Home Again

After 26 nights away from home, I thoroughly enjoyed sleeping in my own bed last night. I slept in until 8:00 this morning. When I walked downstairs, there was a pot of hot coffee ready. Ain’t Life Grand!!

We travelled 8,842 miles across the country. It really was a wonderful trip.

Day 25 – Graceland

There was a Waffle House across from our hotel in Lonoke, AR.  We skipped the bag breakfast at the hotel for a plate of scattered and smothered at Waffle House.  It was delicious.

We struck out East for Graceland.  We have an 11:30 appointment with Elvis.  This was my first time visiting Graceland.  I was not a big fan of Elvis’ music, but I believe Graceland is something everyone should experience.  We picked the right time to visit, because Graceland was mostly deserted.  Perhaps 100 people were there during our visit.  We spent about 2 hours at Graceland.

Exploring Elvis’ Car Collection
Albert with the Elvis race car

As we drove south toward Birmingham, AL we decided we were ready to be home.  We drove the rest of the day and arrive home a little after 11:00PM. It is always a fun adventure to travel, but it is nice to be home.

Day 24 – Hot Springs, AR

We woke up this morning and hit the ground running.  We showered, dressed and packed up.  Grabbed coffee and a bag breakfast in the hotel lobby and got on the road.

Our first stop was Fort Smith, AR.  I wanted to stop here because I had seen it depicted in a John Wayne movie and I wanted to learn more about it.  At one time, it was the westernmost outpost.  The edge of civilization before the wilds of the west.

Because of the Wuhan Virus most of the park is closed.  A lone Park Ranger was standing under a tree helping the a few visitors.  We wandered on our own, first taking in the gallows and then walking the parade grounds.  We walked across the train tracks toward the river and the site of the original fort.  

Fort Smith, AR

It was all very interesting but we did not stay long.  We left the park a little after noon.  As we left Fort Smith we located a local Chick-fil-a where we went through the drive-thu.  We now had the problem of where to eat.  Luckily, Carol Ann Cross Park was nearby.  We drove there and found a shady picnic table where we ate lunch.  About half way through eating our lunch, the ducks arrived looking for handouts.  A sign at the entrance to the park said it was $1,000 fine for feeding the ducks, so we didn’t.

Next, we headed to Hot Springs.  It was a long winding drive, through the piney woods, on mostly two-lane roads.  It took us almost 3 hours with one rest stop break.  Once in Hot Springs we went straight to the National Park.  We found a spot to park right on the street across from bath house row.  All the bath houses are closed, so we just strolled the promenade.  It was a lovely shady stroll.  Personally, I don’t understand the appeal of the bathhouse.  However, I did enjoy the ornate architecture of the National Park.

Having walked through most of the park, we decided to move on.  We have an appointment to see Elvis tomorrow, so we drove for a little while East.  We stopped for the night in Lonoke, AR. 

Day 23 – Travel Day

By 8:00 this morning we were loaded, checked-out, and on the road.  We hope to get as far as Oklahoma City.

As we crossed over into Kansas, we stopped at the Kansas Welcome Center.  We used the restroom and talked to the attendant about places to stop in Kansas.  One thing I liked about traveling in Kansas was that they listed the mile markers for all the upcoming rest areas, so you could plan your stops.

Albert’s in Kansas

We didn’t stop for lunch until 4:00.  Fortunately, that worked since the restaurant where we wanted to eat didn’t open until 4:00.  We stopped in Hays, KS and at Gella’s Diner. Fortunately, the restaurant is in the LB Brewery.  Beer and burgers were in order for lunch.  I had the Liberty Stout with my lunch. Then I had a Oatmeal Stout for my dessert.  They were both delicious.

It was after 10:00 when we finally stopped for the night in Tulsa, OK.  It was a long drive, but we are in a good position to drive to Hot Springs, AR tomorrow.

Day 22 – Rocky Mountain National Park

After several days of hotel bag breakfast we decided to go out for breakfast.  Shari searched on Trip Advisor and found a restaurant called Doug’s Diner for breakfast.  Being tourists, we did find it a little hard to find, but we did find it.  When we arrived we were seated right away.  Once at the table we could take off our masks.  We all ordered coffee as we looked over the breakfast menu.  I ordered a Carne Asada Breakfast Burrito and I wish I had taken a picture of it.  It was HUGH.  I made a valiant effort to eat it all, but there was no way.

After breakfast we made the hour drive toward Estes Park.  We have time to kill because we cannot go into Rocky Mountain National Park until 3:00 this afternoon.  We decided to do the hike around Lily Lake.  It was a beautiful lake and the hike was a short, mostly flat hike around the lake.

After the hike we drove back to Estes Park to do a little shopping and to kill some more time.  This time we parked by the library and walked down to the commercial area.  We went into a few t-shirt shops and after a few stops we each bought a t-shirt.

At 2:45 we were in line to get into the park.  It only took a few minutes to get through the gate.  I had to show my reservation email and our annual pass and we were in.  Once inside the park we drove.  It was raining a little as we drove.  I’m not going to detail each stop, because they were all spectacular views.  At one point along the drive, Shari asked me to stop and she got a perfect shot of an bull elk with a 10-point rack resting in a field of wildflowers.

As the sun was setting Shari go a great photo of the sunset over the mountains at Rocky Mountain National Park.

