Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Homeward Bound: Day 15

(No caption needed)

Mt. Rushmore is crazy...

Great sign at Wall Drug!

Tara lost her 2nd tooth at Wall Drug!

Sunset over South Dakota

We woke up in South Dakota to another fantastic day and headed directly to Mt. Rushmore. Can you believe that there isn't any Geocaches at Mt. Rushmore? That's just not right. Anyway, since it was the tail end of the Holiday week there were a ton of people there already at 10am. I loved the promenade with the granite pillars displaying each State's flag, the large viewing area and friendly faces everywhere we looked. I bet there was a person there from every State, let alone tons of Canadians and overseas guests. The gift shop area was gigantic but fun to look through and I was able to purchase my first Christmas present!
Concerning Mt. Rushmore itself, it certainly is majestic and awe-inspiring. It's educational in that it prompted questions from the kids about the people they were seeing, although they picked out Abe Lincoln and George Washington right away, which made me pretty proud since they're not even in kindergarten yet. On the other hand, the whole thing is kind of absurd. Here is this fairly unattractive formation that someone thought might look better with some heads chopped into it. And the amount of money that the government must make off of this attraction is sure to boggle the mind. It was $10 per car just for the privilege to park near it! What can I say, I'm glad we did it but I have no desire to "rush" back....

Now Wall Drug was another matter altogether. I've heard people talking about Wall Drug since I was a teenager and I truly didn't get it. What was all the hype about? Where in world was Wall Drug? Is it just a drug store? Is this some sort of joke? Well, I just had to find out about this crazy place for myself, while Mike snickered the whole way. Of course he had already been there before so he knew all about the off-the-wall zaniness that was about to greet us. 

Some History:
The small town drugstore made its first step towards fame when it was purchased by Ted Hustead in 1931. Hustead was a Nebraska native and pharmacist who was looking for a small town with a Catholic Church in which to establish his business. He bought Wall Drug, located in a 231-person town in what he referred to as "the middle of nowhere", and strove to make a living. Business was very slow until his wife, Dorothy, got the idea to advertise free ice water to parched travellers heading to the newly-opened Mount Rushmore monument 60 miles to the west. From that time on business was brisk. Wall Drug grew into a cowboy-themed shopping mall. Wall Drug includes a western art museum, a chapel, restaurants, shops and an 80-foot Apatosaurus that can be seen right off I-90. 

Needless to say, it was a fun stop. They still offer free ice water to every person that enters, 5 cent coffee and free donuts. We had a great time exploring the place and Tara even lost a tooth while we ate some grub. We picked up a couple of fun little souvenirs and even got a free bumper sticker! Bonus!

We spent the rest of the day traveling I-90 across South Dakota heading towards our destination of Sioux City, IA.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Homeward Bound: Day 14

My girls...

Joy at finding the cache!

Red Sandstone Cliffs

Our first glimpse of Devils Tower

Pillars of strength...

At the base of the Tower

A view of the valley from Devils Tower

Just finishing our hike around the mountain.
Pretty as a picture...oh, wait....

One of many Black Tailed Prairie Dogs in the area.

We had another beautiful day for traveling as we moved on from Montana, but not before stopping for a few geocaches, of course. We needed to travel through the Northeast corner of Wyoming in order to reach our destination of Rapid City, SD. When I think about, we really got to see a lot of Wyoming on this trip and it really is a very diverse State. Constantly changing terrain, abundant wildlife, friendly folks...

I'll be honest, I had never heard of Devils Tower, although I probably should have. Devils Tower was the first declared United States National Monument, established on September 24, 1906, by President Theodore Roosevelt. It rises dramatically 1,267 feet above the surrounding terrain and the summit is 5,112 feet above sea level. It's classified as a monolithic igneous intrusion or volcanic neck, located in the Black Hills. As you are on approach to this monstrosity, you can't believe how crazy it looks! 

As you can see from my picture of the surrounding valley, there is absolutely nothing else even remotely similar in the area. They have a great trail that winds around the base of the formation. It's about a mile hike but well worth the effort, we all had a fun time doing it. There were climbers on the Tower as we came around the backside and that was sweet to watch. I give them a lot of credit. So glad that we made the stop. 

Mt. Rushmore tomorrow!

Monday, July 26, 2010

Homeward Bound: Day 13

Can you guess what this is?
(scroll to the bottom of the post to see the answer)

Fields of flowers in British Columbia

Arriving in Montana...

