Blog

Bowling

Bowling for the first time in well over a decade. I’ve never bowled at a place where the score is kept automatically for you.

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A fun night out with friends from Heritage Palms.

The Joys of Winter Flying

This morning I got Wordle in 2! Here is Proof:
Wordle 564 2/6*
⬜🟨🟨🟨🟨
🟩🟩🟩🟩🟩

Since I won’t post this until tomorrow, I’ll tell you my first guess. It was DELAY. I know there are better words but my personal practice on wordle is to sit and think about my day for a few minutes and then try to come up with a good starting word that is somehow related to those thoughts. Sort of a Wordle meditation. I have rules, I’m not going to use double letters, its not going to be super obscure, or use letters that are too rare. Although QUEST would not be out of the question.

Now you may be wondering why DELAY was my word today. Well, it all started yesterday afternoon, in Minnesota, under a winter storm warning. I could see traffic on the I-35W bridge over the Missippi was slow from the window in our condo, then I couldn’t see the bridge at all. Not good. We were scheduled to fly back to Palm Springs at 6:07PM, so after some discussion we put on our backpacks at 2:40PM and headed for the light rail station near US Bank stadium, about 8 blocks or so. The going was slow and we didn’t know how the trains were doing but we were pretty sure it was a better option than Uber or Lyft. We got to the station at 3:07 and had about 10 minutes to wait for the Blue Line toward the Mall of America. Things were running much smoother than anticipated so we arrived at the airport way ahead of our typical 90 minutes before departure. We knew we needed some extra time to grab an early bite to eat since dinner time would come somewhere over Denver.

About halfway into our dinner the Flighty app told me that our flight had just been delayed. I was a little surprised because I had been following the progress of our plane and I knew it was already at the airport. Must be a crew issue I thought. So we stretched out our meal, watched the people for a while and then headed to our gate. Sure enough we were waiting for a crew that was now “flying around the weather.” That sort of flying continued for some time as small delay after small delay started to add up.

Finally, a crew was located, and we started the boarding process. After about 20 minutes on the plane we saw the captain and co-pilot arrive and they announced that there would be a bit more delay as they did their inspection and pre-flight paperwork. Then there was more waiting until an announcement was made that the ground crews could not keep up with the freezing rain and they were closing the airport! I’ve never seen this happen in Minnesota!! We are hearty, we don’t shut down our airports for mere rain and sleet and snow. That kind of behavior is reserved for wimpy east coast sorts. 🤪

It seems that as we were sitting on the plane another plane had slid off the end of the runway. Ok, that might be a pretty good indicator that its time to close up shop for a while. So we had to get off the plane again. The gate agent assured us that the airport would open again around 10 or 10:30 PM and that we would be underway as soon as possible. Ummm I wonder what that means? You can’t just shut down everything and then get 100’s of delayed flights through de-icing and on the runway in a few minutes.

We decided to bag it. Lets just get on the delta app and click on that nice little button that says reschedule. It really is not that big of an inconvenience for us to wait another day or two to escape the cold and snow. As I was talking to another passenger I said the hardest thing for me was that I had to cancel my tee time for tomorrow. Yeah, first world problems I know. Unfortunately the little button on the app didn’t work. Probably because we had already boarded… The app helpfully suggested an 800 number to call to straighten out the problem. Unfortunately the sole purpose of the voice on the 800 number is to convince you that using delta.com or the app on your phone is really by far the better option than waiting on what was a very long hold queue due to extremely high call volume. Delta if you are listening this is an area for improvement in what I must admit is quite a good app under most circumstances.

I went up to ask the gate agent what we could do? If we simply walk away now can we rebook later tonight? first thing tomorrow? Can you release us so that we can rebook ourselves? Instead she got on her terminal and rebooked us for this morning at 8:55. Thanks helpful gate agent! I wish I had caught your name. Next stop light rail station!

The path to the light rail station at MSP involves two fairly long escalators. At the bottom of the first we were intercepted by transit police. Crap, I thought they have closed the light rail and we are going to have to wait hours for a very expensive Uber in this weather. Nope, just a short delay due to a suspicious object on the tracks. Maybe no more than 5 minutes, unless it really is a bomb. Luckily the bomb dog was back up the escalator in no time apparently having no interest in said suspicious object. To make a long story short we were home and ready for bed before they reopened the airport!

At 6:40 AM we begin to retrace our steps to the airport once again. This morning the sidewalks are actually worse than they were 16 hours ago.

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Here we are on our way back to the light rail stations in the snow.

Back at the airport, we stop at the first kiosk we see to get new boarding passes which thankfully had our TSA PreCheck status on them! Then up to security. Man am I glad we have PreCheck! A stop at Caribou for some coffee and bagels and then down to the end of the G concourse. Flighty and Delta agree we are still on time, but it is snowing like crazy. We find some seats in the gate area and then realize that we are sitting next to someone we know! From Decorah Iowa! She and her husband are on their way to spend a month in Palm Springs. Chatting with them passes the time, and soon the agent announces pre-boarding – well it takes her a few tries as one of their mics makes them sound like the adults in the Charlie Brown TV shows – this is all looking too good to be true!

Soon enough we board but with all of the changes we have lost our nice aisle seats and are consigned to a middle and a window. The window is moderately interesting as we can see that about six inches of snow have accumulated on the wing! This is going to take some serious de-icing! As we are trying to get to our seats the nice lady on the aisle asks us to be careful as her cat is in a carrier under the seat! Hmmmm, I am extremely allergic to cats! The allergist at mayo said I am the most cat allergic patient he’s ever had. We have a short conversation about that and she is very needlessly apologetic (she didn’t know she would be seated next to me!). But she informs the flight attendant and they discuss an option of her moving across the aisle and up a row to a seat that hasn’t filled yet in an effort to put more distance between me and the cat. Although the flight is booked full it looks like there is definitely some room for maneuvering.

In an amazing stroke of luck, the flight attendant returns in a few minutes and asks if we would be willing to move back two rows and occupy exit row seats! Well that would certainly improve my odds of not finishing the flight with itchy eyes and wheezy lungs! And the nice cat lady gets a whole row to herself as a bonus.

