You Can’t Have it All

Original Post: February 15, 2016

They say all good things must come to an end, and perhaps that’s why I’ve put off posting this last blog entry!  

On day 21, we were up at 5:30 due to a crying baby in the camp site across from us (seriously – what is with these parents???) and while Nate packed up the tent, I headed to get sunrise photos.  The sun was coming up quickly, though, and I only hoped I’d reach the lake in time!  This may have been the only instance in the entire trip where I was behind the wheel of our car.  Nate claimed the road for his own.  Though I was briefly distracted by an elk, I did managed to make the lake in time for a sunrise shot. Whew!

The Badlands National Park in South Dakota was the last of our vacation destinations before heading back to rainy eastern Pennsylvania.  Leaving the Grand Tetons, on what officially capped three weeks on the road, I knew we had quite the drive ahead of us and even though I’d hoped to get one of the camp sites just inside the park, my expectations weren’t high.  Like Jenny Lake Campground, Cedar Pass Campground is first-come/first-served.

The drive was one of the most interesting along the way, particularly when we had to stop for a herd of cattle being driven across the road by a couple of real cowboys.  People really do still have these occupations!  I think I’ve been working in an office for too long!  The only thing that would have made the sight better was if the cowboy’s horse hadn’t spooked, misstepped, and fallen.  On the pavement.  On top of his rider.  You would think that since I had a camera in hand, I might have tried to capture this moment.  Perhaps the fact that I didn’t means I have a shred of human decency and capturing the image wasn’t as important as making sure both rider and horse were okay.  (Other than hurt pride and human anger, both seemed fine!)

You can see the horse’s misstep here…  This was right before it happened!

We originally stopped for lunch at a Subway, but upon seeing the line that went out the door and around the side of the building, we decided to review our options.  A good thing we did.  We found the Trucker’s Outpost Cafe, where we learned that there was a festival or a rodeo in town (that explained both the number of people and horses in the direct area!), and had a better meal than we could have gotten at Subway anyway.  The meal was surprisingly good and the rest from driving was a welcome change from hours in the car.

We arrived at Cedar Pass Campground in the Badlands around 5 pm, and even though we had figured it would be the case, I was disappointed that there was no spot left to pitch a tent.  We instead turned around and booked a room in an ‘eh’ motel just outside of the park.  (Yes, ‘eh’ is an official rating.)  It wasn’t ideal, but getting a shower was an unexpected delight and very much welcome!

Nate points out the sheer drop just a few feet from where he stands.  No thank you, I’ll stay in the parking lot. That’s what telephoto lenses are for!

I’d always wanted to photograph the Badlands landscape at night and couldn’t wait for the opportunity to do so, but finding the right place to take a photo isn’t easy when you’re tripping over your own feet and hoping not to step on a snake.  So, we gladly took a trip to the park during the daylight hours first, just to ensure that we’d get to where we wanted to go when we were ready.

The landscape is quite breathtaking and it’s easy to see why the park was named Badlands.  It’s a lonely place and though it’s a national park, crowds don’t dominate here the way they do at the Grand Canyon, which gives visitors a hint of what it might have been like for the Native Americans who lived here centuries ago.  There’s something very quiet and very spiritual happening here.

As we ate our dehydrated camp meal while watching the sun set from the parking lot of a lookout, we noticed thunderheads off in the distance.  I fought the excitement building in my gut.  A thunderstorm!  In the Badlands!!  

Since I’d first begun planning this trip at age eighteen, I had hoped to encounter a wild thunderstorm in the Badlands.  How amazing would it be if Mother Nature actually obliged?  A part of me hesitated, though.  I wanted beautiful night skies, too!  But you can’t have it all.

Or can you?

Mother Nature – far fiercer than she looks through a wide angle lens (sigh…wrong lens).

We returned to the hotel to work on loading photos to the computer and conversing with the outside world.  Hooray for wifi.  By 10:30, we decided it was time to venture out again.  We were hardly out the door when we realized that the storm we had seen rolling in the distance was producing massive lighting strikes.  This was nature demanding our respect!

