Joshua Tree National Park

Sculpture at Joshua Tree National Park Visitor Center
Cool metal sculpture at the Oasis Visitor Center in Joshua Tree National Park.

Crisp winter air and clear skies shape the day as we make our way to the Oasis Visitor Center in Twentynine Palms, CA. Our first trip to this area and Joshua Tree National Park, we are eager to begin our exploration. A helpful and informed ranger at the Visitor Center guides us on what to see and do during our 5 hour visit. We follow his suggestions and drive up to Keys View, then do two loop trails – Barker Dam and Hidden Valley.

Landscape, Joshua Tree National Park
Austere landscape as we make our way into the park.
The famed Joshua Tree of the Mojave Desert.
Wild armed Joshua Tree of the Mojave Desert.

Joshua Tree National Park is immense, covering nearly 800,000 acres. Two deserts, two large ecosystems primarily determined by elevation, come together in the park – “high” and “low” desert. Below 3,000 feet, the Colorado Desert (part of the Sonoran Desert), occupying the eastern half of the park, is dominated by the abundant creosote bush.

The Mojave Desert, higher in elevation, slightly cooler, and wetter, is the special habitat of the Joshua tree, extensive stands of which occur throughout the western half of the park. According to legend, Mormon pioneers considered the limbs of the Joshua trees to resemble the upstretched arms of Joshua leading them to the promised land.

Looking for a place to park and eat our picnic lunch we spot some massive boulders. Reading the map/guide we learn the park encompasses some of the most interesting geologic displays found in California’s deserts. Rugged mountains of twisted rock and exposed granite monoliths bear witness to the tremendous earth forces that shaped and formed this land.

Stacked boulders beg to be explored.
Stacked boulders beg to be explored.
Life survives in crevice of boulders.
Life survives in crevice of boulders.

Turns out these rock piles began underground eons ago as a result of volcanic activity. Magma rose from deep within the earth. As it rose it intruded the overlying rock. As the granite cooled and crystallized underground, cracks/joints formed horizontally and vertically. The granite continued to uplift, where it came into contact with groundwater. Chemical weathering caused by groundwater worked on the angular granite blocks, widening cracks and rounding edges. Over time the surface soil eroded, revealing heaps of monzogranite scattered across the landscape.

Perched on the crest of the Little San Bernardino Mountains, Keys View provides stunning panoramic views of the Coachella Valley from an elevation of 5185 feet. The southwest side of the ridge drops nearly a mile in elevation into the Coachella Valley. The San Andreas Fault, stretching 700 miles from the Gulf of California to the Mendocino Coast north of San Francisco, runs through the valley.

Panoramic at Keys View
Panoramic at Keys View

Driving down from Keys View we head to Barker Dam to walk the 1.3 mile loop trail. Built around 1900 to hold water for cattle and mining use, the dam today forms a small rain-fed reservoir used by park wildlife.

watering hole

watering hole man, Barker Dam Trail, Joshua Tree

Respite from the sun as it recedes behind the rocks.
Respite from the sun as it recedes behind the rocks.

Near the end of the trail right before you head back to the parking lot there is sign for the petroglyphs. The main area of the petroglyphs are right behind the sign in a big rock that appears to have a part cut out of it.

petroglyph, barker dam trail, joshua tree

petroglyph, barker dam trail, joshua tree

petroglyph, barker dam trail, joshua tree

bird_new As our day draws to a close, we head to Hidden Valley. A short, mile-long interpretive trail through an area rich with history, wildlife, and rock climbers.

Back in the early 20th century, the area around Joshua Tree got a lot more rain than it does these days. Before the land was protected in 1936, ranchers and prospectors tried to make a living in the region, and one of the most colorful was a man named William Keys. Keys built the nearby Desert Queen Ranch. He blasted his way through Joshua Tree boulders to let his cattle graze on the untouched grassland in Hidden Valley and made improvements to Barker Dam.