After getting settled into our lovely exit row seats the pilot informs us there will be a short delay. We are waiting for a couple of connecting passengers, so please everybody stay in the seats you were assigned… Ummm, but the flight attendant said it was OK to move. A further delay was announced as the baggage carts are having a hard time getting around in the snow. Yes, indeed when you see one of the giant pushback tugs towing the baggage carts you know there are some real problems with traction.

Finally the boarding doors are closed, and we breath a big sigh of relief. We are warned that the waiting is not over, and de-icing and takeoff is still a ways in our future. In fact during the pushback process we apparently get stuck and we are rocked back and forth a few times before we finally get back far enough to fire up the engines. De-icing does take a lot of time! It turns out we had two coats, one to remove the ice and another to prevent more ice which turns the wings an interesting color green. That is to provide a visible signal of which parts of the wings have been treated and presumably will let them know when the chemicals are no longer doing their job, and reapplication is needed. Anyway, after de-icing we get to watch a parade. A parade of yellow vehicles plowing and brushing and throwing down all manner of chemicals on the runway to try to keep it safe for really large vehicles going hundreds of miles per hour that need to stop fast. You can kinda-sorta see them in this picture out out window…

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We are second in line for takeoff for at least 15 minutes! I don’t see any planes landing, I see an SUV driving down the runway with flashing lights. I’m waiting for the announcement that we are going to have to return for more de-icing or even worse, return to our gate. But then the engines fire up and we begin to taxi to take our turn! As I look down the runway I realize that we are taking off blind! Visibility isn’t even good enough to see the far end of the runway, maybe not even halfway… and then the pilot does one of those power takeoff maneuvers when he stands on the brakes and revs the jet engines to get more power, like we are on some kind of aircraft carrier.

Seconds later we are hurtling down the runway into the snow and fog then clouds; eventually we break through and see some blue sky and are on our way! On our way to sunny Palm Springs, with no snow on the ground, and where our friends are surely complaining that it is only 64 degrees!

So long Minnesota… I’m seriously re-thinking my quick visit back in February! Will the grandkids hate me if we just FaceTime? Do I really need to go to Minneapolis to see the musical version of To Kill a Mockingbird? If I don’t see Minnesota until April can anyone blame me? Oh and the Wordle answer was LAYER, as in Ogers are like onions, as in always dress in. I’m going to call that nothing but skill.

New Instructor Dashboard

I’ve been working on a new instructor dashboard the last week using Plotly + Dash. Its taken a while to wrap my head around the declarative style, and to learn the ins and out of plotly. But I’m getting there. Let me know if you want a closer look and would like to give me feedback! In the meantime here is a preview.

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Favorite photos of 2022

Inspired by the latest episode of Hemispheric Views, I decided to choose some of my favorite photos of the year. It is really hard.

From our hike in the Zion Narrows

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From Antelope Canyon, I chose this because it was cool, and because our guide taught me some new tricks of iPhone photography! Do you see the Bison?

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From our early morning start in Grand Teton National Park. I love the light in this one.

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From our fall trip to the North shore. I just like the color of the moss looking out over Lake Superior.

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From our driving trip going back to California at Cedar Breaks National Monument. An early snow against the red rocks was really cool.

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And finally one of the many winter wonderland pictures I took after the great snowfall we had a couple weeks ago. I would not want to be standing on this spot when the wind gusts and blows all that snow down!

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Shoutout to @canion, @burk, and @martinfeld, for a great podcast.

A Snowy Morning Walk

We arrived at our own private winter wonderland about 5:00 last night. The lane to our cabin greeted us with a wonderful site.

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The driveway, on the other hand, was not beautiful but a job waiting to be done. I knew it was going to be bad because I had called to get the septic holding tank pumped out, and the driver called me back and asked when we were going to have the driveway plowed so he could get in.

We got the snowblower going and cleared the drive only to get another four inches of snow overnight. It is truly beautiful around here and I was very thankful that the wind did not come up overnight and blow all the snow off the pine branches.

So, this morning after doing my PT exercises for my knee, I put on my boots and headed out the door with my phone to capture some of this.

Here are some of my favorites. I like this one for the bends in the trees. The snow is sure adding a lot of weight, but luckily I have not noticed any broken branches.

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I always like to play with the macro feature of the iPhone. This one really captured the crystals of the snow.

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And finally one of our favorite places to hang out with the kids when there are with us. The fire pit! I would love to have a fire going in there right now if only to add a spash of color.

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And finally here is one of the heavily laden pins on the lake side of the house. I love that tree on the left. the landscaper wanted to pull it out 22 years ago, but I said no. Lets let it grow.

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After my walk we did another round of shoveling and snow blowing. It looks like a guaranteed white Christmas this year, and I’m looking forward to Kaia, Tanner, Josh, Rachel, Johannes and Maren joining us soon for Christmas.

Sharing the wealth...

This topic has always been tough for us, as parents. But I love our financial adivisors, and I think this recent post really nails it. Key quote:

Talk to your kids about what you are doing or not doing for them, explain what your motives are, and re-evaluate your choices based on how things play out. You are not entitled to a certain response, so don’t hold out for it. Be grateful for what you can do.

Read the full article here: www.startribune.com/levin-how…

All the Things I am Thankful for

I thought it would be fun to share a text and picture blog post of all of the things I am thankful for! So here goes, the list is pretty long.

My Grandkids!

Although I am still relatively new to the grandpa game, I love Hannes and Maren a ton! If this isn’t the coolest picture of a brand new big brother I really don’t know what is.

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My family!

This was taken before number 2 grandkid was conceived, at our lake house in wisconsin. I think the comma after conceived is important…

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My Wife

My adventure partner, my companion, my everything! I don’t know who else would put up with me after all of these years. COVID times may have curtailed our ability to see the rest of the world, but it definitely increased our desire to see the amazing country we live in. Get yourself a camper and see the USA! This particular picture was taken at Zion National Park. I could post hundreds of other selfies of us from the USA to Morocco to Istanbul to Vietnam, to every other continent (except Antarctica)!

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I am thankful that wherever we are we are happy to be there. We have the amazing fortune to have three homes. I know, it’s kind of embarassing, and soon enough we will not want to maintain three residences.

Indio, California

IMG 6624 We have made so many good friends here in Indio! From the golf course to the pickleball court to the stage! We are so happy here, and look forward to many more years of “retirement” here at HP. Even though we were not with our kids this year we were lucky enough to invite another couple from pickleball to join us for dinner. We often joke that Heritage Palms is “summer camp” for adults over 55, but it is pretty true, there are so many activities and small groups to get to know.