But of course… I hadn’t brought the right camera lens.  Nate insisted that we return to the motel to get the lens so that I could capture the sight, and we did, but by the time we were back to the park, the storm had more or less run out of steam and we were left with not much on film.  But, oh the experience!  It was worth more than any photo I could have taken!

Back to the lookout point for some night photography.  The Badlands is, without a doubt, the perfect place to capture stunning silhouetted landscape and the Milky Way stretching far overhead.  

In the end, I got both my thunderstorm and my clear night skies.  It was the perfect way to end the vacation, and sure, it wasn’t quite over yet, but the heart of our trip revolved around the natural beauty that can be seen and visited throughout the expanse of this amazing country.

So, as election season begins to rile friends, family, and neighbors across the United States, I encourage you to remember that this country was built on much greater things than what politicians would have you believe are important.  



See it for yourself!

And if you need someone to help you plan…I’m really good with Excel.

More than Just Potatoes

Original Post: September 8, 2015

There came a point in our trip when we knew it would be time to turn around and head back home.  Crater Lake didn’t really count (even though we’d changed directions), as it was still an amazing destination that I’d planned as part of the itinerary.

Idaho, however, was…well…


Before leaving for the trip, I’d asked a few friends who lived out west whether it was better to travel northern Idaho or southern.  We needed to get to Yellowstone and I wanted to do it as quickly as possible, but what’s a few extra hours on the road if the scenery is nice, right?  So we added an extra hour and a half and took the northern route as recommended.  Why?  Because it was pretty. 

Or so I was told.

As I’m really not being very fair to Idaho, I should probably clarify.  Northern Idaho is beautiful.  (I’d been told the southern route was all desert, and we’d really seen quite enough of that.)  Eastern Oregon and Washington, however, are not.  Having seen the west coast of Oregon on a past trip, I pictured all of Oregon to be full of the amazingly green, incredibly dark piney forests that make western Oregon such a draw to nature lovers and neohippies everywhere. 

In fact, I couldn’t have been more wrong.  After the mountains faded into the distance, eastern Oregon looks the way I expected Kansas to look. (For the record, I was wrong there, too.  Kansas is not grain.  Kansas is corn.  Oregon is grain.  Lots of it.)  And eastern Washington is very much the same.

Okay, so this part was pretty amazing.  Mountains, horses, and beautiful blue skies, and miles and miles of road to travel.

But this part?

On film, stunning.  In reality, breathtaking.  

For an hour or so.  

Hours upon hours?  Not so much.

Oh, come on. You knew we had to stop.

By the time we reached our cabin in Coeur d’Alene, I was very much contemplating the wisdom of my decision to travel northern Idaho, but Coeur d’Alene itself, particularly the lake, is beautiful.  Our first stop in Idaho, naturally, was this –>

You can take the boy out of Cabela’s (in Hamburg), but you can’t take Cabela’s out of the boy…hence why we ended up in Cabela’s (in Coeur d’Alene).

A few dehydrated meals later, we were back on our way and reached the Osprey Perch Cabin at the Wolf Lodge Campground within a half hour.  Nestled against the back of a mountain, it was a positively charming little A-frame…even if it did slant uphill and made me feel as though I was a little tipsy.  Seriously, It’s odd the way a slight incline outdoors does nothing to your equilibrium, but the same slant inside is downright disturbing. Still, it didn’t detract from the charm.

We finally had a slow evening to ourselves, so we headed to Lake Coeur d’Alene for Nate to try his hand at fishing.  I sat with camera at the ready, hoping to capture a bald eagle or two in the area, but to no avail.  However, I did manage to capture a spectacular sunset!

Lake Coeur D’Alene

Back at the cabin, we ate another dehydrated meal, shared a couple of mugs of hot tea and enjoyed the stars as they begin to dot the sky.  At least until the mosquitoes showed up.  Then it was inside and time for fun on the computer.  We actually had a few hours to load photos and view them.  Throughout the trip, I would try to download photos to my laptop every few days, but now I finally had time to look at them.  (Imagine that!)