Hidden Valley, Joshua Tree, CA

Hidden Valley, Joshua Tree, CA

The current climate is much drier and the pastures have mostly vanished, but this short and easy hike into Hidden Valley will give you a nice glimpse at some of the region’s plants and animals.

Hidden Valley, Joshua Tree, CA

Hidden Valley, Joshua Tree, CA

Hidden Valley, Joshua Tree, CA

Located just two hours east of Los Angeles, Joshua Tree National Park is a desert getaway that boasts some of the most dramatic scenery in southern California. From the weird and wonderful Mojave Desert to the vast and stark Sonoran Desert. Joshua Tree: The Complete Guide shows readers the park’s highlights and hidden gems. Fascinating chapters on the region’s history, geology, ecology, archaeology and wildlife reveal the story behind the scenery. Gorgeous color photos showcase the park’s namesake Joshua trees. Detailed maps reveal over 20 of the park’s best hikes. An indispensable travel guide for outdoor enthusiasts and travelers on a budget.

Lexington, Kentucky and the Bourbon Trail

Horse Sculpture in Lexington, Kentucky
The Thoroughbred Park Sculpture Collection, Lexington, KY

Bluegrass, rolling hills, grazing horses… Kentucky is beautiful. At the entrance to downtown Lexington Gwen Reardon’s collection of sculptures in Thoroughbred Park greets us. The park is a tribute to the thoroughbred race horse, and features thirteen sculptures. Seven life-size bronze race horses and jockeys race toward an imaginary finish line, while in the adjacent park bronze broodmares and their foals graze.

Lexington, which is named for the initial battle of the Revolutionary War at Lexington, Massachusetts, was founded in 1775. Lexington is a small city and easy to get around. We stayed in the DoubleTree Suites by Hilton which is conveniently located on Richmond Road and just minutes from the University of Kentucky and Kentucky Horse Park. Their renovated over-sized rooms feature king or two queen beds and each guestroom is furnished with Flat Screen HD TV. The young woman who checked us in was very friendly and helpful.

After a long day of driving from Maryland, we were hungry and tired. The young woman at the Hilton recommended a restaurant nearby – The Chop House. Jay still raves about the Chop House Pork Chop (bone-in, thick cut) and my filet mignon was tender and perfectly cooked. We both ordered the chopped salad which really hit the spot… crisp romaine lettuce, bacon, blue cheese crumbles, avocado – we chose the Santa Fe dressing – a ranch-like spicy dressing. And good news – The Chop House has a gluten-free menu!

A La Lucie, Lexington, Kentucky
A La Lucie in downtown Lexington, Kentucky

Historically and today, downtown is the center of cultural life in Lexington. The restored 1887 Lexington Opera House features touring professional theater groups, Lexington Philharmonic concerts and other arts performances. Downtown is home to many of Lexington’s most popular and creative restaurants including A La Lucie on North Limestone. We walked by before they were open, but the reviews online are very positive. Asking the owner about a good coffee spot she suggested Third Street Stuff & Coffee. Not only did we enjoy a great cup of coffee (voted best cup of coffee in Lexington multiple times) the whole vibe is creativity… from the 3rd Street Stuff store inside to the fun embellishments on the outside patio, and mosaic on a back wall.

Third Street Stuff & Coffee, Lexington, KY
Third Street Stuff & Coffee, Lexington, KY
Third Street Stuff & Coffee patio
Third Street Stuff & Coffee groovy patio
Third Street Stuff & Coffee mosaic in Lexington, KY
Third Street Stuff & Coffee mosaic

Lexington is home to the University of Kentucky, as well as to Transylvania University, the oldest college established west of the Allegheny Mountains. For art lovers, the University of Kentucky Art Museum comes highly recommended and is home to many American works of art by acclaimed artists such as Alexander Calder, Sam Gilliam, Louise Berliawsky Nevelson and Gilbert Charles Stuart.

