Monday, January 18, 2016

Road Trip To Jackson Hole Wyoming

Sunday, December 27, 2015:
I woke up at 5:55am, showered and then spent forty-five minutes packing my Jeep with all of the items we’d need for our trip in the upcoming days.  I finally got out of my garage at 7:18am, drove to McDonalds on Olive and Verdugo, grabbed two Egg McMuffins and a large orange juice, and parked on the side of Olive Avenue.  As I ate them all up, I called Brenda to wake her up, telling her to be ready by 9:00am.  She had spent the last two days at her mother, Letha’s, house after a Christmas day gathering at her brother’s home in Bakersfield. 

I got to Brenda’s mother’s house at 9:20am and let Susie out to pee in her back yard, then packed Brenda’s bags into my Jeep.  Brenda then misplaced her make up bag and searched her mother’s house for twenty minutes, which ended up being in a bag she had already thrown in the Jeep.  We then got on the road, straight up Interstate 5 and arrived in Oakland about fifty minutes late for my aunt’s memorial, which had actually only gotten started about fifteen minutes beforehand due to everyone being late arriving from varying parts of the state. I nervously read a heartfelt speech that I had prepared for the event.  Everyone seemed to appreciate it.
Brenda and I then went back to her mother’s home to say goodbye to her aunt and uncle who had driven out from Oklahoma for the holidays and were leaving the next morning, and then started our trip. 

Monday, December 28th, 2015:
Brenda and I woke up in Reno after a late night drive there.  We got breakfast in the Western Village Casino in-house diner, and then got onto the road, Interstate 80.  We passed through Lovelock, Winnemucca, Elko, through very frosty and icy road conditions where we drove away from the highway to find a spot for Susie to pee near a ranch and watched a long, desolate train about seven miles away blowing it’s whistle as it was moving north.  We then passed through Wells, and over a seven thousand foot pass, the Pequop Mountain Range in Eastern Nevada.  The road was even more frosty and icy all the way from Elko to the town of Wendover.  We stopped at the latter town to walk out dog and to get bathroom breaks.  The temperature was in the twenties.  We arrived in Salt Lake City and stayed at the La Quinta Inn near Wright Brother’s Boulevard, just west of downtown Salt Lake. 

Tuesday, December 29th, 2015:
We awoke and then got directly on the road, stopping at McDonalds for a quick breakfast to go.  I asked a couple of workers while waiting for my order at McD’s how the drive was up north with possible snow and such.  But none of them knew anything of the conditions around other than in Salt Lake City. 

Most of the way northwards out of Salt Lake on Interstate 15 was signed at eighty miles per hour, which I hadn’t recalled seeing before then.  The highway is very long and straight with curves that are sweeping and probably no more than 1 degree change every five thousand feet.  So it’s easy to sit at high speed with one’s cruise control on and just watch the topography of the land and mountains drift by rapidly.  As the sun set, we were finally heading through Idaho and into Wyoming up icy and winding mountain curves, reaching a summit that quickly brought us down into the Jackson Hole Valley where we soon arrived at The Elk Country Inn.  We stayed at their hotel room section, though we found that they also had individual cabins. 

We got ourselves situated in our room and then headed across the street to a Mexican restaurant where I had a very large margarita.  On the way there, we had to cross through a walking easement next to another hotel that was full of thick, powdery snow.

Wednesday, December 30, 2015:
We woke up late to find the cleaning crew of the hotel already well into making up rooms.  So we vacated ours with our dog and set out to get a few ski clothes so that we could be well insulated.  The temperature was constantly hanging around between seven degrees and negative fourteen degrees Fahrenheit.  We then drove to King Ski Resort in town, and then to Jackson Hole Ski Resort in Teton Village.  We scouted around to determine the better place to ski should we choose to ignore to ski.  We also checked out what we felt would be the best place for our New Years celebration.  It was called the Cowboy Bar, located directly in the midst of downtown Jackson, and is a huge bar with billiard tables, three bar counters, a stage for band and great western décor.  They had horse saddles as barstools, which was really unique. We planned to get there in the late afternoon tomorrow (New Years Eve) to ensure that we get a table near the stage. 

