Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Camping on top of a volcano in a blizzard

Despite all of our planning and research for this trip, Yellowstone was a big mystery to us until we arrived -- a major oversight we learned as we approached the park. Neither of us thought there would still be snow on the ground, frozen lakes, and blizzards...or that most of the park sits on a the world's largest caldera (a cauldron-like feature created by the collapse of land after a volcano). And of course, if you've read previous blog entries, you'll know that we thought the "hot springs" in Yellowstone were the kind in which you could go swimming! Ha ha. Turns out they would either instantly cook us (with temperatures up to 95.5 C) or melt us (some are incredibly acidic).

Yellowstone has more than 10,000 active geothermal areas, making it the largest collection of active volcanic features in the world. We were absolutely mesmerized by the strange beauty of the smelly pools and mud pots -- neither of us have taken so many photos in one day! Special boardwalks all throughout the thermal areas kept us and the delicate ecosystem protected, with lots of warning signs about the danger of going off the paths. Over the years in Yellowstone there have been many deaths of people venturing into dangerous areas and being burned or boiled alive. Park signage does not euphemise this potential threat!

Day One of our adventures in Yellowstone was ooing and aahing over the thermal areas. We saw Old Faithful erupt from 30 feet in front of us, and later, from the top of a mountain. It was neat, but really, it was just a giant, stinky water spout. What we found more interesting were the broad vistas of thermal areas that you could see because of the ginormous patches of snow-free land, with steam rising up in patches. The mud pots and deep thermal pools were like scenes from science fiction movies, and kept us fascinated enough to hang around and breath in the acrid fumes. Actually, we spent so much time looking into the sulfur pools that we both experienced skin irritation on our faces (the only exposed parts of our bodies). I just googled volcanoes and skin irritation, and sure enough, it happens!

Despite being cold for the entire Yellowstone adventure, it was amazing to be there with snow on the ground because it was a beautiful contrast to the thermal activity. Also, it meant there were very few visitors! Yay! All of the parking lots were only 5 to 10% full, and the roads seemed empty. We hiked through a bit of snow to get to a picnic area with no one else around, and felt like we had the place to ourselves -- very peaceful. And also handy for impromptu pee breaks. A video you will not see posted to our blog is Niilo catching me unaware...

Spending time hanging out in the campground was pleasant, but chilly. We both wore nearly all the layers we brought with us, but for me, it wasn't quite enough to keep the cold out. Getting into our freezing sleeping bags at night wasn't much fun, but with both of them zipped together, we were soon cozy and and sort of warm. When we woke up each morning, our sleeping bags had a thin coating of ice on them, and everything was damp. But that didn't deter us from cooking amazing meals or going on adventures!

I think my favourite meal was beans and tempeh burgers that I cooked in the cast iron frying pan over the fire. Oh, or maybe it was pancakes with maple syrup. Mmmmm, or maybe open-faced Mexican sandwiches we made while hiking around! Suffice to say, we did not go hungry. I love camping cooking.

And we certainly did not go without a good campfire every night, thanks to Niilo! The Yellowstone Firewood Inc. wood we bought wasn't quite up to his standards, so we went off into the woods behind our campsite and he chopped up a 30 foot dead tree into logs! That's my mountain man!

We set off for a short evening hike near our campground one evening, and sat beside a river with the mountains surrounding us, thermal steam rising in patches, and buffalo and elk a short distance away. As the stars came out and the sky darkened, cuddled close under a tree for warmth, marvelling at the sights around us, and expressing our gratitude for the chance to visit the wonders of Yellowstone.

(for all of our Day 3 photos and videos, go here: Road Trip 2010 - Day 03 - Geysers Galore)

Monday, May 24, 2010

Day Two: Getting to Yellowstone

On May 11th, after a long sleep-in at the Missoula motel, we resumed our journey toward Yellowstone. At this point, we started to realize which important items we left behind. I won't point any fingers, but we needed to find somewhere to buy a hair brush, hair dryer, and a bikini/swimsuit (the last one was particularly important because of expected hot springs at Yellowstone). About half-way through Montana, we pulled into Bute. We immediately found ourselves in the middle of the old section of a town with a rich mining history, including the typical boom period. Once sated on WiFi and tacos, we eventually found the K-Mart to stock up and then headed out of town.

The country terrain changed significantly as we veered off the interstate highway toward Yellowstone. This helped us get more excited about our destination, even as snow and frozen lakes joined the scenery. We weren't even in the park yet when we had a very exciting sighting: a buffalo! Little did we know that we'd have many more opportunities to see these amazing creatures, and it wasn't far down the highway that we had a close-up of two that were hanging out at the side of the road.

