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What I Did On My Summer Vacation (July 2003)

My Vacation - July 2003   

We interrupt our regular mindless blathering to bring you this special installment. Now, through the magic of the Internet, we have the capability to bore thousands (or millions) of people with our vacation pictures. Yes, you too can participate in this unique way of becoming bored, while paying for the privilege. (Or, the two of you can just wait until tomorrow when things get back to normal.)

We begin our story last Wednesday (June xx, 2003) when we finally escape from work a bit early to prepare for our trip. Our plan is to leave early Thursday morning. Our route will take us from our home near Sacramento, CA to Rexburg, Idaho. Our purpose is to get our youngest daughter settled in her apartment at BYU-Idaho, then travel to the Yellowstone National Park neighborhood.

We left work about 2:30pm, and got home to start packing. I gathered together all the electronic equipment (cameras, laptop, binoculars, two-way radios), and packed up a few clothes for me. Stacy had been preparing all of her stuff to bring to college. She is in an accelerated 2 year program for Nursing, so will be there almost year-round. She plans on getting her RN (Registered Nurse) license at the end of that two years, then will complete the rest of her classes for a Bachelor of Science degree.

We were taking two cars: Stacy's 1994 Corolla, and our 1998 Camry. Both of you regular readers will recall that we had done a complete checkup of her car to ensure that there would be no problems while she is back at school. That involved replacing the timing and other belts, plugs/wires/cap, changing the transmission fluid and filter, and new rear brakes. We had the belt thing done at a local repair shop, then her friend (who enjoys working on cars) did the rest. (We paid him for his time, but it was still cheaper than the repair shop's $60/hour rate.) So her car was ready for the trip.

Since I am the family 'packer', I managed to stuff everything that was needed into both cars, with room left over for me to drive the Corolla, with my wife (Pam) and Stacy in the Camry. (I figured that it would be much quieter that way.) And we had some two-way radios for communication, with our cell phones as the backup.

So, all was packed, and we all got a couple of hours of sleep before waking at about 2am to depart. We took the cars out of the garage, set the house alarm system on, then locked up everything. A trip over to the Arco for a final fill up of gas (and some snackies), and we were off.

Our route takes us along I-80 up into the Sierra Mountains into Reno, Nevada, then we stay on I-80 until about half-way through Nevada. A left turn at Wells, Nevada onto Highway 95 up to xxxx, then a right on Highway xx to Rexburg. Not much excitement about that trip. The weather was pleasant enough for driving with the windows down (during the day). The roads were good. I-80 is a four lane divided highway the entire route. Highway 95 is a two-lane road, well-paved, but not a whole lot of 'civilization' (typical of most of Nevada). There is some interesting geology and sights along the way (one of these trips I am actually going to stop at Imlay and the "Thunder Mountain" house there).

The two-way radios came in handy several times, as we talked to each other about stopping for gas or food. And there was the occasional"look at that" just to keep everyone awake. (Me, mostly, since I was the sole driver of the car.) There was the one time when I started singing (very loudly, and purposefully off-key) along with some early sixties' songs. That's a good way to get the oxygen flowing again if you are starting to doze off.

We rolled into Rexburg Idaho at about 5:30pm. We found the apartment (quite easy, given the way that streets in Utah and Idaho are laid out in a grid pattern N-S-E-W), and met a couple of her roommates. We unpacked the car, and got everything up in her room. Then a trip to the local Wal-Mart to get some additional supplies. We set up her computer, installed the cable-lock system on the computer, put together a small desk chair. We left her at the apartment, and Pam and I checked into the local hotel.

Friday morning was the orientation at the college. We stopped into the bookstore to pick up her book for her summer session class (one book = $120, and it was used). Then Pam and I went to the parent's orientation with the college president. BYU-Idaho is a private, church-run school. It was just a two-year college, but converted to a four-year program last year. Even with the expanded program, it is difficult to get accepted. For instance, they have 60 slots available for their Nursing program. Only the top students get in, and it is not just grades that are the qualifications. Stacy had been in the "Regional Occupation Program" (where you get to spend 4 days a week as an intern in your chosen field, with one day in class). She had spent her time in the ER at the local hospital, and got excellent recommendations from there. Even with her almost 4.0 GPA, there is still a chance that she wouldn't get accepted. She first got accepted into the college, then we had to wait until we heard from the Nursing program. It turns out that only 1 in 5 of the Nursing applicants are accepted (and this is after you get accepted into the college). So, as you might guess, we are really proud of her efforts.

