Friday, September 17, 2010

Great American Road Trip Part VIII: Big Horn Mountains

After Devil's Tower, we spent the night in Buffalo, WY, and on the 6th of August we traveled to Cody, WY, on Highway 16, which was so very amazing.
I had never been to "real" mountains before. I have been to the Smokies, and I have been to the Green Mountains and the White Mountains, including the peak of Mt. Washington in New Hampshire, but I had never seen snow-capped, craggy mountains in person. One of the things that excited me most about our driving trip out west was that I was going to be able to experience the changing terrain. I really wanted to travel along flat prairie land, and see the mountains appear on the horizon, and drive towards them and through them.

On August 6th, I finally saw real mountains for the first time, the Big Horn Mountains.

It was awesome from the car, but when we stopped the car and stepped out, I was reverent. I had tears in my eyes. What is it about natural beauty that makes humans (well, this human, anyway) feel so full of awe, inspiration, peace, and hope? What an amazing, incredible place this earth is. What a privilege to see and experience it.

This particular drive is called the Cloud Peak Skyway. Such a lovely name.

Crazy Woman Creek runs through the Big Horn Mountains. There was a campground here.

We stopped to use the bathroom (and also because my family thought it was appropriate for me to be next to Crazy Woman Creek). It wasn't a very crowded campground. Just a few sites were being used, and hardly anyone was in the campground while we were there. I did give more than a passing thought to bears.

I mean, shouldn't we be seeing a grizzly here? Like we do in nature photographs and documentaries?

Not that I wanted to see one that close and personal. I have too much respect (ahem, fear) for wildlife, especially wildlife that can kill me.

The scenery got better and better. I believe these next photos were taken near Leigh Creek.

The road twisted and turned as it dipped into the canyon, which is very evident in this next photo:

At one point while we were driving I turned around to look at my children, and was gratified to see their faces plastered to their respective windows, mouths agape.

We were in high desert now.

Occasionally we would see irrigation equipment and lush fields of green that looked jarringly out of place among the vastness of brown.

Seeing it all again in these photos is making me feel like I need to go find a wide open space with a big blue sky overhead!

We arrived in Cody late afternoon. It was a bigger town than we expected, and very western. It's hard for me to know how "authentic" the western motif is. Do they do it up that way for the tourists, or is that really how it is? In any case, it's charming. Love the mountains hovering on the outskirts.

August 6 is my late mother-in-law's birthday. We always have ice cream on her birthday as a tribute. That evening we decided to get ice cream before dinner, which is really unheard of for us. We figured we'd get ice cream, eat it while watching the evening show of the Cody Gunslingers Shootout in front of the Irma Hotel, and then find dinner. Well, best laid plans and all that jazz. Somebody (not me, my husband, or my daughter) got sick from eating ice cream before dinner and had to be returned to our hotel room. I felt an eensy bit annoyed by this turn of events, so being the selfish mom that I am, I suggested that instead of ALL of us having to miss the shootout, my daughter and I could stay and watch it while the boys went back to the hotel.

Well, the shootout dragged on a bit longer than I expected it would, and it was really hard to hear the dialogue anyway, so instead of straining to hear and see the show, my daughter and I wandered into the Irma Hotel giftshop. As we tried on (really expensive!) cowboy hats and looked at (very cheap) trinkets, the shootout began in earnest. Bang! Bang! Bang! I think it was louder inside than it would have been had we stayed outside! I glanced over at the clerk, and she sighed and rubbed her head and said "Every night..." in a long-suffering way, which made me chuckle.

There was a rodeo in Cody that night. I haven't been to a rodeo since I was three years old. I actually have mixed feelings about rodeos, but I was having a "when in Rome" moment, and I really wanted to go to the rodeo. Unfortunately, the family voted me down. My son said he didn't feel well enough. My husband said he wasn't interested (translation: "I am not going to spend the money.") My daughter flat out said no (and many days later told me that she said no because she didn't know what a rodeo was, and that if I had explained to her what a rodeo was when I asked her if she wanted to go to one, she would have said yes, and it was all my fault that she didn't get to see one). So, no rodeo. Instead, we got take-out from Bubba's Bar-B-Que next door to our hotel and called it a night.

The lobby of our hotel in Cody was quite a zoo. I counted the "trophies" and stopped when I got to 30.


We said good-bye to Cody and continued Yellowstone! The drive there was fascinating to me.

Lone houses on a mountainside:

This cluster of houses left me feeling slightly unsettled.

