Friday, July 31, 2009

From Grand Teton to Grand Canyon - Day Two

Day Two - A trip without Tribal Art

We rose early in the morning to be off to Jackson Lake Lodge to join our second guided bus tour. Besides, you go to bed early here and you rise early in the morning. Could they be healthier, wealthier and wiser?

This tour, leaving at 8:30 was destined for the southern half of Yellowstone National Park. First we had our now customary bagel and coffee in the Jackson Lake Lodge lounge; then we boarded the bus. Our guide again was Warren.

The tour was to return at 4:30 PM to Jackson Lake Lodge. So this was going to be a long day on the bus, leaving us with a late start to drive our car north to our Yellowstone lodgings.

Are you confused yet? Do you see a discomforting flaw in this plan? You are right. We should have done the full day Yellowstone tour first and the half-day Grand Teton tour second. That way we would have more time to drive to Mammoth Hot Springs to check in for this night.

Two reasons we didn't do it. First, the tours were only offered on those days. Second, we had just arrived at Grand Teton when we signed up. Apparently we had left our brain cells in the airplane.

Back to the Yellowstone tour - which was brilliant other than our poor planning. First stop was West Thumb, a geyser basin area on the west end of Yellowstone Lake. West Thumb is populated with several small geysers, hot springs and mud

The scene was almost lunar and the colors mystical. The bubblers are called "paint pots" because, as the boiling water seeps up out of the ground, it deposits colors in the streams and rivulets where the water drains to the lake.

This results not from minerals in the water but from certain life forms, thermophiles, that thrive in the boiling water. They are fascinating pieces of "art" resembling a cross between a Jackson Pollack and a finger-painting by a child.

Walkways have been constructed over the ground surface where the fumaroles and geysers emerge from the cauldron below. Yellowstone sits over a huge crown of fiery magma, just below the surface. In fact, they say a volcanic eruption at Yellowstone is a matter of "when", not "if".

The subsurface activity is very close to the surface in some places. The earth over it is more like a crust than solid dirt. We were cautioned not to step off the walkway lest our weight be enough to crack through the crust and give us some nasty scalding, to say the least. We also were cautioned not to test the word of the guide by sticking a finger in the water. It is boiling water. It will burn.

One of the additional interesting stories told by old timers is about the Fishing Cone, a lake shore geyser that appears as the lake level subsides in the autumn.

They tell of anglers who caught trout from the lake and immediately cook them in the boiling water.

Yellowstone Lake covers 134 square miles and is very inviting as you stand on its shore. The steaming waters draining into the lake lead one think it is a comfortable temperature for swimming. Our guide tells us, however, that its average temperature of 50 degrees means you wouldn't be able to swim 50 yards to shore without being subject to hyperthermia.

From West Thumb, we proceeded to Madison, near the West Entrance to the park. There is a nice picnic ground there and we stopped to enjoy our packed lunch. It came with the tour. While seated at a picnic table, we got a fleeting glimpse of a coyote sauntering across the area.

But the real wildlife story was the heard of bison we encountered near Madison.

Scores of bulls, cows and calves were grazing and resting in nearby fields. These are truly impressive beasts. Normally even tempered, they are not to be trifled with if they feel they or their offspring are threatened.

Leaving Madison, we headed back south toward Old Faithful. Along the way, we stopped at Firehole, a geyser that feeds the Firehole River.

The river is one of the few streams that is warm enough for swimming, largely because of the hot water fed into it from the Firehole geyser.

We also stopped at the Grand Prismatic Spring.

This large pond of steaming water presents a beautiful, powder blue body of water, surrounded by fringes of variegated color deposited by the escaping thermophiles.

Arriving at Old Faithful, we discovered two interesting surprises of this phenomenon. One is the famous geyser that fires off every 90 minutes or so and shoots 30 to 40 feet straight up. Of course, while astonishing to see, it was not so surprising since it has been reported in media for decades.

