How we became homeless

We were trying to sell our trailer for a while. We got very attached to Eddie, but Mt. Rushmore was our last planned attraction in this part of States and it would be great if we didn't have to tow it all the way to Chicago. First of all, it's quite expensive, second of all we didn't have a place to store it, third of all Chicago was not the end of our journey but we didn't need a trailer further on. 

We had "For Sale" sticker since Washington and we published an ad on craiglist for Utah, South Dakota and Iowa. And we waited. Someone was even interested in Salt Lake City but we were already in Grand Teton and we didn't feel like going back while they weren't interested enough to go 300 miles. Oh well, at least we got lots of new guests on blog, as we gave a link to pics.

Wyoming and South Dakota are not too generous when it comes to internet and cell phone coverage so after we got to more civilized area we discovered we have a new message on our voice mail. But our phone had T-Mobile card and having only AT&T coverage it didn't want to play the message to us. We tried and we tried and we almost gave up but Paweł suddenly woke up much earlier than usually and managed to play it changing the networks manually.

We called back and we set up a meeting at a parking lot of Cabela's in Rapid City, where we had spent a night. Terry and Karla came in an hour. They looked at Eddie carefully, listened to all we said about its defects (our lives would be so much easier if we weren't so honest...), they bargained a bit and...we sold it!

Probably chief Grand Cherokee helped them make a decision. He did make us angry quite a few times over last months but this time he did well. Terry was looking for a small trailer he could tow with... his Grand Cherokee. His car was a bit older than ours but back then they were making 5.7L engines, not our weak 4.7. His car will be perfect for shorter trips but we do not recommend a trip to Pacific Coast.

Karla and Terry
All we had to do was pack up pur things and take care of formalities. We left a title in Chicago - it was sent a few weeks after registration, we left the next day. We asked our cousin to courier it. It was Sunday, it turned out overnight deliveries (at reasonable price) were possible only on weekdays, and we had to wait till Tuesday.

Imagine: you buy a trailer and you get in a package a Polish family for two days. That's what happened to Terry and Karla. Luckily for us new Eddie's owners turned out to be nicest people ever, not only they let us stay in front of their house but they fed us, they took care of Maciek and they were so hospitable that sometimes we were forgetting that they aren't Boondockers Welcome hosts.

Title came on Tuesday, before noon. We finished cleaning and packing and squeezing everything in the car, we signed the papers, counted money, said goodbye to Terry and Karla and, looking last time at Eddie, we went on. We left some of things we gathered along the way, but the rest had to go in. 

We left Chicago on January 17, we said goodbye to Eddie on June 18. We drove with it over 20 000 miles. For 5 months it was our home. It wasn't brand new and its floor under the bed was falling apart but we got used to it. We will miss it…


Mt. Rushmore. Shrine of Democracy and American patriotism

This is the translation of the article we wrote for dziennik.pl. Here you can find original article about Mt. Rushmore and our view of American patriotism.

It was getting dark over the amphitheater. Park ranger with a voice slightly shaking with emotion started talking about Thomas Jefferson, what he believed in, his vision and dreams about America. "And now it's time for a trivia" - she said. "Do you know how many people signed Declaration of Independence on 4th of July?" - she asked the crowd.

Amphitheater is 2/3 full. It's Saturday, but it's just the beginning of June, summer holidays haven't started yet. In a few weeks it'll be really difficult to find a place to sit.

One - someone shouted. Yes, good. The rest of them was signing later, some of them in August - adds ranger. - And who was the one that signed first? - few seconds later we know the name. - Pretty good - commented ranger. 

Which presidents died on July 4th? - she asks. The answers follow right away. - And which were born on July 4? - and again, the crowd shouts out answers. "We are jelous looking at 4th of July parades" wrote Jacek Żakowski in Polish weekly "Polityka". We are jelous now looking at knowledge of Americans about 4th of July.

Who in Poland knows whose signatures were under 3rd of May Constitution of 1791? How long did it take to discuss it? How was it celebrated in Warsaw or in other cities? How many pages did it have, what were the first words, who wrote it? We used to think we were pretty good at Polish history, now we are ashamed to admit we only have questions, not the answers.

Żakowski tries to make us feel better. "3rd of May is a memory of a success of a small group of advance nobles gathered around the king" - he says. So, as usually after another lost soccer game: "No worry Poland, nothing happened". You don't have to know, it was for an event the elites. Was it? Declaration of Independence was for elites only too, as on July 4th it was signed by only one person. And on May 3rd people of Warsaw could celebrate the third constitution in the world that was to give the basis to the modern state. And there were celebrations on the streets.

