House on the Rock

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View from the roof deck on top of the main house. Not a bad location!

View from the roof deck on top of the main house. Not a bad location!

House on the Rock was one of the strangest places I have been. Ever. To get the full story, you should read about it on the website. Basically, a man named Alex Jordan bought his childhood picnicking spot near Spring Green, Wisconsin and built a house around it. He incorporated the rock into the house and made a great little domicile reminiscent of Frank Lloyd Wright. He added gardens and the Infinity Room. Then things got really weird. He kept expanding and added on many rooms that were straight out of his vibrant imagination. Among other things, he was obsessed with automated music machines, stained glass, antiquities, dolls, and carousels. I’m fairly certain the original house is haunted. It was very eerie in there and the whole place made me a little uncomfortable. The organ room made me feel if I stayed in there, I would go crazy. I couldn’t properly capture the enormous whale versus giant squid statue (the size of a warehouse) or the organ room or the Streets of Yesterday, but here are a few pictures so you can get the idea. Basically, this place was incredible, insane, and such an experience. I’m so glad I went!

Some of the lovely gardens before things got weird.

Some of the lovely gardens before things got weird.

The Infinity Room

Infinity Floor

Treetops through the floor of The Infinity Room.

This was one of the most beautiful walls in the house, and it was in the women's bathroom.

This was one of the most beautiful walls in the house, and it was in the women’s bathroom.

An accordian-based music machine.

An accordian-based music machine.

Good advice.

Good advice.

The largest indoor carousel in the world. It has no horses, only other animals, real or mythical.

The largest indoor carousel in the world. It has no horses, only other animals, real or mythical.

Esmerelda, the automaton, gave me my fortune and of course, I got some squished pennies.

Esmerelda, the automaton, gave me my fortune and of course, I got some squished pennies.

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Trip Statistics

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Here are some fun statistics from my cross-country adventure. The links go to my blog posts containing more information, on the off chance you missed something. I know that is unlikely since you have all been hanging on my every word, but just in case!

Miles Driven: 4236.5
Gallons of gas: 114
Average mpg: 38 (Go little Fit, go!)

Days on the road: 25

States traversedThe Long Journey

  1. Maryland
  2. Pennsylvania
  3. Ohio
  4. Indiana
  5. Illinois
  6. Wisconsin
  7. Minnesota
  8. South Dakota
  9. Wyoming
  10. Montana
  11. Colorado
Campsite at Wind Cave National Park

Campsite at Wind Cave National Park

States in which I camped

  1. Wisconsin
  2. South Dakota
  3. Wyoming

States I had never been in before

  1. Wisconsin
  2. Montana

National Parks visited

  1. Cuyahoga Valley
  2. Badlands
  3. Wind Cave
  4. Yellowstone
  5. Grand Teton

National Forests I drove through (These were some of the most scenic portions of my drives. I would recommend that anyone traveling like I was make some time to explore them, or at the very least, go out of their way to drive through them.)

1. Allegheny
2. Black Hills

Surprise! A view of Mount Rushmore framed by a tunnel on Needles Highway.

Surprise! A view of Mount Rushmore framed by a tunnel on Needles Highway.

3. Bighorn

Sunset in Bighorn National Forest

Sunset in Bighorn National Forest

4. Shoshone
5. Gallatin
6. Bridger Teton                                                                                                                         Bonus: Buffalo Gap National Grassland (the prairie’s version of a National Forest)

Casualties

  1. Piece of roof rack for my bike
  2. Car battery
  3. Skewer for front bike tire
  4. Car tire (now patched and fixed, so not quite a casualty, just an injury)

Number of times I ate Mexican food out of a school bus: 2

Taqueria el Rodeo in Sheridan, WY

Taqueria el Rodeo in Sheridan, WY

Las Palmitas in West Yellowstone, MT

Las Palmitas in West Yellowstone, MT

Number of life birds: 23! Probably more, but sometimes I wasn’t trying that hard

A rotating lazy susan of beer at Bridger Brewing. All mine.

