Saturday, July 14, 2007

a man, a plan, a canal........landsford?

i've been so busy trying to get caught up on blogging about my trip that i almost forgot to share some photos from my latest hike with you.

mea culpa.

SO and i have been trying to get back in the swing of things (it's been so long since i last saw a treadmill that i seriously doubt i'd be able to pick one out of a lineup.) in preparation for our big hiking/rafting trip in the grand canyon in october. since it's been awhile (he's still recovering from the arizona hike), we figured we'd start out with something easy- like a gentle 3-mile hike in north central south carolina.

landsford canal was built in the 19th century to allow boats to bypass the catawba river rapids. while the canal is overgrown in areas, the locks are well preserved (though i cannot vouch for the lower locks, as the trail seems to end before reaching them), as are several culverts, a portion of a mill, and the bridge over the main locks.

SO and i started off on the 1/2 mile long nature trail, which passed by the diversion canal, then joined the 1.5 mile canal trail (the round trip was 3 miles), took a side trip to see the spider lilies (sadly, we missed their prime blooming season, which is in may), and then continued down the canal trail past the remains of an old mill and to the lifting locks, where we turned around and headed back to the picnic area/parking lot.

the diversion canal, which guided boats away from the rapids and toward the landsford canal. this canal was designed to supply enough water to the canal for boats to be able to pass through, and during floods it would also keep boats from being swept too far downstream and missing the canal completely.

the guard lock, where boats entered the canal. they were hitched to mules here and then guided through the remainder of the canal.

a fellow hiker (bodhi's brother hotdog)at the spider lily viewing area.

the remains of the old mill

(i thought about cropping the rock out of this, but didn't want you to think i'd actually be disrespectful enough to scale the wall.)

the bridge at the lower end of the lifting locks. i also have a really great picture of the lifting locks themselves, but am forbidden from posting it as SO is a wee bit self-conscious regarding his current physique.

we didn't see much wildlife heading out to the lifting locks, but spotted two black snakes (SO nearly stepped on one) on our way back along the canal trail. (fortunately, he's pretty good at responding to my frantic screams, which really weren't all that frantic since the snake in no way resembled a rattler or copperhead or something equally nasty.)

i'm totally taking the 5 year old and 9 (well, technically 10 now) year old on this hike sometime- though i think we may have to scout out other hikes nearby, as i don't think they'll find this one much of a challenge at all. (gorgeous, mind you, but not terribly challenging.)

Monday, July 09, 2007

vacation highlights (part five- i'd sell my soul for rock 'n' roll, but not a room at motel 6)

vacation highlight number fifteen: maybe i can't talk my way to the penny squisher, but dammit, i can still schmooze the park rangers

during one of my visits to kansas city last year, daddy witnessed the discovery of my strange ability to chat up park rangers when he had to drag me away from a fifteen-minute long conversation i was engaged in with a rather good-looking ranger at the brown vs. board of education national historic site. with that in mind, what happened at the bighorn canyon nat'l recreation area should not have come as a huge surprise, though i admit even i doubted i'd walk away with a fresh yellow stamp on my national parks passport.

as you may have deduced, i am slightly obsessed with acquiring cancellations in my national parks passport. fortunately, so is daddy. so, as we drove through lovell, wyoming, on alt 14, the highway that would take us across the bighorn mountains to sheridan, wyoming, i was not the only one excited to see the bighorn canyon visitor's center.

unfortunately, the parking lot looked pretty deserted, and when i walked up to the front door, passports in hand, i discovered why- the visitor's center had been closed for forty minutes. mildly disappointed, i trudged back to the car and delivered the sad news. mentally filing the attempt along side those at alibates nat'l monument (texas) and petroglyph nat'l monument (new mexico) last thanksgiving, i settled back into the backseat and we headed back out to the main road.

as we waited for traffic to clear so we could continue our trip east, a park ranger vehicle pulled into the staff parking lot. sensing my excitement, daddy asked if i thought we should give it another shot.

which is how i found myself leaping out of a slowly moving car and shyly approaching a park ranger as he fumbled with his keys to let himself into the building.