3rd of May is trying to unite Poles in patriotism. There are flags on all the blocks of flats, not so many on dhouses. Is there any union?

In the amphitheater you can feel the union even on this very evening. - I will be back in a sec - says ranger - meanwhile meet your neighbours - she adds and dissappears backstage. Whole amphitheater fills with buzz of conversation. Traditional suberbean American families 2+6 turn their heads to meet retired people traveling in their motorhomes to ask where they're from and how long they're going to stay in South Dakota.

As we are much slower at starting conversations than Americans it's rather them getting to meet us than the other way around. Family sitting next to us is "only" 2+3, but they are not from real Wild West but from Indiana, which is mid-West, in family terms really almost an east coast. If they lived in Utah or Wyoming they'd probably have at least twice as many kids.

Where are you from? Poland? - they seem surprised.- Yes, Poland, in Europe - we assure them remembering that the nearest Poland is somewhere in southern Illinois, not far from Indiana. They are amazed with our journey. We got here after 20 000 miles across the US. - Half a year in States? That's great! With two small kids? Awsom! With a trailer? Great! How do you like it? You love it? That's wonderful! We'd love to go on such a trip across Europe! - they are really excited.

- We've been there once already- they continue. We went to Sankt Petersburg, and then we drove along Baltic coast on Swedish side, we also went to Germany and Austria - they say. They are not the first people we meet on our way who tell us that they traveled to Europe. Too bad those trips started in Sankt Petersburga and end up in Western Europe as usual not going to Poland on the way. Those who organized Polish campaigns in CNN proudly said that brand recognition of "Poland" improved. Recognition probably did improve but Poland still haven't become tourist destination to Americans.

One of the soldiers sititng in front of us joins the conversation. There are two rows of soldiers in our part of amphitheater. - Where in Poland are you from? - asks Holliday (rank unknown, we know the name because it's embroided on the back of hat). - From Warsaw - we say. I didn't go there, unfortunately. But I spent some time in Sulęcin. I really liked it, I worked informing people living in the area about NATO excercies so I could talk to regular people - he says. We get it. Meeting people is just as much fun part of our journey as visiting national parks.

We'd love to talk some more but ranger is back on stage and goes on with her presentation. We're not only ones who'd like to keep talking, as buzz of conversation continues for a few more moments, but there is no need to shush anyone. Ranger asks more question, this time about flag. She starts with easy one, about the colors on it. How many there are? Everyone shouts out the answer. Then it gets more difficult. Which color symbolises vigilance, perseverance and justice? - she asks. Audience seems unsure. - Blue? - yep, correct! Next ones are easier. Audience can have an excuse - colors on the flag didn't have meanings. The interpretation is taken from the description of the Great Seal. Later they were assigned to "stars and stripes".

And why red on flag is separated by white - another question comes right away. Not an easy one again, audience awaits the answer from stage. It's a symbol of separation of colonies from Great Britan - says ranger. For visitors from Poland it's really interesting, for the rest of audience it's just a refreshment of knowledge they got in school.

Four great presidents George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Theodor Roosvelt and Abraham Lincoln look at the audience from above. Carved "for ever" as they say here in marble of Mt Rushmore they symbolise american dreams and ideals as well as key moments of American history. Washington - freedom being at basis of American experiment, Jefferson - equality, Lincoln - abolition of slavery and bringing back the idea of union, Roosvelt - international engagement, economic revival and enviormental protection.

Gotzun Borglum, sculpturer who created this monumental piece, planned to place under heads a board with ideals that they represent. He believed without it the whole thing is like a letter without the address dropped in the mailbox. He didn't put the address. He died in 1941, just before - as they say here - World War II. Board was rejected and project was finished by Borglum's son - bearing a very patriotic name Lincoln.

Mount Rushmore wasn't supposed to be a temple of American patriotism. A man behind the idea, historian and publicist Doane Robinson had something more pragmatic in mind - tourists, especially the ones with fat wallets. In the 1920. tourism in the US was in full swing. There were no signs of the end of boom, collapse of stock market from the end of previous century was just a memory of historians. Ford couldn't keep up with the production of automobiles and better and better roads were linking old Wild West with industrial East.

Crowds of tourists were going to Yellowstone and even further to southwest, to beautiful places in southern Utah. Old Oregon trail near Black Hills was perfect for such journeys, especially after it was improved by mormons going from Illinois to Utah. But why would anyone stop in Rapid City? It had simply nothing to offer.

Doane Robinson came up with the idea to make a monumental sculpture in Black Hills that would be, as any American attraction "world best". It's the only way to attract visitors and they'll bring money. Cowboys were not enough and South Dakota was facing stagnation. Meanwhile America was racing forward and who didn't have an idea how to stay in the race, was out of the game. Robinson wanted to turn high finns of Black Hills into great heroes of Wild West: Buffalo Bill Cody, Lewis and Clark and Red Cloud. He brought Borglum, so the sculptor could tell him is it possible at all from technical and artistic point of view.