A number of Lexingtonians have roots that go back generations. Kentucky writers, most notably Wendell Berry, draw deeply on this sense of place. The stunning Red River Gorge is located in eastern Kentucky (about 60 miles from Lexington) and home to 26,000 acres of untamed river, rock formations, historical sites, unusual vegetation and wildlife. Berry writes about the Gorge, revealing its corners and crevices, ridges and rapids. His words not only implore us to know more but to venture there ourselves. Infused with his very personal perspective and enhanced by the photographs of Ralph Eugene Meatyard, The Unforeseen Wilderness draws the reader in to celebrate an extraordinary natural beauty and to better understand what threatens it.

The nickname for Kentucky is The Bluegrass State. Bluegrass is actually green – but in the spring bluegrass produces bluish-purple buds that give a rich blue cast to the grass when seen in large fields. The gentle rolling hills, and the highly fertile soil are good for growing pasture which makes for good horses.

To learn about the horses and have a chance to get up close, visit the Kentucky Horse Park. On a nice summer day the Horse Park is a beautiful green space to walk around and explore. You will see scores of horses in the fields and barns. Kids can take a pony ride, adults can ride a horse, or the whole family can take a spin on a carriage ride. It’s a working farm with fifty different breeds living on the park’s 1,200 acres.

Makers Mark Distillery on the Bourbon Trail in Kentucky
Makers Mark Distillery on the Bourbon Trail in Kentucky

Limestone makes for good horses and good whiskey. Millions of years in the making Kentucky spring water, purified as it flows over limestone rock formations, is perfect for Bourbon distilling because it is free of minerals that affect taste. As we leave Lexington to drive west towards Missouri we decide to detour onto the Kentucky Bourbon Trail and pay a visit to the Makers Mark Distillery outside of Loretto.

Barrel room at Makers Mark Distillery
Barrel room at Makers Mark Distillery with tools of the trade displayed.

The history of bourbon begins in the 1700s with the first settlers of Kentucky. The Governor of Virginia at that time was Thomas Jefferson, and he offered pioneers sixty acres of land in Kentucky (then called Bourbon county) if they would build a permanent structure and raise “native corn”. No family could eat that much corn, and they found that getting crops to market over narrow trails and steep mountains was a daunting task, so it was turned into whiskey. Kentucky Bourbon is different from other types of whiskeys because of ingredients, aging, the pure limestone-rich water of Kentucky, and the Kentucky crafted American white oak barrels.

Copper stills at Makers Mark Distillery
Gleaming copper stills at the Makers Mark Distillery

Production of Maker’s Mark started in 1954, after its originator, T. William “Bill” Samuels Sr., purchased the distillery known as “Burks’ Distillery” in Loretto, Kentucky for $35,000. The first bottle of Maker’s Mark was bottled in 1958 and featured the brand’s distinctive dipped red wax seal. The distillery was listed on the National Register of Historic Places on December 31, 1974, and designated a National Historic Landmark on December 16, 1980, listed as “Burks’ Distillery”. It was the first distillery in America to be recognized, where the landmark buildings were in active use for distilling.

The tour of the distillery begins near the stonewalled creek that runs through the peaceful, landscaped grounds, where you’ll hear a brief history of the distillery. Its black buildings feature bright red shutters with a Maker’s Mark bottle cutout. Unlike larger distilleries’ 600-barrel-per-day production, Maker’s Mark crafts its bourbon in 19 barrel batches. This is a free tour and no reservations are needed. Tastings are given in the gift shop area at the end.

Located on the grounds of the Makers Mark Distillery is The Toll Gate Cafe, housed in a toll house built in the late 1800s. Completely remodeled, it has a pleasant atmosphere – historical photos on gray-toned walls trimmed with the traditional Maker’s Mark red. The menu has some bourbon-inspired recipes and we decide to share some bourbon BBQ which is delicious. The perfect ending to our visit and fortifying as we continue to Missouri.

Bourbon’s All-American Roar an article by Mickey Meece in the NY Times talks about the current trend in bourbon and rye and has the winning recipe for a great Manhattan.