"excuse me?"


"i came all the way from south carolina and was wondering if it would be possible to stamp my passport here."

to my semi-surprise, the ranger replied, "let's see what we can do" and led me into the building.

five minutes later, after thanking him profusely, i emerged from the building, waving the passports so the ink would dry just a little bit faster.

too bad my abilities seem to be restricted to park rangers, as they would have come in handy later, though then vacation highlight number sixteen just wouldn't be the same.

bighorn canyon, as seen from above scenic overlook

vacation highlight number sixteen: will that be my whole soul, or just half?
some time after our brief stop at medicine wheel (we didn't get to see the actual "wheel" as we'd gotten a late start that morning and didn't have time to take the 3-mile walk to the site and back and make it down the other side of the bighorn range before dark), we pulled into sheridan, wyoming.

helpful travel tip number 412:when traveling, be sure the town you wish to stop in for the evening does not have any festivals or conventions (i.e. "buffalo bill days" in sheridan, wyoming) that would fill up most hotels and leave the others feeling entitled to charge exhorbitant rates ($100 plus half your soul at the motel 6) for their remaining rooms.

interestingly enough, motel 6's greediness resulted in our spending the night at the very same hotel my dad stayed in for a period of time nearly 30 years ago.

after we unloaded our bags at the hotel, we set out in search of something to eat. we wound up being the only patrons of the local pizza hut that evening. the employees had set the radio to a rock station, and all was well until a certain song by buckcherry hit the airwaves.

i never, ever thought my dad would ask to hear country music over rock, but crazy things happen when you're in a restaurant after 10pm and a song inappropriate for an eight year old comes on, i guess.

Sunday, July 08, 2007

vacation highlights (part four- mon dieu, quelles grandes tetons!)*

vacation highlight number eleven: priceless

it seems i'm just as suave and sophisticated on vacation as i am at home.

scenic background? check
winning smile? check- and i even managed to keep my lunch from becoming entangled in my braces- woo hoo!

inability to properly wear a shirt i've owned for nearly ten years? check

the kicker? about half an hour after this picture was taken, i realized (and quickly remedied) my fashion faux pas. when i pointed it out, i was actually told that it hadn't been brought to my attention earlier because it was thought that it was intentional.

hello???? this is not the early 90s and i'm not trying to emulate the new kids on the block wearing overalls here. i am trying to take a decent picture in front of the tetons that i can proudly display in a photo album, picture frame, and maybe even have blown up poster size to adorn the walls of my adoring fans' bedrooms!

i don't think even photoshop can remedy my natural ability to embarrass myself with minimal effort.

vacation highlight number twelve: indulging my inner ansel adams (in glorious technicolor!)

as you may have noticed by now, my digital camera has a nasty habit of inserting a line into the upper left corner of practically every picture i take. quite frankly, i think it would be much cooler if it inserted a little picture, like those "where's waldo" film cameras that were vaguely popular a few years ago, but i'm afraid i lack the dexterity to paint an accurate portrait of waldo onto my lens. so, out of lack of desire to have a pinkish blob inserted into my photos or take a class on how to print the entire declaration of independence on a grain of rice, i have to settle for a little crack to spice up my photos. (just say "no", kids!)

actually, my camera's crack habit is my own fault. purchased for SO before our first trip to the bottom of the grand canyon, the cheap little kodak digital camera has been a companion on all of our adventures since, including kayaking, climbing in a rock gym, and hikes too numerous to mention. as a result, the camera has seen more action than a pack of handi-wipes at a barbeque.

surprisingly, the crack appeared while taking pictures at the radio station last summer. i don't remember exactly what happened, but a two year old may or may not have been involved.

unfortunately, since the initial crack, the camera has been dropped at least four times (have i ever told you that i'm a wee bit klutzy?), including a rather severe wipeout during the recent hike in arizona (the same fall left me momentarily wondering where my left kneecap had wandered off to), which left it scarred and scraped, but somehow still working.