In the end, I was glad we took the northern Idaho route instead of southern, but those 9 hours in eastern Oregon and Washington was quite the test.  A test of patience, a test of willpower, or a test of sanity – I’m not sure.  But it was a test.

But I did discover that there was more to Idaho than just potatoes.

Come to think of it, I didn’t see a single potato.  Maybe I should write the Idaho bureau of tourism.

No eagles, but plenty of osprey.

This Concludes the Desert Portion of Your Tour

Original Post: August 8, 2015

We headed out on Day 10, eager to be leaving Las Vegas.  (Hey, isn’t that a movie?)  A “quick” stop at McDonald’s for breakfast, but oh, that’s right.  That’s where we discovered, yet again, that nothing in Vegas is as quick as the reputation.  We got to the drive-through lane at 10:15, to be told when we got to the speaker at 10:30 to order that they were out of breakfast.  What?  How is this remotely possible at a McDonald’s? Now, we were stuck in the drive through, boxed in by curbs they have absurdly placed to lock you in.  It was after 10:45 by the time we were finally able to leave the McDonald’s parking lot…without food.  Nate, to say the very least, was in a foul mood.  (It was already bad enough that they don’t offer bagel breakfast sandwiches at McDonald’s after you cross the Mississippi River, but to have to wait a half hour, get no breakfast, and no real apology, well that was a whole new level of aggravation.)

But some mishaps are blessings in disguise.  Once on the highway to California, we passed more than one sign for the Ghost Town Cafe – “Serving Breakfast All Day.”  Seeing as it was nearly noon by this point, we figured ‘why the hell not?’ and followed the signs to the exit.  But, the cafe was actually located six miles from the exit and Nate, in his mood of Hangry Desperation, was ready to turn right back on the highway and forget it all. I managed to convince him that breakfast was worth it, and off we went, down a dusty, close-enough-to-dirt road for six miles.  And aren’t we glad we did?

We arrived at The Pioneer Saloon and Ghost Town Cafe in Goodsprings, Nevada, and it looked every bit what you would think.  There was a single car out front and Nate made a half-hearted comment as we entered that no one would ever find our bodies.  Once seated at the bar in the Ghost Town Cafe, we ordered a delicious, if greasy, breakfast and while we waited, the manager began to chat with us.  He asked how we’d heard of the place and we had to confess that we really hadn’t.  Signs on the highway had led us in desperation.

He seemed somewhat surprised and cued up the 3 televisions on the wall to play a recorded segment of Ghost Hunters.  It appears The Pioneer Saloon, established 1913, had a handful of ghosts and a dicey history.  Who knew?  (A few million people who watch Ghost Hunters, surely, but not me.)

After our breakfast, and our educational update on The Pioneer Saloon, we perused into the saloon to take a good look around. Sure enough, three bullet holes still remain in the original tin wall where a man was killed after cheating at poker.  The floor and tables are original to the building and there’s definitely a creepy ambience despite the friendly bartender and the patrons that were now wandering through the door for lunch.

Before we got back on the road, we used the restrooms, one of which was reputed to be haunted.  Guess which one?  The ladies, naturally.  So, yes, I peed in a haunted bathroom.  If I had any ghostly audience, they thankfully remained silent, but I still booked it out of there as fast as I could while still trying to maintain my “cool.”

Back down the dusty road, we encountered the biggest dust devil we’d seen to date, right before getting on the highway.  Truly fascinating and, well, just plain weird.  I wonder if that sight ever gets old to those who live in the desert area.

It was 108 degrees when we got back to the highway and I was incredibly relieved that by the end of the day our “Desert Tour” would be fairly well over and we would enjoy the coastal breeze.  But both Nate and I started to get a bit nervous when the temp was steadily rising.  In fact, the car registered that it was 115 degrees F around the time we passed the world’s largest digital thermometer (why is that even a thing?), reading 111 degrees.  And about five minutes after that, Nate noticed the radiator temp was beginning to climb.  Enough to make me nervous.

And ding!

