Almost Heaven on Earth

Cooke City, Montana

For wildlife lovers, the Lamar Valley is the closest thing to heaven on earth.

0918141219The valley is defined by the Lamar River which is a tributary of the Yellowstone River. The Lamar River is almost 40 miles long, and the road Yellowstone visitors use to cross the valley is about 20 miles by my uneducated guess.

During the fall, the majority of Yellowstone’s buffalo live in the Lamar Valley. Well over two-thirds of the 750+ buffalo we saw on one afternoon’s drive were in the valley.

While the herds are spectacular, for me there’s something very serene about one solo buffalo…

0917141748aOn our way to the valley, we were rewarded with views of nine mountain goats on the rock walls surrounding the road. They are hard to see with the naked eye, but patient glassing with binoculars paid off.

On the other side of the valley, we ran into some mountain sheep. Alas, only ewes. No rams. Not my best photo, but squint really hard and you’ll see the sheep near the center of the photo.


On our way back into the valley, we were surprised with a black bear sighting. Again, hard to see, but it’s my only proof that we really saw a bear. 🙂


Short back story here. . .

When Melissa was just about to enter junior high, her cousin Theresa told her that there’s only two words you need to know to get through junior high: “Fight! Fight! Fight!” and “Teacher! Teacher! Teacher!” You run towards the commotion during the “Fight!”, and you run away whenever anyone yells “Teacher!”

Apparently most of the visitors in Yellowstone learned the same thing…

Everyone stops with “Bear! Bear! Bear!”, and then they get way too close to the bear to get their pictures. Then when someone yells, “Ranger! Ranger! Ranger!”, they run away to the proper distance to be safe from a bear attack and try to look good in the ranger’s eyes.

Just love the slow pace along the roads in Yellowstone as the wildlife controls the pace of life….


One Busy Bull

Cooke City, Montana

We drove into Yellowstone this afternoon and took a route new to us.

We drove from where we are staying near Cooke City, aka The Coolest Small City in America. (Not sure why it’s considered the coolest small city. Perhaps it’s the 7500 elevation that keeps it chilly all year. Maybe it’s because buffalo graze just off Main Street.)


Staying near the northeast entrance of the park is perfect for wildlife lovers because it’s a hop, skip, and a jump to the Lamar Valley. More about the Lamar Valley tomorrow…

We continued on into the Mammoth area in the hopes of seeing some elk. We weren’t disappointed.


There was a herd of about 25 cows and one lone (and very busy) bull.

0917141706Hundreds of homo sapiens, including us :-), stopped to gawk.

We were fascinated by the elks’ behavior. The cows kept trying to wander off, and the bull kept getting the wandering cows back to the safety of the herd.

Here he is squealing at two cows as he pushes them back to the herd area.


Rich asked the park ranger (who was herding all of us homo sapiens 🙂 ) if there were any other bulls. He said that there had been but that the biggest bull chased all of the others off.

I didn’t realize that bulls had so many other duties in addition to what I assumed was their only duty.

Jealousy Times Two

Cody, Wyoming

I lucked upon a quilt show in Cody the other day.

Beautiful works were displayed in a wide variety of styles, colors, sizes, and complexities.


I showed up at the entrance at 5:15 p.m., and the event was due to close for the day at six. The ladies were very concerned that I would be too rushed to enjoy all the quilts in 45 minutes, so they told me I could come back the next day for free.  I wouldn’t have to pay the $3 entry fee again. : -)

While small, the show had more quilts and vendors than I thought they would. And many of the quilts were amazingly designed and crafted.


Most of the entries were machined pieced and quilted. This means that a sewing machine was used to stitch the small pieces of fabric together. In the quilt pictured above, each change of color indicates a new piece of fabric. Amazing!

Machine quilting means that a special sewing machine with a very long arm is used to quilt the quilt front, batting, and quilt backing together.


The quilting process and design can drastically change the quilt’s appearance. The fabric squares in the quilt pictured above are actually square; they just appear curved because the quilting pattern is curved.

Many quilters prefer the traditional hand pieced and hand quilted method. Obviously this is very time intensive.

