The Road Back: Denali to Vancouver

Denali Highway

We’re a bit behind in updates on our whereabouts since Denali National Park. In the days following, we’ve driven out of Alaska, down the long empty roads of the Yukon and British Columbia, around the Pacific Northwest, and more than halfway across the country to Indiana via Big Sky country. We have much catching up to do, but that’s what happens when you’re living an adventure. You live it. Sometimes documentation must wait. But now that we have a moment to stay put, we’ll tackle our latest doings in a series of new posts.

Some highlights from our drive back to the Lower 48:

Denali Highway campsite

Denali Highway
From Cantwell, just south of Denali National Park, to Paxon, the 135-mile gravel Denali Highway was not long ago the predominant route accessing the park. The eastern 21 miles are now paved, but the rest remains little used, poorly maintained, and wild. The first thing we saw upon turning east and entering was a large moose crossing the road directly in front of our small-seeming car. The second was a young boy at a lakeside play-firing his toy gun at us, then enthusiastically waving as if in thanks for playing his imaginary victims. The next hundred miles of washboard dirt cross the Nenana and Susitna rivers, winding over the Amphitheater Mountains with long views to the dwindling Alaska Range and distant glaciers.

We camped about halfway that night at a roadside pullout just before a storm hit, the dark line of rain clouds rolling swiftly in from the southeast. The next morning we discovered we had a flat. So, rain still coming down, by the instruction and foresighted gifts of Paige’s dad we took the wheel off, pulled out our tire repair kit, extracted the offending headless screw, plugged the hole, and reinflated with the air compressor. We were quickly becoming seasoned experts in the maintenance and repair of our Subaru.

And that was good. Because the next morning before pulling out of camp in Tok–the drivers’ gateway town into Alaska–we had to extract yet another screw from the same tire and plug two more holes mere inches away from the first one. Feeling pretty competent, we topped off our oil, tightened a few bolts, shipped our gun from Three Bears Outpost, and drove our Frankenstein-wheeled rig back into Canada.

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Cassiar Highway
Returned to the Yukon, we retraced a portion of the Alaska Highway (our only repeated section of road) to British Columbia. It felt good somehow to be on a known route, even if that familiarity came in the form of a wild and empty path. Empty of people but not lonely, abundant with majesty and life. We would come to know desolation in long roads ahead, but for now we were enveloped in the fecundity of nature, hugged by it on either side of a narrow road.

Day two retracing the Alaska Highway was warm and beautiful, even in a Far North tinged with autumn. On a map at the side of the road we spotted the Takhini Hot Springs marked just west of Whitehorse and decided to head there on a whim. A divided pool separated hot and warm sections with a narrow channel between, and we swam between the two, soaking and floating for a couple of hours in the Yukon sun before taking once more to the road. A welcome diversion.

The next day we turned south at the lonely junction for the Cassiar Highway, an emptier, narrower version of the Alaska Highway that passes 547 miles through the isolated wooded ranges of northern B.C. An American gentleman at the crossroads gas station was surprised to learn that he was in Canada. He had no recollection of a border crossing from the U.S. though we were at least two full days’ drive and many hundreds of miles from any such crossing. Paige passed as a Canadian as the woman at the counter bemoaned American ignorance.

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Black bears were abundant on this stretch of road. To that point, we had seen mainly grizzlies on our trip, ten of them, and no black bears in Alaska. Yet within twenty miles the black tally, including a pair of cubs, matched the grizzly as they grazed along the roadside every few miles. We’d stop on the road and watch them eat; they’d look at us from a few yards away, curious but unfazed, and continue eating. The final bear we saw–and we have not seen another since–was killed by the car in front of us, who had only recently passed us. The driver looked remorseful as he dragged the dead or dying bear off the road. We sat for a few minutes silently pondering that needless and unfortunate death.

