MC Spoo
31May/100

Yellowstone

First off: You may want to peruse the Yellowstone photo album online at:
http://picasaweb.google.com/mcspoo/YellowstoneMay2010

Having said that... let me now run through the visit:

We arrived about 10am MDT on Saturday, May 22. We found a 1/2 mile of cars in front of us. People were out of their cars, putzing around, and NO one had ANY idea why there was a line of cars. Oh, it was a LOVELY spot to wait for sure, but the fact that they made no effort at all to tell people WHY there was an issue is bad customer service. We ended up having to walk a half mile up the road to ask what was going on. It ends up, some numbskull decided to driving really fast over the mountains in the park and flipped his/her/its car, causing the entire east entrance to back up for X amount of time.

We were finally let into the park around 12pm MDT or thereabouts. We jhad 2 nights booked at the Old Faithful Snow Lodge... which ended up being totally appropriate to the trip, I'll tell ya... Let the put it like this... it's MAY... a week before Memorial Day. AND IT'S SNOWING EVERYWHERE?!??!

So we check into the hotel (nice place... rooms are very spartan, but the place seems very nice and cozy inside... ), drop out stuff off, suit up the best we can for the inclement weather conditions, and then walk over to Old Faithful, which was set to go off at 1:45 of thereabouts. We had just enough time to get there. Shortly after we set up a spot on the benches, Old Faithful blew up.... literally. That's what it seems like: there's some steam, some bubbling, and the PSHHHHHHHHHHHHH about 60+ feet high. It's pretty cool to see.

After Old Faithful went off, we took to trekking the Upper Geyser Basin area (about 2 to 3 miles of walking). Let me paraphrase this: DO NOT WALK OFF THE TRAIL What looks like solid ground, is probably just Bacterial Mats, which are quite thin and will shatter and break under the weight of my (and your) posterior. You will then fall into the beyond boiling liquid and be parboiled. Remember kiddies: Yellowstone isn't just a National Park - It's an active volcano! (a point EXTREMELY well demonstrated at the Canyon Interpretative Center, which was AWESOME). We did not encounter any of the wildlife around the Upper Geyser (except the copiously large mounds of Buffalo crap), but we did encounter... the weather. It snowed. Heavily. The mountain winds whip down like chainsaw and slice through your skin, leaving you a meat Popsicle wishing you could get closer to the warm, boiling geysers to defrost your fingers, ears, and nipples.  The air was so cold and windy at times, filled with steam and snow you could barely see the path in front of you. You were lucky at times to see your own feet. You had to rely on feel: the difference between plastic/wood and grass/gravel/bacterial mats.  Then it would clear up... Yellowstone weather was acting like Michigan weather for us: wait 5 minutes, it'll change... well... except the wind and cold never changed.

In any case, after a long walk left my hip screeching at me, we went over to the Old Faithful Inn. What a gorgeous building that is. It appears to be a huge, massive teepee in the middle of the basin. It has fascinating history (almost being destroy in 1988 by a massive fire that wiped out 367,000 some acres of Yellowstone... the signs of  which are still very visible today). And inside it is absolutely awesome. It looks like a massive Lincoln log project multiplied by infinity. Stairs that go up and up, trestles and massive logs. A 70+ ft fireplace. We found a good set of chairs and set up base for people watching a bit. Most people walk around, head craned up, mouths hanging open... if we had peanuts, we could have played a 3 point shot game easily. We watched Old Faithful go off again from the second floor balcony (over the cacophony of a diesel engine bus below). We went downstairs and did some shopping (I bought stuff for my brother and nephew)

We also trekked down to look at the middle basin that day, which was equally awesome but the weather was really out in full glory this day. Some you can see, others are just fog and thunder. At this point, I'll also point out: Looking through those pictures, there's one thing we cannot relate through pictures of Yellowstone: THE SMELL.

