempt the now-more-laughable 0.9mi circular trail at the memorial. We got a few dozen feet in when distant thunder convinced Debra that today, we would not be doing that. We took a stop by our home state's pillar:

From there, back to our hotel...a motel with cabins and a restaurant up in the pines. We ate here two years ago and dined similarly well. I had a game sampler with elk medallions, various game sausages, and BBQ buffalo ribs...Gretchen likewise went with the BBQ buffalo ribs, which she remembered from last time.

Then wandering around the grounds, playing at the playground, and hiking up the particular Black Hill that this establishment is, well, established upon. We ate really well and we'll need to do some substantial hiking to maintain caloric equilibrium...tomorrow may partly oblige as we barrel towards Gran Teton National Park, hopefully hiking around Jenny Lake there.

Day Three: Grand Teton National Park

OK, so I'm writing this at about 8PM in the evening, and my mind can't even recall the beginning of the day very well...turned into a rather longish day. We're all rather tired and I'm taking long pauses to stare thoughtlessly into the laptop screen. Oh bugger, its 10 minutes later. Anyway, we must crack on, if only for the sake of future nostalgia (the raison d'etre of these vacation blogs, I confess). We got up early...oh-four-something to be precise...although I'm using the royal we, the rest of the family got up in the 5am hour. On the road by 6am.

Once through Custer and the Black Hills, where we dodged running down Bambi's mother to very nearly plow into the little spotted mule deer fawn himself (I daresay some deft observation and braking on my part), we hit the great wide expanse of central Wyoming. A consolation to the endless driving through barren countryside was the frequent spottings of pronghorn antelope, the only known North American antelope, and one of the fastest known animals in the world. At one point the turns (maybe still on the Dakota side) were too much for Gretchen, and we stopped randomly at a memorial for some USAF serviceman who died in a C-130 crash while fighting a forest fire 5 years ago.

Deeper into Wyoming, I felt like I had been driving forever. So I took a brief stop here with some nice scenery. The people in the foreground nearly sideswiped us as they pulled off. I would say, the drama on the road today was quite pungent, but from this vantage point, there's still drama on the trail...

Fast forward many, many hours of over-frequent gas station visits (for a child with a bladder the size of a squirrel's) and also, uncharacteristicly dog-like flatulence from the youngest member of the party (I made frequent references to Mr. Connery's admonition on Hunt for Red October to "VENTILATE WITH THE OUTSHIDE AIR!"). We finally made it to the Grand Tetons.

I gather they were named by French mountainmen, which explains their name. I mean, they ARE Frenchman, and at least it sounds a little posher than it might in English. There were a vast number of cyclists here, I noted, which I gather are known in ursine parlance as "Meals on Wheels". We hurtled down to Jenny Lake, and after stalking in wait for what seemed like hours, we pounced upon an open parking spot. From there to the boating docks for a ride across the lake under the watchful auspices of le Grand Teton.

Closing in on the west side of the lake...no one got sick...not quite like the Channel off of Ventura, that's for sure. Now, bear in mind, I had purchased, very deliberately, one way tickets across the lake. To borrow from Sean Connery / Marco Ramius again, "when Cortesh reached the New World...he burned hish ships. Ash a reshult, hish men were well-motivated."

Off the boat and feeling good at this point...we head up the trail.

Lots of people around, heading both up and down towards the Hidden Falls.

Beautiful rushing rapids on our way up.

A lovely place. A nice cooling mist came off the falls.

Then on, and on, up. We were marching the 3 miles or so around the lake to get back since I failed (deliberately) to pay for a return journey. We were outfitted with redundant bear spray and puukko, but there was a lot of anxiety faced on this trip. I understand the bear anxiety a bit (Debra is consistently and dependably not excited about bear mauling opportunities), but the flying insect panic attacks from others in our party, well, we'll work through that.

Eventually we got through the maelstrom of crazy and carried on on our trip.

I insisted to the children that bears intuitively understood Finnish and cried out "Haarmakarhu! Aino ei vaiva sinua!" which is as I recall, Grizzly Bear! Aino bears you no ill will! Aino being my Finnish puukko. Now...it may be a coincidence, but we didn't run into a bear on our hike.

Then we were rounding the lake...looking back towards the mountains, but looking forward with more relief to the cresting, glorious glint of parking lot windshields in the distance. Yes, my family was a bit done at this stage. An hour drive north and we are parked rather contentedly in a cabin in Colter Bay, which has an adorable view of the mountains, were we willing to brave the newly hatched mosquitos that seem to cluster about the place.

Dinner on an electric hotplate, and now as the temperatures cool, we'll be preparing for our much less driving-intensive foray into Yellowstone tomorrow.

Day Four: Yellowstone

Last night the folks in our adjoining cabin felt like being a bit boisterous into the wee hours (seems to be a pattern in some of these "resorts"), but we got a decent amount of sleep and had no marauding bruins. I ran down to the marina at Colter Bay to take another look before heading north.

We eventually exited Grand Teton and entered Yellowstone, stopping by the West Thumb of the lake at a geyser basin, where foreign tourist children ran screaming like mad from their parents along the boardwalk, sufficient that we decided to make a short visit there thus to avoid witnessing any natural consequences of safety violations.

Then up to Old Faithful, which is a massive complex packed to the gills with people. We went out to the "stands" 20 minutes prior to showtime. The temperatures were hot but dry, but the sun was pretty strong.

We kept seeing minor eruptions and thinking, oh wait was that it? Do we leave now? I took a couple dozen photos of the precursors...

But hey we got there in the end! Kaboom! It is impressive to witness.

We shuffled our way back to our distant parking spot and headed out, this time for Grand Prismatic Spring. There was a negative amount of parking available in the lot (lines of vultures awaiting their turn) so we turned out and found a spot along the road other folks were using, and hiked our way in along this river.

The hot springs were dumping into the river from the plain above, and the coloration is was nice to behold.

Here's some more of that up close as we crossed the bridge to the main boardwalk.

This was, as I recall, Excelsior Geyser Basin...so clear and large and burbling that I wondered for a second, is this Grand Prismatic Spring? Quite a nice sight on its own.