The other true surprise for us was the lodge itself. It was built with native
pine. Some were ram-rod straight lodge pole pines and some with curving trunks harvested specifically for their look when built into rafter and railings.

Clearly, Old Faithful is the most famous part of the park and the lodge is impressive. The only problem is that it is so well known and so heavily visited by lodgers and day visitors that it resembles an anthill. It was hard at times to find six square feet to stand in.

There is a porch where you can sit and wait for the next Old Faithful eruption. We arrived just as one was finishing, so we had 90 minutes to sit and enjoy a drink while seeing other less spectacular, but equally amazing, geysers sprinkled around he area.

You also can walk down to a plaza where you can stand and watch the eruption close up. As you can imagine, it gets crowded. The porch was just fine for us. A clear view and a place to sit. From either vantage point, when Old Faithful blows it is truly astounding.

We did not, however, regret not booking our lodging at the Old Faithful Lodge.

After Old Faithful did its thing, the bus left for an area called Black Sand Basin. In many ways it was the most like a moon surface of any colony of hydrothermal pools that we had seen so far. Cascades of hot, tinted water ran over a rim along the edge a stream, creating a living canvas of rainbow colors.

It was time to head back to Jackson Lake Lodge. Along the way, there were a number of delays for road construction. The other delay we ran into was a number of cars stopped on either side of the two lane road.

We learned that when you see cars gathered along the roadside
it is almost certainly a sign that important wildlife has been sighted. It's especially true if a Park Ranger's vehicle is included in the crowd. In this case, it was a grizzly bear foraging along the road embankment.

Rangers are there to protect the bears the visitors. They do this my making sure the visitors give a wide berth to the animals. It was our first grizzly sighting and, while largely obscured by all the roadside cars, we got some views of it.

We arrived back at Jackson Lake Lodge at about 5 PM. We immediately jumped in the car and headed back north to Yellowstone and our lodgings reserved at Mammoth Hot Springs.

We had to exit Grand Teton National Park and enter Yellowstone National Park, two separate entities. By presenting our Annual Senior Pass and identification, we were waved through the gate with no delay and no further cost.

One thing we learned by our preliminary incursion into the park is that some segments of the northbound road were under heavy construction. We were able select a route that was equally scenic but less congested.

This route took us north from West Thumb, along the shore Yellowstone Lake.
We drove through Bay Bridge, Lake Village, and along the Yellowstone River to Canyon Village. We saw stunning vistas and the occasional elk, but we did not have the time to stop and seriously enjoy the areas. We had to press on to Mammoth Hot Springs in order to arrive with as little dusk time driving as possible before checking in at the Lodge.

Upon arrival there, after dark, we unloaded our luggage into a smallish cabin. Not as much space as we had at Colter Bay Village, but adequate with two double beds and a pleasant front porch.

After a brief reconnoiter of the area, we went up to the Dining Room. It already had closed. The lounge, however, was open for a few more minutes. We had a glass of wine as the last call approached.
Finally, we stopped at the general store for some snacks to get us through until morning. Good night all.

We realize we have not covered Tribal Art in this blog segment. You can learn more about that by clicking through to our web site.

Monday, July 27, 2009

5 Mistakes to avoid when touring the Western National Parks

I was going to save these tips about touring Grand Teton and Yellowstone National Parks until the end of this series. But it occurred to me that they might be helpful to understand our experiences before you read about them. There also is the very real possibility you may not be engaged enough to read to the end of this series.

So, here goes:

1. Do not rent an underpowered car. This is not a mistake we made, but only by the most fortunate of circumstances.

My travel strategy always has been to reserve the smallest rental car offered. It usually is the least expensive. Moreover, it is the first car to be taken at most rental locations. If so, they will upgrade you to a next larger available size, at no increase in rate. You often get a mid-size at a compact rate.

