20-Sep Cross Country Trip

About June or July 2020

I'm writing this over a year after starting this trip, but figured this blog needed some type of introduction.  Maybe it doesn't.   In any case., looking back....

It was probably June when I was sitting on the couch at home.  Molly was on the other couch.  We had been in semi-lockdown for several months, not really knowing how bad Covid would be, but not taking unavoidable chances (e.g. wiping down our groceries and fresh fruit!! - looking back.....).   In any case, I knew Molly had to get back to LA to resume her UCLA education.  I was retired.  I had time.  Molly was pretty much chill-axing, not working and had time.  I suggested we drive rather than fly to California to get her back at school.   Part of me expected an immediate rejection, which happens  sometimes when I propose things like this.  But my suggestion was not rejected out of hand.  Molly doesn't react like that anyway, but when Ad (my wife) heard of the idea, she didn't sound negative either.  So, I guess the seed was planted.  From there, a few days later, we were looking at Yellowstone lodging.   That meant that this might be real.  We went back and forth for a few days on dates, routes, lodging, class schedules, apartment move in timing and then Ad started booking rooms. It was real.  It was happening.  The planning began.    The rest is below.

August 24

Getting things ready for departure on September 8th.  The day by day agenda for the way out is set:  Cleveland, Rochester Minnesota, Badlands, Yellowstone, Grand Teton (drive through), Salt Lake City and LA.  The way back is in flux, but Bolsa Chica, Bosque Del Apache and Bear River in Utah are set.  After that we'll see.

There's a lot to bring.  Molly's clothes, apartment needs etc;  my camera equipment (lots); camping equipment and clothes for a range or weather on the way back, from the desert to the mountains.  Molly's excited, as you might expect, having been stuck at Kimball Road for the last 6 months.  She's handled it well, but she clearly wants a change in scenery. 

Here's the map of the planned route east to west.

East to West Route

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September 7 - Day Before Launch

It's the day before departure for the cross country trip.  Everything is pretty much packed and things seem to fit well.  It's clearly turned to fall with darkness well set in before eight.  That bodes well for the trip - cooler days and cold nights is preferable.  But then again,  LA is in the midst of a wicked heat wave.  We are prepared for both extremes.

We dropped James off on Saturday at UVA.   The drive down went well and the Sirius XM helped pass the time more quickly.  Poor James had to endure The Bridge for 10 hours, I"m sure making him even more eager to live away from home.  He's settled in well, better than we expected and that's a comforting feeling.

As these trips go, you start to realize and feel the absence of your family right before departure.  Up until now all of the planning details occupy your mind, but now that all the necessary items and tasks are in place and completed, you have time to think.  I'm missing James, but happy for him as he begins a new chapter in his life.  I'll be with Molly for two more weeks for the trip, so those feelings will come later.  And I'll miss Ad and Ellie - both at home at Kimball road.   I'm leaving them.  Not a big operational gap for them. but not seeing them for a month will wear on me.   When I took business trips to Asia that took me away from home for two weeks, I really felt it and generally tried to avoid any more than a week  away. This will be a month away so a real test.  We'll see how it goes.

It's a big seasonal change for us as a family.  Since March we've all been together and in close quarters. We all had our own routines and a common evening Netflix ritual.  That was nice and unusual but also special.  It's something that would not have happened without Covid.   But now, I think we're looking for change and something new.  Ellie back with her friends, part time at school.  James in his solo dorm room at UVA  (his to be roommate backed out) and Molly living off campus , in her own apartment at the edge of Westwood, with a new roommate. I get my cross country excursion.  Ad keeps us connected and operational, but she deserves something more.  She sacrifices so much for us. 

So, off to Cleveland.  I hope to stay faithful to this blog.   Let's see.

Boston to Cleveland

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September 8

640 miles today

Molly and I made it off ok, leaving Arlington at 8 am and arriving in Cleveland at 6 pm.  No issues with the ride.  It was smooth and steady all the way.  It was nice to see new things past the usual exit at route 84 in Charlton.  Different but not necessarily incredibly interesting, but different is still good.  Molly drove part of the way which was helpful.  She's a careful driver, like her mother, which puts  me at ease in the passenger's seat. 

After making it to the Doubletree Lakeside, we headed to New Beast (?) brewery for dinner.  It was good. Good food and drink and we played bar trivia.  We managed ok - finishing third from last - which with just two of us at the table was not a bad result. (the mascot question got us)

Now off to Rochester tomorrow.  Another 10 hour drive and if it's like today, should be no problem.

Cleveland to Rochester

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September 9

690 miles today / 1330 miles total

It was a good but long day .   There were no issues getting out of Cleveland.  A takeout breakfast thanks to Diamond coupons and we were off.   I-90 again.   We made it though Ohio.  Then Indiana.  Then Wisconsin and now in Rochester.   The landscape was mostly farmland which is somewhat interesting, but not huge.  We started to see some more interesting landscape, i.e. hills, in western Wisconsin and into Minnesota.   Rain started about mid-day. It was not heavy, but constant.  We encountered our first traffic through Chicago, as expected.  The driving was bit tricky as every highway in Chicago was under construction but we made it ok.   

Throughout the almost 700 miles it became clear that some states are better at marking off "Services" along the highway than others.  This is an important difference, since those with small bladders  (i.e. me!) search for the blue service signs and gauge biological needs against rest stop distances.   

Trump signs were not uncommon, but not frequent.  There were no Biden signs that we saw,  in what was mostly farm country.   Let's hope the polls are more accurate this time around.  Molly was a big help again today.  She took over for two hours and that respite is enough for me to get refreshed.  It will be more of a challenge without her.

Rochester seems nice.  A decent downtown, but we're located on the outer limit at the cheaper Hampton Inn.  Chipotle to go with Sierra Nevada and back to the room.  The line at the Chick-Fil-A was huge.  At least 20 cars if not more.   Covid has helped them. 

Up early for the Badlands tomorrow.  Looking forward to it.

Rochester to Badlands

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 September 10

500 miles today

I’m writing from Frontier Cabins in Wall SD. The day started fine, departing Rochester early.
The Hampton Inn in Rochester Minnesota was crowded. We think there was a tour group at the hotel and a bunch of construction workers. Masks were prevalent though, so that was good. The weather continued cold and rainy, colder than we have thought it would be. That was fine. The drive was long through western Minnesota. The landscape was similar to what we had seen in Ohio and Wisconsin - relatively flat farmland with lots of cornfields. It was pleasant, but not exciting.

Once we hit SD, things did get more interesting. In SD, the hills start rolling more and there seems to be more Americana feel, judging by the billboards. At least 50 billboards for Wall Drug. The weather broke mid day and the sun was a welcome change. Mollly drove for a couple of hours and that was a nice rest for me. SD is different. While all the farmland in the other states highlighted Trump as their choice, it seemed a bit more here. Masks were much less prevalent.  Clearly a red state.

We made it to Badlands mid-afternoon. The rock formations were spectacular and  learning how they were formed very interesting. We did a few short hikes - all somewhat similar. It reminded us of Bryce but a different hue and texture. We got some good landscape shots at the various outlooks along our drive. We hag a great surprise when we saw some big horn sheep right around the golden hour on our way to a sunset shot. The light was great and got some good shots of some sheep and some prairie dogs and one type of bird. A great find.

We stopped at the Pinnacles outlook for our sunset shot. After a short trek down we found a spot, set up the tripod and waited for sunset. It was a relative bust since the cloud cover was too thick at the horizon to get a good blast of light against the rock formations. That’s ok. It was a peaceful time anyway.

The drive to Wall and here at the Cabins was short. We unloaded at the cabin (contact free) and headed into Wall, expecting a decent dose of civilization, but were surprised. It was dark and a bit scary. Only 800 people live here. I had thought with Wall Drug here it would be larger, but it wasn’t. We did find a good and basic restaurant (ate inside!) which was better than I expected. On the way out, more Trump!!

On to Gardiner tomorrow!!


Badlands to Gardiner

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September 11

600 miles today

19th anniversary of 9/11

We made it to Gardiner. 

We started the day early, leaving Frontier Cabins in SD at about 7:30, skipping breakfast until later.  There were not too many options anyway (Wall SD not the place to be!).  As we reentered the Badlands National Park, signs looked good as we saw bison right next to the entry gate.  The plan was to take a back road, the Sage Creek Rim road, and complete the full path through the park, seeing more grasslands on this final 15 or so miles.  It turned out great. 

We immediately came upon Bison in their early morning grazing routine (or scratching routine) and several were very close to the road, so got some good shots.    We continued into Prairie Dog Town - a grass field with dozens of Prairie holes (or caves?).   I think we woke them up.  Soon we had a few popping up, making  noises, digging and doing their Prairie Dog thing. Some good shots.  Molly ventured out into the field to get close to one of them - he did not seem to mind her too much.
Continuing on the dirt road, more grasslands and several birds!!    We got some decent shots of Meadowlarks, Grouse and saw some different types of hawks.    It was a good and unexpected take.   The road continued for 20 miles until we got to hard pavement then worked our way back to  I-90  (tired of this road).

500 miles through Wyoming and Montana was somewhat interesting.  Wyoming felt less Trump like than SD, and Montana was less than Wyoming.  The landscape as we finished Wyoming and into Montana got more mountainous and interesting.   It was a long drive through.  I'm glad we've got a bit of respite from long driving days until next week.

We're at the Yellowstone Village Inn. It seems fine.  Gardiner is a mecca of hotels like this one and some good authentic restaurants, but not designed for take out!.  We ended up getting  take out from a food truck and it was delicious!.  Back at the hotel, we're prepped for our first day at Yellowstone tomorrow.   We'll get an early start, so bed soon, after the Celtics win - they better!!

Yellowstone Lamar Valley

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September 12

Day one at Yellowstone

Driving about 100 miles or so

It was a good and full day.  We got out the earliest yet, on the road before 6:30am.  We wanted to get to Lamar Valley during early light.  Less traffic.  Better light and possibly more animals.   Entry to the park was no problem and traffic was minimal.  The park itself is grand and very well organized and maintained.   You experience the Rocky mountains, rolling hills, grasslands, rivers and other interesting rock formations.   It's no wonder this was designated a national park so early (1872 - the first one). 

We ended up with a full set of great shots.    Bison galore,  but the trick is to get a photo that is different, and I think we got a few that will make it on to a chatgeo card.   The big deal, bigger than we realized, was seeing wolves.   The crowds that form at a wolf sighting are large and people will camp out and wait for a long time to get a glimpse, which from what we could tell is a pretty far away view.  Wolves were eliminated from Yellowstone when it was open season on predators during the early years.    In 1995 they were reintroduced and I  think now there are about 75 or so.  We had two sightings - one really far away (black dots) and a second where you could see them more clearly (with binoculars).  I wasn't fast enough with the camera to get a shot, but did see them.
While we were in the field watching for the wolves,  alongside several others with lenses and binoculars,  a herd of bison started coming towards us and got pretty close.  Molly got some good video. 