But then some insect related anxiety that morphed into anxiety about the steam that was blowing off the geyser reared up, and although quite close, we had to turn back prior to seeing Grand Prismatic Spring. Anyway, I hear it looks prettier from the air (sour grapes, maybe, but hey, maybe I can work a helicopter tour into a future visit!).

Well HELLO you delicious little thing. The bison seem quite unperturbed around here.

We were going to visit Norris Geyser Basin but none of us felt very strongly on that point by this time, and the parking lot was full, so, problem solved! Then back east to the canyon. We stopped by on the north rim at Lookout Point.

I couldn't decide between the zoomed-in shot and this one, both are good. Well, the subject matter is good, I just point and click like every other tourist here.

Finally got to Mammoth Springs. Elk swagger around the grounds like they own the place, and their courtiers, the rangers, ensure no tourist rabble approach to a close distance from the elk. I'm not too worried about the cows, and the bulls I'd mostly be concerned about in fall during the rut, but I'm still a lot more cautious than the average "international tourist" here who appear to be encountering a wild animal for the first time.

Debra got the kids a double scoop of ice cream to share, while I checked in to our cabin. We waited a little while...not enough...for it to cool off and headed up for another hike in the Mammoth Spring Lower Terraces. The Moai imported from Easter Island is still here! Peter insisted I take another picture.

Gretchen was enamored with killdeer scampering around the terrace. There were some babies but I didn't get a great picture of them.

We were here two years ago, but didn't head up any further than this.

So we headed up a bit further and Pete kept pointing out the bad job someone did nailing in the planks. He is convinced he would have done it better.

Edvard Munch's "The Scream" in rock.

Hey I actually trusted another tourist to not drop my phone into the boiling pools!

The terraced pools are quite lovely here.

Another shot further up.

Taking the long way back around and down, we see the top side of the first section we had come to. It didn't half niff...the children were not taken with the smell, but hey, they provide enough of their own, I say. Our cabin is a ways beyond the main buildings in this photo.

Parting shot at the higher sections before descending.

Back at the cabin consuming lots of icewater. Tomorrow, a long day and drive up to Glacier, from here.

Day Five: Glacier

Well, another exhausting, but quite fun day. The family are out of the hotel room now, exploring the hotel here at Many Glacier and perhaps up on the hill fighting grizzlies (Debra has the weaponized habenero spray) while I am left here in the room to blog about the day's happenings. First off, throwing my mind far back to 0630 this morning, we left Yellowstone. We loved the little cabin we had and we slept surprisingly well (the previous night had prejudiced Debra against national parks cabins, which might have a bit of a party atmosphere). Stopped to wave goodbye to the lovely elk here before crossing northwards into Montana.

We drove most of the morning with only a few stops. The kids/wife and I worked out a system. We got to listen to their abominable...ummm..."common" music for a few tracks, then I got to listen to some of mine. So yes, by this time, I can't help but know how to "rap" the bridge of "Shake it Off". I'm not proud of that. But, by gum, the children also know the bleedin' Ring Cycle plotline. Eventually we got up to the eastern side of Glacier...we are taking a backwards route this time. I wanted to stop at the Trail of Cedars but there wasn't parking...an eery mystical nature seemed to surround that area of the park, with dark, barren paths under a blanketing canopy, but Debra pointed out that the eery mystical nature was enhanced with mystical mosquitoes in abundance. Fair enough! I stopped long enough to get a picture of the river before we headed up the Going-To-The-Sun Road.

It's slow going but in the best way. We were in Glacier two years ago but this road was not yet plowed.

Another panoramic. I adore this place, I admit. The musical tug-of-war was briefly suspended by parental/driver privilege, and we listened to the 1-hour orchestral distillation of Wagner's Ring Cycle (The Ring Without Words) which suits this place quite well.

I tried to figure out how to do a vertical panoramic, but failed, but this waterfall and stream continued downwards. Not for the heights-squeamish, this drive.

It was cool and breezy even though in the valleys it was scorching hot. Sometimes there were large snowbanks next to the road (even given upper 70s temperatures by the thermometer).

We stopped at Oberlin Bend because I had been given a tip that this was a good place to spot mountain goats. And THERE WAS ONE, way atop a rocky perch. Hard to make out but he was there. Good enough for us!

Another panoramic from the Oberlin bend area.

There was a nice waterfall a bit up from here.

Then on to Logan Pass. We walked a bit down to the road and found another mountain goat, guarded from a steady stream of tourists who would get much too close by a ranger. He was giving himself a bit of a dust bath, due to bugs and heat.

Ground squirrels were fat and lethargic here, and exhibited a surprising lack of fear towards us. I saw a crowd of foreign tourists fawning around another specimen a bit later, and I assume they are being fed.

Panorama from the rear of the Logan Pass visitor center, while the kids selected a couple plush animals from the gift shop (Peter got the mountain goat, and Gretchen got a wolf).

This place has a bit of a hold on me, I admit.

This is St. Mary Lake.

We hit the eastern side of Glacier and headed up north to go back in via the Many Glacier entrance. We pulled into the hotel and saw this chap (or lass) looking down at us.

I dropped the family and luggage off at the front and parked the car...walking back, a lovely view of the lake, Mt. Grinnell, and the historic hotel.

They've just renovated some of it recently...the spiral staircases were an original feature recently restore.

Our friend Morris the Moose, still here after a hundred years or so.

Then downstairs, signing over a paycheck to the gift shop to obtain some T-shirts and some huckleberry flavored treats, and out to gaze on the lake. Chap on the right seemed to be an enthusiastic fellow from perhaps Central Asia who was keen to swim and wax eloquent to passersby on the loveliness of the area.

The kids had their huckleberry flavor lollipops, which I gather are a variety of blueberry, but I didn't have one of the lollipops...

Mount Grinnell. Someday, would love to climb it. Probably need a stronger life insurance policy.

Walking over to the bridge by the waterfall.

Debra yielded to the peer pressure and up on the rocks we went, like last time in 2015.

It was a bit windy but quite nice.