Minneapolis, Minnesota

IMG 2022 When we downsized from our house in Decorah to an 1800 square foot condo in Minneapolis we wer over the moon. Theaters, restaurants, sports venues, mass transit, were all within blocks of us. And when we want to be somewhere else we lock the door, leave the car in the secure, heated garage, and are on our way! COVID made us question the ownership of this particular property, but we love every night we are there.

Luck, Wisconsin

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we built our cabin in Luck in 1999 as a place for our family to gather, and I’m happy it has worked out as a place where we gather with our kids and grandkids when we are around. I’m also really happy that this is a place where our kids and their spouses and children gather without us when we are avoiding the cold and enjoying California.

My Career

I’m thankful that I love what I do, and that I control my own schedule. How many people get to do what they love, and get paid for it? How many can do it on their own time schedule? I am the main person behind Runestone Academy, and every day I am helping more than 60,000 students learn math and computer science. But I can still play golf in the mornings with my friends, or ride bike, or play pickleball, or just have a cup of coffee and read the news or watch soccer or do the crossword puzzle.

Our Friends

I am thankful for our friends! Oh! I am so thankful for our friends! I do not even want to start this! But this guy and his wife are our oldest and dearest friends. College roommates, God parents to our kids, travel companions, you name it. This picture was taken on our 30th anniversary trip together. We take a trip every 5 years (sometimes every 4 AND 5 years) to celebrate our anniversaries. I feel like this is such a wonderful and unique tradition.

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I am sorry that I have not named everyone that is important to me. That list and post would be much longer. I just started this post on a lark, and have only now realized the gravity of (not) naming everyone. I hope you know who you are and how important you are to me.

The danger of a post like this is that ten minutes from now I will think of something or someone that I missed. I am so sorry!

Westward Ho!

Instead of camping our way to California this Fall we decided to make it a four day drive. We stayed in, gasp, hotels! This is really our first driving trip where we have used hotels since the pandemic. The verdict? Its nice to pull your accommodations with you!

Our first night was a very nice lodge in Spearfish Canyon South Dakota. Although the lodge was nice it was kind of a bummer because we had a nice hike planned, but I had injured my foot just a couple of days before we took off and I couldn’t walk more than a few yards without a lot of pain.

We did see some pretty cool sheep on the hillside!

We left at O-dark-thirty on day two of our adventure and had the pleasure of scraping ice off our windshield for the first time in a very long time! Today’s drive would take us across Wyoming to a lodge just outside of Dutch John Utah. The area is better known as Flaming Gorge. It was very pretty but our lodge was quite remote and felt even more so because we were clearly in the after season. Only one restaurant in the area was open.

Even thought it was isolated, we had a very pretty view out the picture window of our cabin. Here is a nice Sunset shot!

And to follow up, here is a sunrise photo from the same spot.

A long drive down I 15 brought us to Cedar City Utah for our third night. We headed up to Brian Head, a ski area and did a short little hike. My foot was feeling better by this time, but we still didn’t want to do too much. I love this shot of the show against the beautiful red rock! Our hotel was a Baymont tonight, and I’m not sure why, but the hotel had a some special “mini-rooms” even the door was about ¾ of a normal width. This was our room for the night. The saving grace for the hotel was that it was near a brewery and a really excellent pizza place! I had a chicken pizza with white sauce and pistachios! Truly amazing.

Our last day was the final push to Indio. But we made a quick stop at Kolob Canyon to take a short hike. Maybe some of the most spectacular views yet.

This was a great way to do the trip out this year. We averaged about 6-7 hours of driving a day with time at the end of each day for a short hike or some site seeing.

Superior Fall Colors

Timing the fall colors is a tough game to play. It’s hard to predict when they will peak because there are so many factors at play. Jane did all of the research and tried to make a reservation for next week, but could not find a good campsite. So we reserved for this whole week thinking we would use part of our reservation. Then I found out I had other commitments at the end of the week so we had to push our time further forward.

The results speak for themselves.

We arrived on a very gloomy and rainy Sunday afternoon. But discovered our campsite was just 100 hundred yards or less from the shore.

Bean and Bear

The next day was cool and clear so we did the 7.5 mile bean and bear hike near silver bay. The colors we almost there but not quite. Still it was a very beautiful hike, although Jane lost her Yellowstone hat from the vantage point where we took this photo.

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A shorter hike on another clear day, but further north near Lutson had amazingly vibrant fall colors.

Temperance River

On our final morning we took the short hike to the Temperance River gorge. It had a beautiful waterfall, and we enjoyed watching an Arctic Loon try to fight its way upstream.

Fall Walks on Bone Lake

After a couple of years of taking long camping trips during the month of October it has been wonderful to be at the cabin for the “Fall colors” this year. These pics just highlight the everyday beauty of the area during October.

Its a bit cold to bike (40 degrees) but it is a nice temperature to walk. Here are a few photos that Jane and I have taken in the last two days on our walks around the cabin. Enjoy!

Devils Tower

The road home runs through Devils Tower National Monument. A monument who got its name from a misunderstanding between the Native Americans name “Bear Lodge” and the white people.

Nothing about this tower says evil/devil. But apparently after the army slaughtered all of the bison the area was a stinking pile of carcasses and the army colonel described it as Devil’s Tower. There is a movement to change it back, predictably opposed by Wyoming members of congress. You can read more about it on the park service website

As is our usual practice we spent the last night on the road at a KOA so we could have a nice easy way to clean out our tanks for the long trip home. This KOA shows a movie every night — Close Encounters of the Third Kind. You may remember that this monument featured in that movie.

This is a popular spot for climbers. Except for the month of June when it is not open for climbing out of respect to the Here are some climbers coming back down.

The title picture for this post was taken at 6 AM as we pulled out of the park to being our 13 hour journey back to Wisconsin. This was a fantastic trip, made even better by our traveling companions. Where will we be five years from now? Who knows, but it will be an adventure.

Yellowstone Scenery

Although there was a huge flood in Yellowstone just over a month ago there was very little of the park that was closed to visitors. We took full advantage of that and saw everything that the park had to offer. When most people think of Yellowstone, they probably think of Old Faithful, but there is so much more to the park than that. We did a few longer hikes, and a lot of short hikes. We saw beautiful rivers and waterfalls and canyons. Even the meadows along the river were amazingly beautiful. I am very grateful to the Hayden expedition, congress, and to President Grant for making Yellowstone the first national park in the world.