Blooming Cottonwood Tree

I didn't want to leave Canada and I wasn't ready to start heading home. There was still so much to see and do right where we were but I guess it was time to move on. We had a pretty uneventful day as we traveled from Invermere, BC to Bozeman, MT. Another blue sky day greeted us and gave us a fantastic backdrop for a couple more pictures. Mike actually took all of these photos with the exception of the "metal" ones. I love the Cottonwood shot. Very cool, honey!

One neat discovery was a pizza chain with several locations in the area. It was called MacKenzie River Pizza Co. and they caught our eye as we were looking for some grub. The inside was designed like a log ski lodge, with a lot of natural and outdoors elements. The food was fantastic and the service was stellar too. We'll definitely give them a try again once we're back in the area.

We stayed in Bozeman for the night, and Mike and I were shocked to see how much the area had changed. We skied at Big Sky back in 2000 and drove right down the same strip in town, but the density of businesses and shops seemed to have quadrupled. It was nice to see the growth but I almost thought it took away from the Montana charm.

On to Wyoming....

This Moose was in front of the pizza joint we stopped at. It was huge and made up of thousands of washers, horseshoes, car parts, steel balls, chains, name it. What a unique way to recycle!

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Canada Bound: Day 12

Bears! Oh, my....

 Mike & I along the Continental Divide

Lake Louise

 Moraine Lake and The Valley of the Ten Peaks

We hiked up to this spot....what a view!

Banff National Park

Another view of Ten Peaks

Mountain Goats who needed a crossing guard!

Kootenay National Park

Olive Lake

The Passage back...

This was one of my favorite days of the trip and we will absolutely be coming back here at some point! The girls hung out with Grandma & Grandpa for the day (they just happened to be on vacation in the same area that week) while Mike and I went exploring. Oh, the things that we saw!

It was another day of staring out the windows at the beauty surrounding us, trying to figure out if I could actually take several hundred pictures in one day! The only reason that I didn't was because I was busy trying to take it all in myself! The day was perfect, by the way, with temps in the 80's in the valley and in the 60's in the mountains. Blue skies with puffy clouds, especially near the mountain peaks, greeted us everywhere we went. It was just great!

We traveled through Kootenay National Park first, seeing a momma black bear and her cub heading towards the woods, tons of deer, eagles, and then mountain goats on our way back out. When we reached the Continental Divide, it was also the boundary between British Columbia and Alberta, as well as the boundary between Kootenay and Banff National Parks. It was a really neat spot, and of course there was a geocache there...

Lake Louise and the Moraine Lake area were....well, they were even better in person than I had ever imagined. It's one of those times in your life where you almost have to pinch yourself to believe that it's real. I have so much that I could say but really, the pictures kind of speak for themselves.

On a side note, Mike and I actually picked up a pair of hitchhikers while on our way to Moraine Lake. Whoa, Nelly. Turns out they were visiting from Finland, and had just hiked several miles up and down the valley and just couldn't go any further...they were a cute couple and we had fun chatting with them.

We really didn't want to head back but we were meeting everyone for dinner so leave we must. On our return, there was another cache that Mike wanted to try for and I'm SO glad that we stopped. It was at Olive Lake, a natural spring fed lake that is absolutely breathtaking and we had the place all to ourselves. You could see all the way to the bottom, even in the middle, view tons of fish and it was FREEZING cold! The mountain backdrop behind it couldn't be beat either!

I have a lot more photos but I thought I would share my favorites-enjoy!

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Canada Bound: Day 11

Washington's Dry Side

Waiting in line to cross the border...

The scenery was changing rapidly!

Imagine waking up to that view every morning!

Purple Mountains Majesty 
(FYI-this photo has not been touched by Photoshop in any way)

Leaving Seattle behind was sad but we were really excited to get to Canada. It was the first time for the girls entering a new country and the first time Mike and I had been to Canada together. And, neither of us had ever been to British Columbia or Alberta, so we were thrilled!

The landscape really started to change as we drove up Hwy 95, and the Canadian Rockies started to rise into view. With the Selkirk Mountain Range off to the East and the Columbia Mountain Range to the West, the Rockies rose all around us to impress us with their majesty. You couldn't take your eyes off the view that encompassed us mile after splendid mile. It was mesmerizing, especially as sunset was approaching, setting the snowy peaks aglow and turning the sky into a rainbow of cotton candy deliciousness.

I was even more excited to see Banff National Park now that I had had a taste, a tiny morsel, of what great feast was waiting for me the next day. I was not disappointed so stay tuned for more photos coming soon!

P.S. You'd think I was hungry writing this post.  :)

Seattle Bound: Friends

The Braces & The Rules

Martin & Me

While out in Seattle, we had the unique opportunity to visit with some people that we don't get to hang with on a regular basis. Unfortunately, we had almost no free time with all the planned activities and didn't get to fit everyone in that we wanted to or spend enough time with those we did get to see. This is why we need to go back!

