Saturday, August 2, 2008

Wrapping Up Adventure One View at a Time - Day 6 through 9

Axel Rose belting out "Knocking on Heavens Door" on 101 The Fox, Kansas City's classic rock paid for 2001 POS Chevy Cavalier rattling with the beat through it's cracked dashboard as I push it up to 80mph on mind set on the ultimate end goal..a night on the couch with nothing to do, vegging my mind away in front of the boob tube...I'm going home!!!

The trip from the airport last night wasn't fast enough. I had just landed from three days at our Dallas office, which is a short trip, but the end to a long two weeks of travel. Kathy and I had just wrapped up our vacation Tuesday, and didn't get home until after 11pm. My flight to Dallas was the next morning at 6am, so I really didn't consider it being home...Might as well have been another Super 8 stop over. I was finally coming home though, at least for the next two weeks. As I made the exit from I-29 to 635, getting ever so closer to the Kansas border, my mind started sifting through the last few days of our Ghost Town adventures.

We got up early again last Friday, preparing to leave our new friend Albert and his beautiful cabin just off the continental divide deep in the wilderness of Montana. Our original plan was to shoot up north of there to Glacier National Park, but a couple of days at Alberts brought back some sanity and we realized we must slow our trip down for a while, and take some easy days back to Jackson Hole Wyoming. So we relaxed that morning with Albert's freshly ground espresso, chatted the morning away while Albert cooked up another great breakfast, this time fried waffles...ummmmmm.... took some pics for prosperities sake and hit the road toward Missoula.

Our plan was to backtrack down Highway 12, then down I-90 a short ways to Deer Lodge as our first stop. Home to the Old Montana Prison Museum, this was a great side trip to all the ghost town adventures, getting a good feel for life behind bars in a prison that was active for 100 years starting in 1871. Kathy proclaiming as we toured the cell blocks "Remind me to never kill you, I wouldn't want to wind up in a place like this!" Thanks babe, I know the trips been a long one, but it's nice to know you need a reminder ;).

After the prison adventure and a tour through another old west museum, we hit the road again back up I-90 with a just a few more ghost towns on the way, including Montana's first gold discovery at what's now called Gold Creek. Not a lot left there, and you really had to hunt for signs of yesteryear. After finally finding a pond with some old mining equipment in it, we set our sites for the treat of the day, Garnett.

This ghost town is one of Montana's best preserved and least visited, and is kept up by the BLM and a preservation society. On both public and private land, they won't let you drive into this town, but they have adequate parking just up the hill overlooking the town, and the short hike in is well worth the price of admission. They have plenty of buildings still with contents on display, including a large hotel and general store. We took our time going through most of the buildings that were open, and really enjoyed the history. Signs outside each building that told you about the proprietors and how the town rose then fell as most mining towns did. On the other side of the parking lot there's another hiking trail to take you to remants of the actual mining. It's only .2 miles and it was an easy hike into the past, with several interesting things to see.

By that time it was already getting later in the day than we wanted so off we went to our stop for the night in Missoula. Our last three days of the trip would take us down highway 93, west on 75 into Idaho. Saturday was full of beautiful scenic drives, but by this time in the trip it was just another mountain and trees. Lot's of historic places to see along the Salmon River Scenic Byway, including Gibbonsville Idaho. Not a complete ghost town with at least 100 residents still there, but we found the cemetery interesting. Sure it was historic, but it was a recent headstone that caught Kathy's eye. A husband and wife..each side of the stone showing when they came and left the world, each plot with a mound showing that someone was buried there, but flowers only on the husbands side. On closer inspection Kathy found that the husband died December 20, 2005, but the wife's marker showed December 20, 2008....wait, what's today? This interesting stop kept our minds occupied for a while as we moved on down the road.

The rest of our day would take us on a side trip along the Salmon river through some gorgeous country down to Shoup, then backtrack to 93 for our stop in the town of Salmon. Didn't have any hotel reservations, and there were only 3 or 4 to choose from, but we got lucky and landed at one right at the edge of town by the river. It's a crap shoot sometimes with locally owned hotels, and this one was on the edge. Good enough though for a nights rest, with the river right outside our door.

I'll attempt to brief this up on the next two day and just say "welcome to Idaho". Oh there was beauty, but there was also desolation. After a side trip just south of Challis on scenic highway 75, into the Yankee mining district and several more places of yesteryear, which by the way includes a wonderful information center that is a must stop for any ghost towner, we started getting into area's of the state that you could tell were no-mans land. It stayed pretty much mountainous around us as we traveled more of a valley through Ketchum (lots of highway traffic this Sunday as people must of been coming home from the Salmon River recreational areas), finally hitting more flat roads and feilds as we turned onto Highway 20 to our next overnight stay in Arco. Along the way you run into Craters of the Moon National monument. This area home to a lava field that covers thousands of acres and made for some interesting stories of pioneers trying to make their way through. It was an unexpected site in western Idaho, and a nice change of scenery to wrap up the say.

After a great stop in Arco it was finally Monday, our last day of travel. This day would take us through the farming areas toward Idaho Falls, then out to Swan Valley and back north a bit on highway 31 into Victor and Driggs. Our main goal of the day was the Grand Tetons, since our first day 9 days ago didn't provide the time needed to explore the area. Quirky Kathy of course was also on the search for one specific photo opp that she had seen on several post cards. A giant potato on the back of a flat bed truck. Yep, that's my wife, and I love her dearly. I was convinced she was crazy until just outside of Driggs I saw the truck. It was the Spud Drive In theater. Of course it wasn't a real potato, but it made Kathy happy that we found it. I'm sure she will be selling the fruits of our search soon on her Rocky Mountain General Store.

