Saturday, October 16, 2010

Entry into the Midwest

Living out of a car (including suitcases and motels) for a week with limited sleep and a screaming toddler has its benefits. Really, I’m not just saying that. Because we are driving, we can stop for potty breaks when needed, we aren’t disturbing anyone else except for our own family, and the time changes happen gradually.

Here we are now a couple days into our trip. Our first stop was Elko, Nevada. I was a little weary about staying in Elko. After reading some of the reviews on the hotels there, I was expecting a ghost town of what once was a popular gambling town in the 50’s. I was pleasantly surprised to find our accommodations at the Inn very nice. Two rooms is always good to have with children so that we can put some space between us. If anyone has been to Laughlin, Elko is comparatively a sister town. Although Nevada has some great tourist attractions (namely gambling and... other things), I was happy to get through it and on to our next destination.

Once we got about an hour into Idaho from Nevada, the scenery started to change. Gone were the salt flats and signs for gambling. There were many more signs of life. Farm houses, corn & potato fields, and small towns dotted the scenery and it was a nice drive. The kids were getting fed up near the last leg of the trip, so we found a school playground to stop at and let them burn off some energy.

Out of northeast Idaho and into the bottom toe of Montana. Our hotel, the Kelly Inn at West Yellowstone, was in a small town right outside the entrance to Yellowstone. Across the street was a McDonald's and an IMAX theater. It (the hotel) had a pool and hot tub as well. Joshua was absolutely chomping at the bit to get into the pool so I took him downstairs while Mike got Samuel down to sleep.

I didn’t realize how excited Mike was about Yellowstone until the next morning at 4:45AM when I heard the shower running. I hit the snooze button in my brain and went back to sleep only to be awoken again by the smell of coffee at around 6:00AM. Yes, Mike had been up since 4:45 in the morning (which was actually 3:45AM California time) He told me the whole night he had been tossing and turning with excitement awaiting our big Yellowstone Park adventure. My hair was cloaked in eau de chlorine from the pool the night before, so I hopped in the shower myself.

Washed and fed, we made it out the door by 8:45AM. The park entrance fee was $25 for a car. The Ranger was very helpful and informed us that there was only one road closure, which for this time of year is strange. Usually by this time there is two feet of snow on the ground. It’s been unusually warm this October. About 2 miles into our drive, we happened upon a herd of Elk. It was absolutely spectacular, to watch as they were grazing and trotting through the water. Joshua was so excited and said, “that was so awesome!”

Little did we know that we were in for an even bigger treat. As we drove along a little further, a small group of cars was slowing down the road. As we crept closer, we saw something in the road. At first, we thought it was a bear, but it wasn’t. It was a rogue male buffalo trotting down the center line. We stopped and took more pictures. Literally, this great beast got within five feet or less from our car. Joshua said, “my heart was beating so fast, dad!” I think all of ours were. These animals are absolutely huge up close. I’d say at least 7-8 feet tall.
Buffalo seemed to be the common sighting through out the day. We were even able to experience another “crossing”. My favorite sight was a small cinnamon colored calf running with its mother.

The park itself takes about 3 hours to drive through, without stopping for all the amazing views along the way. It’s about 100 miles across, but because of the speed limits (35 MPH is most areas) it takes longer. We started at around 8:45AM and finished up at around 4:00PM. I’d say we had a pretty good tour of the park. We also stopped at the new visitor’s center that was just finished in August. It provides a glorious indoor view of Old Faithful.

Just as many religions have a migration destination (for Muslims, Mecca; for Jews, Israel; for Catholics, Rome), Americans should all aspire to visit Yellowstone. The animals, education, breathtaking views, and natural wonders just shouldn’t be missed. It was truly one of the most amazing displays of nature I have ever seen. Sadly, we only had one day to see it all.

Our next stop was in Cody, Wyoming. The name Cody comes from world famous Buffalo Bill. This is where he laid down his roots. The town has a very large museum and there is a large rodeo arena. Cody reminds me of a place we only read about it books these days. It has a Main Street and that’s about it. It’s the kind of place where many people dream about raising their children. Where Friday night means everyone is out at the High School football game... and I mean everyone. This town has less Americans attached to it than the Yokosuka military base in Japan. Folks slow down a little bit more and still hold doors open for women. I liked it here. I tend to like small towns. After living overseas for such a long time I sort of got used to it. A small trivia fact: Wyoming as a whole has just over 500,000 inhabitants. It’s estimated that there is more cattle than people that reside here.

Stay tuned to more news from the road... and click on any of the photos to enlarge them.