Roadside camping

That night we slept at a rest stop where a dirt road ran down a short hill to a lakeside. Others had clearly made fire there before, and we were away from the road enough that we wouldn’t be disturbed, we thought. Once we’d set up our car for sleeping, though, some folks came down the hill in a couple of trucks full of plywood. We were reading as the light waned and hoping for an early night as the newcomers built up their bonfire and blared bad music two feet away. We exchanged a few friendly words but hoped they’d soon depart and kept reading. Some time later, when a particularly obnoxious girl left in the music truck to seek more booze and wood, we came out of our little shell to chat with the few remaining guys around the fire, and they were more to our liking. They were locals, in a manner of speaking, workers putting up power line towers along this part of the Cassiar. Some came from Prince George or other nearby towns, some from farther provinces, and they came to this spot to get away from camp for a midweek bonfire on the lake. We talked a bit and drove to the top of the hill to a quieter spot for sleeping.

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Whistler
South of Prince George and the Highway of Tears–a particularly ominous stretch of road where in the last 40 years 18 women have been murdered or disappeared–we turned coastward down the Sea to Sky highway. Starting from the sky side we wound through gorgeous canyons and valleys nestled between high snow-slathered summits. Chamisa, sagebrush, and ponderosa dotting the eastern hills reminded us of our far away former home in Santa Fe, but these quickly gave way to the lush and verdant coastal flora of the wetter mountains. We soaked our feet in Fraser River, cool, clear, and swift and slept the night in the parking lot of Joffre Lakes park before reaching Whistler the next morning.

This time of year Whistler was rife with downhill mountain bikers armored for fast lift-served descents. That particular weekend Whistler was hosting the Ironman. Scores of cyclists in alienesque track helmets and aero wheels lined the highways between Whistler and Pemberton. We managed to hit that portion of the route the last day it was open before the race, and that is the only path to Vancouver without a long backtracking detour. We walked Whistler village, got some coffee, then drove south to walk to 217-foot Brandywine Falls, a worthy sight that reminded us of The Lord of the Rings and the Brandywine River at the Shire’s edge.

Brandywine Falls

Vancouver
The drive along the coast south to Vancouver was idyllic. Cliff walls and green peaks rose to the left, dark blue coves and bays dotted with sailboats and fine homes to the right. On the bridge to West Vancouver we encountered our first shock of traffic, unwelcome after weeks in the relative wild. But the city, by my reckoning anyway, was aesthetically pleasing. Joggers and skateboarders peppered the walkways and parks, people were outside and engaged with their surroundings, however urban. It was a few steps up from, say, Anchorage, our most recent city. Yet we didn’t spend much time in it beyond looking for parking and stepping into a cafe to search for the most likely accommodations. These were outside of the city in Surrey, where we got a long awaited Mexican meal and spent a good few hours wandering, reading, and eating wild blackberries along the trails in Tynehead Park before returning, at long last, to the continental U.S. to visit friends and explore the Pacific Northwest–what we hoped might become our future home.

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Alaskan Geology and The 1964 Earthquake

Prince William Sound glacier

When speaking of Alaska as a physical place, as a raw and textured landscape replete with massive ranges, volcanoes, and mountain-studded coastline, it’s important to remember that it lies along the Ring of Fire at the boundary of the Pacific and North American tectonic plates. If not for that fact, Alaska would be an entirely different sort of place. It would certainly be less dangerous, and maybe therefore less alluring. Mountain climbers would not flock here to tackle the continent’s highest peaks. Few would find reason to hop a ferry up its vast shores from town to town, exploring the tall fingers of coast on Prince William Sound or the glaciated bays along the Gulf of Alaska. Possibly, the fish would find its rivers less hospitable, and so too would the fishermen. In short, a different breed of wanderers, if any at all, would find themselves dreaming of the inimitable beauty of the Far North and seeking adventure here.

So, because Alaska has turned out to be the sort of place it is, we’d like to delve for a moment into the geologic drama that has shaped it and ultimately brought us here.

Bush plane in Denali

Alaska is essentially an immense mosaic. The accretion of its myriad pieces was and still is driven by plate tectonics, wherein the Pacific plate, like a vast and insistent conveyor belt, thrusts into the North American plate, compressing and folding the lands together to form a slew of valleys and ranges from the Brooks to the Alaskan and Chugach, to name a few. These pieces–once islands, chunks of ocean floor, bits broken off from other lands, and volcanic excretions–came together over the course of hundreds of millions of years of slow collision.