When we came down, a cluster of people were hunched around with binoculars at the top of the hill by the parking lot. We know enough to know that usually indicates that something interesting is in sight...while we were still trying to sort that out we witnessed a dogfight (no Sopwith Camels and Fokkers involved, an actual dog fight) that left a terrier mildly bleeding on his snout, but clueless dog owners aside, we moved on further, and probably 20-30 minutes later after a long period of an experienced older chap trying to point out to us the bear, we finally saw him (meaning me and Debra, and maybe Pete, but the little chap is prone to easy prevarication about such things, so who knows).

He's in there somewhere. We took pictures hoping we'd get some spot that was evidence of the bear but the crappy CMOS in my phone is never going to pick up that level of detail apparently. We watched that cinnamon coloured grizzly amble back and forth.

We eventually all saw it (Peter is a question mark...he's as likely as not to say "I SEE IT"), but Gretchen was upset at not seeing it, and I wondered if she has the Neufeld eyes...but we went a bit closer down the road, and after a lot of additional attempts she finally saw the moving bit of brown on the hill and erupted into absolute elation. That alone, worth the drive.

We all went back to the room and I started selecting pictures and eventually writing, well, this...while the family took my bear spray and headed back out. I am told they eventually saw a black bear ambling up into the same area. I'm planning to hike in the area tomorrow, so hopefully I won't see them up close tomorrow.

Day Six: Glacier

Last night we slept pretty well in comparison to last time here. As night fell I went back out and the place takes on a special loveliness at dusk.

Up fairly early and got some breakfast.

Then we went to collect our gear for a morning hike. Well...sort of a composite hike / laundry run. Originally we planned to all hike to Red Rock Falls, a 4 mile trek to some beautiful falls from the Swiftcurrent area, that happens to be prime grizzly habitat. But Debra and I both decided for everyone's mental health, maybe I'd just hike this one on my own, while she and the kids came with me to the trailhead area that also had a laundry facility, to get that taken care of. I headed out and for a short period followed an older couple that apparently was only going the quarter mile or so to Fishercap Lake.

I stopped there too but no moose sightings this morning, anyway.

On the trail I was probably a little too vigilant for my own enjoyment, but hey, this is grizzly country and I'm gonna be careful. I was well prepared. In cybersecurity they teach you the concept of a layered defense, also known as defense in depth, using controls in a serial array to minimize risk if one fails. I adopted that here, with occasional loud calls to deter the bears, an unholstered bear spray in hand and ready to go, and in the graver extremes of possibilities, a 7.5" Redhawk .44Mag loaded with 320gr hard cast slugs. Failing that, my trusty Finnish puukko, named Aino, hung at my side, but at that point, well...maybe that bear was MEANT to eat me.

I think this is Swiftcurrent Mountain, but honestly, I get a bit confused in recognizing them, other than Grinnell. As I walked I repeatedly called out "Hey, Karhu! Harmakarhu! Aino no ei vaivaa sinua!" which roughly translates to "Bear! Grizzly Bear! Aino hath no quarrel with thee!". Everyone knows bears understand Finnish.

Red squirrel...maybe the largest mammal I saw on the hike, other than the (very occasional) biped.

As I got along further I started singing snatches of old German folk tunes, which seemed to fit the place and mood. Only the squirrels were around to wonder at this daft hiker singing "Ein Jaeger aus Kurpfalz".

Then the next lake...don't remember its name, but Red Rock Falls are visible beyond it. Still no moose.

First people I saw since ditching the older folks at Fishercap were here. Apparently 8AM is a bit early to hike here? The falls were beautiful but I didn't stay long (fool that I am). Anyway, had to get back so Debra wouldn't worry about cashing in that life insurance...

Walking back I felt a little less on edge for Bruno, because now I had the wind at my back. The hike out was into the wind, which means if you run across a bear, he can't smell you before you get there, and also, if you have to deploy bear spray, 90% will blow straight back into your face. Started to see more hikers at this point.

Hmmmm...berries. Basically bear bait...their favorite summer food. As Sean Connery would say, "Increash to flank!" (I knew my odds were still very low to encounter one, but hanging out in their snack pantry is not wise.)

I thought these were a lovely section of Aspens until I looked up around 7 feet and saw those freshly scraped off bits of bark. Hmmmmm, again.

Another sort of berry that was thick here...reminds me of a blackberry. (Found out later, they are thimbleberries). Not ripe yet anyway.

Met back up with the family and we all drove back to Many Glacier. Walking from the parking lot we saw the bighorn sheep again.

And we saw the ferry boat departing. We have tickets at 2PM to go to Grinnell Lake.

Every time I see this sign, I think of Peter Sellers as Jacques Clouseau in Return of the Pink Panther as he calmly assures a bellboy who has assisted him, "keep up the good work, and I shall see to it you become a bell MAN!"

And a quick in-room salad/sandwich for all of us for lunch, and I think I'm going to take a nap before we have to get ready for our afternoon hike.

One "nap" (laying down and intermittently yelling at children to stop stomping on the bedroom floor out of mercy to those below) later and we were headed back out to the shore to await boarding Chief Two Guns, an old wooden boat operating as a ferry on Swiftcurrent Lake.

Pete was at high energy at this point but soon flagged a bit. Still, a good sportsman throughout.

Gretchen didn't get "lakesick" despite the high winds. Lake waves obviously not quite the same thing as the channel off California. Grinnell Point off in the distance. I asked the embarrassingly young tour guide (this was a guided hike, which raised Debra's comfort level significantly...lots of targets of opportunity for marauding bears, given the sorts of people who come on these, so we stood a better chance statistically) if you can climb it, and she said it was "easy" and you can do it in two hours. Ha! I looked over at Debra who seemed with her eyes to say, kids in college and more life insurance, then we'll talk.

We hit the docks at the south end of Swiftcurrent Lake and did a brief quarter mile hike. We had to hurry the kids on because we were all in a line waiting to get to the next lake/boat. Thankfully it was not quite a "Trail of Tears" like it was at Grand Teton, and yes, I'm sure I'm appropriating something by writing that but you'll have to excuse me.

