Wednesday, September 1, 2021

Day 46 (7/11): Miles traveled: ~ 250

Location: Yellowstone, ending at Best Western in Billings, MT

Science: air quality measurements (both particulate counter and MicroTops measurements) in Billings, MT

When we woke up in Colter Bay Campground, the sun looked like this:

The mountains looked like this -- 

And then, right before Yellowstone National Park, we saw evidence of past wildfires -- 

We first stopped at Old Faithful. It was crowded and very hot. Rosie was fading already. 

We were lucky to only have to wait 35 minutes for the geyser to blow -- 

Next stop was the Grand Prismatic was even hotter now, and we were hiking by hot springs delivering more heat into the air.........

The hike was a bit too much for Rosie, who stated often and loudly that she "felt worse than she had the last time she had the flu," but the views were incredible. 

Here was Rosie's first response to our view at the end of the hike -- 

But when I told her how the colors in the hot springs occur, and the cool bacteria involved, she perked right up -- 

Just kidding. I told her we would get ice cream at the next stop. 

Anyway -- such an impressive display of the power of thermophiles! I love being a microbiologist.

After that hike (I wasn't sure we'd make it back -- the heat wafting off the tiny (and very cute) little hot springs pools on the way back almost did us both in. I also forgot to bring enough water. Anyway -- we next saw an incredible river canyon, and a very dry Mammoth Hot Springs. 

As we exited Yellowstone National Park, we were hit by a fast-moving thunderstorm, which was the first time I had encountered rain since Grand Isle, LA. 

Our final stop for the day was the Best Western in Billings, MT -- every campground we tried to get into before that was overflowing......and the hotel room we got was one of the last available.

Day 45 (7/10): Miles traveled: ~ 296

Location: half the day in Twin Falls, ID area, ending up at Colter Bay Campground (Tetons), WY

Science: air quality measurements (both particulate counter and MicroTops measurements) in Twin Falls area (Shoshone Falls, Diercke Lake), then at camping spot in Colter Bay Campground (Grand Teton National Park)

When we got back on the road this day, I discovered that I had been dragging the trailer hitch electrical harness and that most of the wires were now exposed and/or completely severed. OOOOOOOOPS. Luckily I had a spare in the (overly robust) repair kit that took up most of my car. I replaced it while Rosie rode around on her scooter in the parking lot. 

We then headed out to Shoshone Falls, about 10 minutes from the motel and clearly an understated natural wonder -- my pictures don't do it justice, but they were similar to Niagara Falls in size and beauty -- including the amazing rainbow emanating from the spray.

Next stop was Diercke Lake, which was a great local swimming hole located upstream of the falls. We set up the air quality monitor in the parking lot and hiked along the lake to find the perfect swimming spot. It was easy....

When we left the lake to get back on the road, I ran into some RV'ers from Utah who had just come from Crater Lake. Luckily Rosie was out of ear-shot when they told me how they had gotten to swim and fish in Crater Lake because the trail had been re-opened (apparently just 3 days after we had been there!). 

They also told me about witnessing (and trying in vain to stop) the start of one of the major Oregon fires pumping smoke into the air along our route -- someone with a small trailer like mine had popped a tire on the highway and the sparks from the metal rims hitting the asphalt became a full-fledged wildfire within 30 seconds. 

"While the driver was still kicking his trailer flat in frustration, several of us pulled off when we saw the flames behind him climbing the bluff. We all ran out with bottles of water and tried to douse it, but it was way too fast," the tall, skinny, baseball-capped REI model/RV'er elaborated.

And here is where my obsession with the health of my tires began -- up until that very second I had not really paid much attention to my trailer tires -- what if I were the next idiot with a tiny trailer kicking a busted wheel while I lit the West on fire? I peered at my tires and thought they looked ok.....maybe a bit bald on the edges? But seemed fine for now.

The drive from Twin Falls to Moran, WY was very mountainous -- I did not have as many white-knuckle moments as in the past, but the views and grades were spectacular and terrifying all the same. We stopped at one particularly impressive spot, which also displayed the steadily thickening wildfire haze -- 

As we entered Grand Teton National Park, the views of the mountains were incredible, even though they were cloaked (and some almost completely hidden) by smoke -- 

Colter Bay Campground was busy but sweet. Some campfires and lots of talk about the wildfire haze. Rosie and I played Ladder Ball. Rosie won, as usual.

The sun was red and weirdly amorphous (at least not clearly round, but a bit smeared at the edges) as it set through the trees. 