Borglum took a look at Black Hills and decided it was a great place for something that monumental, although he had a different idea. Being American patriot believing in ideals atanding behind his country he thought whatever will be made here should express greatness of the United States. He convinced Robinson that Black Hills deserve to become American temple and home to four greatest American presidents.

"Let us place there, carved high, as close to heaven as we can, the words of our leaders, their faces, to show posterity what manner of men they were. Then breath a prayer that these records will endure until the wind and rain alone shall wear them away" - said Borglum in 1930.

Those words weren't carved after all. "Stars and stripes" weren't even in a project. Maybe they didn't look that monumental as heads of presidents. Which of course doesn't mean there is no flag there. There is, along with flags of 56 states and territories. Flags stand in alphabetical order. "If you have any problem finding your flag, do not hesitate to ask ranger for help" - encourages NPS brochure. 

"Stars and stripes" wave proudly ovet amphitheater just under marble presidents. Wave is actually too much to say, amphitheater is glued to the mountains, surrounded by trees. Sometimes probably it gets windy here, as on the other side of the mountains at Interstate "90" wind was increasing our mpg a lot. But tonight wind didn't want to show the symbol of pride, strenght and unity won in a bloody Civil War. There will be more about the war in a movie we'll see in a few minutes, that was made especially for and about this place. 

Iron curtain slides open and movie starts. It's a short history of United States. There are all key words we already know from traveling across the US. There are dreams, faith, desire of one followed by support and cooperation of millions. We've seen it before in Kennedy Space Center in Florida, in Alamo in Texas, even at Hoover Dam near Las Vegas.

Movie goes through the history of USA and of the place we're at. It shows how the country was growing, mentioning that unfortunately "for indigenous people it meant significant loss of population". Difficult chapters of American history are not hidden but are wrapped in clearly hard-negotiated, politically-correct language. Final result for us sounds a bit quirky.

These weaknessess however do not oveershadow the most important message of the movie. American ideals from Declaration of Independence - life, liberty and pursuit of happiness, on which this country was built are still alive. Every one in the amphitheater is responsible for them. Everyone is supposed to implement them and protect them. And this is a good moment to stand up and sing American anthem. In the darkness lightened only by illluminated faces of four great presidents and a spotlight directed to "stars and stripes" it's a really moving moment.

After the anthem it's time to honor those who protect the American democracy often far behind its borders. All the military, no matter whether active or not are asked to come on stage. Over 100 people out of a few thousand sitting there stand up. There are people in uniforms as well as holiday makers in shorts and t-shirts. Young ones probably came back from Afganistan, Iraq, Korea or some bases in Europe. Older remember Korea and Vietnam. There is one elder guy that might've fought somewhere on Pacific or european front. 

Ranger on behalf of entire nation thanks them for their sacrifice and service. Before she says anything she has to silence applause. Everyone is cheering standing as nobody sat down after the anthem. Ranger goes across the crowd on stage with a microphone and asks every one for name and formation. Some say rank too. It takes a while but all are rewarded with applause. 

Now comes the culmination of the evening. Ranges asks those who stand closest to the mast to take down the flag. Three people in uniforms and one in shorts take on the task. With a full ceremony and a crowd on stage saluting flag is lowered, folded and given back to ranger. She thanks everyone again and dissapears backstage.

Crowd quickly leaves amphitheater. Some people on their way out stop in open, despite late hour, gift shop. Others go straight to the parking that empties in less than half an hour. Two lane highway leads to Rapid City so traffic is smooth. Locals will probably be back on July 4th, tourists will have to do with parades and hot dogs or grill with family and friends. It's a very important part of tradition after all. Pursuit of happiness is one of the most important values so patriotism can, or even should, be tasty.


In the shadow of presidential heads

Wyoming was a wild wild west, big time. Green, boring hills where bisons used to live, now seem to be inhabited only by herds of angus cows. Looks pretty in the brochures and from afar but up close is boring and smelly. But there were two amazing places - Yellowstone and Devil's Tower - that made it difficult to say goodbye to this state.

Black Hills with their Mt. Rushmore are already in South Dakota. For some reason for a long time we didn't really believe in the existance of South Dakota. And North Dakota too. The latter one is now going through a boom thanks to oil exploration. We heard it's difficult to satisfy demands there. There are new Walmarts everywhere, contract workers buy rvs (we were advised to go there as it would be very easy to sell Eddie). Even sleepy South Dakota became neighbour's "back-state" and in Rapid City area there are a lot of small and big companies providing goods and services for oil industry.