As I've mentioned previously, the Rules came with us to 2 of the main weekend events, plus we shared some lovely meals together and watched the 4th of July fireworks from our hotel balcony while it poured rain on everyone else! We also let the kids go swimming at our hotel while the adults enjoyed some time at the hot tub. It was great to be able to spend some quality time together, with Mike and Dave just getting to relax, not worry about work stress,  and share some family time together. Lauren and Tara loved playing with Harrison and Thomas, which was cute to see, and Julia was so's too bad we live so far apart!

In between the chaos, I was lucky enough to get a call from a dear friend from my school years, Martin,  who lives in the area. We made a detour and stopped by his lovely home, where we were greeted by his beautiful wife, Nina, another class-mate (Megan) and her friend. Frankly, the visit was too short. I think we could have talked for hours. The girls loved Megan's little pooch and happily played with the puppy the majority of the time while Mike and I tried some local beer and tried to get caught up on the last 15 years. 15 YEARS??!!! Time goes by way too fast....

Hopefully it won't be another 15 before we see these fine folks again!

Friday, July 16, 2010

Seattle Bound: Day 10

Lost & Found Official Log (1 of 2)

Coloring pictures of Signal at the craft table

Tara trying to dunk our friend & fellow Reviewer MonkeyBrad from TN. 

 2 little Frogs at the Celebration!

Our cake at Groundspeak Headquarters after the L & F Event.

Bryan & Jeremy cutting the cake...

Mike & I finally get inside the Mother Ship!

The twins with our boss, Miss Jenn -they loved her!

Our own Logo! Doesn't it look just like us?

Sunday was the highly anticipated Lost & Found Celebration Event down near Groundspeak (Geocaching's Parent Company) headquarters. We had quite the time trying to navigate the Fremont area and find a parking space, but we got really lucky and found a spot super close-by. The Event was so well-run and you could tell that a lot of time, thought and energy had gone into the planning and execution. 

They had a great mini-scavenger hunt that allowed you to gather puzzle pieces that made a Signal the Frog necklace when you completed it. They provided a dunk tank that featured rotating Lackeys, Company Founders and fellow Review Team members in the tank. We all got a good laugh...glad that we didn't volunteer! Also in attendance was the Seattle Bubbleman, who delighted the kiddos and adults alike with his sudsy antics. There was a craft tent for the little ones and plenty of things for the big "kids" to do as well! We had a great time!

After the Event, we were invited to a private event back at Headquarters, which I have to say, was fantastic. The owners and employees opened up their workspace and offices to us, allowing us to explore and making us feel as welcome as just another member of the family. Bryan and Jeremy were both on hand for the cake cutting, speech making, and general merriness. Many of the Lackeys were there as well, making for a joyous atmosphere as we all celebrated the 10 Year Anniversary of Geocaching! 

And as an added bonus, we were surprised with our own "logo", just like the other employees of Groundspeak have. It was SO COOL to see! I love it!

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Seattle Bound: Day 9

Just to prove we were there...

Official Geowoodstock Log Book

Group photo with maybe 1/5 of the attendees.

A closer view of the Brace & Rule Families

Saturday was Geowoodstock, the largest world-wide gathering of Geocaching enthusiasts. There were an estimated 5,000+ attendees at this years event, making it the most attended Geocaching Event thus far. For 2010, it was held at Remlinger Farms in Carnation, WA. The entire event seemed to run smoothly, with the exception of the food situation, and everyone appeared to be having a great time!

My only complaint from the whole day was the process of getting lunch. Luckily, we had purchased lunch tickets with our package to the event. The only other way to get ANY food, if you didn't pre-pay, was to purchase their lunch package @ $20 per person. Holy smokes! That's a lot for a hamburger and chips, especially since we had to wait for almost an hour in line just to get our meals in the first place. Very poor planning in that respect, but we went with the flow and still enjoyed ourselves. 

We were also finally able to meet the Rule Family! Mike and Dave had the privilege of working the Crane Project in California together and formed a bond, like soldiers coming back from the war. Dave's lovely wife, Julia, and their two boys came out and joined us for the day, which was an added bonus! The kids played on the inflatables, the "boys" (Mike & Dave) played the GPS accuracy game and us women folk held down the fort. After the sticky cotton-candy faces were cleaned, the group pic was taken and a hay ride back to our cars, it was time to go have a nice dinner with our friends and crash back at the hotel.

All in all, another crazy, fun-filled day...