Saturday, September 1, 2018

I Traveled To Wyoming! (Part 1)

This is has been a magical summer and I feel really lucky that I have been able to travel as much as I got to.  About a week or so after I returned home from Boston, my friend Jenna and I set off on a trip that we have been talking about for years.  Our destination: Yellowstone National Park.  But it's the journey to get there that was just as meaningful (and eventful) as the time we spent in the actual park itself.

Day 1: Driving To The Badlands

Our energy and excitement were high when we packed up my car and hit the road to South Dakota!  I think this is the most energetic we felt in the car on the entire trip.  We were singing along with the songs on my phone, laughing practically the entire way there, and just having these ridiculous conversations because we were so happy and excited to FINALLY be going on this trip!

In our silly moods, we decided to stop and see the Corn Palace in Mitchell, SD.  I'd never been before and was curious.  Plus, it's free to enter, so what did we have to lose?  There honestly wasn't much to see inside the building, but the outside was super neat because there was all of this art made entirely out of corn and other corn parts.  We even got to see some of the art being created.  There were some high school/college-age gentlemen who were up on scaffolding sticking the corn to the exterior wall, adding to the corn palace.

After our brief visit, we got Caribou (now that I think of it, this was likely our last chance for Caribou before leaving South Dakota) and then hit the road again.  We wanted to make sure that we got to the Badlands with enough light to set up camp and maybe even do a little exploring.

One thing we did not expect on this trip was to deal with as much weather as we were dealing with.  We did not realize that June is probably the rainiest time of the year for the Badlands and further out West.  Just our luck.  So we drove in the gray and the rain for a while and finally arrived in the Badlands.

The last time I was in the Badlands was in 8th grade when we went for our 8th grade camping trip.  When we were getting last-minute arrangements made, I managed to find the same campsite my group stayed in.  I remember it was very beautiful as the sun went down, even with a storm on the horizon, so I wanted to take Jenna there.  Really, it's an amazing campsite!  It's right in the Badlands and you're practically surrounded by all of these mineral formations (they're not quite mountains or hills... I'm not sure what to call them).  But there was one problem, we quickly discovered, when we arrived:

 We had a swimming pool!  Yes, lots of rain prior to our arrival left a lot of standing water in our campsite.  The picture above spoils the ending, but before this picture was taken, we thought that maybe we could talk to the people in charge of the campsite and they could find us another site without the swimming pool amenity.  When we asked though, we were essentially told that no, we couldn't move and if we didn't like it, we'd have to go somewhere else.  The leader of the campground was kind of a jerk, needless to say, and I don't say that because we didn't get our way.  She was just a grouchy person.  Ultimately, it was really important for us to camp in the Badlands (as opposed to outside of the park), so we made due and found ground somewhat within our allotted site that wasn't too soggy.  We may have breached some of the surrounding campsites, but no one said anything, so we assumed all was well.

Once we set up camp, the drizzle had subsided, so we decided to go and explore for a little bit.  We wanted to stay kind of close knowing that we were getting hungry, so we drove maybe 5-10 minutes down the road and already we were much closer to this mineral formation hill/mountain things.

It was nice to have that outting and in a way reaffirm why it is we were out here even in this miserable weather.  We were determined to have a great trip, so we were going to make it so, no matter the circumstances!

I was really excited to cook dinner.  We planned to have hobo dinners but there were a couple flaws in that plan, both of which we didn't anticipate.  The first was that there were no fire rings in this particular Badlands campsite.  I didn't know that and didn't even think to look for that when I made the reservation to camp here because I just assumed that a fire ring was a given wherever you camped.  But campfires are forbidden in the Badlands.  I'll know that for next time.  So, okay, we couldn't make hobo dinners the traditional way, but we could still use the small stove I brought (a wedding present) in the event of an emergency.  But there were a couple of problems with this solution too.  The first was that I had brought the wrong fuel in the incorrect type of container.  So the stove I brought was useless.  So we went up to the Visitor's Center/General Store and got a stove that did fit the propane tanks I brought that I ended up really liking (not that particular night, but I'll talk about that later).  But because it had recently stormed and it was due to continue raining, it was super windy and I couldn't even light the stove no matter how high I turned up the gas.  There was no blocking that much wind.

