Update 5: July 21, 2006

Scorecard: 91 days; 8,913 miles (Car: 3,644, RV: 5,269); 8 states; 14 National Parks; 2,748 photos.
God Has a Sense of Humor

God has a funny way of letting you know that even when you think you're in control, you're really not.

Leading up to our trip, everything fell almost perfectly into place. We sold our house in three days for our full asking price. We sold the Suburban to our friends Bryan and Carrie, who let me drive it for another two months before they flew down from Denver to pick it up. We picked out a perfect RV well ahead of our launch date and got our financing deferred until the start of the trip. I finished up a huge project at work just before giving notice. Susan was able to get out of her teaching contract with no problems. And finally, we were able to move in with Susan's parents for the time between selling the house and starting the trip. Overall, everything that had to work out, worked out great.

So where does the humor enter in? Susan and I had talked about how we couldn't believe our good luck; everything had fallen into place just as we'd planned. So it was with considerable shock that on the fifth day of a yearlong road trip - the fifth day! - we found out that the one thing that we never wanted to happen during our trip had indeed happened. We found out Susan was pregnant. This was not good news at all, and neither of us took it very well. My initial reaction was that we should immediately cancel our plans, find a job somewhere, and settle down before the next baby comes. But Susan thought it through, did some research, and decided that we could continue the road trip; we would just have to change our plans somewhat.

There have been some small changes, such as hiking and climbing less, particularly as Susan gets further along. But the biggest challenge so far has been finding prenatal care on the road. So far, however, we've managed to get the appointments that Susan needs. Her due date is December 22nd, which is when we were already planning to be in Florida. So instead of a short visit to the Sunshine state, we plan to be there all of December and January. Susan has some places picked out where she can deliver, and her uncle has offered the use of his second home while we're there. After the baby is born and we've had a few weeks to adapt to a newborn again, we'll be back on the road. It's not a perfect situation, but we're getting more excited all the time.

So things seem to be going as planned again. Let's just hope I don't get cocky again and God decides to bless us with twins!
Grand Teton National Park: July 7-10, 2006 (Location 22 on the Map)

Our next stop was Grand Teton National Park, another of the many places that we were really looking forward to visiting. We had driven through the park on our way to Yellowstone during our one-month road trip in 2003, and we were upset that we hadn't planned a longer stay then. We remedied that this time.

We thought the views at Glacier were breath-taking, but we'd forgotten the incredible vistas you see at Grand Teton: glassy lakes with huge, snow-covered peaks thrust up into the sky at water's edge. The pictures we took don't do this place justice, but it really is truly spectacular.

We hiked, as always. Our first hike was an easy 7-1/2 mile journey to a place called Bearpaw Lake. Justin, in his usual style, kept asking "Where going, where going?" I answered him for the first of many times with "to Bearpaw Lake." He thought about it for a moment, looked around on the ground and asked "Where's bear poop?" It was just another one of those funny things that he does to remind us that even though he's firmly entrenched in the Terrible Twos, we still love him. On our hikes at Mount Rainier, Glacier, and now Grand Teton, we had seen many signs warning us of the possibility of running into bears. At Glacier in particular, we were diligent about making a lot of noise to alert bears to our presence. But on such an easy (and more crowded) trail as the one to Bearpaw Lake, we didn't think it was necessary to make any noise. Maybe we should have paid more attention to the name of the lake we were hiking to. On the way back, not far from the lake, we came upon some hikers looking off into the trees beside the trail. They pointed out a blonde-colored black bear and cub, just barely visible through the dense foliage. We had almost certainly passed these bears on the way to the lake without realizing it. I silently chastised myself for not following common sense and making noise as we hiked. After all, we had a two-year-old with us, and it was important to err on the side of caution in such matters. The other hikers continued on, and we stayed to watch the bears. The mother started to move off into the trees, and we lost sight of her. We knew she was still there, though, because we could hear branches breaking as she ambled along. We thought she was moving away, but when she reappeared, we found that she had been moving towards the trail (and us), and she was now only 30 feet away! That was a little too close for comfort, considering that mother bears can be unpredictable when they have cubs in tow, so we slowly backed away. Justin didn't know why we were going away from the bears, and began calling "Come here, bear. Come here, bear." We were happy that they didn't listen.