The grand canyon of Yellowstone was really grand, and maybe my favorite of the trip. There are two huge waterfalls, upper and lower. Here is a view of the lower falls — which are 308 feet tall! For comparison Niagara is 167 feet but Iguazu falls are 360. I looked it up so you get to read it!

We started out our visit to the grand canyon of Yellowstone at artist point, supposedly named for some paintings made by the artist Thomas Moran who was part of the Hayden expedition. Moran painted the falls to present to congress because after discovering Yellowstone they knew that it needed to be preserved and wanted to persuade congress to preserve this place for future generations.

Thomas Moran's painting of the lower falls

But this is a mistake, he actually made the paintings from the north rim. Nevertheless its a great view point and you could definitely be inspired to paint there.

Lower Falls from Artist Point

Upper Falls

From the north side of the canyon You can take a ¾ mile hike down to the brink of the upper falls. Its a 600 foot elevation change but you get to stand and look right over the falls.

Brink of the falls

Sometimes you can happen upon something really nice just by taking a short little offshoot of the main road. These are wonderful stops without the crowds that you see at some of the main attractions.

Fire Hole Falls

Tower Falls

Yellowstone river

This has been a wonderful trip. Tomorrow we leave Yellowstone and begin the two day trek back home. We will make a stop at Devils Tower tomorrow night, and then have a marathon day back to the cabin in Wisconsin on Friday.

Mud Pots, Hot Springs and Geysers

Educational Post Alert (EPA)! Did you know there are four kinds of geothermal features in Yellowstone? And that Yellowstone has more than half of the worlds geysers ? Thats geysers not geezers , although there are a lot of geezers here, I’m pretty sure its not more than half of the worlds population.

The first couple of days in the park we visited a lot of thermal features I’m going to take them by feature rather than going in order. We will go from most boring to least boring. As a bonus for sticking with us you will get to see wildlife photos.

Let’s begin with Fumaroles. You might think these sound like some nice Italian pastry stuffed with sweet cream filling, but you would be wrong. Fumaroles are gas vents. And when I say gas I mean sulfur gas. You can encounter these things all over the park and you usually see them and hear them before you actually get to them.

Dragon's Breath

Next on the list are the mud pots. Mud pots are boiling pools of, well, mud. In the springtime when there is more runoff and rain they tend to be kind of thin, but by late summer and early fall they are very thick and muddy. These are also quite odiferous, but kind of fun to watch them bubble away and spew mud into the air.

Mudpot

Third are the thermal pools. These can be quite beautiful actually. They look like they would be wonderful to sit in like a hot tub. But they are actually way too hot for that and their PH is quite acidic. They also contain lots of interesting kinds of bacteria that only grow at higher temperatures. In fact the colors in these pools are from mats of bacteria that thrive at different temperature levels. Not only are they pretty, but they are scientifically useful in that they help make DNA replication much faster!

Morning Glory Pool

Prismatic Overlook

Mammoth Hot Springs

This pool deserves some special mention. It is right in Lake Yellowstone. It gives anglers the option to catch their fish and cook it without even taking it off the hook. It is called the fishing cone.

Fishing Cone

Finally, the most famous and dramatic of all of the features are the Geysers. Geysers are especially fun when they erupt. Old faithful, here at Yellowstone erupts every 35 minutes to 2 hours. We enjoyed seeing old faithful twice, once from a viewpoint up on the hill quite a ways away, and the other time right up close. We also witnessed several other smaller eruptions and different geysers around the park.

Old Faithful Overlook

Old Faithful Selfie

OK, you made it this far, here are some animals. By far the animal we have seen the most is the Bison. We have seen them in the field, near the road, on the road, rolling in the dirt, everywhere. We did not pet them. We also saw this nice herd of Elk in the distance. But no bears. We did get to observe some black wolves, but trust me they are so far in the distance that they don’t really make for sharable photos. We also saw a coyote out on the road in the middle of the day, which is quite unusual.

Grand Teton Icons

What do Oxbow bend, Schwabacher landing, the Moulton barn and the snake river overlook all have in common? These are all iconic sites to see in the park. We set out early again this morning to beat the crowds and the heat to see them all. Although today was not a day for long hikes we did enjoy several short walks to see the sites.

The first stop was an early morning stop at Oxbow bend. A great place to spot wildlife, but even though we were there early in the morning we didn’t see any mammals. The coolest thing we saw at Oxbow was an Osprey carrying off a trout to its nest. A trout is perfectly streamlined for flight underneath a bird of prey.

A little further down the road we had a fantastic view of Grand Teton in the beautiful morning light.

Our next stop was at the Snake River overlook. This is the place where Ansel Adams took his iconic photo that put Grand Teton on the map. There are more trees now than when he took the photo in 1942. We did our best to recreate the photo using 2020 technology and filters.

As we were heading to the truck we overheard one young dad tell his three kids “Look kids there are some iconic Grand Teton crows”. The only thing I can imagine that would inspire a statement like that was if they too had been listening to Gypsy Guide in the car.

Further on down the road we went, this time our stop was Schwabacher landing. We were in luck! There was a mama moose and her baby eating and drinking in the river. This time I had our good old Canon SLR with the long lens so we were able to get some really good photos of the pair.

Once again we were really hoping to see a bear so we spent more time at a little more secluded pullout at Schwabacher but didn’t see anything but more birds.

The last of our iconic stops was on mormon row where there are some well preserved barns from the 1890s.

After seeing all of these iconic sites we decided to continue on into Jackson and wander around the town a bit. It was a Saturday so we happened to hit the farmers market for some great fresh bread. Other than that Jackson seemed pretty much like every other western tourist town.

Grand Teton - Cascade Canyon

The first ferry across Jenny lake leaves at 7am she said. We decided to shoot for the 7:30 crossing, which turned out to be a brilliant move. First we avoided lots of crowds, and second, we were up into Cascade Canyon in time to see a group of bull moose waking up!