We were definitely through with the flat lands by this time, and going up into the mountain range just east of the Tetons, coming into Wyoming on highway 33. Incredible drive that finally brought us to a point overlooking Jackson Hole. Coming down the mountain we ventured off on to highway 390 toward Teton Village, then up into the Grand Teton National Park. It was a beautiful day and there were plenty of vacationers venturing the same way. This entry is a gateway not only into the Tetons but also Yellow Stone if you had the mind to keep heading north. Our goals weren't that lofty though so we targeted Jenny Lake as our deepest point into the park.
Along the way there are several pull outs and trail heads for visitors to stop and soak in the incredible views. It was at the first major pull out that we saw first hand how absolutely rediculous we humans are when it comes to animals. Cars and RV's packed the pull out, and several people, cameras in hand and kids in tow were running across the road in front of traffic to a river bridge. My immediate thought was that it was a bear maybe? I mean, why else would people risk life and limb, leaving their children behind them as they run to catch a quick pic of nature. I was duped into the frenzy, so I carefully pulled into one of the few remaining parking spots and joined the crowd at the other side of the road. At least 50 people by now pointing to the river bank, I draw up our new video camera thinking I was about to get something spectacular on film. Panning left to right as the gawkers pointing fingers moved I see it...a young moose drinking from the river. there a bear or mountain lion about to eat the, it's just a moose. I guess I should have been more excited, but come on people, all this for a moose?

After soaking in the tranquil water of Jenny Lake and taking plenty of footage of the thousands of year old Ice still on top of the Tetons, we made our way back through the now even larger crowd at the side of the road still watching the moose almost an hour later, and into the bumper to bumper traffic of Jackson Hole. When we finally reach the Super 8 in Jackson, choking on the $200 dollar a night bill, we settled in for our last night before heading home.

I've already written about our experience with United Airlines the next day, the only thing I missed was that by the time we reached Kansas City on Frontier airlines, one of our bags was still in Jackson Hole, the other somewhere in Denver International Airport. Fine, I didn't need my deodorant anyway, despite the fact I was up at 4am Wednesday morning to hop another flight to Dallas on business. Luckily the Hilton Garden Inn up the road from the Dallas office had what I needed to get by.

No ghost towns on my agenda for quite a while. Finally home for the next two weeks before making business trips to Brazil, two trips to Dallas and Amsterdam all in a 4 week period. For now I'm enjoying the memories of a wonderful vacation and incredible adventure through yesteryear. Be sure to read all about the old west towns we visited on Kathy's blog and of course Legends of America. In the meantime I'll snap a few while out of the country and share, but it just isn't the same as this incredible nation we call home.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Kansas City is a long way from DIA

Hey, this is reminiscent of my post on 7/19. Here I am again, in the smoking lounge of Denver International Airport, staring out at the same gate (B-37). Once again United has delayed us, this time going home. I know I haven't finished blogging about the rest of the trip yet, and will get to that soon, but internet here isn't that reliable for uploading photos.

At least Kathy looked up United guidelines, and found that if there is a delay of more than four hours, they will attempt to get you on another airline. So instead of having to wait from 3:30 to 8:15 tonight, we only have to wait until 6:51pm Denver time to catch a Frontier flight to Kansas City. I'm only home for a few hours though because some DORK booked me on a 6am flight to Dallas for work tomorrow morning. Oh...I guess that DORK is me. Anyway, just enough time to pack another bag, sleep and go. Can't wait to blog about the rest of our Wyoming, Montana and Idaho adventure. Ran into some more beautiful scenery and some strange mysterious things in cemetary's that I'm sure I'll be talking about.

Promise to catch up on the rest soon. Thanks for stopping by.

Ghost Towning with Albert - Helena Region, Montana Day 5

Waking up Thursday morning at Albert's mountain cabin was a great change to the endless hotel rooms with crappy coffee and thin walls. Climbing down from the upstairs bedroom, then into the den where the open glass picturesque windows give way to an incredible view of the mountains surrounding the kitchen, finding fresh ground espresso in a funnel filter, and a kettle of water ready to boil, and Kathy already up blogging about the past days adventures, relating her early morning viewing of the mule deer just a few feet away from the cabin at the salt licks laid out in the yard. I challenge anyone to find that at a Super 8.

Albert is a night owl of sorts, so it was expected that he would sleep in. Perfect for Kathy and I as we needed the time to geek and prepare for the days travels. Albert was up earlier than his norm, playing the excellent host and cookin up breakfast. After visiting for a while, and burning off some of his dog Zach's abundant energy, we loaded up in his Jeep and headed back into Marysville. This ghost town is not dead, and in fact has some active mining operations in the area. But there are plenty of abandoned homes and history to take in. We spent some quality time there roaming the hillside and talking to some guys restoring one of the historic buildings in town before pushing off south around Helena.

Our next stop was Remini just off highway 12, again not really a ghost town as several residents live there. Although the drive in through the canyon was beautiful and the town had some picture qualities, we didn't stay long. Saw a cool ladder that had hung on wall too long and bowed without breaking a rung (didn't know that wooden ladders would do that) and read the locals rhetoric about the EPA and a superfund cleanup gone wrong, splitting the town folk into a feud of sorts. By that time we were ready for lunch, and Albert had the perfect place up the road in Elliston. Stoners Saloon is a local favorite for good hometown greasy cheeseburgers and a little flare. Posters on the wall of a 1991 Weekly World News story about how the owner captured Big Foot right before the annual Big Foot hunt still attracts visitors attention today, and makes for a good chuckle while soaking in the atmosphere.

With bellies full we move back toward Helena then down I-15 toward the Boulder area, cutting off north at Fuller and landing in our first real ghost town of the day...Comet. This place was the best stop of the day. It's not protected by BLM, State or National Forest. Privately owned by several different residents, Comet has many building standing from the late 1800's and early 1900's, and was an active mining camp as late as the 1940's. Old abandoned cars still sit off the streets of town, and there are only a few areas marked off as private property. We were careful to respect the area, but unfortunately ran into someone who is not.

Rules of Ghost Towning are pretty simple. Respect the property, don't leave anything and do NOT take anything. If it says it's private property, don't go there, and if it warns you of risk, heed the warning. It's those who disrespect the ghost towns of America that take away the history, forever removing the memory of what once was there. That was the case with the guy Albert and I ran into by an old mechanics garage near the edge of town. An area resident, who obviously see's this old stuff every week, and doesn't have the appreciation we do for the history there. He was proud to tell us about taking away the scrap iron to make money, and even talked about cutting up one of the old cars by the road. Once again it made me realize that what we see today may not be here tomorrow, especially in unprotected areas.

We spent a lot of time in Comet, including crossing the small stream over to the old mining buildings. They were in good shape, and stepping carefully, we stepped through the halls viewing the history and some quirkiness along the way. Like this boulder that seemed to have come from no where, crushing the floor underneath. No angle from the hillside to explain it rolling into the building, and the only hole big enough in the side wall, where outside it was downhill, not up. Did someone throw it through the wall somehow? Weird anyway.

