Hey everyone,

After we had our fill of waterfalls, we left the Columbia River Gorge and set off north to explore a bit of Washington state.  You always hear about how it rains all the time in the Pacific Northwest and I can verify that yes, it does rain ALL the time.  It rained during the entire 5-hour drive from Oregon to Olympic National Park and when we arrived at the Kalaloch campground, which is an awesome campground right on the beach, it was STILL raining and there was no end in sight.  Despite the weather, we immediately set out to explore the park and since it was still raining we did the only logical thing we could do and explored the rainforests.  When you think of a typical rainforest, the words hot, humid and muggy come to mind; however, these rainforests cannot be described using any of those words.  They are temperate rainforests, which basically means that they can get a bit chilly.

Hoh Rainforest, which is one of the best examples of a temperate rainforest in the world, was the first of the two that we visited.  On average, Hoh gets 12-14 feet of rain each year and the result is a lush, green canopy of coniferous and deciduous trees.  Ferns and clovers blanket the ground and hanging moss covers the trees like a jacket.  If you don't like the color green, this place isn't for you.

 We meandered through the majority of the marked trails in the rainforest, trudging through mud puddles and soggy ground, until we were pretty much soaking wet.  Since it was pretty late, we returned to camp, tried to dry off, and made an unsuccessful attempt to build a fire in the rain with wet firewood.  The next morning we awoke to more rain (surprise, surprise) and discovered that our trailer is taking on water, possibly through the back door.  Since there was nothing we could do to fix it, we set off to explore the Quinault Rainforest.  Out of the two, we both preferred Quinault to Hoh.  The walk was nicer, although still muddy, and the scenery changed quite a bit.  Huge douglas firs and western red cedars dominated the upper canopy of the forest and made for nice photography.

Cutie Pie
Once out of the forest, we decided to check out Ruby Beach since it was pretty close to camp.  I had some plans to shoot this beach during a nice sunrise or sunset, but the weather just wasn't cooperating.  The beach itself was pretty with lots of huge sea stacks spread out on the sand and a gigantic island towering offshore, but it didn't really compare to some of the beaches I've seen in Oregon and Northern California.  There was a 30ft channel of water that drained into the ocean from the mainland, splitting the beach in two.  I tried to cross the water to get a better angle, but only made it about half way across before I had to turn back.  The current was so strong that it nearly knocked me over and I didn't feel like being swept out to sea.

After returning to the car, we set out in search of an area where we could get cell phone reception.  About 35 miles later, we sat in a gas station parking lot and did some last minute trip planning.  Our original plan was to leave Olympic the following morning, spend a few days visiting Northern Cascades and Glacier National Parks and then drive north to visit Banff, Yoho, and Kootenay National Parks in Canada.  After looking up the weather and seeing 10 days worth of rain forecasted for Washington and Montana, we decided to just drive southeast to visit Yellowstone and Grand Tetons National Parks.  We also decided to forego spending another rain-filled night in Olympic.  Since we made the decision to leave a bit late in the day, it turned into a very long night of driving.  We drove about 10 hours from Olympic to Wallowa Valley in northeastern Oregon.Since there are some very pretty barns and farms in the area, it made for a nice layover.

We arrived at the state park campground in Wallowa Valley around 1:30 in the morning and it was so dark that we could barely see the campground roads.  Trying to be considerate to the other campers and the camp host (who was located right next to the self-registration station), we decided to just register/pay for the campsite in the morning rather than wake everybody up by blasting our headlights into their windows.  Normally this isn't a big deal, but we woke up at 8 to find a nasty little note stuck on the car windshield instructing us to immediately register and pay.  Maybe the camp host was having a bad morning, but it kind of made me regret not giving him/her a 2am wake-up call with my high beams.  Before heading back out for another long day of driving, we spent an hour cruising down farm roads and checking out all the red barns, which we quite picturesque with huge cloud-covered mountains as a backdrop.