Then onto the next boat, also old and wooden, and we were onto Lake Josephine. It's...nice here.

Once off the boat, lots of berry patches and other bear comestibles over the next mile hike to our destination. Everything in full bloom so there was a healthy insect population, so yes, there was a handy amount of coaching Gretchen through that. Debra was our resident loud person shouting HEY BEAR until Peter realized that this was his opportunity to be lauded, not excoriated, for being loud and he gladly assumed the mantle.

We eventually got there, Grinnell Lake. An icy lake fed by the Grinnell Glacier.

We removed our shoes and waded to this little sandbar (rockbar?) which was a bit painful admittedly, but the kids loved it.

A closer look at the Grinnell Glacier area and the waterfall that is feeding this very, very chilly lake. There was a group of young students that typified what you might expect here. One girl in particular sporting what can only be called a "man-bun" even though it was worn by a woman was especially nuts, swimming far out into the lake and being, well, less safety conscious than we old people tend to prefer. Thankfully, she didn't expire and no one had to rescue her.

As glorious as this area is, time to head back to catch the return boats. Otherwise, 3 mile hike. Fine with me except for the fact that I paid handsomely for said return trip...

Bear scat.

Back at the Lake Josephine southern pier, we waited for the boat. Kids played at the shore a bit. I took a picture of an elderly woman who wanted her picture taken wading, but her husband was blind, so she needed some assistance...I was happy to do so but felt vaguely self-conscious as her iPhone made successive camera noises with each exposure as I shifted from landscape to portrait. Felt like I was a very odd sort of fashion model photographer. Anyway, nice couple. We kept seeing folks on the Grinnell Glacier trail across the lake...someday, maybe, if the glacier is still there, but I agree with Debra's earlier pronouncement...kids certainly aren't ready for that challenge. Another thing I liked about this spot is the rainbow gradient in the lake...starting red from the...whatever the guide said was the red rock around here, then yellow, fading into green and that glorious bright blue that typifies these mountain lakes.

Off we go, back on Swiftcurrent Lake.

Another look down the Swiftcurrent valley, north of Grinnell Point.

And we swing around to the hotel. Lovely place.

So, here I am typing this while Debra and the kids are down at the "shore" playing with, yes, a plastic beach shovel/pail set. Sort of like a Canadian style beach visit, but hey, they love it. Tomorrow we leave this extremely idyllic place, heading south to make a halfway trip towards California. But I'm reasonably sure we'll be back someday.

Day Seven: Craters of the Moon

So we've had an apparent blogging hiatus, at least in uploads, since Grand Teton, Yellowstone, and Glacier. Internet access is not terribly available in the more beautiful corners of the country, and that's probably by intention. I wrote blogs on the old-fashioned unconnected laptop/typewriter, so now tonight that I'm in a "normal" hotel, I'm uploading and putting HTML image links into the prewritten blogs. Clerical work...lots of cut and paste, wish I'd brought a simple little mouse instead of this bally touchpad. Note to future self...bring the mouse.

Driving out of Glacier this morning. Towards the exit of the park I saw a loafing teenage figure by the road, and Debra and I both tried to snap a pic of his goofy, lumbering form as we passed.

He turned back and looked at us moodily as if to say, you don't EVEN UNDERSTAND! Hhhhhh....

Somewhere in southern Montana, many many weeks of driving later, we stopped for lunch at an Arby's next to the Lucky YOU! Casino. Like the Drive Thru Liquor Stores of Wyoming as I recall, the strip center and steel building "casinos" of Montana are weird and depressing.

Another few weeks and we got into Idaho (Montana is rather large), and eventually got via backroads to the Craters of the Moon National Monument. It should be a national park in my view, but also should not be, because if it were, it would probably be trampled into oblivion by busloads of foreign tourists.

Debra wanted to see this since her geology class, so the slight addition of time to our day was well worth it. It's been a -lot- longer since my geology class so I'm speaking from recollection of our discussions but this is basically a scar in the Earth's crust from the migrating Yellowstone caldera from a long time ago.

We climbed into a small cindercone, and were surprised, in the 90 degree heat, to find snow in the base. I think it was snow?

Bit windy up here, but a nice view...not beautiful, exactly, but interesting.

The patterns in the stone were fantastic, and if we had more time, we would've spend more time here.

This place is vast...we drove for miles and miles through black lava fields after leaving.

A bit more before we left. We meant to go to the caves, but didn't want to spend the extra time as it was late in the day and still had to get to Twin Falls.

Tomorrow we head across Nevada towards Yosemite...odds are, another internet blackout pending, likely.

Day Eight: Yosemite. Sort of.

Started this day VERY early in the morning. I woke up at 4:50 Mountain time, and quietly got ready and drove next door to a Winco Foods grocery, which may have been a mistake for my small amount of food items needed (the place is huge and confusing, but cheap). Back to the hotel to pack, and then eat breakfast with the family. Then we drove across town to Shoshone Falls Park, for which Twin Falls is assumedly named. There was a $3 vehicle fee posted but no one to collect it at 6am, so BONUS.

It was more impressive than we expected, but everything is bigger out here.

Peter kept asking about the gold at the bottom of the rainbow. Thanks General Mills for that indoctrination.

Then across a bit of Idaho and into northern Nevada, also known as "Propoganda for the Yucca Mountain Nuclear Waste Depository Project". It's pretty sparse. However, we did spot this exist, "Deeth Starr Valley" which prompted an idea for a Rogue One alternate plotline.

"Admiral Preet, where have you proposed hiding the battlestation plans?"

"Lord Vader, there is a desert planet in the spiral end of the galaxy with an uninhabited region. It has convenient highway access, but we've cleverly hidden it from rebel spies with the most cunning trick, the rebels' greatest cryptologic minds will never uncover it!"

We stopped at a few places like this out of necessity...this was an old school type saloon/restaurant/store. Barmaid just told me to tell me how much I pumped and I paid in cash, via honor system. I imagine if I said...ohhhh just five bucks worth she might have been more suspicious.

After a day of driving we hit Mono Lake in the late afternoon on the east side of the Sierras.

Mushroom shaped tufa formed when the lake was at a higher level.

