Wildlife Expedition

Today we took a Wildlife Expedition with theTeton Science School. Our guide, Tyler, picked us up at our hotel right at 6:30am. He had coffee and mini blueberry muffins for us for breakfast. We started out on the backside of the National Elk Refuge looking for big horn sheep. After watching a pack of coyotes hunt ground squirrels, we drove behind a butte and saw the sheep on top. They were grazing on top of the butte and a few males were head butting, but not seriously. The serious head butting is done in the fall during mating season. We watched the sheep for half an hour and then moved on.

Our guide drove around to the main part of the National Elk Refuge where there is a fish hatchery. There our guide could look through a high-powered telescope and see a few bison grazing on the refuge pasture. We heard a splash in the pond where we were standing and saw a muskrat swimming below the water. On the far side of the pond were a couple of Golden Eye ducks.

Next we drove toward Kelly, WY and Slide Lake. Driving on the road towards the lake we stopped to watch two bald eagle fish. It was a majestic sight.

We left the eagles and drove toward Mormon Row. Along the way our guide spotted a moose in the sage brush. We stopped and got out of the van. Once you know what to look for, their hairy ears, you can spot the moose bedded down on the ground. We counted eleven moose at this one sighting.

We continued driving north until we reached Oxbow Bend where we stopped at the partially frozen lake. On the far side of the lake we could see, through the high-powered telescope, a dozen bald eagles perched on the ice and nearby trees. Closer to us, two big muskrats were sitting on the ice. At first, we thought they were beavers, but then we could clearly see that they had a long rat like tail, not a beaver tail.

We drove a little farther north to the completely frozen Lake Jackson. We hoped to see a bear. We did see bear tracks in the snow, but no bears.

Lake Jackson was the northern most part of our expedition. We stopped for a few minutes at the Lake Jackson dam. It was interesting to see the water flow under the ice and come out the other side of the dam. From here we turned south and heading home. Along the way we continued to look for Bison and Bears, but didn’t see any. We arrived back at the hotel around 2:30. It was a nice day and a great expedition.

Happy Birthday, sweetie

My wife is very difficult to buy for.  I struggle every year with Christmas gift ideas and then her birthday is 3 weeks later. At least once, she mentioned wanting to go fly fishing.  So, for her birthday this year I gave her two tickets to Garden & Gun’s Ladies-only Fly-fishing Excursion.  She was thrilled.  She has spent several month planning for the trip and took her best girlfriend with her.

Yesterday she texted me this picture of one of the fishes she caught.  She said that she actually caught 4 fish, two baby ones and another that she lost just as she was getting it to shore.  The smile on her face says it all for me.  She had a really good time.

Bellingrath Gardens

Bellingrath Gardens.

I took the family to Bellingrath Gardens this weekend.  Visiting the gardens was a bucket list item for me. I grew up in Pensacola and remember hearing about the gardens and the annual azalea bloom. When I lived in Mobile, I never took the time to visit.

It was not the ideal day to visit the gardens, but having made the trip, we still went.  Recent rains have beat down some of the azaleas.  It is overcast and a little windy today.  I was a little cold as we walked through the gardens, but I was not uncomfortable.  We warmed up by touring the conservatory and the home.  The azaleas were probably at their peak last weekend, but the gardens were still colorful.

The house was impressive. The architect, George B Rogers did a wonderful job incorporating the unique features of the site to build a comfortable house for its time.  The house was before air conditioning and located next to a river, where biting insect would need to be considered.

The house is furnished as a museum and not as the Bellingraths’ would have lived in it.  Bessie enjoyed collecting porcelain and  the house was decorate with some very beautiful pieces.  The dining room tables were all set as if expecting guest  The main dining room was impressive and decorated with mirrors, gold, and red curtains.

The gardens began in 1927 when, after a trip to Europe, Walter and Bessie Bellingrath hired architect George B Rogers to convert Walter’s fishing camp into a country estate.  In 1935 the couple built a 10,500 square foot home on the property.  It is all spectacular to see.

Bessie Bellingrath died in 1943, 12 year before her husband.  Walter created a trust for the house and gardens “as a fitting and permanent memorial to my wife.”