I would rank Rocky Mountain National Park as one of my TOP-5 favorite National Parks.  It was all really beautiful.  I hope to come back when I can spend more time.

Day 21 – Estes Park, CO

We were unable to get entrance tickets to Rocky Mountain National Park for today, so we leisurely explored the area outside the park.

A friend recommended we go to Estes Park, so we started the day driving there.  It’s funny, but I thought it was a park, but it a city named Estes Park.  We found a place to park on MacGregor Avenue near the Police station.  We walked down the hill and walked down Elkhorn Avenue mostly window shopping and looking for souvenirs.

In Estes Park we did the short hike in the Knoll-Willow Open Space in the heart of town.  We hiked up to the Birch Ruins and then back down again.  It was sprinkling a little as we walked back to the car.

Since tomorrow we have admission to Rocky Mountain National Park, we decided to drive to the Beaver Meadows Visitor Center just outside the park.  A thunderstorm was rolling in as we waited in line to get into the Visitors Center.  It made a lot of noise, but no rain.  We made it inside, asked a few questions, did a little shopping, and then left.  As we were headed to the car, we changed course and decided to use the restroom before we left.  That is when the bottom dropped out.  It started raining and then the temperature dropped ten degrees.  Mixed in the rain was hail.  I took a brief video of the storm.

Next we drove to St Catherine’s Chapel on the Rock.  A small old church that is famous because St John Paul II said mass there in during his visit to Colorado for World Youth Day in 1993.

St Catherine’s Chapel on the Rocks

When we finished at the chapel it was late afternoon.  We decided to drive back to the hotel.  It’s a one hour drive on Highway 34 through Big Thompson Canyon.  It is a beautiful drive.  On our way back we saw a few Pronghorns walking down the road.

Pronghorns
Big Thompson Canyon

At the hotel we freshened up and looked for a place for dinner.  I’m in the mood for italian tonight.  Shari found Biaggi’s Ristorante Italiano which was near the hotel at the Promenade Shops at Centerra not far from our hotel.  We chose a table on the patio.  The temperature is nice and the weather is dry, so it was nice to sit outside.  Albert and I both ordered pizza and Shari had a pasta dish.  It was all delicious.

Day 20 – Loveland, CO

I woke up at 8:45.  Shari was awake, too. Shari went down to the hotel breakfast area and got us coffee.  I sat in bed reading the news on the internet.  Later she went back down and brought back breakfast, so we can eat in the room before getting on the road.

Today we are driving to Loveland, Colorado.  We will spend 3 nights there and in and around Rocky Mountain National Park.

It was an all day drive, but it was mostly interstate. We had some great scenery like the rocks below.

James Town, WY

We stopped and bought lunch at a Jimmy John’s in Rock Springs, WY. At first we planned to find a park to eat at, but when we exited the restaurant we noticed they had tables setup behind the store. So we ate there. We were able to go in and get refills before we got back in the car.

Behind Jimmy John’s Rock Springs, WY

When I was a kid in Pensacola, there was a Sinclair gas station on 12th Avenue. I remember my mother going there. It was right across the street from the A&P where she bought groceries and the T.G.&Y that had a candy isle that I could never decide on what I wanted. Sometime in the late 60’s or early 70’s the Sinclair station closed. I thought all the Sinclair stations went out of business until I travelled out west and saw that they are still prominent in some western states. Today we stopped at the Sinclair station near the Sinclair refinery in Sinclair, WY. Albert wanted his picture taken near the Sinclair dinosaur.

Sinclair, WY

Shortly after leaving Cheyenne, WY I could see a very large thunderstorm cloud ahead. We continued to drive and I saw a white hill on the horizon. I didn’t think anything of it because we had just been in Utah where there was white sandy soil. As we drove closer to the hill the temperature outside dropped 20 degrees and I noticed hail piled up on the roadway. That is when I realized that the hill was white because it was covered with hail. It was an interesting sight. It has been years since I was caught in a hail storm. Fortunately, this was not the windshield busting size hail.

It was almost dark by the time we arrived at our hotel in Loveland. Instead of trying to go out to eat, we popped the cork on a bottle of wine and ate snacks in the room.

Day 19 – Park City, Utah

Yesterday, on the drive back to the hotel from Golden Spike National Historic Park, the oil change light came on in the car. Since we are a thousand miles from home, I decided I need to get it taken care of. I left the hotel this morning and drove to the closest Jiffy Lube to get the oil changed. It took more than an hour to get it done. The Jiffy Lube was really busy and I had to wait.

Today we are only going a short distance from Salt Lake City to Park City. My son in law suggested we spend a day in Park City. It is one of his favorite places to visit. He also suggested that we eat at the Saloon at High West Distillery. I followed his suggestion and made reservations for an early dinner.

On our way to Park City, we stopped at Jordanelle State Park were we had a picnic lunch. It was a beautiful day and the park was crowded with visitors. We stopped at one of the many covered picnic tables and ate. All the picnic tables were reservable. I felt like we were squatting on someone’s reserved picnic table. We just had snacks from the cooler for lunch, salami, cheese, nuts, and fruit. We ate relatively quickly.

After lunch we drove into Park City. Our first stop was a car wash. The car was covered with a thin layer of white dust. Next, we drove through the city, just looking around. At 3:00 we headed to our hotel where we checked-in and unloaded. We rested in the room for a while. We have early dinner reservation, so we drove to High West Distillery, parking in a nearby public lot.