After a late lunch at a burger place in town, and then a relaxing nap back at our hotel, we had dinner at Calico Italian Restaurant in Wilson, just a ten-minute drive northwest of Jackson.  It was a nicely wooded place inside, and since we arrived about a half hour before closing, we had dinner at tall wood tables in the bar area, which was cozy. 

Thursday, December 31st, 2015:

Brenda and I woke up and went to the Virginian Diner, which is an adjunct to a hotel of the same name.  They had the greatest breakfast. I ordered a cheese omelet with potatoes and bacon on the side, plus two orange juices.  Brenda tried for the first time Juevos Rancheros, which she enjoyed. 

We then drove past the National Elk Refuge north towards Yellowstone, but stopped at a plateau adjacent to a very large, jagged mountain range to the northwest, which we later discovered were the world famous Grand Tetons.  We needed to stop and turn around to make it back to the Elk Country Inn by 3:30pm so that Brenda would have enough time to change into her New Years Eve clothes.  We then headed out on foot at 5:30pm to the Cowboy Bar.  This bar is the most impressive bar that I’ve ever seen.  It has three bar counters, which have horse saddles instead of stools.  There are billiard tables and there is a steak grill downstairs. 

Brenda and I had scouted out the bar a day before and were able to choose literally the best table in the house for the band that would start to play at 9:00pm.  In the mean time, we left our jackets on our chairs and then played billiards, two games, both of which I won.  They passed out hats, glasses and horn sounders for New Years.  Brenda and I then went back to our table and waited, ordering some items to eat and drink. 

Then, a woman came out with a headset on with a few other older adults, and they started swing dancing.  After a couple of songs, she invited the audience to learn to swing dance, which Brenda and I did.  It was a lot of fun, and Brenda and I learned four sets of moves.  By the time the band, Candy Brooks & Beyond Control, got started, the place was nearly full.  I estimated that there were about four hundred people in the large bar.  We watched as the band dedicated a song to a sergeant and his wife to have their first dance, which can be found on YouTube. 

As the evening went on, we danced and watched a lot of young people dancing and drinking.  And as I mentioned, we had the perfect perch from which to watch it all.  At midnight, everyone celebrated and we all cheered and took photos, and Brenda and I kissed our New Years Kiss.  At 1:30am, we walked back to our hotel.

Friday, January 1, 2016:
The unfortunate thing was that we had to move to new lodging, a bed and breakfast, this morning after New Years.  It wasn’t because of lack of quality of the Elk Country Inn, but rather because I had originally looked on Yelp and found good reviews for a hotel, which had been our original destination.  When I called for reservations while back in Burbank, they said they could only have us starting January 1st, and that I should try to stay at the Elk Country Inn up to that date, which we did.  What I only found out when I called the Bed and breakfast back to finalize the second portion of our reservations was that it was a bed and breakfast.  Brenda and I are probably one of the only couples on this planet that doesn’t like bed and breakfasts.  We stayed in three in gold rush country, and we didn’t like the overly intimate socialized setting that it creates.  We like more autonomy for our comings and goings, and we like a more populated type of lodging, than bed and breakfasts settings provide. 

And so, sure enough after leaving our first hotel and upon arriving at the bed and breakfast, Brenda and I both had the same reaction, which was that we found the rooms small, a d the B & B somewhat out by itself as compared to the Elk Country Inn; we both felt a little claustrophobic inside.  So I spoke with the owner to see if they could arrange a refund of some sort, or maybe a fee charge.  She said she would take it up with her husband tomorrow. So for tonight, we’re here.  I blame myself because when I called back during making the reservations the second time, and they told me it was a bed and breakfast, I should have put a stop to it right there and just extended our reservations at the Elk Country Inn.  So whatever fee we’ll have to pay will be my price for learning a lesson. 