Entering South Dakota we somehow ended up in ... Wyoming welcome center. It was probably the best Welcome Center on our route. Fast and strong WiFi, lots of maps and brochures, helpful staff, boat by painted wall (to take rafting picture), horse (for rodeo picture), dinosaurs, movies. We must say this wild wild west is quite civlized...

We spent there a few hours, catching up with the blog, facebook and emails, we found a place to stay that night at Cabela's parking lot and we headed to Mount Rushmore. Road from Rapid City is quite steep and winding, luckily for us, people behind us and other 3 milion visitors per year, it is two-lane. So we could slowely drive on right lane not risking hostile glances and being beeped at.

Mt. Rushmore is a national monument and the entrance is free but they charge for parking. It's only... 11 USD. As you can expect at this kind of place it's huge. There are few levels for cars and bus/rv parking along the road. We found a spot pretty far from the entrance but it seems we were lucky anyway. We didn't know that it get's more crowded later...

There is a wide alley with gift shop, restaurants and visitors center where Maciek got another Junior Ranger batch. There is a trail to the foothill, part of it is stroller accessible. It's worth to take a walk as you can see many more details up close. Another must-see is an exhibition about how the heads were carved and about a man behind it all - Gutzon Borglum.

Among the names of people who worked at Mt. Rushmore there is a Polish name - sculpturer Korczak Ziółkowski, who decided to overshadow his former employer and create even more monumental piece: Crazy Horse Monument - commemorating famous Lakota chief. Indians came to him with a proposition: We, chiefs, would like white man to know that red man have their heroes too.

Ziółkowski was creating his monument until his death in 1982. His work is carried on by his widowed wife and children. It's possible that it's their kids that will some day complete it, as the project is really monumental. Now the only part almost complete is head, and there  is still hand, torso and horse to be done. Presidents' heads are a bit smaller, they could fit under chief's arm (if it's ever made) and they took 14 years to be made.  

We tarried at presidents until late so we didn't get to visit Crazy Horse. Besides it's 10 USD per adult. Quite expensive as for unfinished head and a little bit of an armpit. Maybe in a few decades when Crazy Horse is already more visible from the rock.

Mt. Rushmore is a temple of American patriotism with it's evening ceremony. We stayed there by chance. We were tired but our place for a night was not far at all. So we decided it doesn't make sense to get there too early and it's better to see what happens in the evening shadow of presidents' heads. And there was a lot happening. We wrote an article about it "Why do Americans love their flag" for dziennik.pl. We will translate it in next post and we hope you enjoy it. We do.

We left Mt. Rushmore after 11 pm completely exhausted. We got to Cabela's parking after midnight. We parked among other rvs and we went to sleep. Cabela's, like some casinos is known for letting rvs use the electricity (there are plugs in the lamps). We haven't seen them but we didn't really look. After a really long day we fell asleep immediately and we slept like babies (thank God babies also slept like babies).


Devilishly beautiful tower

We were really impressed by our close encounter with Devil's Tower. There is something extremely different in experiencing this place from Yellowstone. The most beautiful national park in the US is huge and at the same time tangible with all its geysers and springs, while Devil's Tower reverse these proportions. It's a tiny point on the map but it's monumental and dominates the area.

Devil's Tower is even more beautiful as the direct experience. Our short walk at its foot was not disappointing at all. Often the majestic works of nature up close lose their magic. We felt it a little in Cathedral Valley in Capitol Reef. Monumental temples turned out to be made out of petrified mud. We were amazed but we couldn't stop thinking the same thing as walking through some Polish after-war districts facing large concrete blocks of flats - "how is it possible it's still standing???".

Devil's Tower is a statue, a tribute to the Rock. Mountains in Grand Teton or Yosemite were simply beautiful, rock formations in Utah were out of this world but Devil's Tower is a monument. A deeply thought through abstract plan of Mother Nature. We wonder if settlers coming from the east had similar thoughts, maybe they saw Devil's Tower as welcome pole on the way to mountains of the west. Monumental, with it's edges look like columns, smoothed for better effect with, at that time, close but absolutely untouchable top.

We are far from getting crazy over the tower, as the characters from Spielberg's movie did. Maybe because the only close encounter we had was with crowds of really cute prerie dogs that live here. But we talked to woman working in a gift shop and she told us how she got there. Few months ago she was in Montana on photography workshop. She saw a photo of Devil's Tower there and she knew right away she had to come and see it. She came, got a job in gift shop and she stayed. We understand her. 

