A Retired Professor

Yellowstone, Badlands and Irma

I’m warning you now…this is a LONG post!  How can I describe two life-changing events with just a few words and pictures?  I may look carefree in the picture below but inside I was worried!

Where do I start relating the events of the past 10 days?  I suppose I should start back about 5 months ago when I was thinking about the places I wanted to visit on my bucket list.  Yellowstone National Park was at the top of the list since I had wanted to see Old Faithful since 4th grade when I saw pictures of it in a textbook.  For years it was never a priority but retirement and mature aging made me rethink how to spend my time.

I didn’t want to go alone and single supplemental costs were prohibitive so I started searching for safe ways for singles to travel.  I came upon Women Traveling Together (WTT), a 20 year old company with excellent reviews.  It caters to women who want to travel solo but not alone and not as a “fifth wheel” with other tour groups.  WTT limits most groups to 14 travelers and gives people the option of a roommate assigned by WTT.  I called the home office and talked to a representative there.  I did more research on the group, looked at the itinerary for the Yellowstone tour and sent in my deposit.  All was well in March when I did that.  Hurricane Irma wasn’t even something that entered my mind as a possibility!  All I can say is I’m glad I purchased trip insurance because Irma certainly delayed my trip home!  One of my friends told me I win the prize for the best evacuation plan! Little did I know when I left on September 3 that one week later my home was in danger and I was worried about my family and friends.  More about the Hurricane later but first let’s talk about the beauty of Montana, Wyoming and South Dakota!  Happy thoughts first.

Sunday. I eagerly boarded the plane to Bozeman, Montana on September 3.  Irma was churning out in the Atlantic thousands of miles away from Florida and no one was in a panic about her arrival.  Hurricanes are notorious for meandering around and changing course several times before deciding on a destination.  My bags were packed and I was off on my adventure.

Pictures can never do that part of the country justice!  The experience of looking out over a valley or mountain range or desert or the wonders of what Mother Nature can do rivals any visual.  God certainly gave us a beautiful world to see and nurture.  Thank goodness people had the foresight to establish national parks before their pristine beauty could be altered.  One of my favorite quotes was posted in the Yellowstone Visitor’s Center about the purpose of the park:

…which purpose is to conserve the scenery and the natural and historic objects and the wild life therein and to provide for the enjoyment of the same in such manner and by such means as will leave them unimpaired for the enjoyment of future generations.”  Organic Act, 1916

I traveled with a wonderful group of 14 travelers and one tour leader.  We came to Bozeman from all over the country.  We were different ages.  We had different life stories.  We all loved to travel. We bonded as only girlfriends could over meals, searches for happy hours, stories, excitement, awe, compassion and yes, my friends, shopping!  We traveled in a van and answered questions from curious travelers along the way.  Ladies I will always cherish our time together….Jan, Kit, Jean, Barbara, Sandy, Toni, Julie, Kate, Cathy, Sandie, Tricia, Sue, Lori and Chris,  you are the best travel buddies.

Aside from intriguing destinations, there were other surprises in store!  Take huckleberries for instance; they were found everywhere and used for interesting products including vodka!  I plan to order a bottle from the Jackson Hole Liquor Store.  It’s yummy!  I had it served with lime squeeze, soda water and splash of sprite.   I may try it with lemonade too.  That concoction comes highly recommended too!

                                         

Other huckleberry treats included Twizzlers and lip balm!  I indulged in those also.

Monday. After Bozeman and meeting everyone over dinner, we traveled to Yellowstone on Monday morning, Sept 4, Labor Day.  One of the highlights of the travel that day included the scenery and the Grizzly and Wolf Discovery Center.

         

We were up close and personal with these animals.

Tuesday. We traveled the lower loop of Yellowstone.  We hopped on and off the van multiple times to see the wildlife that abound.  I got to see Old Faithful that day and it did not disappoint!

   

We had lunch in the magnificent Old Faithful Inn with its towering stone and wood structures completed in 1904.

We rode and hiked and repeated those actions all day long.  We were a bunch of tired puppies at the end of the day. We saw geysers gushing water into cool streams.

   

We viewed blue hot spring pools and bubbling “paint pots” along wooden walkways with a warning to stay on the paths since folk legend has it that a misstep can wind up making you into a crispy fried human!

We stopped to view waterfalls gushing over rocks into canyons and beautiful green mountains.

  

We never saw any bears in the wild since they have all moved up into the mountains

but these pictures from the late 1950’s or early 1960’s show how it used to be!

 

Wednesday. We traveled the upper loop of Yellowstone.  We were very excited to see buffalo or bison along the way.  Pictures below include Upper/Lower Falls, Artist Point, Grand Canyon of Yellowstone, Mammoth Springs, and the travertine rocks.