There goes the alarm, letting us know that the car is close to overheating. We pulled over, opened the windows and shut off the car for five minutes.  Being stuck in the Mojave Desert was not my idea of fun and I hoped it wouldn’t happen.  Thankfully, once we started the car and got on the road again, the decision to drive with the windows down and no a/c proved to be a wise one.  We managed to keep the car from coming close to overheating.  A half hour later, we rolled up the windows and turned the air back on, but not near full-blast, and that seemed to be okay.  Whew.  If there was ever a time that I’d felt I’d dodged a bullet, this was it.  To the dozen people we passed on the side of the road in the next hour, I am sorry you did not think to do the same…  Yikes!

Aside from Independence Pass in the Rockies, this ranks as one of the scariest roads I’ve driven on.  The sheer vastness of the surrounding desert and the inescapable heat is terrifying.  To this day, I am very relieved we were able to keep from breaking down!

When we finally arrived at South Carlsbad State Park in California at 6 pm, we knew that we had to set up camp quickly.  I had managed to secure the very last spot (physically) in the camp about a year prior, so that we were on the end, facing the beach, with only one campsite near ours.  At the time I had booked it, it seemed ideal. But, as we navigated through the seemingly endless line of campsites, with oblivious children riding bikes and skateboards right in front of the car without even a glance, it was an excruciatingly slow drive to the end site.  Seriously, what was with these kids?  And why didn’t their parents seem to care?

When we finally reached the end, there was a truck parked in our spot.  The neighbors next to us (you know, the ONE site next to us) had parked their truck there since no one was there.  They were thankfully kind enough to move it quickly once approached, but it was obvious later why they had no room at their site.  Aside from their 30 foot RV and the truck they used to tow it, they had a tent (for the kids), two full 6 ft fold-out tables with pop up canopies, the picnic table provided by the campground, and about fifteen bicycles.  Okay, it was more like four.  But, still.  I can’t imagine traveling with that much junk!

We had the tent set up in ten minutes and, even though Nate didn’t want to get back in the car, even though it was the very epitome of what he dreaded the most, he got in anyway, and drove us to Scripp’s Pier in San Diego so I could get the photos I’d hoped for in Southern California.  I was certain that it wasn’t the right time of year where the sun lines up perfectly at the end of the pier, but I couldn’t wait to see the sunset from beneath the pier anyway.

As an east-coaster, there’s something almost magical about watching the sun set over the ocean, like I’m in a fantasy world on another planet or something.  Where I come from, that just doesn’t happen.  The sun doesn’t set over the ocean.  It rises over it.  Everyone knows that.

So, off we went, and got to the pier in time to illegally park in a 20-minute only parking zone at the institute…  Heh.  This was, perhaps, maybe the one time I didn’t yell at Nate for doing something we weren’t supposed to do.  I wanted my photos and I was game for whatever it took to get them.  Including gimping my way through the sand to get to the pier.

To my dismay, there was already a photographer onsite.  I had heard that this would happen.  I had read that photographers flock to the pier and that on any given evening, there could be a half dozen sitting beneath the pier, waiting for the sun to set.

I guess I should have been happy that there was just one.  I was also disappointed that it appeared to be a higher tide, so I was going to get wet and there wasn’t much way around it.  The bandage around my ankle didn’t stay dry for long.  And for the nearly 100 shots I took, I got a handful that proved to be decent.

I was just glad that the sun was visible at all, since it looked like this when we’d first reached the west coast:

 It was a good way to spend my birthday.  Yep, my birthday.  On the beach at sunset, breathing in the salty air and enjoying the sound of the waves.  The culmination of many years wanting, and a whole year planning, the vacation of a lifetime. Had it not been for the foreign photographer who was slowly and steadily creeping closer toward me and encroaching on my space, it would have been positively perfect.  To add insult to injury, his camera and his lens were both bigger than mine.  Jerk.

And where was Nate during this adventure?  While he had started by my side, he disappeared at some point to check on the car, and I began to wonder if he’d been arrested and had his car towed away.  When I texted him, I received no immediate response.  Hmmm.

After I’d put my camera away and dumped as much sand from my tripod as I could, I found Nate a while later, chatting with two guys who maintain the aquarium at Scripp’s Institute. It figured.  If there was a way to talk about fish, Nate would find it.  If there was a person alive who would want to discuss it, Nate would manage to locate him.