Praire dog not a woman from a gift shop
Before white faces came, tower attracted Indians with its misticism. It played a very important role in believes of all the tribes that came across. Until now Indians come here to pray or leave gifts although they don't make funerals here any more. Many chiefs and warriors from Siux, Lakota and Kiowa tribes were paid their respects here. Lakota people still hold their rituals here like Dance of the Sun that purify and reborn individuals as well as whole tribe. 

Those ceremonies are closed for white people. You can see colorful ribbons on the trees but that's pretty much the only sign of Indians you will notice. The deal with National Park Service is that Indians have free access there and they keep the details of their ceremonies secret even to the rangers.

Most of Indian legends about the origins of the tower talk about the bear. Kiowa people believe that where now is the tower once seven sisters and a brother were playing. Suddenly brother turned into a bear and wanted to kill sisters. They escaped under a large tree that spoke to them and bent its bench so they could hide. Bear was breaking the benches like crazy but the tree started growing and it turned into the tower while seven sisters became stars shaped as Great Bear. Tower was often called Bear's Lodge, until white people came and changed its name.

Science has a different theory. The most popular one says it was volcanic intrusion - magma was forced into or between other rock formations. In this case it probably didn't reach the surface. It stayed hidden until erosion started its work. The much harded rock of Devil's Tower resisted the erosion while everything around was gone. As NPS website adds, one more popular theory says that Devils Tower is a volcanic plug or that it is the neck of an extinct volcano. Although no other signs of volcanic acitvity are visible - ashes, flows, etc. - it seems possible that they eroded away.

Looking at the tower was not enough for white people. First expedition got here in 1859. Just 34 years later a wooden ladder was installed and a local man - Mr. Rogers climbed it watched by thousand viewers. Two years later his wife did the same thing. Part of the ladder is still on the wall but it's not in use any more. Every year 5000 people climbes the tower. Almost 15 a day. Not easy to be lonely on top...

Devil's Tower was the first National Monument in the US, appointed in 1906 by Theodor Roosvelt. Wyoming was lucky, after all Yellowstone was the first National Park in the world. Both here and there and in many other monuments and parks most of roads and infrastructure was built during The Great Depression. After seeing all those places we'd like to thank Depression for what it did for tourists like us.

We spent a night at the campground at the foothill. Unfortunately those few places with a tower view were already taken. But we can't complain as the camping was only 12 USD, and the view was jus a few steps away. We heard the best views are from KOA campsite, but they charge almost 60 USD. As a bonus they play "Close Encountes..." every night. 

A short walk around the tower is obligatory of course but there is one more place worth seeing, or rather worth going to to see tower from there. Going back down take right onto a sandy road leading to Joyner Ridge trailhead. From there you can see the Tower perfectly.

Early afternoon after a few hours by the tower we moved on. We planned to get to Mount Rushmore the same day and see the heads of presidents carved in the mountain. It was just 130 miles. We wanted to spend an evening there and then stay overnight at free campsite near Rapid City. We chose a parking near huge supermarket with all kinds of outdoor equipment. It turned out to be our very last free campsite...


Through Wild Wild West to Devil's Tower

After four days full of colors in Yellowstone it was time to move on. We're slowly heading back towards Chicago, we have a few extra weeks left but also we have an idea what to do with those weeks. We'll reveal it soon. Now our plan was to leave Yellowstone and go straight to Chicago taking a quick look at the main attraction of South Dakota (yes, ladies and gentleman, South Dakota exists and it has some attractions).

Last day in Yellowstone we left Eddie at a parking lot and after a day of intensive sightseeing we left at 7 pm (we planned to leave two hours earlier but if you read this blog regularly you know what it's like with us leaving places we enjoy). But we finally left. As as we hadn't had any internet for a few days  this was what our plan looked like: we would leave the park, after an hour or two drive we would for sure catch some 4G (or at least edge) and on freecampsites.net for sure we would find a free campsite near Cody which was the first town on our route.

Earlier that day we took a look at the map and we realized that getting to South Dakota wouldn't be as easy as we thought. It's not that far - from Cody to  Rapid City it's only 390 miles. Problem is that Cody lies in the valley 5000 feet above the sea level. It's separated from South Dakota by the mountains - each road was crossing them at more than 9000 feet. We didn't realize at all that leaving Yellowstone we are not leaving The Rockeis and we still have one more mountain range in front of us - Bighorn Mountains.

They just rise up after Cody going up 4000 feet in a really short distance. We're not that tough. We decided to take further way, the old way, the longest way to be precise - "20" - and not to override our car and our nerves.