The quilt pictured below was completely hand pieced and hand quilted. The quilt is about 60″ square. Unbelievably well done!


As I wandered through the quilts, I couldn’t decide which I was more jealous of: the quilters’ talent or the time that they dedicate to their craft…

Actually, truth be told… I’m jealous of both!

One of my favorite types of quilting is called landscape quilting. Here’s one of my favorite from the show and a close up showing how the leaves were created with small pieces of fabric hand quilted onto the quilt front.



And a few more random pictures…




East of Eden

Cody, Wyoming

We drove into Yellowstone yesterday and went through the east entrance to the park. We’d never been on that side of the park or on the road leading into it.

First we came across The Smith Mansion. (Not my photo.) The mansion is an unfinished house that a local engineer was in the process of building on his own for over a dozen years. Tragically, he fell to his death from one of the balconies. (Read more.)


The rocks in and around the Wapiti area are stunning in size, color, and design. Lots of towers, strategically balanced rocks, and cliffs.

Wapiti_ValleyInterestingly, we saw two lone bison bulls. One was about 20 miles from the park boundary, and the other was just inside the boundary but at least 20 miles from the other in park bison.

We went to a butte lookout to take a gander at Yellowstone Lake. It’s over 30 miles wide! And at nearly 7800′, it’s only unfrozen for five months out of the year.

0916141048At the Fishing Bridge visitor center, we saw a unique light fixture that both Rich and I liked. (That’s not the amazing part… 🙂 ) It was made with different types of sheds and skulls that were attached to a large metal hoop.

0916141119Our tour took us through the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone. With two large waterfalls and miles of stunning scenery, it’s my favorite non-wildlife area in the park.

Although this picture looks fake, it’s not. That’s how the image came through on my phone’s camera.


This picture looks like it’s sideways, but it’s actually showing the brink of the waterfall. We hiked 3/8 of a mile up and down 600′ to get to the brink. Well worth it…


And for those of us who love fall, a smattering of yellow fall foliage with the Yellowstone River in the background.


Buffalo Bill

Cody, Wyoming

The Buffalo Bill Museum entrance started out with a hologram of Bill talking to visitors on a cloud of fog coming out of the wall. An appropriate entrance for a master showman.


William Frederick Cody, aka Buffalo Bill, led an amazing life.  He was born in 1846. Bill’s father died when he was 11, and he went to work. 

He worked at many different jobs ranging from Army scout, Pony Express rider, ranch hand, wagon train driver, buffalo hunter, fur trapper, gold prospector, and showman.


It is his life as a showman that we most know him by. His show depicting life in the Wild West traveled extensively through the United States, and it was also performed before kings and queens in Europe.


But his life was so much more than that. He was smart, ambitious, and creative.

He built several hotels in the area to capture the growing tourism to Yellowstone National Park. He was instrumental in developing irrigation infrastructure, successfully securing federal cooperation for the Shoshone Project, one of the first federal water development projects.


William married Louisa. They had four children together; two died in childhood. Bill traveled extensively for both work and pleasure.

His family life was tumultuous. In 1904 he filed for divorce from his wife. They had lived separately for years.  Louisa, a devout Catholic, counter sued bringing his infidelities to public light. The judge denied the divorce. 


He was an outspoken proponent for women’s rights to vote and employment. “Let them do any kind of work that they see fit, and if they do it as well as men, give them the same pay.”

PS The Buffalo Bills NFL football team is named after Buffalo Bill.

Museums Times Five

Cody, Wyoming

Cody is named after William Frederick Cody aka Buffalo Bill. More about Buffalo Bill tomorrow.

The Buffalo Bill Center of the West is a series of five museums and a research library in a wonderful facility in Cody. We spent a couple of hours there yesterday and will go back again today to view what we missed.

6807092-Buffalo_Bill_Center_of_the_West_CodyHere are some highlights from the museums we visited yesterday…

Draper Natural History Museum

This scene depicts a buffalo jump. Young Native American men would mimic the cry of a young bison in distress. This would cause the buffalo herd to gather together. Then the older men would drive the herd off of a large cliff. The tribe would then harvest the buffaloes.