We were fortunate to have my parents come over from Oregon to camp with us while we were at Grand Teton. This allowed Susan and me to get a break from Justin and go on a longer hike on our own. We did a moderate, 13-mile hike past Jenny Lake and up into Cascade Canyon, with more incredible views of Grand Teton and Mount Owen. We were careful to make more noise this time, but we didn't see any bears. What we did see was something else that was on our tick list: moose. We were able to see a cow and a calf, then an enormous bull bedded down in the woods, followed by two smaller bulls in some distant willows. Justin would probably have enjoyed seeing them too, but I was glad I didn't have all that weight on my back for such a long hike!

New birds we spotted at Grand Teton: MacGillvray's Warbler, Red-breasted Merganser, Belted Kingfisher, Hairy Woodpecker.

For photos from Grand Teton National Park, Click Here
Yellowstone National Park: July 10-14, 2006 (Location 23 on the Map)

After Grand Teton, we made the short drive north to Yellowstone for a few days. Whereas Grand Teton was remarkable for its grand views, Yellowstone is remarkable for its expansiveness: everything is huge, from the forests to the meadows to the lakes, and even the huge devastated areas from the 1988 fires.

One of our first stops was at a Visitor's Center, which is usually our first stop at any park, because they almost always have printed information on day hikes. They also usually have a list of birds commonly seen in the area. Susan wanted to get a list, because our recent bird-sightings had been rather slim, and we figured it would be nice to get a little help and at least know what we were looking for. This particular Visitor's Center had displays of probably 50 stuffed birds from the surrounding area, but for some reason, they didn't offer bird lists.

The next morning we went back to the same place so Susan could write down the names of the birds on display. The park may not offer a list, but Susan could make her own. On the way towards the front entrance, not twenty feet from the front door and maybe 100 feet from us, a grizzly bear walked by. It had the trademark hump and the grizzled appearance, and it looked like it was probably a juvenile. We were glad that Justin was holding onto our hands and we hadn't let him dart off in front of us. Unfortunately, I didn't have the camera with me, and we didn't get a picture.

We went to Old Faithful, which didn't seem as spectacular as when we were there three years ago. We also took the long boardwalk around that area, seeing the numerous pools, hot springs, mudpots and geysers. I never get tired of seeing those hydrothermal features. It's a good reminder of the fact that Yellowstone is basically a huge caldera sitting on top of a super volcano that will eventually erupt again.

We did some short hikes and drove around the park quite a bit, and were able to round out our wildlife list with sightings of bison, elk, deer and a coyote.

New bird: Common Goldeneye.

For photos from Yellowstone National Park, Click Here
Black Hills, South Dakota: July 15-22, 2006 (Location 25 on the Map)

After doing some errands (washing the RV and car, getting gas, buying groceries, etc.) and staying a night in Buffalo, WY, we were on to the Black Hills area of South Dakota. We were once again visiting a place we had first visited during our 2003 road trip, and we were glad to be back. The Black Hills are beautiful, rolling hills, covered in ponderosa pine trees and studded with ridges, spires and fins of coarse, knobby granite; the kind climbers love.

We were happy to have full hook-ups at the campground and air conditioning in the RV, as temperatures hit the mid-90s during the afternoons on most days. Normally, we tried to be done with our outdoor activities by early afternoon, so we could spend the hottest part of the day in the swimming pool. It seemed uncomfortably hot, but at least we weren't back in Phoenix with temperatures over 110-degrees!

We spent seven nights here, which really wasn't enough. The highlights of the trip were seeing the Mount Rushmore Memorial again, visiting Wind Cave National Park, and driving over to Badlands National Park and the famous (?) Wall Drug. We climbed a couple of days, and even managed to get Justin to put on his harness and do a little climbing. If we call it "climbing" he's not so thrilled, but if we call it "lowering" he gets more excited about it. We also spent some time at our campground, going to the playground and pool so Justin could interact with other kids and feel like a normal two-year-old. On the last day of our visit, Susan and Justin stayed at camp all day to play, while I took a hike to the summits of Harney Peak and Little Devil's Tower.

New birds we spotted here: Yellow-bellied Sapsucker, Wild Turkey.

For a copy of the climbing article I'm submitting to the Arizona Mountaineer, the newsletter of the climbing club we belong to, Click Here.

For photos from South Dakota, Click Here

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