View from the South

The End of the Road

In June, I wrote about Portland and naked people riding their bikes to work. That was a bit awkward… I’m used to naked people, even on bikes, but work…? Come on! We were on a Sabbatical! Who needs work!

Well, apparently we do. Our travel budget, the Sabbatical fund I wrote about last December, started to dry out quickly. Now, I’m back to work and the daily routine. I’m not dreading it like I used to. Even if it’s really not as fun as visiting National Parks and sleeping with the bison, the job provides for our daily needs and… builds the next Sabbatical fund. But before we go to far out into the future, let me finish this one first.

While in Portland, we actually stayed in a neighboring Vancouver, which is just across the river in the state of Washington. We lived for a few days with a Polish couple (“friends of our friends”) and also with people we’ve met in Bend, OR. During that time we had a chance not only to visit Portland, but also to take a tour of Columbia River attractions. What we didn’t do, is to say good bye to the Ocean. Realizing that the weather in the valley between the Coastal Range and the Cascades is rather unpredictable, we decided to skip Seattle and the other Vancouver and start heading East, towards home.

Our first stop was just mere few hours from Portland, where our new friends took us to teach us wind surfing. After all, we were in The Dalles, near Hood River, the World’s capital of windsurfing! We all tried the sport with… various degrees of success. I have to admit, Nadia was probably the best student and was able to surf within minutes. Alex wasn’t far behind, so was Agnieszka. I, on the other hand, am rather slow learner and my body’s flexibility resembles that of a log. Most my attempts to stand up straight ended up in uncontrolled falls. The sailing is relatively easy, standing on a small board in the middle of a mighty river is the difficult part…

After passing Mount Hood, we entered the high desert again and the weather improved significantly. Following the Oregon Trail, with a short stop near Ontario, small town on the border with Idaho, we reached Boise. We lived there for a few days with yet another friends from Poland and during that stay finally had a chance to see what the Famous Potatoes state is all about. We were not disappointed – Idaho, maybe not as famous as Utah or Colorado, can easily contend with them for the title of Americas capital of outdoors. Sitting on the Snake River Plains, with the breathtaking backdrop of the Rocky Mountains, Boise is one terrific town to live!

We spent a few days in Idaho Falls. It’s a small little town near Wyoming state border. Our next stop was suppose to be Yellowstone National Park, and we needed to refill our food supplies and gear. As we’ve learned before, anything and everything in the parks is twice as expensive.

To get from Idaho to Yellowstone National Park, we had to go through Montana. The park is located primarily in the North-West corner of Wyoming and there are four entrances leading in, two of them are in the state of Big Sky. The park, widely known for it’s natural beauty and abundant wildlife is enormous in size. It spans an area of almost 3,500 square miles (9,000 km2), comprising lakes, canyons, rivers and mountain ranges. We lived there for almost a week, covered over 300 miles, almost never crossing the same path twice and still left the park with a feeling of deficiency. We could easily spend another month in the park and still be awed by it’s beauty.

Our base camp was at the shores of Yellowstone Lake, which is one of the largest high-altitude lakes in North America. It is centered over the Yellowstone Caldera, the largest active volcano on the continent. It has erupted with tremendous force several times in the last two million years. Fortunately we have been spared the spectacle… but one can tell that something’s going on under our feet. The entire park is full of geothermal features, Old Faithful being probably the most renown, but definitely not the only one. Apparently half of the world’s geothermal features are in Yellowstone! Everywhere we went, we stumbled upon geysers, hot springs, mud pots and fumaroles.

We’ve learned that Yellowstone is the the largest remaining ecosystem in the Earth’s northern hemisphere. It is the largest remaining continuous stretch of mostly undeveloped pristine land in the continental United States. With the successful wolf reintroduction program, which began in the 1990s, virtually all the original faunal species known to inhabit the region when white explorers first entered the area can still be found there. Most tourists visiting the park create traffic jams taking pictures of bison, elk and deer from the comfort of their car seats. Some embark on the journey on the many hiking trails available, and are rewarded with close up encounters with the fauna in the unspoiled surroundings. We happened to setup our tent next to a bison’s favorite scratching tree. Falling asleep 20 feet away from the buffalo, we listened to snores of that 2,000 pounds piles of beef, telling ourselves that those animals are nothing more than just furry, oversized cows…

The next stop on our journey was just a mere couple of hours away. South of Yellowstone, almost adjacent to the park, lies another marvel of American tourist industry – the Grand Teton National Park. The park takes it’s name from the massive mountain range shooting up from the plains. It’s biggest peak, also bearing the same name is 13,770 ft (4,197 m) tall and overlooks a beautiful valley down below, where we stayed for a few days. We spent our time discovering park’s rich history and geography, hiking, playing in the many lakes, boating and just relaxing. In our records, Grand Teton is one of the places why we embarked on this journey in the first place.

