Sunday, November 22, 2009

I Took the Road Less Taken

I took the road less taken; now where in the hell am I?

I was headed south through Mississippi, intending to pick up the Trace part of the way, and then head to New Orleans. But the weather reports were talking about Hurricane Ida. Even if she didn't hit full force, it was going to be wet and windy. So, I turned right.

The right turn took me through Leland, Mississippi, birthplace of Kermit the Frog. It was Sunday and the museum of Jim Henson's life and beginnings in this delta town was closed. But I ate my lunch with Kermit, who watched over my picnic table.

National Civil Rights Museum

One of my reasons for visiting Memphis, was to return to the National Civil Rights Museum. I plan to write an article on this excellent museum for one of the RV magazines.

I remember my first visit and the sense of deja vu. As Lin and I walked from the parking lot, through the entrance gate, I felt I had been there before. Then I realized I had been there; in news clips and newspaper photos.

The museum in in the former Lorraine Motel. As we entered the area, the balcony where Martin Luther King, Jr.'s life ended was in front of us. The same aqua blue doors, the cars below, the motel facade was as we remembered it.

This trip there were some differences. They have removed the wall that separated the parking area from the museum. It does open up the approach from the street, but I thought the previous arrangement was stronger. But the exterior is still the Lorraine motel. Inside, they have gutted the motel, except for the room King and Abernathy occupied and the room next door. The rest of the museum winds in a logical and easy to follow progression through the years from the first resistance to slavery to modern times. Some of this history I know only from classes and reading.

But some of the displays evoke memories from the sixties and incidents I remember well. The Civil Rights movement and the Vietnam War era are part of who I am, how I look at the world. I remember my high school graduation when one seat was missing. One of my classmates left before graduation ceremonies to go to Alabama to register voters. Our principal called his name, just as all the graduates names were called, and explained why he was not there that night.

The route through the museum takes you into a city bus where a plaster figure of Rosa Parks sits and you listen to the words of her quiet resistance. You turn a corner and see a lunch counter. Photos on the walls depict Bull Connor, police dogs and fire hoses, and leaders of our country, the Kennedy's, LBJ, sitting down with leaders of the civil rights movement, to discuss the issues. There are photos of marching in the streets. There are photos of the brave children who integrated the Little Rock schools, James Meredith, the bombed churches, the March on Washington where you can listen to a recording of King's famous
"I Have a Dream" speech or read his letters from the Birmingham Jail. There are photos of people, white and black, who lost their lives in the movement.

And there are photos of the inauguration of Barack Obama.

If you are near Memphis, be sure to take in the museum. Beale Street is only a short ways away for jazz and eating afterwards.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

The route to Arizona

I left Yellowstone in snow and traveled east. I had several places I wanted to visit. A GPS would have said the logical route from Yellowstone to Arizona, where I want to spend the winter, is to go south through Salt Lake.
I don't have a GPS for a reason. It would probably be handy finding places in cities, but I like maps, I like asking for directions, and I like the back roads and the serendipitous findings.
The things on my agenda included a visit to Charlotte Robinson McLaughlin. Char and I grew up together. I was a mere 9 months old when our parents met and became lifelong friends. Char was older, often our babysitter. She lives in Bismarck, ND.
It was a good chance to visit. We talked, and talked, and talked. And in between we ate (her mom, Adina, was a great cook and Char is super), we walked, and I got to know her husband, Jim. I left a day earlier than planned to miss snow and ice, but was glad for the time we had.
The watercolor calendar which hangs on the refrigerator in my motorhome is Char's work. Some of you have seen it.

The second place to visit on my list was my aunts in Michigan. Mom's two younger sisters still live in the area where they grew up on an apple farm.
Getting to southwestern Michigan can be done a couple of ways.
One of the ways is to go near Chicago. I didn't want to do that. The other way is the scenic route. And so, I traveled back roads through Minnesota and Wisconsin, picked up Hwy 2 and headed into the UP. Big big interstates are handy for truckers and people in a hurry. I am neither.
Minnesota is wild rice, 10,000 lakes, and Paul Bunyan country. I know why there are 10.000 lakes. They need them to catch all the water that was falling as I traveled through.