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It’s that process that drew Denali, North America’s tallest peak at 20,320 feet, skyward and continues to do so by a millimeter per year. Because it is composed mainly of granite unlike its older sedimentary neighbors (once submerged in ocean waters,) it’s much more resistant to weathering, giving it that striking 18,000-foot relief from base to summit–greater than Everest, K2, or Aconcogua. The Denali region is also rife with volcanic rock, as seen in the variegated slopes of Polychrome Pass.

Denali National Park

Outside of old stones in Denali and elsewhere in the interior, though, Alaska’s volcanism is still very active. Many volcanoes have erupted this year. Volcanoes exist almost exclusively on the coast as a result of subduction, which creates heated magma chambers at the plate’s edge. These same tectonic forces are responsible for earthquakes. Most are small and go unnoticed, but they’re occasionally devastating, like the infamous temblor of half a century ago.

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At 5:36 PM on March 27, 1964–the evening of Good Friday–a magnitude 9.2 earthquake struck near Valdez, violently shaking all the coastal towns along Prince William Sound and the Kenai Peninsula on up to Anchorage. Everyone in Alaska, and parts of Canada and Washington, felt the earth’s convulsions over an astounding four continuous minutes–minutes, maybe, in which many folks had been contemplating the long, momentous death of one man on a cross. Those four minutes would prove momentous for the south-central Alaskan coast as well, and much was changed so that the shape of things here is now reckoned from them.

The consequences are still evident almost 50 years later, as we saw in several places we visited. Cordova’s Million Dollar Bridge was built in the early 1900s to haul copper on the railway and then converted in the 50s to a highway for visitors to the Childs and Miles glaciers, which flow into the Copper River from the Chugach mountains. It was destroyed in the upheaval and left broken for the next 40 years. Even now, sections of plank remain on the reconstructed portions, and the bridge is somewhat cockeyed where it was torn. Even the terminal face of Child’s glacier, visible from the bridge, is still largely masked by the earthen debris deposited on its southwestern flank.

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Orca Adventure Lodge, where we stayed in Cordova, was renovated from an old dorm for workers at the now-defunct Orca Cannery, which once harvested the abundant Razor Clams on the shore. The quake raised the seabed around Cordova six to eight feet, lifting clam beds out of the intertidal zone and crashing the clam industry there. Remnants of the old docks now stand isolated and rotting in the water, an old piece of machinery abandoned on an island of beams. Orcas, once frequent visitors, for the most part stopped entering Orca Inlet, now too shallow for their comfort.

Cordova dock

This sort of thing happened in many other nearby towns. Valdez, which we saw from our ferry back to Whittier, was originally four miles farther east, but it suffered enough damage to warrant relocation, and the native village of Chenega was destroyed entirely, a third of its population lost. A significant section of the Seward Highway on the Turnagain Arm, which we drove to visit Seward and Homer on the Kenai Peninsula, sunk below the high water mark in the tremor and had to be rebuilt in the following years. I don’t know the details of Seward’s damage beyond the expected wrecked buildings, but in Homer the popular Spit sank some eight feet, shrinking to a thin spur. The vegetation there died, leaving the gravel and sand surface that you see today.

Homer Spit

The Great Alaskan Earthquake killed 131 people, most from subsequent tsunamis, and destroyed several villages. It remains the second largest recorded temblor in history, and like all of the strongest ones it was a megathrust earthquake. These occur at plate boundaries, in this case the convergence of the Pacific and North American plates. What happens, essentially, is that the dense Pacific plate subducts beneath those surrounding it in the Ring of Fire. At the Alaskan coast, that means a slow build up of immense pressure as the Pacific compresses into Alaska some six centimeters a year. When that tension finally releases, the earth’s crust shifts and the denser Pacific plate crashes down below. Most of the time, these are subtle shifts, like an animal settling into sleep. But in 1964, the pent-up pressure was so huge that its release was catastrophic, a massive beast disturbed into paroxysmal wakefulness.

Childs Glacier

The Kenai Peninsula

Resurrection Bay

South of Anchorage, the 200-mile-long tooth of the Kenai Peninsula cuts the Cook Inlet from the Gulf of Alaska in a variegated swath of subarctic terrain. The northernmost crown of the Ring of Fire, the Kenai, they say, is Alaska in miniature. It bears each of the state’s ecosystems aside from Arctic tundra–boreal forest, coastal rainforest and wetlands, sea ice in the fjords, and no shortage of soaring mountains–and it consequently made for an ideal five-day tour with our friend Mike Webster who kindly flew up to meet us.