Geysers smell... bad. Like rotten egg bad. Some smell exceptionally pungent, to the point you think this would be a good place for a stick-up labeled "Skunk Warfare". And they make noises. Some roar. Some bubble. Loud enough even for me to hear.  I realize walking through the middle basin that this is a perfect place to be a gassy person. You can walk along, set off a string of crackle farts (where you let out a small fart with every step) and no one would know. They can't smell it and they can't hear it because there's no difference between the olfactory and auditory nature of the geyser basins and your farts.

Anyhow, on the way back to the car, we spotted Buffalo on the other side of the lake. Not the FIRST buffalo we'd seen in the park, mind you (those were along Yellowstone Lake when we entered), but these ones were fairly close. There's some good pictures of this with the zoom it, but you can tell it was snowing something fierce. So I'm running across a field towards the river to snap pics of Buffalo on the other side of the river thinking... "they can't get pissed and cross the river the gore me, can they?". I erred to the side of caution and just snapped some the pics. We also some the biggest dang Ravens I've ever seen. Those are HUGE birds.

As it grew dark and snowier, we headed back to our now appropriate choice of the Snow Lodge to have dinner.

We both ordered Buffalo (appropriate), which was ridiculously expensive ($28/plate for 8 oz Buffalo tenderloin). It was okay. I was not blown away. The service was... very... umm... I'm not used to being asked "would you like more water" every 5 minutes. I mean, I just got the glass, okay? Back off! I was given the distinct impression that they were WAY over staffed and did not have much to do (or maybe I'm not used to being waited on with that kind of attention... I really don't know which). I did like that the staff all had their state or country of origin listed on name tags. So I know our waitress was from Peru. She was very good at her job!

I had no issue falling asleep that night. No TV? No problem. Zzzzzz.....

The next day, we awoke very early. Our plan was to see as much as we could fit into the day. We woke up to about 12 inches of new snow on the ground (egads!). We were told there was 4 to 10 inches of snow on Saturday, then another 12 inches that evening... Someone missed the memo that this was my SUMMER VACATION!!!!

We had breakfast in the Snow Lodge. It was okay. I had an overpriced buffet. Nothing in it was very good at all, really. I mean, I make better scrambled eggs than that myself. Good bacon, but it dried out quickly. My dad had an omelet, which was also just okay... the food is very overpriced here for the quality...

First, we hit Firehole Canyon, which was just a lovely stretch of road. One way, very intimate. The mountain side on your left, and a gushing canyon to your right. We reached a spot where the Firehole Falls came down, and it's really impressive. If this was in Michigan, it'd be a huge statewide attraction. In Yellowstone, this is barely known of. It's gorgeous. There's a swimming hole down the street from the falls... and I wished it weren't so freaking cold cause it looked like a nice spot to swim. The water was likely 70 degrees plus. On the way out of the Firehole Canyon, we encounted a suspicious looking creature on the side of the road. I saw it and said "Hey, check it out: someone left their horse here." but as we approached, it was obviously NOT a horse. (see: http://picasaweb.google.com/mcspoo/YellowstoneMay2010#5475895287421250898) It was either a small baby moose or a young elk. I could not tell which (feel free to advise me). It was HUGE and RIGHT NEXT TO ME. It almost stuck it's head in the window. THRILLING! rather than accost the moose/elk any further, we drove off and watched a line of cars behind us get trapped because it was now slowly waltzing out in the road in lazy fashion and really did not give a dang if the cars were inconvenienced or thrilled to see it.

We started heading down the road to the Canyon area, stopping to note more buffalo, elk and other wildlife. I cannot express how awe-inspiring a herd of buffalo are in words. We saw herds that appeared to number 150+ in size. Just hundreds of them spread out over the plains and geysers. Amazing. We stopped to see the Paint Geysers... which required a walk back into the woods. I'm walking through thinking "what exactly happens if one of those buffalo ends up in the trail ahead of me?" so the entire time I'm walking, I have this vision of a Buffalo popping out, running at me, and then me leaping my ass into these tiny trees and the buffalo stops, and then falls down laughing. "Messin' with Humanity" (ergo the Beef Jerky commercials "Messin' with Sasquatch") then plays. Alas... Paint Springs/geysers were very cool. Because of the freezing temps, steam would come off the pools and end up freezing on the pine trees. Very very pretty. My pictures don't do justice to it.