Those are good sized trees in the background, just to give you some scale.

When I reached Michigan's Upper Peninsula I called my cousin, Dick. He and Jan live in Indiana. I said I would call well ahead of my visit in case they were at the family cabin in Charlevoix, which is below the UP but still in north western Michigan. Jan answered the cell phone and it turned out they were on a vacation to the UP. We were several hours apart. So, we made plans to meet at Alberta, site of Henry Ford's model lumber company town.
We arrived within 5 minutes of each other, wandered thru the museum (Ford needed lumber for the frames of the early cars), and then went to lunch together. More about visiting Dick and Jan later. I also stayed with them for several days in IN, after the sun came out.
Fall color was good in the UP but the weather wasn't. Years ago, Lin and I spent a good deal of time exploring there. This time forecasts called for continued rainy, grey, cold weather with chances of snow. So, I did not linger.
It seemed it rained constantly across Minnesota, Wisconsin, the UP and southwest Michigan. Looking at my photos, I realize that not only did it not rain quite constantly, it wasn't even grey the entire time. Occasionally the sun broke through, though never for long. When it did, I grabbed the camera and got some fall color.
roadside rest stop in the UP

Time with family

My mom grew up in southwestern Michigan after the first 5 years of life in Idaho. Her sisters Eilleen and Ruth still live there.

That's my aunt, Ruth, with her niece, and my cousin, Margaret. We headed out to the orchards to pick apples. Margaret's mom, my Aunt Eilleen was busy picking behind me when I snapped this photo. Eilleen and I made up a couple large batches of applesauce, a tiny bit of which I still have in my freezer. Margaret went home and made pies.

Eilleen and I spent some time looking at old family photos. She is a "saver" and still has some of the letters my mom wrote her over the years. She is going thru the boxes now, rereading, and then, hopefully, sending more of them to me. I already have a treasure; a letter my Mom wrote on the train, SPAR (women's coast guard) stationery, between Florida and Chicago. I am hoping Eilleen still has the letters Mom sent from her post in Ketchikan, Alaska.

My maternal grandparents, Ross V. Dilley and Gail Maxfield Dilley neither of whom I ever met as they were deceased well before my birth.

While I was in Michigan I saw cousins Margaret, Bill and his wife, Barb. They are the offspring of Eilleen. I have committed to returning to Michigan for Eilleen's 100th birthday which is just four years away.
I also got to see Ruth's daughter-in-law and her grandson Ross who now runs the orchards. I got caught up on other family which I didn't get to see, but who Ruth and Eilleen have seen.

The sun came out when I reached W. Lafayette, IN . And it stayed out while I visited "Dilley Park," home of my cousin Dick Dilley and his wife Jan. Here is my motorhome, getting ready to leave, after a delightful several day stay. In front are my cousin, Dick, with the white hair. If he looks like he isn't very tall, rest assured he is 6 ft plus. It is just that son Neil, is really tall. Neil and his delightful son, Reese, were out for a business trip which Neil was able to combine with visiting. Grandparents got time with Reese, mom got a little vacation, and I got to get to know more of my extended family. I also met Anna, Dick and Jan's oldest grand-daughter, now a freshman at Purdue.
My friend Rebecca, roommate and exploring companion from the years I worked at Bodie State Park, met me for breakfast in W. Lafayette. She and her son had made a trip back to Pennsylvania and were on their way home to Calif. Who would have ever suspected a meeting in the mid-west for the two of us.?
Off traveling again, I hit the secondary highways and rural routes. South through Indiana and then east across Kentucky

I stopped at the South Union Shaker Community on my way across Kentucky. It wasn't a planned stop, but I saw the sign and made a pleasant detour. This is the laundry room. The photo below is the exterior of one of the buildings.