One of the nicest hikes in Grand Teton is the Hidden Falls, Inspiration point, and Cascade Canyon combination. It is about a 480 foot climb for the first mile and then it evens out for the walk through the beautiful glacial canyon. By leaving early we avoided the people coming down the trail as we were heading up and it was generally a lot more peaceful.

Jenny Lake Ferry Ride

The first stop was hidden falls, a beautiful waterfall on cascade creek that feeds into Jenny lake. The lake temperature is 60 degrees at the surface, “but gets a little more chilly if you dive down.” Not much chance of that happening.

Hidden Falls

A further climb leads you to inspiration point. On the way up this climb there are a couple of places to stop and take in some of the peaks in the Teton range. Including this picture of Teewanot. The contrast of the morning sun against the storm clouds over the peak was awe inspiring already. And yes we did hear thunder, but thankfully we did not see or experience any lightning!

Teewanot - sounds like astronaut

When you arrive at Inspiration point you have a fantastic view of the lake. I love this shot that shows the ferry leaving the dock leaving a feather-like wake.

Jenny Lake

After inspiration point the trail levels out some, and so we were just enjoying a nice walk back into the Cascade Canyon. We caught a few raindrops as the storm clouds passed over us, but not enough to get wet. We happened to talk with a couple of guys coming down the trail who told us they had just seen a couple of moose laying in a meadow about 5-10 minutes up the trail. We were lucky enough to spot them when we arrived! It was a bit disappointing to see nothing but antlers, but It looked like they were beginning to stir so we decided to hangout a while and see if anything happened. During the wait we amassed a huge collection of very bad photos of moose antlers behind plants in the deep shade.

But sure enough after a 15 minute wait one of them stood up. This caused a second one to rouse itself as well. Eventually they ventured into some light bright enough to get a few decent photos. Although 99% of our photos are taken on iPhones these days we were glad to have brought along our old Sony A6000 with the telephoto lens to get a better closeup.

Thats Mr. Moose to you.

This little encounter reminded us how lucky you are to see wildlife while hiking along. The animals are so hard to spot if they are not up and moving. We often wondered how often we passed some kind of wildlife that was just quietly lying behind a bush a few feet away.

We continued further into the canyon now in hopes of seeing a bear (at a very safe distance). The closest we came to a bear was a surly teenager who ruined his grandma’s entire day with his behavior. A side note here - it seems that leaving early is a good strategy because it is mostly people our age on the trail and some families with younger happy children or cute babies in backpacks who get up early in the morning. We noticed a lot more teens on the trip down in late morning.

Cascade Canyon

We arrived back at camp in time to make some lunch. I guess I really worked up an appetite because caesar salad with chicken never tasted so good. We voted for a lazy afternoon of reading, and checking out the beach. Around 4:00 we took a short drive up Signal Mountain to take in the views of the “hole.” Fun fact: The term hole was a common term to describe a high altitude valley. Further fun fact - the term “dude ranch” specifically the term dude was a pejorative term in the late 1800’s to refer to a city dweller who needed to be pampered and was very likely unable to look after themselves in the wilderness.

Exploring Custer - Day 3

The morning dawned crisp and clear, it was great to sleep with the windows open taking in the cool clean air. I made my coffee, and thanks to our range extender I was even able to read the news and extend my 73 day streak on Wordle. I had just finished wordle when I heard Brian lighting the campfire outside. The plan for the day was to start with a hearty breakfast and then head out to do the Cathedral Spires and Little Devils Tower hike. After hiking we will do the black hills loop drive, including Iron Mountain highway and the Needles highway.

We began with an egg bake cooked over an open fire. Delicious and the hashed browns on the bottom of the pan were wonderfully crispy.

The Cathedral Spires hike was wonderful, but Little Devils Tower was spectacular! The Cathedral Spires were the inspiration for Mount Rushmore. The hike up there was fine but when you finally get into the spires themselves you can see how inspirational they really are.

Headed up the Cathedral Spires

We arrived at a clearing with a nice shady area to sit, but there were also trails leading off in a couple of different directions. Brian and I were convinced there must be more so we explored a bit only to realize that there was not much more to see. When we got back Jane and Holly pointed to the sign below.

Self explanatory

OK, so we were undisputedly at the end of the trail.

Just a short distance back down the trail was the turn off to head to Little Devils Tower. This was largely a climb and we were not sure where it was going to end, spoiler alert its up on top of these rocks.

Little Devils Tower

The trail was full of little chips of Mica and in some places it was so fine that the very fine sand looked muddy! We also walked through a whole section of trail full of “fools gold.” Both Holly and Jane were sporting knee braces so we were trying to take care, and in fact one elderly lady we met on the trail referred to them as “brave”. We laughed about that for a long time. Unfortunately when we got about a quarter mile from the payoff to this part of the hike it was clear that those with knee braces were not going to go rock climbing on all fours.

That left Brian and I to make our way to the summit on our own. It was definitely a good bit of rock scrabbling. But the view from the top was well worth the effort. Just imagine standing on top of that little dome of rock. Nothing to block your view for 360 degrees.

Here is Brian making his way up one of the easier parts of the final push.

Brian making the final push

And here is the best I can do from the top. Pictures do not even come close to capturing what we saw.

A different view of the spires

Incredible views

Brian and I on top of Little Devils Tower

On the way down we had one very funny moment when Brian’s water bottle slipped out of his back pack and went clattering down the granite. We thought for sure the women would hear it and think one of us had fallen down the hill. Just a little bit of extra character for the bottle.

The rest of the day we were in the car, enjoying the Needles Highway. There are three tunnels carved through the granite, but they are only 8 feet 9 inches wide and just over 10 feet tall. This is why we had to take the long way around to our campground! No way is the camper going to fit through this tunnel!

Through one of the eyes of the needle

The Iron Mountain highway with its pigtail bridges and views of Mount Rushmore is also a great part of the drive. We didn’t see any bison or other wildlife. But we enjoyed the drive and the views.