Let me also note this: Yellowstone is REALLY FREAKING HUGE. It is a MASSIVE park. The drive from Old Faithful to Canyon is NOT a short drive. It's a LONG drive, through some incredibly lovely terrain. Mountains. Prairie. Moonscape. Forests. It is a surreal drive for someone used to the monotony of Michigan out doors. Extremely enjoyable.

Once we reached Canyon, we spent some time in the Interpretative center, which as addressed is VERY cool. There is a MASSIVE (think 30' x 30') 3-d model of the park laid out, LEDs in the model to demonstrate different geographical and geological structures at work in the park, like the outline of the volcano caldera (which would swallow the entire Detroit metro area whole). I loved this experience, and I'm not usually the one to be excited by centers of this sort, but this was the best constructed, thought out and laid out thing I've ever seen.

After getting geeked up, and finding maps for places to visit around Canyon, we started up the Upper Rim trail.... Pulled in the first roadside area, walked down... the snow started to subside and the sun was out. Temps were up around 45... and... OMFG. There's no way to use words of any language, no poetry powerful enough to express the awesome view of the Yellowstone Canyon and the Lower Yellowstone Falls.  It was just so absolutely unbelievable. You're next to a canyon that's 800 to 1200 feet deep. The lower falls drop 309 feet and appear to be maybe 3 inches high. Holy buffalo! We spent time going from road side stop to road side stop... and they all give you different views of the canyon. This is the closest thing to the Grand Canyon that I may ever experience. There's a section of the Lower Rim trail that gives a view that is so incredible, mostly because of where you end up: on a granite overlook, 900 feet in the air... looking out over the entire lower Yellowstone Falls basin. OMFG x 2 (For pic of my Dad and I there, see: http://picasaweb.google.com/mcspoo/YellowstoneMay2010#5475895977567832258) I had no idea. I did not research the park: I went on what my dad said from his previous visit: this place is awesome. And yes Dad, this place IS awesome. I sat on a chair carved into granite and just took the scene in. This is the type of vista you hold in your memory, and call up whenever you're feeling stressed out or worried or anything not good. Because the grandeur and scale here is so different, so beautiful, so awe-inspiring that it can't help but fill you with peace (or if you suffer fear of heights, absolute terror).

By this point, the way was almost over. We drove back down through to Old Faithful to see the Lower Geyser basin, which yielded several interesting moments: 1, I nearly puked. Black Dragon Geyser or something smelled so bad, the stench wafted at me as I was drawing a breath and I gagged. I just about puked. and 2. The snow and wind came back while we were a mile away from the car on the trails, and we really could not see anything at all whatsoever. The snow and steam were so heavy, I could not see my feet. We just sort of staggered around waiting for a break in the clouds... there's a few pictures of this. I managed to snap some decent shots when the clouds subside, but the weather was once again turning on us in a very bad way.

After much touristy viewing, we ended up back at the hotel. We went to see Old Faithful again (about 6:15 on Sunday. 5/23) and it went off late (closer to 6:30, which is outside the promised +/- 10 minutes). It's equally impressive on third viewing. Then went back to the restaurant, where I ordered a burger, fries and a corn chowder... which I immediately regretted. As a lactose intolerant human, I should have asked if they used heavy cream... and they did. Oh, my stomach. I felt HORRIBLE and fell asleep in bed before 8pm.

We awoke by 5:30am on Monday, 5/24 to even MORE snow. That's right, another 10 to 14 inches of snow had come down over night. And it was STILL SNOWING HARD. I wondered if we'd get out of the place... We packed up, took stuff down to the car (and cleaned the trusty Envoy off with just a single, small ice scrapper and newspaper), had breakfast (Hiker's Breakfast... very good, but again: OVERPRICED!), and hit the road. It is here I managed to snap what I think is the best picture of the entire trip. I'll end this travelogue with this awesome picture of a buffalo in a snow storm on the side of the road leaving Yellowstone....


Isn't this just awesome????????