Charles Cowdery’s bookBourbon, Straight: The Uncut and Unfiltered Story of American Whiskey  follows the trail of America whiskey-making from its 17th century origins up to the present day. In his book, readers discover the history of the American whiskey industry, how American whiskey is made and marketed, and the differences among various types of American whiskey. The many fascinating characters who have made American whiskey what it is today are introduced, and a complete tasting guide with 35 detailed product reviews is included.

Martin Luther King and Franklin Delano Roosevelt Memorials

Tidal Basin in Washington, DC
The Tidal Basin, Washington Monument and Jefferson Memorial in Washington, DC.

I was born (in the USA…) and raised in the Washington, DC area and I love to return to visit. On this trip east we have one day in DC and decide to walk along the Tidal Basin, through the Franklin Delano Roosevelt Memorial, to the new Martin Luther King Memorial.

The Tidal Basin is a partially human-made reservoir between the Potomac River and the Washington Channel in Washington, D.C. It is part of West Potomac Park and is a focal point of the National Cherry Blossom Festival held each spring. We are here in summer but spring is a beautiful season especially if you can time it with the cherry blossoms.

Franklin Delano Roosevelt will always be intimately connected to the National Park Service. During a speech in 1936, President Roosevelt noted the special quality of national parks by stating that “there is nothing so American.” He captured the essential truth of the agency by declaring, “the fundamental idea behind the parks…is that the country belongs to the people, that it is in process of making for the enrichment of the lives of all of us.” Years ago I read the two volume biography of Eleanor Roosevelt, a woman whose values and birth date I share – Eleanor Roosevelt, Vol. 1: 1884-1933 and Eleanor Roosevelt : Volume 2 , The Defining Years, 1933-1938 – both by Blanche Wiesen Cook. I remember being absorbed by both, the first volume is more about her personal life whereas the second volume is more historical, covering the social justice movements in this country at that time and Eleanor Roosevelt’s anti-racism work. Doris Kearns Goodwin has received high praise for her book, No Ordinary Time: Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt: The Home Front in World War II. Might be time to revisit the Roosevelts.

Franklin Delano Roosevelt with his dog, Fala, at the FDR Memorial in Washington, DC
Franklin Delano Roosevelt with his Scottish Terrier, Fala, at the FDR Memorial

“They (who) seek to establish systems of government based on the regimentation of all human beings by a handful of individual rulers… call this a new order. It is not new and it is not order”.

The FDR Memorial spans 7.5 acres and depicts the 12 pivotal years of Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s presidency through a series of four outdoor gallery rooms. The rooms feature ten bronze sculptures depicting President Roosevelt, Eleanor Roosevelt and events from the Great Depression and World War II. The park-like setting includes waterfalls and quiet pools amidst a wandering wall of red Dakota granite, into which Roosevelt’s inspiring words are carved. It is the first memorial in Washington, DC purposely designed to be totally wheelchair accessible and is open daily except Christmas.

FDR Memorial in Washington, DC
FDR Memorial in Washington, DC

“The test of our progress is not whether we add more to the abundance of those who have much; it is whether we provide enough for those who have too little”.

After the park-like setting of the FDR Memorial, the Martin Luther King Memorial feels bold and stark. The sculpture, called “Stone of Hope,” stands looking onto the Tidal Basin, across from the Thomas Jefferson Memorial and next to the FDR Memorial. King’s head, his upper body and the tops of his legs emerge from stone. Lei Yixin, a granite sculptor from China, designed it so that King is part of the stone. The sculpture’s name refers to a line in King’s “I Have a Dream” speech. “With this faith we will be able to hew out of the mountain of despair a stone of hope,” King said. His statue is designed to look as if he were once a part of the “Mountain of Despair” but is now the “Stone of Hope.”

MLK Memorial in Washington, DC
MLK Memorial in Washington, DC

There is controversy about the MLK Memorial. Our friends in DC tell us that some are upset about the sculptor chosen, others think the likeness to King is not good, and we hear that the quote on the sculpture is incorrect or taken out of context**… As I take in the memorial and find my critical mind start to work, I hear three older African American women talking among themselves. The first woman says she is looking forward to a few years from now when the landscaping has grown in. Her friend agrees and says she thinks it will be beautiful in the autumn with all the falling leaves on the ground… and the third woman says they must return in the winter when it snows, how beautiful it will be then. They have the vision. Martin Luther King has arrived on the mall.