Mike left Santa Fe, Phoenix-bound, the same day we did more than a month earlier, so it was good to see our friend again, and a little surreal now that we were all together in Alaska, exploring a small part of this state as we so often explored northern New Mexico, camping and hiking and generally being outside amidst all the natural beauty. We reunited at the airport, stocked up on grocery essentials and some Midnight Sun Kodiak Brown and headed south to Seward at the north tip of Ressurection Bay.

Lost Lake

The Seward Highway is a national scenic byway and a worthy destination in itself. Glaciated peaks thrust skyward from the water along the fjord-like Turnagain Arm of the Cook Inlet. Dozens of waterfalls litter the shore, and you can trace the thin ribbons of water up to high snowfields where they originate. Mike was snapping iPhone photos at every bend in the road that opened to new vistas. But as he noted, you can’t quite capture the majesty of this place, merely hint at some portion of it. Sometimes a cloud hides the neck of a mountain and you look higher to be astonished by its true height peaking above.

Exit Glacier

We grabbed a spot in the Primrose Campground 17 miles out from town. The mosquitos were few, but flies swarmed in their place with unexpected fury. Somehow Paige and Mike didn’t seem bothered, but I couldn’t stand still without being attacked. The next site over was a clearer, more open space where the flies were less abundant and the ground flatter, so we moved, carrying Mike’s already-setup tent. Having decided to do the long hike to Lost Lake and back, which began from our campsite, we paid for two nights and headed toward Seward to check out Exit Glacier and the town.

Exit Glacier

Like most glaciers of the world, Exit Glacier was once much larger. As we passed into Kenai Fjords National Park to see it, signs indicated where its terminal face had once been more than a century earlier, and we could track its insistent retreat to the slope partway up the foot of the mountain from which it flows. The hike to the face was quick and easy. Where it stopped, water trickled out in a little cloudy rivulet with the sound of further retreat on a warm day.

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Mile 0 of the Iditarod Trail, Seward is a small town of about 2,600 named after William H. Seward, Lincoln’s Secretary of State who was responsible for negotiating Alaska’s purchase from Russia. We walked the few blocks of pleasant main drag down to the water for a little wading and relaxing on the shores of Resurrection Bay, where we almost lost Mike. He’d gone back to the car for a jacket. Paige and I, ready to head back to camp for dinner, thought we’d intercept him as he walked back. It is, after all, a rather small town with approximately one main three-block street. But he’d come back down a street that was not quite as main as the one we simultaneously walked up, and we kept missing each other for the next 20 minutes, the maximum length of time you can lose someone in Seward who isn’t climbing Mount Marathon.

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Because computer and internet time is pretty limited for us here in Alaska, I’m forced to make the rest of the Kenai visit brief, but I’ll be sure to include a lot of pictures to make up for it. The next morning we went out for a tiring but excellent 15-mile hike. It started out very buggy in the trees for many miles, past an abandoned miner’s cabin, but once we emerged into the tundra, the morning fog had lifted to reveal gorgeous views of the mountains around us. We found Lost Lake, hungry for lunch, and spent a good amount of time lounging and even napping on the shore. It was an idyllic place, the kind that makes you forget about any other worries beyond the bare moment.

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We spent the next two nights in Homer at a hillside campsite overlooking Kachemak Bay and the snow mantled peaks across it. We hung out a bit on the Spit, grabbed a pizza and walked around the shops there. All the kayak tours seemed to be booked through the weekend, so we just decided to take it easy in Homer, which amounted to: a guided beach walk at the nature center, the nature center itself, skipping stones at the water’s edge on the Homer Spit, cruising Skyline Drive (a scenic road above town, bordered by hills rife with fireweed, with expansive views over the bay,) burritos at Cosmic Kitchen (breakfast, lunch, and Mexican,) and a little fireside beer tasting.

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Homer Spit

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Five days is too short a time to spend with such an excellent and admirable friend as Mike, and it ended all too soon, as things are wont to do. On the last day, we drove back to Anchorage, walked around the Saturday Market, and got lunch at our favorite Anchorage establishment, the Glacier Brewhouse, before dropping Mike off at the airport. It was sad to see him go, not knowing this time when exactly we’d next meet, that sadness made more acute with the knowledge that our time all together in Santa Fe is gone. But we know it won’t be long, and the memories we’ve made will only be bolstered by those we have ahead of us, as good friends. Meanwhile, the adventure continues. And we’ll drink to that.

