CC Day 13 – Nature and Man

Good news! The Sequoias look big without a sip from Alice’s magic bottle! At first the forest looks like any other pine forest but then suddenly one finds herself among trees towering over 300 feet and as wide as 40 feet in diameter. Giant trees line the road in certain parts of Seqouia National Park, but walking among the groves is the best way to experience them. We visited the General Sherman tree and trail first. The General Sherman Tree is the largest living organism in the world and is an estimated 2,200 years old. While Jesus walked on the other side of the earth, this tree was just a sapling. Each year the Sherman tree grows the same amount of wood in an average 60 foot tree!

Did you know that Sequoia trees have bark as thick as 31 inches and are resistant to fire, chemicals, insects and fungi? They are vulnerable, however, to falling over because of their shallow root systems and lack of tap root. We actually walked through some trees that had fallen many years ago. One, in particular, the Fallen Monarch, was completely hollow on the inside and all that was left was a long, cylinder of bark. Truly, someone could have lived inside this tree. It certainly was bigger than the Ingalls’ sod house or shanty!

 Walking among the massive, chestnut colored tree trunks, filled me with a sense of quiet wonder. How I wish they could speak. I half expected one to bend over and whisper something in my ear. What a mysterious, magnificent creation we inhabit. We also visited the Grant Grove, which was our favorite of the two. There is much more freedom to walk in and among the trees there; this grove is also less busy and therefore a little quieter. The General Grant Tree is the widest of the Sequoias, at 40 ft. in diameter. The park has many other groves on and off trails, but we did not have time to visit those. I wish we could have stayed longer; I think I might have walked among the groves all afternoon and never grown tired of them.

We left the park and drove straight to Santa Monica Pier. The contrast between the quiet, peaceful trees and the lights, music and sounds of boardwalk amusement struck me immediately. The natural wonder and the man-made frenzy. Is one intrinsically better than the other? Or is that personal preference? Can all people benefit from time in nature? Or just some? Would people be more content if they spent more time appreciating God’s creation?

At about 7:45 pm, We all dipped our feet in the Pacific Ocean and felt some sort of accomplishment, I guess. We truly made it to the other side of the continent. I wish the weather had been nicer and then maybe we would have gone swimming or lingered on the beach; but the gray sky and cool temperatures made the experience somewhat anticlimactic. Perhaps because the experience was nothing at all like I had anticipated. Nonetheless, we made it!

We did a little shopping, rode the ferris wheel and then ate ice cream and funnel cake for dessert, or well, maybe it was dinner. A typical ending to our very atypical days on this wild adventure!

CC Day 8 – Yellowstone Part II

I have decided that Yellowstone is nature’s Disney World. The park is so large (3472 sq miles) that it has been divided into numerous smaller areas, such as Tower Roosevelt and Mammoth Hot Springs, just as Disney (only 40 sq miles) divides its parks into regions like Fantasy Land, Frontier Land, etc. Each area contains themed lodging, dining and gift shops while boasting multiple attractions that people travel to and from throughout the day. Yellowstone and Disney both require tremendous amounts of walking and some waiting, resulting in exhilarated yet exhausted children and adults. Both parks are meticulously maintained (with one exception – more on that later) and beautiful in their own regard – a feast for the eyes, ears, mind and heart.

 You nature enthusiasts out there probably think I have lost my mind so here are some important differences: First and most obviously, Yellowstone features spectacles of nature, not the creativity of man, engendering awe, solemnity, wonder and even humility. Also, while at Disney one may wait for the Spectra Magic Parade but at Yellowstone people stake out a seat in front of Old Faithful an hour in advance of nature’s performance. (That’s what we did! Doug even ran to get us lunch and we all picnicked around the geyser as we waited.)  Transportation at America’s first national park is up to you (unless you sign up for a guided tour) and, due to its vastness, this means lots and lots of driving. Most drives offer beautiful views, which often include wild life, such as buffalo, moose, elk and more. But this is no Animal Kingdom. You’re in their territory, now; no fences between you and that Grizzly Bear so be careful! The facilities at Yellowstone are appropriately rustic but well maintained. I  believe they offer too few bathrooms; and while the restrooms at information centers and gift shops are clean, the bathroom huts at attraction sites are really just glorified – and unclean – outhouses. This is my only complaint 🙂

 As many of you know, Disney World is one of my very favorite places. I laugh at myself as I admit that, because I am typically averse to commercialization and the like. My love for Disney is a mystery, even to me (except that it really may be the happiest place on earth!). NOW I have two favorite parks – man-made and God-made. I feel my life has reached what others might call a “zen-like” balance. Aaahhhh.