thankfully, my dad knew very little of this, and let me play with his shiny new digital camera while on vacation, which is how i managed to take pictures like these:

vacation highlight number thirteen: funny...this feels familiar

our night in the tetons was to be spent in a log cabin near colter bay. after unloading the cars and making a few quick phone calls, we headed south to jackson lake, where we ate dinner at the jackson lake lodge, as requested by daddy, who'd worked there one summer back before the wheel was round and fire had been discovered.

ok- it hadn't really been that long, but it was still pretty neat to listen to my dad telling a waitress who most definitely hadn't been born yet about his time spent scrubbing dishes downstairs. for the remainder of the meal, i swear he looked like he was thirty years younger (minus the unfortunate comb over he sported back in the day, of course).

vacation highlight number fourteen: second star to the right....

after dinner, we headed over to the colter bay amphitheatre for a ranger-led program on stars and astronomical devices (like stonehenge and medicine wheel. sadly, carhenge was not included for some reason), including a stargazing trip. while there was some light pollution, we were still able to see the differences between different types of stars, and i'm proud to report that i can now pick out not only orion (strangely absent from the sky that night, though it may have been below the treeline or something), but one of the dippers as well. (if i could pick out both dippers, i could tell you whether the one i can spot is big or little, but i think that would pretty much render the point moot.)

i was all sorts of excited during the lecture portion of the program because the ranger had presented a slide showing the locations of various ancient astronomical devices and there appeared to be one located very close to the little town in wyoming my dad hails from. i stayed after to inquire further, but had the fortune to wind up with a group of folks who had questions on everything from the ranger's educational background (yes, he was a former astrophysicist, thanks for asking) to the relative distances of stars from the earth to the meaning of life to the airspeed velocity of an unladen swallow, so i didn't get to ask my question until approximately half an hour after the end of the presentation, after my dad, upon discovering that i had not yet made it back to the car, retrieved me and interrupted the other group as they were inquiring about the atomic weight of lead.

the answer to my question was disappointing (the map was wildly inaccurate, as it turns out), but hey- i can find one of the dippers now. so i've got that going for me, which is nice.

*i make no guarantees regarding the accuracy of my french- my last exposure was my senior year of high school, not counting that remake of "lady marmalade" that christina aguilera, pink, lil kim, and mya put out a few years ago.

Saturday, July 07, 2007

vacation highlights (part three- yellowstone national park)

vacation highlight number six: an unlikely compliment

after landing at the west yellowstone airport (see previous post) and stopping at the local grocery store to pick up picnic supplies, my dad, stepmother and i headed into the park to meet up with the rest of the stepfamily for dinner at the grand canyon of the yellowstone.

apparently, the stress of the day hadn't taken too much of a toll on me, because as i strolled to a scenic overlook at gibbon falls, where this next photo was taken, a grizzled old biker (ok- not that old- early fifties, maybe) looked straight at me and said, "wow". since the scenery behind me wasn't very impressive (once you've seen one lush, tree-filled valley, you've pretty much seen them all), i can only assume he was appreciating the sight of me.

that's my story, and i'm sticking to it.

in front of gibbon falls, post-"wow"

vacation highlight number seven: da bears

during the car ride to the canyon, i was informed that the previous time spent at the park had been chock-full of bear sightings. to hear daddy tell it, it was impossible to walk around the yellowstone lake lodge area without tripping over at least a black bear, if not a grizzly or two.

my response?

"don't worry- you won't see any more, now that i'm here."

after another day and a half in the park (followed by about 24 hours down in the tetons), he no longer doubted me. i can only hope my luck continues the next time i go camping in the area. i mean, i really have zero desire to wake up in the wee hours of the morning to see the silhouette of a bear on the wall of my tent.

vacation highlight number eight: thar she blows!

when i came to yellowstone last year, i'd purposely skipped old faithful, figuring it'd be little more than a crowded tourist trap. i mean, when you mention "yellowstone national park" to people, 97 out of 100 times, they picture old faithful. (one person might be able to come up with another feature of the park, such at the lower falls or maybe possibly the lake, and the other two, like the hairdresser down in phoenix (see previous post) are too busy trying to figure out where yellowstone is to picture any of its features.)