30May/100

Way out West

For "summer" vacation, I just finished a tour of the way out west.

Start: Novi, Mi
Destination: Yellowstone National Park, WY
Side Stops: Badlands, SD - Mt. Rushmore, SD - Crazy Horse Monument, SD - Devil's Tower, WY

As I am wont to do on driving trips, I like to give first blush impressions of the states I've driven through....

Michigan: Nothing new here... Been there, done that.

Indiana: I-80 along the northern border. Seems entirely like... Michigan. Pleasant enough. Traffic moved well until the Gary, IN area... which isn't really all that nice, despite the old song in my head ("Gary, Indiana, Gary, Indiana... my home sweet home... STFU Dick Van Dyke!")

Illinois: Most of Illinois is nothing to write home about (I-80 all the way through, at least) but Chicago was... someone tell me: is Chicago mostly strip bars? I mean, there were so many ads for strip bars while driving across I-80, we were afraid that if we got out of the car, we'd be smacked in the face by strippers with barbed boobs or something and charged by a pimp. WTH? I'm a fan of free speech and all, but if I were driving with an impressionable 12 year old... I figure the kid would have pole vaulted at the next rest stop.

Iowa: Not as flat as I expected, but a whole lot of corn. Stayed in Ankeny, IA which was very... well... whatever. Great service in an Outback Steakhouse there anyways (but one of the most horribly constructed hotels I've ever seen...) The state seems very smart. We took I-80 W to I-35 N and then I-35 N out of state. I was completely impressed with the pure number of windmills we saw. I mean, what does Iowa have? Farm land and wind. So they're taking full advantage of what they've got. We must have passed more than a thousand wind mills... maybe 4 thousand +. who knows? Seems like every county has a windmill farm.

Minnesota: We drove through MN twice. First, From I-35N to I-90 W. I passed over the Mississippi River for the first time. This was a pleasant enough trip. It was very Iowa-ish. However, we drove BACK through MN from I-94 E to MN-10 to MN-210 to MN-2... Lovely country to be certain, and very Michigan-ish in the amount of lakes. But after driving the lovely 75mph zones through SD, WY, MT and ND... it was a huge drag.

South Dakota: Holy crap is this a LONG state. It was kind of cool as we started getting more westerly that the terrain changed. Once you pass the Missouri River, it gets more mountainous and dries out. Less trees, less farms, less plains, more "west". We stayed in Wall, SD for a night... and let me say this: Wall Drug is a ridiculous place. It's a tourist trap, to be sure, but has a excellent marketing plan... by playing itself up so huge, you're forced to stop there and see what the hell is going on.... however, it's so built up by the hundreds of miles of clever marketing signs that there's NO possible way for the place to live up to its billing. Would I go back? Maybe. It might be neater through  the eyes of a kid. But through my jaded, adult eyes? Tourist trap and an over priced (processed) Buffalo burger.

After Wall, we hit the sights: BADLANDS National Park first. To use the popular Intarweb vernacular: OMFG! You've seen this in numerous movies. A landscape so bizarre, its used as alien planets (or westerns... odd how those mix... Aliens vs Cowboys, anyone?). A little paranoia from all the "RATTLESNAKES WILL BITE YOU IN THE CROTCH REPEATEDLY IF YOU STEP OFF THIS TRAIL!" signs, but it's still something to see. Lots of wildlife. Prairie Dogs, Ravens, Mule Deer, and yes, we saw a dead rattle snakes. I also saw lots of bunnies under the paths, to which I whispered "Don't let the rattle snakes bite you in the crotch"

Mt. Rushmore was really nice. A beautiful national monument, and truly something every American should strive to see. It's really rather big... but there's not that much to actually do. You see it. It looks a lot like it looks on TV, or in all those movies, and then... what? Admire how big it is? Some company was doing 3D radar mapping, and I thought that was more interesting. I wanted to go over and help, but realized I'd just be a troll doing so.