A rotating lazy susan of beer at Bridger Brewing. All mine.

Breweries visited

  1. Great Lakes Brewing Company in Cleveland
  2. Broad Ripple Brewpub in Indianapolis
  3. 3 Floyds Brewing in Munster, IN
  4. Goose Island Beer Co. in Chicago
  5. Firehouse Brewing Company in Rapid City, SD (special thanks to their free wireless that allowed me to post Wisconsin is Made of Cheese)
  6. Bridger Brewing in Bozeman, MT

I tried a lot of beers local to wherever I was staying, but I didn’t always make it to the breweries themselves.

There Are Mountains in the Tetons?

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I guess those are mountains.

I guess those are mountains.

I left Yellowstone and drove south on a dreary Friday morning. I was up early and on the prowl for a good campsite in Grand Teton National Park. In spite of the misty weather, I was very excited to see the legendary views of the Tetons as I drove in. But where were the mountains? I knew where they were supposed to be; I could see the bottoms, but the drama of driving into the park and seeing the craggy peaks looming over the sagebrush meadows was taken from me by the clouds. Then it started to pour. What a bummer!

I found a good little campsite surrounded by shrubs and aspens in my second-choice campground, Signal Mountain, about a hundred feet from the shore of Jackson Lake. Not too shabby! Already a step up from the sardine-esque Yellowstone accommodations. Setting up my tent in the rain is not my favorite, so I took refuge at the Signal Mountain Lodge restaurant and planned my wet day in the park.

I decided to save the hiking for Saturday and go to the visitors center and then do some birding and a tour of Menor’s Ferry Historic District. At least that way I would be near my car if (when) the rain started. I went to Mormon Row and saw an green tailed towhee and some ground squirrels along with some old farm buildings. Yeah, I didn’t really read much about the place. I was looking at the animals and willing the clouds to part so I could see the mountains.

Historic Barn

A mountain bluebird (look closely) perched on the cable of the rehabilitated Menors Ferry, still in use today for park visitors when the water is lower than when I was there.

A mountain bluebird (look closely) perched on the cable of the rehabilitated Menors Ferry, still in use today for park visitors when the water is lower than when I was there.

The Menor’s Ferry tour was interesting and then the sun came out! The tops of the mountains were still shrouded in clouds, but I caught a glimpse at least. The tour guide was a very nice intern with the park and he invited me to go hiking that afternoon. I was happy to have someone to explore with so we made a plan to meet up later. I took advantage of the sunshine and went to Lupine Meadows for a short hike. Not fifteen minutes in, the sky darkened and it was pouring again. Grr. No hike that afternoon. Instead, I met the intern and some of the other park employees at a pizza place and got some beers and food and had a great time hearing all their stories about the stupid questions from visitors. I was so glad to not be sitting in my tent in the rain.

After dinner, the intern had to pick up another of his cohort from the airport. I went with him and we drove to the town of Kelly to see the site of one of the largest landslides in North American history. It was impressive and the landscape on that side of the park was very different than the park itself. This was not an adventure I would have known to take by myself. I’m so glad I met that intern and his buddy. We drove back to the park in the dark singing along to The Head and the Heart. In spite of the rain, it had been a good evening after all!

I was feeling good cruising back to my campsite. The rain abated for a little while and I thought I might make it back during a break so I wouldn’t have to set up my tent in the dark AND the rain. In my Tetons revery, I stopped paying attention to my speed. Then I got pulled over. Double grr. Who would have thought there are cops giving out speeding tickets at 10pm in a National Park? Not me, but there are. You have been warned. I took that as a sign from the universe that my trip was nearing its natural end. I decided I’d spend one more day in the park and then make tracks to Boulder.

I awoke to no rain! Hooray! I hiked around Jenny Lake to Hidden Falls and Inspiration Point, the most popular and lauded hikes in the park. I’m not really sure why. The lake is pretty, the falls are impressive, and the view from Inspiration Point was nice, but this walk really missed the point of seeing the Tetons in all their rocky glory. I did get up close to and almost in them at the last part of the hike, but I was underwhelmed. I wanted to see the scenery, not the woods!