We left Yellowstone already driving on "20". We did see it once before on Oregon coast in Newport, driving  "101" north. We found out back then that it's the longest road in the US. Zero in the name says it goes from coast to coast. It's almost 3500 miles long and on our trip in the US we probably found ourselves on that road like five or six times. That day we did just a bit over 160 miles.

Going "20" east we were thanking God we didn't even think of taking this road to get to Yellowstone - we would have to go up some 30 miles on a very steep road, and going down we were just trying to nose out whether our brakes are burning yet, going on 2nd gear most of the time. We went down from 8523 feet above sea level (Sylvan Pass in Yellowstone) and after those more or less 30 miles we were at 5725 feet. Maybe it doesn't sound that dramatic but there are some really difficult part with downhill grade exceeding 10 percent.

Road through the park is very picturesque. Outside the park probably too, but we can only suspect, as it got dark, and all we could see were shapes. But there defenietly were something to see as we found ourselfes close to an apocaliptic thunderstorm. No Thunders, no rain, only the lightenings all around us showing scary contours of mountains. It was so unreal that when we got to dam by Buffalo Bill reservoir and we entered a long tunnel carved in rock we both felt as if we were going to the center of Earth or even straight to hell... The feeling stayed with us after we left the tunnel too, as the lightenings still raged over the area.

But we were still in the same universe and not much later, around 10 pm we got to center of Cody, set up at the turn of the century by Buffalo Bill, who could see in this fertile area on the road to Yellowstone a good deal. We didn't get tempted to stay. There are some cheap campgrounds in town but after Yellowstone we wanted to go back to free camping as soon as possible. We still didn't have any cell coverage so we stopped at Wendy's parking lot for wifi. Quick look at freecampsites.net made us realize that we had a long night ahead…

So, late at night, stocked at gas station in energizers and chocolate bars, seeing nothing but shadows and signs knocked down by the wind we headed to Riverton which was 140 miles away… We kept going on historic "20", which, just like us, decided to go around high peaks (Cloud Peak is 13 000 feet) of Bighorn mountain range.

We drove some 50 miles leaving the storm behind and we saw a parking by information center (the only information we found there was about many rattlesnakes in the area) with toilets and picnic tables. There was "No overnight camping" sign but after all camping and parking is not the same, right? Besides it was almost midnight, windy as hell, and there was already a C-class parking there. So we parked next to it, set up alarm clock for 7 am and we went to sleep hoping nobody would knock on our door at night. To make us feel more comfortable two trucks joined us after midnight. At least we won't be the only ones paying the ticket.

Luckily we didn't, nobody knocked. We still don't know if is it legal in Wyoming to stay overnight on those parkings or not. State doesn't seem to know either and we found some sources saying that there are no statewide regulations governing this matter. We didn't really want to have this discussion so we quickly got up and before 8 am (!) we went on through green hills of Wyoming. We kept following "20", but we wanted to head north soon to go on interstate "90", and take it all the way to Chicago.

We stopped for coffee and internet in McDonald's (there was nothing else...) in town called Thermopolis. For a second there we hoped we'd sell the trailer, because an interested buyer called, but we didn't agree on the price. We thought of staying in town few hours to take a bath in hot springs but we had a long way to go. So we went on "20" which passes Thermopolis going in a canyon carved by Bighorn River.

Then it got a little more monotonous - grassy hills stretching to the horizon with cows, sheeps or oil facilities as the only diversion. Out of those we definitely prefer oil facilities, and it is not a matter of sentiment, rather a matter of smell. Wyoming is after all perhaps the most cowboy state, at least this seems to be the marketing idea. Even around Cody, where Buffalo Bill had his ranch with more than 1,000 head of cattle, he'd still make money on tourists seeking cowboy experience. However, we are not at all attracted. Cows mean first of all flies and smell. Therefore we crossed central Wyoming as quickly as chief Grand Cherokee allowed us.

Greetings to our janzour colleagues working hard in Libya
We drove and drove and drove and drove...and at last around 7 pm we got to Devil’s Tower, not far from South Dakota border. We wanted just to take a quick look and a few pics and go on, but place known from "Close Encounters of the Third Kind" charmed us so much that we decided to stay there overnight, especially that we still didn't find any free camping and the one in Devil's Tower State Park was the cheapest one in the area. We felt a sleep pretty easy in the shadow of Devil's Tower hoping that we won't get abducted by aliens...


Yellowstone, part 2

You can spend weeks in Yellowstone National Park and you still won't see it all. We had just a few days and we wanted to see as much as possible. Which is not that easy with two small kids. But we did see this and that. 

First place we went to see was Upper Geyser Basin. It's, according to the brochure, which we paid 50 cents for (so it must be true), a thermal complex with the largest concentration of geysers in the world. Sounds good. Lets go!

