Saturday, July 28, 2012

The Way Home - Part 4 - (The Wild West)

If you've been following along on this series, "The Way Home", you'll know that we are indeed, almost home.  In actuality, we've been "home" for nearly a month, and this peek back to where we came from and how we got here is just something I feel I need to do.  These tourist-type blog posts are not my forte, nor my love, but there are practical things to learn in the process, and quite honestly, it was a damn good holiday, so why not continue to shelf the introspection for a post or two and just tell you about our time traveling home?

The Wild West.

I had talked to the girls and hyped up the "Wild Wild West" for months.  Ask them.  They'll tell you how irritating my southern drawl had become or how many times they'd heard me say (in said drawl) "I'm looking forward to some real cowboy grub!".   At first the girls didn't believe that we were actually heading into to real cowboy country as we headed East, but it didn't take too long to see our first "real" cowboy.  I then continued to exuberantly point out every single "real" cowboy that we saw for the rest of the trip.  

Let's backtrack just a little.  From our time in Seattle, we continued to head East but also veered a little south so that we could pass through the infamous "Yellowstone National Park".  After all, isn't that a holiday spot that every family needs to do at least once in their time together?  We thought so.

After we pulled out of Seattle, we had a long day of driving which eventually took us to Butte, Montana.  Butte ended up being a convenient place to stop for the night.  It also ended up being a sad, dusty little mining town that looked a little desolate and lonely.

We, however, were not lonely.  We had each other in the van, our "2012 Road Trip Soundtrack", lots of Vinyl Cafe podcasts, sour wine gums, strawberry Twizzlers,  and copious amounts of pipe cleaners.  Trust me on this, moms and dads.  Pipe cleaners are key for long road trips.  They're not messy.  They're creativity inducing, and you can make hundreds of crazy accessories for your van with them as you drive.  At least our girls do. 

As soon as we hit Montana, the landscape changed and we saw a lot of amazing sights like this as drove through the mountain ranges...

After a short night in Butte, we loaded up on what was July 4th, towards our next destination, West Yellowstone.  We wanted to make the journey part of the destination, so shortly pulling out of Butte, we stopped at the Lewis and Clarke State Park to tour some caverns that we had heard about.

To get to the cavern entrance, we had to walk for about 20 minutes on a trail surrounded by awesome scenery.

It was then time to descend into the caverns.  There were about 20 of us in our group with a guide.  Once we made it into the first area, we were warned that after we started moving there was essentially no way out except going all the way through, so claustrophobic or paranoid people need not continue.  That didn't include any of us, so onward we went.

We had never seen anything like it before.  We were all amazed at everything we saw.  Some of our movement involved shimmying through little tunnels or sliding on our butts down polished rock into the next part of the caverns.  It was cool, dark and damp, but we loved every minute of it.

After 2 hours in the caverns, we reached the light of day again and started our trek back to where we started.

After all that exercise, it really was time for some "real cowboy grub".  We decided to head into a real working cowboy town called Ennis for some lunch.  We loved the way the place was decked out to celebrate the 4th of July.  The main drag of Ennis takes you back in time and for the record, yes, we did see lots of cowboys.  So there.

Lunch was at an old soda fountain shop.  Mike and I had the most amazing Huckleberry BBQ pulled pork sandwiches.  Huckleberries are the official fruit of Montana after all.  I bet you didn't know that.

There was one great look-out area after another, all offering Sasha and I the chance to get our inner cowboys on.

After a few hours we landed in West Yellowstone, Montana, for the night.  There just so happened to be a 4th of July Parade going on shortly after we arrived.  Mike and I couldn't imagine a "float" in Canada where a young girl would proudly be holding a machine gun in a family-friendly parade.  I was glad we were only just passing through.

We left bright and early the next morning for Yellowstone National Park.  It was congested, busy, and full of really neat things to stop and look at.

 Like steam vents...

..... buffalo....

.... amazing colors.....

..... and the sounds of bubbling water and boiling and spewing.

Sometimes it felt like we were on the moon.

Soon we made it to Old Faithful - the stop that everyone must make on their way through the park.

We waited along with many hundreds of other tourists for the chance to see the famous geyser erupt.  It didn't disappoint.  It was very prompt and very spectacular.

Yellowstone is HUGE.  Really huge.  You could spend days cruising through the park.  You could also spend thousands of dollars staying in hotels in the park and paying exorbitant prices for food and drinks.  Or you could just keep driving right on out of the park enjoying everything you can as you go through.  We chose the latter.

We drove right on out of Yellowstone until we reached Billings, Montana.  We loved Billings.  We loved our huge hotel suite, the warm pool and the fact that Montana has no sales tax.  We had only planned to stay one night, but we stretched it into two, because we needed a recovery day from the crazy sights and sounds of the wild west.