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The Road to Alaska, Part III: Crowsnest Pass to Dawson Creek

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The Icefields Parkway ranks as the most scenic drive in the world, at least according to National Geographic, and it’s certainly near the peak of my own list. Starting at Crowsnest Pass, the route winds 144 miles through the craggy heart of the Canadian Rockies, through Banff and Jasper National Parks. Grizzly country. A country of fog, verdant slopes, dramatic peaks, sweeping valleys, ablating glaciers.

From Crowsnest Pass, the graveled Highway 40, closed in winter, runs some fifty miles before hitting pavement, a long stretch of rocks that took us into a deep wilderness where cattle roam free along the road berm, sidled us up to stony rivers and past the occasional fly fisherman, swung us around wild corners into big views of moody mountains. Sean Barret narrated Bradburian tales to us along the way, a fitting accompaniment to a somewhat dreary but exhilarating path.

About forty miles down this road we got a disappointing surprise: Road Closed. We stopped, pondered our options with a quick yoga flow (I don’t think gravel will be replacing sticky mats for yoga practice) and made for an alternate route nearby. We got about thirty yards. Road Closed. Somebody could have mentioned this earlier. Maybe a sign at the beginning of the road would have been appropriate. But we weren’t about to be thwarted by some official fool’s idea of a minor, easily surmountable road hazard, so we dodged the sign back on 40. “I’ll just keep my eyes open in case the road ends in a cliff,” I told Paige, joking. I thought. Fifty yards later a big tree trunk spanned the road. On the other side, a big cliff cut the road, which continued another twenty yards beyond that abyss. So we backtracked a few dozen miles to another side road that connected to the main highway, and went on up the Cowboy Trail, another route, to Longview.

In the Little New York Cafe, the chef cooked some custom veggie pasta dishes for us, a welcome relief from our road diet, which is not unlike that of the backcountry hiker, dense and tiresome. A good meal.

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We stopped to camp in Banff for the night and waited in a short but glacially-slow queue to register for a site at Lake Louise. I thought we might have to camp right there in line and watch the glaciers melt and refreeze into the next ice age. But we got there about a decade later and nabbed the last spot in the whole camp, which was surrounded by an electric fence.

Our site was right by the showers (we needed them) and a grassy field at the foot of snow-speckled peaks. Paige went over to take photos and called me out to join her. There in the grass, forty yards away and grazing for berries, was a big female grizzly. My first wild bear sighting. I’d been waiting to see a bear in the wild for years and never had any luck. Now we were watching a grizzly, so close. Too close if it hadn’t been for the electric fence. But it paid us no mind. This was Grizzly 72, and this field was her territory, from which she’d recently kicked out two sad three-year-old cubs who, now that they’d come of age, traveled together to make their own way in the Banff wilds.

The sun dropped more slowly with each night we drove north, and we spent this one reading by natural light until well after 10, stomachs full of a good meal (courtesy of Paige,) content after hot showers.

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In the cool morning we packed up and drove through the Columbia Icefield and into Jasper, winding up and over a mountain pass with dramatic views, past tumescent glacial rivers, bright milky blue from icemelt and debris. To the west flowed the Athabasca Glacier, an immense river of ice. Massive snow coaches jacked up with monster tires drove visitors out onto the glacier, but we only looked.

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Beyond Jasper, the road north to Grand Prairie was mostly empty. We stopped in Grand Cache to load up on groceries in some kind of stupor. The lack of movement and unvaried diet was taking its toll, and we walked and then drove the remaining miles like aspiring extras on The Walking Dead, silly.

We never knew quite where we’d camp for the night, and a lot of wandering eventually brought us to the Saskatoon Island campground outside of Grand Prairie, where we overpaid for a site near a sedentary, weed-grown lake surrounded by undulating fields of highlighter-yellow flowers. But at least we had plenty of free firewood in this logging province. Once again, the light lingered longer into the night, and our appreciation for the homemade car curtains we’d assembled grew.