Thermal complex with the largest concentration of geysers has probably the largest parking of all the thermal complexes. And even in low season it's not so easy to find a parking spot. But we managed. Crowds of tourists go to Upper Geyser Basin only to see one geyser - Old Faithful. It's the most famous geyser in Yellowstone. Of course to say this is not enough for all the brochures that write about it, so Wyoming describes it as the most famous geyser in the world. It might even be true.

Old Faithful erupts regularly every 90 minutes or so. We waited with a few hundred of other people and we witnessed this unusual show. Despite crowds sitting on benches around the geyser, Old Faithful eruption is really impressive. And despite the fact that waiting for it to erupt we've seen some other, less faithful geysers erupt in the distance.

What we saw later was something we did not expect. Geysers were erupting everywhere around. Few minutes walk from visitors center it was not crowded any more, even despite the fact that all the trails in Upper Geyser Basin are fully stroller/wheelchair accessible and paved and there are boardwalks leading to geysers. 

It's really worth to take this walk, as it's quite empty and amazingly beautiful. There are almost 20 geysers, over dozen of hot spring and thermal pools. And it's all in just a 3-mile-long walk. And you can learn all the definitions of all those thermal miracles.

So a geyser is a place where heated water erupts suddenly from underground. There are cone geysers which erupt from cones or mounds usually in steady jets. Fountain geysers erupt from a pool usually in intense bursts and they seem much less organized. There are over a thousand geysers in the world and more than half is in Yellowstone. Quite impressive..

Besides geysers there are also hot springs. Generally there is no generally accepted definition of a thermal spring but usually a place of natural and calm discharge of water warmer that its surroundings. Mudpots (in Polish called mud vulcanos which is in fact a little different natural phenomena) is a sort of acidic hot spring. You can see them in Yellowstone but not outside Upper Geyser Basin. There were one of our favourites. Mudpots are basically pools with boiling mud. In Yellowstone they are created by thermophilic bacterias, which produce sulfuric acid.

Last but not least there are fumeroles. They are pretty much the same thing as geysers besides the fact that there is not enough water to make it to the surface. Instead of water we can only see steam going up in the air.

Estimated eruprtion times of five geysers in Upper Geyser Basin are written on the board in visitors center. Others have different cycles. Some of them erupt few times per hour, other few times per year. Those cycles can change quite often, which is one of the most beautiful and most interesting things in Yellowstone.

The park is in fact a living organism. What we've seen can look completely different in a few years. Small earthquake, some movements in underground water flows can make some springs dry out, others can be created instead, geysers that were asleep for many years can wake up suddenly. Small geysers can start spitting water up high in the sky. Whole hills can heat up and boil all the trees roots killing them. New thermal features can emerge. For example, just a year ago after two decades something awoke geyser Morning in Lower Geyser Basin and it started erupting again.

That's where we went next day. But before that, on our way back on the first day we stopped, among other places in Midway Gesyer Basin. That's where Grand Prismatic Spring is, one of the most colorful places in the park. Hot spring in the middle is blue, on the edges it turns orange, sometimes even brown thanks to colonies of thermophilic algeas. It flows slowly to the river below. There is a lot of steam coming from the water but, unlike most of hot springs and pools in the park, there is no smell of hydrogen sulfide.

In Midway Gesyer Basin there is Excelsior which used to be one of the largest geysers in the world, erupting up to 300 feet. It was back in the ...1880s. Probably Excelsior blew itself from within. It woke up after 100 years but after few eruptions it went back to being quiet.

When at the end of the day we realized that we have to drive over an hour to our almost free camping and gas prices in the park are high (there are a few Sinclair stations, they are reasonably expensive adding, as far as we remember, 30-40 cents to a gallon to what we used to pay in Jackson, WY) we decided it was time to move. Next morning we took our trailer and went to Bridge Bay campground. A little over 20 USD for a night with no hook ups. Not bad considering it's a national park. Although it was one of the worst campgrounds we've been to. 

It's run by a private operator who, trying to squeeze as many rvs as possible, set up sites along one-way road so you go out of a trailer straight onto the asphalt. We've been at the very end of the street so we didn't have to drive wrong way too much, but others had to tow their huge trailers all the way up the street in the opposite direction. Oh well, still it was better than to pay for gas. There are cheaper campgrounds in Yellowstone, but they don't open before mid-June or beginning of school vacation.

Practical tip: we asked rangers about dump station and they suggested the one in Bay Bridge is for campground residents or requires a fee. It's not and it doesn't. It's outside the campground and there is no information anywhere about fees, so you can go there, dump, fill in tanks with clean water and go on. There is also a parking just next to it where you can leave a trailer for a few hours to have some more time on your last day. Back to the campground - it gets full quickly. We got there just before 12, not bad knowing our usual timing... It got full that day and it was still before beginning of school holidays.

