Monthly Archives: July 2014


Do you have a favorite national park?  Which is it?  Please join the fun by voting in the poll below.

Without question, my vote goes to Yellowstone National Park.  To see the absolute best that mother nature has to offer, you simply must see Yellowstone.  It has everything– the most amazing landscapes with mountains, rivers, lakes, waterfalls, canyons, forests, valleys, all teeming with wildlife, and geysers, mudpots, and fumaroles thrown in for good measure.  In fact, Yellowstone has more geysers than everywhere else in the world combined, according to the ranger that led us on a geyser walk at Old Faithful.  Established in 1872 and dedicated by President U. S. Grant, Yellowstone was the first national park in the United States and in the entire world.  It’s that remarkable.

Yellowstone is the eighth largest national park in the U.S. (the top 6 are in Alaska and number 7 is Death Valley), 63 miles long from the north border to the south and 54 miles from east to west, and 3472 square miles.  Just the drive in and out each day from hotels outside the park takes considerable time. I tried to find accommodations in the park months before our trip with no success. On a whim, I called the reservations number the morning of our arrival in September, 2013, and the Lake Yellowstone Hotel had a room for 2 nights. What serendipity! The oldest operating hotel in the park, the Lake Hotel was built in 1891 and is on the list of national historic places.  It’s currently in the process of a massive refurbishment and we were fortunate to get a room in the yet unrefurbished section for $200 per night. They told us the rate would be $339 per night after renovations are complete, which is outside my travel budget so we’re lucky to have stayed when we did.

Lake Yellowstone Hotel

What a great experience to stay in this iconic hotel with such historic and elegant ambiance.  I loved having no television but admittedly suffered with no internet.  We took the free tour of the hotel and because it was just days before the end of season, we were the only two people on our tour.  We hit it off right away with our guide, a retired woman from Oregon who tried to recruit us to work in the park before the tour was over.  The tour essentially covered expansions, additions, and renovations to the hotel but we were particularly interested to hear about the recovery of one of the historic touring cars.  The 11 passenger touring car with a removable canvas top was produced by White Motor Company replacing the stagecoach or surrey to provide tours within the park. Private vehicles were allowed in the park beginning in 1915 but use was strongly discouraged and the admission cost was prohibitive.  Today the restored touring car is used once again to provide tours allowing the guest to focus on watching wildlife rather than the road.  With over 3.6 million visitors each year, that’s a good thing.

Touring car at Lake Yellowstone Hotel

Touring car at Lake Yellowstone Hotel


Today, there are 67 species of mammals in Yellowstone and all species of large mammals that were present when Europeans first explored this territory have been restored to the park.  Wild bison have inhabited the area continuously, the largest concentration of elk in the world is here, a large grizzly bear population is protected in the park, and the gray wolf was reintroduced in the area in 1995.  We saw plenty of bison and elk and even saw a bear but the pictures I took couldn’t capture it so far back in the trees.

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Girls Getaway: Near Nature, Near Perfect

Anyplace makes a good getaway if you’re with the right people.  A good place with the right people is even better.  And, having a friend in a great getaway location is the best yet.  So, my friend, Lori, and I reserved a time to visit our friend, Lu, who lives in Spokane, Washington, and has a cabin in the panhandle of Idaho close to the Canada border.

After an evening flight and a night in Spokane, we headed out to our first stop in Spokane, the Arbor Crest Winery.  This lovely venue, located atop a 450 foot cliff, is open for events of all kinds but we were there for wine tasting.  Washington State wines are actually very tasty and they certainly rival California wines.  In fact, Washington is second only to California in premium wine production in the United States with over 800 wineries (  The wines we tasted were very good so we bought several.

We were soon back on the road to Priest Lake, called Idaho’s Crown Jewel, where Lu and her husband have their cabin.  Unfortunately, some of the incredible views of Priest Lake were somewhat obscured by smoke.  We later learned that wildfires caused by lightning in central Washington destroyed 100 homes and there were some 50 separate fires burning in Washington causing the acrid smell and hazy conditions we experienced.  In spite of the smoke that drifted in, northern Idaho is incredibly beautiful and Lu’s cabin is as welcoming and comfortable as she is.  We enjoyed seeing wildlife –rabbits, deer, and hummingbirds, and we were just as happy not to have encountered any bears, coyotes, or wolves on our walks.  I would have liked to see a moose, however.