At one point near the end we got enough service for some emails to arrive. Luckily I looked long enough to see an urgent email regarding one of our grant proposals that was due in just an hour or so. Apparently our part needed to be submitted. So I tried to log in on my phone and navigate the NSF website to submit our grant. Now the NSF site is a big pile of crap from the 90’s that is hard to navigate on the best of days with a desktop browser. Trying to navigate it in a half-panic on your phone is horrible. Let’s just say there is nothing responsive about the design and the design did nothing to anticipate the use of mobile devices. In the end I gave up and sent my password to the grant officer at Michigan, who ended up having to call NSF tech support because indeed the submit button was not where it should have been. It turns out that being an administrator and Principle Investigator is not enough to submit a proposal, I needed to have a new role as Authorized Organizational Representative. Of course the site itself does not say that. Dear NSF better error messages would help…

Dinner for the evening was our celebratory anniversary meal. Steak over the fire — someone left the sous vide in California! — baked potatoes, salad and a couple of bottles of really nice wine we brought for the occasion.

Mexican food so good…

Today (Day 2) was a day of driving across South Dakota. What do you see when driving across South Dakota? Billboards, lots and lots of billboards. Wall Drug, of course. But lots of others too, apparently the Firehouse Brewery is trying to be the new Wall Drug. They have signs and bright red fire trucks every few miles. Here are a few of our favorite slogans.

Mexican food so good that Donald Trump would build a wall around it!

I don’t even remember if the name of the restaurant was mentioned. But I would love to eat there to support the owners.

There is wisdom in wine.

There is bacteria in water

Love it, let’s have a glass of wine to celebrate the author of that sign.

I have to say that South Dakota is not a good value; it is pretty expensive scenery at almost $1.00 per mile! The reason that today was particularly expensive was the headwind. We were driving straight into a 20 mph wind gusting to 40 mph at times. Our gas mileage is normally 9-10 mph while pulling our camper, but today we were averaging 5.3. Yikes! I was beginning to think that today was our day for mechanical troubles until we stopped to fill up. I could hardly push the door open against the wind. Although relieved to understand why we were getting such poor mileage, Knutson’s van performed perfectly and with a diesel engine they were only using about a quarter of a tank to our 25 gallon fills.

We made it to the Badlands in the late morning and took the scenic drive through. The last time I was on this road, I was on my bike, so it was a different experience to see it from the truck.

The gang in the Badlands

The Badlands are so interesting with millions of years of geologic history on display. They have a map that shows what things looked like all those years ago and clearly this part of the world was under water.

After we got through the Badlands our final 100 miles for the day brought us to Custer State Park. I think it must be one of the most beautiful state parks in the country. Our camp sight was beautiful, if a little small to back into. We set up camp at the Sylvan Lake campground and after a round of beers in the shade we headed out for the short hike around the lake.

Dinner was wonderful, we had some delicious french dip foil sandwiches. Holly had made them with cheese and roast beef and then wrapped them in foil, we put them over the fire and they came out perfectly. Meanwhile we took on the task of trying to figure out the problem with the gas supply to the grill and griddle. By process of elimination we determined that it was the quick connect coupler on the camper that had to be clogged. The protective cover had either come off or we had forgotten to put it on, so it wasn’t too surprising that road grime was interfering with the flow. We took it off and washed it good with soapy water. That cleared it all up and so we are back in business to cook with gas. However we are having fun improvising our cooking over the open camp fire.

Unsurprisingly holly and Brian had not slept very well their first night in their van, so we called it a night relatively early.

The Adventures Begin

Every five-ish years we have a special trip with our good friends Brian and Holly. We were all married on the same weekend in June, but one year apart. Brian was my college roommate and my best man. So to celebrate our five year anniversaries we do a trip together. We have been to Door County, Hawaii, the Mediterranean, the Caribbean, you get the idea. Every time we go it is an adventure.

This year is our 36th anniversary and their 35th. A few years ago we rented a 32 foot RV and visited Banff and Glacier. This year, we decided to keep the national park theme going and are heading to the Grand Tetons and Yellowstone. Since we have a travel trailer, Brian and Holly decided to rent a camper van and we would drive and camp together.

We were about an hour down the road when we got the following text from Holly.

So we pulled off in Saint James and parked behind the Caseys. After turning off the van and restarting the engine everything seemed fine. So we continued on down the road. We got all the way to Heron Lake when it happened again. So we pulled into the Conoco station and they called their rental company. Once again restarting the van fixed the problem. After the third time we decided to pull over in Worthington and get some help from the rental company. The first thing we learned was that the roadside assistance provided with the rental was completely useless. They said they found one place that could help us, in the little town of Lismore, that could get us in on Wednesday! Discussions ensued with the owner of the RV who seemed pretty knowledgeable and correctly diagnosed what the problem was. Meanwhile the rental company got busy trying to locate an alternative RV to bring to us. The RV was in “limp mode”. When the RPMs exceed 2700 the turbo is not able to keep up and goes into a mode where you cannot accelerate.

At the owners suggestion we continued toward Sioux Falls, with a stop for gas in Luverne where gas was just $4.09. While we were in town we made a quick stop at Papik motors where we were able to get the error code read, which confirmed the diagnosis. A little further down the road we got word that we should head to Chris’s Auto Repair in Sioux Falls. If you ever need some work done on your car in Sioux Falls I would highly recommend, they are the nicest group you will find. They did some more diagnostic work to figure out exactly what needed to be replaced. Unfortunately they couldn’t get the part until Wednesday, so the owner dispatched his mechanic to make the four hour drive to Sioux Falls with the part. We now knew that we were not going camp in the badlands, so we found a couple of sites at the very nice Lake Vermillion recreation area.

While waiting for the mechanic, we had happy hour and made some burgers. We were planning on grilling, but for some reason could not get the grill to light! Another mystery to figure out when we get settled in Custer. The induction burner and frying pan worked out just fine, so we had our burgers and enjoyed the views of the lake.

At around 9:00 the mechanic arrived, well it was actually not the mechanic but someone’s teenage son. Whatever! He got the job done and the RV has been running like a champ all day today.

Hiking the Wire Pass Canyon

Unfortunately our lottery attempts were a bust and neither of us got selected. So we did the next best thing and hiked Wire Pass. Getting to Wire Pass is about half the adventure as it is 7.9 miles off the highway on a very bumpy dirt and gravel road. Jane loves driving the truck in these off-road conditions, I just grit my teeth until we are there.

It turns out that the trailhead for Wire Canyon is also the trailhead for the Wave (also known as North Coyote Canyon.) We thought about just following the trail to the wave, but decided that if there were rangers checking passes that it probably was not worth it.

In the end Wire Canyon was great, lots of slot canyons to walk through and just a huge wall at the end. Not only the wall, but there are ancient Petroglyphs carved into the wall.