We continued along that Lamar valley road, all the way to the northeast entrance and went through Silvergate (tiny) and Cooke City (quaint).  We had a nice lunch there then headed back along the same road to Mammoth Springs.
Mammoth Springs was not what I had hoped.  It was overrun with tourists and cars, and boardwalks, which are clearly necessary due to the danger, but they clouded the natural views.   Our goal was to get  a sunset shot of the hot springs with the afternoon light,   It was 3:30 when we got there and sunset was at 7:30.  We walked  a bit, drove a bit, scoped the scene, then headed back to the visitor center and snoozed in the car for a bit.  At 5 we drove back up, walked down, took some shots with lower light, but not sunset level and left.  We decided that two more hours at the hotel and rest were the better option.  Food truck dinner again (really good).
Up early again for Old Faithful.   Overall,  a great start to Yellowstone.

  • Yellowstone
  • Bison checking us out
  • Another mountain view
  • Elk

Lamar Valley

  • Pronghorn Sheep

    Driving back after Bison-palooza, we saw these guys in the distance..similar to ones we saw coming out of Badlands

  • Mammoth Hot Spring

    After Lamar, we were heading west and stopped at Mammoth springs. We snoozed for a bit then dove into the tourist trap scene of Mammoth springs. It was a "ok" - here's the thermal pool - there were others but did not get good shots.

Geysers and Lake Village

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September 13

About 100 miles inside the park.

Today was thermal day.

We got up early, and out the door at about 6:30am – checked out of the Yellowstone Village Inn. We liked this place. The room was clean, ESPN on the TV and very nice staff. (People are nicer out here in general). The goal was to get to Old Faithful early to beat the crowds and maybe get a some good sunrise light. We accomplished the former.

The 50 mile-ish ride from Mammoth to OF (the cool way to say Old Faithful) was nice. You could see some differences in landscape, but the big difference was seeing the steam come off the water, which could have nothing to do with the magma, but it looked neat. Holding the beauty of the scene back was a cloudy early morning so the light did not hit the water strongly. But as we progressed further south – Norris, Madison etc. – the thermal effects started to become apparent – clouds of steam coming not just from the water, but from the earth too. A side note here on this effect.

Not to be Mr. Science, but this may help later. Yellowstone is one big volcano, last erupted a long time ago. Not too far underneath  the surface (like 3 miles, which apparently is not that deep) is magma, which heats up the water that flows down through crevices (rain, snow melt). This does a bunch of things – creates geysers (water and steam shoot up), hot springs (colorful pools of boiling water), furmholes (don’t know) and mud pots (bubbling mud). They differ in how much water, the channels that are beneath the surface etc. OK.

With that, as you drive through lower basin, middle basin and especially upper basin you see many of these type of thermal formations. As we drove south, there were several instances where the steam was rising against the tree lined hills and the light was getting stronger as the clouds dissipated. We were tempted to stop and wait for a good sunrise shot, but kept the eye on getting to OF, with only the compulsory bladder stops.

We got to OF about 8:30 and the parking lot was not bad – only one third or less full. It’s a big complex as you might have guessed – restaurants, visitor center etc. – all closed for Covid. There are benches in front of OF to seat the crowd as they (we) wait for the geyser to blow. For some it’s an real event, arriving with coffee, breakfast etc. to enjoy the wait. Our wait was not long – about 15 minutes (it cycles every 90 or so) and we witnessed the OF geyser. To be quite honest, it was interesting but my socks stayed on. The lighting was just ok, so the shots are not compelling, but they do record that we were there.

After OF we hiked and saw a dozen or so of the thermal bodies described above. It was a very nice hike – part of it off the boardwalk to a peak where we could see all of OF and the surrounding thermal ecosystem and the bulk of it along a boardwalk that took you through the maze of geysers and pools. It was very interesting and I felt we got an appreciation for what a geyser and prismatic hot spring pool are. That’s good.  After the 10th one, they do kind of look the same, even though there are differences, but more study is needed to appreciate what sets one geyser or pool apart from the other.

We took a wrong turn on the path back to OF and the parking lot and ended up on the Grand Loop Road. My mistake, but we did see one out of the way pool that does not get a lot of visitors, and we got an extra mile of walking. But, it would have been better to have gotten it  right the first time.

Once we got back, about 11, the OF crowd was huge and parking lot full. We picked the right strategy getting there early. We then drove back up Grand Loop to see some more thermals – every spot was crowded, some with waiting lines to get into parking lots, like Grand Prismatic.

After seeing some thermals on Firehole Drive, Painted Pots (bubbling mud) and attempting then abandoning Grand Prismatic due to the wait, we decided we had enough of thermals and headed to Lake Village. Traffic was not bad, but when an Elk or Bison appears on the side of the road, everyone stops and looks, so things bunch up. One bunch up got us a good shot though. Elk in the lake. Molly got a great shot of a male elk with a mega-rack walking in the water. The crowd watching the elk family was large and started to upset them – we think because they wanted to cross back over the road. Mr. Park Ranger policeman, another very nice person, encouraged us to move along, so we did.

We made it to Lake Village soon after. Good and bad. The lodge and hotel seem very nice and grand, but Covid shutdowns take away their luster. Our cabin is clean, but the cabin compound leaves a lot to be desired. It’s clear from interacting with the staff (e.g. takeout from the dining hall) that they care very much (we got ten questions and the entire kitchen mobilized to deal with Molly’s allergies) but the investment to upgrade things like the cabins just isn’t there. I’ll change that when elected.

Now we’re chill-axing in the room with no wifi, cell or TV. It looks like we’ll have to read!!  This would be Ellie’s type of place. Until then, I’m typing my blog (offline) and Molly editing video, which she does have a knack for. Tomorrow, Hayden Valley and Canyon/Waterfalls. We just heard the road is open again so can leave from Fishing Village rather than looping down and around – which saves probably two hours. Let’s hope the information we received is correct.


Hayden Valley and Prismatic

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September 14

Drove probably another 100 miles through the park.

The objective of the day was wildlife through Hayden valley.

We had good news that the road from Fishing Bridge to Canyon was completely open, which saved us probably and an hour and a half to get to Hayden. Once in Hayden, the scenery was very nice, the misty sunrises beautiful, which made the route more than worthwhile. Wildlife was scarce. Some distant elk through the hazy morning mist was about it, and not close enough or clear enough to get a good shot.

Not to worry though, because we came upon the lower and upper falls (and got the two confused). These are the signature elements of the Yellowstone grand canyon and were spectacular. The paintings of this area (before photos I guess) were a strong contribution to convincing congress to make Yellowstone a national park. I’m glad we left early (another 6:30 OTD) because the light was good, the mist was a nice addition for the most part, and the crowds were low. We got some good shots of the lower and upper falls and took a decent hike down closer to the Yellowstone river to get even better views and pictures. My guess, from looking at the walls of the canyon, which were yellow, is how the park got its name. No facts to back that up btw. A successful day before 11am!!

Trekking up to Canyon, we saw what we think the best hospitality locale yet in Canyon Village. Covid removes much of the tourist benefits, but from what we could see, it provided the best amenities and level of quality, at least in the buildings!.

We hit the middle part of the “eight” of the Grand Loop Road, heading to Grand Prismatic Spring, which we missed yesterday due to crowds. Today we said we would withstand the crowds and muscle through to see it. Which we did. We parked up the road, about 100 yards or so from the entrance to the parking lot, which we knew would be full, and walked to the spring. A brief boardwalk climb brought us to the beautiful hot spring (after passing some others). The problem was, it was a eye level, so any grand view of the color and scale of the spring was absent.

But, we saw up on a ridge a group of observers looking down with a great vantage point to see the pool. We had to sort out how to get up that high, which we did. We walked back to the car, drove to Fairy Spring, which we knew was correct because Molly, the master of hearing other conversations, was able to pick this up from another group of tourists. Once at Fairy, we hiked a mile (flat with some incline) to the vantage point which gave us great shots of the Grand Prismatic Pool. Funny that none of the guide books I read, or even Tripadvisor mentioned this. Please wait for the Molly / Chuck guide to YP.

After Prismatic, we had time. We looked at going South of OF – nothing stood out. We decided Fishing Bridge was the next place to check out and then round the bend on the northern shore of Yellowstone Lake to some high elevation points overlooking the water. Eh. Both locations were just ok. If it had been our first stop in YP, it would have stood out. But by now, we’ve seen some of the most spectacular nature in the country, so were desensitized to the magnificence of Yellowstone Lake, which is spectacular as well, but we were saturated at this point.

Back to Lake Village, where we chillaxed on the porch, watching cabin traffic pass, and discovering a pizza place that was open for employees only. Too bad for us. Coincidentally, in the same cabin complex as us (connected to us) is a family from Massachusetts. From Melrose. They know Mike Stromski!! Or the mother said she did. The father had no clue.

So, we’re done with YP including OF. It was great and looking forward to coming back in a couple of weeks, with less people and hopefully snow. Tomorrow, on to Grand Teton and back to civilization in Salt Lake.

Post note: I forgot to mention our tire trouble. It started in SD as we left Frontier Cabins. We start the car and the tire warning comes on. Thankfully not a flat, and did not seem that low, but concerning nonetheless since we have 600 miles that day. We found air at the third gas station we tried in Wall. The tire was not that low, but we filled it and problem solved. However, the issue reappeared in Gardiner MT, and the Conoco had air, so an easy early morning fix – again. Hopefully it was temperature swings due to cold nights, (??) but perhaps a slow leak that might need attention in LA.

Hayden Valley and Prismatic

Grand Teton

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  • The Range with Grand Teton
  • Mount Moran from shore of Jenny Lake
  • Grand Teton - close up

September 15

Drove about 400 miles;  3200 total so far
Today we left Yellowstone.

Right beneath Yellowstone sits Grand Teton, so an almost necessary park to take in on the way to SLC, and well worth it.   Out early again but had to deal with the tire pressure issue with a quick trip to the Fishing Bridge gas station.   A massive breakfast sandwich from the lodge restaurant (which had good food) and were off.

We hit Grand Teton before 8:30, without even knowing it since there is no entrance  gate from the North - we think because everyone going into Teton from this route is coming from YP, so they give you a break. 

Part of Teton is donated land from JD Rockefeller Jr, so the roadway is named after him.  I think he's the one who donated much of the land for Acadia, so a real patron of the parks and using his wealth (however the family obtained it) for the common good.

At the heart of Grand Teton is a north to south cutting road (two of them actually) that just give you continuous views of the majestic Teton Range.   We stopped a dozen times, climbed Signal Hill and took a nice stop at Jenny Lake.  All spectacular.   The mountains are larger than any we've seen and embedded in the upper valleys (?) of the mountains are centuries old glaciers (mistaken for packed snow).   The shots we got were ok since there was a haze, but a great site to see.  And each major stop was packed. 

From Grand Teton we motored to SLC where we are now.  Molly is excited to hit LA, which we'll hit probably early tomorrow evening then move her in on Thursday.

Grand Teton

  • Coming into Grand Teton

    The road from the Yellowstone south exit leads onto the John D Rockefeller highway you come to this sign which lays out the road which rides parallel to the mountain range.

  • The Range

    We saw a bunch of cars stopped and of course joined them. We got this shot which lays out many of the next peaks (see next pic).

  • The range identified

    The best I can do - thank you PeakVisor!! An amazing app.

  • Mount Moran

    From PeakVisor: Mount Moran (12,605 feet (3,842 m)) is a mountain in Grand Teton National Park of western Wyoming, USA. The mountain is named for Thomas Moran, an American western frontier landscape artist. Mount Moran dominates the northern section of the Teton Range rising 6,000 feet (1,800 m) above Jackson Lake. Several active glaciers exist on the mountain with Skillet Glacier plainly visible on the monolithic east face. Like the Middle Teton in the same range, Mount Moran's face is marked by a distinctive basalt intrusion known as the Black Dike.