After all of that, Brenda and I drove to another side (the east side) of the National Elk Refuge, which is arrived at by going north downtown.  We saw a few big horned sheep and plenty of elk.  The light was fading, but we were able to get a few photos with my telephoto lens.  We then went to dinner at Bubba’s BBQ Restaurant next to where our first hotel was and had a tasty meal.  Brenda is a little burned out tonight from last nights affairs and having to get up early for the hotel move, and she has a slight headache.  I’m tired too, but am doing okay.  Tomorrow, we plan to go on a sleigh ride to watch the elk in the National Elk Refuge. 

Saturday, January 2nd, 2016:
Brenda and I woke up and had a late breakfast at the bed and breakfast comprised of a small bowl of granola, milk and also some orange juice.  The husband owner sat with me at the dining table and showed me some maps of the terrain and topography, telling me a bit about the inversion layers that occur here in Jackson Hole making the valley floor much colder than the skiing elevations.  Brenda talked with the wife owner about dogs and wildlife. They were very nice people. 

We then discussed how to work out the fact that we no longer wanted to stay there and they suggested keeping the second night’s cost, the night that we would not be there anymore, but refunding the third and fourth night.  I was fine with this, and we all agreed to it. I booked one of the individual cabins back at the Elk Country Inn that we had seen and we loaded our belongings into the Jeep and made for elk country.  After getting settled in our cabin, we went and got two Egg McMuffins and OJ’s, and then drove to the Visitor’s Center on Casche Street to buy tickets for the National Elk Refuge Sleigh Ride and got on the bus for it. 

The National Elk Refuge in Jackson, Wyoming, sits just a few miles north of the town.  The bus driver gave us a quick history on the refuge and then dropped us off at the sleighs.  Each sleigh has two draft horses, the breed name I forget, but he said it was closely associated with the Clydesdale, but more muscular.  They may have been Brabants or Friesians.  They are very strong workhorses nevertheless, and pull large wooden sleighs with about twenty people per ride.  We went out into the ten thousand elk and first saw two bald eagles in a tree, and then went on to get very close to very large bull elk with six point antlers.  They were beautiful.  We went into several pockets of them spread over about a half of a mile, then after about a half hour, headed in back to the docking area.  The temperatures were minus thirteen degrees, and while the ride was going, we had all of our warm gear on plus the sleighs were loaded with fuzzy lap blankets.  Still, after all was said and done, I got a cold the next day.  But it was far worth the experience. I photographed elk at distances that were unattainable in nature otherwise. In addition, I had my 70-300mm zoom lens on my camera. 

Once back from the ride, I realized that I had confused the entire day as being Sunday, when it was really Saturday, which meant that we weren’t yet going to go see some swing dancing we had heard about at a bar called the Stagecoach in Wilson.  Instead, we both retired to our cabin and rested. 

Sunday, January 3rd, 2016:
We awoke and got ourselves ready for a bit of exploring.  First, we drove to Teton Village Ski Resort to see about riding the gondola up to the top of the mountain where there are several restaurants.  We found out that the eateries close at 2:00pm, so we bought tickets for the next day, and then we headed up highway 191 to Flagg Ranch, which is the winter turnaround point below Yellowstone.  On the way up, Brenda and I saw groups of bison eating near the highway, and then at a desolate bridge, we came upon a moose that was standing in the middle of the road.  The light was starting to get dimmer, but I was able to get a few shots of him as he walked into the forest near the river that we were parked over.  We got to the end of the road, where there was a market of some sort closed for the winter, probably for summer campers, and we headed back to Jackson.  It was dark by then and we slowly made our way past the beautiful frozen lakes, such as Jackson Lake, that we had seen coming up in the daylight.  The road was mostly frozen until about twenty-five miles north of Jackson.  As we passed by Jackson airport, we drove into the parking area of it to have a look, then continued south where with my bright high beams on, a moose suddenly appeared in the middle of the road out of the dark.  This was not a surprise as there are a plethora of signs indicating the highway speed to be forty-five miles per hour at night because of loose moose.  Yet, when he appeared, it startled both Brenda and me because of its size.  Luckily, there was no oncoming traffic, so I was able to swerve into the northbound lane of the two-lane road to avoid hitting his ass.  It was pretty funny once it was all over.  The moose had such a nonchalant attitude as if he were somehow transparent and impervious to the huge, speeding cars zooming down highway 191.