Within the Draper Museum , there were many displays of taxidermied animals, and I loved the way they were all shown in action like this moose scratching himself among natural flora. 0914141014bThe piece below is very unique. It is a combination of efforts of three local artists. The elk head is carved out of a single piece of wood. The antlers are pieced together from multiple pieces of wood. And the cougar is just amazing. It’s hard to see in this picture, but there’s a small butterfly on the elk’s head adding some color and whimsy…


Cody Firearms Museum

The next museum we visited was the Cody Firearms Museum. The displays were overwhelming… so many different types of firearms over so many time periods…

Each of the firearms is beautifully displayed and meticulously labeled.


The picture below shows all of the munitions that Winchester made during the time period and stated “Capacity of works: 2,000,000 Cartridges Daily.”  Not sure of the year, but amazing nonetheless.


There were many samples of firearms advertisements, and I was surprised at how many of them targeted women.


Whitney Western Art Museum

We moseyed on into the Whitney Western Art Museum, and I was in heaven because Carl Rungius, my favorite Western artist, had at least a half dozen pieces on display.

I know virtually nothing about art; all I know is that I LOVE his work. And I’m amazed that I can spot it in a crowded room…

The animals pop out from a muted background, and yet it all looks so realistic.



Here are two Rungius paintings with two bronzes, a Frederick Remington and a Charles Russell, in the foreground.


Could have sat there for hours…

Heart Mountain

Cody, Wyoming

We visited the Heart Mountain Interpretive Center located between Cody and Powell in north western Wyoming.


Through photographs, artifacts, and film the center helps visitors experience life at the Heart Mountain World War II Japanese American Confinement Site. The museum and film are excellent!


On February 18, 1942,  President Franklin Roosevelt signed an order that forced removal of all persons of Japanese ancestry from the west coast.

Within just six months, 120,000 Japanese Americans were incarcerated behind barbed wire in ten camps in remote, isolated locations. Over 14,000 were housed at The Heart Mountain Relocation Center.

Allowed to take only what they could carry in single suitcase, families were temporarily placed in assembly centers at racetracks and fairgrounds until transportation to internment centers, usually by train, was arranged.

They had no idea where they were being sent, and no clue how long they would be there.


Many were sent from central California to Wyoming, and they lacked appropriate winter clothing. (Artwork below by Heart Mountain interee.)


Multi-generational families all lived together in one room with multiple dwellings per barrack.

There was a common dining area and bathrooms had no privacy dividers.


Aside from the horror of being American citizens locked up by their government without due process, I got to thinking of the realities of life in the camp with small children. Washing diapers in freezing cold water, bundling children up multiple times per day to go eat in the dining hall or to use the bathroom, and no room for them to run around inside because your only living area is filed with beds.

Families were given cots and a pot bellied stove. They were not given any tables, chairs, or lighting other than a single 60 watt bulb In their 20′ x 24′ room. Coal was dumped out by the truckload away from the barracks.

Within two months, barren ground became Wyoming’s third largest city, surrounded by fences and guards. Uninsulated barracks were covered with black tar paper and provided little shelter from wind, dust, and cold.

The backstory of how the Japanese Americans were forced to sell or abandon their possessions was heartbreaking. Most of them lost everything and said that the ten years after war were the most difficult time for them.

When the war was over, they received $25 and a train ticket.

In 1988, the federal government apologized for uprooting and imprisoning Japanese Americans, calling the episode a result of wartime hysteria, racial prejudice, and a failure in political leadership.


The interred Japanese Americans were amazingly resilient. They made life the best it could be while they were there by planting vegetable gardens, offering scouting programs for their children, and trying to maintain as much ‘normalcy’ as possible.

Note: Information taken from interpretive center flyer.

In Snow Time at All

Cody, Wyoming

Yesterday we drove from Sheridan to Cody. We stayed a day longer in Sheridan because of the early snow storm.

The view from and drive over Granite Pass in the Bighorn Mountains over Highway 14 was stunning, particularly with the fog settled in over the valley.


When we came into Sheridan a few days ago, it was raining and there was heavy cloud cover. We woke up to a couple inches of snow and it continued to snow all day. Yesterday we finally got to see Sheridan and the area surrounding it as we left. Sheridan is one place I would like to visit again…


As we drove up into the mountains, the snow got heavier and prettier. It was the best kind of snow–melts the minute it touches pavement or concrete!