  • Mount Moran - Skittle Glacier

    Narrow handle, wide base gives the name. Of course much smaller than it used to be thanks to climate change.

  • Mount Moran - different angle

    I think this was taken from Jenny Lake

  • Grand Teton Glacier

    I believe the larger peak to be Grand Teton and the glacier on the northern side.

  • Grand Teton - close up

    I think, based on the glacier being to the right.

  • Another view of the Range

    A good view from Mount Moran to Grand Teton

  • Molly in Jackson Hole

    A great little town - lots of small restaurants and gift shops. Sushi to go!!

Salt Lake City to Los Angeles

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September 16

Drove about 600 miles

Over 4,000 miles and we made it to LA

We were up and out early, which has been par for the course.  No tire issues this am.  The drive was simple but long. Over 400 miles on I15.  It's strange to see Waze give directions that say go 400 miles then turn left.  That does not happen in the northeast.

The last part of Utah was pleasant. Rolling hills through the mountains, seeing attractive landscapes.  Nevada was flatter as was the western part of California, especially through Mojave.

We made it into LA at about hour 11 of driving, just like Waze said.  Molly was a big help again.  Our first stop was her apartment on Veteran ave to pick up the package for her mattress, and as it so happened her modem for cable.  Her apartment complex is nice. Only two stories, she is on the first, with just a few steps to a nice courtyard.  I like it and so does she.

We noticed however that her apartment door was open and no locks or key cylinders in the door.  That enabled us to go inside and it looked freshly painted, but not completely clean. Hopefully both issues are resolved by the check in time tomorrow at 10 (after our Covid tests!!)

We're here.  Molly's happy to be back at UCLA and be in her own place.  I meet Erika tomorrow and then help them get settled. 

 On to  the next phase.

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September 17  - Hanging out in LA

Low miles as we trucked around LA and Burbank

Today we focused on getting Molly settled and taking care of some  travel related errands that I needed.  First things first we got a Covid test.  Molly got us well organized and scheduled early, which we found out was critical since the line of cars behind Jackie Robinson stadium grew very fast.  We were early so probably car 10, but by the time we were spit swabbing our tests there were over 100 cars.  End to end time for us was 30 minutes.  For others longer. 

We hung out in Starbucks while waiting for the apartment check in time, but when Alison called and said the cleaners would be delayed we coordinated with Erika and her parents to head to Target first.  They got a few things and then we headed to Veteran Ave.  We moved in what we had in the car as did Erika, then we waited for Molly's box drop off while Erika and her parents went for errands.   Another Target run for Molly and me after the boxes came, then Molly started to sort out her stuff a bit. 

I headed to get an oil change and car wash.  Oil change from Jiffy, 100 bucks  Wow.   They could not fix the tire (more on that tomorrow).  The car wash was something.  I had assumed I needed a self service place because of the Thule box.  But, when I pulled into a Car Wash,  the told me they could hand wash it.  Watching this car wash operation was a joy . It was not cheap - 40 bucks - but they spent over an hour on every aspect.  They vacuumed front and back and moved my stuff to get to the rug.  Then they moved to a special section for hand washing.  I watched this worker for 45 minutes straight, maybe longer.  

He spent 15-20 minutes with a spray gun and squirt detergent, getting the tires, the grill, the body, the roof, the Thule, the inside floor boards(!).   The car looked great after this.  I thought he was done.  But, then he pulled out a soap brush on a stick and scrubbed down the whole car again - another 15 minutes at least.  He rinsed it clean.  I thought he was done.   He then got hand rags and dry wiped the car (and the Thule!).  He then started cleaning the windows, inside and out, the dash, the seats - incredible.  45 minutes later it was a new car from the dusty and muddy and loose dirt on the floorboards.  All of the workers hustle and seem to really sweat every detail of what they're e doing   A rare thing these days.   I  was kidding with Molly, but this experience was one of the highlights of the trip.  Car Washes in LA are not the same as back east.  They are serous because of the importance of the car here, I assume.   There were cars being brought in to get washed that looked perfectly clean to me.  But, it seems like a habit to some.  And all the workers hustle. 

After this, Molly and I did an Ikea run for her bed frame and small dresser to fit inside her closet.   Ikea is another phenomenon.   There's a showroom part, like a typical furniture showroom, but we needed to to the warehouse.  Which is  a warehouse like no other.  Huge.  Over 40 aisles,  all probably  an eighth of a mile long.  We got what we needed and did a quick stop at home depot to build Molly a little bit of a tool bag, which we would need to put the bed frame and dresser together.

Back to Veteran we started our project.  The bed frame first, and in typical style, wood, wooden pegs, specialty nuts and inserts and banging.  Molly and I made a good pair, understanding how to complement each other in the tasks and very methodological in our approach (Molly more than me!).   30 or 45 minutes later, bed frame done.  It was about 9pm, but we soldiered on for the dresser and by this time, we were Ikea skilled, so while more tasks, we seem to handle it well.  Molly learned some tool techniques, specifically the power drill (she now has her own Ryobi) and it turned out to be a low stress, satisfying experience.  She's all set up to sort out and put away her stuff.  At least initially.   We'll have more Target and/or Ikea runs tomorrow.

Another day closer to departure and already feeling like I'll miss her.  

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September 18 - Hanging out in LA - Day 2

Driving around LA for errands

Today was a non-travel and relatively slow day.  Molly has most of her stuff and was busy unpacking and sorting into closets and her new dresser.  I needed to get some things done to prepare for the trip back. 

First was laundry.   There was a large laundromat near the hotel and the process came back to me.  Gronk's instruction on how to use Tide pods and Ad's confirmation of the dry time helped.  It was good to get it done for a fresh return.

After that I figured I should get the tire checked out.  I suspected it was just a rim leak and thought I could manage it like I had on the way out with regular top offs.  But, better safe than sorry.   I found a local tire shop that could take me right away.  West Side Tire I think.  They were very nice and checked out the tire and quickly determined the issue.  I had forgotten that the tire that was leaking actually had gone flat several months earlier and AAA put a plug in it to fix it.  Well, the plug was leaking and could not be replugged confidently because it was on the corner.   Long story short, almost $300 and three hours later, I had a new tire for the trip home. It does provide some peace of mind too.

After that it was back to Veteran to help Molly with a Target run for a few things.  After dropping off the few items, we headed to Ralph's for food with Erika.   Then I just hung out in the car, took a brief snooze. George had texted that he was coming into town that afternoon, so we made dinner plans at Luskin.   Molly, Erika and I met George and Fiona at the Bear and had a very pleasant meal.   It was interesting to hear the details of his trip across the US.

After dinner we said goodnight, a bit of a tearful goodbye with Molly.   Our time together for the past nine days was very very special.  I  hope I get the chance to do something similar with James and Ellie.   I miss everyone a lot. 

Back at the hotel, it was a scene.   There were 10 police cars and yellow crime scene tape everywhere.  The front door was inaccessible so an employee of the hotel guided me past the police and into a side entrance.  He filled me in.  An argument in the lobby led to a stabbing.  This might be it for me at that Doubletree.

Tomorrow starts the trip back, although going just an hour south to Bolsa Chica.  It is the next phase of the trip, but without the great companionship of my East to West partner. 

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LA to Bolsa Chica

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September 19

Drove about 30 miles south to Huntington Beach

Bolsa Chica is the first bird stop

On my own now.  It feels different, like my business travel.  But, I miss having Molly as a co-pilot.  I got to Bolsa Chica at about 7:30 and the light was good for pictures.  Huntington Beach itself looks beautiful.   The parking lot at the sanctuary was almost full.   It's a popular spot for early morning walkers and you can see why.  It's  a tidal basin with very nicely organized trails running through it.  It reminds me a bit like Sanibel, but walking vs. driving.   Right away got some good shots:  White Pelicans, Osprey, some type of willet, plovers, sanderlings (I think).   The morning sun added a lot and I'm paying more attention to light now and that has helped the shots.  (It's all about the light!!).

Walking along the trail, I saw a Great Egret, in good light and looking for fish.   I focused on him and within two minutes he stabbed and caught a fish and I got the shot.  A couple was walking toward me and saw the egret make the catch and wanted to see the shot and I was glad I had a good one to show.  

I continued along, seeing some decent birds and getting good shots.  I came across a trio of Belted Kingfishers chasing each other in a set of dead trees along the water edge.  It was very different.  They kept going to the same perches as they chased each other so I just had to wait to get the shot.  I have to look at them closely to see if they really came out sharp.   If they didn't then I need to find how to correct my technique.

The people I saw on the trail (walked probably several miles) were friendly and helpful.  I got some good leads on which paths to take and one woman asked my how she can see my photos.  I had to repeat Chatgeo. photos three times then spell out.  I now have my cards in my wallet. 

One tip I got was to check out San Joaquin Marsh, which I think is in Irvine. 

After lunch (McDonald's - sorry) and check in at the Extended Stay (not bad) I hung out for a bit in the room until close to golden hour to head down to Irvine.  I passed UC Irvine on the way to the Marsh, which is actually a series of clustered ponds that are part of the water supply.  The area is managed by the government authority.  They've done a great job and got some more great shots. 

There were lots of Western Grebes (someone told me what they were) which are beautiful water birds.   I was standing next to another photographer when a juvenile Grebe came close to us at the shore and just hung out very close  to the shore, not intimated by us.   The other photographer told me he thought it was injured by its mother and may be just trying to hide in the brush.   Tough parenting.

After finishing photos for the day, I checked out the center of Huntington Beach, aka Surf City.  It was quite nice.   A busy promenade with blocked off streets for dining and  a pier similar to Santa Monica.  The night was cool, the sunset pretty and tons of people (50% mask rate).  It was dusk but there were several dozen surfers still in the water trying to catch waves.  I liked the scene.  Now back at the hotel watching the news on RBG - what a person she was - and trying not to think about the consequences of her death.

One itinerary change.  Bolsa Chica does not need two nights to see it.  I'll head there again for early morning shots, but I changed to one night here then splitting the ride to Bosque Del Apache into two 5 hour days.  That will help a lot.

Bolsa Chica and Huntington Beach

Boy and his Violin

Irvine Regional Water District

Bolsa Chica to Phoenix

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September 20

About 420 miles today;  4700 total for the trip

Today was a slow day, by comparison, even though it was still 400 miles.  Breaking the  trip from California to NM into two days was smart.  With Molly as co-pilot I got a two hour break each day, so our long day of 11 or 12 hours was easier with that rest.  From here on in, I'd like to keep each day to 6-7 hours max.  There's more to do at the end of each day then you realize:  check in, pack, this blogs, photos so it's a pretty full night every night.  All good though.

I got to Bolsa Chica this morning at 6:45am.  The parking lot was half full. It's a very popular walking spot.  The wide trails, the surrounding water birds and expansive views make it very attractive for a morning jaunt and there are a fair number of photographers.  Early was good, but there was cloud cover so no light - that was not ideal, but made the best of it.  Got some ok shots of similar shorebirds as yesterday.   I have to do more studying so I can names them - long legged curlew, pipers, plovers, willets of a variety of types.   They are interesting to watch and I'm glad I got there during low tide since it was a feeding frenzy.  When I left at about 8:30, most had moved on.   The highlight shots were a heron eating some type of sunfish and an Osprey on a pole, the same one as yesterday, but today no issues with half his face in shadow thanks to the cloud cover.   Some very good face shots as a result.