After eating out every night so far on this little camping trip we finally made dinner at the camper. Jerry found enough left over firewood to make a little fire and we cooked our curried pork satays over an open flame.

Cruising Lake Powell

Houseboat by sheer cliffs

private beach with no neighbors

billions of bright stars

After piloting a 50 foot houseboat for an afternoon, I think I’m ready to give cruise ships a try! It’s probably not that much different…

We arrived at the rental office and looked down, down, down the hill past where the water levels have been for decades down to the lowest point since the 1960’s. At the various marinas the self serve boat landings end 50 feet above the water level! That is gonna be a long way to schlep all this stuff was the common sentiment among our group.

Luckily the checkin process went much better than we were expecting, and after our orientation on the boat our person had a gator with two wagons attached to ride up the hill and fetch all of our stuff! The houseboat itself is a wonder, and much nicer than we were anticipating! There are lots of little details to remember about running the generator to charge the batteries, what things run on AC power and what things run on batteries with the inverter. For the most part you don’t really have to worry too much. We have just started the generator at the times we want to cook and while we are cooking the batteries get recharged. Plus there is a nice gas grill on the top deck for cooking as well.

Once we had everything stowed we were ready to get under way. They give you surprisingly little training for driving a giant boat, but one of the guides kindly accompanied us out of the harbor, watch over my shoulder and sharing a few tips for steering. The bottom line is that you don’t turn a houseboat on a dime, you need to anticipate and not oversteer.

Next stop was the Wahweap Marina, below the lodge, for some reason the kayak rental place we used cannot deliver to the boat rental place. So I already had to figure out how to go and dock this big thing. The pilot helping me out seemed very skeptical about the whole idea. “Maybe they can just bring the kayaks to you in a boat?” Despite his lack of faith I did find a place to dock and we got the Kayaks loaded and headed on our way. The general consensus was that Navajo Canyon was our best bet for finding a place to beach the houseboat. So off we went!

Part of the way back into Navajo canyon we found a magnificent spot! It was clearly a spot recently used as the holes for the anchors were already dug in all the right spots for us. So yay! That saved us a bunch of work. We may stay here until we have to leave on Sunday. We are truly disconnected here, no cell service at all, no WiFi or anything. Hopefully all is well in the world!

Ann and Jane did a little exploring in some nearby coves!

After a dinner of Peruvian Chicken we taught Ann and Jerry to play a new game. Before retiring for the night we all went on the top deck and lay face up on the mats — STARS — a clear sky and no light pollution makes for a spectacular view.

Driving to Page

Today was mostly just getting from Zion over to Page Arizona. We had to take the camper through the tunnel, which was interesting because they make the tunnel one way traffic whenever there is a camper or bus that needs to go through. The road is just a little too narrow for comfort and although two campers could probably pass each other many mirrors would be broken. From there we went through Kanab and then onward toward Page Arizona.

About 20 miles outside of Kanab we came to a sudden stop. There was a huge lineup of cars on our side of the road and no oncoming traffic except for the few cars we could see turning around. With no cell service it was a total mystery as to what had transpired ahead. We assumed it was an accident of some kind. But how long would we have to wait? After sitting some time the paramedics from Kanab came by heading toward the accident, so we knew it would be quite a while. Jerry and I decided to take a little hike up the road to see if we could find any information or even just to see if we could see the start of the backup. After walking about a mile we started chatting with another person who said that there had been a lot of smoke and the word was that a camper had tipped over and caught fire. Rescue crews were looking for volunteer vehicles to help clear the road. But nobody knew how long it would be before we could get underway.

We met people with timed reservations at Antelope canyon, and others on their way to Lake Powell every car on our walk back wanted to know if we had learned anything. We we tried to tell what we knew in ever decreasing detail. A few minutes after getting back to the car we could see the front of the line start to move. It was just about 1 hour delay. Luckily we were not on any time schedule. We could clearly see the problem when we got to the front! We hope everyone survived! This really made us think about the dangers of driving in remote areas, no cell service in this area? We can only imagine how long that RV burned before word got to the authorities and someone was able to respond 20 miles from the nearest town!

The other unfortunate thing about the day was that the wind was just howling 20 mph with gusts of much more. At our campsite we could hardly close our door with both hands! Needless to say we were not going to sit around in the camper in the wind, so we headed down to see horseshoe bend. It takes a bit to walk down to the viewpoint and on the way there we had convinced ourselves that the wind was letting up a bit. But when we got to the edge of the canyon overlooking the bend we were sand blasted! You could hardly stand it with the bits of sand and gravel whipping around and stinging your skin.

So maybe outdoor hiking is not a good idea today either. Maybe we should go into page to the brewery and distillery? That turned out to be a great call. Good beer, decent pizza and some really nice gin — made with botanicals. Yes, I am on vacation I had gin and beer.

Back at the camper the wind had calmed down so we settled in for a rousing game of “Mexican Train” dominoes. It was a game full of twists and turns, just when we thought we had it figured out Jane staged a dramatic last minute victory.

Zion Narrows - I Know how to Save a Life

Suddenly floating

Down the river goes my wife

Someone grab her hat!

It was a beautiful morning in Zion National Park, we were up early to get to the outfitters to rent our waders/dry suits for the hike in the Zion Narrows. This is a hike we have wanted to do since 2009 when we brought the kids with us to Zion. It was worth the wait and is definitely in my top 10 list of hikes.

The water temperature was 56 degrees and the river was flowing at 46 cubic feet per minute. So it was not too high, but it was rapid enough that a lot of the time we really needed our poles to stabilize ourselves. I was under the impression that the entire hike was in the river. Thank God it was not. A lot of the hike involves zig zagging back and forth to get to dry land to walk on a trail for a short distance before going to the other side to do the same.

I felt like an explorer as you could not see very far ahead, so at every turn there was another turn just up ahead and you never knew what was coming up next.

Our goal was to make it to the split and then walk a little further upstream to “Wall Street” where things get even more narrow. Which we did, we also explored a path to a waterfall. But that was not too productive, as there was a mini waterfall and boulder in our way. So we headed back.