We decided that our next stop would be a KOA in Dillon, Montana that was relatively close to Yellowstone National Park.  To get to Dillon, we drove back into Washington on a very scenic road full of mountain landscapes that eventually turned into rolling hills and never-ending meadows.  The drive turned miserable once we made it into Idaho and hopped on Route 12, which runs all the way through the state and into Montana.  The road is sandwiched in a narrow valley and runs parallel to the Lochsa and Clearwater rivers.  At first the drive was pretty scenic, but after almost five hours of staring at nothing but that @!$#% river we were happy to reach Montana.  We finally arrived in Dillon around 1am and decided to stay for two nights to regain some energy and catch up on some sleep. While in the area we visited Bannack State Park which is home to what appeared to be the most well maintained ghost town in the country.

Ghost towns are usually hit or miss. Some are pretty beaten down and some are mildly impressive, but this one was our favorite by far. There were close to 30 buildings still standing and in pretty terrific shape. We were able to walk through a majority of them and one in particular was still furnished. It was a very cool way to spend a little layover.

The next morning we departed Dillon and drove the remaining 200 miles to Yellowstone. Our campground was near the center of the park so our drive took closer to 4 hours, but it was much better than the last two days of 10 hour drives.  Yellowstone is another one of those massive national parks that requires a lot of driving to get to the different sections of the park.  When we first arrived, we weren't really feeling the park.  I think we were expecting grand vistas (which we later got at Grand Tetons), but the only thing we saw were trees, lots of trees.  The longer we stayed in Yellowstone, the more we appreciated its subtle beauty.  Yellowstone is a park that is very much about the details.  To truly experience Yellowstone at its best, I recommend waking up before sunrise each day and exploring the park.  Each day we were there, we woke at 4am and set out toward our destination for the day.  In the early morning, especially cool mornings, steam from all geothermal features engulfs the land.

Not a black and white photo, everything was just black and white ; )

Mammoth Hot Springs early morning steam
 Another bonus to getting up so early was beating the traffic (tourons) and being able to get a bit of solitude.  Once 9am rolled around, the roads and walking trails would fill quickly.  The traffic would have been manageable if it wasn't compounded by everyone stopping in the middle of the road every time a bison or an elk went walking by.  I can understand if you've never seen one before and feel like you have to get a photo, but if you stop at one of the hundreds of pull-offs in the park you get great views of the wildlife grazing in the open fields. This makes for a much nicer photo than that of one walking down the middle of the road surrounded by cars. It was fine the first 2 or 3 times it happened, but by the 10th time of sitting in traffic for 5 minutes waiting for people to move, it got a little old.

Every animal shot I take they seem to always stick out their tongues.

A few of the places that we explored during sunrise were Mammoth Hot Springs, Old Faithful Geyser, Artist's Paint Pots, and Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone.  The Mammoth Hot Springs were definitely the most lively in the morning.  The amount of steam filling the air was overwhelming at times, and pretty smelly too (Yellowstone often smells like farts).  We decided to visit the geyser Old Faithful early in the morning to avoid the chaos in the parking lot.  We arrived about 40 minutes before we estimated that it would erupt and we had the entire place to ourselves, with the exception of one lone bison.  He didn't mind us being there and continued to sleep for a while before getting up to do his morning business right in front of us.  Lets just say the bison's "eruption" was so impressive we weren't sure it was worth sticking around to watch Old Faithful.  Seriously, I have never seen so much poop, it was like a month's supply of soft-serve ice cream.

The second eruption of the morning
During the daytime, we wandered around the Grand Prismatic Spring and Biscuit Basin areas which were filled with all sorts of awesome colors and textures that were great for abstract photography.  The colors aren't actually part of the soil, but are mats of microscopic organisms called thermophiles, which thrive in high temperatures.