I was happy to start handing out my cards.  As I pointed it out, yesterday spelling chatgeo to an inquirer was not easy, so now I offer up cards after brief conversations about my camera, the shots, whatever.  It works - thanks Molly for the cards.

Leaving Bolsa Chica, I wanted to relax a bit so back to Huntington Beach pier, which I really like.  I got a sit down breakfast at a bar/restaurant on the promenade while I filtered the shots from yesterday and today.  I must take several thousand shots each day, but end up deleting half or more.    I think I should perhaps take less. Deleting bad shots is easy, but it does take time. 

After breakfast, a call to my parents (they seem ok) then off to Phoenix at about 10:45.   About 370 miles, so short relative to the drives on the way west.   Cruising along, I saw the sign for Salton Sea.  This was a location that someone highlighted on a blog and was on my master list of sites before I honed it down to just a few.  I passed the sign but then thought about it. I had the time since it was a short day and someone did highlight this as a good Oct/Nov site.  I was here so felt I should at least check it out. 

It ended up being a two hour side trip , about 20 miles south of the I-10 through the desert.  The desert is something.  Nothing around, for miles,  110 degrees or more and you come across these communities of 1000 somewhat isolated.  I was wondering what do these people do for work?   There was no real industry in some of them and it seems like a harsh environment in which to exist. 

As I got closer to Salton Sea, I came across a huge ranch (farm) that grew peppers and other things I could not recognize.  I was surprised to see farms in the desert, with irrigation.  I guess some vegetables grow better here (?).  In any case, the irrigation came from Salton Sea, which is partly saline.  The sea was created by an accidental channel cut in the Colorado River back in 1905 (thanks Wikipedia) and Salton was the lowest point in the desert and the water flowed to it for two years, creating a 5ft deep sea.  It's become an oasis for migrating birds and hence on bird photographers lists to visit.

There's a state park at Salton so I went there, paid my fee and got guidance on where some birds were.  It was pretty sparsely occupied, but I was surprised to see people camping (RV) in 120 degree heat.   I"m sure there's not many recreational spots in the desert, so maybe that's the reason.  In  any case, i drove down, did not see much - some brown pelicans, avocets (I think) and something else (I need to study!). But, it was good to see the sea,  and get some hot birds in desert shots.   After about 45 minutes I left and tried to get to another part of the sea on the east side, but detours kept me away and I just figured might as well just get going to the next stop. 

Back on I-10 I motored towards Phoenix, booking a Hampton Inn on the east side of the city.  I have no desire to see cities on this trip and the rates on the outskirts are more attractive.  Tomorrow, Bosque Del Apache, a short 6 hour trip.

Phoenix to Bosque Del Apache

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September 21

About 370 miles or so;  total trip over 5,000

The goal today was to get to Bosque Del Apache by early afternoon. The route Waze took me on was different.  Up to now, the major stretches of road had been interstates:  I-90, I-15 and I-10 with various short stints on state roads.  Today, the road began on a  two lane, winding and undulating road, with different scenery than I had scene.  While still in the desert (I think) it was not the same look as western California (e.g. Palm Desert).  While California desert was flat with speckled brush, unless you saw a Pepper farm,  the view now showed what I thought a text book desert would look like. Cactus plants, some small rock formations and larger bushes.  It was attractive. 

These small undulations led to larger hillls with a bit more variety of plant life.   As the scale of the hills grew,  it became almost Vermont like in stature, but with a desert landscape.  Several recreation sites for hiking along the way inside the Tonto National Forest and a lake (Saguao?) that looked beautiful  in a valley between two larger peaks.  This continued for more than a 100 miles and was a nice change from the typical drive til now.

The mountains got higher and it began to look more and more like Vermont - forested hills, steep descents and sometimes tight turns that challenged my driving skills.  Again, a nice change.  Things flattened out and eventually got back to the type of desert of Western California, but on a two lane road, more rustic and passing through small towns of maybe a 1000 people. 

Arizona, at least this eastern portion outside of the big cities, felt Trumpian as gauged by the signs, some elaborate in design.  I came across one town, I think it was called Payson.  As I entered, the population was  stated as 2,000 so I though small and not much here.  I was hoping to come across a Starbucks or Dunkin to complement my small Hampton Inn cup of coffee but thought the probability was low.  Well, sure enough, soon after that thought, a Dunkin' drive through in sight. Nice.  I turn the corner and there's a Starbucks!!  What great market penetration.  Of course this large coffee would cause problems later, but I had become used to that.

Driving on the flat lands, I came into a city and tried to follow the process for slowing down:  65 became 55 in a hundred yards, then 45, and 35 through the center of town.  Exiting you followed it in reverse to get back to speed.  I thought I was doing ok, until a cop came behind me and pulled me over.  He informed me I was not on a raceway.   As you always do when a cop pulls you over, I apologized  profusely.  He inquired about where I was going and I tried to explain Bosque Del Apache but he had no clue, but elaborated on the fact that I just dropped my daughter off, was driving back etc.  He asked about her and I felt a connection.  After apologizing again, he went back to his car (which was unmarked btw) but did not go inside.  That is a good sign since that means no writing or punching into a computer.  Instead, he was on his walkie-talkie and back to my car in a bout 5 minutes.   He let's me go, tells me to enjoy the scenery and that he saved me $245.  I thanked him and observed the speed limit the rest of the way.

I enter Socorro, the town north of Bosque at about 3:30.  I pass by a new looking hospital, so think Socorro may be a bit modern.  I found out differently later.  I head to Bosque and I am excited to enter and see one of the top birding hot spots in the country.    Well, I get there at 4, it's not too hot, i get a map.  I'm pretty much the only one there.  Not a good sign.  I drive the loop through the refuge,  a set up similar to Sanibel, but see very little - zero waterfowl but do see smaller birds, I think one smaller hawk, finches, sparrows and other unidentifiable small birds.  And, many of the viewing platforms are closed due to Covid.  It's just not the right time of year.  The refuge is dry as a bone since the water management doesn't happen I'm sure until birds migrate there, which is October and November.  I'm two weeks too early, but today is the time I had to visit so I did.   I will try again tomorrow - early morning might be different.  And, I will be coming back here someday, so getting a first hand look of the refuge was good.

I had booked three nights in Socorro expecting more out of Bosque.  Well that is clearly too much so I dialed it back to two nights.  With the extra day, I though about a White Sands side trip, but looking at my trek north to Utah, it's 11 hours.  Based on my new approach, I 'm going to take the extra day and split the Utah leg in two and give myself two 5-6 hour days.  That's  a better pace when driving alone. 

September 22

About 50 miles back and forth to Bosque

Yesterday I scanned the refuge and today I examined it, spending over 10 hours there.  I knew coming here in late Summer would not be ideal, but it is quieter and dryer than I had thought it would be.  I've come to understand more about the cycle of activity in a simple way to guide the next time here.

Bosque Del Apache is the winter home to Sandhill Cranes (a couple of types), Snow Goose and Ross' Goose as well as about 20 other duck species.  The migration of these birds to Bosque starts in October (mid to late is my guess) and the refuge is prepared to accept them.   Marshes are filled, I assume via the intricate channel network throughout.  Corn is grown at the refuge and onl and for the birds to get through winter.   It's quite a show.  Over 100,000 cranes show up and along with them come hordes of visitors and photographers to catch amazing shots of the birds at sunrise and sunset and their en masse take offs.  I've seen pictures of 50 photographers lined up on one of the viewing platforms to get their own shot.  The design of the roads, viewing decks etc. are designed for this.  in addition. I think Snow Geese are something relatively rare for some.  I know that back home when Snow Geese are spotted, the birders flock to the spot to see them.   So, from mid-Oct through winter a good time to be here.

In the Spring, I believe the cranes, geese and other birds leave and the marshes are drained.  The creates mudflats which attract migrating shore birds, like the ones I saw at Bolsa Chica.

Then Summer.  The marshes are drained and dry and kept that way so plants can grow.  Most of the birds have left and the "year rounds" remain, perhaps a few migrants remained.  This is the state I was in today.

I spent the full day hiking wherever I could within reason.   Over 10 miles by my estimate.  The Marsh Trail,  The Taylor Trail, and Rio Viejo Trail and a wrong turn trail that I thought was the Marsh Trail.  Over two miles later I discovered my mistake and had to backtrack. The day started at 7:30 on site and comfortably cool and very pleasant,  By 9:30 it turned pretty quickly to warm and hot as the sun gained some height.  Despite being summer, there were plenty of "small' birds - vireos, warblers, sparrows, swallow and others I don't know.  They move quickly and erratically so when they light on a branch or leaf, you have to move quickly to get the shot, or just stand in one spot staring at a bush or tree where you know they are rustling.  Not easy and most of the time not successfully.   A slow walk, carrying 20+ ibs on my shoulder, I tried and I think got some decent shots (have not looked at pics yet).  But, pics that won't be award winners.  Nevertheless, it felt good to scour the trails and roads, get some successes, and become familiar with the refuge so I'm better prepared next time I  come.

The plans for tomorrow changed.  At first I was treating tomorrow as a pure travel day,  no content, just s drive halfway to SLC. Ad did some research for me and suggested Arches National Park, which is on the way.  A great idea.   That's the new plan.  A seven hour drive, out early to get a sunset shot at the delicate arch.   I'm booked at the Virginian, in Moab.  Just called, gave my name, no credit card required!

Bosque Del Apache to Arches National Park

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September 23

About 400 miles today; Over 5300 miles total. 

The goal today was to get to Arches National Park by mid-afternoon and get  sunset shot of an arch.  Got to Moab , the town next to Arches, by 2:15 and in the visitor center by 2:30.  A quick restroom break, doubled up on water with my new Hydra-Pak (which I did not need as it turns out) and headed onto the very well maintained road.

Winding turns take you up and then down and up again .  The rock formations you see on the way are incredible.  They compare to what you see at Bryce, some more impressive.  It's a photographer's dream, especially at dusk of dawn.

My objective was sunset of the Delicate Arch - the most popular sunset shot.  I was concerned about parking spots in the trailhead lot for the arch, so pretty much headed there, with a few quick shots of other formations, e.g. Balanced Rock, from turn outs along the way.   As it turns out there were plenty of spots in the parking lot for Delicate Arch.  I had time to read a bit more and prepare my stuff for the 1.5 mile hike in.  With water, camera, landscape lens (did not use), banana, headlamp, extra flashlight, chair (did not use), tripod and misc other things in my backpack, was ready to go at 3:45.   That was a bit early, but I'm glad  did.

The start of the hike was typical.  Very well defined paths and stone steps that were decently steep.  Then some ups and downs on the desert dirt, also fine.  In the distance, however, you see an steep uphill rock face, and walkers ahead of you looking pretty small.  That was the first big hurdle and I kept the pace swift, despite the heat, and was glad I was 20lbs lighter and in decent cardio shape.