It didn't work out this time. Our agent at Alamo was processing our reservation when he nicely asked where we were going. When I told him our destination was Grand Teton and Yellowstone, he politely asked if I had thought about the ability of a small car climbing the mountains. I had not. He suggested an upgrade for $7 more a day.

Now I am used to all the upgrades that car rental agents try to promote when you pick up your car. I usually decline them all. This time I went along with his suggestion.

It was a wise decision. On more than one occasion, while poking along behind a
huge, estate-home-on-wheels RV, it was nice to be able to take advantage of the rare break in the "no passing zone" and put the pedal to the metal to get around the lumbering jumbos.

2. Observe speed limits inside the parks. We were warned that, when it comes to
just a couple miles over the posted limit, the normally pleasant, helpful park rangers are no-more-Mr-nice-guy. More important, speeding leaves you little braking room if a giant buck elk and family spring from the roadside underbrush, or a ton of American Bison decides he owns the road in front of you.They make lousy hood ornaments. Not to mention, you lose the contest.

3. Do not be put off by low rates for in-park lodging. We chose lower-end
properties since there were three of us and we had to minimize expense. We quickly learned that the lowliest of National Park lodgings were more than adequate, in a rustic sort of way. After all, these are nature"parks", not theme parks. On the pecking order of "indulgence", we still were up a notch from the tenters and trailer campers in the campgrounds, and there were hundreds of them.

If you insist on some indulgence, and why not, you can day-visit the poshest of lodges and inns, enjoy their dining rooms and public lounges and hang out with rich and famous without having to sleep there. When the lights go out, they are all just a dark room with a bed in it.

4. "Be bear wary" is not just a clever saying. We saw two grizzlies during our ventures. Both were a safe distance from the road. Even then, these are some immense wild animals.
I do mean "wild". Despite the TV shows with cuddly bears affectionately playing with humans, unless you raised them from cub-hood, you are just a piece of meat to them.

They have a sense of smell 10 times sharper than a dog's. They can sniff a dead carcas from four miles away, which is why park rangers are quick to clean up roadkill. It will attract hungry bears to the road side. It's also why not to keep food in your car overnight. A car is no match for a hungry grizzly.

5. Do not skip Grand Teton National Park. We almost did. With limited knowledge and the tendency of Yellowstone National Park to overshadow its neighbor to the south, we made back-up reservations in Yellowstone for the same two first nights in Grand Teton. (Of course, we reserved back in January, so rooms were available in both places.)
We were prepared to by-pass Grand Teton and go straight to Yellowstone for four days. Before leaving for our trip, we cancelled the first two days of our Yellowstone reservations and spent those nights at Grand Teton.

Not as exotic as Yellowstone, Grand Teton is a serene, relaxing, incredibly beautiful setting. The soaring peaks, everpresent on the horizon, are constant reminders of the greatness of the land and of its Creator. We were soooo glad we started in Grand Teton National Park.

Now, a commercial message (Thank you in advance.)

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Thank you for spending this time with us.

Sunday, July 26, 2009

From Grand Teton to Grand Canyon - 2 weeks in the National Parks

Blogging is work. Blogging everyday is impossible work, especially while traveling.

So, my plan to start this series of messages on the first day of our journey was aborted at the beginning. A number of obstructions interfered with that plan. I won't detail them. Anyone who has tried to blog from the road knows what they are.

To pick up at the beginning, we drove from Salt Lake City, our landing point, to Grand Teton National Park. Our destination was Colter Bay Village. We had reserved a cabin suitable for three (our granddaughter was traveling with us.)

Our arrival brought us to the check-in cabin, where the staff were very friendly and helpful.

(Aside: We found this to be generally true at all five National Parks we visited. If I could be assured that Government Health care would be this well served up, I might reconsider my opposition to it.)

We were told that wifi was available in the check-in cabin, but not in the individual lodging cabins. That was fine. It was a short walk through the pine trees between our cabin and the check in cabin. We were not told that there was a guests' lounge cabin. We didn't learn that until checking out.