At the Saloon we were seated quickly outside. Unfortunately, it must have been a shift change of servers, not once came to the table for a full 20 minutes. I eventually went to the hostess station and voiced my concern. A few minutes later Craig came to the table and brought us some water. I initially ordered a flight of their bourbons, so I could try them all before decided which one I wanted.

Bourbon Flight

I liked the Double Rye bourbon so I ordered another round of it. I also ordered the Niman Ranch filet for dinner. Dinner was delicious. We all wanted something sweet to end the meal so we ordered a GRILLSWITH. It’s a Cinnamon Roasted Krispy Kreme Donuts, Vanilla Ice Cream, Rendezvous® Rye Caramel. It was delicious.

GRILLSWITH

After dinner we went into the distillery gift shop and bought a bottle of the American Prairie bourbon and a bottle of Double Rye. Once back at the room we uncorked both bottles and had a little more bourbon as we played Uno.

Day 18 – Golden Spike National Historic Park

Today we visited the Golden Spike National Historic Park.  We stopped here on my request.  After watching all those episodes of “Hell on Wheels” on Netflix, I couldn’t come this close and not visit.  I really enjoyed it, but it was a very hot day in Northern Utah with temperature reaching 97 degrees while we were at the park.

The Park is definitely out of the way, but well worth the effort if you’re a train or history buff (I consider myself both). There are two working replica trains representing the two trains of the Central Pacific and the Union Pacific railroads.  Both trains are true functioning replicas and the highlight of the visit was watching them move along the tracks.  Part of the visit was a car tour where you drive along an original cut for the railroad.  It is a very nice self-guided tour that takes about 45 minutes.

I was very reflective during the visit.  It was 97 degree outside during our visit.  There is no shade anywhere.  The wind is blowing, but it is dry.  The railroad was built by pure man power.  It was done before hydraulic construction equipment was invented.  Explosives were occasionally used, but mostly it was built by men with hand tools.  The worked every day under the blistering sun.  It was always hot.  I have to admit they were more manly than I.  If I had been there I would have devised a method for erecting a tent over the workers so they could work in the shade.  The water boy would have been my best friend and I would have given him half my wages to make sure he took care of me.  I’m proud of my Irish ancestors and the many Irish immigrants who worked on building the railroad.  My direct ancestors were not among the one who built the railroads, mine were civil servants in Boston.

On of the peculiar highlights of our visit was watching this Gopher Snake climb the wall. This was a 12 foot high stone wall.  Then he shimmied across a 2 inch fire sprinkler pipe to reach a Barn Swallow nest where he had lunch.  The Barn Swallows saw him as a threat and were very excited, but I never saw one attack the snake.  After lunch he had trouble negotiating the pipe on a full stomach and fell to a table under the pipe.  A park ranger gathered him up and deposited him in the field.

After driving back to Salt Lake City, we went to dinner at Red Rock Brewing downtown.  Dinner was great and the beer was excellent.  Albert had this Elephino which was a tasty beer.

Day 18 – Driving to Salt Lake City

Today we spent 13.5 hours in the car.  We drove from Medford, OR to Salt Lake City, UT.  After leaving Lakeview, Oregon we drove for almost 4 hours of high desert ranch land. We rarely saw another car. At one point we came to a construction zone. The flagman was by himself out in the middle of no where in the hot sun. While we were stopped, Shari gave the flagman a Gatorade from our cooler. He really appreciated it. We had to wait about 30 minutes before we could continue.

My favorite stop was the Bonneville Salt Flats just as we crossed the Utah State Line. Just a really different landscape.

Day 17 – Crater Lake National Park

We left the hotel at 7:30 and made the 2 hour drive to Crate Lake National Park.  It was a beautiful drive through the woods on Hwy 62 to get to the park.

At the gate to the park we showed our pass and the ranger gave me a map of the park.  I asked about a park newspaper, but the ranger snapped back saying if the did a newspaper he would have given me one.  Not exactly a polite response, I thought.

We drive to the Visitor Center and Post Office to find that the Visitor Center was closed and so were the restrooms.  A lady at the Post Office informed us that the closest rest rooms where 3 miles up the road at the crater overlook.  So we drove up the the crater overlook.

After all using the restroom, we walked over to the crater overlook.  It was a beautiful view and we spent about an hour walking along the rim toward the lodge.  At one point we walked down steps to reach a viewing platform.

We visited the gift shop which opened at 10:00, but besides stickers and a decorative tote bag didn’t see anything we wanted to buy.  The gift shop had prepared sandwiches, so we bought lunch to eat later in the day.

We started driving East on the Rim Road stopping along the way to take in various sites.  We drove the road to The Pinnacles.  We did not hike the complete Pinnacle train, but did enough to get a good perspective.  After leaving the main parking lot we drove along the road back to the main Rim Road.  We stopped to use the restroom in the woods and we ate lunch in the car at the same stop.

We continued driving the Rim Road stopping when inspired until we almost reached the crater overlook.  Then we turned around and drove the Rim Road in the westerly direction.  At the end we felt like we had thoroughly seen the park and drove back to the hotel.  On our way back to the hotel, we stopped at COSTCO and filled the car with gas.

