Saturday, September 29, 2018

Fantastic Fall Colors

 The fall colors in Great Basin National Park have been amazing this fall. The temperatures have stayed mostly above freezing, and we haven't had rain in 45 days. Thus the colorful leaves have held on longer than normal.

I took the kids up one day, and we had fun wandering around the campground. When it became a game ("get up in the trees and don't let your feet touch the ground"), their smiles came easily.

I wanted to hike, though, so I went up early one morning, arriving at the Wheeler Peak summit trailhead before sunrise. The array of colors made my heart beat a little faster.

The sun rose as I was nearing a big aspen patch, and the yellow glow was amazing.

I came out to a clearing where some red aspens looked like they were on fire.

I wandered off trail for a bit, not sure what I would find. I saw beauty all around me.

Then I found the old Wheeler Peak trail, which I had seen a few times from above. It was still in remarkably good shape (the newer trail is much easier!). The colors were great here too.

My goal was to get above Stella Lake and get it in a photo with some fall colors. That part wasn't too hard. But getting down from there was so steep! I had some crawling moments.

Back on the trail to the car, I had to stop again to enjoy the beautiful aspen canopy. Sigh. I could have just stayed here all day, but alas, I had to go to work.

I didn't think I would be up there again very soon, but it turned out we had a backcountry carryout the next day, and the helicopter landed in the meadow at Wheeler Peak Campground. The yellow aspen made for an especially scenic backdrop.

I just had to go see the colors about a week later. The highest leaves had fallen off, but colors were still good just a little lower on the mountain. And we got to watch a most marvelous sunset.
We're expecting rain for about a week, with snow at the end of it, so lots of leaves will be coming down soon. We've been blessed with such a colorful display this year.

Friday, September 28, 2018

Going Home from Montana

After so many great adventures on our summer vacation (see Part 1Part 2Part 3, and Part 4), it was finally time to go home. But first we took a detour over to Bozeman, Montana, where my friend Mimi Matsuda was set up an art festival. It was so great to see her and her sister Erika and take home some fantastic art (check out her website for her whimsical wildlife art).

Also in Bozeman is the Museum of the Rockies, and I wanted to take a look. The kids almost got eaten up before we even entered.

There were plenty of opportunities to get eaten (maybe my imagination gets a little carried away).

I enjoyed seeing the paleontological exhibits.

We also spent a little time in the guitar exhibit.

But the kids seemed to like the kids' section best, with geyser simulations and a place to "fish" in the Yellowstone River.

And then we went to Yellowstone. I worked there years ago so didn't feel a huge need to go. But when I asked Desert Girl if she remembered what a geyser was and she wasn't sure, I knew we had to go. We went in at West Yellowstone, where to my surprise, there was no line at 3 p.m.  Our first destination was the Firehole River, where we saw a bison sharing the road with us.

I had really enjoyed swimming in the Firehole River when I worked at Yellowstone, and since we had swum (or at least touched water) in most other national parks we had visited on this vacation, this seemed to be a good bet. We went to a spot that was much calmer than the section in the photo below and floated through a narrow canyon section a couple of times. It was a lot of fun (even if I lost my sunglasses!).

Next up was Grand Prismatic Spring. It was so crazy busy.

But the amazing colors really are worth seeing.

We checked out the new visitor center at Old Faithful. I was impressed that they had an exhibit on insects and spiders.

We wandered around a bit, admiring hot springs.

And then Old Faithful blew! It wasn't much an eruption, but at least the kids got to see a geyser go off.

I was really enjoying the area, and it was hard for me to leave. But we were hungry, so we got some food.

And then we headed south. I had to hit the brakes when this elk crossed the road.

And then we had to stop again to avoid these young moose. Their mom soon followed them across the road. This was the Grassy Lake Road, a road I had never taken before that cuts between Yellowstone and Grand Tetons. We drove quite a ways and then found a place to camp.
The next day we got up and drove the rest of the way home. It was a fun trip. And now Desert Girl says she won't complain about driving to Las Vegas---it's way shorter than driving to Montana!

Thursday, September 27, 2018

2018 NSS Convention in Helena, Montana

 Part 4 of our big summer vacation. (Part 1, Part 2, and Part 3).

The main reason we were in Montana was to attend the annual National Speleological Society (NSS) convention. It's in a different location each year. So far I've only made it to conventions in the West: Washington, California, Colorado, Nevada, and now Montana. I knew it would be a good time, and the kids couldn't wait to go after their fun experience at the Junior Speleological Society (JSS) two years ago in Ely.

We signed in and then went to the big campground and set up next to some friends. The first day, the kids learned about bear safety and practiced deploying bear spray.

I went and listened to a couple talks and met old friends to catch up. Then I went over to the vertical area and climbed 100 meters of rope in the vertical rope climbing section. I was slower than I used to be, but turned out to be the fastest in my age group (probably the only one!). The next day I climbed 30 meters and then helped the JSS with their vertical practice.

Several kids competed, and Desert Boy even got fastest for his age group, which made him very happy.

One event we all enjoyed a lot was Speleoolympics, a cave-themed obstacle course. They had gone to quite some effort to set it up, including cool banners. One of the challenges was walking a balance beam across a swimming pool. Here Desert Boy takes a plunge.

Desert Girl made it up the rock wall and is heading down the slide.

And somehow she lost her shoes during the course, but found them by the end.

I went with JSS as a chaperone to Lewis and Clark Caverns State Park. We started off by doing a service project, pulling mullein.

After lunch we went for a cave tour. The setting is beautiful.

It was a really fun cave tour. Much of the cave is vertical, but with the addition of lots of stairs, it's passable without any ropes. They've added a second entrance, so the tour is mostly downhill. There are lots of beautiful speleothems, like these rimstone dams.

One part of the tour required sitting down and sliding!

Our group posed for a photo in one of the rooms.

I was very impressed with the LED lights embedded in the handrails in the last section. They're going to upgrade all their handrails this winter.

The last room was filled with beautiful speleothems, some quite large.

Next it was time for gold panning. These kids sure had a lot of fun activities!

We received word that all three of us made it into the Speleoolympics finals. Desert Boy had fun hamming it up.

The kids also moved quickly through the course. Their small stature made it easier to get through and under obstacles--or over sometimes!

Here's Desert Boy making his grand finale on the slip and slide.

Desert Girl chose to have her friends join her. Three of them were chased by the "shark."

The "shark" part became especially apparent as they splashed into the pool. It's great seeing the next generation of cavers have so much fun!

Another JSS field trip was a boat ride. They really had a fantastic schedule. I went along for this too and the climbing gym.

On Friday night was the final banquet. The kids ate first and then headed out for a movie and bat talk.

That allowed us moms and friends to party it up!
Such a fun week! My photos were few and far in between so don't really do it justice. But if you like caves, this is a great event to go to, with lots of talks, workshops, cave trips, contests (art, photography, vertical climbing speleoolympics), parties, and more.
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