however, this year i had more than a slight interest in seeing the geyser. not only would we see old faithful, but several other geysers as well, as the world's most famous geyser was located in the very active upper geyser basin. the hiking book i'd picked up last year had trail suggestions, and my stepbrother's family seemed willing to wander around with me.

finally, and most importantly, by missing the geyser last year, i'd missed out on one of the twelve yellowstone national park stamps in my national park passport. (i'm down to one as of this writing- which just means i'll have to go back again sometime.)

you'll never guess where i am...

yellowstone's most "regular" geyser. there must have been nearly 1000 people waiting on this eruption.

after old faithful erupted, we wandered down the trail through the upper geyser basin toward the now-unimpressive morning glory pool. (the pool used to be a deep blue hue with yellow along the outer fringe, but litter tossed into the pool by visitors clogged the spring and lowered its temperature, causing the delicate algae balance to shift, and now the pool is not nearly as attractive as it used to be.)

some sights along the trail:

castle geyser, which erupts for 20 minutes at a time, then smokes and spurts for the better part of an hour. this one actually erupted while we were waiting for old faithful- too bad i didn't think to run down the hill and get a picture or twelve. this is what the geyser looks like during its post-eruption smoking period.

morning glory pool, which isn't nearly as gorgeous as it used to be. (if that's not a good enough argument against littering, i'm afraid i don't know what is.)

artemisia geyser, just past morning glory pool on an alternate trail. this one was recommended to us by a group of retired folks we dubbed the "geyser groupies" for their obsession with tracking eruption times and literally moving as fast as they possibly could in anticipation of eruptions in the upper geyser basin. apparently, artemisia geyser is nothing short of impressive when it blows. it's a pool that slowly fills up with hot water, and when it's full, there's an earth-rattling explosion and water is thrown everywhere. it takes several hours for the pool to refill after each explosion, and as you can see, it's a gorgeous deep blue color.

vacation highlight number nine: practicing self restraint

dinner that night was near the canyon again. we ate cafeteria-style, and since i finished before anyone else, i decided i'd wander over to the gift shop to resupply my postcard stash. as i wandered into the shop, noting that it closed in ten minutes, i passed a penny squisher machine. i have a weakness for those stupid rip-off machines. (actually, i can't really consider it a rip-off to get a souveneir for the low, low price of 50 cents-especially when you consider what t-shirts cost these days.)

i strolled up to the checkout with not only postcards, but also a shirt and a book for my squished pennies. when i paid, i asked for a dollar in quarters so i could afford to squish a couple of pennies. as the cashier rang up the person behind me, i wandered over to the penny squisher and began turning the crank. after my first penny, i carefully lined up my next desired design, loaded in my two quarters and the shiniest penny i had in my wallet, and suddenly a woman appeared to inform me that i needed to stop what i was doing and leave immediately, in seeing as how the store had closed five minutes ago. i told her i'd be done in just a moment- all i had to do was squish my penny- and she responded by taking my coins out of the machine, handing them to me, and informing me that the store would be open again in the morning. i told her (through clenched teeth) that i would no longer be in the area in the morning, and it would have taken me less time to squish the penny than it had taken her to inform me of their operating hours.

did i mention there were still other customers in the store?

as she chased me to the door, i wished her a very curt "good evening", and stormed angrily back to the restaurant.

i didn't catch the woman's (i still can't bring myself to call her a "lady") name, but i spent the rest of the evening wishing a severely infected hangnail upon her.

vacation highlight number ten: oh, what a view

Sunday, July 01, 2007

vacation highlights (part two- i believe i can fly)

vacation highlight number five: i just wanna fly

four hours into a five hour layover (sans free internet access, i might add) at the salt lake city airport, i strolled up to the gate for the flight to west yellowstone, montana, and took a seat amongst my future potential travel mates. after settling in with a book and my ipod, the announcements began.

"delta airlines is looking for volunteers to give up their seats on whatever flight number this is that's heading to west yellowstone at four something p.m."