Priest Lake has about 500 year round residents but in summer  the population swells to around 2500.  Development on the lake is controlled and very limited which helps to maintain a remote, uninhabited flavor.  There are several resorts on the lake with great views and amenities, good restaurants, and a scenic golf course is nearby.  We ate at Elkin’s Resort one day and Hill’s Resort the next, enjoying local huckleberry drinks at both.  We observed the popular game of pickle ball, a combination of tennis, badminton and ping-pong without learning the rules; walked the #48 Beach Trail; and visited the Priest Lake Museum and Visitor Center.  The log cabin that houses the museum with exhibits of local historical significance, was a Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) project built in 1935.

I would be remiss not to mention a little more about huckleberries, the official state fruit of Idaho. This luscious berry grows wild around these parts and they are truly delicious. They look like a smallish blueberry but the taste is sweeter. My research tells me that domesticated growing and mechanized picking haven’t been very successful ( which of course keeps the cost high (currently $42 per gallon) but if you’re in the area, you must try them.

Huckleberry bush

Huckleberry bush

Leaving Priest Lake, we headed south to Sandpoint, an attractive small city on Lake Pend Oreille, in time for the local farmer’s market.  For a town with a population barely over 7,000, it was quite an impressive event with produce, local handicrafts, and music.  We sampled and bought some jalapeno goat cheese for later consumption and considering I normally don’t care for goat cheese, when I say it was excellent, you can believe me.

The town of Sandpoint is separated from the lake by a narrow isthmus occupied by Interstate 95 and Amtrak.  A well camouflaged walking trail below the road and railroad gives walkers access to the beach by way of an underpass.  This trail is part of the larger trail system of Lake Pend Oreille Walks and Trails that surrounds the lake and offers many opportunities to explore the pristine shoreline.

After our stop in Sandpoint, we had just an hour’s drive to Coeur d’Alene, Idaho, arguably the best known summer lake resort area in Idaho.  Because it’s better known, it’s also bigger and busier.  Or maybe because it’s bigger, it’s better known.  Without a doubt, however, its proximity to Spokane, Washington, has certainly stimulated growth.  The population is around 40,000 but located just 34 miles from Spokane, it’s essentially part of the Spokane metro area corridor.

The longest floating boardwalk in the world at 12 feet wide and 3300 feet long was a brand new experience for me and quite an impressive one at that.  The views were outstanding in spite of a little lingering smoke.   After a light lunch, we dipped our feet into the lake, tried not to stare at a guy sunbathing in a thong Speedo (major fashion mistake) and then headed back to Spokane where Darrell cooked a delicious, healthy dinner for us.

Spokane, a Native American word for Children of the Sun, was first inhabited by the Spokane Indians.  It became the first white settlement in what is now the state of Washington when a trading post was established in 1810 (  Today, it is the second largest city in Washington and the largest city between Seattle and Minneapolis.  The city’s motto is, “Near nature, near perfect.”  I like the motto although I heard it’s been the object of some ridicule.

The Spokane River Centennial Trail is a 37 mile long paved recreational trail that starts at Sontag Park in Nine Mile Falls and runs all the way to the Idaho border.  We walked just a mile of it but it was time well spent.

The Centennial Trail also passes through Riverfront Park in the heart of downtown Spokane.  Riverfront Park was built around the Spokane Falls on the river for Expo ’74 (the World’s Fair) by cleaning up the river area and tearing down the old rail yards and depot.  It comprises 100 acres of green space, walking trails, views of the river and falls, flowers, sculptures, and wildlife.  The Expo ’74 Pavillion, the 1902 Clocktower from the old train depot, the 1909 Looff Carrousel, the Rotary Fountain, and an IMAX theater are also on the grounds.  Among the sculptures, the Garbage Eating Goat is not to be missed.