The rest of our trip consisted of Target, ribs at Famous Dave's, and looking for deals at Scheels.  Not very educational or cultural.  But very therapeutic for this momma.  Ribs are good for the soul.  Time alone in the aisles of Target rates very high on my "happy meter".  While the girls swam, I wandered.  Mike read, and we prepared for the next leg of our trip.

When we left Billings, we were geared up for a good long drive which would take us to Fargo.  The ride was smooth and uneventful.  There was no screaming, crying, or gnashing of teeth in our van.  Our girls are older now.  Mike and I are older too.  We know how to let things slide and when it's time to put on another episode of "Full House".

After traveling through and thoroughly enjoying the Badlands, we pulled into Fargo and spent two nights so that we'd arrive back in Winnipeg when our belongings would.  The whole time in Fargo we had the awareness that the end of the holiday meant the end of the adventure for now.  Home was just a short drive away....

Saturday, July 21, 2012

The Way Home - Part 3 (Seattle)

The first stop on our journey back to Winnipeg was a very short jaunt from Vancouver itself.  It seemed silly to start our road trip with such a short day of driving, but we hadn't spent any time in Seattle the whole time we'd been gone and we knew we had to.

Thanks to my amazing friend Lisa, we were able to stay in a huge suite at the Westin right in the heart of downtown Seattle.  We definitely started the trip off at the top!  We were on the 36th floor and had a great view out of our windows.

Anyone who had been to Seattle usually mentioned Pike Place Market as the place not to be missed.  We took the short walk down to the market and made it our first stop.

The Fish Market is one part fish market and one part entertainment venue.  The guys who work there get into the act and are yelling and shouting and throwing fish across the display cases all for the benefit of the hundreds of tourists who are standing around watching them.

You would not believe the bouquets of flowers for sale.  They are unlike any I'd seen and were so ridiculously cheap!  We wished we'd have had somewhere to bring a bunch of flowers.

Hannah knows a lot of obscure facts about different things from reading from sun up to sun down for the better part of her life.  She had told us that we had to visit the "Gum Wall" in Seattle, which is just a few steps away from the market.  Here you will find a huge part of the side of a brick building covered with people's wadded up chewed gum.  It's likely the most unhygenic tourist attraction you could visit.  But it's strangely very beautiful.

Just past the outdoor market was this wonderful older man playing a homemade single-string pail bass.  He was so entranced in the music he was playing.  I loved the simplicity of his instrument and the vigour and commitment he played it with.  You couldn't help but get drawn in.

Seattle has a lot of neat areas of public art.  We found this spot on our walk back to the hotel on our first afternoon.

The view of the city from our hotel was quite amazing.

On our second day it was (shock) raining in the morning, so we decided to start the day indoors at the Pacific Science Center.  We took the easy route and rode the monorail.

Sasha got to sit right up front with the operator.

There were lots of neat things to explore and touch.

Our main reason for visiting the Science Center was the King Tut Exhibit that they had running.  Seattle was the last North American stop for this exhibit.   We had to wait until the afternoon to get in to see the exhibit.  It was packed with people.  There were many rules to be followed including no chewing gum.  I had just passed out gum right before we got let in, and the good Mennonite in me couldn't see the wisdom in throwing it all out.  We all got very skilled in looking for security guards around and being sure not to chew when they were looking at us.

The exhibit was huge.  There were many many artifacts and interesting stories about the pieces and how they were discovered.  Here is just a tiny taste...

We finished off the long day of walking and looking and touching with a little snuggle on a gigantic chair, and then a ride back on the monorail.

On our last full day in Seattle we thought it was only right to have lattes and breakfast at the very first Starbucks.  It is still up and running strong right outside of the market.  Here are the girls in their attempt to look cool and casual.

After a stroll, we decided to drive into a character-rich part of Seattle known as Freemont.  Freemont is known for its artistic community, interesting shops and lots of public art.

After we finished lunch we walked toward the public art piece that we really wanted to see.  On the way along this meadow of beautiful wildflowers and grass lay a homeless man up against this tree.  The juxtaposition wasn't lost on us.

What we really came to Freemont for was to see the sculpture of the "Troll Under the Bridge".    This piece was commissioned a decade ago and is incredibly neat to see up close.  The Troll even has a real VW Bug in his grasp.

I love how places like this lead to the most interesting conversations.  There is a huge statue of Lenin in this little courtyard.  Looking at this piece led to an lengthy conversation about socialism, communism, trial and error, and the lasting impact of it all.

After all that serious talk, it was definitely time for some gelato.

As we were approaching this rocket ship, we were pulled into a guided tour of the Freemont public art.

Hannah was mildly thrilled willing to be pulled into the guide's shtick.  She was a good sport.

Mike and I spent our last night in Seattle going out for a great dinner on our own while the girls hunkered down and ordered room service.    We were all in our happy place.

If you survived that tour of Seattle with me, congratulations for sticking it through!  Stay tuned for our next stop on the road trip - The Wild West!