Mule deer grazing in the distance. I imagine they get plenty of minerals here...

It's both pretty and harsh here. Gretchen saw an osprey nest thanks to a nice German volunteer naturalist named Urs who lent his binoculars. Too bad his name wasn't Lars instead of Urs, (Binocu-Lars).

This panoramic annoys me greatly. It's a pretty enough area, true. But LITERALLY around the corner was a vastly more beautiful area with snow-covered peaks, green forested islands in an alpine lake, and generally...just prettier, but I'd already just used up my "stop the car / forward progress to take pictures" grace moments ago and it has to recharge a bit before I can stop again.

Deer in abundance up in the meadows (not in this pic anyway). Tuolemne I think is the region.

At first we were laughingly deriding the Californians for all their smog, but the woody tang eventually convinced us...smoke. There was a wildfire raging somewhere. Still pretty, but muted.

Sun was blood red as it tried to break through the smoke.

We got to the extremely packed and slightly frenetic Yosemite Valley in the evening, 6 or 7 or so. Very smokey here.

I got in line to check in, everyone else in the car waiting, and while waiting in the long line I kept hearing the same thing..."evacuation location", "no power", "cold water only"... When I got up there, yeah, the fire down towards Merced had consumed the power lines. The rooms were without power (registration was on generator power) and they offered a refund (this is not a cheap place) or you could still check in. I headed out to see what Debra preferred.

Meanwhile Debra was watching ash fall slowly like snow on the car windshield and her Fight or Flight Instinct was rising. As we lacked proper firefighting equipment, Fight was excluded as an option and she advocated strongly we self-evacuate, so we got refunded. The registration clerk seemed sure they would be evacuated officially within a day or two after we cancelled, so it felt like a better option than getting roused at 2am for a panicked flight down the mountain. At that point Debra volunteered to drive and I let her, after a long, long day of driving. She was all action at this point, completely wired to escape the inferno (tongue slightly in cheek).

I made a sad attempt to capture this out the window at speed, but Yosemite Falls, I think!

And yeah...this is mostly what we dealt with for an hour. Probably 2 miles per hour, literally. Nice view of El Capitan?

The haze sure didn't make for great optics, so probably for the best we left.

This chap was separated from a large pack across the (traffic-jammed) street, but I'm sure he made it across at some point. Maybe over somebody's hood...

Eventually the jam cleared and we made our way down the mountain. The first town with proper hotels was completely booked solid. We got a room in south Fresno and landed there just after 11PM.

Now it looks like we'll be headed to San Simeon a bit early! A nice trade-off.

Day Nine: San Simeon

It's been a relatively relaxing day. We woke up in a proper hotel in Fresno, a city whose praises I shall not particularly loudly sing other than the fact that I appreciate she is not in a present state of conflagration, and breakfasted lazily at the unseemly hour of 8AM. It seemed a bit warmish out and I checked my weather app, which was still set for home...ha! 91a but feels like 107...

We hit the road after 10 or so, and we weren't in for all 9 rounds of hitting said road, but just a couple hours or so to head toward the coast. We ate lunch in Paso Robles at El Pollo Loco. I've discussed previously how my loyalty to In-N-Out remains mostly a formal one (honestly, give me the right tools and ingredients and I and my family prefer my burgers, but it at least beats the low end fast food joints at a reasonable price), but El Pollo Loco remains an enigma that I cannot quite crack in terms of home preparation. Something in the marinade, or the commercial gas grills, I don't know. But I remain a humble fan who cannot properly imitate, yet. From there a short drive took us into Cambria and our destination, the San Simeon Pines hotel (which has been rebranded by its new owners as something-or-other). The local Marines must've been busy because we had several Osprey overflights, this being the only one I captured with any clarity on camera (one while we were in the pool was so low I could see the rear deck down).

Pete naturally gravitated to the croquet court, with its fake grass a new addition (but a reasonable one, it was starting to become more a Mad Max desert themed croquet court in recent years). Wickets are missing and still unaccounted for but he's fine with that.

The new owners revamped the place extensively in a way that I might harrumph and say, but it didn't need nothing changed, but Debra is a fan and I trust her to be a more unbiased judge in this matter. Bearing in mind that in years past I've had to fall into apologist mode for this place for infestations of mice, ants, and mold (each a different year), a slightly posher tone might make that job easier, so, fine...

While the kids were still scurrying about with the various field games, I obtained leave to heed the call of the sea. Across the street, and as I walked down, this delightful chap stared at me and the small dog of the owner walking ahead of me.

Gulls and vultures were out in force today. The wind was strong enough they could hold their wings erect, not flapping, and almost hover in place.

One of the gulls eventually forced to take flight by a passing tourist violating his personal space (they tend to let you in very close, but 3-4 feet may push them too far).

If Glacier is a bit of a "yin" for me, this place is my "yang".

Shoes got a bit wet, but worth it.

Saw someone jogging on the path and took that as permission so I jogged back to the hotel. Pete and Gretchen were into shuffleboard, albeit ignorant that the object was to push their pucks (or whatever they are called) into the target on the other side of the court...they were exceedingly pleased to target their own side, just a few feet away. I didn't bother to break up this harmonious proceeding with the truth.

Then to horseshoes! Neither is exceptionally naturally gifted (nor am I) but after Gretchen scored a ringer I worked with Peter. An offhand suggestion to raise the horseshoe to aim, lower it, and then throw became this formula he recited everytime dogmatically. The boy will be amazingly coachable, I think. He eventually got a double ringer (don't bother correcting me, honestly I know nothing about horseshoes, so it might be called a "century" or a "spigaloon" or whatever, I just gather you have to chuck it so it lands round the post) and he was very proud.

Then across the street again, but with the family. Gretchen loved the colony of gulls. We went down and clambered on the rocks, as usual, although I didn't take any more pictures (hand tightly gripping that of a little one).

Back across the street for a nice dip in the slightly-heated pool (reasonably if you stayed underwater but the windy 59 degree weather above the surface was a bit bracing), dinner of sandwiches and salads that I sliced up, and the kids playing foosball and other things in the hospitality room. I need to finish this and my dinner so I can go join them. Tomorrow, another day here (the originally planned day). I'm just pleased there'll be no more driving for one day.