I thought I'd pull into Mammoth Caves National Park for a night. It ended up being a couple. I did do a cave tour, but I am not a "cave person." I much preferred the scenery on the surface. There are some great hiking and walking trails, the fall foliage was beautiful.
I especially liked the waterfall spilling over one of the cave entrances I could have kept going south from Indiana. One of those items on my "agenda" was to revisit the National Museum of Civil Rights in Memphis and do a short article on it for one of the RV magazines. But there was yet another detour.

Fellow Yellowstone driver\guide Larry Crowe comes from eastern Tennessee and he laid out the southern hospitality invitation. After a great day of photographing together in Yellowstone, he suggested I might like the Great Smokies which, when he is not in Yellowstone or gallivanting around the globe, are close to where he lives. So I took him up on his offer, parked my motorhome on his property, abandoned all ideas of reasonable eating, and had a great visit.
We had rain. But then the weather turned perfect. We did some photographing at a nature area nearby and a full day in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Some of those photos are below. Going out with other serious photographers is good for me. It gets me back into the excitement of it and gets me to do things I should do, like use a tripod and get down close to see things. I had the same kinds of experiences in Yellowstone when Ronnie Silver visited or when I went out with Doug.

Conditions were ideal; fog, dew and sunshine. For a bit we were concerned that fog would win out. Instead, we had patches of fog and enough sun to highlight fall colors.

I have several photos in my files of other photographers at work. You'll see Ronnie, in her red cap, among frosted wildflowers in Yellowstone in that blog

The above is part of my Betty "Monet" group.
Below "ya'll come visit, ya hear," as Larry extends Tennessean hospitality to friends. He lives near Mervil, but if you are looking for it on the map, check for Maryville. That's how they say "thangs" around there.

Next stop, after a night at a Walmart in route, was David Crockett State Park in Lawrenceburg. It ended up being a several day stay. Beautiful spot and close to Amish country in nearby Ethridge (no, there are no photos in deference to the wishes of the people) but I enjoyed driving through the country, seeing the large farm houses, the black buggies, and stopping to buy bread and preserves and to look at furniture and quilts.
I explored the Natchez Trace. Lin and I drove the full length of the Trace years ago, but I opted for a couple day trips, with camera. The photos below are from that exploration.

To the right is a section of the old Trace, a road which lead from Natchez to Memphis.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Summer in Yellowstone

Lower Falls of the Yellowstone River. Early in the season fellow photo guide, Doug Hilborn and I checked timing for catching the rainbow from this vantage point. It only lasts about 15 minutes so the challenge was to get our guests there in time. If conditions didn't allow a rainbow or we were late, there was an osprey nest below the look out.
Yellowstone National Park

Yellowstone, the world's first national park, is a diverse set of images. It is the ancient geological history. It is its status as an active volcano. It is abundant wildlife. It is water, in all its forms, from ice to steam. It is geysers, superheated water of geothermal features and steam rising from the cold waters of Yellowstone Lake into the even cooler air of a Fall morning. It is ice crystals on vegetation.
It is wildflowers, forests, open meadows, canyons, rivers, peaks. It is also the yellow vintage l936-38 open top touring buses that I drive. It is the visitors to the park and my fellow employees.
This year my assignment was a bit different from last year when I drove tours to the Beartooths and the Tetons. I missed those. But I had a new challenge. I did photo tours. In the past these have been 5 days a week out of both Lake and Old Faithful areas. This year I filled in the extra two days at each location to make the tours 7 days a week. I occassionally filled in on additional tours.
I continued to live in the employee RV park at Lake. I like the quieter, calmer setting of Lake to Old Faithful. But it was good to spend two days and nights a week at Old Faithful. I got to know that area of the park better and enjoyed sharing a cabin with Erica, step-on guide and bus washer. Great "roomie."