I had to admit defeat, which really bummed me out.  This trip was not starting off on the right foot.  I think both of us were frustrated on top of tired and hungry.  So we went back to the Visitor's Center and decided to have dinner there that night.  And it was really good!  And it was also nice to take advantage of the weak wifi and send messages to our families that we had arrived safely in the Badlands and were doing okay.  Thanks, modern amenities.

From there, we went back to our tent, did a little journaling, and promptly fell asleep.  Maybe that was me... it doesn't take much for me to fall asleep.

Day 2: Badlands and Off to Wyoming!

In the journal I kept while on this trip, I wrote, "This morning I woke up with a bit of perspective on camping... Part of enjoying camping is taking the challenges and frustrations in stride."  So after dealing with all the rain and disappointment the day before, I woke up and was fully rested and realized that everything we had just gone through is just part of the story we'll tell later.  They were things we could manage, we were safe, we had shelter, and we were fed.  Our basics needs were met.  Weirdly, no matter how much or how little you're roughing it when you're camping, I think it helps you appreciate having these basic needs met.

I woke up earlier than Jenna and weather-wise, things were really looking up.  The clouds hadn't completely cleared, but there was certainly more to the sky than gray and you could even see the sun poking through the clouds, fighting to be seen.  The wind had also died down significantly and so I thought it would be good to try cooking with my new stove.  So I broke out all of our hobo dinner things and began cooking the hamburger patties and then cutting up all of the vegetables.  Because we couldn't start a fire, I did cook everything in tinfoil on top of my stove, so it was good that a lot of things were pre-cooked before I put them into the tinfoil.

This was so relaxing to do.  Yes, a lot of work, but it was nice to get lost in the beautiful weather, preparing the food, and just listening to the sounds of morning.  I have so many favorite parts of this trip, but this, as simple as it was, was definitely one of my favorite moments when I look back.

When Jenna woke up, we ate our "dinners for breakfast," packed up camp, added a bumper sticker to my car, and then hit the road!  But we took the scenic route in order to see more of the Badlands first!

Even though I've visited the Badlands before (many, many years ago... I sound really old...), I did not remember it being so big.  Or so varied in elevation.  At one point we were going up this really big hill that brought back memories of driving on Route 66 with Jack where there were steep parts and hairpin turns and then sudden vast views of the wider areas we were driving in.  It was incredible.  It's also worth noting that at this point, all of the clouds had cleared and there was the purest blue sky and bright sun for miles.  Weather is an odd creature...

The further down the road we went, the more animals we seemed to come across.  Our first new friends were these mountain goats or possibly bighorn sheep.  We never could decide for sure.  If you know, please let me know so we can solve this mystery.  Whatever they were, they were incredible to watch and while they weren't close enough to touch, they didn't get startled the further down the hill (and closer to them) we got.  But we still wanted to give them their space.  Still, we stayed for quite a while just taking pictures and watching them interact with each other.  Later on, we saw prairie dogs in their natural habitat, which I was really excited about!  I think I got a little too close for their comfort because they started squeaking a lot when I started coming down the hill into their prairie.

 It was not long after we finished watching the prairie dogs that we checked the time, saw how much time was left until we would reach our final destination (Cody, WY) that we realized that we ought to get going.  At that point, we knew we'd be arriving in the dark, which wasn't ideal.  But I do think we lived by the philosophy "The adventure is in the journey, not the destination," or however you say it.  We did have a couple more places to stop along the way.

A couple hours later, we crossed over the border of South Dakota and Wyoming and decided to stop in the visitor's center there.  Jenna's phone didn't have any service out on the road, so she wanted to take advantage of the wifi for a little while, and we also wanted to get information about other things to see while we were in Wyoming.