 Yesterday we finished up at Yellowstone by visiting the geyser basin, home to hundreds of geysers, colorful hot springs and bubbling mud holes. To describe them in writing would be futile. I have included an aerial picture of the Grand Prismatic Spring. (Just in case you are wondering, we didn’t take it!) The long, thin, tan colored line to the left of the colorful water,  is the boardwalk we walked along. This is just one of the many amazing natural wonders we witnessed. If a trip to Yellowstone is out of the question for you, I recommend a Google image search so you can see more!

On the way to our hotel in Pocotello, Idaho we drove through Grand Teton National Park, ate pizza in Jackson Hole and watched the sunset over the Idaho countryside. One really interesting fact about the land out here is how elevated everything is; even in the valleys we are a mile higher that those of you back home in CT. Just imagine what the mountains would look like from sea level!

CC Day 7 – Yellowstone Part I

Today we visited the eastern and northern portions of Yellowstone National Park. We drove in through the eastern entrance over a 9,000 ft mountain pass. When we reached the top, the temperature was around 45 degrees and there was so much snow it looked like late March or early April in CT. Even under a gray and misty sky, the views were stunning – white capped mountains on every side and waterfalls from the melting snow rushing down the cliff sides and underneath the roads.  

First, we stopped at the mudpots, which are basically small ponds of boiling water; the acid in the water turns the surrounding rock into clay which bubbles, steams and even rumbles and growls in some places. We walked along wooden boardwalks which protect people, like us, from being scalded by the hot, sloppy, gray mud. The only part we didn’t like was the smell – sulfur! Think hardboiled eggs, gone bad, times 1,000. Then multiply that by, oh, I don’t know, a million. OH! I can’t forget this: there were sections of the parking lot in that area blocked off because the asphalt had either been blown out or sunk in because of the geothermal processes going on there. There were just these holes left there in the parking lot, with steam coming out of them. I read about this and posted it on FB before we left. I can hardly believe it really happens!

Next we drove onto the Grand Canyon of Yellowstone, an amazing two level waterfall. While there we met Dick Maher, of Maher Paint, from Avon, CT. He stopped to talk to us because he saw our CT plates. It was fun to see people from back home. As we continued our drive we saw more falls, amazing landscapes, rivers, streams, creeks and marshes. and even some Elk and Buffalo. Doug really wants to see a Bull Moose. I mean he really wants to see one! Maybe tomorrow. Christina, however, is glad to watch any cute ground animal, like a chipmunk or squirrel – but she is ever on the lookout for the tiny Pika. Of course she had to choose to search for one of the smallest animals in the park. 🙂

I convinced the family to see the exhibit about Yellowstone’s supervolcano. Fascinating? Yes. Comforting? No. At one point Jacquelyn said to me, “Why did you think it would be a good idea to come learn about this?” Oh, well. Not much we can do about it now, right?  Then we had lunch at the Roosevelt Lodge, which included drinking from mason jars and eating Roosevelt’s home made baked beans.   

Our final stop in the park was the Mammoth Hot Springs, my favorite part of the day. Here, magma pushes hot water up to the earth’s surface and, through a variety of chemical reactions (I won’t bore you with the details, but if you’re interested, google it!), the water solidifies when it is exposed to the air. Certain microorganisms, called thermophiles, thrive in the acidic water and color it blue, orange and yellow. (My inner geek is really shining through now!) The entire process results in pools of water atop terrace like formations, which then overflow into more and more terraces below. Over the years, if water stops flowing in an area, the terraces turn grayish white. But then, undoubtedly, the water will begin to flow somewhere else, creating new, colorful pools of water and terraces. Some terraces are shallow and wide, some are deep and stout like staircases. There were other formations too, though, like simple falls and even a big, orange mound (20 ft. tall maybe) that is growing so quickly it is making its way into the road. 

I was amazed by just how close we could get to the springs or terraces. Again, we travelled along boardwalks that stretched directly over and around the hot, colorful, sulfuric water. The entire area is plastered with signs warning people to stay ON the boardwalk and paved roads because the earth’s crust is so thin in those areas that one might just fall through to, well, who knows what? Some hot, boiling, sulfuric water, I guess – similar to what happened to the parking lot we saw earlier. 

I got to talk to my mom tonight and then we had a great dinner at Rosie’s in Montana. It’s also nearly a full moon. Aaaaaah. I know it was a long post but there was sooooooo much to tell. 🙂