Once back at the hotel we started searching for Mexican Restaurants.  We found one not too far from the hotel and called to make sure they had table service.  The restaurant was El Molcajete Mexican Grill.  They have two locations and we drove to the Stewart Avenue location where they were doing Dine-In service.  When we were seated they brought us chips and salsa along with queso and refried bean dip.  We all ordered margaritas to drink.  Our entrees were delivered quickly and everything was delicious.

Our original plan was to turn south here and head to California. We planned to drive the Pacific Coast Highway from Crescent City, California to Santa Monica. At Santa Monica we would start driving Route 66 East. Unfortunately, we had to abandon that plan. New Mexico is requiring out of state travelers to quarantine for 14 days. In California, most of the restaurants only allow outdoor dining. Taking this into consideration, we decided to return home via Rocky Mountain National Park.

Day 16 – Crossing Oregon

I woke up this morning when the alarm went off at 6:30.  I went down to the front lobby and got coffee for Shari and I.  Then returned to get our Grab and Go breakfast in a bag.
We spent most of the day driving across Oregon.

I was surprised by the landscape.  For at least the first two hours it was a dry rocky landscape covered with sage brush.  Not what I expected for Oregon.  Bathrooms were hard to come by, but they did have at least one rest stop with a compost toilet.

We stopped at Lakeview, Oregon and went to the local Subway sandwich shop and bought lunch.  Shari needed to use the restroom, so we stopped at a gas station and filled the car with gas and scrubbed the grasshoppers off the windshield.  We drove to R A Booth State Park about 12 miles down the road and stopped and ate our sandwiches.  There were picnic tables available, but not covered.  Fortunately, the sun went behind a large cloud while we ate lunch.

IMG_5781
IMG_0801

We continued driving toward Medford, OR.  After crossing some mountains we notice that we saw more trees and eventually we entered forests.  This was more the landscape I expected in Oregon.

Lake Abert, Oregon

In Medford we are staying at the Springhill Suites hotel.  When we checked in they gave us room 218, but when we arrived at the room there was someone in the room.  We went back down to the front desk and they gave us room 318 and apologized for the mix up.  They gave us 3 coupons to get something other than alcohol from there little store in the lobby.
After a long day of driving we settle in our room for the night.  

Day 15 – Shoshone Falls

Since it is Sunday, I did not set an alarm for this morning.  I made coffee in the room for Shari and I.  Shari did some laundry this morning.  Conveniently, the Guest Laundry is across the hall from our room.

Around 9:15 we went down to the hotel’s breakfast room, but had to wait in line to be served.  Albert and I waited in the breakfast room for our order to be prepared while Shari went back and forth to the laundry.  Once we had our breakfast, we ate it in the breakfast room.

After breakfast we packed up and finished the laundry.  We left the hotel right around noon.  We drove about 45 miles to Pocatello, Idaho and the COSTCO there.  We filled up with gas and went into the store and bought a few supplies, mostly wine, for our trip.

Our next stop was Shoshone Falls .  We had to wait in line to pay the $5 and get into the park.  The park was crowded and parking was a problem.  After one pass through the main parking lot, we took a side road and found a shady parking place near a park that overlooked the main parking lot.  We walked down a steep grassy hill to get to the main part of the park.  There was an overlook to view the falls and a viewing platform.  Once space became available on the platform, we made our way down the steps.  The view was spectacular, but the platform was crowded and we were all trying to take pictures.  I found the crowded situation uncomfortable and was ready to leave once Shari finished snapping pictures.  Unfortunately, that was it.  We walked back to the car and left.  Continuing our journey to Ontario, Oregon where we will spend the night.

We stopped again at the COSTCO in Boise, Idaho to fill the car with gas.  Then we drove to Nampa, Idaho looking for a mexican restaurant where we could eat dinner.  We found one, but when we arrived it was take-out only.  We left there and look around a bit, there were several other restaurants in the area, before settling on the Olive Garden where we were able to get seated inside.

Our sever was notable because he was a bit coarse for a waiter.  He let us know we were his last table of the day, which I interpreted as eat fast I want to get out of here.  When he learned we were from Georgia he said he had been to the State once to attend a carpet installers training in Dalton.  We wondered why someone would send him to that training all the way from Idaho.  When Shari ordered the unlimited soup and salad he made a comment to let us know he was disappointed with her choice.  He did the same when we ordered two desserts to share.  He made a comment that I interpreted that he was disappointed that we didn’t each order dessert.  He brought the bill as soon as we finished ordering dessert, so he could go roll some silverware and get out of here.  It was amusing that he didn’t realize what he was doing.

We enjoyed our dinner, despite the service.  We only had about a half hour drive to the Best Western in Ontario, Oregon where we stayed the night.  We did not have reservations, and when I checked in the clerk gave me a discount on the room without my even asking for one.  I found it amusing, too.

Day 14 – Yellowstone National Park

I woke up this morning when my alarm went off at 6:30.  After an early rise yesterday, it was nice to feel like we slept in.  We had a leisurely morning and left the hotel around 9:30.  We went through the drive-thru at McDonald and got breakfast.

 Since it’s Saturday traffic into the park was heavy.  I managed to eat my breakfast while we waited in line.  There were two lanes for pass holder and they didn’t even ask for ID.  Once they saw the pass, they just waived us through.

Once inside the park we drove almost 10 miles and then hit a traffic jam.  A bison was casually walking down the side of the road and everyone was slowing down to take his picture.