Inspiration Point Hike

The view from Inspiration Point. There is a marmot in the middle of the rocks.

The view from Inspiration Point. There is a marmot in the middle of the rocks.

Anyway, it was a pleasant way to spend the morning. I did take a nice detour to Moose Ponds where I got two life birds (yellow warbler and red-naped sapsucker). I got up close and personal with a marmot at Inspiration Point once I got away from all the people who had taken the easy way to the trailhead in the form of a boat ride. On my way back, I saw a moose too, so I can’t really complain…oh, except for the hailstorm! Yeesh. The Tetons must not like me very much. Overall, I think my time might have been better spent on some more remote trails, but no regrets.

I thought I’d finish off my day with a hunt for trumpeter swans. Grand Teton is one of the only places that has a year-round population of the large waterfowl. I drove to some of the spots where the rangers told me they might be (some more helpful than others. One told me, “Look near water.” Yeah. Got it.). The sun was out and the Tetons were finally visible too! I drove to a river and saw some birds, but nothing spectacular so I got back in the car and headed to Swan Lake. Sounds like a good bet, right?

I was waylaid by a traffic jam which can only mean one thing: wildlife near the road. I asked someone and they said it was a bear! Seeing a bear would definitely round out my big-game viewing experience, but I did not want to be one of those gawking idiots who ignored the rangers directing everyone to get back in their cars to get a grainy picture. I crept by in my car and there he was! A big grizzly eating some plants in a clearing by the side of the road. He (or she, I have no clue and definitely didn’t get close enough to find out) was impressive and huge. I got a twinge of fear even from my car. I’m thankful I never met one while I was hiking.

Now on to Swan Lake. The trail took me past Colter Bay where I finally got my perfect view of the mountains. They really are incredible and unlike any other mountains I’ve seen. Don’t worry though, Rocky Mountains, you’ll always be my favorites. I made it to Swan Lake, and lo and behold, trumpeter swans! That was easy. They were sitting on a little island at the far end of the lake, but they were unmistakably large. Satisfied and rather afraid of seeing another bear, I turned around.

Check it out! Mountains!

Check it out! Mountains!

To top off my full day, I drove up Signal Mountain and watched a picture-perfect sunset over the peaks. Grand Teton treated me pretty well after all.

View from Signal MountainThe next day I made it through Wyoming to Boulder, Colorado. I was a little sad my trip was over, but very happy to be home and not by myself anymore. Thanks to everyone who followed and supported me on my trip, friends and strangers alike. I have a couple more nuggets about this trip to post, but this is the last long post for now. However, I have more adventures in the works, so don’t unfollow me yet!

Columbines

Nature Disneyland

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I know Yellowstone is amazing. I know it was the first National Park and is the reason we have a National Park system to begin with. I know I was supposed to be impressed, and in some ways, I was. Here is my experience.

I did Yellowstone in two parts, with a trip to Bozeman, Montana in between. More on Bozeman later. I met my friend and another friend of hers at the Grant Village Campground which is on the southwest side of the largest naturally-made alpine lake above 7,000 ft in North America. I drove in from Cody, Wyoming on the east side of the park and went through Shoshone National Forest, which was interesting to see.

Shoshone National Forest

Shoshone National Forest

I travelled around half of the lake to get to the Grant Village. It was a beautiful drive with lake and mountain views the whole way around. I even got a life bird at a stop at Pelican Creek (cinnamon teal, not pelican, though they were there too) and saw a coyote.

Eleanor Lake

Eleanor Lake

We set up camp at the tightest packed campground I have ever seen and set off on a short, late-afternoon hike to see Lone Star Geyser on a recommendation from other park patrons.