Crazy Horse is... eh. As a 1/8th to 1/16th Cherokee descendant, it should have struck more chords with me. However, almost none of it is did. Knowing the Indian nation refuses help from the US government to complete the monument is... disappointing. Yes, its a massive monument to an Indian war chief who wanted to drive the white man out of the west, but... it is now the 21st century, and the white man's money keeps the Indian nation alive. There was nothing to see, really. It's a pile of rocks that lie in wait to the fulfillment of a dream... but if you can't ask for help when you badly need it, your dream is for naught. Just my opinion.

Devil's Tower is something I've been wanting to see since the first time I saw Close Encounters of the Third Kind. I even have the music on my iPod, which I blasted as we drove SD-16 to SD-85. However, the weather turned on us and it started to rain. HARD. Then, when we get there, I discover I forgot to pack my rain gear... but my Dad packed an extra, which barely fit. So it pouring rain, I walked around Devil's Tower like a yellow stuffed sausage. The tower itself is really rather impressive. You can see why it's considered Holy to Indians: it looks like nothing else in the land. It's unique... almost alien (surely why Speilberg picked it for the movie).

Wyoming: After touring the SD triumvate, we hit Wyoming moving fast. 75 MPH speed limits are really quite nice. Long drive? Yes, but moving fast makes the drive take less time. The initial drive through Wyoming was really something. It's really quite barren in the eastern and central area of the state we drove through on I-90 W to WY-16... . BEAUTIFUL for a city dweller like me. Portions looked just like the default Windows XP wallpaper. But then as we got more and more westerly, the green faded to browns and the hills got flatter... the section from Emblem to Cody on WY-16 was... holy crap. It was just a long, unbroken stretch in which your sense of depth is erased because it's so vast. I knew we were heading west, but had no idea how far away the horizon was. How far are those mountains to the north? the south? east? even west? I realized I now wholly understand the phrase "vanishing point". I felt like a gnat about to be squashed by God, and no one was around to notice.

From Cody, we drove into Yellowstone... and that will be in its own post at a soon to be later date.

Montana/North Dakota (western half): I'd love to give you a summary of these states, but I have no recall of them. Why? Because the clouds descended upon us and we drove in fog so thick, even 40 mph cross winds couldn't blow the fog away from us as we drove I-89N, I-90 E or I-94E. I could not see more than 25 yards in front of us driving 75MPH. Holy crap, dudes. Is that typical?

North Dakota (eastern half): I saw much more of the eastern half than the western half. We stopped in Bismarck, ND after the Fog/Rain/Snow/Wind drive from MT through ND central. NICE hotel there... HUGE WARM pool, but there were tornado warnings in the area and steam from the shower set off the fire alarms. Oops. Anyhow, ND had some curious features. Apparently, there's a lot of dams (saw lots of signs pointing towards dams to the north) and there's also a lot of flooded fields along I-94 E. With the massive wind that day, we were watching white caps come off of corn/wheat fields and blow waves over the freeway. Otherwise, the East side of ND looked much like the East side of SD and the West side of MN.

Driving in Summary:
Day One: Novi, MI to Ankeny, IA (M-14 to I-94 to I-80/90 to I-80 to I-35)
Day Two: Ankeny, IA to Wall, SD (by way of Badlands) (I-35 to I-90)
Day Three: Wall SD, to Cody, WY (by way of Rushmore, Crazy Horse, Devil's Tower) (I-90)
Day Four: Cody, WY to Yellowstone National Park, WY
Day Five: Yellowstone National Park, WY
Day Six: Yellowstone National Park to  Bismarck, ND (I-89 to I-90 to I-94)
Day Seven: Bismarck, ND to Ironwood, MI (I-94 to MN-10 to MN-210 to MN-2 to MI-2)
Day Eight: Ironwood, MI to Novi, MI (MI-2 to I-75 to I-23 to I-96)

Total Mileage - 3,976 miles

Filed under: General Stuff No Comments
18May/100

Vivid Dream

I had a fairly vivid dream wake me this morning.

I was travelling out west. I awoke in a hotel bed, and went down a hallway into an elevator. When the elevator opened, Azmat and Borat were inside. The let out a cheer singing "PALIN! PALIN! Wait minute. You fat red head. You not Palin!?!"