We turned onto the Firehole Canyon Drive.  I stopped the car for a moment and mounted the GoPro. The drive is only 2 miles, but has great views of Firehole Canyon.  We stopped several times so Shari could take pictures.  The road returned us to the main road and we continued on.

Firehole Falls

Next we stopped at Midway Geyser Basin contains Grand Prismatic Hot Springs.  The parking lot was full so we decided to park about a half mile down the road and walk in.  I think this was a good decision, since I would rather walk then sit in traffic.  We walked the boardwalks and I read all the sign boards for Albert and then told him what they mean.

Excelsior Geyser Crater
Grand Prismatic Spring

Next we stopped at Biscuit Basin.  We lucked out on a parking space when someone left and we took their spot.  Once again we walked the boardwalk and looked at the different features.  Jewel Geyser erupted shortly after we passed it, so we stopped and watched.
Since we have seen have seen all these features before, when the park was less crowded, our tolerance was low.  After Biscuit Basin I think we had seen all we wanted to see.  We didn’t stop again and started driving toward Grand Teton National Park.

Biscuit Basin

We drove South on Highway 191.  Once we passed the Old Faithful area of the park, we had never seen this part of the park.  When we came in 2019, this road was not open because the snow had not been cleared.  It was a beautiful drive.  We stopped at Lewis Falls which I believe was the last stop within Yellowstone NP.  We stopped again at the Colter Bay Visitor Center.  First we made a pit stop at the restrooms.  Next we drove down to the Visitor Center.  I got my passport stamped and we did a little shopping in the bookstore.  Albert bought a T-shirt and I bought stickers.  We left Colter Bay and continued driving South.
We drove down the Jenny Lake Scenic Road.  This road was closed when we were here in 2019, because the snow had not been cleared.  It was a nice drive and had some great views of the Tetons. The road eventually brought us to the Craig Thomas Discovery and Visitors Center.  Since we had been here before we didn’t stop and continued on to Jackson.

Lewis Falls
The Grand Tetons

As we drove into Jackson we notice that there were no Elk in the Elk Preserve.  There were thousands of them when we were here in 2019.  But that was April and they had not started migrating to the cooler mountains for the summer.  This is July and it hot in the lower valley.  The Elk are up in the highlands where it’s cooler in July.

We parked at the public parking lot near the Jackson visitors center and walk about 3 blocks to the square.  The sidewalk and square were fairly crowded especially with people getting their pictures taken in front of the Antler Arches.  We continued on to Roadhouse Brewery where we wanted to eat dinner.   I checked in at the hostess station and they took our name and said it would be about a 45 minute wait.  That worked for us and we did some shopping in Lee’s Tees next door while we waited.  Albert and I both bought T-shirts and Shari bought a huckleberry chocolate bar.  I also bought a few stickers.

The Square, Jackson Hole, WY

We checked in at Roadhouse Brewery a little before 6:00 and our table was ready.  We were seated just inside next to the door to the balcony.  We could look out through the door and see the square and the street below.  We each ordered a beer and then an entree to share.  We order a pretzel with beer cheese to start and then each ordered and entree.  Albert ordered a mushroom flat bread, Shari ordered the lettuce wraps, and I ordered a bratwurst.  We each had a little of everything.

Dinner at Roadhouse Brewery

After dinner we walked along the square toward the parking lot taking a back way.  Most of the shops were closed.  We walked passed a section of new stores being built.
We drove a backroad through town to avoid the traffic around the square.  We passed the Anvil hotel were we stayed in 2019.  Once out of Jackson we drove up the Teton pass to Idaho and on to Idaho Falls where we will spend the night.

The dive through Idaho was nice with lots and lots of wheat, hay, and corn being grown.  We saw the first part of the Snake River Gorge, too.  It was late when we arrived at our hotel near the airport in Idaho Falls.  We unloaded the car and got ready for bed.

Day 13 – Yellowstone National Park

I woke up when my alarm went off at 5:30.  I showered and dressed.  We packed up and were loaded before 6:30.  We grabbed a to-go breakfast and coffee from the hotel and started the drive to Yellowstone National Park.  It is only an hour and a half drive to the North entrance near Mammoth Springs.

We arrived in the park a little after 9:00.  The Albright Visitors Center was closed, so we drove to the first hot spring which we refer to as “Pamukkale” because it reminds Shari of the Pamukkale hot springs she visited in Turkey.

Mammoth Springs (Pamukkale)
Norris Geyser Basin
Norris Geyser Basin

Next we drove to the Canyon area of Yellowstone, stopping at Artists Point to see the canyon.  We reminisced a lot about how deep the snow was the last time we were here in April 2019.  Next we drove to Uncle Tom’s Point.  We looked down at a different waterfall.  While there, we saw people across the canyon.  We drove over to Brink of the Upper Falls where we could walk down to where we saw people.  The view here was spectacular and is was amazing how much water was going over the falls.

Canyon Falls from Artist Point
The Boys at Upper Falls

Next we drove the North Rim Drive back to the Canyon Visitors Center where we went to the bathroom.

Bison herd

We drove from the Canyon Visitors Center down to the Lake Lodge to get some lunch. This portion of Yellowstone was closed the last time we were here, so I had never seen the lake before.  I was immediately astounded at how big it is.  We went into the Lake Lodge where we ordered burgers and onion rings for lunch, to go.  We were looking for a picnic area and drove toward the Fishing Bridge hoping to find something.  We continued driving toward the East Entrance of the park.