We also drove around and visited all of the park's geyser basins in search of erupting geysers.  By far the most impressive geyser eruption we witnessed was that of the Great Fountain Geyser.  We drove by there randomly, without even knowing it existed, and stopped because it looked like it might soon be active.  After sitting for about 10 minutes, we were treated to an awesome show with water sometimes shooting 100 feet in the air.

They should name it "Kick Ass" Geyser
 While this geyser was erupting, we also witnessed the White Dome geyser erupt off in the distance.  Since we saw it erupt twice within one hour, we drove over there to see if we could see it close up.  We sat in front of the geyser for about 45 minutes, waiting patiently for the show to start.  During this time, people kept approaching us to ask if the geyser was going to erupt.  We would tell them that we saw it erupt twice with about 30 minutes in between each eruption, and that it was likely to erupt in a short while.  Every single person left, some even minutes before the geyser erupted.  It's kind of sad that nobody is patient enough to wait for a good thing, everyone wants instant gratification.  Perhaps that's why Old Faithful is so popular, the visitor center lists the times when Old Faithful is going to erupt so no one has to wait too long.  Of all the geysers that we saw erupt, we thought Old Faithful was the least impressive.  Other notable geysers that we saw were Riverside Geyser which shoots out over the Firehole River, and Grand Geyser which is the world's largest predictable geyser.

White Dome Geyser
After four days in Yellowstone we drove just a bit south to Flagg Ranch campground which we used as our base camp for exploring Grand Teton National Park.  If our road trip was a beauty pageant, Grand Teton would be Miss America.  It's beautiful.  The abrupt rise of the twelve central snow-capped peaks of the Tetons creates a majestic landscape.  We've seen plenty of mountains during our trip, but when when we arrived we both exclaimed "now, THESE are mountains."

The scale and beauty of the mountains really needs to be experienced firsthand, anything I write won't do them justice.  Our first order of business was to go wildflower hunting, as we were FINALLY in a spot where wildflowers were a possibility.  We first visited Lupine Meadows, aptly named for the carpets of lupine that bloom in summer, but the blooms were sparse.  We then drove to Antelope Flats and found nice full fields of balsamroot mixed with lupine.  Antelope Flats was also a good place for spotting bison, elk, and pronghorn antelope. I scouted out some potential photo locations where the flowers were nice and full since I had planned to return later in the week when the sun was setting over the Tetons. Well 48 hours made a big difference. The large patches of yellow balsamroot had begun to wither even though it seemed more lupines had popped up. I spent the next 4, yes 4, hours walking around the endless meadows trying to find some healthy survivors. Towards the end, I was completely exhausted and disheartened knowing I may have struck out. This was my last chance for seeing some wildflowers on our trip so I decided to look for a bit longer. To my surprise, I managed to find one tiny area where the flowers looked happy and as a bonus, had some lovely lupines sprouting up as well.

I set up my shot and just had to wait for the sun to go down a bit more. I decided I would walk back to the car and grab some water since it was still in view, and was pretty much a straight walk back. Here's a tip, don't ever leave your gear in a field covered in bushes, flowers, and small hills. I ended up not being able to find where I set up and had to get Melinda to help me go searching. After about 15 minutes of running around like an idiot, I saw my tripod. Lesson learned.

During our stay in the Tetons, we spent a lot time finding good locations to shoot the mountains.  We didn't mind driving around a lot because the scenery was always fantastic.  A few of places we visited were Jenny Lake, String Lake and the Oxbow Bend of the Snake River.

Since our trip is rapidly approaching it's "end" we decided to revisit our most favorite area in the United States: THE SOUTHWEST!!!!  We plan on checking out some new places and revisiting some old favorites.  Next up: Capitol Reef National Park, Cedar Mesa, and Monument Valley.

Mammoth Hot Springs a.k.a Another Planet
Some rain moving through the area

What our dinner looks like most of the time

Some girl with a stick for an arm

Sad goodbye to the Pacific

We skipped breakfast



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