Anyway, we got through the orientation. We stopped by Quizno's for lunch, then dropped Stacy off for the rest of her incoming student activities. We went back to the hotel room and relaxed a bit.

Saturday rolled around. We stopped by Stacy's apartment to take her out for breakfast, then back to her apartment for a goodbye. And, with just a few 'warm squishies" of emotion between Pam and I (Stacy is the youngest, and we will certainly miss her), Pam and I got into the car and headed for West Yellowstone.

That's a nice drive through mostly farm country, with a few mountains along the way. West Yellowstone is the west entrance to Yellowstone National Park. We got there early enough that we decided to drive into the park and head for "Old Faithful".

Yellowstone National Park (YNP) is gorgeous. Lots of critters (although there aren't the bear lineups that there used to be back in 1976 during our last visit). It was not uncommon to see several bears by the side of the road, with lines of cars. Lots of "two-legged shutter clickers". Since then, YNP has re-trained the bears by closing all the garbage dumps, and relocating problem bears. So, you don't get to see them, but they are much healthier in their native habitat.

We did get to see some other critters. There are small buffalo and elk herds scattered throughout the park. Many of them are quite used to the two-legged visitors. YNP has lots of geysers and steam holes over a large area of the park. You can walk around these cauldron areas on special boardwalks. (Which is a good idea, because the surface mantle is very thin in parts, and a wrong step can break through the surface into a very warm area.) At one, there was a large buffalo just sitting along the side of the boardwalk. He was less than ten feet away from the walkway, almost oblivious to the people walking by. They aren't docile, though, so you keep away from them whenever possible. But they do allow picture-taking from a safe distance.

At another spot, there was a young elk by the side of the road. He had a nice rack, still covered with velvet. Of course, as you are driving down the road, any wild animal sighting will cause a small cluster of cars at the side of the road (which is how you tell when there are critters nearby).

On the road into the park, a pair of eagles has built a nest quite near the road. There is no stopping allowed in the area, but you can get some nice shots with a telephoto lens.

We made it to Old Faithful, and wandered around until the next eruption. Lots of people stop there. It is quite impressive, along with all the other mud pots and steaming and bubbling pools of very hot water. The water in a geyser can get superheated to 500 degrees or more, and then all that pressure is released as steam and water vapor. Some (like Old Faithful) spot quite high, but others just bubble.

So, it is all quite impressive to wander around the various geysers and steam vents. We left the Old Faithful stop, then went in a big circle route around the roads, passing by Yellowstone Lake (largest high-altitude lake in the US), and quite pretty. There were the occasional sightings of buffalo and elk and deer.

There was also a lot of evidence of the big fires of 1998. Those fires burned over 36% of the acreage of the park. The park's philosophy is to let nature take it's course. Most of the areas have naturally reseeded, with the trees about six to ten feet high. Lots of standing dead trees, and lots of dead trees on the ground. Most of the trees don't have any evidence of burn marks; I suspect that the burn marks have weathered off. It was quite interesting to note that the fire damage was just about everywhere you went in the park. The fire got into most of the popular areas of the park. I recall that the lodges at Old Faithful were threatened by the fire.

It took about 4 hours to make it around that section of the park, with stops along the way at various sites. On the way out we say a small herd of elk, with a female and two young babies that looked to be twins. We then exited the park back at West Yellowstone, and checked into the hotel. We then went out to dinner, then wandered through the tourist shops looking at all the tourist junk. But there was a really nice ice cream parlor there. I had a Black Forest Sundae: a brownie on the bottom, chocolate ice cream, cherry topping, with whipped cream and nuts. Quite yummy.

Sunday rolled around, and we went back into the park for a drive around the northern area of the park. Lots of nice scenery, more critters, rivers and waterfalls. We did see a small bear in a tree. At least, that's what the ranger said. All I saw was a black spot up in a tree that was about 400 yards away. But I dutifully took a picture with my digital camera at full zoom. (As I write this, I haven't downloaded the pictures to the computer yet. I suspect that with a bit of digital editing, I should be able to enlarge the various shots so that they look more impressive than my actual photography skills. And, there may be a link to a picture page, so that both of you can see the vacation pictures.)