(ok- you got me- i'm paraphrasing, not quoting, but it's been a couple of weeks, and i didn't exactly mentally tape record the announcement.)

five minutes passed by- no volunteers.

five minutes after that, there still weren't any volunteers, despite offering to sweeten the pot by dangling a $400 credit carrot in front of our noses.

what happened next was eerily reminiscent of sitting in a high school math class where the teacher asked for volunteers and instead of hands being raised, everyone simply sunk down a little lower in their seats. (not that i ever did that, mind you.) just when you thought you might have gotten off scott-free......

"would everyone on flight number whatever* leaving for west yellowstone at sometime in the near future please approach the podium for an important announcement?"

crap- we're all being called up to the teacher's desk.

"okay, everyone- gather 'round. your flight is oversold- well, not actually oversold, but due to the heat (everywhere i went on vacation, the temperature rose to at least 95 degrees- i kid you not), we need to take two people off of this flight to yellowstone."

(this was followed by several fabulous offers, some of which i almost considered, had daddy not been planning to meet me at the other end of the flight.)

"if we don't have any volunteers in the next five minutes, we will pick two people to take a later flight."

great. perhaps just this once, my track record of being picked last for just about anything will come in handy.

five minutes passed.

"would (insert name on my birth certificate) please approach whatever number gate corresponds with the flight to west yellowstone?"*


chalking up my newfound popularity to the fact that i was probably the only person on this flight who'd arrived in salt lake city on another airline, which naturally makes me look infinitely more suspiscious than the guy next to me, who's dressed like marilyn manson and is literally foaming at the mouth and growling at people**, because why would i book two flights on two seperate airlines on the same day- surely NOT BECAUSE US AIRWAYS DOESN'T FREAKING FLY TO WEST YELLOWSTONE, i gathered up my worldly possessions and began dragging them up to the desk. three steps from my chair, the announcer sized me up, and i guess she realized that kicking me off the plane really would't save much weight, because almost as soon as she saw me, she told me i could go sit down again.

however, that was not the last time my name would be announced over the terminal speakers.

after two involuntary volunteers were chosen (or maybe they were voluntary volunteers- i didn't hear any announcements, but i'd already gotten back into my book again), there was an announcement that zone one passengers could board the plane. looking at the zone three ticket i was using as a bookmark, i went back to my book and barely raised an eyebrow to see what the zone two folks looked like when they were called up a couple minutes later.

next thing i know, i'm being personally invited to board the plane. at least that's what i took the announcement saying i needed to approach the gate because i should've been on the plane by now to mean.

i should be on the plane by now? i'm the only one? either this meant that there were only two other zone three ticketholders, and they'd been the lucky "volunteers" who'd been kicked off the flight, or else i was the only zone three ticketholder polite enough to wait for the zone three anouncement (which, i might point out, never came- i wasn't that engrossed in my book).

so, book stashed in my laptop case, i gathered up my worldly possessions once again and made my way to the gate. i handed my ticket to the person at the ticket scanner thingy***, and instead of scanning it and letting me get on with my day, he announced my name to the podium chick*** quizzically, as if there was some question whether or not i was allowed to get on the plane.

by this point, a few thoughts are running through my mind:

~this is surely a sign that i'm not meant to board this plane, which will undoubtedly go down like buddy holly's.
~there had better be some serious frequent flyer miles up for grabs here.
~crap- somebody found the bodies.

as i'm pondering which bodies might have been found, i hear the podium chick tell the ticket scanner person that i'd been cleared to board as she opened the door to allow me to finally get on my plane.

roughly an hour and a half later, we landed at what is easily the smallest airport i've ever encountered. i thought the bangor airport, with its three gates, was small. i thought the bozeman, montana airport, with its two gates, was small. however, i was unprepared for the west yellowstone airport, which is the size of a postage stamp not only at 3,000 feet, but at 300, as well. the back door was the gate, and luggage was brought to the baggage claim via handcart.

the west yellowstone airport, as seen from the parking lot (note the two sets of doors)

the west yellowstone airport baggage claim

*yep- paraphrasing again

**not only do i paraphrase, but sometimes i exaggerate a little, too.

***why yes, that is a technical term