Next two and a half days we've been closer to all the wonders of Yellowstone. Near Bridge Bay there is a place we decided to skip - it's Heyden Valley with Yellowstone river. It's supposed to be one of the best places to watch Yellowstone wildlife. But it requires lots of patience, binoculars and some luck. First when it comes to finding parking space, second - luck with animals. We didn't really believe we had it so we didn't waste our time.

In contrary to all the best descriptions of Heyden Valley for us it was a bit frustrating. Every time we were going back to our trailer all the people around would drive really slowly or stop suddenly to see some bisons. We've already seen lots of them on Antelope Island. We felt like spoiled children thinking, "come on, they are just bisons, move on". Maybe that's why gods of Yellowstone didn't let us see any real wildlife on the way.

We have to admit, we didn't have any luck with wildlife. Registering at the campground we found out there was a bear walking around it this very morning. Some Germans we met earlier told us stories about bears and wolves they'd seen. We haven't seen neither...

But what we came there to see were geysers. After a day of eruptions we felt like seeing some bubbling mud. You can see it for example in Lower Geyser Basin full of colorful volcanos and Mud Volcano. Mud Volcano is near  Cooking Hillside - a hill which after an earthquake in 1978 really cooked inside. Temperature by the gound reached 94C / 205F!!! Once covered with forest the hill now is full of dead trees sticking up.

In Norris Geyser Basin on top of thermal features there is also a museum. We had high expectations so we visited Norris twice - first time it was already closed. We got in second time - not worth it. Few pics and models, boring and not very stroller friendly. 

We also went to see Porcelain Pot. It's one of the quickest changing places in Yellowstone. It's a large, flat area with water flowing out in many places. In this colorful basin narrow mouths are quickly clogged but water under pressure easly finds a new outlet. Springs can also create pretty shapes, like for example heart.

On the other side of this complex there is a geyser called Steamboat, which used to erupt even higher then Excelsior, up to 120 meters. It's worth a walk as you can witness the eruption. Chances are slim though, as the frequency is between 4 days and 50 years.

Situated more to the north Mammoth Hot Springs is a must see. Hot spring terraces are near historic fort of Yellowstone, which used to be home to army sent for protection of the park. It was protecting it not only from poachers but also from train lobby which wanted to build a touristic line across the park. Army finally handed the control over Yellowstone to NPS created especially for this purpose, but many military elements survived until today, including uniforms and hats.

Comparing to terraces, fort is kind of boring. Terraces are amazing. They are so white that it just drills into your eyeballs, with springs so blue that you almost can't resist their inviting spell. In some places springs have dried out in other orange algeas beds form fantastic patterns almost as they were created by some some crazy artist. Well, why the hell Nature has to be always sane...?

We could go on and on about thermal features, but words can't express how amazed we were by Yellowstone. It could not be spoiled by anything, even by the fact that one of the rangers was talking about that it's such a wild place that there is no internet access at all, while just next door, in an ugly hotel there was WiFi for only 5 USD per hour.

We had to skip many things. We didn't see any wildlife, except for some bisons causing traffic jam. Due to limited time we skipped most of waterfalls, the only ones we saw were the Upper and Lower Falls in Yellowstone River valley, which makes a beautiful gorge crossing central part of the park. It's worth seeing, views are amazing, breathtaking even for us and we've seen quite a few gorges, canyons and falls lately.

With Yellowstone we are now, let's say, professionally involved, as Maciek got a Junior Ranger badge. Yellowstone, by the way, is so huge, that while in other parks on our way he got two badges and each took him (and us of course) just a few hours to get (you have to solve a few tasks, draw something, describe a few places), in Yellowstone the booklet with tasks was not ready until our very last day there. Only bingo with things we saw took us 3 days to complete.

We would complain about the weather but for the last few months we checked the forecast regularly and we expected Yellowstone to be raining if not snowing, cold and windy, and it was the reason we didn't mail our winter coats back to Poland. Meanwhile it was not  bad at all, first day we run around in t-shirts, later it got a bit more chilly and we had a few showers but it wasn't cold or raining so bad that it would discourage us from getting out of car. Not bad, considering that most of Yellowstone is over 8000 feet above sea level.

With those minblowing thermal features, amazing views and the weather Yellowstone moved to the first place out of the most beautiful places we've seen in the US. We should've spent there not 4 but 14 days. Unfortunately, as usually, it was time for us to go. Last day we left a trailer on the parking for a few more hours to enjoy Yellowstone just a little bit more, and late in the afternoon we headed east.