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Alberta finally behind us, a Dawson Creek fill-up in British Columbia brought us to Mile 0 of the Alaska highway. There we met a couple in a huge RV who had just finished from the north. They were researching for next year’s edition of the Alaska Highway guidebook. They gave us two copies, and I jumped in the driver’s seat. A sign read “Alaska” with a long arrow to the West. We turned left.

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The Road to Alaska, Part I: Denver to Montana

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Greetings from Anchorage! Sorry for the blog delay, but we’ve been in relative wilderness for the last week and a half, many miles now behind us. I wrote this update on the way. Now that we have more reliable internet, expect more to follow.
It’s day eight of our drive from Denver to Alaska as I write this in the car. We’ve just left Grand Prairie, Alberta, soon to cross into British Columbia. We’re making progress. But we’ll come to that later. It’s been awhile since we’ve had any internet access, since we’ve updated you folks. So we’ll start where we left off, leaving Denver. So as not to overwhelm you or ourselves, we’ll break things down into a few posts, starting with the first leg: Denver to Montana. We’ve done and seen a lot, so I hope you’ll pardon a non-exhaustive account. Man, this is a long drive, and there’s much to report.

We ran out of gas on our first day, 16 miles from Lander, Wyoming on the side of the highway. It’s the emptiest state in the country. In our defense (mine, since I was driving) I tried to get gas in Cheyenne with a full quarter tank, but saw no gas exit. The place was pretty empty. Only 40 miles to Lander–no problem, we thought. But it turns out that our gas gauge is off considerably. A quarter tank means we’ve got 20 miles before puttering out, which is exactly what we did near a deserted looking farmhouse. While Paige guarded the car I hopped a barbed-wire fence and walked across the field to that farm, where a couple were about to get into their car. I asked them if they had a can of gas to sell me, but they were just “neighbors.” The owners weren’t home and they were late to a Cheyenne rendezvous. “Try the guy by the firehouse across the highway, a quarter mile down the road” the man suggested. Then they were gone.

As I walked back across the field, a pronghorn sprinted in front of me, and up from a hill three horses meandered toward me. I stood still and waited. They walked right up like they knew me and nibbled my fingers as I stroked their long faces. A very surreal and magical moment for me in the midst of our small crisis. Then I hopped a couple more barbed wires and, after finding the firehouse deserted, bought some gas from a rancher, who drove me back to the car to refuel. He had 400 head of cattle he’d just driven to their summer pastures, was a volunteer firefighter and former state trooper, and his brother was an FBI agent on assignment in Anchorage.

We drove till one in the morning that night, camping just off a forest road under an endless expanse of stars and the clear bright band of the Milky Way. A horsewoman and her two dogs passed us in the morning.

Nick Grand Teton

In Grand Teton we saw our first moose standing in a river and finally got out of the car for a real hike to Taggart Lake at the foot of Grand Teton and Mt. Owens, jagged snow-salted peaks that towered above. Unfathomably tall waterfalls dropped in high and distant valleys. On the hike back, a crippled pika dragged itself under a dead tree and chirped as we passed. There, another couple our age caught up with us and shared our concern for the injured pika. We hiked together along the rest of the path, talking of our various adventures. They’d been on the road for a couple of months, driving across the southern U.S. from Brooklyn, where they were from, to California. Now they were headed back east across the northern route. It was good to make friends on the road, if only for a fleeting moment, even if we’d never see them again. They gave us a little honk as they passed us going toward Jackson. Our path took us north.

Paying $27 for a park campsite didn’t appeal to us, so we drove ten miles down the rough Grassy Lake Road into Caribou Targhee National Forest and camped in a cloud of mosquitos. Not terribly fun, but free.

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Yellowstone is a vast and varied park. Our first stop was Old Faithful and the surrounding geothermal wonderland of geysers, fumaroles, hot springs, and mud pots. As with so many famous wonders, actually witnessing the eruption of Old Faithful was surreal. Behind us a little girl yelled in genuine awe, “It’s a water volcano! It makes the clouds!” And she was right. The water, like most water there, trickled down in bright orange rivulets, colored by hungry thermophiles who loved boiling water like a miner loves gold. (Come on, baby, let the good times roll.)