Day Ten: San Simeon

Last night we went back across the street to see the sunset (we were late).

They have these little gas firepits there now...nice place to unwind.

Up early and then a run in the 50 degree temperatures across the street by the ocean.

Rabbits were especially thick in the early morning.

Then we ate breakfast, and piled into the car to go 10mi north and see the elephant seals. They aren't the most beautiful creatures imaginable.

At this point we are downwind, and let's say, subtlety of aroma is obviously not their target. They are boldly scented to be sure.

Groups of them fought out in the surf.

After lunch we went to the park up the road, which has a ridiculously scenic playground. Kids had fun.

I felt the call of the sea. The water here is frigid and the air temps quite brisk, but I was determined.

The area was marked as unsafe with rip currents and various things that make swimming less advisable so I only went in at shallow depths and only for a couple minutes.

Then to dry off and warm up, I laid in the sun. The sand here is interesting, and coarser.

Peter and Gretchen building in the sand. Peter coveted the wetter sands for their superior crafting quality, but he was not trusted to go as far out towards the surf as Gretchen, so she became the wet sand merchant. Here he is awaiting the next shipment with some impatience.

Then we went to the "subtly heated" swimming pool to freeze ourselves out a bit.

Afterwards Debra had a bit of migraine start up so we took it easy with a nap for her and cartoons for the kids. Eventually though we ate dinner and the kids played outside while we basked in front of natural gas aflame.

Then once again across the street...there was a group of pelicans fishing. It was fun to watch them soaring, and then abruptly dive at a 90 degree angle straight down into the water, hopefully to catch a fish.

Peter got a bit cold and was ready to head back but our little junior naturalist will take all she can get of this place.

High tide coming in.

I lingered a bit longer there, and had to jog to catch up.

Then to everyone's favorite, foosball.

Following that, hot chocolate by the artificial fires.

One more time across the street to see the amazingly rapid sunset at the appropriate time.

After the sun set, the kids and I jogged along the trail, scared a bunny or two.

Now to bed, and tomorrow towards Los Angeles, stopping in Solvang.

Day Eleven: Solvang and Diamond Bar

Last day at the ocean...up early (ish) for breakfast and then once more across the street to say goodbye to the Pacific.

We drove south and stopped at Solvang for lunch and some mercifully brief shopping. The Copenhagen Sausage Garden had a broad variety of excellent sausages (we sampled the currywurst, Italian, and beef frank...would've been more adventurous but, kids...).

Mortensen's Danish Bakery for a couple cookies for dessert.

Then off to get back on the road.

We were going to hit the Santa Barbara Zoo, but LA traffic estimates meant that would be pushing it too much so we bypassed that and headed into the fray. We eventually got to Diamond Bar, where we spent the night with my aunt and uncle (and had dinner with my other uncle, my two cousins and their families, and, whaddaya know, my brother and his family who by an odd coincidence was in LA on vacation at the same time!). Gretchen has "claimed" one of their spare bedrooms as her own.

A lovely evening and we are grateful for their as-always wonderful hospitality.

Day Twelve: USS Iowa

We stayed up nice and late, admittedly, so we slept in a bit. We had a family breakfast with a subset of last night's attendees, which was nice (also happened to be my uncle's birthday). He is a conductor so we smuggled a Mollard cocobolo baton across country as a gift, but that morning Debra looked at me and said...hey wait, he mostly conducts choirs doesn't he??? And we both laughed a bit, but he sometimes does use a baton. At least this way he has something to hurl punitively at out of tune brass sections.

Then through more traffic (you can tell, I love LA traffic) that wasn't actually THAT bad to get down to San Pedro, to visit for the third time this lovely lady.

74 years from its commissioning, 75 years from its launching. Fully in retirement now but a great museum ship. BB-61, the USS Iowa.

Main guns up on the bow.

Pete next to a 16" projectile for scale.

The 5" mounts are quite large and comprised the primary secondary armament (at least until it was modernised with Harpoons, Tomahawks, and CIWS).

The equivalent of the CIC I think. Near the bridge and restricted to visitors.

"Dammit kids, I said close the door, you're letting out all the cold air!" (said the father before installing watertight bulkhead doors in his house.)

Inside the armoured bridge. Basically there to take a licking on the superstructure from an IJN battleship salvo or dive bomber and maintain operations.

Radar mast was rotating, with stern warnings on not getting near while under operation (there are radiological hazards). Obviously they've installed a motor or switched just the motor on for cosmetic / demonstration purposes.

CIWS, also known as R2-D2. Puts up a radar-aimed hail of 20mm cannon fire towards incoming missiles or aircraft.

Open top of the bridge, towards the bow.

We moved aft where there was an "AFT TOMAHAWK LAUNCHER" which Debra interpreted as "A.F.T." at first. To be fair, the military folks do love their acronyms. Here's the inside of one of the box launchers.

The Harpoon launchers were fixed...sample Harpoon on display here.


Quarters of the Command Master Chief Petty Officer...highest ranking enlisted man on the ship.

Bakery. Bet it was hot here.

Sound powered telephones! Fascinating...would love to play around with these, old technology and designed to operate even with power outages.

The "internals" of a quick-acting watertight bulkhead door. Automatically closing dogs to quickly seal a compartment in damage control systems. We were on the enlisted mess deck at this point.

Pete always loves the model ships.

Back topside after we bought a couple things at the ship's store.

Then...a misty-eyed "so long" as we exited the ship.

Seaman Apprentice Neufeld is out like a light.

A reasonably quick drive has us up in Anaheim, across the street from The Mouse's Cashtrap.

This is where I note that everyone in southern California had been telling us how hot it was going to be on Sunday, and we are enduring a dry low 80s with a high tomorrow of 84 degrees (with cool mornings and evenings). 76 degrees right now with a light breeze. Meanwhile back in Missouri:

Debra went looking for Disney themed wear. She mercifully declined to deck us all out in costly Mouseware (Gretchen and I were less keen) but Peter was super happy to get a Mickey shirt for tomorrow. Debra was annoyed to find the classic Mickey T-shirts weren't really available in the women's section (seemed to all be Minnie themed I gather), so she demurred to pay the hefty fee for one.