** Update on 2/10/2012: Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Inscription To Be Changed To Full Quotation

“Yes, if you want to say that I was a drum major, say that I was a drum major for justice. Say that I was a drum major for peace. I was a drum major for righteousness. And all of the other shallow things will not matter.”

Full Quotation from the “Drum Major Instinct,” a speech King delivered two months before he was assassinated in Memphis, Tenn.

MLK Quote Wall at the MLK Monument in Washington, DC
One of MLK's inspirational quotes on the granite wall.
MLK Monument in Washington, DC
His statue is designed to look as if he were once a part of the "Mountain of Despair" but is now the "Stone of Hope."

After our visit I read in the Washington Post that some 10,000 spectators arrived on the National Mall for the dedication of this memorial. Among the speakers were a who’s who of civil rights leaders as well as President Obama. This $120 million monument with a 30-foot stone sculpture that depicts Dr. King’s greatness and a curved granite wall inscribed with 14 inspirational quotes from his speeches was officially unveiled on the National Mall to commemorate the work done by Dr. King and many other civil rights activists.

Quote from the MLK Monument in Washington, DC
Another quote from the MLK Monument in Washington, DC
MLK Monument Quote Wall in Washington, DC
View of the MLK sculpture with the curved granite quote wall.

Several years ago around Martin Luther King’s birthday, The Huffington Post asked its readers for their favorite MLK books. The top three were:

Harry Belafonte supported the Civil Rights Movement in the 1950s and was one of Martin Luther King Jr.’s confidants. His new book, My Song: A Memoir, talks about about his political and humanitarian activism. The sections on the rise of the civil rights movement are described as the most moving in the book: his close friendship with Martin Luther King, Jr.; his role as a conduit between Dr. King and the Kennedys; his up-close involvement with the demonstrations and awareness of the hatred and potential violence around him; his devastation at Dr. King’s death and his continuing fight for what he believes is right. Belafonte is a great artist and another great man.

In 2015 the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African-American History and Culture, which is being built near the Washington Monument, will open and will be the only national museum devoted exclusively to the documentation of African American life, art, history and culture.

It is now mid-afternoon, we are thirsty and hungry, so we drive over to Georgetown.

Georgetown is a neighborhood located in the Northwest quadrant of Washington, D.C., along the Potomac River waterfront. The primary commercial corridors of Georgetown are M Street and Wisconsin Avenue, which contain high-end shops, bars, and restaurants. Georgetown is home to the main campus of Georgetown University, and numerous landmarks, such as the Old Stone House, the oldest unchanged building in Washington. The embassies of France, Mongolia, Sweden, Thailand, and Ukraine are also located in Georgetown.

Baked and Wired in Georgetown area of Washington, DC
Local hangout, Baked & Wired, in the Georgetown area of Washington, DC

After determining that the waterfront eating options are not appealing, we ask the woman in Starbucks where she would suggest we dine. She recommends J. Pauls up on M St., so off we go. As we walk up Thomas Jefferson St. we come upon the irresistible Baked & Wired. High quality, handmade baked goods made in small batches. Today they have two gluten-free choices – Nutella brownies and peanut butter cookies. I settle on the brownie which is moist, with a divinely rich hazelnut-chocolate flavor. Our niece, Gabrielle, would love these! The connected coffee shop (Wired) is equally small and smart. For those in the know, their coffee comes from Stumptown Coffee Roasters and Intelligentsia Coffee.

J. Paul’s has the windows and doors open and the ceiling fans blowing, for it is a gorgeous summer day, warm but not too humid. An American Saloon that is known for fresh oysters, it is a fun, casual place to dine and watch the action on M Street. Jay orders one of the specials – Salade Nicoise with fresh grilled tuna, and I chose the J. Paul’s Burger without a bun and instead of fries substitute their delicious Peppered Green Beans. The waiter is very helpful and knowledgeable about how to create a gluten-free meal.