When we arrived back to our cabin, we fed our dog and then went out for pizza at Pinky G’s, a mom and pop pizza parlor.  It was just what I had been looking for; a place to relax, watch some TV, eat pizza and chugalug some lemonade.  Perfect!  Afterwards, we went to the Stagecoach in Wilson hoping to see some swing dancing, but the band was on break and it looked like that part of the evening was over.  There were more people than places to see and it looked like an older cowboy pick up bar by this hour.  Also, I had tweaked by back earlier in the morning, probably from having had to move luggage five times already during our trip, so I told Brenda I was expired for the night, and we went back to the cabin and watched the USA channel on cable where they played, “The Lone Ranger.”  Johnny Depp is really a great actor. 

Monday, December 4, 2016:
We woke up, and while Brenda got ready, I went up to the post office to mail two postcards; one from Brenda to her mom, and one from me to Eric Olson.  Brenda and I then drove to Teton Village Ski Resort and made good on those two tickets for the gondola we had purchased the day before.  They were also worth $10.00 each for food at the top.  The views were spectacular.  We must have ridden up two thousand feet, and by the way, there is a tram that holds a hundred people, which goes up four thousand feet.  But no food at the top of that one.  So we took the gondola up.

We found a casual dining cafeteria amongst the fancy restaurants up there and we used our meal tickets to eat lunch and people watch.  There were so many families and youngsters all garbed up in their ski clothes (obviously), which I find fun to note. After that, we went outside where the skiers started down the hill and we took photos of the spectacular views.  It was so beautiful to see the horizon filled with blue and while snow capped mountains as far as the eye could see.  Several people asked me to take their photos since I presumably was a good photographer with a Canon and a zoom lens strapped around my neck. I obliged.  After about an hour of taking in the gorgeous scenery, Brenda and I headed down the gondola and set for our next adventure.  I should note here that the reason we didn’t ski was two-fold; we had so much in terms of sightseeing we wanted to do, and also my back was really bothering me.  Had we skied, it would have been today.  But I just couldn’t.  No problem.  I have been skiing since I was five years old, and we’ll ski here next time! 

Our next adventure was to go and find a moose in the daytime.  I wanted to capture one clearly on my camera.  None of this “moose surprising us on the roadway” stuff again, or hiding in the forest.  We wanted to see one close up and well lit.  So we headed back up the 191, but this time, we made a right on a small road that that Brenda noticed and headed northeast.  Along the way we saw more groups of bison and elk, a warm spring that was steaming up from the frozen snow and ice around it.  It was called Kelly Warm Spring.  We drove far on this road to a point where the snow and ice was so predominant on the hilly roads that I thought better of continuing forward.  We turned around and got some great photos of The Gros Ventre Ranch and some old abandoned log cabins and such, and then continued on another tributary of this lonely road.  As the light was starting to recede, we came upon a white Audi parked with its lights on, back facing away from us.  I knew they had to be looking at something.  And as we approached in my Jeep, I saw that it was a moose, eating from bushes buried in the snow, carefree as could be.  I shut my lights and engine off and got to work with my telephoto lens and I grabbed some great shots of the moose as the sun was setting.  It was gorgeous both to see the moose doing his thing (it was a “he” because this bull a big antler rack…see, size matters in the animal kingdom), and because we were now on such a remote road with just pure white snow and mountains surrounding the valley we were sitting in.  And the Audi eventually left and we had it all to ourselves. 