When we arrived at the deepest crossing that also had a very strong current that was when things went awry. I was walking just ahead of Jane when I saw her start to float by! She had stumbled and done a slow fall into the deeper water. I was able to grab on to her and get her upright but not before a bunch of very cold water had gone over the top of her dry suit bibs! Her hat started to float downstream but luckily some nice young person was there to stop it. When we got out of the water on the other bank we looked back to find that Ann had stumbled in the water as well.

The dry suit did an excellent job of keeping out the water for most of the trip, and now it was doing an equally good job of keeping the water in! Which meant that every time jane got into a little deeper water the pressure on the suit forced the cold water inside the suit to squeeze up! Not comfortable. At this point our hike became a march to get back to the trailhead as quickly as we could to get the women out of their wet clothes. Unfortunately Ann fell one more time in the water and then took a tumble on some rocks on the land and bruised her elbow and banged up her knee.

Despite it all we still enjoyed some awesome scenery along the way. When we arrived at the trailhead it was quite a process to remove all of our wet gear. I pulled open the cuff on Jane’s dry suit and a gallon of water came pouring out. We still had a one mile hike to get back to the busses which was just about enough time for their wet clothes to dry out.

We were all amazed and surprised at the casual nature of the outfitters in town. Here is some stuff, try it on and let me know if you need a different size. Signing the waiver of liability was totally on the honor system, and paying seemed to be an honor system thing as well. How they knew what we had taken or paid for, or even returned is a mystery. I guess a dry suit is not something you are likely to steal, but it felt nice and refreshing to not have to sign and number and carefully check in and out each piece of gear!

This is a hike we would definitely repeat with our family if we ever get back here again.

We arrived safely back at our campsite where we packed up some drinks and our swimsuits and headed to the east side of the park. We needed to get inside the geofence area to get in the daily lottery for a chance to hike the Wave. They only allow 64 people a day into the Wave so it takes some luck. After driving even further than we wanted to we finally got enough cell signal to enter. It was kind of funny with four of us and four different generations of iPhones each with different signal strength trying to get the recreation.gov app to work with only a single bar of LTE signal!

After finally succeeding in getting two of us in the lottery we gave up and headed over to Ann and Jerry’s hotel to use the hot tub! That felt great. Jerry offered to buy us all dinner if we could go to a sports bar where he could attempt to turn us into Phoenix Suns fans.

Seminole Canyon State Park

After some city time we were excited to get back to nature. Its hard to believe that we only have six days left before we arrive in Indio. Living in the camper has somehow become our “new normal”.

We are back in desert country so our campsite didn’t have many trees, but it did have a great view of the sky and the horizon. We did a pretty long hike along the canyon rim where we were able to see the Rio Grande river and look across into Mexico. The hike was just over seven and a half miles so our feet were tired by the time we got back from this hot dusty walk.

Since this was our last opportunity to have a campfire and cook over an open flame we made the most of it and enjoyed some time under the stars. I played around with my new phone features and got a couple of nice nighttime shots.

In the morning you can see that we had a beautiful sunrise!

Winter Wonderland at White Sands

I was looking down at my phone or something inside the car when we made the transition. I looked up and saw this sight!

Plowed Roads!

It looked like we had suddenly been transported to Wisconsin in the middle of January! Instead we were at White Sands National Monument in New Mexico. Not far from the Missile Range and the test site for the Manhattan Project.

We did some messing around on the dunes, enjoying the beautiful contrast between the white sand and the clear blue sky!

From White Sands we went back to our campsite at Leasburg Dam and hooked up to head further west. We had opted for a KOA in Wilcox AZ for the night so we could have all our tanks clean and empty for the final drive to Indio.

Little did we know that Wilcox is some kind of wine Mecca for the state of Arizona. Who ever heard of an Arizona wine anyway? We had to give them a try so after making camp and doing a little work with the good WiFi. We headed to the Coronado Winery to test a few wines and enjoy some of their food. The wine was actually really good, I ended up buying a bottle of their Rose to take with me and Jane bought a bottle of the Sangiovese.

Its been an incredible trip and all we have left is about six hours of driving on I-10 tomorrow! Depending on how early we get on the road we will be in Indio by early to mid-afternoon. Lots to look forward to there, and looking forward to reconnecting with all of our Indio friends, golfing partners and pickleball players!

Big Bend National Park

After a beautiful night at Seminole Canyon, we were on our way to Big Bend National Park. This is a good time to see this park as Big Bend is definitely not on the way to anywhere. The park is huge, and very remote. It borders the Rio Grande and has some spectacular hiking.

Getting into our “pull through” site was our first adventure. It was on the wrong side of the road for our camper so first we had to drive down the road the wrong way. The site is on a hill and half of the site is very sloped so we had to pull up to the level area and leave the pickup blocking the road until we were leveled and unhooked. Thankfully the rangers around here are very friendly and understanding. One even told us that he would block traffic for us when we left if he was around to make it easy for us to go the wrong way. I love a friendly rule breaker!

After some sandwiches for lunch I worked a bit and read with the idea that we would do the hike to the Window sometime after 4:00. This turned out to be a great decision as we ended up in shade for most of the hike and on the way back we had just beautiful light on the mountains. This hike was downhill from the start and uphill all the way back!

This was the end of the hike where we could see the plains below the window from our valley!

On the way back we had several opportunities to enjoy the beautiful lighting! This one is my favorite, I really love the reflection of the mountains beyond in this tiny pool.

I also loved the contrast in the lighting, from the shadow we were walking in to the canyon walls still in bright, late afternoon sunlight!

We didn’t get back from the hike until after 7:00 so after a drink and a bit of rest it was dark by the time I started the griddle for supper. We had decided on fried burgers. I haven’t made a burger on a flat top in forever, but let me tell you, it was great! Nicely browned on the outside and we toasted some buttered buns right next to the burgers! It took me right back to my childhood having burgers at the Cafe in Storden Minnesota with my grandma Sundahl.

This morning we were up and waiting for the sun to clear the canyon wall so we could position the solar panels for the day before we took off on our sightseeing tour. It was great.

We followed the Ross Maxwell road (an early park super) and it was beautiful! The highlight of the trip was the view of “the notch” No! not the one on the iPhone or the new macbook pro, but a gigantic notch between the mountains carved out by the Rio Grande! This was our first view of it from about 10 miles away!

When we got closer it was great to get out and walk into the canyon. The drought is so bad that the Rio Grande is very low .

So low, in fact, that we were definitely in Mexico for a few minutes!