During lunch Jay totally surprises me by suggesting that we walk up to the Apple Store on Wisconsin Ave. and purchase a MacBook Air… for me! Certainly sharing a laptop while traveling is challenging for two bloggers… but this is a total surprise. An early birthday present. I am ecstatic. Brownie, burgers, new computer – all I need are balloons.

Bear Butte in the Black Hills of South Dakota

Bear Butte sunrise, South Dakota
The day dawns on Bear Butte.

Planning on a sunrise hike up the Butte, we car camp in the Bear Butte State Park campground, located on Butte Butte Lake – the perfect spot – with an unobstructed view of Bear Butte and a lake loop trail for walking.

A gorgeous sunrise greets us this morning and we dress in its’ soft light. Ours is the first and only car in the parking lot. It is a 1.85-mile hike up the Summit Trail to the top of the butte. The dirt-covered narrow trail begins at the parking lot near the Education Center and zigzags up the rocky butte, gaining 1,000 feet elevation along the way.

During our ascent, a dark storm cloud approaches, and is split in half by the butte. We experience all the elements in their full glory – the fire of lighting, rain, and wind, as we trod the earthen path, ever upward. The golden light of the morning sun illuminating the prairie below us.

Bear Butte, South Dakota, view to the north
As we walk under a cloudy sky the northern view is illuminated by the sun.

Mato Paha or Bear Mountain is the Lakota name given to this unique formation called Bear Butte. The mountain earned its nickname because of its resemblance to a bear sleeping on its side. Turns out this formation is a lone mountain, rather than a flat-topped butte as the name implies. It is one of several intrusions of igneous rock that formed millions of years ago along the northern edge of the Black Hills.

Bear Butte, South Dakota, view to the east
View to the east as we continue to climb.
View from the summit of Bear Butte
Bear Butte summit where a thunderstorm passes to the east.

The mountain is sacred ground for as many as 17 American Indian tribes, and the ceremonial area is visited by many each summer. Year round the mountain is used for prayer and is believed to be the spot where the creator communicates with his people through vision and prayer. For thousands of years, American Indian tribes, including the Lakota, Dakota, Nakota, Cheyenne, Arapahoe, Kiowa, Arikara, Hidatsa and Mandan have traveled to Bear Butte to perform annual prayer ceremonies. They, along with visitors from around the world, make annual pilgrimages to this sacred site for spiritual renewal and sustenance.

summit of Bear Butte, SD
The wind blows and the world opens up at the summit.
Path on Bear Butte, SD
Trail to Bear Butte summit.

As we climb the mountain we see colorful pieces of cloth and small bundles or pouches hanging from the trees. These prayer cloths and tobacco ties represent prayers offered by individuals during their worship. For the native peoples, the Creator gave them the sanctity of Bear Butte and other gifts to use in their sacred ways – sage, sweetgrass, tobacco, cedar, and water.

We learn that the colors used in prayer cloths and prayer ties vary with the different tribes, but are often similar to the colors associated with the four cardinal directions.

  • Black is for the West, and is the color of the Thunder and Lightning People who clean the Earth.
  • Red is for the North. The Buffalo come from the north and sacrifice themselves for the people so that the people may live.
  • Yellow is for the East. Hope and a new day come from the east.
  • White is for the South, which is the direction that we go when we leave this physical world and go on to the next world.

Despite its cultural and religious significance, this National Historic Landmark is threatened by proposed energy development. Last November, the South Dakota Board of Minerals and Environment approved a plan to establish a 960-acre oil field adjacent to Bear Butte. Based on tribal opposition and recommendations made by the National Trust and the South Dakota State Historic Preservation Office, the board agreed that no wells would be located within the NHL boundary, and adopted other restrictions to reduce the project’s impact. However, in addition to the well proposal, a wind power installation, to be placed roughly five miles away from the mountain, is currently under consideration.