We then went to a Mexican restaurant nearby that we had wanted to try.  It was good, but didn’t have the atmosphere that the first place had.  After dinner, we stopped by the front desk of our motel and got hot chocolate as we did every evening before retiring to our cabin.  This time though, having heard that there might be snow the next day, I asked the two front desk clerks what the procedure exactly was when it started snowing in the way of tire chains.  They said that there would be a chain law in effect if the snow got heavy and if road conditions deteriorated.  They said that it was possible, but that most people in the area had snow tires, so they would be excluded.  I had no problem with putting on chains on my Jeep since I only had street tires on them.  I had just wanted to know how likely that would be.  They said that as an alternate to going over Teton Pass, a steep pass which was sooner subject to snow than another route they knew of, that I could drive a different way, which they briefly covered for me. 

Tuesday, December 5th, 2016:

Brenda and I woke up at about 9:00am and started packing our belongings.  We had to be out of the cabin by 11:00am, which we did.  The weather over the past two days had gone from blue sky to overcast, and today it was snowing lightly at first, then to medium.  Brenda and I then went to the Virginian Diner to get a last breakfast there and then headed to the downtown area of Jackson so that Brenda could finish getting a few things for people in her family, such as a few snow hats and some T-shirts and sweatshirts.  We walked around the downtown’s wood planked sidewalks for the last time this trip.  As Brenda went into the shops, I went over to the Cowboy Bar gift room and grabbed a couple of shirts for Brenda and I; the cool kind of long sleeve shirts that have small writing on the front, big writing on the back, and some writing down one sleeve.  Just the way I like them. 

After finding each other again, which wasn’t hard because I knew that Brenda likes to thoroughly check each shop that she’s in and doesn’t wander that far off as a result, we got into my Jeep and air smack kissed Jackson Hole, Wyoming goodbye and headed down Broadway Street, then through Wilson for Teton Pass.  As we climbed the pass, the snow falling rate stayed about the same, but the road became much more icy and slushy as we climbed from 6,200 feet up to 8,400 feet.  I could feel my engine lose some of its gusto as the oxygen decreased with altitude.  We were in a small line of automobiles that treaded very slowly and carefully up through, and then down from the pass, feeling little slips and slides along the way.  But once we got down to what I guessed was about 5,000 feet, the road became free of frost and was just simply wet, and so everyone could speed up to a more normal rate of descent. 

The rest of the way to Salt Lake City included roads through bucolic areas.  I grabbed a photo of a shack sitting by itself in the middle of a seemingly whited-out background.  And as we left the foothills of the Tetons, the speed went to eighty miles per hour and we floated back down into Salt Lake City. 

That night, we went through a Wendy’s drive-through for me, to Del Taco drive-through for Brenda, and we searched for a U.S. mail box to deposit a television cable bill that had somehow surfaced in my Jeep that had been meant for mailing before our entire trip.  But we never found a mailbox that night.  We were also surprised how in Salt Lake City, the eateries seemed to be separated by sometimes two miles at a time.  We had driven something like ten miles round trip to do this entire late-night gathering. 

The temperature was now thirty-seven degrees; a far cry from minus fourteen at night in Jackson.  So Susie didn’t have to wear here Velcro sealed pink overcoat anymore during pee walks that Brenda had bought for her before the trip.  Brenda also had cleverly purchased a soft square bed for Susie that fit perfectly into our back passenger seats.  I’m sure that the lack of necessity of the coat was now freeing for Susie.  I also realized that there was still one hotel I had never booked for our trip; that of the next night’s stay.  When I got on the phone, I found out quickly that the stop that made the most sense between Salt Lake City and Burbank was Las Vegas.  We’ve stayed there a lot in recent years, so I checked with the two hotels we tend to stay at; Paris and Rio.  Both were completely booked because of the ongoing CES Conference (International Consumer Electronics Show).  So I got onto Google and looked for other cities and found that there was a very convenient town on our way, not too far from Vegas, called Mesquite, Nevada.  It sits eighty miles northeast of Nevada; just over from the Arizona State boarder by about an eighth of a mile, and the hotel rates were really reasonable.  So I booked it for us.