It was starting to get late, and Albert and I were both concerned that we wouldn't make our final destination of Elkhorn on the other side of I-15. Practically had to drag Kathy from Comet, then on the road again, reaching Elkhorn, part of a Montana State park with little time to spare. This area is protected, and several residents live there. A couple of buildings are kept up for viewing and the rich history of the ghost town is documented well. We took the time to go up the road a bit more to the Elkhorn cemetery, where reminders of just how rough life was back in the 1800's shown in the grave stones of many children, who died within weeks of each other in the epidemic of 1889.

Paying our respects and remembering the pioneers of Montana, we loaded up and headed back to Albert's cabin, not arriving there until after 9. The sun was just going down as Kathy wrapped up some email and headed off to bed. Albert and I stayed up again, both of us on our laptops enjoying the peace and tranquility of the mountains. It was a great way to wrap up a wonderful day, and I was thankful for our new Montana friend and his hospitality.

Next Blog: Back on the road, Marysville to Missoula and Prison along the way.

Monday, July 28, 2008

Butte to Marysville -Montana Day 4

Kathy has developed several 'internet' friendships over the past five years. Readers of her website that provide feedback and general information that occasionally check in on Legends Of America. She had told me of one specific reader in Montana a while back who said if we were ever there to look him up. As time drew closer for our trip, Kathy continued to communicate with him, and he actually invited us to stay in his mountain home near Marysville.

Being the joker that I am, I started teasing Kathy even before we left Kansas City. "So, you never met this guy right? And he has a home in the mountains, away from all other's, with no phone right? Does he have a dungeon as well..he he he?" I poured it on pretty good... in fact so well that by the time we drew closer to his home I started questioning things myself. What we knew was that he had internet, but no phone service. We knew he had to drive toward town to get calls, and that he was completely isolated somewhere in the Helena region. "So what happens if we get there and this guy is some kind of serial killer?" Kathy wasn't too phased by my rhetoric, and we pressed on Wednesday morning with her internet friend as our final destination (of the day that is).

We had made it to Butte the night before, and decided to spend a little time there before moving north on I-90 toward Deer Lodge. Butte was an interesting mining town and has some tragic history. It's open pit mine was the largest in the world when it closed in the early 1990's. During it's hey day around World War I, the copper mine employed about 14,000 miners, but later dwindled as ore production declined in the 1950's. It's also home to the worst hard rock mining disaster in US history. The Granite Mountain Mine Disaster in June of 1917 was a large fire 2,000 feet below the surface that sent flames, smoke and poisonous gas throughout the underground tunnels. Almost 170 men lost their lives, and today Butte has a monument overlooking the mining operation to honor them.

After Butte we move up I-90 and get off on Highway 1, the Pintler Scenic Route. Through Anacanda and up to Georgetown lake, this is another beautiful Montana drive. Once at the lake, turn right at the Ski Resort and just up the road a bit you run into Georgetown. This was on our list of ghost towns, but it isn't anymore. The resort area has taken over, and there are several homes there, but we didn't see any remnants of yesteryear. A short way's from Georgetown is Southern Cross, another mining ghost town. This one hasn't been taken over yet, however amidst the crumbling buildings of the 1800's were plenty of bull dozer's and workers clearing out places to build a new. It was one of those moments that you felt you may be one of the last people on earth to witness what Souther Cross was.

After Southern Cross it was back on Highway 1 with a stop in Phillipsburg. Another old mining town, however Phillipsburg still thrives today as a nice little tourist stop. Very cute downtown, almost like Virginia City, only more shopping than anything else. It's a good stop anyway, with a bit of history. Outside of Philipsburg about 5 miles, up a somewhat rough dirt mountain road, one lane most of the way, is Granite. This mountain top ghost town is very cool. Once a large thriving mining community back in the 1800's, several buildings remain, though many have been taken by the mountain side. You can take a 2 hour walking tour if your in shape to hike (we were there maybe 30 minutes and still got our fill of the history).

After Granite it was time to head back toward I-90 at Drummond, then down to Garrison where we cut off on Highway 12. We were supposed to meet Kathy's internet friend in Marysville, outside of Helena, at 4pm. Unfortunately as soon as we exited we hit road construction. 20 miles behind a follow me car that took an hour to get through. Quickly moving on to Helena, filling up with gas and a quick snak before hitting Birdseye Road past Fort Harrison on our way to the ghost town of Marysville.

Meet Albert, the Mountain Man of Montana....

The plan was in place. We had a good feeling about Albert through his emails. He was already generous with letting us stay in his cabin home, and had even planned on throwing some steaks on the grill that night for dinner. But one must be prepared, so we had already sent the exact location of his home via email to Kathy's daughter in Lawrence, and to my son back in Lenexa. Told them that if they didn't hear from us by Friday at noon to send out the search party. As we finally pulled into Marysville and found Albert sitting in his Jeep waiting, our paranoia was quickly alleviated. Let me describe my feelings about Albert in three words...Admiration, Envy and Awe.

Albert is a mountain man by choice. He had lived in California most of his life, with a career as a Sheriffs detective, artist and educator. He even got a few walk in roles in several movies, including City of Angels, along with his daughter. His acting stints started with her trying to get roles as a child and the casting director encouraging him to try out as well. He had the "detective/Sheriff" look down to a tee. With a clear vision of what he really wanted though, Albert spent years planning for his retirement. Then, when the time was right, he sold his home in California, bought an RV and spent two years traveling America searching for the perfect place. Somewhere completely off the grid. After the life of public service he had, I don't blame him.

It was by chance (payoff for a lot of hard work) that he found out about the home and land he has now. In fact, it almost didn't happen, as the real estate agent helping him couldn't find the place for several days. Both kept searching and had finally given up. Luckily though, the owners came back from the East Coast and guided them in. Getting to Albert's is an adventure in itself. Up from Marysville, then along the Continental Divide and back down just a bit into a small valley. As an 1863 mining claim, his home is completely surrounded by public lands. Not a neighbor in miles, completely isolated with nature.