They looked so vulnerable sitting there in the wide open, more like a child's toy village than actual homes. I think maybe it's the scale that gave me that impression. Just as I was thinking "I could never live out here in the wide open on the side of a mountain" my husband said "Wouldn't it be neat to leave out here in the wide open on the side of a mountain?" Um, no. Give up that retirement dream, honey.

Next stop: the granddaddy of 'em all, Yellowstone!

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Blackwork Sampler

I recently completed this Blackwork Sampler to give to a friend as a housewarming gift. The pattern is from Alicia Paulson's new book Embroidery Companion. The pattern in the book is made of 9 different squares, but I wanted something smaller, so I only did four squares. It was a bit trickier to modify it than I first thought it would be, because the squares in the original pattern are not all the same size. They vary by one or two stitches in both directions in each row and column. Fortunately I have enough experience stitching that I checked all that before I started, which saved me lots of heartache later!
I like how this is traditional and modern at the same time.
I am really enjoying Embroidery Companion, and am eager to do several projects, particularly the eyelet sampler.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Great American Road Trip, Part VII: Devil's Tower

August 5th was a busy day for us! We traveled through the Black Hills, and then decided we should eat our lunch at the geographical center of the 50 United States of America in Belle Fourche, SD.
The actual pinpointed center of the 50 states is twenty miles north of this spot, but I believe it is on private property, so they put the marker here in town where people could come stand on it and have their picture taken. It was a nice enough park, with flags for all the 50 states, and tags on the flag poles noting how far away each state capital is from that spot.

We continued westward, into Wyoming! Yay, a new state for me!

My word, what an impressive state. So different than anywhere I've ever lived. So different than anywhere else I've ever even visited!

Wide open skies, wide open spaces. It's funny how the terrain had changed so gradually, yet so dramatically, since we'd left home, a steady progression from forested to prairie to desert to foothills. Each state has it's own unique beauty.
Devil's Tower:

All that rolling terrain, then suddenly that formation rising up out of the ground. I understand why people would worship here.

We drove up the parking lot, then walked all around the base.

Views of the surrounding area were fabulous.

There were many groups of rock climbers out that day. Even when you are standing so close to the tower and appreciating how enormous it is, seeing how tiny those climbers are gives you a better sense of the scale of the tower.

More sweeping views:

There is a prairie dog town on the flat land near the monument, right near the road. We only have prairie dogs in zoos where we live.

They pop in and out of their holes, chirp at each other, chase each other, and race around with lightning speed. I know they are an incredible nuisance on ranches, but we were amused by them nonetheless.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Great American Road Trip, Part VI: Badlands and Black Hills

We had made a bit of a miscalculation in our trip preparations for western South Dakota. On the map, Rapid City, where we were staying, looked so close to the Badlands, but once we were actually there, we realized we would have to backtrack 60 miles to get into the national park. Did we really want to backtrack? We were already driving such a long distance. We considered our options, and decided, yes, it would be worth it to backtrack 60 miles to see the Badlands, so after leaving Mt. Rushmore, that is exactly what we did.

Good choice!Such amazing terrain. I've been to every state east of the Mississippi River, I've been to most of the eastern Canadian provinces, and I've been to the U.K., but I have never seen land like this. I suppose anyone from the western part of the US would find this rather ordinary, but I was enchanted.

I always remembered the chapter in Little Town on the Prairie when Laura's uncle comes to visit the Ingalls in DeSmet, and tells them all about those Bad Lands he journeyed through. When I was a child, it sounded like a vast wasteland, eerie and scary. I guess I'm lucky we could drive through them in a few short hours on a paved road in an air conditioned vehicle, because I found them quite stunning, not eerie at all.

My favorite vistas were of the green fields, stretching away forever, dotted with large rocks. I found the endlessness very soothing. Much like looking out over the ocean, or a Great Lake.

We spent the rest of the afternoon in the Badlands, then drove back to Rapid City for dinner at this restaurant.

The next morning (we're up to August 5th now if you are keeping track--our 5th day on the road), we took the long and winding scenic route through the Black Hills, heading first to Sturgis, just to see it, because everywhere we were in the Black Hills, we were surrounded by motorcycles! From Sturgis we drove to Deadwood. Deadwood was cute enough, but it had a Hollywood-set feel to me with all the saloons and casinos. It was pretty much ONLY saloons and casinos. We didn't stay there long. From Deadwood we went to Cheyenne Crossing and took the scenic route to Spearfish. That route follows the canyons through the Black Hills, and travelers are treated to creeks, streams, and a couple of waterfalls.

It really feels like you're driving through a postcard.