Our cabin was very comfortable. A single large room included a pair of double beds, one at each end, with a twin bed in a small niche of the room. Generous windows opened to the freshness of evening and morning breezes off of Jackson Lake and Colter Bay.

Susanne and Melissa at the entrance to our cabin

We were booked for two nights here. Our first mission after check-in was to have dinner at the restaurant. Since we were a few minutes early for the restaurant to open for dinner, they let us sit with a glass of wine until service time. Susanne had a special chicken soup with dumplings along with a Greek Salad. Melissa had fettuccine. I ordered breaded, center cut pork chops that were overcooked and impossible to finish.

Three of us at dinner in the Colter Bay Village dining room.

(Aside: the serving staff was very pleasant.)

After dinner, we stopped at the activities booth to sign up for a special guided morning tour of Grand Teton National Park, with a return scheduled for around noon.

(Aside: We usually take advantage of tours at a destination. It gives us a preview of the land, so to speak.)

The tour was excellent covering all the high spots of Grand Teton National Park. It started at Jackson Lake Lodge, where we arrived early enough for coffee and a bagel.

One breakfast pastry we did not have at Jackson Lake Lodge;
a Rice Krispies replica of the view

The tour guide, Warren, was a man of incredible experiences from high school teacher to tour guide at Glacier National Park and Peace Corp volunteer for 3 yrs in Azerbaijan. He drove us to his favorite spot for looking at the mountains, Oxbow Cove.

A breath-taking view of the mountains reflected in the Snake River,
with a slow-floating duck in the water.

From this point, we could see the steeply rising snow and glacier covered peaks of he Grand Teton range reflected in the still waters of the Snake River.

Warren warned us to drive the speed limit exactly - park rangers are very strict – and be wary of wildlife crossing he road. The warning was timely.

On our drive to Jackson Lake Lodge from Colter Bay Village, we already had experienced an elk buck and his harem of five does leaping across the road 30 feet before our car. We stopped in time for them to clear. It was a stunning thing to see. Too quick to photograph, however.

Since one of our objectives in the National Parks was to see wildlife in its natural setting, Warren drove us to a field filled with a herd of bison. They were in the distance; too far away to record on camera. But there were scores of them. The setting also was a scene that had been the subject of a famous photograph. We shamelessly replicated it with our camera.

The picturesque view; a scene previously recorded in a historic photo

The tour included the site of Menor's Ferry, a now defunct ferry across the Snake River that was ingeniously designed with a double hull. Turning the hulls, while held on a cable across the river, made the current propel the ferry across when going in either direction. A historic reconstruction of the ferry craft is under way. The location, near the Moose, WY park entry, also was the site of a restored general store

The restored General Store...

and a special Chapel of the Transfiguration with a window behind the altar framing a Grand Teton peak.

...and the altar view from the chapel

(Aside: Visitors must pay to enter the National Parks. There are several admission plans. We found the bargain of the century in a Senior's Annual Pass. For $10, if your are a senior, you can use this pass to visit every US National Park. It's good for an entire car-full. Ten bucks!!There are other good deals too. But ten bucks? Wow! You can buy it at the park entrance.)

At the end of the tour, upon delivery back to Jackson Lake Lodge, we decided on lunch at the Pioneer Grill. This facility has no tables, just and old style lunch counter. I had chili (good, not too spicy). Sue had a grilled cheese. Melissa, our granddaughter, opted for a Philly cheese steak.

(Aside: one of the fun aspects of the Pioneer Grill is that the counter dining brings you contact and conversation with others sitting next to you. Those inclined for more sophisticated dining may choose a table in the Mural Dining Room, with a view to match that of the lounge.)