Walter was a very successful businessman.  In 1903, Walter purchased the Coca-Cola franchise for Mobile, AL for $1,500.  I’m certain that, at the time, that was a large investment. I was intrigued by Walter’s success and purchase a biographical book about him in the gift shop. It should be an interesting read.

I’m happy we made the trip and that I’ve finally been to Bellingrath Gardens.  It is a very nice botanical visit and the staff maintains it beautifully.  I came for the azaleas and was not disappointed, despite the less than perfect weather.  I suspect that all year round the staff keeps the grounds colorful with seasonal flowers. I won’t make a special trip to visit again, but If I’m in the areas and have the time, I will come to see what is in bloom.

Yosemite to Bakersfield, CA

I woke up this morning around 6:30. I laid in bed until almost 7:00. Coffee is available at 8:00 downstairs and breakfast is at 8:30. We are packing the car before breakfast so we can get on the road immediately afterwards. It is a 4-hour drive to Sequoia NP, our next stop.

Stopped in Fresno for lunch at In-N-Out burger.

It took a long time to get to Kings Canyon NP and the to drive on to Sequoia NP. We really didn’t have much on our list to see, but we did see the General Sherman the largest, by volume, of any tree in the world. The giant Sequoias are impressive to see.

After stopping to see the General Sherman, we drove out of the park on a curvy mountain road. It took much longer than we thought because you could only go slow it was so curvy. At one point, a construction crew had torn up two miles of road down to the dirt. It was one lane driving through it.

By the time we were at the bottom of the mountain, it was beginning to get dark. We drove through some citrus groves on our way to Visalia and then on to Bakersfield. We arrived in Bakersfield around 8:00. We stopped at a Panera Bread for dinner.

While driving to Bakersfield on CA-99 we saw the sunset. It is worth noting because the land is so flat in that area that the final view of the sun just looks like a ball on the edge of the world. I’m not describing it well, but it was an interesting site to see.

After checking in the hotel, we took our bags up to the room. Shari did one load of laundry in the guest laundry. It was around 10:30 before she finished, and we went to bed.

Yosemite National Park

I woke up this morning at 5:40. I slept all night and I only remember waking up briefly for a drink of water. We slept with the windows open and my throat was dry.

I got up and worked on my journal adding details about our last two days. It always surprises me how much time it can take to add all the memorable details to a journal.

We went down for breakfast a little after 8:00 this morning. Our hostess had prepared a vegetarian quiche, sausages, and fruit for breakfast. It was all delicious.

We left the B&B around 9:30 and headed back to Yosemite NP. We parked in the main parking lot and walked to find a bus, we just saw a bus leave the stop. The time table posted at the bus stop indicated that the next bus wouldn’t be for 30 minutes. We decided to walk to the Vernal Fall trail head. At one point we go a little disoriented and came up on a bridge. This was the view from the bridge.

Shari found a park employee and confirmed we were headed in the right direction. We continued walking for another 30 minutes through part of the park we would not have normally visited. It was interesting.

The Vernal Falls hike was steep in the beginning and I had to stop several times to catch my breath. We made it to the bridge which had a majestic view. At the bridge we decided to walk the rest of the trail up to the falls. Another 3/4 of a mile of steep trail and rock steps as we reached closer to the falls.

After the hike we took a shuttle bus back to the Village and then another to the hotel where we ate lunch in the bar. I had a three bar-b-que pork sliders plate. Each slider was a different style of bar-b-que. I thought the Korean one tasted the best. It also came with chips that included sweet potatoes and blue potatoes. It was a colorful plate.

After lunch we walked around the hotel and bought some souvenirs. Then we went back to the car and drove up to Taft Point and hiked the 1.1 miles to the end of the overlook where we watched the sunset. Looking down from taft point you could see cars at Yosemite Park below.

Since the sun was setting, we couldn’t stay long at Taft Point. We walked quickly back to the car and drove back to the B&B. Once back at the B&B I squeezed my car into an available parking space, and we went next door and had pizza and beer for dinner. We sat outside and ate. It was considerably warmer down here than it had been at Taft Point.