After that first climb, there's a second one, that was a bit more complex.  I took a wrong turn somewhere.  Either I assumed the path was more directly up vs. around, missed a sign or both.  The path I chose was direct up.  I could see people gathered near the top in font of me, so I headed towards them.  Between me and them was a large "bowl" and I figured you had to either go along the left rim of the bowl or right. On the left there were people rock climbing, so I went right.  It seemed strange to me that you had to climb up a rock to get to the right rim and that should have been the signal.   After that, I started work my way along the narrow edge of the rim.  At first it was a narrow path, then it got to be one shoe width and I had to hug a rock on my right, which had nothing to grab and shuffle my feet.  To my left was the down side to the bottom of the bowl.  I got passed this first very narrow edge.  It was harrowing to say the least.  I then came across an even a narrower edge.  That was too much so I headed back to the ledge I just passed and repeated the harrowing experience. I really thought I was going  to fall into the basin and that was it!!  It was very nerve wracking to say the least.

I eventually worked my way back and out of danger.  At one point I just climbed up a rock face t get away from the ledge.  My camera scraped the rock face and I lost my lens hood.  I slid back, retrieved it and climbed back up.  I sorted out the correct path, which was around and not up.  It was not hard at all.  I saw some people coming down and they told me I was almost to the top, AND that they had seen my from up above trying to navigate the bowl.    I could have used their guidance while doing it!!

Once up top, it was amazing.  You're incredibly close to the arch and the view is magnificent.  There's a steady flow of people coming up and taking pictures underneath the arch.   There was a marriage proposal, gymnastics, cheer leading moves, and all the typical poses with someone else a few yards away getting the shots.   My interest was sunset, so I kept at a distance and took progressive shots as the sun went down at 7:13.   I think they're pretty good.  At 7:30, the site was still fairly busy, but people started heading down so I figured I should be part of the flow to reduce my risk.   It was no issue going down and I was very glad Ad told me to bring a headlamp.  I brought an extra flashlight too and the couple behind me, probably around my age, appreciated that I used both to help them see as we made it back to the parking lot.  I could not find where I made the wrong turn, but was relieved to make it back.

I checked in at the Virginian, which is 1970s nice, clean, and cheap.  The people in the office are very nice, so the fact that the cable TV does not work is OK.  I need to type this blog!!  

Tomorrow, either direct to SLC (4 hours?) and maybe get some pics into this blog, or Canyonlands for quick drive through,  but that would add probably 3 hours.  I'm leaning to the former. 

Moab to North Salt Lake City

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September 24

About 300 miles;  5900 miles total

Slow day today. Drove about 4 hours from The Virginian in Moab, which is a great little town, to North Salt Lake city in preparation for Willard State Park the following day.   Good to slow down, get a bit organized with the pictures, which has been a struggle, do laundry.  Still a full day as I'm typing this at 10:30 pm.  

Took about an hour or so and watched Ellie's parent night zoom call and teacher videos.  I'm impressed by her teachers and the depth of the subject matter she will be exposed too.  It's much deeper than what I had as a sophomore.   In high school, I had 3 or 4 teaches that stood out over four years.  With her teachers, they all seem very strong. 

Tomorrow is Antelope Island, Farmington and Bear River on the Great Salt lake.  I'll be setting up camp for the first time.   Past that, the itinerary has changed.  In talking with Ad, there was nothing pulling me back to Yellowstone since it had not snowed and getting a campsite would he difficult.  I don't want to see the same things twice, so have redirected to Montana, Bitterroot and Metcalf NWR.   After that, West Glacier. 

Launching into the Great Salt Lake - Antelope Island and Bear River

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September 25

Only about 50 miles; Over 6,000 total

The day started early, out of the Hampton in North Salt Lake City by 6:30. I arrived at Antelope Island State Park at about 7:30 to get the early sun. The morning light was just breaking, almost too early for pictures, but that was not an issue. There is a long causeway leading into the island proper, and you could see flocks of birds on the south side hanging out in the salty water. I did not have a good map, so just started driving the road loop. I stopped for hike to a point by the Finger ladies campground. Impressive views of the Great Salt Lake and Egg Island, a nesting site for Gulls. But, no massive wave of shorebirds to be seen. I continued on the loop, thought I got a small hawk or kestrel (will have to check once I see the pic online) and meandered about the roads, took a hike up to Buffalo point which was good exercise. Not a massive amount of birds though. I stopped by a campground, close to the lake and observed a flurry of bird activity in some bushes, so pulled out the gear and waited. The wait was worth it for a good shot of a Shrike. If I got nothing else all day, that was ok.

Continuing back to the causeway, I saw a flock of stilts feeding on the brine flies (which are massive – billions of them flying just above the water). I got some ok shots, tried to get closer, they flew away. I waited, they came back, I got closer, then the flew away again. I decided to go down to the “beach” and wait for them to come back. Well, the beach was not sand, but a mud flat. One step and I sunk, past my ankle, trying to keep the camera and lens upright. I managed to get back to real land, but with two feet caked in mud that smelled like sulfur .

After that fiasco, I took a new angle from a boat pier to get the same flock. I think ok shots, but the same birds I saw at Bolsa Chica, so nothing too special. In the interim, my iPhone went dark on me and in my frenzy to get it to light up again, I managed to: Send a medical alert to Molly and Ad; and call 911 – both accidentally. The 911 person called me back and I explained the misdial and she was very nice and thanked me for letting her know. Ad and Molly were texting me and calling me, concerned for my well being. Ad was even calling the state park. She is a good wife. I called her, explained and felt very bad that I caused her concern. I need to learn my iPhone better.

After more driving at Antelope, I left. Not much else to see. I headed to Bear River Migratory Bird Refuge, a Federal site vs state, and you can feel the difference. When the Federal government decides to do something, they do it right.  It’s an impressive place and right away saw a flock of glossy ibis - unusual. This place is stopping place for migrants, similar to Bosque. There were plenty of shorebirds and ducks here - a huge flock of Northern Shovelers, but the light was challenging since they were in front of the setting sun. The refuge did seem dry, so not sure if that’s drought or water management or both. But, I think, similar to Bosque, that I’m too early in the season to see the peak of the population. Again, ok, since becoming familiar with this place for the next time is worth it. And, I’ll see it again in early light when there is more feeding going on. That should make a difference.

The big change is I’m camping. The first time on the trip. I’m even typing this in the dark as mosquitos hit the screen. It’s Willard Bay State Park, site #8. Most sites here are RV ready, no hookups so smaller, but out in the open with no privacy. This site is more secluded and can’t see anyone to the left or right. A good spot for me. The Host camper, who runs the show, is very nice and brought me wood that I had asked for. The new tent set up is ok, but one strap broke, so I’ll be talking to REI about it (the price of going ultra light). The campfire is roaring (the wood is of course very dry). Things are good. Up and out to Bear River again tomorrow, then another night of camping. No Wifi for a while, so this update will be delayed in posting.

  • Kestrel at sunrise

    Kestrel at sunrise

  • Western Meadowlark

    Western Meadowlark

  • Loggerhead Shrike

    Loggerhead Shrike

  • Loggerhead Shrike

    Loggerhead Shrike

  • White Crowned Sparrow (imm)

    White Crowned Sparrow (imm)

  • Red-necked Phalarope

    Red-necked Phalarope

  • Red-necked Phalarope

    Red-necked Phalarope

    Check out the brine flies!!! They don't bother humans, but there's billions of them on the salt water.

  • Hungry Coyote

    Hungry Coyote

    Was wondering near the cattle ranch. I gave him (her?) an apple and he/she gulped it down.

  • Northern Shoveler

    Northern Shoveler

  • View from the Campground

    View from the Campground

  • Western Meadowlark

    Western Meadowlark

Bear River and Farmington Bay

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September 26

50 or so miles; About 6100 total

This was the to be the day at Bear River Migratory Bird Refuge. It really did not work out that way. The overnight in the tent went ok. Sleep was a bit fitful as I got used to the tent, the mattress pad, the pillow etc. They all worked fine but tossed and turned a bit and had the usual nighttime bio run. I started hearing birds and owls before light and that started to wake me, but I fell back and did not wake again until 8, which late for me. That killed a bit of the morning light I had wanted for the refuge. I hurriedly dressed, brushed and organized a bit, then left for the half hour drive to the refuge .

On the access road to the refuge there are some marshes on either side of the road where you can get some shots. I stopped at one spot, as I did yesterday, to try and catch some ibis (they might be white ibises not glossy). As I got out of the car, I was swarmed by mosquitoes. I’ve never seen or felt anything like it. The closest was the attack of the noseeums at Sanibel. With the car door opened, dozens if not more entered the car. I backed away from the car but some followed. I looked down at my bare legs (wearing shorts) and they were covered with them. I hurried back to the car, grabbed the deet and doused myself. At this point, the car was full of them and they were swirling all around. The only solution I thought was to get back on the road, drive back the way I came at high speed with the windows open. That worked to flush them out, but they remained a hassle the rest of the day.

I then drove the refuge entrance. Closed!. I looked it up on the web and it said open at 10. Not good since by then the light would not be as interesting. But, it was just over an hour wait so I decided to stick it out. Another car pulled up and there were also was frustrated by the late opening. The driver pulled over to my car and asked me where in Mass I was from. I said Arlington. He said “do you play hockey?”. I couldn’t’ believe it. Rich McGeough is his name and he had a friend he was with and whom he was visiting. He was a classic Irish Boston type of guy, even though he was from Rhode Island. He asked me if I was Irish once he heard my accent. He was fun to talk to, quick with witty remarks and great conversation. He is Florida based now, but is a birder and was visiting his friend. He looked about as much as a birder like I look like a ballet dancer. But he knew his stuff and his large personality made him very likable. When he said “I have to see a man about a horse”, I felt a connection!. The downside is that he told me we had to get rid of Elizabeth Warren in Mass. I told him he was talking to the wrong guy. The three of us and one other car waited until 10. No open gate. The Utah friend called the visitor center (which was also closed) and got a voicemail saying the refuge was closed for maintenance today and tomorrow. Incredible to do that on a weekend. So we departed, exchanged info and he says he’ll be up to Plum Island next month, so will give me a call. Let’s see.

There are three places to see birds in the Great Salt Lake: Antelope Island, Bear River and Farmington Bay Wildlife Management Area. I had now seen the first two so with Bear River closed, I headed to Farmington, which turned out to be a good move. Something to note about “Wildlife Management Areas”. You see them in many places and what I’ve learned it that they are hunting grounds maintained by the state or maybe the Federal government. Even Parker River, one of the best bird sanctuaries in NE, has a portion of it for duck hunting. It seems strange at first, folks that observe nature and those that hunt it, but there’s a bond between the two camps. Hunters advocate very strongly for the preservation of nature and birders  often benefit as well (maybe always benefit?). There’s thing called a Duck Stamp that waterfowl hunters have to purchase to get a license. The Federal government uses the collected funds to help preserve more land. And, as I’ve heard, birders purchase the stamps as well to contribute to the cause. I need to do that.

In any case, I make it to Farmington Utah (a very nice community) about 30 miles south of Willard Bay Campground. Farmington Bay WMA is huge. And it had more close water access than Antelope or Bear River. So it turned out that the Bear River closure was a good thing, since I would have skipped Farmington Bay and missed out on some great shots. Killdeer was a big one, better shots of the ibises, Grebes, others I have to look up. I came across an older birding couple, the husband carrying a spotting scope. He told me “there are some peeps out there”. I looked confused and he saw that. He clarified for me “sandpipers”. I need to learn the cool nicknames if I want to hang with this crowd.