Lakota Prayer

Wakan Tanka, Great Mystery,
teach me how to trust
my heart
my mind,
my intuition,
my inner knowing,
the senses of my body,
the blessings of my spirit.
Teach me to trust these things
so that I may enter my Sacred Space
and love beyond my fear,
and thus Walk in Balance
with the passing of each glorious Sun.

According to the Native People, the Sacred Space is the space between exhalation and inhalation. To Walk in Balance is to have Heaven (spirituality) and Earth (physicality) in Harmony.


Beartooth Hwy to Chief Joseph Scenic Hwy in NW Wyoming

Crazy Creek Campground, Wyoming
View from our campsite in Crazy Creek Campground

Leaving Yellowstone National Park from the northeast gate we drive through Cooke City and find Crazy Creek campground in the Shoshone National Forest. A remote and scenic campground about half full when we arrive in the late afternoon, we are thrilled to get a campsite with a view of the surrounding mountains.

Crazy Creek campground, Wyoming
Early morning journaling and sketching

Randy and Pam from Kentucky are volunteer hosts for the campground and walk over to greet us as we begin to set up camp. After hearing reports of grizzly bear attacks closer to Yellowstone, we are relieved to hear that no bears have been sighted in this area. They show us how to be bear-safe in camp.

While we set up camp, the gentle sound of crazy creek provides a soothing background as the sky darkens, and the sun sets over Index Peak. Jay builds a fire and we retire early with the comforting flickering glow of the fire lulling us to sleep.

We wake to sunshine after a chilly night-time low of 38 degrees… burrrr.

Ground squirrel in Crazy Creek campground, Wyoming
Ground squirrel at Crazy Creek campsite

Jay sets up a breakfast area in the sun and we dine on cereal with nuts and fresh blueberries, warming our almond milk with hot water to ease the chill. As we sit munching our warm cereal we observe first one, then two, then three little ground squirrels basking in the sun on the rocks and then tunneling through the grass looking for seed. We are fascinated as we witness one pull over a stalk of grass to munch on the dry seed. Sketching ensues, while Jay does yoga in the warmth of the rising sun.

Soon we are packing up and leaving this idyllic site. But more beauty is in store as we travel along the Beartooth Hwy and connect with the Chief Joseph Scenic Hwy. This is Beartooth and Absaroka mountain country. We descend to the distant Wyoming plains through steep switchbacks, surrounded by stunningly scenic mountains. From Crazy Creek, we venture east along the beautiful Chief Joseph Scenic Highway (Rt 296) to the Cody area.

Mesa along the Chief Joseph scenic highway, Wyoming
Traveling along Chief Joseph scenic highway in Wyoming

The Chief Joseph Scenic Byway is named after the Native American chief of the Nez Perce Tribe. In 1855, the Nez Perce signed a treaty establishing a reservation with the understanding that they would retain control over most of their territory. But in 1860, gold was discovered on their land creating pressure from Euro-Americans to change the reservation boundaries. In 1877, in what came to be known as the Battle of the Big Hole, the US cavalry attacked the Nez Perce tribe as they camped on the North Fork of the Big Hole River, Montana. The Calvary were trying to force the tribe onto a reservation so that gold miners and ranchers could take the Nez Perce lands.

After the attack, Chief Joseph led his people on an arduous 1,170 mile trek that came to be known as the Nez Perce Trail. Their journey wound south into Idaho, east through Yellowstone, and then north toward the Canadian border. Though Chief Joseph and 800 members of his tribe evaded capture, the exhausted tribe eventually surrendered after the six-day Battle of the Bear Paw in north-eastern Montana. The tribe was stopped just 40 miles from the Canadian border.

Nex Perce Trail
The Nez Perce Trail

In his speech of surrender, Chief Joseph expressed dignity and defeat with his famous words, “Hear me, my chiefs, I am tired; my heart is sick and sad. From where the sun now stands, I will fight no more forever.” The Nez Perce tribe was forced onto reservations in Oklahoma and Washington despite promises to allow them back on their lands. Yellowstone’s Nez Perce Creek is named for this valiant attempt at freedom.