We finally got to the west gate of Yellowstone National Park and paid for our entrance. Sara asked about the location of the hot springs. We were told, somewhat gravely, that the hot springs in Yellowstone would either burn us severely from their acidic levels or boil us alive from their high temperatures - that is, if the poisonous fumes didn't cause us to pass out first. So much for Sara's hot pink, happy-face-adorned, K-Mart-special bikini.

It was late in the evening when we arrived at the closest campground. We were excited to be there, though, despite the cold and the presence of snow. Afterall, we had two full days to explore the top of this ancient volcano called Yellowstone National Park (one of the largest volcanos in the world - I didn't know that before).

(for all of our Day 2 photos, go here: Road Trip 2010 - Day 02 - Getting to Yellowstone)

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Taking a Break from Our Vacation

Hey folks,

Another quick hello here. Sara and I are still having a super awesome time, which is even better now that we're staying at a wonderful rental suite for a few days. The utterly insane sand storms of Moab chased us out of southern Utah, and we decided to head to Salt Lake City. Expedia.com directed us to a wonderful deal at a place that turned out to be perfect for what we needed. It's a one-bedroom suite with a full kitchen for an excellent deal. After the blizzard in Yellowstone, hail and thunder storms in Colorado, and sand storms in Moab, we're glad to be indoors and sheltered against the current "winter weather warning" surrounding Salt Lake City.

More stories to come! You can read about our amazing, yet harrowing ordeal in the canyons of Moab, and much more.

We've uploaded a bunch of photos to our online album if you want to check them out: http://picasaweb.google.com/vorshlumpf

Friday, May 14, 2010

Another Long Haul, Another Motel

Here's a quick post to let everyone know that we're now out of the State Parks (yes, with an "s"). Motel 8 in Laramie, Wyoming isn't exactly where we wanted to be tonight, but we're only about 3 hours away from Peaceful Prairie. We've got lots of pictures and tales to share, but that will have to wait until we get some more time (hopefully in the next few days at Peaceful Prairie). For now, here is a teaser:

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Day One: Journey Through Ecosystems

As we made our way East from Victoria to Missoula yesterday, what stuck me most was how the landscape changed. We started off on the wet West Coast in a dismal downpour, but with very high spirits! Running back and forth between the car and the house to load up, getting soaked, feeling rushed and slightly scattered, we were smiling. The smiles turned into giddy laughter as we made our way down our street -- we were off!

The moment we stepped aboard, the Coho ferry for Port Angeles felt like we had already entered the United States -- it was definitely not a BC Ferry! It was kinda shabby and grungy with very few services, but it was the first leg of our road trip and so therefore we loved it! We spent some time marvelling at our Road Trip Binder, which contains a detailed itinerary, maps for each leg of the jourey (with one exception -- ARGH!), reservation printouts, campground and restaurant information, and emergency contact information (including copies of our passports, health cards, etc).

During the last 15 minutes, exhaustion set in, and we had a power snooze. Having averaged 5 hours of sleep the previous two nights getting prepared for the trip, we were pretty darn dozy. Nap complete, we waited in our car to disembark the Coho. Despite being one of the first few cars on the ferry, we were dead last to leave!

Then on through to customs, where we had the pleasure of speaking to two officers in extra-fancy, leather coats who singled us out from all the other cars. Maybe that's because our car was ridiculously full of stuff! But one glance at our amazing Road Trip Binder was enough to put them at ease and even smile, and warn us that there will probably be snow in Yellowstone.
Then a quick visit to a natural foods grocery store in Port Angeles where we bought some neat-o snacks, humus rolls and I drank two Americanos because they were just that good. From PA we made our way towards Seattle, driving on a single-lane highway, rolling over hill and dale with glimpes of the ocean through evergreens and giant fluffy deciduous trees. We crossed Puget Sound twice: once on the long, long Hood Canal bridge, which is a drawbridge, and once on the Kingston-Edmonds ferry.

We wandered around the massive, mostly empty ferry, thinking that we'd spend the 28-minute ride napping somewhere. With dozens of long, empty, padded benches everywhere we looked, a ferry-snooze seemed liked the thing to do. But then we discovered the sundeck on top of the ferry and had some spontaneous, gut-busting fun instead.

The 100% empty, ginourmous upper deck of the ferry captured our imaginations, and suddenly seemed like the perfect place to do kartwheels and handstands, and take flying leaps. We photographed ourselves during these escapades and laughed so hard and for so long my face hurt! Niilo said, just as I was thinking, that this was way more refreshing than a nap.