One of the things I’m going to miss most about our house in the mountains outside of Boise is the snow. I love, love, love snow!

And so does my dog!


Because we’re heading south for the winter, yesterday was most likely the last time we will have the opportunity to play in the snow for a long time.

So we did!



On the other side of the summit, the road was crazy steep and curvy.


And the topogaphy was gorgeous. After eight long and steep miles, we reached the valley.



A Different Perspective

Cody, Wyoming

Once we decide where we are going, the first thing I do (when I have Internet connection 🙂 ) is look to see if pickleball is available.

Woohoo! It was available in Sheridan!

So I played yesterday morning at the local YMCA. The Sheridan gang is a lot of fun to play with and against.

Because I get the opportunity to play in multiple locations, I have a chance to compare different playing styles.

While the game of pickleball has the same goal no matter where you play–to get to 11 points–there are a myriad of styles of play.

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In Boise, for example, most players play a combination of hard and soft hits. The soft game requires more finesse and analysis.

In Sheridan, the soft game is virtually absent. Their objective is to hit the ball as hard and fast as possible.

Both styles of play are fun, and I reach my pickleball goals of sweating, laughing, and learning easily with either style.

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But what fascinates me is how players in different locations think everyone everywhere plays the same way they do.

When I commented yesterday to the Sheridan players, “Wow, you guys play a really fast game,” they were shocked.

That made me realize how important it is to look at things from other perspectives and out of my comfort zone.

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Because while I prefer a strategic game that includes soft skills, playing smash ball periodically makes me a better player.

Traveling with Pets

Sheridan, Wyoming

We traveled from Wall, South Dakota, to Sheridan, Wyoming, yesterday.

It’s a 300 mile drive. We initially hadn’t planned to travel that far, but the expected storm stalled a bit so it was better to go farther now.

Normally we don’t go much more than 225 miles,  and Sophie seemed to somehow know that we were traveling a longer distance because she was a pain for most of the day.


I thought I would take today to blog a bit about traveling with pets since we didn’t do much but drive…

On our travels we have seen and met lots of people traveling with their pets.

Some travel with several cats. More and more cat owners walk their cats on a leash. The cats seem to enjoy it. 🙂


Recently we saw a couple with seven West Highland Terriers. I have no idea how they tell them apart! They looked like clones of one another.

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And we met a man with a cockatiel that sat on his shoulder for strolls around the RV park several times per day. I think the owner enjoyed the walks more than the bird; the bird continually said, “Night,  night.” That’s what he said when he wanted to go to his cage and have his cover put over his cage.


Traveling with Fido, Fluffy, or Polly can be both a blessing and a curse, often within the same hour.

Sophie has traveled with us constantly. I can count on two hands how seldom Sophie has been left home alone for more than an hour.

She does fine and probably enjoys her alone time. I know I enjoy mine.  🙂

Sophie is a blessing because she is fun. She has a joie de vivre that’s contagious. Everything is exciting and fun.

She often ‘sings’ when she’s super excited. It’s rewarding when she does it as we return to see her.

She’s also very loving and as much of a hugger as a dog can be.


She’s also kept us on a better diet. Her constant presence keeps us from snacking. (If I were a truck driver, I would with 500 pounds because I love to eat as I travel.)

But there are some downsides.

Traveling with a pet can be limiting especially in the summer heat.

Also, their restroom schedule often doesn’t sync with their owners’.

My nickname for Sophie is “Stinky Butt”. It’s a name that fits because she toots a lot!

Sophie’s not the friendliest dog to other dogs, so we constantly have to watch her. She’s a bit of a bully to smaller dogs.  I don’t even try anymore. When another owner says, “My dog’s super friendly!” with a huge smile. I quickly day, “Mine’s not.” They run away quickly unless they are terrier owners; they just giggle because their dogs aren’t that friendly either.

All in all, I’m very happy that Sophie’s along, but I’m also happy we’re heading into cooler weather where she can stay in the Jeep a bit more often…