Albert was easy on us, taking us in on the best roads possible, but definitely needed the SUV. When we arrived at his cabin, I was immediately overcome by the incredible beauty. A small spring behind his home provides all the water he needs. The mountain side behind the stream home to all the forest brings with it, including Mountain Lions, Elk, Bear and Deer. In front was just enough of the valley floor so you didn't feel claustrophobic, but not enough to give view to his home until your right on top of it. It's also enough to provide just the right wind's that allow him to generate electricity. That along with some hydro power. He's installing solar panels that follow the sun later this year.

Living in a place like this isn't something everyone could do. You have to plan, plan and plan some more. You also have to be in shape, as there is a lot of work that goes into living off the grid. He's fortunate in the fact he has satellite internet and can keep in touch with friends who check in on him daily. But you can tell that Albert will be just fine with or without that communication. After dinner that night he regaled stories of his past four years there, including the hard winters when he has to leave his Jeep closer to town and drive in for supplies using his Argo utility vehicle. He even had to buy tracks for it to get up and down the mountain, often times dealing with several feet of snow, finding himself stuck halfway home, having to walk back. Like I said, this isn't something everyone could do. But for Albert, it's a payoff for a the life he's led as a veteran and public servant.

He's not completely alone in the wilderness. Albert has Zach and Zoey, his dog and cat, that keep him company through those long winter weeks when he doesn't see anyone. At first I was completely envious of his life in the mountains, but after hearing some of the stories of the winters there, I can say for sure that I could come no where close to achieving what he has. I guess I'm still too plugged in and out of shape to consider moving that far off the grid. But for a moment there I was dreaming about it. I think for now I'll just have to dream through Albert's eyes.
Next blog: Ghost Towning in the Helena region with our new friend, and seeing first hand what happens when history isn't respected.

Saturday, July 26, 2008

Livingston to Butte - Montana Day 3

Virginia City along the Bozeman Trail

The wind in Livingston had finally died down that morning, and we were ready for an early start. Long day ahead with some primary targets for Kathy's ghost towning, down the Bozeman trail. Along with the mining ruins along the way, we land in Virginia City. This is a really cool town for those of us who like the old shops, various tours and antiques. Lots to do here, including a train ride over to Nevada City, Stage Coach tours, an old fire engine turned into a touring ride, shopping and plenty of history. In fact, it's a National Historic Landmark District with 200 historic buildings. If your not into just the ruins, but want a good small town, old west feel, Virginia City should be on your list of stops.

After wrapping up there we head just a few short miles to Nevada City, which includes a walking tour of the recreated mining town. I think some of the buildings are originals, but others have been brought in. It was an alright stop, but not as fun or large as Virginia City. We grabbed a bite to eat while there at a small restaurant that appeared to cater to the 'California lifestyle' (in other words, no grease or fat, and what I call weeds for lettuce...Hey, if that's your thing great, you'll love it).

Next on the list of must see's was Bannack. Along the way we got a little lost (gotta learn that Tom Tom doesn't always know best), but after stumbling onto a couple more ghost towns and taking a leisurely ride down many dirt roads out of Garnett, we finally made it just in time for a good Montana thunder boomer. We just paid our entry fee and were walking in when the rain started, so we camped out in the old hotel. Very convenient that they let you in all the buildings, and the hotel was a great place to spend some time. I think Kathy got a vibe that a spirit still lingered there, but all I got was the since of history in this incredible mining town. After the rain we ventured through the rest of the buildings, and Kathy decided to jaunt off by herself up to the Cemetery. She was on the grand search for Henry Plummer, the local sheriff who wound up in his own jail and then hanged by the gallows he created. You would think that she would remember that ol Plummer's grave wasn't even there, especially since she wrote about it on Legends Of America, but it didn't hit her until after spending quality time looking.

By now it's getting late, and we have a long way to go to get to Butte for the night. We had also decided to take the Wind River Scenic Byway, which included another ghost town on the way. The rain had moved out of the area, but the storm was pretty powerful. Saw several tree's snapped at the base along the roadside, before finding our turn to Coolidge. A four mile detour on some dirt road, which happened to be blocked half way in by a nice plump pine tree. Lucky we had our high clearance SUV, as Kathy was insistent on getting to her out of the way backwoods treasure.

Within about a 1/2 mile of the town, you're hiking the rest of the way in. This wouldn't have been so bad, if it weren't for the fact that the mosquitoes were also on a mission. By the time we reached the town I looked like something out of a cartoon. Hands and arms waving frantically, constantly moving to avoid large hordes of the blood sucking bastards gathering, and generally getting a miserable experience (note to self: Deep Woods Off). This ghost town did have some treasures though. Several buildings still intact, and a school that apparently found it self in a fast flowing stream. Only the top remains, with the water flowing underneath. Don't see that everyday. We made our way just over half way through the town when I finally had enough.."I'm done, going back to the car before these vampires suck me dry". Kathy being Kathy wasn't even phased by them, and the look of "go ahead you wimp, snivel on back" didn't help.

I cussed a while on my way, then realized I had just left my wife alone, deep in the woods, as the sun continued to go down, traipsing through god knows what miles from anywhere. OK OK, DAMN IT! "Thought you were going back to the car?" Kathy's inquisitive, yet comical smile could be seen clearly while I was still 30 feet away. "If I keep moving they don't overcome me as much" I said, trying to convince myself as I rubbed the back of my neck which felt like a brail Stephen King novel. Fortunately she was wrapping up, and after what seemed to be a long journey back to the rental, we were on our way to Butte. Thank goodness the local ranger had moved the tree before our return down the mountain, and it was smooth sailing to wrap up our 12 hour day of history.

Next on the blog, Butte to Marysville and Albert, Mad Man or Mountain Man.

Friday, July 25, 2008

Cody to Livingston - The Yellowstone Experience - Day 2

We got up from our comfortable stay at the Holiday Inn in Cody Wyoming early Monday. There had been brief discussion the night before about staying in Cody two nights, but after looking at our plans again there was just too much to see in a short period of time. So we geeked a bit, then set out to see Cody, home of Buffalo Bill Cody, a true American Showman.

Sheridan Avenue is dotted with bears. Blue ones, yellow ones, red ones...bears in all poses, carved out of wood and colorfully painted, then strategically placed along the sidewalks for visitors to enjoy. It was much like the horses of Amarillo, or the bulls of Chicago, and it added that extra touch to an already fun town. Kathy and I took the time to soak up the business district, winding up at the Irma Hotel. Built by Buffalo Bill in 1902, the Hotel is still active, and served up one hell of a breakfast buffet. Very beautifully kept, the hotel gives you a great feel for the old west. It's also said to be haunted. Kathy took great photos, and the one posted here of the bar is one of several. Only thing unique about this one is the fact there isn't an Orb in the picture before or after...just this one ;).