Peter had some of his own money (given by generous relatives) burning a hole in his pocket and we stopped in a Star Wars shop in Downtown Disney. Seemed to be one of those places where you don't have price tags on anything, so we exited. The surreal part for me was walking in and hearing Fake Plastic Trees from Radiohead's The Bends on the PA. But...we are old.

LEGO store...Darth Lego glowering from above. Peter picked out a tiny set with the stipulation that HE CANNOT OPEN IT UNTIL WE GET HOME THIS IS NON-NEGOTIABLE

The Disneyland Hotel Frontierland Tower has a train set version of Big Thunder Mountain that Debra wanted to go visit. I looked wistfully over at Trader Sam's, the kitschy tiki bar and restaurant, but we decided to save money and give it a miss...Saturday evening, anyway, we had missed the window for appropriately bringing kids in, probably.

Quaint little pavilion. Odds are, marriages happen here? Debra says that yeah, that's what its used for but it is super expensive. I like the idea of a "guerilla wedding". It's a semi-public place. Sneak in with disguised formalware, rush into this area, perform a fast standing wedding, and boom, save the who-knows-how-many-thousand dollars renting this joint requires.

We walked back and everyone is hungry. I leave the kids and wife at the hotel and start hiking north to the favorite pizza place. Then...you guys, seriously...

OK, it's fairly close still, so I went back south past the hotel and got a pizza and cheese bread and brought back to the hotel. Debra wanted to eat upstairs in the breakfast area to avoid getting crud all over the hotel room. Matterhorn in the background. Well, a facsimile of the Matterhorn, I should point out we are not in Switzerland.

And tomorrow we do Disneyland. Already bought the tickets (a compulsion after one time buying the tickets early, we were offered tickets into the park that evening for free) so "the damage is done", financially speaking. Then, fireworks viewable upstairs.

Day Thirteen: Disneyland

Up early, breakfast at hotel, and then over to wait in a series of lines for various "rope drop" type things. There was an interesting man there who was there by himself, wearing a kids R2-D2 beanie, and was singing passionately, at volume, the accurate lyrics of the background Disney music. There was a certain enthusiasm to it that prompted what the Germans call fremdschämen, where one can experience vicariously embarassment on behalf of someone who does not or cannot feel it themselves. But then, my kids get a big dose of that with me around...

At the second actual rope drop, Gretchen was amused by a goldfinch and this duck and duckling.

We were near the front of the massive throng so when the countdown started we felt a bit like Simba when the wildebeest stampeded in the canyon. A few hours of walking around at Disneyland is good at disabusing you of a warm-hearted faith in humanity. Anyway, we avoided the stampede by sticking close to the sides and moving at a quick pace, and ended up with a short line wait at Peter Pan.

From there, basically a walk-on to Mister Toad's Wild Ride. A morally complex ride to be sure, but fun for the kids...

Then over onto Dumbo.

We were making great time. Carousel next:

Sword refused to yield. What beats me is that no one has tried using a proper lever to prise this thing out.

Then we hit the tea cups, absent Debra who is not a fan of the whole centripedal force combined with projectile vomit thing.

Then over to our kids' favorite coaster, Gadgets Go Coaster in Toon Town which is basically like a roller coaster with training wheels. Nice balance for their age.

Costly churros in Fantasyland are requisite apparently. Peter Pan and Captain Hook having some sort of silly battle in the background. I wanted to go full Dwight Schrute and tell them the flaws in their swordplay.

We then did Big Thunder Mountain, bit more advanced from the other coaster. Peter loved it, Gretchen...tolerated it anyway.

Then we did Haunted Mansion...Peter not huge fan. Pretty scary still. After that, short line at Pirates, which I will complain about every year we go, simply for the fact that Johnny Depp has no place on that bleedin' ride...still, fun.

Then onto the Jungle Cruise in Adventureland. Took me a second to realize who this guy was, honestly. Will regrow the face hedge...

Dole whip float and the Tiki Room.

Debra did some shopping on Main Street while we hung out in this spot just for the shade and lack of a bunch of people.

The triple-wide strollers with clueless operators making no effort to avoid blocking passages...the electric fat-cart operator who nearly mowed down Pete while at speed...the seemingly 12-year-old children being pushed around in strollers...yes, I was ready to go have an introvert recharge, and the kids were tired, so we went to get pizza for lunch and relax at our hotel. We'll head back over after a nap and/or swim.

OK, we all had a decent bit of shut-eye (some of us had TWO naps) and a brief swim that we cut short after other revelers displayed a dismaying carelessness towards pool safety (have we mentioned we don't love to observe avoidable tragedies...see Yellowstone). Then back over into the breach, once more. We picked up a FastPass for Star Tours which was a tactical error...they were very late, and we didn't even end up using them, but we waited until it was essentially the same as if we had...but no matter. Star Wars Launch Bay...didn't stay here long. Some Rogue One stuff.

Pete vetoed the Meet Darth Vader line and Chewie was on a smoke break. This was an odd little corner of the place...AND I THOUGHT DISNEYLAND WAS A DRY PARK

Then onto a longish line for Autopia, full of screaming, defecating infants for some reason. We got through the line eventually and were amused/annoyed by this family that came up to us as we were boarding our cars insisting we were in their car (we had been waiting in the ready spot already, directed by staff). I was tempted to explain how we react to carjackers in Missouri. Anyway, Pete drove quite well, I was thinking I'd have to assist his steering, but no.

This is where we experienced the California Adventure offshoot of Autopia, Traffic-Jam-Land.

Then over to Astro Orbiters which is essentially Dumbo for Tomorrowland.

We then did Buzz Lightyear, which the kids love, and then went to ride the monorail to burn some time towards our ill-fated Star Tours FastPass. While in line we saw the subs, but the line was too long to bother with.