Tuesday, August 24, 2021

Day 44 (7/9): Miles traveled: ~ 210

Location: half the day at Cascade Lake, then to Twin Falls, ID

Science: air quality measurements (both particulate counter and MicroTops measurements) for half the day at lake peninsula camping spot on Lake Cascade (near dam outlet on Payette River) -- wildfire haze increasing -- then measurements in hotel parking lot in Twin Falls, ID

We spent most of the day hanging out at Lake Cascade, watching the wildfire smoke haze build and further obscure mountain views. 

Rosie tried some new fishing strategies, but still no bites on her line. She had decided to give up just as we sat down to lunch.  As we ate, we realized that we had a new friend -- a cute chipmunk was hanging out under the table waiting for us to get sloppy -- 

Right after we took this picture, a hawk flew over our campsite, gripping a struggling silver fish in its talons. "I guess there ARE fish in that lake!" Rosie cried, and grabbed her pole and went back out to fish. 

She got two true bites before we had to leave for Twin Falls, ID. I had decided we had to stay in a hotel because I could not find open campsites between Lake Cascade and Yellowstone. 

On the drive, Rosie and I figured out that if she used her headphones from her tablet, I could still listen to my books-on-audible, so I finished up Braiding Sweetgrass and jumped into West of the Revolution. This was a very interesting accompanying text for this stage of our journey -- and, as usual, full of history that I had either never known, was lied to about, or just had the privilege to think I did not need for my scientific work. Wow, was I mistaken.

We stayed at the Motel 6 once we made it to Twin Falls. It was not fancy, but we got pizza delivered and watched Luca. Again. Still loved it.

Day 43 (7/8): Miles traveled: ~ 340

Location: various roadside sites, a random idyllic river beach (near White Bird, ID), ending at lakeside campground (Lake Cascade)

Science: air quality measurements (both particulate counter and MicroTops measurements) in Lewiston, ID (top and bottom of hazy river valley); Salmon River beach (White Bird, ID), and lake peninsula camping spot on Lake Cascade (near dam outlet on Payette River) -- obvious wildfire haze building across the Lake, we had a tiny campfire for smores only that night

Before we left Farragut State Park this morning (early, so we could find some ice!), we searched for the big lake near our campground. Here is what we found (if I hadn't been there myself I would have sworn we were in Austria or Swiss Alps or something):

Rosie was bummed that we hadn't found this the night before because she really, really, really wanted to go fishing. I assured her that we would likely be able to fish all day at the next site (Lake Cascade). 

We then headed south (we were slowly making our way toward Yellowstone, one of the few National Parks I had not yet seen/experienced on past roadtripping adventures).  Today's drive is when I finally realized just how LONG Idaho is. I am originally from Illinois, and on that side of the Mississippi everyone thinks Illinois is incredibly long (folks are constantly amazed that I grew up in Illinois, but was closer to the South (Kentucky, Tennessee) than I was to Chicago). Idaho is much longer, and 1.5 times the area of Illinois, but has less than 1/10th of the population of Illinois. 

Fun facts aside, this was a very interesting driving day. Mountains and rivers create a rough and rawly gorgeous landscape, and it was really HOT and DRY. The elevation changes allowed for very good haze-tracking -- there was clearly a big fire nearby and the smoke did not seem to be very high in the atmosphere.  

Our first stop was at the top of a canyon formed by the Clearwater River, with a view of Lewiston, ID --

Once we got down into the valley, we stopped again to make air quality measurements in a parking lot by Lewiston's river access -- the area seemed very industrialized, with a very fragrant paper mill and other river-based activities along the waterfront.

After Lewiston, it kept getting hotter and hotter outside. And when we hit the Salmon River near White Bird, ID, there were folks swimming in the blue-green river at all sorts of random spots along the highway. Finally, Rosie and I soon succumbed to the swimming urge and stopped at a great spot for lunch. 

We swam for a long time and even saw a tiny river otter swim by us!

Next stop was Lake Cascade. As we drove into the site, the haze seemed to be thickening across the lake.

Rosie was ecstatic about the location of our site -- surrounded by great fishing access. She fished the entire rest of the day (when she wasn't swimming). 

The sunset was outrageously red, more evidence of wildfire smoke in the atmosphere -- 

Rosie and I had a tiny campfire for smores -- weak moment #2 on the trip, facilitated by the need for cheering up Rosie, who, despite her best and patient efforts, did not get a single fish bite on her line. She began to question whether or not there were actually fish in the huge human-made lake, and went to bed plotting other tactics to use the next day.


Day 46 (7/11): Miles traveled: ~ 250 Location: Yellowstone, ending at Best Western in Billings, MT Science: air quality measurements (both p...