After breakfast it was on to the Buffalo Bill Historic Center, what I consider the crown jewel of Cody. This complex of museums was incredible. A full history of the legendary buffalo hunter, how he became such an internationally known showman, and how his famous show finally ended in the early 1900's. There's also the Whitney Art Museum, Plains Indian Museum, Cody Firearms Museum, and the Draper Museum of Natural History, which goes over Human interaction with Yellowstone National Park. If you're planning a visit to Cody, plan on at least two or three hours at the Historic Center. Lot's to see and this complex gets five stars in my book.

From the Historic center, we headed out Yellowstone Avenue, taking our next stop at the Museum of the Old West at Old Trail Town. This was an 'alright' stop, with several old west buildings lining a walking tour street. It's a good place to pause before heading up the road to our ultimate destination of the day, Yellowstone National Park.

Along the highway leading in there are signs warning you of Grizzly country ahead. If you plan on spending a lot of time in Yellowstone, or the area around it, you really should read up on what to do if you encounter one of these incredible creatures. Especially if you plan on camping out or hiking in the backwoods. Kathy and I were hoping to get a glimpse of one, but being late July, we think they had already migrated to higher elevations. In fact, we just happened to see a documentary on Yellowstone the night before at the hotel in Cody. It indicated that the bears moved above the tree lines in the highest elevations to feed off moths by late July, and that the best time to see them in the more accessible areas of the park were Spring and early Summer.

Wildlife still on our minds though, and we had camera's ready just in case. Poor Kathy, all we wound up with was the ass of a buffalo, a deer (we think), and some muskrats. Of course, we had an agenda to get to a hotel in Livingston Montana by that night, so we couldn't spend the quality time needed in Yellowstone to really experience the animals there. But we did experience the beauty, including of course Old Faithful. You really can't put the incredible awe of Yellowstone in words of a blog, so instead I'll just let you see for yourself with these pics.

Kathy and I don't do well with large crowds, so when we pulled into the parking lot of Old Faithful we had to prepare ourselves a bit. Definitely a main attraction, with at least a thousand people all heading toward the famous geyser. Since it goes off every 90 minutes, the crowds come in waves. We just happened to get there about 40 minutes from the next blow. I had our new video camera in hand and was ready at the switch. After making our way through the crowd we found a spot front and center, sitting on the edge of a platform in front of the seating with a clear view of the main attraction. I learned pretty quick that Old Faithful isn't always on time, and there were several false starts, which had me starting and stopping the damn camera at least 15 times. Of course, that meant when the real show started, I missed at least 7 seconds of the beginning thinking it was just another false start. Should've just put the camera on a tri-pod and let er roll.

After Old Faithfuls show of force, we migrated with the crowd to the historic Old Faithful Inn. From what I could see, this was an incredible hotel with gorgeous architecture, but it wasn't really enjoyable with the hundreds of others fighting their way through the lobby. Is there an off season for this place?

It was clouding up by the time we left Old Faithful, and sure enough it poured on us as we made our way out the North entrance to the park. We finally got ahead of the storm by the time we landed in Livingston at the Best Western there. Wind howling at what seemed like 50 to 60 mph, we bedded down for the night, fighting sporadic internet and wishing we had more time to play in Yellowstone. No time for regrets's back to ghost towns and onward toward Butte. Tuesday would be our longest and most adventurous day yet. I'll post that story soon.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Travel Hell to Ghost Town Heaven-Wyoming Day 1.5

The Smoking Lounge to Dollar Rental...

We made our flight out of Denver at about 1:30pm Saturday. It's a pretty short flight to Jackson Hole Wyoming but we were already worn out by the delays that morning when we got there. This is an interesting airport, one of the few that still bring out the mobile stairwells to the plane for de-boarding. Obviously could only handle two major flights at a time, as a Delta jet arrived the same time we did and it turned pretty hectic inside the airport.

After battling the crowd and waiting for the Dollar Rental bus to show up, we headed into Jackson Hole to get our SUV. Dollar Rental was a small building in the middle of town, and evidentially had the best rates, since there were at least 20 other people trying to get cars. Kathy went ahead and took care of business while I stood outside with the bags. Looking through the window I knew it wouldn't be a good experience as Kathy's face was already getting red. The gal that was waiting on her kept getting interrupted by other employees for various reasons. By the time Kathy finally came out she was fuming. "Do we have a rental?" I asked, not seeing any keys or contract in her hand. "How the hell should I know, the gal just stopped mid stream and started helping someone else!"

About that time, one of the other employees in charge of getting the vehicles to their drivers walked by. Seeing several people standing around us, all looking at Kathy's now glowing radioactive face with smoke rolling off the top of her ears, he took charge to get the situation under control. Moments later he was guiding us to an SUV and the manager was hurriedly coming out with contract in hand. As he handed the contract to Kathy he made his first critical mistake...."Everything OK?" Now, Kathy controls her self fine, but is pretty good about letting you know just how bad your customer service sucks when it's called for. "Twenty three times, I counted em...Twenty three times your customer service rep was interrupted while helping me, and not by other employees who apparently haven't a clue about what they are doing!!!!". That's about the time the manager made his second mistake. "But everything is OK now?"

This is when everything in my mind goes into slow motion....Kathy moving in for the kill while I turn to look at the manager, who doesn't realize the true danger he is in. Making sure I get his attention, and then give him the look only another man would know, the look that says 'Stop talking now...back up and slowly move away from the not attempt any further communication or risk the wrath that you have called upon yourself for asking such a stupid question to begin with'.

Jackson Hole to Dubois

We would have loved to make it all the way to Lander that day, but we were both completely beat. Saw some great scenery at the edge of the Grand Tetons as we traveled along highway 191 up to Moran, then down 287. Wound up stopping at Dubois, home of the Giant Jackalope. A nice little old western tourist stop that I'm sure we would have enjoyed, if we had the energy. Stopped at the Super 8 and settled in for a nice peaceful rest, determined to change the course of our adventure with a fresh start Sunday morning.

Dubois to Cody...