                        

 

 

Artist Point with our Tour Leader, Jan        First group to hike down Mommouth:  Julie, Jean & Me

Dinner was at a very interesting ranch that evening, Bar N Ranch, near Cody.

Thursday. We left early for Cody, WY.  The scenery changed again as we traveled past more rugged views.  As we made the turn, there in front of us was a large herd of buffalo!  We scrambled from the van to watch, snap pictures and keep our distance!  These animals are big and you don’t want to meet one nose to nose!

Lunch was at Irma’s, named after Buffalo Bill’s daughter.

 

We visited the Buffalo Bill Historical Museum in the afternoon.

Friday. This was a very long day of driving across Wyoming on our way to Rapid City, SD via the Bighorn Scenic Highway.  I loved the scenery that became more awesome with every hairpin turn!  Thank goodness Jan was a good driver.

 

We stopped at the Sheridan Inn for lunch.  The inn was made famous because Wild Bill would hold auditions for his Wild West Show on the porch and front lawn.

Saturday. We drove about 3 hours to the Badlands National Park.  The terrain changed again and was beautiful in its starkness.  From a distance, we finally saw a big horn sheep on this day.

 

We paid a visit to the Wall Drugstore in Wall, SD made famous for advertising free ice water to travelers in the 1920’s.

After dinner we went to Mount Rushmore to see the evening lighting of the monument and it was truly a moving experience.

It was time to say good-bye to my fellow travelers since the tour officially ended that evening and most folks were traveling home Sunday EXCEPT for me, unexpectedly I  might add, and a few others who had planned to stay on and see a few more sights.

Hurricane Irma.  This is where my adventure and Hurricane Irma merge.  I had been following the weather channel broadcasts all week as the storm grew and was heading for Florida.  First it moved east and then it kept moving west as it made its northerly turn.  From all reports, folks were panicking back home…getting hurricane supplies and boarding up houses.  Friends were being evacuated.  I was tearing through data on my phone watching live updates between taking pictures and enjoying my tour.  Jan, my WTT tour leader, was wonderful.  She asked every day what I had heard and if anything could be done to help me.  Travel partners did the same.  The Colonel boarded up my house and rode out the storm there since his neighborhood was evacuated.  Lots of noise, the storm passing just west of my home even though the Colonel says we were in the center of the eye.  Power gone.

The red line is the path of Hurricane Irma and the dark circle is where I live.  The eye was very close.

I was delayed leaving Rapid City, SD until Wednesday.  Luckily Sandie and Tricia had planned to stay on and tour so they took me along.  We visited  Mount Rushmore during the day followed by Crazy Horse and the sights in Deadwood.

 

While traveling with these ladies we lunched on 2 scoops of ice-cream for lunch each day!  What a treat.  I rationalized that the 10,000+ steps per day offset the calories.

We spent a day in Rapid City shopping and finding the presidential statues on street corners.

 

 

If you don’t live in Florida you have no idea what it’s like to be without power.  I felt a tiny bit guilty on tour because I had low humidity, cool mornings and air conditioning during the day.  It was quite different for my friends and family back in Florida.  High humidity, temps in the 90’s during the day and high 70’s at night.  No relief and frayed nerves.  My neighbor and good friend, Mary, commented on  relationships during the storm by saying  “only the strong survive…we were borderline.”  Moms were posting on Facebook that there wasn’t enough wine to get them through hot sweaty days with whiny children continually asking when the power would come back on!

My house survived very well.  Pool cage damage. Vegetation in my neighborhood destroyed.  A lot of debris to clean up.  People are pulling together to help each other out.  The human spirit prevails!  We are living through flooded neighborhoods, spotty power, gas shortages, curfews, very little produce and fresh items in grocery stores.  Young families are facing an additional week with no school!

When I landed in Sarasota on Wednesday, I received a text that the power was back on in my house!  What luck!  God answered my prayers…my family was safe, our homes survived, my adventure seemed to be timed well, I made 14 new friends, and I arrived home safely!  I will always remember Irma with a mixture of happiness and anxiousness.  Life is certainly an adventure.

As I look back on this trip I am still moved by the beauty we find in nature.  I am also moved by the respect travelers showed for the natural resources we saw.  No littering.  No nastiness.  Just respect.  I like that.  I think all citizens should see our beautiful country to appreciate all that we have in this beautiful country.  It makes one find inner peace, hope and for me, a belief in our future.  Not all is doom and gloom.I leave this post with a salute to the linemen who came from all over the country to help Floridians get power back!  You guys are remarkable!

Thanks Women Traveling Together.  I look forward to other trips with you, seeing sights with like-minded travelers.  However, next time I could do without a hurricane!

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