The thing about a getaway is it’s temporary so, of course, you have to go home until the next time.  It’s always good to get together with friends and old friends are best.  This was a great girls getaway that I would call near nature, near perfect.

Friends Forever

Friends Forever



Washington State Wine. Retrieved from

Huckleberry Wild, Where to Find Huckleberry Products.  Retrieved from

City of Spokane.  Retrieved from



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Deadwood to Devils Tower

We made a quick stop in Deadwood then drove the Spearfish Canyon Scenic Byway on our way to Devil’s Tower, Wyoming.  Although the comprehensive website,, invites visitors to come see what’s new in historic Deadwood, I only wanted to see what’s old.  Having been there before, I remembered that Deadwood sprang up when gold was discovered in 1874 and that Wild Bill Hickok was shot and killed there in 1876 while playing poker.  What I’d forgotten is that the town was destroyed several times due to fire, the first time in 1879.  Consequently, historic buildings burned down and weren’t necessarily rebuilt where they stood previously.  Such is the case with the saloon where Wild Bill was shot.  Saloon No. 10 is now located across the street so there are signs to show where Wild Bill was actually shot and where his killer, Jack McCall, was captured.

Although Saloon No. 10 is not in its original location, the main attraction in the new site is still the shooting of Wild Bill.  Well, maybe the main attractions are drinking and gambling but this historical event does get attention.  The chair where Wild Bill sat with his back to the door, against his better judgement, is encased here along with a display of the cards he held at the time of his death, forever dubbed the Dead Man’s Hand.  There is agreement that he held black aces and eights but the fifth card is in question.  Although the display case in Saloon No. 10 contains a nine of diamonds, other accounts list the fifth card as a jack of diamonds or an unknown card.

There are lots of great things to see and do in the Black Hills but we selected just a few this time because of time constraints.  In previous trips we visited Crazy Horse Memorial, Custer State Park, and Mammoth Site.  My husband and younger son did a father son bonding trip several years ago and went trail riding at Country Charm Cabins and Corrals.  I highly recommend all of these places.

The Spearfish Canyon Scenic Byway is a beautiful drive with several worthwhile stops along the way.

It’s just 2o miles long but it packs some great scenery into a short drive.  We were intent on finding the campsite in the canyon where we camped in our youth and we actually found it quite easily along with a film site from the final scene of the movie, Dances With Wolves.  We also stopped at Roughlock Falls and Bridal Falls before ending the scenic drive at the town of Spearfish, S.D. just 60 miles from our next stop at Devil’s Tower, Wyoming.

By chance, however, traveling along Interstate 90 we spotted a sign announcing Vore Buffalo Jump just off the freeway, so a short side trip was in order.  Vore Buffalo Jump is a natural sinkhole used by the Plains Indians to trap bison.  The Indians would stampede the bison in the direction of the hole and the bison tumbled to their death.  The bison were then used for food, shelter, clothing, tools and even medicine for the Plains Indians.

Although the visitor’s center was closed for the season, we were able to walk around the area and read the signs.  The site was discovered in the early 1970’s when Interstate 90 was constructed.  Sinkholes are inherently incompatible with roads because of their tendency to settle further and swallow up cars, so the route for the road was altered.  Soon thereafter, archeologists from the University of Wyoming began excavating the area.  In 1989, the Vore family donated the area to the University of Wyoming and in 2001, the Vore Buffalo Jump Foundation was created (

Devils Tower was the first national monument in the United States, established in 1906 by proclamation of President Theodore Roosevelt.  Called Bear Lodge by Native Americans, the igneous intrusion was named Devils Tower by Colonel Richard Dodge in 1875 when he led a military expedition to investigate claims of gold in the Black Hills.  The first ascent of the column occurred in 1893 and if you look closely, you can still see remnants of the wooden ladder on the side of the Tower.  Today, around 5,000 rock climbers come from all over the world each year to climb the monolith (Devils Tower Official Map and Guide).   Several trails of varying length offer outstanding views of the landmark and surrounding landscape, as well as the abundant wildlife.  You’ll also notice Native American prayer bundles around the area with signs directing that they not be disturbed.  The prairie dog town just outside the monument entrance is a fun stop for kids of all ages.