We have left Grand Teton on the eve of Independence Day. We started late afternoon and decided that this will be our first teleportation experience. The kids felt asleep in their comfy seats around 9.30 PM, Agnieszka followed within minutes. When they woke up in the early morning, the car was park in front of… Bryce Canyon National Park waiting for the gate to open. As promised before, we were back in Utah! Overnight, the tall peaks of the Rocky Mountain ranges gave way to hoodoos and the moon-like landscapes of the canyons. Juicy greens of the fertile northern ecosystems turned brown. The air was filled with dirt that hasn’t seen rain in months.

Few nights in the park gave us an opportunity to discover not only the marvelous views from the top of the canyon, but also to explore below the it’s edge. On our treks we stumbled across many weird and mysterious looking rock formations, many of them resembling in shape faces, people or animals. Very spiritual place indeed…

We continued our passage through southern Utah in the daylight. From Bryce we took course for the Arches on the state’s back roads. On the way there, we stopped for a short visit in Capitol Reef National Park. We didn’t plan a longer stay, just enough time to collect the Junior Ranger badges… After all, who wants to stare at yet another Lime or Navajo Sandstone formations, right?

The next few days we spent at an RV park in Moab, Utah. This small town is surrounded by the most unusual rock formations making this part of the continent an ideal set for low budget sci-fi movies. What’s more interesting though, is the fact that both, Arches and Canyonlands National Parks are just a stone throw away from the town center.

We left Moab in the afternoon and once again, applying our newly acquired teleportation technique, the crew woke up on the shore of a little mountain lake  in… Granby, Colorado. It was time for breakfast.

The southern entrance to Rocky Mountain National Park is just a few miles north from town. The steep road quickly climbs  from the bottom of the valley, all the way up to the 14,000 feet (3,700 m) tall peaks above it. We have spend the entire day driving through the mountains, inhaling high altitude air and admiring the breathtaking views… or as much as we could see through the thick of clouds.

Once on the other side of the Rockies, we headed back North. We ended our little detour and got back on the all familiar I-90 in South Dakota. While there, we decided to visit Wind Cave National Park,  Mount Rushmore and Badlands. In fact, the Black Hills are full of tourist attractions and if we were to see them all, we would need an entire month… and much deeper pockets, too. A little tired with all the fancy sites, we decided to skip the Crazy Horse Memorial (the largest sculpture in the world),  Jewel Cave National MonumentHarney Peak (the highest point east of the Rockies), Mammoth Site in Hot Springs (the world’s largest mammoth research facility), historic Deadwood and even the Sturgis Motorcycle Rally (that’s because I sold the bike and the rally wasn’t until August anyway).

Out of the Badlands and onto the I-90, we spent the next couple of days observing endless fields of corn. Once on the other side of the Great Plains, we visited our good friends, who live in small town on the west outskirts of the greater Chicago metropolitan area. We haven’t seen each other in several years and the acquaintance goes back to our teenage years. No wonder we needed over a week to catch up.

We left Chicago and headed almost straight home. One stop in Sandusky, and we felt like home again. This little town sitting in the middle of the Rust Belt resembles many of the towns we got used to see in upstate New York.

At the end of July, after 14 months of wanderings, we got back to New York. The tenants were getting ready to leave, but not quite out the door yet. We stayed a few days in Stony Brook State Park, just minutes from our house. Since there were high winds going over the area, one night we even got to visit our neighbor…

To finish the journey, we met with friends, who year earlier came for a farewell party in Buckaloons, this time we welcomed them in Watkins Glen. After traveling throughout most parts of the continent, we came to a conclusion, that there isn’t a region in the US more beautiful than upstate New York, and particularly the Finger Lakes are the most spectacular of all.

Aren’t we lucky to live in the heart of it…!?! The End.