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We tread the boardwalk path in a big loop around dozens of other geothermal features, boiling with such tremendous heat. It’s a forbidding place where taking the wrong step could mean your last in some fireless water volcano. Hence the mandatory boardwalk, one of those rules with which Paige and I felt obligated to comply, by virtue of its common sense. Imagine with what perpetual nervousness early travelers must have inched forward, with no guiding boards to steer them right.

Down the road, a whim took us to a one-way diversion through Firehole Canyon, where we got a refreshing and much needed rinse swimming in a swift, warmish river, vertical rock walls dwarfing us. That may have been the day’s best moment.

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But I’d also been looking forward to the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone ahead. There we hiked a short rim-top trail to the brink of an immense and gushing waterfall, snapping photos along the way. I particularly loved the way the sun’s slanted light struck the textured canyon walls and a little waterfall tucked in a small gorge where most probably never saw it. The big waterfall, on the river’s main course, churned and heaved over the brink with such astounding force. I couldn’t fathom the quantity of water tumbling down every moment, and Paige in I watched in awe for many minutes, rapt, before turning back and continuing our long drive north and west.

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By the day’s end, we’d spotted bison, elk, pronghorn, yellow-bellied marmot, and about a million crepuscular insects that became well acquainted with our windshield like a pattering and messy rain, our welcome to Montana.

New York City and Long Island; Denver

Nick & I took a TripperBus from D.C. to NYC.  It was only $16.50 for two ticket… less than you’d pay in tolls!  We went up for Nick’s roommate from Boston – Dan’s – wedding.  It was an absolutely beautiful ceremony on the water overlooking the city at night. I didn’t bring a camera (or good walking shoes) so we will have to wait until photos appear on Facebook.

Saturday, July 6th: Walking NYC (And the Benefits of Public Transportation)
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We went to Dan and Nuri’s post-wedding brunch.  It was nice to be able to really meet and speak with the infamous “Dan & Nancy” duo I had heard so much about.  I am pretty sure Nick spent some of the best years of his life in Boston with those two (he can fact check this later!)

_MG_6897 From Dan’s parents’ apartment, which is beautiful & near Times Square, we walked to Central Park.  I didn’t have a thermometer with me but I’d estimate it was about 190 degrees with the humidity, pavement and buses blanketing us with exhaust.  We sought refuge in a water fountain playground, where I made friends with the children of New York.

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We finally made it to Central Park.  We saw a free performance of Shakespeare’s Richard III by a local theatre group. Once we had to energy to walk again, we strolled around the pond and through the amazing trails. We eventually headed back to Times Square to grab our packs and take a train to Long Island.

Sunday, July 7thAll I Ever Wanted was the Atlantic OceanIMG_4811
We spent almost the entire day Sunday with my cousin Jen & her fiance, Rick, at the glorious beach. It was amazing and I don’t have much more to say other than I should have worn more sunblock.

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I didn’t bring my nice camera because of the sand, but I probably should have.  After the beach, we went to my Aunt Susan’s house for dinner and fabulous homemade sangria.  It was a pretty amazing day because we only did two things – read & eat.

Monday, July 8th: Huntington Village_MG_6972 (I was trying to save some of my nicer photography for my personal blog but I also really like this photo.)  After walking some errands and visiting my grandparents’ grave, we went to Downtown Huntington, which is the best downtown on Long Island. We spent much of our time reading books and drinking tea at the local book store, Book Revue (they have great chai). We also sampled olive oil and vinegar from the Crushed Olive.  Santa Fe has a store with the same concept, so I thought this wouldn’t be exciting, but they had so many different flavors and they were all amazing.

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My Aunt Susan brought us back to Jen & Rick’s apartment, where I said goodbye to her until October.

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We spent the rest of the evening hanging out, playing music, cooking and having a good time with family.

Tuesday, June 9th: Our last night in a real bed
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We flew back to Denver & quickly hit the road to see my cousin McKenzie and her fiance Andrew.  We had happy hour at a vegetarian/vegan restaurant.   My drink of choice was the carrot coconut soup.  We only got to see them for an hour because we had plans to see Star Trek II at Marianne & Steven’s movie theatre.

This morning, as we prepare for our departure, I am realizing the things I am going to miss on this trip – family, most importantly – but also the ability to get out of bed in the middle of the night and use the bathroom.