Got an early start on the day, knowing we had a long one ahead of us. Our primary objective were the ghost towns around Lander Wyoming. The drive was beautiful, following the Wind river, stopping to see Fort Washakie and the grave site of Sacagawea, the famous Indian guide to Lewis and Clark. Passing through Lander, then down highway 28 through Red Canyon, we reach the historic mining district of Atlantic City and South Pass. Cool views and a driving tour of Atlantic City, but not a town trying to get tourists to stop and stay for a while. It was still home to about 57 residents and while they want you to see their history, I got the impression they wanted you to see it from the highway. Most all the points of interest were on the paved road, and no stores open on Sunday. There is a small saloon though that looks like it does good business during the week.

Onward toward South Pass we come upon an abandoned mine on the side of a mountain. This is what Kathy lives for, those out of the way hidden treasures not frequented by the public. After finding a road leading up to the mine we get a real treat with several buildings still in tact and most of the mine still standing. You could tell it had been active up until at least the 1940's, and we would later get confirmation of that as we moved closer to South Pass and ran into a bigger Mine that was being restored for public touring. The history of the area indicated that the gold mining was finally played out and totally abandoned by the 1950's.

Just a step or two down the road is South Pass. This mining gem is a State Historic Site, and many of the buildings have been restored. Small fee to take the walking tour and worth it. We really enjoyed ourselves learning about the stage stop along the Oregon Trail, the people that used to live there and how the town went from 2,000 residents to no one. Today about seven people live there, but there are plenty of visitors to stop by and give it life again.

After South Pass we head back up toward Lander, almost ready to call it a day, but not before Kathy finds another ghost town, this one not restored, but maintained for visitors. It's a short hike off a dirt road to Hamilton City, with several buildings in various states of being reclaimed by Mother Earth. You'll note that it's on signs and maps as Miners Delight, and it's a good stop for enthusiasts like us.

Finally ready to head down the road, we made it back through Lander on highway 789 up to Riverton, then highway 26 through Boysen State Park, with plenty of photo opportunities sure to please any nature lover. Catching highway 20 in Shoshoni, then highway 120 in Thermopolis, along the way some incredible Wyoming scenery to help light our way and tickle our minds with anticipation of our next exploration, Cody and Yellow Stone National Park.

Next blog adventure: Cody Wyoming's Crown Jewel and Mother Earths incredible forces in Yellowstone.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

In t er ne t pl ea s e

Help, we are somewhere in Montana and need more internet. Have so much to write about , but not getting it done. ...someone reboot this damn router!

Livingston, Best Western 7/22/08

Saturday, July 19, 2008

Wyoming's a long way from DIA

I can see the rockies in the distance. There's still snow on some of the peaks, but the view isn't that spectacular from this vantage point. In the fore ground, United Airlines has a plane at about every terminal, with B37 right in front of me. The fact that I'm posting a blog from the Smoking Lounge in Denver International Airport should tell you that something has gone awry in our travel plans today.

This mornings flight from KC to Jackson Hole Wyoming through Denver was supposed to be an early one. Kathy had saved a couple hundred bucks booking the 6:20am departure, but I think next time we'll kick in the extra to sleep in. Being excited about our upcoming adventure to Wyoming, Montana and parts of Idaho, I was up until almost 11 last night in anticipation. Then for what ever reason I was up and at'em at 2:30 this morning. Still had some packing to do, and needed some time to geek and get caffeinated anyway.

We finally got out the door and to the airport by 5:15, but we were greated with a very long, and slow moving line at the United counter. Don't know for sure what happened, but anyone with a connecting flight through Denver were being guided away from the check in kiosks and forced to wait. Bottom line, we didn't get out of KC until 7:45 this morning, and of course missed our connecting flight.

So, here we are connected to the fabulous wi-fi at DIA, drinking our tea and pop and hording a corner of the Smoking Lounge near an electrical outlet. Gonna be here until 1:30 this afternoon, so plenty of time to count the number of Southwest flights continually taking off while United planes still perch at the gates in front of us.

This changes our itinerary for the day a bit. Not a lot of time to spend in Jackson Hole on the front end, and we are going to try to push for Lander Wyoming by tonight. The Grand Tetons are on the way, so don't know for sure we'll make it. Lots of Ghost Towns on the agenda for Sunday in the Lander area, before we head up toward Cody. This is definitely going to be an adventure filled 10 days...but we have to get out of the Smoking Lounge first.

Friday, July 18, 2008

There's Treasure in Them There Hills

A good friend of mine pointed out this week that it's been a while since I posted a blog. It's not that I haven't had anything to say, but this summer is quickly sneaking by us at Legends of America, and I better catch up before it leaves me behind.

Readers of Legends of America are also busy dealing with the latest economics, politics and general mayhem 2008 is bringing, so the web site is starting to see a bit of a change in traffic. Primarily focused on travel to those out of the way places in the Old West and Route 66, the web site still draws thousands to read about places like Tombstone and Flagstaff, but readers are also starting to turn to treasure tales. Junes statistics saw just under 382,000 unique visitors, a 19% drop in traffic from May. Kathy tells me that's normal for summer months, but what caught my eye is the fact her treasure page has jumped into the top 10 most visited at number 8 in June (when excluding site search results and main page).

TOP 10 Pages in Legends of America - June 2008

Search Terms also reflect the increasing interest in treasure, with the term treasure hunting making it in the top 10 as well.

Top 10 Search phrases on Legends of America - June 2008
76616 different keyphrasesSearch
route 664554
jesse james3537
la llorona1773
robert ford1487
dutch oven recipes1199
goldfield hotel735
doc holiday553
treasure hunting519
old west512

So maybe I should take a cue from the readers and consider doing some treasure hunting of my own. Could be a nice break from just taking pictures of Ghost Towns. Better check them rules though before I go, make sure I'm not upsetting any spirits or lawmen.

The rest of the summer is about to go at warp speed. Kathy and I spent most of June at Legends of America's future headquarters on the Lake of the Ozarks. Finally got a most of our landscaping done and now in the planning stages of building an additional office/garage for a shipping center. We have photo's of the latest work on our second home and I promise to post a link here as soon as they're up.

Tomorrow we fly out for a 10 day tour of Wyoming, Montana and all the incredible sites in-between. Definitely going to enjoy it as it promises to bring many new adventures. I'll be out of the loop most of August and September doing my corporate gig, but I'm sure Kathy will stay in the thick of things catching everyone up on our trip.