About 2 hours at Farmington was productive. I came across some duck hunters coming back from their hunt. Serious guys. You hear their flat bottom boat coming down the irrigation channels, with the huge fan on the back powered by a car engine size motor. Stuff I’ve only seen in the Everglades or a swamp.  They are head to toe covered in cammo and waders. I’m shooting pictures of ducks, and they’re shooting ducks, but a whole other world to me.

Back at the campground by 2:30, lunch calls, wrote some cards (my parents 63rd anniversary on Sept 28). Got more firewood, which creates a raging fire. (I singed Molly’s blanket that I brought – too close to the fire!!). I fired up the PocketRocket stove and had my first Mountain Meal freeze dried chicken and rice. Just add hot water to the packet. Nice because no clean up of dishes needed and this campground does not having sinks, so I’d be cleaning from the campsite. Tomorrow, pack up, head out early but not crazy and seven hours to Stevensville Montana, 30 miles or so south of Missoula. Maybe hit Lee Metcalf Refuge tomorrow pm at dusk, but if I’m tired, I’ll just head to the Stevensville Hotel, the Doctor something or other room. It should be interesting.

  • Flock of Glossy Ibis

    Flock of Glossy Ibis

    At Bear River - there was not much else there!

  • Glossy Ibis

    Glossy Ibis

  • American Coot

    American Coot

  • Pied Bill Grebe

    Pied Bill Grebe

  • American Coot

    American Coot

  • Western Grebe

    Western Grebe

  • View near entrance of Bear River

    View near entrance of Bear River

  • Glossy Ibis

    Glossy Ibis

  • Glossy Ibis

    Glossy Ibis

  • Glossy Ibis - Farmington Bay

    Glossy Ibis - Farmington Bay

  • Glossy Ibis - Farmington Bay

    Glossy Ibis - Farmington Bay

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  • Killdeer


  • Killdeers


  • Killdeer enjoying a worm

    Killdeer enjoying a worm

  • Flying Killdeer

    Flying Killdeer

  • Lesser Yellowlegs

    Lesser Yellowlegs

  • Western Grebe

    Western Grebe

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  • Pie-billed Grebe

    Pie-billed Grebe

Heading to Glacier via Stevensville

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September 27

Drove about 450 miles;  Over 6300 total

Today was the Great Salt Lake to Stevensville trek. 

My second night camping at Wilard Bay and it was good.  I slept well, better than the prior night.  Up at 7am, while still dark, and packed and in the car by 7:30.   A large cup from the Pilot Travel Stop (forget about Dunkin or Starbucks) and I'm off.  It was a pleasant 7 hour drive primarily on I-15.  When I map these routes, I don't pay attention to the states, just the highways.  I had thought Utah to Montana, but found myself in Idaho along the way.  Thinking about the US map a bit, I now understand.

The scenery was very beautiful, especially once in Montana.  Utah was nice, with some mountains, marsh land, farm land.  But, Montana just brings it to another level.   Farmland, rolling hills, larger snow capped mountains, and just more rural.  Probably more rural than any state so far.  I can see how the beauty of Montana just draws people to move there.  It's clear cattle country, ranches all along the route.  I think of it as a smash up of Vermont with NH - the Green and White mountains in one place.

I passed through Missoula and took a quick spin through the city.  On the outskirts, a typical site of chains, gas stations, and surprisingly, casinos.  In the heart of downtown, it was more appealing. Historic, turn of the century buildings repurposed for modern times and small cafes and bars, I'm sure muted by Covid, but it presented a nice scene, even if not as busy as usual. It felt like a mountain town - a mix of older heritage, cowboy, nature lovers and free spirits.  It's a place I would come back to.

Thirty miles south was Stevensville.  A quaint old time town with the classic drive through downtown and park angled in front of the store you want to visit.  I scanned it a bit then headed to the hotel.  The hotel is a 1910 building that started as a hospital, then a nursing home, then a boarding house (22 rooms, one bathroom) and four years ago changed to a bed and breakfast.  The couple that runs the place are from South Caroline (I think). They're nice.  I get the feeling that this hotel is their whole life and Covid has hit them hard. I asked if they'd been to Glacier National Park (a three hour drive) and they mentioned they have a tough time going anywhere because of the duties required at the hotel.  That's a bit sad since the country here is beautiful.  Mountain views outside my window. 

They mentioned that an elk herd congregates a few miles down the road so I hopped in the car to check it out.  No herd there, probably too early.   The sunlight was great, the air was cool, definitely cooler than Utah, so with a couple of hours of daylight left, I headed to Lee Metcalf Wildlife Refuge, supposedly a great spot for birds.   It was a short drive and I parked and got out to take a hike, camera and tripod in tow.  People were very nice, pointing out what they had seen along the trail - owls, meadowlarks etc.  I walked a mile trail, got a flicker and some quail, but that was it. But the walk was tremendous.  It was cool, the walk through tall pines along the Bitterroot River,  and the the serene feeling made it a very nice walk.

Back to the car, I explored the rest of Lee Metcalf by car along a very nice auto road with views into the marshier spots.  A few duck shots and I was done.  I'll revisit it tomorrow and take a few more hikes before the short drive to Glacier.

One quick story before I sign off.    I'm driving along the highway in Montana.  There are not a ton of travel plazas like other states, but smaller, Mayberry RFD type gas stations with one pump (Octane 85!).  I pull into one such place, which is a gas station and a bar with no windows and all pickup trucks parked outside.  As I'm filling up, a pickup pulling a Winnebago pulls up and the man gets out to start pumping from the other side.  He asks me where I'm from.  I say Massachusetts and he nods yeah, but where?  I said Arlington.  He says he's from Melrose but now lives in NH.  So....back in Yellowstone, we had a Lake Village Cabin next to a family from Melrose. Then this guy.  What a coincidence. 

It was good to talk to him for practical reasons.  He told me that while the East side of Glacier was closed entering into the Blackfoot reservation, that was only the park road. The state road, which is south of Glacier can cut through the reservation, giving me a cleaner option to North Dakota.  I'll confirm that, but it would save me some time.  Otherwise I'll have to dip down to Butte.  We'll see.

In any case, tomorrow is West Glacier Campground.  I'm curious as to what it will be like. 

Heading to Glacier National Park

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September 28

About 220 miles or so to Glacier; About 6900 total

Today is my parents 63rd anniversary.   Good to talk with them.

The day started out well (and ended well, the middle well too). I was up at about 6:30sih, still dark. Sunrise not until 7:30 since I’m pretty far north. No sense getting out in the dark unless I’m going to go into a blind and wait for birds to come out. After a quick, very quick, toased bagel in the B&B, I was on the road by 7:30 headed to Lee Metcalf refuge. I was the first one there. Driving in I saw two ring necked pheasants (I think) but did not get good shots.

I parked and started walking and soon realized the magnificent sunrise over the mist of the fields. It’s a great shot, the sun shining the fog of the warm meadows rising, and the grass glistening in the foreground. And quiet to boot. I took some iPhone shots while carrying the 25 pound big gear (why?) and hopefully they come out well. I took a short path into Metcalf that I had not done the day before. It was serene and beautiful, as it was yesterday. Leaves were turning color the river was flowing, the air was cool, no bugs! – just a perfect fall like day. I hiked a bit towards the Bitterroot River and while the landscape was fantastic, there were no birds.

That was until I saw a large bird soaring in front of me. A golden eagle landed on a high tree about 200 yards in front of where I was, on the river bank. I walked toward him gradually and got as close as I thought I could – to get a good shot and at the same time not scare him away. I set up and started shooting, but the light was not ideal. I monkeyed around with camera settings and was able to get some decently clear shots of the Golden Eagle, something I do not have in my portfolio. But, the sun was still rising, the bird was static, so I thought I should wait until I got better light to get the eagle in his/her full sunlit glory. I waited. One photographer came by. I told him about the eagle. He did not seem excited, but told me about the owls further along the path (the same ones I had heard about yesterday). He was a nice man. I continued to wait for either the sun to rise to take the eagle out of the shadow, or the eagle to fly off and get a good flight shot. Nothing yet. Another photographer comes by, “look at the eagle”, I say. “Yeah, I saw him yesterday over there” etc;,etc. Now we both wait for something to happen or more light to land on the bird. Well, after at least 30 minutes of waiting, no improvement, and as luck would have it, my camera battery dies. I  go back to the car, replace it, hike back along the path, the eagle gone and really nothing else to see, albeit several folks have told me about these owls in the woods, but I was unable to find them.

Done with Lee Metcalf I start to head north. Back through Missoula, route 93 (not I-93) and along the highway. It was scenic. You start to dive deeper into the beauty of Montana. Rolling hills and farmland with a backdrop of majestic mountains. Mission, or Mission Valley was the area, which is an Indian reservation. One town (or section?) was called St. Ignatius which indicated that the Catholic missions had preached here. Several Christian churches (not Catholic) were indicators of their success. This native American reservation I was traveling through seemed different from the others. It was more developed and commercial. In Arizona, it was more ranch and trailer housing with little commerce outside of gas stations and travel centers. Here in Montana, the Kalish, Kootenai and one other tribe I don’t remember, have established a more commerce based environment, more shops, stores etc. of a western style (I bought something at a country / Wrangler store). This set of tribes, I think the first in the country, established a National Park of their own on tribal land, with signage and directions similar to the US system. Smart, since the feel of this west side of the “Mission” mountains felt very much like Federal land. The east side of Mission, i.e. Glacier, was controlled by the Blackfeet tribe, who engaged in battle with the Mission side (Salish, Kootenai and the other). Interesting and shows there is so much more I have to learn about Native Americans.

Continuing on 93 then 205 (or 35) the scenery got even better. Mountains, smaller towns and very picturesque. Less gas stations, but I was prepared. A very pleasant drive. I meandered as I drove, stopping to take pictures when I thought there was something to see, and there was. Spectacular mountain views for the most part, and one birds nest, high atop a tree.

While driving, I saw a nest and something protruding from the nest. An eagle I thought. Worst case, an Opsey. I pulled over, got out the big glass (the cool way to say big lens), tripod and started walking back to the tree with the high nest, careful not to get hit by a car while walking. I needed to get good light, so kept walking until I got the tree in the “front” light. What was that protrusion? An eagle’s head? I set up the lens, positioned myself, and got a look. Well, not what I expected. It was a piece of WOOD that was protruding up from the nest. No eagle. No Osprey. I moved on. More pleasant drive and I ended in West Glacier.

The campground is very nice. Great front office, everything laid out nicely, the cabins look great etc. The TripAdvisor comments were right. I drop some things off, but want to get into Glacier while the sun is setting, the time now about 4pm. I drive in and it’s spectacular. The mountains are majestic, the rivers wide, MacDonald lake vast, etc. I stop, get the sun light hitting lakes, mountains, rivers – hopefully some good shots in the bunch. I take a left on a a dirt road which follows the North side of Lake McDonald. Bumpy, but I take it slow. I loved it. No other cars, for the most part, a few paths to private homes on the lake (who lives there? Some were under construction!) and mostly traversing a burned out forest Left and right, down to the lake and up towards the hills, blackened, charred tree and landscape with a burgeoning brush indicating rebirth. Driving through it helped me understand the impact of wildfire.