One of the more pleasant places to spend some time is in the lounge of the Jackson Lake Lodge, with floor to ceiling windows over looking the Grand Teton range and an area where elk, moose and bison are know to make appearances, as are the bears that prey on them. You can tell when there is a sighting. Those sitting by the window in the lounge jump up in unison and run out the door onto the terrace.

Melissa and Susanne in the Jackson Lake Lodge lounge

(Aside: Jackson Lake Lodge is one of several places to stay in Grand Teton National Park. It is very impressive, with a rustic luxury that reflects it somewhat more dear rates. Since you can use the public areas with staying in the lodge. we opted for the more reasonable rates at Colter Bay Village.)

We stayed around Jackson Lake Lodge, waiting for the Jackson Lake cruise we also had signed up for. We had it in our heads that it was to leave at 2:30. When there was no apparent organizing activity, we asked at the desk and were told it was not scheduled to leave until 3:30. When there was no activity approaching 3:30, we asked again and were told that it didn't leave from Jackson Lake Lodge, but from Colter Bay Village marina.

(Aside: This reiterates the observation that, if you don't ask, information is not volunteered. How many times do we have to learn this truth?)

We jumped in the car and raced – at 45 mph – to the marina. The desk at Jackson Lake Lodge called ahead to say were on our way. We arrived just in time for departure. With no time to spare although the captain and mate showed no impatience and said they would have waited for us after getting the call. Besides, there were only five other passengers on this cruise. It would have been lonely without us.

The cruise was 1 ½ hours on slightly choppy waters with a stiff breeze. Fortunately the cabin was enclosed. The mate was very informative about the lake and the mountains at its edge. The full lake was formed when the Snake River was dammed, raising the depth to 39 feet averagely, although there are areas of the lake that run much deeper. One section close to the mountain shore was said to be 450 feet deep.

We learned about forest fires and their beneficial effects. Also about birch and aspen trees that grow from common root systems so that all the trees in a certain grove will share the same DNA. Because they grow primarily from spreading roots rather seeds they are less susceptible to permanent damage by fires.

Even pines, however, are equipped to survive forest fires. As the temperature of the fire increases it melts the wax coating covering the cones, causing them to spit their seeds to the ground below. Nurtured in the ashes of the fire, seedlings sprout again to form a new forest. It is long process. Fire-ravaged forests often takes decades or generations to show new growth.

(Aside: Of interest is the fact that, even though the lake is in a National Park and in Wyoming, the water is "owned" by Idaho. That state's potato growers financed the building of dam years ago, in return for control over the water, releasing it for irrigation. Put that in your trivia hat for the future.)

After the cruise, we retired to our cabin to get ready (IE. sleep) for the next day.

Thank you for your indulgence in reading this first chapter of our Tour of our National Parks. They truly are gems in America's crown. Next episode? Yellowstone.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Trouble in Order Form land

(Update: This problem now has been solved. You may use the order form with confidence as to its security and its destination.)

If you have tried to reach us using our order form, we have not received the message. For some reason we can't deal with until next week, our order form has become dysfunctional.

If you want to reach us, email directly to The email address still works. Thank you.

Wednesday, July 01, 2009

Aboriginals Gallery is featured in Architectural Digest

William & Susanne Waites are very excited to announce that one of the Australian Aboriginal dot paintings in their collection has been featured in Architectural Digest.

If you can get your hands on a copy of Architectural Digest's August 2009 issue, you will find a painting from Aboriginals Gallery's collection on page 65.

We count Architectural Digest as one of the most prestigious publications in the world when it comes to home decor.

Imagine our excitement when we were told that Architectural Digest was interested in including an image of one of our paintings in their August issue. Of course, one always waits with crossed fingers that the editors won't change their minds.

Then it arrived in the mail and - voila - there it was.

The work itself is a painting by Aborigine artist, Johnny Scobie Japananga, painted by him in 1990.

For pictures of this and other authentic Australian Aboriginal paintings, you are invited to visit Australian Art Room Perhaps you will find something you like.