Next, we headed for the 1-5 and made our way past Seattle, which was quite the driving adventure. with five, six and sometimes seven lanes across, and everyone driving 110 km/hr, my blood was saturated with cortisol -- especialy because our car was so packed I couldn't see out the back! But Niilo and I drove as a team and we made our way, driving against rush hour traffic and making excellent time.

I think now is an appropriate time to comment that even though we are "just" in the USA, I kept remarking how everything looks slightly "foregin". We are in America! Home of the free! Land of the brave! The place where you can live your dream. Except that it didn't look so dreamy in many of the small towns we drove through.

But, the further East we travelled, the more remote the landscape grew, and beauty surrounded and surprised us. We drove through snowy mountains with long, blue lakes and fat evergreen trees. Then the trees became skinnier and further apart, then they disappeared altogether and small, scrubby bushes grew out of rocks and dirt the colour or raw umber and cinammon, as we headed towards the Gorge Amphitheater.

The land grew flatter as we approached Spokane on the 1-90. We could see for miles and miles in every direction, and the state had posted signs along the highway to show what was growing in the fields. Mostly corn and afalfa for beef and dairy cows, but we passed the occaisional wheat or potato field.

The sunset took hours and we enjoyed the changing light as we drove past the very beautiful Moses lake. The landscape now greatly resembled the Okanagan, with square, tan hills, sparse trees and lakes . I have to say it was somewhere along this stretch that I feel deeply in love with the 1-90 highway. What an amazing way to travel! It's breathtakingly scenic, there are strategically placed rest-stations, and the speed limit is very fast! 70 mph in Washington, and 75mph in Idaho and Montanna. Woo hoo! That's 120 km/hr!

We arrived in Spokane, Washington at around 9:30 and decided to just drive on through to Missoula, Montanna. We were in the driving zone, and decided to keep that groove going. This meant going through Idaho in the dark, and we travelled most of the way at 75 mph, up and down steep hills, around and across sharp bends, in the pitch dark, at 120 km/hr, and the whole experience felt quite surreal. We practicaly had the highway to ourselves, just passing the occaisional transport truck. We drove through countless construction zones, and decided it was much better to pass through them in the middle of the night, rather than during the day when we would likely be stopped or delayed by traffic.

Finally, at 1:40 AM local time, we arrived in Missoula. The first motel we found wouldn't answer their door, so we crossed the street and inquired at the City Centre Inn. The innkeepers came to the front desk bleary-eyed and in their pajamas, but with smiles. We settled in to room #25, and flopped into the teeny-tiny, super-bouncy, but clean, double bed, and slept until 8:00 this morning.

It took us 3.5 hours to get on the road, but in that time we re-packed the car, checked emails, ate breakfast, and took long, hot showers. Now I'm writing this in the passenger seat as we drive towards Butte, across straw-coloured rolling hills with snow-peaked mountains in the distance. "Those hills look so artistic," says Niilo.

Yesterday was amazing. It feels so good to beon the road, on an adventure, with so much more to see in the coming weeks. I keep feeling waves of deep gratitude that we are able to do this trip together. Already it's clear that we are good travel partners. I feel peaceful and happy, and very much in love.

Sorry, Idaho - We Blinked and Missed You

Sara and I found ourselves driving into the wee hours of the morning to get as close to Yellowstone as possible for today. Once we hit Spokane, we decided, "Let's go to Coeur d'Alene!" That city came up pretty quickly, so then we decide, "Let's go to Missoula!" Three hours later (and one time zone later) we were knocking on the motel doors to find a place to crash.

We've uploaded photos of Day 1. Sara will work on a longer post while I'm driving to Yellowstone today.

Monday, May 10, 2010

It Begins

Road Trip 2010!

Other than the usual need for a good vacation, Sara wanted to check out Naropa University in Boulder, Colorado. Boulder is close to Peaceful Prairie Sanctuary, and I have wanted to visit PPS for years now. From there, we devised a plan to visit seven states and check out the various natural wonders within them. Finally, we'll finish in Portland, a haven for vegans.

Sara and I wanted to share our road trip with friends and family, so we decided to do it with this blog. We're pretty excited and Sara's been busy planning the detailed itinerary. Here is the PDF copy, should you be interested. Here is our general route:

We bought a whole bunch of stuff for this trip, including a great 4-person tent, the Wanderer4 from MEC. Check it out in my online web album from when I tested it out in our back yard. It is very easy to set up.

It's late, and we have an early start. Time for bed!

- Niilo