Back at the campground, my cabin com-padres had arrived. Hikers mostly, so I listened as we sat around a common campfire. Two UCLA grads in the mix and I proudly stated my daughters attendance, as well as mentioning my sons enrollment at UVA which expanded the discussion. Overall a good crowd to engage and I look forward to another campfire discussion tomorrow For now, signing off inside the cabin. Will post this tomorrow once in WiFi range. I miss my family – but only a couple weeks out. Btw, happy 63rd Mom and Dad!!

One thought I forgot to mention.   As you drive north in Montana, the religious signs increase.  Small signs, crosses, some large billboards.  Past the Indian reservation, I came into three different towns with a 10 commandments sign as you entered.  And close to Glacier, there was 10 billboards back to back with varying religious messages.  This is definitely God country!!

Going to the Sun Road (GTTSR)

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September 29

The day at GNP Probably 100 miles; About 7100 total

Today was the day to get a feel for Glacier National Park (GNP).

I was up and out by 7:30 and headed up the Going to the Sun Road (GTTSR) to Avalanche Lake Trail, which one of the cabin campers mentioned. The way the park is set up, I guess similar to Yellowstone, Teton and others, is a main auto road with side roads and trails coming off of it. GTTSR is the spine of GNP and takes you from the West end to the East. The East end feeds out of the park and into the Blackfeet Reservation and because of Covid, the East side of the park is shutdown. GTTSR only takes you as far as Rising Sun so you fall a bit short of the complete ride, but not a big deal.

So, the immediate goal was Avalanche Lake and I had noticed yesterday that it had a pretty large parking lot that filled up pretty quickly.  I figured it was popular  had to get there early, which I did and in plenty of time to get a space. After finding the trailhead I started the moderate two mile trek to the lake,  going through the forest, alongside running creeks and by waterfalls. Very pretty and not that taxing of a walk. Avalanche Lake itself is a beautiful upper valley lake sitting beneath a massive wall of stone and forested mountains. Hopefully the shots I took will convey that.

A brief stay at the Lake and then I headed back down the trail, easier than the climb up. By this time the crowds were building so the path was fairly busy. I decided to say “good morning” to everyone that I passed and it was interesting to see the range of responses. From silence to great enthusiasm and brief comments.

Once down off the trail, the simple plan I had was to just drive GTTSR and take landscape shots at the turnouts. The road progressed from small inclines and shallow bends to steep winding hairpin turns with steep drop offs to the right, protected by stone walls. It did get a bit scary, but I  took it slow. I wondered how Ad or James would have fared on the twisted drive.

Along the route I stopped often to get shots of amazing peaks and valleys . The landscape is so grand I think it would be tough to get a bad shot. The sun was still early morning so the light looked pretty good. I have dozens of shots and hopefully can make some good pics of a few. Traffic was fairly heavy. When I got to the peak of the GTTSR, which is Logan Pass, the parking lot was full, even though the visitor center there was closed. It shows how people are flocking to the parks to get out from being cooped up for so long.

I left Logan pass and continued east until Rising Sun where the road was closed. Then turned around and doubled back along the GTTSR from east to west. Only a few stops this time and back to West Glacier by 2:30. Looking at the map, post ride (should have looked before!) you can see many different hikes launching from the GTTSR and taking you into the massive mountain ranges and back country. It’s clear that GNP is a hikers paradise, and from the conversation of the cabin campers I listened to during our nightly fireside chat, that was reinforced. These folks are avid hikers and I’m sure that is why they are here.

A brief description of the people I spent a few hours sitting by the camp fire with: -

Middle aged couple from Bay area – Brock and Claire – I think. He just left his firm as an investment manager for a wealthy family, which was Dianne Feinstein"s husband! It sounds like he wanted to get out and he and his wife are taking time to camp, hike and visit national parks.

A couple from Colorado (no names) Avid campers / hikers. They are both now unemployed and moving back to Buffalo, his hometown. She is from NYC. They were very talkative and that was good since it kept the discussions going.

A couple from California but now living in Arizona. Also avid outdoors types. She is a elementary school teacher who is changing jobs to work on education software (and very nice) and he I think works for Bechtel. Very articulate and knowledgeable.

There was a mother and son that showed up today, and frankly not that pleasant and did not join us. I had to share a picnic table with them and really not the friendly type.

The conversation flowed and was very interesting. Another highlight of the trip. Tomorrow, Freezeout lake, to make sure there are no Snow Geese or Cranes there. Then Lewiston as the halfway point across Montana, on my way

  • Welcome


  • View of range from Lake McDonald

    View of range from Lake McDonald

  • Burned Forest

    Burned Forest

    Alongside the backside of Lake McDonald

  • Recovery from the Fire

    Recovery from the Fire

    This might be the result of fires during the 2000s

  • Lake McDonald at Sunrise

    Lake McDonald at Sunrise

  • View from a river alongside GTTSR

    View from a river alongside GTTSR

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  • View of Avalanche Lake

    View of Avalanche Lake

  • More view of Avalanche Lake

    More view of Avalanche Lake

  • Avalanche Lake

    Avalanche Lake

  • Heaven's Peak

    Heaven's Peak

  • Heaven's Peak

    Heaven's Peak

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  • Clements Mountain

    Clements Mountain

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  • View of St. Mary's Lake

    View of St. Mary's Lake

  • Covid closure!!

    Covid closure!!

    Not allowed to access the Blackfeet Indian reservation at the end of GTTSR

Moving across Montana

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September 30

About 400 miles;   About 7400 miles total

I was up early - earliest yet.   By 5:30 or so I was driving out of West Glacier in the dark, heading along 2 to East Glacier.  This route goes south of Glacier through a hilly and sometimes winding road.  In the dark, it was  a bit  harrowing, but managed to enter the Blackfeet Reservation by about 7.   The Reservation was closed to outbound GNP traffic, but non-GNP traffic could get through.

This was about the 5th or 6th Native American reservation I had been through.  It seemed similar to most, except the Kootenai / Salish one on the West side, which I mentioned before.  The land is prairie / desert like with some rolling hills.  The commerce is limited to travel plazas  and some small towns which look tired, either Covid impacted or just the lack of economic opportunity.  I stopped a few times to read historical point signs about the various tribes and came away with a strong impression of the oppression and injustice the Native Americans faced, and face. Their history does not sound dissimilar to what is happening to the Ulghurs in China today.   I want to learn more.  This country professes civil rights, except when they're taken away.

Coming out of the GNP area, the terrain settles down from the massive peaks.  "Bumpy" hills for a awhile, leading to a flatter grasslands, the purpose of which seems to be to feed cattle.  This is cattle country with ranches and alfalfa fields almost the whole distance.   Further from GNP,  the ground becomes a bit rockier, looking like a smaller version of what you see in Utah,  The road was only two lanes, windy and winding, which made driving a bit more challenging than usual. 

I got to Lewiston, the original destination, by noon thanks to my early start.   Lewiston was interesting.  A larger town than any so far along this route and clearly has an interesting history.  I was stuck for awhile in traffic due to road construction and could observe a bit.  The people looked hard.  The area looks economically challenged. Again, maybe Covid driven.  I also saw the largest Trump store yet - larger than the one in Wall SD.  While in traffic, I saw a Honda Odyssey,  Connecticut plates, and smashed back window.   I could interpert that a number of ways, but none positive.  In any case, after consulting with Ad, who is a huge help on planning, I extended the plan to bolt Lewiston and reach all the way to Medora, the home of Theodore Roosevelt National Park. 

After 12 hours behind the wheel, driving in the most rural area I've experienced yet,  I reached Medora.  Montana is the most rural state so far in my judgement based on the distance between pockets of some sign of community.  It took on average at least 50 miles if not 75 between centers of population.  And when you stop in those small towns for gas or bio breaks, they are small, one pump stations with a small store.  Sometimes friendly, sometimes not.  Masks?  Maybe.  Overall a good ride, with 12 hours of NPR, POTUS, ESPN and the Bridge!!

Takeout dinner here in Medora, eating at the hotel, switching between Rachel and the NBA finals.  Up early tomorrow to get to the Park and after that to Walker Minnesota, which Ad identified as a good next stop. 

Medora, TRNP and crossing North Dakota

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October 1

About 400 miles;  8200 total

Up and out at about 7:30 am, late for this trip to check out TRNP.   Medora is a small town, clearly designed to cater to TRNP.    A couple restaurants, small stores, but many seemed closed either due to Covid or just the end of the season.  It's interesting that the towns near some of the national parks take on the dark wood type building to match the park buildings.  This was the case in West Glacier as well.  

TRNP  is pleasant and somewhat interesting.  It does not have the majesty or diversity that you'd see at Arches, Glacier or Yellowstone, but it's a good take if passing through.  It's primarily prairie land with rock formations similar to BadLands, but smaller in size.    The term badlands seems to be a general one, coined by the Native Americans to describe lands that don't offer much or are hard to survive on.   The preservation of prairie lands might have been the reason it became a national park - over 70% of prairie lands in the US have been developed for farmland, roads etc.  That and Theodore Roosevelt had a ranch on this land and it was here where he first visited the Frontier as a younger man and began his long passion for conservation. He was responsible for conserving over 200 million acres of land and so deserves this recognition.

The visit was a slow drive through the South Unit (there is a North Unit I did not visit). The day was cool, the leaves turning, the sun shining, and I was early so very few cars.  It was  a peaceful and enjoyable drive.  There were a decent amount of birds in the early morning, grouse (I think), bluebirds and others.  I got some good shots.   There were more prairie dogs there then Badlands. probably over 6 fields along the drive of various "towns". After about 3 hours and maybe 40 miles of slow driving, I started on towards Walker Minnesota.

The drive after TRNP was flat North Dakota.  Ranch country with grasslands and cattle.  Some farms and maybe some small rolling hills. but overall, nothing too special.  Not much to see in North Dakota, except Trump signs, but not a ton.  It's pretty clearly a red state.

The last 70 miles though,  in Minnesota, was a very nice drive.  Small two lane roads, tree lined with trees showing their fall foliage, the sun setting behind me shedding light on the scene.   Driving in this type of landscape, entering and exiting small towns along the way, is pleasurable and make the time go by more quickly.  The area is filled with lakes and marshes on both sides of the road which added to the  view..    I was tempted to stop and check some out, but darkness would be on me soon.

I rolled into Walker at about 7.  The initial impression was this was a sportsmen's town, seeing the fishing boats and guys in camo.  Makes sense.   The Walker Inn was fine and I treated myself to a nice take out meal from the Borders Restaurant - Grouper and Pepper soup - enjoyed while watching Rachel!!

Tomorrow somewhere in the Upper Peninsula - I'm working with Ad to figure out where.

  • More landscape

    More landscape

  • Sharp Tailed Grouse (?)

    Sharp Tailed Grouse (?)

    Not sure!!!

  • Landscape view

    Landscape view

  • Prarie Dogs

    Prarie Dogs

  • Up close bison

    Up close bison

  • Mountain Bluebird

    Mountain Bluebird

  • Landscape view

    Landscape view

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  • Does the deer have any doe?

    Does the deer have any doe?