By the way, did you wonder if Devils should have an apostrophe?  The official proclamation in 1906 mistakenly omitted the apostrophe so they kept it that way.  If you haven’t been to Devils Tower, add it to your list.  Even if you’re not a rock climber, it’s a great place to visit.



Vore Buffalo Jump,  retrieved from

Devil’s Tower Official Map and Guide, brochure, (n.d.) National Park Service U.S. Department of the Interior

Based on events of September, 2013


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Black Hills and Mt. Rushmore

For the past several years, my husband and I have celebrated our anniversary while traveling.  In September, 2013, we were in the Black Hills for the occasion. For me, the main attraction in the Black Hills is still Mt. Rushmore and, although this was my fifth visit since childhood, it never fails to impress and inspire me.

The idea for a monument in the Black Hills originated with South Dakota State Historian, Doane Robinson, to attract visitors to the state but his idea was to carve sculptures of western personalities. The sculptor he contacted in 1925, Gutzon Borglum, preferred instead to include four significant U.S. presidents, each representing an important period of American history. President George Washington embodies the birth of the nation; Thomas Jefferson symbolizes expansion with the Louisiana Purchase that more than doubled the size of the U.S.; Abraham Lincoln stands for preservation of our union through the Civil War; and Theodore Roosevelt represents our nation’s development with construction of the Panama Canal.

I would be remiss not to add a caveat here and mention that Native Americans, particularly the Lakota Sioux, opposed this project as a desecration of sacred Indian lands and Mt. Rushmore was known to the Sioux as the Six Grandfathers.  For more information on the Native American viewpoint, check out this link.

Borglum and four hundred workers earning $8 per day, blasting the mountain with dynamite and carving into Harney Peak granite, completed the project in 1941, after 14 years including weather and funding delays for a total cost of just under $1 million.  The resulting colossal memorial is 185 feet across and 150 feet tall; the faces are 60 feet from the top of the head to chin; each eye is 11 feet across; the noses are 20 feet long and the mouths are 18 feet across.

With nearly 3 million visitors per year, there have been necessary improvements and changes over the years to the facilities.  The Avenue of Flags, with the flags from all 50 states and 6 territories, was added in 1976 as part of the American Bicentennial celebration and an outdoor amphitheater that holds 2,000 people opened in 1997.  Today, there is a parking ramp that charges a fee (currently $11), but entrance to the national memorial itself is free.

Each time we visit, I learn something new.  I don’t know why I never wondered how Mt. Rushmore got its name, but it was interesting to find out it was named for Charles E. Rushmore, a New York attorney who visited the area in 1885 regarding some mining claims.  When he asked the name of the granite mountain, he was told it had no name but it would be called Mt. Rushmore thereafter.  When the mountain bearing his name was chosen as the most suitable location for the project and work commenced in 1927, Rushmore became a large contributor.

After hearing this information and more at the History of the Carving Talk conducted by the park rangers in the Sculptor’s Studio, we walked the new Presidential Trail.  It’s just a pleasant half mile loop among the pines with beautiful views of the monument.

Upon leaving the memorial, we drove to nearby Hill City for a totally different activity.  We visited three wineries and enjoyed a wine tasting at each.  This was obviously a concession on my husband’s part in honor of our anniversary because wine tasting is not something he would ordinarily enjoy.

After a highly recommended but unremarkable anniversary dinner at a restaurant that shall remain nameless, we returned to Mt. Rushmore for the evening lighting ceremony.  Along the way, we spied a group of mountain goats, a common sight climbing the hills around here.  Mountain goats are not actually native to the Black Hills.  The original six were a gift by Canada in 1924 to Custer State Park but they escaped their pen and today there are about 200 in the area.