We stopped for lunch at the Roosevelt junction. A small herd of elk were feeding on the grass right next to the parking lot. Again, you don't get too close to them, but as long as you stay about 30 feet away, you can take their pictures.

So, we spent most of that day driving around and enjoying the scenery. Back to the hotel, after a stop at the KFC for dinner. Then we relaxed in the room. One interesting thing is how bright it is outside even at 930pm. The sun goes down about 9pm, but it doesn't really get dark until 10pm. I suspect it is because of how far north we are, but it was different.

We checked out of the hotel on Monday. Unfortunately, I was starting to get a cold...the scratchy throat and mild congestion. But, we made one final trip through the park towards the south entrance and on to Jackson, Wyoming. Again, another nice scenic drive. More elk and buffalo, along with more 'two-legged fly casters' (fly fishermen) and then one place where a moose was sitting in the shade next to a small pond. There was the herd of cars by the side of the road where the two-fisted shutter-clickers alerted you to the wildlife sighting. So, I did get to see a moose. (But "Rocky" was nowhere in sight.)

We pulled into Jackson, and checked into the "Wagon Wheel Motel". This place has been around a long time. It is small one-room cabins, very rustic looking, but quite comfortable. We rested for a bit, then wandered into the downtown area for all the tourist shops (there are lots of them). There was the standard tourist junk, but also some high-priced art galleries and other places. Jackson is a very pretty area, and it attracts a wide variety of visitors. But, they also had a Hagen-Daz, where the ice cream felt nice on my throat.

Tuesday rolled around, and we checked out of the Wagon Wheel after a restful night. We headed west through Teton Pass back into Idaho. We were going to meet Stacy in Idaho Falls (just down the road from Rexburg), but decided that she didn't need to be exposed to my cold. So we checked into a very nice hotel right on the Snake River by the falls. We got the best room in the place. It had a king-size bed, a dining table, and a small kitchen area, all arranged into a large trapezoid shaped room. The windows looked out over the river and the falls there, and it was quite comfortable. Pam went off shopping while I relaxed on the bed, nursing my cold (just a bit of stuffiness relieved by the nasal spray, and Lifesavers for the scratchy throat). We did take a short walk along the river in the evening.

Wednesday, and my cold, although not too bad, was still not better. We had planned to head west to Oregon, then drive down the coast a bit before heading home. But we decided that we'd had enough driving, and there wasn't any really compelling places to visit. So, we got up a bit early (well, about 7am), and headed for home. Back to Twin Falls, down highway 95 to Wells, then I-80 the rest of the way home. We got home about 6pm after an uneventful drive.

We did stop by Lowe's to check on the delivery of our new refrigerator. Our regular readers (both of you) will recall that our old one died just before we left. The new one wasn't going to be delivered until Sunday, which was our original return day. But we got home early, so were able to arrange for delivery of the new refrigerator on Thursday.

Thursday we slept in, and Lowe's delivered our refrigerator in the morning. Pam made a trip to the local Winco food market to stock up on the basics. We then wandered out to a few furniture places (still looking for a desk that isn't too expensive, or too cheaply made) on the way to my oldest daughter's house. We had a nice visit with them and the grandchildren, distributing our little presents to them. Then back home for a quiet evening with a DVD.

So, here it is Friday, July 4th. My cold has settled into the post-nasal drip clogging up the throat, and Pam, despite her best efforts, seems to be coming down with it also. So, we've been homebodies today. I've been doing a bit of catch-up with the Internet, and my favorite Daynotes sites, and going through the mail at work, getting rid of the spam and looking into a few of the more important messages.

And, sitting here, writing this. I'll work on the pictures tonight, since we don't have any plans for a big celebration. Both of us are still working on our respective colds, so we are just laying low and relaxing. The rest of the weekend looks to be the same, although I suspect that there will be some more shopping happening. It might be time to wander over to Best Buy to arrange for the DirecTV installation here. We've been watching the basic cable, but the variety of channels on DirecTV are much better than cable. (And the program guide is much better.)

Sunday will also be similarly relaxing. We might get together with the kids and grandkids, unless our colds hang on. No sense infecting the whole family. But we've got supplies for the barbeque. Perhaps some steaks are in order.

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