We drove and drove finally stopping by Sylvan Lake to eat our lunch.  It was a beautiful spot for a picnic, but the wind would blow hard and it turned cold.  I was only wearing a short sleeve t-shirt and shorts and I was very cold when the wind blew.  After lunch we started looking for a rest room.  We continued driving toward the East Entrance until we found one.
After a potty break we continued driving toward the East Entrance until we finally reached it.  Then we turned around and drove to Old Faithful and the shops nearby.  We arrived about 20 minutes before closing time, so we didn’t have much time for shopping.  I found a t-shirt I liked, but they didn’t have it in my size.  I ended up buying a couple of stickers and Shari bought a shopping bag.  It was 6:00 and the shop was closing, so we checked out and left.

Picnic at Sylvan Lake (I was cold)

We left the Old Faithful area right at 6:00 and everyone was leaving at the same time.  In addition, they are doing road work just outside the Old Faithful area.  We drove the 14 miles from the Old Faithful area toward Madison where there is a three-way stop.  We turned left toward West Yellowstone and drove the next 14 miles to exit the park.  We are staying at the Holiday Inn which is just outside the West park entrance.

Once we checked into the hotel and got our luggage up to the room we discussed what to do.  I suggested we walk the two block back to the tourist area and do some souvenir shopping.  No one was really interested, so we stayed in the room and got ready for bed.

Churning Caldron
Great Fountain Geyser

Day 12 – Kalispell to Bozeman

I woke up this morning when my alarm went off at 6:30.  I prepare coffee for Shari and I and we sat in bed reading and drinking our coffee.

Today we are driving to Bozeman, MT.  We packed up and then ate breakfast in the hotel breakfast area.  We were on the road my 9:30.

It was a beautiful drive once we found the route we wanted to take out of Kalispell.  We started out in a forest and after Helena, MT it turned into farm and ranch land.  Crews were reconstructing highway 287 Near Townsend, MT. It was unsealed for what seamed like 20 miles.  While driving along this section a storm blew in.  It didn’t rain very hard, but it was windy.  As we got closer to Bozeman it rained harder.

We arrived at the Hampton Inn in Bozeman and checked in.  Since we just ate snacks in the car for lunch we decided to go out to dinner.  We drove around Bozeman a little looking for a place to eat before settling on the Montana Ale Works.  The food and beer was good, but I think I just enjoyed sitting in a restaurant.  It was a busy place and gave a sense of normalcy.

After dinner we returned to the hotel and played a few games of Uno.  Since we are getting up early in the morning we went to bed early.

Day 11 – Glacier National Park

This morning we woke up at 5:30.  Since we all showered last night we just needed to dress and leave the hotel.  We drove to Chick-fil-a and were there before they opened at 6:30.  We drove to Glacier National Park and when we arrived at the Avalanche area we were surprised that all the parking spaces were taken.  I drove down a section that said the parking lot was full and found an open parking space.  We took a hike along the Trail of the Cedars.  It was a short, level, hike just right for Albert.

Trail of the Cedars

After the hike we drove on the Going-to-the-Sun road toward Logan Pass. The parking lot at Logan Pass was full, so we continued driving toward Rising Sun.  Once we arrived at Rising Sun we made our way to the Rest Rooms. Afterwards, we got coffee and a Dr Pepper at a nearby restaurant and took a break for second breakfast.

We drove West along the Going-to-the-Sun road.  We stopped at a park where there was water access to St Mary’s Lake and explore the area.  Next we continued West.  We planned to stop at St Mary’s Falls and do the hike, but there were no parking spaces.  We continued West until we reached Logan Pass again where we lucked up and found a parking space.

After a restroom break we did the Hidden Lake hike at Logan Pass.  We did not do the whole hike, but just up to the snow fields.  We turned back and hike back to the visitors center.  We got back in the car heading West along the Going-to-the-Sun road.  I stopped or slowed down along the way, so Shari could take pictures.

Logan Pass

We stopped at the Redrock picnic area and found a rock among the shady trees and ate our lunch.  We brought some asian wraps from Costco along with our usual snacks for lunch.  After lunch we continued West along the  Going-to-the-Sun road.

Redrock Picnic area for lunch

We stopped at the shops just outside the park entrance and looked for a few souvenirs.  Shari and Albert bought shirts and I bought a baseball cap.  We walked over to the ice cream shop to end our day at Glacier National Park.

After we returned to the hotel, we went for a swim in the pool.  Afterwards we all took showers.  We ate snacks for dinner and then read in Albert’s National Geographic National Parks book about Yellowstone National Park, our next destination.

We played a long and raucous game of Uno tonight.  Ultimately Albert won. 

Albert and the bear outside our hotel

Day 10 – Glacier National Park

I woke up this morning when my alarm went off at 6:30.  It was cold in the room, so I immediately turned up the temperature on the AC unit.

I made coffee for Shari and I and we sat in bed reading the news on the internet.
We went down to the hotel lobby for breakfast.  You selected what you wanted from a list and they prepared you a tray.

We left the hotel around 8:30 and drove to the west entrance of Glacier National Park.  Once inside the park we stopped at the visitors center.  Shari talked with a ranger about different hikes in the park.