I'll try to post again within the next few days and let you know if I find any treasure in Yellowstone ;).

Thursday, June 12, 2008

On my feet again after May slowdown

Finally back into normal tennis shoes after being on my back most of May. You would think I would have gotten a lot of blogging done during my down time, but was too caught up in the ceiling paint and other distractions.

Legends of America was a little off as well. Looks like the high price of gas is effecting many peoples desire for travel, however if you live in the American West, this site is perfect for those short little day trips. It's also a good way to see most of Route 66 from the comfort of your computer, and dream about those Old West ghost towns and legends.

May numbers broke down like this.

Legends of America had 468,904 unique visitors, or about 15,126 per day. Those visitors represented 34.8 million hits on the site.

The top five most popular pages visited, with the exception of the main page and search results, are:
3687 different pages-url Viewed

What are the top subjects you're searching for?

Search Keyphrases (Top 10)

93598 different keyphrasesSearchPercent
route 6650071.7 %
jesse james47181.6 %
goldfield hotel38841.3 %
la llorona33841.2 %
robert ford17830.6 %
deadwood figure13600.4 %
geronimo13460.4 %
doc holiday11260.4 %
doc holliday10410.3 %
civil war facts9650.3 %

An estimated 72% of Legends visitors added the site to their favorites in May. For that we say a big Thank Ya!

Kathy's been busy adding more stories and pages than you can shake a stick at. Be sure to check what's been added by visiting her "What's New" page.

June's busy getting things caught up on the site before our next big adventure in Montana next month. Kathy's added Canvas prints to her photo print shop so be sure to check it out.

Tuesday, May 6, 2008

April Numbers

Legends of America continued to gain readers in April, increasing daily unique visitors by about 1% over March.

Reported period Month Apr 2008

Unique visitorsNumber of visitsPagesHits
Traffic viewed *473395
(1.38 visits/visitor)
(2.5 Pages/Visit)
(55.13 Hits/Visit)

April's average unique visitors per day was 15,779, compared to 15,501 in March. And your spending quality time on the site as well, with over 6% staying up to 15 minutes, and 3.1% up to an hour.

Visits duration
Number of visits: 653770 - Average: 245 sNumber of visitsPercent
30s-2mn484657.4 %
2mn-5mn353585.4 %
5mn-15mn414086.3 %
15mn-30mn231493.5 %
30mn-1h204863.1 %
1h+86581.3 %

What did you read about in April? Our figures show that, besides landing on the main page or using the on site search, Jesse James still tops the list as the most visited page. Twisted History, Route 66, Old West Legends and Ghost Towns rounded out the top five.


And an estimated 72% of you added Legends of America to your favorites!

Add to favorites (estimated)343698 / 473395 Visitors72.6 %

Historically, many of you get ready for Travel in May, which brings a lot of visitors to Legends Of America. Be sure to check out the Travel Destinations of the Old West, or bone up on the in-depth coverage of Route 66. Kathy is busily adding more, so check the What's New page often for updates.

Thanks for making April a banner month for Legends Of America!

Saturday, May 3, 2008

Utah Adventure Part 2 - Ghost Towns a Blowin

Forced Downtime....

I really thought I could get to part 2 of our Utah Adventure by last Sunday, but my real job crept back in the way. Flew out to Toronto on business Sunday and didn't get back until late Monday night. Then Tuesday and Wednesday were jammed pack trying to prepare for being forced out of everything late in the week. That's due to a little injury I had to my right foot 5 years ago that grew into a bigger problem and finally required surgery. Talk about your mandatory down time! I'm lying in bed with my foot propped up now and won't be released to go back to the office for about a month. Sounds nice on the surface, but believe me, I am already going stir crazy from being in bed the past 48 hours. And poor Kathy...trying to concentrate on Legends Of America, while her husband calls from the other room for this and that, is sure to lead to frustration...She's a trooper though, and though I'm the typical male (a bit whiny over crap like this) I'm sure she'll keep me in line. So I decided to stop taking the pain killers this morning, stop the whining, clear my mind and focus on the rest of the adventure we had in Utah this April.

Green River to Price, via more National Parks...

When I left off in Part 1 we had made a long trek over through Southeastern Utah and finally up to Green River. The incredible changing landscapes of that adventure had included some wonderful National and State Parks, but by the time we reached Green River we could already tell we were getting "park" weary. Our main focus of this trip is the old west and ghost towns. Kathy's agenda for the day had us more on that course, but we started right off the bat veering off I-70 onto US 191to Utah's Dead Horse Point State Park. The drive out to the park was pretty flat for a while. You could see cliffs off in the background and there were some good photo opportunities at a couple of pull offs along the way, but nothing to compare to the awesome view that was ahead.

Dead Horse Point is an overlook to the Colorado river 2000 feet below, carving it's way for millions of years, still sculpting the landscape below. You can see for miles, and believe me, your breath will be taken away. The Point has a natural 'bridge' about 30 yards wide, that in times past, would be used by Cowboys to heard wild Mustangs through, keeping them on the point as a natural corral. Legend has it that one time, after breaking some of a heard, the unwanted Mustangs were left behind on the point with the gate open across the natural bridge. Thought was that they would leave the point on their own, but they didn't. Instead they stayed and died of thirst within site of the Colorado River 2000 feet below. Thus the name of the park.

Kathy and I immediately noticed how breezy it was at the top of the point. At the highest overlook, I had the distinct feeling that the wind would pick us up and blow us out of the park. There we were, I holding Kathy's cap with one hand, my own with the other, while she took pictures of the landscape below. And COLD....this was April, so don't know what we expected to feel like 6000 feet above sea level, but the surprise at just how the wind cut through us that morning was enough to make this a brief moment of gawking.

Beyond Dead Horse Point is the Canyon Lands National Park. I'll say right now that I'm not going to do it justice. By the time we reached this point, Kathy and I were just 'parked' out. More beautiful landscapes, including the natural Mesa Arch which was pretty neat. But this park we zoomed through, ready for the treasures of Ghost Towns that lied ahead. So back out of the parks to US 191, then south to Moab for lunch. Deciding there that we would not actually enter Arches National Park and instead just skirt it to the south along the Colorado River. Saw quite a few river rafters along the way, and wondered if someday we may take that kind of adventure ourselves. After watching a few of them struggle, I doubt it.