My cabin
Park Photography
The first government survey of what was to become YNP was led by geologist Dr. Ferdinand Vandiveer Hayden, a man named by Native Americans as "the man who runs picking up rocks," due to his energetic and enthusiastic pursuit of geology. Trained as a medical doctor, Hayden spent his time as a geologist. Brilliant, one of his most telling strokes of genius was including artists in his expedition crew. Thomas Moran, later to become a famous western painter, and William Henry Jackson, an early photographer, recorded the wonders of the Yellowstone region.
When Hayden made his report to Congress, he made sure the Congressmen had seen those photographs and some of the paintings in advance. In short order, Congress passed and the President signed the bill establishing our first national park.
In light of that proud and important photographic history, here are some of my visual images of Yellowstone. They are scattered over several posts so keep scrolling down.
Goose Lake and Bobby sox trees in September. Fellow driver\guide and photographer, Larry, and I did a bicycle and hike jaunt out to Fairy Falls. This scene was on the way and one of my favorite photos from the summer.

Friends in Yellowstone

I returned to Yellowstone with a sense of returning home. Like my seasons at Bodie, coming back meant old friends to greet me, the promise of new friendships, and visits by friends from the world outside Yellowstone.
I had to put up with the usual comments about women drivers from fellow driver Ted, who is older than dirt. Also some comments about the odor of camel dung. Its all in fun, as is refering to him as a door stop. Fellow photo guide, Doug, spent a lot of time with me, getting me up to speed. I didn't get to know Lisa, the Old Faithful photo guide, last year, but she did the same for me on the west side of the park.
Last year I played Scrabble a couple times in the late season with a group. This year I started off the season, enjoying the comraderie, a good deal of wine, and the game one evening a week.
It was fun to rejoin the transportation crew, seeing people I trained with as well as some who have been here awhile and helped all us "newbies" last year.
I reconnected with the campground folks, many people from last year as well as new ones. Bethanie had saved me the site I wanted and gave me a warm welcome.
I met a great group of young women from Mongolia. Early in the season I went into a dorm at Old Faithful area to try to get an internet signal. Several girls came in, talking and laughing. I wasn't positive, but the language sounded a bit familiar. So I asked. Yes, they were from Mongolia and were delighted to learn I had visited their country and their city of Ulan Bataar. We became friends.

Here are Tuul, Toomey and Muugi.

Several times we used my car to visit other places in the park. One of my "beefs" with Xanterra, my employer, is the limited opportunity for international students, who make up a large portion of the work force, to get around. There is no public transportation except for the tour buses. They may ride those on a space available basis, but those don't take them to neighboring towns to shop or look around, there isn't always room, and it doesn't allow visiting from one site to another. The recreation department sponsors some trips and those are great, but they are limited in number and have to be fitted into work schedules.
I regularly gave rides to employees. Often they hitchike in groups, holding up a sign with destination and indication they are employees. Always a fun experience for me to learn about where they are from, what they are studying, and their experiences in the US.
Enough on the soap box. I just wish there were more opportunities for these young people to see more during their work summer.
One of the young women, Tuul, spent a weekend with me. She stayed one night in my motorhome and we did some touring aroung the Lake area. The next day we headed to Cody. Included in our visit was a night at the rodeo, bbq dinner, trip to see wild horses out on a BLM area, and some shopping. Had a great time.
Tuul and Muugi made me a Mongolian dinner. All the girls got glowing reports from their supervisors. And they all got promotions during the summer. Tuul and Muugi worked in the guest cafeteria and their boss gave them permission to fix food, after hours, in the kitchen, not a privilege normally granted. They made a meat soup and dumplings for me and brought them to my cabin.
I had a lot of visitors this summer. Two of them were friends from elementary school. Gayle, who now lives in England, started kindergarden with me. Bonnie Jo joined us in 4th grade and now lives in Idaho. We had a good mini-reunion accompanied by Gayle's cousin from Saskatchewan.