After leaving the visitors center we drove East on the Going-to-the-Sun road until we reached the Rising Sun visitors center.  We took a bathroom break and did a little shopping in the General Store.  At 12:38 we started driving West on the Going-to-the-Sun road.  This time we are stopping along the way.  Our first stop was at Sun Point.  We saw a fox in the parking lot.  We hiked to Baring Falls which was a little over half a mile long.  It was a nice hike.

St Mary’s Lake

Next we drove to the Logan Pass Visitors Center where we parked and walked up to the Hidden Lake Overlook.  That was as far as we went and returned to the car and continued driving toward the West entrance of the park.

Baring Falls

We left the park around 4:30 and drove to Costco in Kalispell.  We filled up with gas and did a little shopping.  We drove back the the hotel and did a little research on where to go for dinner.  Initially we planned to go to Scott’s Bar which had taken over a location call Winchesters Steak House.  However, on the drive there Shari spotted The Montana Club.  We turned around and went there for dinner.  Shari and I both had steak and they we great.


After a really nice dinner we went back to the hotel, took showers, and played Uno.  
I don’t feel like I really did anything today, but as I settle into bed, I feel really tired.

Day 9 – Driving to Glacier NP

I woke up a little before 6:00 from a dream. We had a normal morning and left the hotel around 9:00.  After sleeping on it, I’m in favor of driving all the way to Kalispell, Montana today.

We left the hotel and drove I-94 West toward Montana.  Just across the state line we stopped at the visitors information center at Wibaux, Mt.  We used the restroom before entering the visitor center.  The lady at the visitor’s center was very helpful.  We left with a handful of brochures for our visit to Montana.

On of the interesting sites today was the miles and miles of hopper rail cars.  At one point I think we drove 10 miles with rail cars parked the whole way.  I don’t think I can mentally grasp how much wheat or grains that all those rail cars could contain.

Day 8 – Theodore Roosevelt NP

I woke up this morning when my alarm went off at 6:30. We enjoyed our normal morning of coffee in the room.  I ordered sandwiches from Jimmy Johns, but we couldn’t pick them up until 10:30.  We left the hotel around 10:15 and picked up the sandwiches at Jimmy Johns right as they opened.

We drove to the Painted Canyon Visitor Center which was about 20 mile from our hotel.  The Visitor Center was open and I got my National Park Passport stamped.  We went outside behind the visitor center and looked at the Painted Canyon.  We only stayed a few minutes before getting back to the car and driving down the interstate to the South Unit.

Sign outside Painted Canyon Visitors Center
Painted Canyon

I was surprised that this was basically a drive through the park.  It was a nice drive and there are a few trails you can hike but it is mostly a 26 mile drive through the park.
We did the drive all the way to the end, noting places we wanted to stop on the way back.  We turned around at the end and made our noted stops.  Our final stop was at the Cottonwood picnic area where we ate our Jimmy Johns sandwiches in the lovely shade of a grove of Cottonwood trees.

Picnic under the Cottonwoods

Feeling like we had thoroughly seen the South Unit we decided to drive the 62 miles to visit the North Unit.

The North Unit was a shorted drive, 24 miles, but the same drive though.  It was really pretty with many wild flower areas in bloom.  We even saw some big horn sheep grazing and a few bison.

IMG_5174
img_0755.jpg
IMG_5203
IMG_5226

After exploring the North Unit we drove back to the hotel.  We had snacks in the room and played Uno.  Shari and I discussed tomorrow’s drive to Glacier National Park.  Originally, I planned to break up the drive over two days, but Shari wants to go the whole way tomorrow.

Day 7 – Devil’s Tower

I woke up this morning a little after 5:00.  It is light outside and this is throwing me off.  I tried to go back to sleep, but couldn’t.  I got out of bed around 5:30.  I sat in the sitting area of our room and drank my coffee, read, and journaled.

We are headed to Devil’s Tower in Wyoming this morning and then on to Dickinson, North Dakota this afternoon.  Dickinson is the closest town to Theodore Roosevelt National Park that has a decent selection of hotels.  We plan to spend two nights in Dickinson.

img_0751.jpg
img_0752.jpg

As we drove north on ND-22 we drove for close to 60 miles and there was nothing on either side of the road, as far as the eye could see, but wheat fields.  Amazing.  

Day 6 – Custer State Park

Nesbit Overlook

We left the hotel around 9:30 to drive to Custer State Park.  Beautiful drive.  We stopped along the way at the Nesbit Overlook.  You could see Mt Rushmore from there.  Drove on to the park entrance and did the Wildlife drive, but only saw two bison the whole drive.

The Needles

Drove through The Needles which were spectacular.  We stopped at Sylvan Lake where parking was a problem.  We parked up the road from the lake and then walked down.  I decided we should do the Sunday Gulch trail hike. It was a good hike and I’m happy we did it, but I would have prepared better had I read carefully that it was a 4 mile hike not the 2.8 mile I expected.  Also with Albert, we need to use a 1 mile per hour rate for hiking on unimproved surfaces.

Sylvan Lake

It was almost 5:00 before we finished the hike.  We stopped at the General Store by the lake to get some PowerAids to rehydrate.  We sat outside the General Store and drank our drinks.  We used the restroom and then hiked up to road to the car.  I did not want to drive through Needles again and go through all the one lane tunnels, so I took 89 South.  It took about 45 minutes to get back to the hotel.  We passed the entrance to the Crazy Horse monument as we drove back to the hotel.  That is when we decided to skip it.

img_0742.jpg
img_0745.jpg
img_0750.jpg
img_0744.jpg
img_0749.jpg
img_0748.jpg

Back at the hotel we cleaned up.  We planned to go to dinner, but at 6:45 Albert and I had not gotten our shower yet.  That is when we decided to just do snacks in our room tonight.
There must have been caffeine in the PowerAides because I was not sleepy.  I stayed up and watched a movie on my iPad.  It was almost midnight when I went to bed and I feel like I laid in bed for at least 30 minutes before falling asleep.