I Will Fight No More Forever: Chief Joseph and the Nez Perce War by Merrill D. Beal is a vivid account of the flight of the Nez Perce as they struggled to survive, and includes unpublished letters and diaries by eyewitnesses, and interviews with decedents.

Chief Joseph scenic highway, Wyoming
Chief Joseph scenic highway, Wyoming


Yellowstone National Park

We enter Yellowstone National Park through the western gate, and we are immediately entranced. Wild elk graze beside a pristine creek. This park is nature’s church. It is a holy place that is sacred to all who visit. Though the park is visited by millions, there is no sign of litter that abounds in many tourist destinations. Visitors know they are guests in this spectacular natural place.

Yellowstone National Park volcanic pool
Yellowstone National Park volcanic pool

Yellowstone is America’s first national park. Located mostly in Wyoming, with edges that peak in to Montana and Idaho, it has inspired the creation of parks throughout the world. Named by indians that inhabited the region, the yellow stone mountains that rise throughout the park cradle wondrous sights.

Formed by an upwelling of magma, a mountain-rimmed caldera provides curious hints of the tremendous heat below. Though the Old Faithful geyser is the iconic symbol of the park, there are many other signature signs of the Yellowstone’s volcanic legacy – mud pots, bubbling mineral pools, steaming mineral springs surrounded by rainbow colored calcium deposits, built up over millennia…

The National Park Service says it well:

Yellowstone National Park volcanic geyser
Yellowstone National Park volcanic geyser

“Rather than to preserve bears, wolves, bison or its myriad of streams, valleys and mountains, Yellowstone was designated as a National Park in 1872 to preserve and protect its more than 10,000 unique thermal features, the largest collection on the planet, spread throughout the park’s 2.2 million acres.”

“With half of the earth’s geothermal features, Yellowstone holds the planet’s most diverse and intact collection of geysers, hot springs, mudpots, and fumaroles. Its more than 300 geysers make up two thirds of all those found on earth. Combine this with more than 10,000 thermal features comprised of brilliantly colored hot springs, bubbling mudpots, and steaming fumaroles, and you have a place like no other. Geyserland, fairyland, wonderland–through the years, all have been used to describe the natural wonder and magic of this unique park that contains more geothermal features than any other place on earth.”

Yellowstone National Park volcanic mud
Yellowstone National Park volcanic mud pot

Hearing that temperatures are dipping into the 30’s at night, we decide to book a room at the Old Faithful Inn. Built in the winter of 1903 -1904, the Inn is one of a few remaining log hotels in the country. Designed by the architect Robert Reamer (also designed the Martin Woldson Theater in Spokane) who wanted the asymmetry of the building to reflect the chaos of nature, the Old Faithful Inn is an outstanding work of rustic architecture. The building is a rustic log and wood-frame structure of huge proportions – almost 700 feet in length and seven stories high. Entering into the lobby we feel like we are stepping back in time. Our room is in a section built in the 1920s – probably remodeled since then – simple, clean and comfortable. The Inn has a full service restaurant where we dine for dinner and breakfast.

Old Faithful Inn touring car
Vintage touring car outside the Old Faithful Inn
Old Faithful Inn
Old Faithful Inn - view from the lobby
Old Faithful Inn lobby door
Old Faithful Inn lobby door

Next day we enjoy a hike up to Trout Lake in the northeast section of the park. A steep 1/2 mile trail leads to the beautiful lake. As we step across a stream feeding the lake, a large trout glides through the crystal clear water, glistening in the high country sun.

Trout Lake in Yellowstone National Park
Trout Lake in Yellowstone National Park

Here are some of the best rated trail guides for Yellowstone and the Grand Teton range:

Yellowstone National Park buffalo
Our close encounter with a buffalo as we drive to the northeast exit of the park