Thursday, September 21, 2006

Vacation memories

It was pouring rain at the car rental agency - a dilapidated old house in a dirt lot, surrounded by a ring of cars. We stopped in town for lunch and ate at a restaurant that was a mix of locals and tourists trying to find a place open for lunch. It was around 11:30am. There was at least one local who was clearly intoxicated circling the bar. He looked like he was about to trip over himself, turned towards our booth, and mumbled some incoherent comment towards Chi.

This was the view on the initial drive of the vacation. We had a good two hour drive to reach our first planned stop along a lake. There was plenty of great scenery to see (when we weren't taking turns napping in the car from the exhaustion of getting up at 4am). We were even lucky enough to catch a glimpse of a moose along a creek. At the lake was a Victorian style hotel. The lobby was filled with people enjoying the views and having drinks before dinner. It felt like a movie setting, like "Dirty Dancing" of "Somewhere in Time" where families take summer vacations at classy, old resort hotels.

This is just a cute picture of the soap provided at the hotels. I love the orange contrast and the wet shiny coat on the bear. By the last couple nights, we worn him down enough that he could no longer stand unless he leaned against something. (I hate wasting perfectly good soap and the accumulated environment impact, so I wrapped him up and took him to each of our hotels during the vacation.)

One of the things we got pretty lucky with was viewing the wildlife. Chi constantly commented, "it's like being on safari."After talking with other people later in the trip, we felt very fortunate to encounter the variety of animals we did. There was a bit of confusion about what we were looking at when we first spotted this herd. These are elk because of their darker necks. Deer have a more uniform color. The stag of this clan turned out to be in another clearing just behind the trees to the left.

What might not be obvious from the pictures is how cold it felt. It lightly snowed all day Saturday. It melted as soon as it hit the ground at the lower elevations (less than 7500 ft.). It certainly wasn't ideal for vacation, but it sure gave us some lovely pictures. I think it also made the animals more comfortable about exploring since the sunlight was muted by the clouds. The sight of a black bear and two cubs was engrossing. Dozens of people abandoned their cars for more than 30 minutes watching the family run through the trees. We scurried up the road more than 500 ft. to keep up with them. The ranger was limited in controlling the traffic and pedestrian congestion. I witnessed just how fast a bear can climb a tree (and now understand why that's not an effective means of escape). Mama bear climbed to the very tops of the pine trees, shook or broke off branches with her powerful arms, and the cubs would chase the freed pine cones down the hill. So cute!

On another day, we came across a different group of elk. This male was big. The ranger said that he probably measured 6 ft. from the top of his rear to the ground. Just imagine how tall the front of #10 is when you add the head and antlers. The ranger liked talking about how this particular stag was very aggressive. They've cut his antlers twice before for attacking cars. All the locals are waiting to see what happens when stag #10 and #6 meet.

Most of the park consists of beautiful valleys, hillsides and forests. Along one section of road, however, a rockslide occurred some eons ago. For about half a mile, all you see and drive through is this enormous pile of boulders trailing down from the top. Incredible.

We stayed in three different locations, but this was the most rustic. These are literally two-room log cabins that are over 80-years-old. It was also the one place where each of us had our own beds, and we gals were separated from the guy. It made getting ready in the morning much easier. The only thing missing would have been a cozy couch or game table. Definitely a great cabin for families - throw the kids in the other room for some fleeting moments of peace and quiet.

We hiked to an inspiration point on one of the warmest days of the vacation. In one day, our pictures show us in what appear to be three different outfits. That's because we kept peeling off layers as we got warmer. This was the one day both Chi and I managed to wear short-sleeve shirts for a few hours. The climb got quite rocky, but I found I actually prefer this to dry dirt because there's less chance of slipping. The rocky ledge was pretty safe though I know a couple people who would have been uncomfortable with looking down.

While we were waiting for a chance to see a moose appear, I had my one geeky moment. Doesn't this look like a Klingon battle cruiser from the original Star Trek series? ;) Tim just laughed and commented, "what are you talking about," when I suggested the idea. He was looking at a different cloud but also thought I was weird.

The interesting human story in all this was learning about some of the people who work in national parks. I observed three types: retired, young college graduates, and college students. The retired folks have what sounds like an ideal arrangement, work or volunteer at a park for the season and move onto to another park for the next season. What a great way to enjoy nature. The college graduates are the guys who want to enjoy life and just get by for now. They're young, athletic men who take simple jobs and shift to the ski resorts during the winter where they can ski for five months and get paid to give ski and snowboarding lessons. The last group is a mix. There was definitely your group of average American college student trying to pay for school. A large number of the service staff were foreign students, especially Eastern Europeans, who came here to earn some money and improve their English. It makes me wish I'd spend a couple seasons of my younger life doing something more for the location rather than the career experience.

That's my vague, non-tourist version of the trip. I have probably 400+ photos from the trip to get through. There are plenty other interesting photos, but they're easily seen in any good coffee table book. The one fun thing about the outdoors in the fall is that all the trees are starting to change color. It was nice to get a preview of the color show the trees about to display.


Anna May Won't said...

nice pix! seems like you had a lovely time.

mini said...

wow! gorgeous!

Meowkaat said...

Great vacation translation- thanks!