To Yosemite

I woke up at 4:00 and went back to sleep until 6:00. Shari and Albert were sleeping soundly, so I laid in bed until 6:30. Then I got up and made a cup of coffee. Shari woke up around 7:15 and Albert shortly thereafter. Around 8:15 we went down for breakfast. Belgian waffles were the specialty of the house, so we each had one. I had mine with Nutella and banana. I really enjoyed it. We check out of the hotel a little after 9:00 and headed south to Yosemite.

From Lake Tahoe we followed CA-89 over the mountains. The ride was fantastic and beautiful. Not much fall color with all the conifers, but every now and again there would be a patch of Aspens with deep yellow leaves. It was really spectacular. After descending from the mountains, we drove for a long time through Hope Valley to Markleeville where we started to climb another mountain. Before descending we stopped at an overlook where you could see Mono Lake below. Very Beautiful. After Lee Vinings, CA we left US-395 for CA 120 which took us to and entrance to Yosemite National Park. We drove 59 miles along CA-120 to get to the main part of the park. The drive was spectacular. I know I’ve used the word “spectacular’ a lot, but I really don’t know another word to describe what we saw.

It was after 2:00 before we arrived at the main part of Yosemite NP. We drove down the main drag stopping near El Capitan to take pictures. We did a short hike to the bottom of Bridal Veil Falls. Everything is so beautiful it almost hard to process. We drove through the valley and then found a parking spot near the visitor center. We walked to the visitor’s center, but there wasn’t much to see there. We walked back to the car and stopped in a few shops along the way. Once back at the car, we drove out of the park and to our hotel.

The hotel was not very far outside the park. It was a little hard to find because it was tucked behind another hotel complex. We check in with Liz out hostess and unloaded the car. Since we skipped lunch, we decided to have an early dinner and walked over to the River restaurant that was near the hotel.

After dinner we went to the hotel in front of ours because they had a small shop with provisions. We bought a bottle of wine and a few souvenirs. We walked back to our hotel and when we arrived, Liz let us know she had cookies in the common area. We went upstairs to our room and dropped off a few things and then went downstairs and had cookies. Liz and Shari talked about what hikes we should do tomorrow.

We went back upstairs to our room and we all enjoyed the bottle of wine on the deck outside out room. The deck overlooks the Merced River. A full moon was rising over the mountain and it had a Halloween look to it. After we finished off the bottle of wine, Shari and I stayed outside for a little while discussing how fortunate we are that we can make this trip. We went inside and went to bed.

Lake Tahoe, California

Left the house this morning at 3:45am to make a 6:00 flight.

Slept on the flight to Denver. I enjoyed having to change planes in Denver. It was a nice break.

We arrived in Reno, Nevada a little before 10:00 in the morning local time. Our luggage was waiting for us when we arrived at baggage claim. We walked over to the National Rental Car kiosk in the parking garage and claimed our 2018 Nissan Murano with California license plates. I want to look like a local.

We took I-580 South from Reno and the exited onto NV-431 Mount Rose Hwy. We drove past the Rose Mountain Ski Resort and on to Incline Village where we took NV-28 along Lake Tahoe. We drove along stopping occasionally to enjoy the vistas. We turned on US-50 and took it into California. At the Nevada-California state line there are a few large casinos and then you cross into California. The only State Line marker I saw looked like a street sign.

We located our hotel for the evening, but check-in isn’t until 3:00, so we drove back to the main part of town and found a restaurant for lunch. We ate the Cold Water Brewery and Grill. Nice place, I had the fish tacos and a Mr. Toads Wild Rye beer. The plate had two tacos and corn on the cob. Just the right amount of food. Mr. Toads Wild Rye was an amber beer with a slightly hoppy flavor. I enjoyed both.

After lunch we wanted to take a hike near Lake Tahoe. Our first choice of a trail was Lower Eagle Falls near Emerald Bay. The drive there was spectacular, unfortunately when we arrived, there were no parking spots available. A CHIPS officer was writing ticket for all the cars illegally parked. We drove back to the Taylor Creek Visitor Center where we found a couple of hikes. At first ,we took the Rainbow trail which takes you through Taylor marsh and along Taylor Creek. Then we took the Lake of the Sky trail which took us down to the shore of Lake Tahoe. It was a beautiful view of the lake along the rocky shoreline.