My second cousins came for "Cousins' Camp." The idea originated when Sharon bravely took a half dozen grandkids to Disneyland one year. Well, it was time for an adult version. Last year Bonnie and Glende visited and I welcomed them with a major June snowstorm and the cancellation of the Hstoric Yellow Bus tour to the Beartooth Pass. This year Sharon joined them and the weather was beautiful.
They all went on one of my photo tours at Old Faithful. After Old Faithful, they spent a couple nights at Lake and we did an all day excursion to the Beartooths which I was unable to show them the previous year. It is a spectacular place and we saw more wildlife that day than I usually see in a week or two. Besides a number of grizzlies and black bears, we saw a wolf, coyotes, bison, pronghorn, marmots, mountain goats, big horn sheep, a moose (always a treat and not seen often), osprey, eagles, white pelicans and more.
Joan and Doug Young, members of the Diable Valley Camera Club, of which we were members for many years came for a day. We managed to crowd a lot in during that short time.
Tom Casey was a "jammer" driver at Glacier the year I worked there. He came through for a visit and would like to get on in Yellowstone.

And of course, RV friends came. These are part of my extended family so it was good to welcome Chuck Wright, Nan Aman, Nancy and Tom Doyle, Ronnie and Rob Silver. Merrymans were going to come, but were blocked by the late season fire. But I got to see them in the Tetons along with Jan and Tim Johnsons. Hadn't see Diane and Dave West for years but met them and Doyles and others for a bbq in West Yellowstone and some sightseeing around Old Faithful and a short ride in my Yellow bus. The Meads came and we celebrated Ron's birthday in the Old Faithful dining room. Gail Annis, another RVer is an employee of the Yellowstone Association, provided a place for Sharon and Ron's bus conversion.

Hope I haven't forgotten was a busy summer. I didn't include photos of everyone. Some are buried in my files, yet to be fully organized.

Ronnie and I spent an early morning out photographing. Had a great time. Grasses and flowers were frosted.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Wildflowers and wild animals

I saw this elk in the early season while on a training session with Doug, one of the photo guides in Yellowstone.

Salsify is an invasive, or non native species. The huge dandelion-like seed heads are quite spectacular. People are amazed to learn Yellowstone has White Pelicans. They are commonly seen in the park, especially near the outlet of Yellowstone Lake where they fish for Cutthroat Trout.

Grizzlies and Black Bears and more

Each season brings new wildlife and wildflower sightings in Yellowstone. Above is a grizzly, in the spring. Photo was taken out the window opening of my car. The Black Bear and cub below were photographed in early July during a visit from my cousins. We saw more wildlife in one day, during their visit, than I usually see in a week or two. They were impressed, but may still think it was normal for me.

Spring is late in Yellowstone, so Indian Paintbrush is still blooming in August, long after its season would be over in coastal northern California where I knew it as a kid.

The cow elk, in June is with her young calf, not more than a day or two old.

The marmot lived under the cabin I used two nights a week at Old Faithful

The bison rut starts in August. Usually there is a lot of grunting and close attention of males to females and shows of aggression toward any other male who comes close. Most times, one of the males backs off. This scene included a battle.

This Everts (or Elk) Thistle is named for a member of an early expedition into the Yellowstone territory. Lost from the rest of his party and having failed to secure his horse before climbing a lookout point, he had only a knife and spotting scope for survival. When found, he was barely alive and hallucinating. His diet had consisted mainly of these thistles.
Employees in the late 60s and 70s had to try them. Turns out they have no hallucinogenic properties.

A curious pronghorn watches me from a distance. On the right, a cow moose and her twin calves frequented an area just outside the east entrance of the park. I saw them there several times when I made trips to Cody to shop. The nearest grocery store, other than a few basic items at the camp stores in the park, was 80 miles away. Perhaps not very convenient, but how many shoppers get to see moose, grizzlies, Sandhill Cranes, and eagles on their way to the market?