We headed back to car, to a (non-candlelit) dinner at Subway, and for a little grocery shopping.  Then, back to the campsite.  For Nate, a walk in the sand to hunt for anything cool in the dark on the beach.  For me, bed.  Plain and simple.  Bed.

Well. Sleeping bag.

Pure exhaustion had finally caught up with me after so many days on the road and hiking, pushing ourselves to the limit every day.  I passed out to the sound of the surf, a fabulous end to a fabulous day.

The sun isn’t supposed to set over the ocean. Everyone knows that!

Hauntings, Indeed
Day 10, part 2

Original Post: August 10, 2015

No, I don’t usually add to the blog once I have it all written and published, but this was one video that needed to be shared.  Nate and I finally sat down to look at some of the video we had taken along the trip.  Of all of the hours of video we captured, there was only one video that had a problem.  This one.

So much so that I had to record the computer playing it just to put it on the web.  YouTube wouldn’t load the original.  The file claims to be 0.4 seconds long, but it continuously loops and the blue progress bar on the bottom of the window jumps all over.  Nate tried to film The Pioneer Saloon starting at the bullet holes and panning around to the bar.  But, all we have are bullet holes.  And jumpy ones at that.  Creepy!  (And now you might have to share it with someone so you don’t die a horrible death.  No?  Not that movie?)

The Longest Drive

Original Post: July 27, 2015

The title of this post might be slightly misleading.  The drive from Maroon Bells-Snowmass Wilderness to Arches National Park was hardly the longest drive.  Not even close, in fact, but there’s something about the Utah scenery (or lack thereof) that makes the drive exceptionally monotonous.  The desert is initially amazing and we were instantly in love with the color and the scrub, but as hour upon hour passed, we were over it. It went something like this: mountain, rock, scrub brush, mountain, rock, scrub brush, rock, rock, scrub, scrub, rock, scrub, and so on and so forth…for four hours.

As a bonus, we reached Arches National Park about an hour earlier than expected.  Suffice it to say that Arches is one park that I couldn’t possibly have realized the immensity of when I booked our stop.  It was once again 100 degrees, though the sky was relatively overcast, which worked to our benefit in that we could walk without being in direct sun, but I was still disappointed that I wouldn’t get the chance to capture any amazing photos of arches with that incredible blue, blue Utah sky behind them.

If you ever have the urge to see Arches (and who doesn’t?), my recommendation is to take a few days to see the park.  There are a ton of different arches to view and many of them can only be seen by hiking.  That means lots of time, which we just didn’t have.  The road through the park is well laid out and it’s a good substitute to actually hiking the park (especially in 100 degrees), but don’t expect to get close to some of the more well-known arches like Landscape Arch and Delicate Arch.  

We were rewarded after a few hours with some bluer skies and we managed to get a few photos of brilliant orange-hued rocks against a more interesting background than cloud cover.  If nothing else, it was nice to see the sun…especially since we were returning to our air-conditioned car after a short hike fighting through the crowded walkways filled with people of questionable intelligence.  No, truly, we really encountered some true nuts.  One such nut comes to mind instantly.  We dubbed him goat-boy. (Though, believe me when I say that his act was not nearly as hilarious as that SNL skit years ago…)  Crazy goat-boy jumped from rock to rock, running at full speed, and urged his parents to hurry because “this is the fastest way down.”  (He was close to being correct.  Had he stumbled, we would have seen him go down…really fast.)  As it was, he ended his hike directly in front of us – by about two whole feet – on the walkway despite his ridiculous “Look at me!” antics. But we all know that teens are immortal, so I guess I should keep my stodgy old-lady opinions to myself.

Hooray, only a 5 hour drive from Arches to Bryce Canyon National Park.  That’s nothing, right?  Wrong.

Oh, so wrong.