 The lady at the desk in the visitor's center happened to be a former geography teacher, so she gave us the scoop on places we should try and see around Yellowstone and leading up to Cody.  She was incredibly helpful.  We would take two of her suggestions that very day.  The first suggestion was to go and visit Devil's Tower.  I'd never heard of this place before, but this was the location where Close Encounters of the Third Kind was filmed.  I thought it was neat because of movies and folklore (despite not having seen the movie) and Jenna thought it was neat because she's a rock climber.  She knows people who have climbed the tower before and knows how difficult that type of climbing is to do.  It's called crack climbing.  Apparently you have a metal tool (several of varying sizes are with you) that you hang on to and put into cracks on the side of the monument and pull yourself up when you find a space where your tool lodges solidly.  There aren't any ledges for climbers to stop on that we could see.  You can be on the ground or at the top.  There's no stopping in between.  Absolutely crazy.

 I think if we could have, we would have stayed a little longer and maybe walked closer to the base of the tower.  But we needed to keep driving and also, as soon as we walked back down the hill, there was thunder and lightning in the air and we knew it was time to go ASAP.  So we drove back down the hill as pretty much as soon as we left the park and got a quick picture for Jenna by the sign, we hit the road and it immediately started downpouring.  At first, it was enough to slow down and turn the wipers up to full blast, but soon after, even that wasn't enough.  Eventually, we had to stop driving and let the rain subside just a little bit.  It was raining so hard that no matter how slow I went, I could barely see out of the windshield and I didn't want someone to hit me because they were going too fast to see that we were going really slowly.  But after a little waiting, it lightened up a bit and we were able to keep going.  A while after that, the rain subsided entirely.  Weather in Wyoming is WEIRD!

We took the geography teacher's second suggestion next.  From the visitor's center, there were apparently two ways we could take in order to get to Cody.  We could go through Buffalo or we could drive towards Montana but turn at the last minute and take a road through the mountains.

Things got really quiet while we were up in the mountains.  It really felt like we were alone because very occasionally another car would go by.  But we had enough gas, my car had recently been checked out, and even though we weren't sure just how long it would take us to pass through the mountains, we knew we'd be okay.  We went into a cloud bank and stayed there for quite some time, but while up in the clouds, that when it seemed like all the wildlife came out.  It probably helped that it was approaching dusk.  We saw elk, a bobcat (so unexpected!), and two moose (even MORE unexpected!!).

It took another hour or two of driving down the mountain, continuing on the other side, and doing so all in the dark before we passed through Cody and made it to our little cabin hotel.  Our butts were so sore and we were so relieved to have finally made it to our destination!  The journey is great and just as important, but sometimes your destination feels even more incredible once you get there.

I've only written about two full days, but already this trip seems so full!  For now, I will end things here and post a part 2 hopefully soon!

Thanks for Reading!


Thursday, August 2, 2018

I Traveled to Boston! (Part 2)

Welcome back!  Here's part 2 of my Boston trip.  If you missed part 1 and would like to read it, click HERE.

Sunday: Day 3

I was super excited because today, dreams came true.  Today was the day I fulfilled my purpose for going to Boston in the first place-- I went whale watching!  And it was so great!  So around 10am, I boarded a boat to go and do this.  I say a boat, which makes it sound like it was quite a small group going out to do this truly amazing thing.  But it was quite a big boat-- there were lots of families with young kids and there were a couple school groups and weirdos like me who just like whales and are totally okay with embarking on such an adventure on their own and with whoever they happen to be on a boat with.

We took off into Boston Harbor and then into the greater Massachusetts Bay area because there is a marine sanctuary about 20 miles from shore called Stellwagen.  In the summer, you can see all sorts of different whales in Stellwagen, but our main sightings were of humpback whales.  Once we reached Stellwagen territory, the engines stopped and then it was up to us to point out the whales and ask our captain to get a little closer (which they were quick to do).  It was so cool to try and still yourself looking for that giveaway air spout and even cooler when we actually saw the whales come up and then show their tails when they went down into a deep dive.  Just incredible!  They're so much bigger than I ever thought.  It's impossible to conceive of their size if you've never actually seen one in person.  Even then, it took seeing a smaller boat (think average motorboat you'd take on a lake fishing trip) and seeing a whale raise their head extremely close.  Just incredible.