Mountain goat

Mountain goat

Soon after seeing the mountain goats, we observed another kind of climbers– rock climbers of the human variety.  Although climbing is prohibited on the sculptures at Mt. Rushmore National Memorial  (understandably), other areas of the memorial allow rock climbing.  The Black Hills are very popular for this sport and there are many granite walls and pinnacles available for climbs.  This is not on my bucket list.

Rock Climbers in the Black Hills

We arrived early at the memorial and had our choice of seats in the amphitheater but it soon began to fill in.  Beginning at 9 p.m., rangers conduct a program with music, video, and a lighting ceremony.  The program, entitled Freedom: America’s Lasting Legacy, includes participation of military and veterans that is especially moving.

Mt. Rushmore

Mt. Rushmore at night


Do you spend your wedding anniversary somewhere special? Leave a comment to tell us about it.


Mount Rushmore National Memorial (U.S. National Park Service), Retrieved from

Based on events of 9/18/13

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My Bad. Badlands.

My Bad.  I’m guilty of giving short shrift to this incredible natural wonder located in South Dakota just 560 miles from my home, a relatively short drive in the U.S.  I admit I haven’t really gone TO the Badlands as much as I’ve gone THROUGH the Badlands on my way to somewhere else, namely Mt. Rushmore and the Black Hills.  So, in an effort to rectify my travel transgression, I wanted to spend the night in this national park and take some time exploring the area.  That’s easier said than done because accommodations in the park are few and far between and normally booked WAY in advance.  Within the park, there’s Cedar Pass Lodge and that’s it.  Seriously.  Cedar Pass Lodge is the only place to stay in the park.  OK, you can camp but we’re past that stage of life so I’m talking about places with real beds.  As I write this, I checked the website for Cedar Pass Lodge and currently there is limited availability in July and August, but September is still wide open.  That was not the case, however, in September, 2013, when we visited.

There were no available rooms at Cedar Pass Lodge but they kindly referred me to a bed and breakfast, the Circle View Guest Ranch.  (You can check it out by clicking on it.)  Luckily, they had a room available.  Although the ranch isn’t technically in Badlands National Park, it’s within several miles so you have essentially the same views.  The room was comfortable and we even had extra bunk beds which would be great for a family.  The views from Circle View were 360 degrees as promised and the friendly burros were a nice addition, too.  I admit we didn’t take advantage of any of the other working aspects of the ranch because we stayed just one night and we were anxious to get on our way.  We had a generous breakfast, served in the kitchen at long communal tables, where we visited with our neighbors while we chowed down on eggs, bacon, pancakes, potatoes, fruit, juice, and coffee, then off we went to explore Badlands National Park.


The Badlands are the product of erosion at its best.  It’s hard to believe this remarkable 60 mile swath of sedimentary ridges, buttes, and pinnacles, called the wall, was carved by erosion that began 500,000 years ago and continues to this day at about one inch per year.  At this rate, the Badlands are projected to erode away completely in another 500,000 years.  There are also mammal fossil beds found here, among the world’s richest, that are 26 to 37 million years old.  The Badlands, established as a national monument in 1939 and designated a national park in 1978, receive 1 million visitors per year.  A seven-day pass per vehicle costs only $15, but if you’re at least 62 years old, you can get a lifetime pass for only $10 that gets you into all U.S. national parks.  Now that’s a deal!

We stopped at the Ben Reifel Visitor Center and saw the award-winning video about the Badlands, then viewed the exhibits within the center and learned that there are big horn sheep, American bison, mule deer, coyote, swift fox, and black-footed ferret within the 244,00 acres of the park. After leaving the visitor center, we did see big horn sheep on the hills but none of the other animals.  We pulled over at several of the numerous viewing stops along the Highway 240 Loop Road to take some photos and enjoy the views and ended at Wall Drug, the iconic retail outlet that still offers free ice water.

Welcome to Wall Drug

Welcome to Wall Drug

So, in the final analysis, did I give the Badlands its due attention?  In all honesty, for me it’s still a stop along the way to points further west but at least I feel that I gave it a fair share of my attention this time around.

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