Both Nate and I were convinced beyond a shadow of a doubt that we were being featured in an episode of The Twilight Zone in which a warped time-space continuum meant that we were actually stuck in an endless loop, forced to live out our remaining days in the Utah desert, never actually reaching our destination.  My proof:

How long until we ran out of water?  Haven’t we seen this landscape before?  I swear it was an hour ago when I looked at the clock, but it’s only registered that three minutes have passed.  What is going on?  We were nearly delirious by the time we reached Bryce Canyon. (And we DID finally reach Bryce Canyon.)

Real men wear coral.  (I’m sorry…Cabela’s calls it ‘citrus.’)

About an hour from Bryce, we decided to stop for gas and to pick up a few grocery essentials, paper plates, bread, etc.  It was a tiny town called Marysvale and it is exactly what you would expect to encounter when you believe you’re traveling in The Twilight Zone.  The locals were sitting on the front porch of the convenience store and gave us the hairy eyeball as we walked inside.  I guessed they didn’t see many outsiders on a regular basis.  Or it could have been because they’ve never seen a man wear a shirt this color.

I suppose we could have purchased a Marysvale sweatshirt (yep, they really were for sale at the gas station/grocery store/ice cream shop/souvenir shop) so that he fit in a little better, but somehow I doubted that would have been adequate camouflage.

The entrance to Bryce Canyon National Park was impressive.  Upon entering, the first thing we noticed was the drive through a squat tunnel carved out of the red Utah Rock.  It was akin to driving through a wall (only without the resistance of a wall, naturally…).  All in all, it was pretty spectacular.  When we finally reached the campground, we set up camp and looked forward to doing nothing but sleeping.  It was already early evening and I, for one, was tired of walking after having taken lots of short hikes in the heat around Arches earlier that day.  Plus, I’m pretty sure my retinas were slightly burned out after staring at the desert for hours on end.  I’m pretty certain that I’ll  see scrub brush in my sleep for years to come. Perhaps I’ll see a doctor about that…

And yet, once again, temptation was too great.  It was sunset.  And going to the canyon rim at this time meant that I wouldn’t have to get up at sunrise the next morning as originally planned.  This plan had some merit.  So, off we went, and as it turned out, the rim of the canyon was only a half mile or so from the camp.  

The view was instantly revitalizing.  Breathtaking.  Bryce Canyon was one of the destinations I had most looked forward to on this trip.  I had always admired those incredible spires (which I learned were actually called hoodoos….yeah, you can say it.  I know you’re thinking it.  Hoodoo that voodoo?) and thought that Bryce just seemed to have this indisputable energy.

I was 100% correct.  Instant awe.

Of all of the places we visited, Bryce has definitely landed itself in my top three short list.  Once the sun finally set low enough that it no longer illuminated the hoodoos, we headed for the campground and for the blissful oblivion known as sleep.

Bryce Canyon at sunset.

But guess what?  We’re at an altitude not much different from our campground in Maroon Bells.  And we’re still up several times a night to visit the bathroom.  No one tells you about this part of traveling high altitudes.  Drink, yes.  Stay hydrated, yes.  Pee a lot, funny, I read not a word about it.  I suppose it should go without saying that one thing leads to another, but really…perhaps I just thought I’d sweat it off.  I digress.

Despite the fact that we’d visited the canyon the night before, we greeted Day 6 at 5:30 and were at the rim of Bryce Canyon by 6 am for a stunning sunrise.  Far more photographic than sunset the night before and I was grateful that sleeping in a tent was so revitalizing despite our wacky schedule.

After the sunrise, Nate turned to me with a question.  “Hike?”

Well, heck, yeah!  He didn’t have to ask me twice!

Off we went, into the canyon, amongst the hoodoos. We hiked for two hours, beating the heat of the day with the timing and enjoying some of the most indescribable scenery.  Amazing in every way. 

It should be illegal for someplace so striking to be located somewhere so desolate.  Utah, of all places.  But, I suppose that’s the biggest part of what makes it so amazing. If it were in Phillipsburg, NJ, I’m willing to bet the charm somehow just wouldn’t be there.

Just as the temps neared the 90s, we reached the top of the rim, took one last glance behind, and returned to camp to embark on the rest of Day 6, blissfully unaware that we were about to discover the true Utah desert in a way we hadn’t anticipated and couldn’t have imagined.  Soon enough.