Once back, with still some time to burn, we realized the time to Star Tours on standby was about the same as what was left for the FastPass, so me and Pete jumped inline. It was longer than usual for us but we got through it eventually, and the line is interesting at least (I caught Peter shyly waving to C-3PO as we got closer in line).

Debra and Gretchen went and got pretzels meanwhile, and afterward we staked out a location for fireworks between Small World and the Matterhorn. I am told it is not the ideal location for viewing but its pretty good and offers a nice balance of view, and an absence of the choking throng that you might experience on Main Street.

Another go round on the tea cups...

A late night jaunt on Casey Junior's which was closed when we were there this morning.

And then the Main Street Electrical Parade, which is an odd sort of thing that Debra remembers from her youth. Dated, in a lovely sort of way I suppose. Peter was unabashed about waving to Mickey.

Definitely a very early 80s sort of thing (Pete's Dragon? I think we had that on Betamax). The only downsides were 1.) waiting a half hour or so for it to begin within earshot of the It's a Small World music loop and 2.) Gretchen falling and hurting herself (she's feeling better).

Then a very late walk out of the park, with basically instant lights out at the hotel.

Flagstaff tomorrow.

Day Fourteen: Flagstaff

So, if brevity is the soul of wit, and sleep deprivation is the soul of brevity...well, I'm not sure the transitive property applies here...but I shall be brief. We're all a bit tired. Traffic wasn't too bad getting out of LA, thankfully. At 2:30PM we rolled into Kingman Arizona for a late lunch and our only run to In-N-Out this trip. More out of deference than anything else, but it was good.

Everyone is veg'ing out (how do you turn that into a verb?) at the hotel room. It's a quaint place, going for a vintage motel vibe. Been here a couple times before.

Bit too tired for a pool trip, but I took a walk, the grounds here are pretty.

Tomorrow is a journey across the Southwest, parking our (probably tired) selves in Tucumcari.

Day Fifteen: Southwest

We fled from our hotel by passing luggage out the window (had the appearance of us fleeing to avoid payment, I suppose, but was purely practical in nature). Just a bit out of Flagstaff and we reached the Petrified Forest National Park and the Painted Desert.

Kids were interested in the process of petrification and how it occurred. My proposal of "the White Witch of Narnia" was not considered credible.

Crystal Forest I think, we've been here twice before at least.

Weather was lovely, but we didn't hike long due to time requirements.

Pretty stuff.

Gretchen wondered how a passing butterfly could survive here...until we eventually spotted some yellow desert flowers.

These are known as "The Teepees" despite their lack of clear resemblance to toilet paper rolls.

West side of the Painted Desert area.

More to the east, Pete hopped out with me to take a couple pics. He asked about the shadows on the valley below, and what made them...I asked him, what's above the shadows? He was amazed as he realized the clouds were casting shadows.

Quite an expansive view here.

By the AZ/NM border, lots of touristy joints to buy stuff but we barrelled on through.

Blake's Lotaburger. Been here once before. I am a fan, and plan to roast a bunch of hatch chilies when I get back so that I can freeze and keep some green chile on hand for burgers.

Then through New Mexico, past Santa Rosa's Big Blue Hole (maybe another time...), and into Tucumcari. We caught the last hour of operation at Mesalands Dinosaur Museum.

Been here a bunch, admittedly!

Kids still love this. I think we've come three times so far.

Pete busy shovelling walnut shells. He dug up every single hidden bone I think. He was equally excited to put his shoulder to the work when I told him he needed to rebury them for the next folks.

Gretchen playing with the "augmented reality" simulation of landscapes and water cycles...a neat little exhibit that you shaped the sand, which it then projected the topography onto the sand as well as where the water flowed.

Closing time, gotta get a move on...

Now at an old Route 66 motel (Motel Safari) that has been moderately upgraded and was nicely inexpensive. Tomorrow, we aim to get home.

Day Sixteen: New Mexihomatexakanssouri

Pleasant night stay in a classic and inexpensive old motel...bit of a gamble that paid off. We roused ourselves early and hit the road for what was likely our longest driving day of the trip, at least by the plan (Idaho through Yosemite, then out to Fresno probably beat it).

Requisite stop along highway 54...the Mid-America Air Museum in Liberal, Kansas. Was known as Liberal Air Museum in my youth, but ostensibly folks worried non-locals might assume it was full of Piper Cubs decked out in hippie tie-dye paint jobs, etc.

As did I before them...the kids love the sit-in Cobra fuselage.

Honestly, it was hard to roust them from it. They escaped from my informative lectures on a couple occasions and wound up back here.

I called this a Loach, and was mildly abashed when I saw it was an OH-6 Cayuse, but felt better after realizing that the Loach was the popular name for the same aircraft. Note children still clinging to the Cobra.

B-25 configured as a gunship.

F-4U...Pete knows this as "the Skipper" from the Planes movie. I always liked the Corsair's looks, compared to its plainer looking naval contemporaries (Grumman Wildcat/Hellcat).

The surprisingly-big-in-person TBF Avenger. You see single engine planes in pictures and assume they are all roughly the same size, but its a big fellow to be sure.

An experimental X-28A Osprey, I think...the only one still in existence according to the sign. Gretchen said she found that sad, but I told her, at least this one still exists.

Drawing a blank...Marine Corps aircraft of some kind, with twin boom arrangement like a P-38, somewhat.

RIIIIDE INTOOOOOOO....THE DANGER ZOOOONE. The Tomcat was in the refurb area, big and heavy looking as always.

C-45 variant I think, if memory serves. We were in a hurry to get home so forgive the lack of proper detail, but this one has a sharp nosecone unlike the usual C-45s I think, not sure why the difference. Radar perhaps or just a later redesign?

Debra tried to set fire to the place by pushing a button on a display and igniting the hot air balloon burner. It worked anyway!

Pete liked the models, and shows promise to have that interest in the future.

Then a quick lunch and we're on our way again...across the long, seemingly interminable slog through Kansas. That said, the Flint Hills covered in properly green finery were a welcome sight.

Just shy of 5500 miles later we are home, and pretty glad of it too. Has been a lot of fun, but the sort of fun that makes you happy and certainly not bitter to return to the normalcy of everyday life and routine.

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