Lone Star

Lone Star

They said it was better than Old Faithful if you catch it when it is going off, but it is less reliable, going off every three hours or so. It was an easy walk down a decommissioned road, and when we got there, the geyser was going! Lucky us! We watched for a while, then it simmered down. There were only four other people there and one of them said that was only the pre-eruption and that the full, 40 foot high eruption would happen in half an hour (the information plaque said that too). So we waited. And waited. And got a lot of mosquito bites. And waited some more. And just as we were about to go, off went the geyser!

It was worth waiting for. Not only for the innuendoes it inspired, but for the sheer power and weirdness of such an event. It was impressive, for the first five minutes. Then it kept going for another fifteen. We started talking to a couple of guys who were also watching it. They had been on a hike and lost their way. They were looking for a ride back to their car (sound familiar?). I was eager to give back for all the kindness I had received on my trip, so we offered to take them. We had the whole 2 mile walk to get to know the young adventurers. They were fresh out of college and taking road trip to see all the National Parks. They were enthusiastic and happy and we all appreciated their stories and positivity.

The evening was topped off by a beautiful sunset over the lake, then mac and cheese and hot dogs cooked over the fire. Delicious!

Yellowstone Sunset

We had big plans the next day: hike to Fairy Falls and see the iconic Grand Prismatic Spring. The hike was really more of a walk and falls were nice.

Grand Prismatic from the trail to Fairy Falls

Grand Prismatic from the trail to Fairy Falls

Steaming Hillsides Fairy FallsGrand Prismatic Spring was truly incredible, but the effect was dampened by the inability to find a parking spot and getting pushed around on the boardwalk to get out of the way of peoples “perfect” photos. I realized that there was no way to get around the people, so I took some pictures with people in them. Go with the flow, right? The place was really other-worldly and with all the people around, it felt like a theme park. Still, I am really glad I saw this spring.

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We took the long drive out of the park to see some of the more scenic spots like Tower Falls and some pretty wildflower meadows. Overall, for me, it was a rather frustrating drive behind very slow rented rv’s and wildlife-induced traffic jams. People would pull over on the side of a road without a shoulder, blocking traffic and running around in the middle of the street to chase an elk into the woods with their cameras at the ready. Is it really so important to get that picture of the poor elk? I don’t think so. I guess everyone experiences nature in a different way, but I was satisfied to see the elk and not harass them.

After a respite in Bozeman for a few days, I gathered my energy and patience and went back into Yellowstone by myself for another night on my way to Grand Teton National Park. IMG_4400This was a Thursday and I almost didn’t get a campsite the park was so packed. I also lollygagged in Norris Geyser Basin. That was a nice, boardwalked, self-guided tour of one of the geothermal sites in the park. Again, it was difficult to find a parking spot and there were people everywhere. I took the monorail from the parking lot to the geyser…oh, sorry, that’s a different park…

Norris Geyser Basin

Norris Geyser Basin

IMG_4403People and a pool

I set up my campsite at the site farthest south in the park, Lewis Lake, and then I accomplished one of my trip goals: going to a small-town rodeo. I left the park and went to West Yellowstone. The Wild West Yellowstone Rodeo was perfect. Exactly what I pictured. There were maybe six contestants and they did all the events I wanted to see. There were bad jokes and audience participation led by the not-so-funny rodeo clown and demonstrations of true skill by the cowboys and girls. I thoroughly enjoyed my evening there.

Rodeo TonightCalf RopingIn the morning, after a cold night’s sleep interrupted by a drunk or maybe high girl screaming at 2am, I left Yellowstone for the Tetons. I had enough of the traffic and the pushy tourists. I have mixed feelings about this park. I respect everything the park has done to make its main features accessible to all, but standing on a boardwalk and getting shoved around was not what I wanted to continue to do. The geothermal features of Yellowstone were worth experiencing and I am happy that I went. Perhaps some day I’ll go back and see more, like Old Faithful, which I skipped. Yes, I did. Sacrilege, I know, but I saw one geyser and fighting for a parking spot to see another was not on my agenda. Congress and President Grant were right to preserve this unique place, but I wonder how much our “preservation” is actually damaging it. I suppose it won’t matter after the volcano erupts!

Watch your feet!