Here We Go…To Kansas

Original Post: July 21, 2015

In the beginning of the trip, I would take a photo of our next destination  from wherever we were when we started that day.  This habit didn’t last long…

It should come as no surprise to anyone that Kansas was not on my hotspot list.  I mean, other than Dorothy, who have you ever known to actually WANT to go to Kansas?  (I think even Toto would have opted out if he’d been given the chance, but dammit…Dorothy just had to ask “Toto, too?”  Poor dog.  He not only came from Kansas, but he had to go back!)

Shortly, before we left for vacation, I had taken a quiz on one of those ridiculous internet sites to see which state I should live in, as if answering 15 questions online could actually be a legitimate determining factor in where I’ll hang my hat.  And the result – you guessed it – was Kansas.  How on earth I could answer that I loved the ocean and still get a state smack-dab in the middle of the country as a result was beyond me.  The last thing I’d want to do is end up in any part of “Tornado Alley.”

I believe my exact words just a few days before we left were, “If I thought I could actually make it from St. Louis to Aspen in a single drive without going insane, I would definitely try.  But since we need to sleep at some point, Kansas it is.”

The drive through eastern Kansas provided endless views of slow rolling hills that eventually flattened into plains that went on for miles.  By the time we reached western Kansas, we’d seen more corn and more oil pumps than I had realized could exist in one state.  Our only saving grace?  The time of year we chose to travel.  Had we booked our trip just a few months later, those miles of landscape (though long and unchanging) would not have been visible at all.  Instead, higher and heartier corn would have meant stunning views of – wait for it – corn.  For 9 hours.  Corn and sky.  Thank goodness for June.

I was a bit hesitant when we stopped at a rest area and found a piece of molted snake skin.  I guess I hadn’t really thought I’d see any snakes.  Did I know they were out there?  Sure, the same as I knew rattlesnakes inhabited Hawk Mountain in our part of Pennsylvania, but since I don’t encounter evidence of their existence 99% of the time, I can keep them filed away in the “imaginary monster” files of my mind.  Suddenly, they had become much more real.

This surely came from the belly of a fairly good-sized snake.  Glad I didn’t get a chance to meet him.

When we finally arrived at Cedar Bluff State Park, I was impressed.  I had not expected to be at all intrigued with this strange land in the middle of the country, but there was actually a serene beauty in that tall grass which swayed like waves in the wind.  And wind there was.  With no mountains or tree lines to block it, the wind was constant.  I would be the last person to complain, however, since it meant we had some relief from the 102 degree heatwave.

We checked into our cabin, aptly named The Jumpin’ Catfish.  (Yes, I’d had Nate in mind when I booked that one.)  It was adorable.  From top to bottom, it was cute as can be – and covered with walking stick bugs (on the outside…not in – thank goodness!).  Funny how some bugs can creep you out completely and others are, for lack of a better word, cute.  Walking sticks definitely fall into the latter category.  So, if you happen to stop in Kansas and need a place to stay, Cedar Bluff State Park is it.  A great camp!

Nate fished the reservoir (of course) and we both enjoyed spending the evening on the porch of our cabin, watching the sun set and the lightning bugs buzz through the grass.  Perhaps the most memorable part of Kansas was the incredible birdsong.  I have never heard birds sing like the ones we heard there and it just added to the serenity that was the prairie.  If I didn’t know that tornadoes frequent the state every year, I could have contemplated buying a little cabin of our own in the area. Birdsong aside, I think I’ll pass.

We spent the evening experimenting with our cameras and scopes, practicing for the nights we knew we wanted to get some great dark sky shots, and despite the lack of geographical contrast to use against the sky, we got some pretty decent photos.

We headed to bed fairly early, knowing that we’d be up early and on the road to the “real” vacation tomorrow.  (Are you sensing a pattern, yet?)  Aspen, Colorado and Maroon Bells-Snowmass Wilderness.  Finally, a change in landscape!  

And we survived Kansas.  Nary a tornado in sight.