Finally out of the Canyons and back some straight roads, we ventured up toward I-70 again to our first ghost town of the day, Cisco. The town had grown as a Railroad stop back in the mid to late 1800's, then later in the 1900's grew some more with the discovery of Oil and Gas in the region. After I-70 came along though, the town died. Not sure this is true, but it gave off the appearance today that it was owned by only a handful of people now, used mainly as a salvage yard for old cars, trucks and oil field equipment. Run down houses and closed businesses, plus the Utah winds that day, put my mind a wonderin to some of those movies I've seen over the past few years. What was that...something called "The Hills Have Eyes", or something like that. Anyway, gave me the creeps (sorry about that Cisco).

After Cisco we hit I-70 again, making a loop back toward Green River where we began. The Utah wind that day was extreme, and locals say it was a rare occasion. 60, sometimes 80mph winds whipping out of the canyons and into the flatlands we now traveled, blowing the grey, moonlike dust we experienced in South East Utah, giving the sky a murky, almost ash look. Our next stop was Thompson Springs and Sego Canyon just off to the north. Sego Canyon was our bonus of the day. The short dirt road trip out of Thompson Springs brought us into the Canyon out of the strong wind, where the old mining town of Sego used to thrive. Still remnants of several buildings standing, including an old boarding house and evidence of rail tracks that handled the coal in the hills around it. Kathy and I enjoyed this one a lot, including the additional petroglyph's on the way. Pretty weird aren't we? Run down ghost towns favored over incredible National Park beauty. Guess we just have a different taste for history.

After Sego, it was back to I-70, past Green River, then north on US 191/6 to Price Utah, in the middle of Carbon County. This is ghost town haven and there is a lot of history throughout the county, including the town of Helper, which holds it's annual Heritage Week and has been named a Top Western Town by True West Magazine two years running. Got to Price pretty late, so we decided we would make the Super 8 there a stay two nights running. It was nice not having to rush around the next morning, and we started our leisurely trek up toward Helper by mid day.

Carbon County Coal Mining...

Helper is still a very active town, but the old mining camps that surround it are either gone and just a faded memory, or have been bought by the several Mining Operations still active in the coal industry today. There were quite a few with structures still standing, and the town of Kenilworth, just east of Helper, still houses a few hundred residents in old "company" homes. The mining operation there dying back in the 1950's, but the mining company selling the town back to the residents. The company store still stands, though it looked pretty abandoned.

Helper has a lot to offer the history buff, especially those into America's history in Coal, and the Old West. Looks like it was a pretty major rail hub, and still handles rail traffic today, complete with an Amtrak stop. Several thousand still call Helper home, and historic buildings still dot the way down main street. After Helper we headed up north toward Castle Gate, known for a famous Butch Cassidy robbery back in 1897, and an explosion that killed 172 miners in 1924. Nothing left of the town now but an historic marker and coal loading facilities.

Further north we veer off 191 toward higher country and the mining towns of Scofield and Clear Creek. Scofield State Park is home to a fairly large mountain lake, and in April it's still pretty frozen. The town of Scofield it self still houses about 30 residents in neatly restored mining homes, scattered amidst historic structures. Nestled toward the top of the Mountains here, you can tell that Summer months would be a wonderful time to visit, however in April, snow was so deep it came up over fences and half way up residents doors...and this was after some melt had already started. It was a nice stop though and beautiful country. May have to come back here in June or July to truly appreciate it's wonders. In fact, I recommend making this trek in early June to take in Helper's Heritage Week and the surrounding ghost towns.

Price to Mesquite Nevada....

Our last day of travel that Tuesday took us back to I-70, a couple of ghost town stops along the way, then back toward Las Vegas for our flight home on Wednesday. Leaving Price we ventured south on Highway 10, making a quick side trip on state 122 in search of Hiawatha and Wattis. We never found the towns, just active Coal Mining operations that you couldn't travel through. We did find ourselves on a dirt road along the side of a mountain that Kathy was just sure would take us to some great discovery, but I was driving and the ass hole pucker factor along the one lane, sometimes snow covered road was getting to be too much for this boy, so we finally found a safe place to turn around and headed back to the main highway.

A couple more stops in Lawrence and Emery to take in some history, and finally we were back on I-70. Making good time now on a long trek, we figured we could definitely take the time to stop by Cove Fort, just before the junction of I-15, the end of I-70 West. Cove Fort was built back in the mid 1800's by the Mormon's a place of protection and refreshment for travelers. The fort is a great stop today, kept up by the church who still give tours and a glimpse of what life was like then. They never needed to use it for protection against the local Indians, in fact they were on great terms with the Natives and did trade with them. Only one shot was ever fired at the fort, and it was an accident involving a young boy. The people that run the tours now are extremely friendly and very versed in the history of Cove Fort. It's a great stop for those wanting to learn more about Utah's history.

We only ventured off the interstate again once, this time on State Highway 156, leading us to the ruins of Old Iron Town. The state has protected some of the historic structures in a park there, that includes the remains of an old cone shaped Kiln and a home. Today they are developing a housing community around it with some pretty nice homes, but the park remains for historic minded people like us. Back to 156 we continue down toward State Highway 18, and the site of the Mountain Meadows Massacre, which today stands as a monument to the 120 Men, Women and Children who died at the hands of the Mormon Church. The monument as it stands today was dedicated by the Church, and is a 'hallowed' reminder of the tragedy, later depicted in the 2007 movie "September Dawn".

That was our last adventure in Utah really, besides more incredible beauty back towards I-70 and ever more changing landscapes. Stayed the night in Mesquite, not wanting to venture back into sin city until we had to the next day. Glad to be coming home, yet thankful for the wondrous experience we had in Utah.

Our next big adventure is this July, where Kathy makes her second journey into Montana, but I my first. Planning on spending quite a bit of time there late July, so there will be plenty to write about. For now though, it's bed rest with foot propped up for the foreseeable future. Think I'll take another magic pill and let the day melt away into the abyss.

Ps. Kathy's already got most of the stories from Utah up on Legends Of America. Check out the What's new page for more. Or if your reading this months from now, go to Legends Of America and use the search bar for Utah, or just click Travel To, and chose Utah.