Wednesday, December 6th, 2016:

We were on the road pretty quickly.  We are not early morning people generally speaking, so our getting out “quickly” simply means, quickly after we woke up. 
We drove out of the hotel parking lot and immediately found a post office box not three hundred feet from our La Quinta Inn.  Maybe the U.S. Postal Service should paint all of their mailboxes neon orange for better nocturnal identifying.  We got onto the Interstate 15 south and headed towards Mesquite.  As we left the greater Salt Lake City area, we saw Utah Lake to our right, which looked either frozen or, well, very salty.  I suspect that it was the former, but we were a good ten miles away from it, so it was hard to tell.  We continued to drive through mostly hilly desert, stopping once at a McDonalds in a small town, and then back onto our route.  The light dropped out of the sky at about 4:45pm and we started to hit some rain and wind.  As we descended out of St. George, through a corner of Arizona, I was surprised at how comfortable the long haul truckers were with staying at speeds near seventy-five miles per hour through what were narrow passages out of the mountains as the rain and wind were doing a number on most of the vehicles.  We also lost a lot of elevation in and around those areas, having gone from a 6,600-foot pass to around 1,600 feet in Mesquite in probably about forty-five minutes or fewer. 

We arrived at our motel, which was just off of the freeway, packed our necessary stuff out of the car, and then looked for the best eats in the small town.  We found a very good Mexican restaurant just down the way that was mom and pop owned, and where there were a few local ranchers sitting at tables and booths.  Brenda and I also noted that there was forty year-old women with a daughter who couldn’t have been more than about fourteen or fifteen whom herself had a baby.  Yikes, that is young.  The older mother didn’t look very happy, and they both looked a little self-conscious, and yet, I felt for them.

We arrived back to our room and Willy Wonka was starting on one of the cable channels.  Brenda and I loosely watched it while we looked at some of the photos we had taken.  My favorite part of the film is when Veruca Salt has her very finely choreographed tantrum.  “Gooses, Geeses.  I want a golden goose that lays gold eggs for Easter.  I want a hundred a day…and by the way….”   Oh, I love it!  You go girl, you bad egg, you! 

It then rained heavily that late night as we slept to the murmur of my Mac compositing something I had put together on it before sleep. 

Thursday, December 7th, 2016:
We arose to wet pavement in the parking lot, through which I walked Susie heading to some grass nearby.  She did her business and then almost immediately stepped her right rear paw into a pile of bloated, rain soaked dog shit which had half melted into the grass from the soaking the evening before.  I wiped Susie’s paw off as best as I could, and then brought her to the motel tub in our room to finish the cleaning job.  “Jeez Susie, I know you have black and white vision, but couldn’t you smell a pile so significant as that had been in front of you?”  And then I realized that Susie had literally followed in her mother’s footsteps.  Brenda just the day before arrived into my Jeep with a steaming hot wet slab of dog poop on the bottom of her fight foot boot.  We had to drive around Salt Lake that day looking for a gas station that had a restroom she could use to clean it.  Oh well, one look into both Brenda and Susie’s cute eyes and my heart melts like the dog shit outside.  Such lovely eyes they have.  My booba-lah’s! 

We packed our miniature version of our stuff out of the hotel, the rest of which had remained in the car (thank you George Carlin for making me aware of how laughable condensing smaller and smaller versions of your trip stuff is while you try to accommodate your varying living arrangements), and headed back south onto Intestate 15.  From here, the road remained mostly flat with just a few hills.  We passed Las Vegas in just over an hour, noticed snow in the mountains southwest of Vegas, which is a rarity these days, and we found ourselves moving through Apple Valley and then Cajon Pass in no time.  We were able to get our cat out of his cat boarding this same day back in Burbank, which I had hoped for.  When he first saw us, he gave a little meow, then acted a bit annoyed at us at first for leaving him, but then quickly wouldn’t leave our sides upon returning back to our house. 

It was simply a splendid trip.  Our total driving mileage was 2,829 miles, and we ended up taking 1,942 photographs and forty-three videos between Brenda and me.  We had a great time.  Oh, how I love road trips!  We put together a video remembrance of the trip.