After our hike we went to the hotel to check-in. Shari made us reservations at Fireside Lodge Bed and Breakfast. My first impression as we drove past, was not good. From the street it looked like an old motor lodge that had been refurbished. But this place was fantastic. Each of the ten rooms has a theme. We stayed in the “Field and Stream” Room. It was decorated with antique fishing gear and old Field and Stream magazine art. It was a cozy and comfortable room. The common areas are wonderful. There is a living room that doubles as the breakfast room in the morning, a game room with working vintage arcade games and an air hockey table, a dry sauna and relaxation area, an outdoor fire pit where we made s’mores. The breakfast was great with the main entre being Belgian Waffles with a large variety of toppings. I had one with Nutella and banana. Delicious.

Homeward Bound

We woke up in Milano this morning at 5:00.

We took a private car from the hotel to the airport. His credit card machine wouldn’t work, so we had to stop at two ATM’s before I could get Euros to pay him.

We arrived at our gate, B2, by 8:30. We had a good 2 hours to wait before our flight begins boarding.

We landed in Atlanta at 3:25pm. We have been traveling for nearly 15 and a half hours. We left the hotel in Milan at 6:00am CEDT.

We cleared Customs and Immigration in less than 10 minutes. Thank you Global Entry.

Viaggiamo a Milano

I woke up early this morning because I was hot. The house we rented in Varenna does not have air conditioning. While laying in bed, all I could think about was why didn’t I let Albert sleep in the room with the bunk beds. It was not a big deal. He asked about it while we were orientating to the house, but our hostess suggested the bedroom he slept in and I didn’t think it was a big deal. So why am I laying in bed, wondering why I didn’t let him sleep in the bunk beds? He never mentioned it again. I don’t think he has ever slept in bunk beds before. I’m sure he would have found it fun. I regret that I didn’t tune in or that it didn’t occur to me until the last day here. I brought him all the way to Italy to have new experiences and I may have missed letting him have the simple experience of sleeping in a bunk bed. Parenting is always fun.

We left the house about 9:10. Since we were early, we went to the restaurant at the train station and ate a second breakfast. Well Shari and Albert did, I just had coffee. The train arrived a little later than scheduled. The cars were already mostly full. Shari, Albert and I were not able to sit together.

Once we arrived at Milan-Centrale train station we easily maneuvered thought the station to the Metro station. We maneuvered the Metro and got off at the Duomo station. I had a little trouble navigating with Google maps once we were out of the Metro station. We found a shady spot to figure things out and were quickly on our way.

We register at the hotel, but our room was not ready, so we checked the luggage and went out to explore and get some lunch. After lunch we walked by the Duomo to see what all the particulars were about tickets and waiting in line. We were concerned if the shorts that Albert and I were wearing and the skort that Shari was wearing would be allowed in. Shari approached and attendant who said our dress was fine and encouraged us to go to the normal ticket counter, not the Skip the Line ticket counter. So We walked across the street where we purchased three tickets and three audio guides.

We walked back across the street to get to the entrance and wait in line. As we entered the line we walked past an attendant who said we were in the wrong line. He directed us to the “skip the line”, line. We can only guess it was because he saw Albert with us that he moved us. That was a blessing because it save us 30 minutes of standing in the hot sun waiting to get in.

We walked around the Duomo for an hour listening to the audio tour. The interior is amazing with 52 sequoia size columns. After finishing the interior tour. We took the elevator to the terraces (roof). We had to go through security again and the guard kept Albert’s Guy Fawkes mask. He told us we could pick it up after we finished. The terraces are very interesting. The details that are carved into the marble is amazing. We walked all the way up to the very top of the Duomo. It was an awesome experience.

After riding the elevator back down, we stopped by the security check point and retrieved Albert’s Guy Fawkes mask and the walked over to the ticket office to return the audio guides and retrieve my passport.

We walked to the hotel and finally check into our room. It was after 6:00 when we entered the cool comfort of the room. We “chilled” in the room for a while and then decided to go get a gelato. We walked over the the Galleria Victor Emanuel and found a gelatoria. Afterward we strolled around and went outside where the Leonardo Da Vinci statue is. We sat on a bench near the statue and ate our gelato. When we finished we took a couple of pictures with the statue and then strolled along the street back towards the Duomo. After wandering around for another 30 minutes we walked back to the hotel. We all took showers and freshened up before going to bed.