Once whale watching wrapped up, I didn't really do anything... just had a low-key evening, especially since my already sunburned self got even more sunburned and was in a lot of pain.  So it was a stay in and watch Hulu kind of night.

Monday: Day 4

Today was another day that I was really looking forward to-- a day trip to Salem!  I have a lot of uncommon (maybe?) interests and one of those interests is the Salem Witch Trials.  So since I was so geographically close, I made sure to take my chance!  And taking that chance meant braving the Massachusetts commuter train.  I had a little bit of a hiccup with getting a ticket in the first place, but actually, catching trains is SO much easier than I thought it was, so once I had my ticket and knew which line I wanted, it was so easy to find my train and get where I needed to go.  Good practice for Europe later this summer :)

There are a few memorials related to the Salem Witch Trials, such as benches with the names of the victims on them.  I found those, which were located next to a small graveyard.  There were a few people who played a part in the trials who were buried in that churchyard, but none of them were the victims of the trials.  I read somewhere later on that the bodies of the victims were likely taken away by their families and buried quietly elsewhere.  I don't think they were allowed to be buried in the graveyard.

One of the best (and also corniest) things I visited was the Salem Witch Museum.  It's cool because it tells the story of the trials and it talks about the evolution of witches and how scapegoats are created, but it's corny in that there are a lot of mannequins that tell the story of the trials.  But if you're looking for an overview or a refresher on this part of history, this is a really great place to visit first thing.

I also visited The Witch House which is a big house painted black, but it was the home of one of the judges of the Witch Trials.  It was fine and parts of it were interesting, but I likely won't come back for a second visit when I return to Boston in the future.

The last couple of things that I did was stop at Gulu-Gulu Cafe and had an amazing lunch (a sandwich of brie, apples, ham, and caramelized onions on brioche bread... so good!  And I've made it myself several times since returning home!) and I visited Wynott's Wands.  One thing I admire about Salem is how they have accepted their history and embraced its fame in other kitschy ways.  They don't cover up the fact that the Witch Trials happened, but they talk about it and talk about modern-day examples of the same thing happening.  Then they embrace the "witch" part of "Witch Trials" and there are tons of places to get tarot readings, buy herbs, and then there are places like Wynott's Wands where you can get a wand of your own.  It's a really unique town.  Definitely one of my highlights of this trip.

 Tuesday: Day 5

 Today was my last day in Boston.  My flight wasn't until later that day though, so I didn't want to just waste the day.  But I was also still painfully sunburnt, so I wanted to avoid being out in the direct sun as much as possible.  I had to check out of my amazing AirBnB at noon, so I stayed until then cleaning my room, writing in the guest book, catching up on journaling, watching Hulu, and then with my suitcase and everything, I went to the New England Aquarium.  

I wasn't originally planning to visit the aquarium, but the stars aligned where this was just the best choice for the day.  They had a place to store my suitcase and it was indoors and dark in a lot of places.  It was the perfect way to spend the afternoon, even though there were a lot of middle school students there on a field trip at the same time.  I had to fight to turn teacher mode off, especially when they did stupid things like stand on the stairs and in the middle of doorways.  I just have to accept that they're a) not 100% aware of where their bodies are in time and space just yet and b) NOT MY STUDENTS and therefore not my concern (unless of course they were in legitimate danger, which they weren't).

After lunch at the aquarium and some down time where I just sat and read my book for a while, it was time to go to the airport and head home.

I have fallen in love with Boston and now I want to explore more of Massachusetts.  I will most assuredly be returning to this state!

Thank you very much for reading!  I'll be writing about my other travels from this summer as I am able.