    Yeah, two bucks

Minnestota, Wisconsin, Upper Peninsula

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October 2

About 350 miles;  Over 8600 total

Up and out at 7:30 (late) and continued the pleasant drive through the upper great lakes region.  Walker seems like a destination. The downtown looks historic, some old time stores, bait shops, hunting outfitters and a couple of bars and restaurants.  Nice.   The scene was similar to yesterday  - fall foliage, small lakes, fields, small towns.   It reminds me of New England, especially when it started to snow!!  No accumulation, it was just a squall, but it's definitely colder here than anyplace yet.  But, still enjoyable.

The Trump signage was more than Montana or ND.   I think that has to do with just pure density of the population, but also more competition with Biden.  There were  a decent amount of Biden signs and that probably creates a feeling on both sides that they have to state their views to be heard.  In Montana (or parts outside the city) and ND, it seems more one sided.  You understand why Minnesota, Wisconsin and Michigan are battleground states. 

I hit the Econolodge ($60 bucks!) in Iron Mountain at about 3 and began cleaning up this site, while listening to the news about Trump's corona diagnosis.   This is such a historic time in  our lives and I have moments of anxiety about November 3.   Maybe Trump's positive result will help create some more civility in the contest and lessen the rhetoric about election fraud. 

Tomorrow a longer drive than the past few days down to Ann Arbor.  

Iron Mountain to Ann Arbor

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Rusty Winged Blackbird

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October 3

About 450 miles today ; 9200 total

Today was a driving day.   Iron Mountain was interesting, but really not a pleasant place to me.  The EconoLodge was cheap and you get what you pay for.  A warm shower, a rusty tub but overall clean, from what I can see at least.  On the road by 7:30 to finish the trek through Michigan.

The UP continued to be a nice drive,  especially during the autumn.  Lake Superior to the North and Lake Michigan to the south.  The lakes are expansive as you might imagine.  As I was driving Gordon Lightfoots's "Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald" played.  It definitely is Iron country - Iron River, Iron Mountain, Iron City etc. On the route east I caught the Seney NWR on a side trip of about 20 miles.  It is nicely laid out refuge , lots of ponds and a winding dirt road for seven miles.   Peaceful.  But very few birds!!

Crossing from the UP to Michigan proper puts you on a standard highway, the scene still nice and New England like, but not as picturesque, or Trump filled as the UP.   It was now just eating up about 350 miles of highway, so just endurance more than anything.   I called ahead to Kai-Yee and we set up a meet time in Ann Arbor.  I had expected a quick 10 minute "hi" then off, but his mother insisted I eat.  She made a great meal that KY and I had on his porch.  He seems well.  He is a good uncle to his niece and nephew which I'm sure gives him a great sense of fulfillment. 

Back at the hotel now, planning the last two days on the road - Magee Marsh and Buffalo tomorrow then Boston (unless I find a good interim spot - Otter Creek?).  I've set up my Covid screen tomorrow and hopefully can get a test by Tuesday. 


Ann Arbor to Buffalo

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October 4

About 300 miles9300 miles total

Up and out by 6:30 am to get to Magee Marsh on the second to last day of the trip.  The Hampton Inn breakfast was not good, so a quick stop at McDonalds (I know) for coffee and Egg McMuffin . One thing you realize on a cross country trip is that you have to rely on Travel Plazas and McDonalds for sustenance.  Not great options, but absent of anything else, and when you're on a timeline, you have little choice.  When I get back to Arlington, I need to get fully back into the good health habit (and back to biking). 

One side note:  When I started using Strava a few months ago, I found it to be a good tool for keeping me honest for workouts.  I discovered the community and follow George Grant and Chris Withee.  George is disciplined and works out every day.  Chris has become a real biker and his stats are impressive.  His speeds are greater than anything I've achieved.  The power of youth. I'm impressed.

I hit Magee by about 8:30.  The slight rainfall didn't help set the stage.  Driving in, I could see this was a serious birding place.  When the parking lot holds 100 cars, you know it's big time.  But, when the parking lot only has two cars, you realize it's not the right time of year.  But that's ok, this was about learning something about these places, like I did at Bosque Del Apache, so next time I'm better prepared.  As I drove to the West Parking lot, where the main boardwalk is, I saw the sign.  "Closed for hunting" was the message.   Magee Marsh, the bird part, is a few thousand acres preserved for birders, photographers, but is part of a more massive conservation area that's been reserved for duck hunting.  The hunting area was first (hundred years ago or so?) and a nature conservationist group got a slice, which has become a focal area for birders tracking Warbler migrations.  But, hunters play a big role in conservation and this was the time of year when the State of Ohio reserves time for them at Magee.  I guess you have to shoot some ducks in order to shoot some ducks. 

Without access to the prime boardwalk, I tried to make the best of the visit.  There was  trail through the woods and marsh that was not prime time, but could still see birds.  It was cloudy and a bit rainy, and the birds would be in the trees and bushes.  This required a full gear set up:  flash, off camera bracket, Better Beamer, and rain-cover added to the standards lens and tripod.  It was good practice since I really had not used the off camera bracket and fill flash.   Sorting out how to set it up, finding a lost screw, and actually using the flash set up was a good lab experiment.  And it worked.  In low light, with the flash, the resolution and focus on the pics was good. So, from here on in, when shooting into trees, I'll have this set up ready.

I walked the path, with it's low branches and somewhat dense brush, which indicated that not too many walked this route.  But I did!!  Not much on the path, but back at the parking lot I spotted a tree where there was a decent level of bird activity. There was some seed on the tree that they liked, so I hung out and practiced my small bird shots, which are not easy.  These small guys move from branch to branch quickly and you have to be quick to get them.  With a 800mm equivalent lens, you have to know where to track and focus and get settings right within a second or two. I failed most of the time, but got a few good shots - red breasted nut hatch, white throated sparrow and others I have to look up.  Net, it was a productive visit and very glad I went.

From there, on to Buffalo, hugging the Lake Erie coast.  This section of Ohio near Magee is a sportsmen's area, fishing primarily, but also a fair amount of nature areas.  I tried to get into Ottawa NWR, but the drive was closed.  Another one to add to the list.  I hit Buffalo by 3:30.  I settled into the Hampton Inn here, which is like the Ritz compared to EconoLodge and got TGIF take out (which took an hour!).  Back at the hotel, watching the NFL and getting ready for the final drive home. Cant' wait.

Buffalo to Boston

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October 5

This is my last blog entry  while on the road.  The last leg is Buffalo to Arlington.  I'm posting this in the am, prior to the final drive.  At the end of today it will be 28 days away and about 9700 miles.  It seems longer.  I think because I've seen so much and have never been away from my family for so long. When working, I did have two week trips once or twice a year and I really felt those.  This one is a month. 

I miss the kids. It was special having Molly for the first nine days and we really complemented each other as travel partners. I'm glad she's settled in and enjoying apartment life with Erika.  I spoke to her via facetime and she looks and sounds great.  Hopefully December will come soon when she comes back from lala land (which I watched again while on the road -great movie!).

Ad and I both feel good about how James has settled in at UVA.  The college seems like a good fit and he's been engaged in dorm life and the clubs, which is comforting.  Hopefully the academics go well too!!  What a great experience for him. But, I miss my buddy and it will be strange not having him at home. I look forward to picking him up for Thanksgiving. 

Ellie the trooper.  After a full house this summer she's become a bit isolated, but with a good companion with Ad, and a strong friend group from Winsor that keeps her socially connected.  I miss hearing her nightly piano and hearing her quick wit.  I'll have to wait post  Covid test to give her a big hug.

And Ad.  She has been 100% supportive of me during this whole adventure.  She runs household operations and has shouldered that burden completely while I've been away. Not that I do much, and can and should do more, at a minimum I provide some moral support at times (and probably stress at others!).  She's got a lot going on with her new PA role, but handles all of it so well, and still was helping me along the way with planning and hotels. I've really missed her and this trip has reinforced how much I love her.  I'll see her today!!

After that, I'll finish up with closing comments from Arlington and compile some stats and wrap up.  Back to Arlington!!

West to East

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I’m home.

About 400 miles; 9,900 total for the trip

The ride from Buffalo to Boston was pretty straightforward and familiar. Up and out by 8 (late) and had the chance for drive thru Starbucks – a treat. Twenty minutes later (!) I got my Venti black Pike. It’s been awhile since first rate coffee, so worth it.

Back on I-90 – an old friend. No issues. New England (even in NY) foliage scenes. No traffic issues. Just time and one small schnooze. There was no objective other than getting home. I backed into the driveway and Ad comes out.  I have to say, she looked as pretty as the day I first saw her. What a sight for sore eyes. But Covid protocol until my test results later this week. Ellie, it’s only been a month, but she looked so more mature than when I had left her and beautiful as ever. She’s really something.

From there it was unpacking, fixing the Audi flat (thanks AAA), heading to the basement, catching up with Ad on the steps – my favorite thing in the whole world to do. After that, a brief nap then undoing and putting away the “system” – camera, camping, food, clothes, literature– that I had spent weeks putting together (camping again this weekend so won’t put it all away). Now in the basement waiting to get tested tomorrow. What a trip. I hope to get some good shots, but already have the great memories.

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Molly's Video

My top of mind impressions:

Riding in quiet with Molly

Getting stopped by police in Arizona (and no ticket)

Lee Metcalf sunrise

Fireside with the hikers at Glacier

Dinner at Luskin

Putting Ikea furniture together with Molly

Missing hearing Ellie’s piano playing

Feeling good that James has settled well at UVA

Ad organizing my stays and guiding me home

Hot fire at Willard – burning Molly’s blanket and my Keens

Mosquitoes at Bear River

The scale of the mountains at Glacier

The Trumpian corridor across the northern states

The darkness of Walker and Iron Mountain

The climb to delicate Arch and almost falling into the basin

Coffee and donut in the parking lot next to the laundromat

The injured juvenile Western Grebe at Irvine Water District

Scary Soccorro

Pepper Cheeseburger in Savanah outside of Bosque

Almost getting hit by a car running a red light in Iron Mountain

Native American Reservations – how did this happen?

Stevensville Hotel in Montana

Stuck in the mud at Antelope Island

Rich McGeough – what a card

Meeting two people at different times from Melrose

Hanging out on the porch at Lake Lodge with Molly

Standing in the field of roaming bison at Yellowstone

The Pilot XM Radio – the Bridge, NPR Now, POTUS, Chris Cuomo, Michael Smerconish

McDonald’s Trail Mix and Triscuits and Polar water

LA flat fix

Stabbing at the Hilton in LA

The heat at Salton Sea

Hunters at Magee Marsh

85 Octane gas

Travel Plaza Coffee

The grasslands of the Badlands

The beautiful desert and rise outside of Phoenix to NM

Getting excited seeing the Arlington sign

What worked: -

The Pilot set up -

The Thule -

The new lens with the extender -

The Tumi suitcase -

The backpacks -

The cooler, foodbox, electronics box, map box -

XM -

Camping set up (minus tent broken tie down – need to return to REI) -

Waze -

Cheap hotels – was skeptical but they were fine -

Camp chair -

Fire box -

Hilton check in app -

The D5 and D610

What did not work or what was not needed -

Bird blinds (no time) -

Monopod – need to learn how to get tripod down fast, focus and shoot -

Books – too many; no opportunity, motivation, or time to read – other than maps and guides -

Car breakdown box (good) -

Bear spray (good and will save it) -

Understanding more about migration patterns (need to learn)\