So I played along.

"Oh my gosh! BORAT! I LOVE YOUR SHOW!"

"You know my show? What favorite episode?"

"I know of your show. Maybe the episode where you try to find Pam Anderson."

Borat growls. "She SLUT!"

"So?"

"Point good. Where is Sarah Palin?"

"Alaska."

At this point, we're walking down a hallway towards the continental breakfast.

"She Goddess, isn't she?"

"No, she's really really REALLY dumb. She's a square peg repeatedly pounding itself into a round hole. Sorry, but she's not representative of Americans. The woman is dumb. I mean... imagine the dullest knife in the drawer and you have a nice big steak on the table."

"What is steak?"

"Moo?"

"Gross! But you mock Sarah! WE POUND YOU GROUND!"

Now we're in front of a buffet and they've suddenly become naked and start slam dancing against everyone in line. An old lady screams "RAAAAAAAAAPE!" and the cops with cowboy hats, rope and show up with a pair of shears. The rope Azmat down, shaves his ass bald (think "Bart the Bear" in "Great Outdoors") someone comes up with a brand shaped like a P and brands the baldspot with it. Borat screeches and tries to wiggle out "I LOVE YOU, SARAH PALIN!" and suddenly, a wild Sarah Palin appears.

It wanders around, picking at loose edges in the wallpaper, sniffs Borat and smiles. "You smell like beer poop" and then laughs like Butthead.

Then it looks at me and says "You round hole. Me square peg."

I then woke screaming.

7May/100

Updates on Life

Well, I had to update this site to a new version of WordPress. Silly ISP... WP upgraded out of the old version of MySQL, so I had to do a complete changeover... but luckily, it was fairly simple.

I can't say the same for the rest of my life lately. Everything is very complicated. Work. Home. Private. Everything.

I have a new cat on the premises. Her name is Vanessa. Nessie. Messy Nessy. She's not very fond of me or Fargo yet, alas. She's hiding under the bed, but I managed to get a few snap shots of her. She's very pretty. Seems to be going well, really. She saw me last night about 4:30am and freaked out as I went to the bathroom. Alas...

nessa hiding under the bed.

That's the least confusing and difficult portion of my life lately.

I'm still adapting to not having my Mom around. She always knew what to do. What to say, especially in terms of getting my mind in order.  I could so use her guidance now... so many things in my head, and they're all just rambling around aimlessly.

As some folks may have gathered, I've started dating. I'm dating an incredibly wonderful woman. I can't believe how much I've fallen for her. I've never had a women look at me like she does. or talk to me like she does. I'm probably falling in love, at least, I think this may be, but having never done so before... I'm hoping its one of those things that you know it when you see (feel) it. I've been dating her for over a month now. For the first date, I took her to the Matthaei Botanical Gardens and Nichols Arboretum and we kissed on a bench... holy wow. I was hooked..

But... it's complicated, man.

And work.. <sigh> what can I say there? We're buried under the Novi-a-lanche. Nothing feels "normal" at work of late. There is no normal. I completed shepherding a massive, expensive RFID project... over a year in the making. I should be thrilled, but... I didn't have time to be thrilled. I mean, it's working the way it should. "Its gone so much better than I thought it would" and "RFID has really saved us. I don't think we would have survived without it." We had an incredibly successful  Battle of the Books. Every year it gets better. WE get better at it. The kids LOVE the competition. I set the table, make everything work... and then get to spend the competition banging a gong (which was a HUGE hit, pun intended).

But now look where things are... we're in a huge hole... and I'm pulling more projects through. Last year was one project on top of another. This year it looks even more so. I have to finish "everything" this year because we probably will have no money next year. File Servers, Backup systems, Domain servers, firewalls, workstation upgrades and replacements... OS upgrades? Good lord... Will I have a job next year? Will my co-workers? How much will it destroy our morale? If I lost my job, would I lose myself? I've worked for so long... its my identity right now. I have no idea how I could recover... especially in this economy. I'm worried...