Day 5 – Badlands National Park

Wall Drug Store was our first stop.  We have seen the signs along the interstate and just had to see what it was all about.  The answer is, not much.  I bought a few stickers for the car and we looked at T-shirts, but nothing inspired us to part with any money.  Oh well, I can say that I’ve been there.

Next we drove to the entrance of Badlands National Park.  We drove through the park again on our way to Keystone, SD.  This time our route took us on the scenic route which is an unsealed roadway.  The first stop on this route was a Prairie Dog Village.  We walked out into the field amongst the Prairie Dogs.  Most of them ignored us and went about their business.  One chirped the entire time, to alert the other that we were around.

Vigilant Prairie Dog

The rest of our drive through Badlands NP took us past some scenic vistas.  Eventually we drove out of the park and found ourselves on a farm road.  We followed this road for miles through the farms of wheat, hay, or other grains.  The farms went on as far as the eye could see.

When we arrived in Keystone, SD we drove through town to get the lay of the land.  It was lunch time and we were hungry so we parked at the municipal Parking lot and walked to Ruby’s House Restaurant.  It is a nice place and most importantly they offered Dine-In service.  We ate lunch and talked about what we would do the rest of the day.  We do not have hotel reservations, so we decided to go the Holiday Inn Express to see if they have any rooms.  They did, so we checked in and freshened up.

We decided to go to Mt Rushmore today.  It is open until 10:00PM.  We were at the park by 5:00.  I was surprised by how crowded it was.  We walked around exploring the park and taking it all in.  There is a flag ceremony at 9:00 and then they light the monument.  We stayed until they closed the park.

img_0730.jpg
img_0733.jpg
img_0732.jpg
img_0735.jpg

Day 4 – Albert’s Birthday

Today is Albert’s 24th birthday.

Today We drove from Council Bluffs, IA to Sioux Falls, SD.  We stopped at the COSTCO in Sioux Falls and filled up with gas and did a little shopping.

While standing in line at the check-out, Shari asked the women in line behind us if there were any good restaurants nearby.  She suggested Johnny Carino’s.  It was just a couple of miles away, so we drove over there.  Fortunately, they were offering dine-in service with tables inside or on the patio.  Since it was such a gorgeous day, we chose to eat outside on the patio.  The food was good and the service was attentive.  Since is was his birthday, they brought Albert a piece of chocolate cake.  I order a slice of Italian lemon cream cake for Shari and I to share.

After lunch we headed for Badlands National Park near Wall, SD.  It was after 5:00 when we arrived.  The park was not crowded.  Our first stop was an overlook.  Next we drove the scenic drive through the park towards Wall, SD.  At the start of our drive we were greeted by a group of locals.  Four Bighorn sheep were grazing just off the road.  It was a beautiful landscape, but not any I’ve seen before.

Once in Wall, SD we drove around town to get a feel for the town.  After looking at a few hotels, we settled on the Best Western.  We check in and got settled for the night.  Since it has been a long day in the car and we had a big lunch, there was not any enthusiasm for going out to dinner.  We opened a bottle of the wine we bought at COSTCO and had snacks in the room for dinner.

Day 3 – Nashville to Council Bluffs, IA

I started packing the car while Shari took a shower.  I made us both coffee and visited with Mike in the kitchen. When we were ready to leave, Mike went and go Martha up. We said our goodbyes and left around 7:00.

Our destination today is Columbia, Missouri which is a little over 6 hours drive time away.  We drove for almost an hour before stopping at a Chick-fil-a in Clarksville, TN for breakfast. Only the drive thru was open so we got breakfast to go. We drove down the road a short distance and found a shady parking spot outside a Hobby Lobby store. We sat there in the shade and ate breakfast.

After breakfast I stopped at a Shell station and filled the car up with gas. The restrooms at the Shell station were closed, so we stopped at the next rest stop off the interstate for a restroom break.

When we made it to Columbia, MO we decided to keep driving. We drove until 8:45 and stopped at The Hampton Inn in Council Bluffs Iowa. 

Day 2 – Car Repairs

We had problems with the air conditioner in the Jeep yesterday on the drive to Nashville. So this morning I’m taking the car to Christian Brothers to get it checked before we continue our trip.

We spent a quiet day at Martha and Mike’s house. Mike cooked a big breakfast of bacon and eggs for breakfast. After breakfasts we sat around and visited and read. Albert mostly stayed in his room watching movies.

Christian Brothers did an assessment on the car and called me around 11:00 to say they didn’t find anything. The next option was to extract the freon and refill the system. I told them to go ahead and do it.  I thought it would at least eliminate one possible problem.

Around 2:00 Mike drove me to Christian Brother to pick up my car. After getting the car, I went to Sonic next door to pick up Albert a hot dog for lunch.

Around 5:30 Martha ordered pizza from Marco’s and when it was ready Martha, Shari, and I drove over and picked it up. My nephew Kevin, his wife Jourdan, and son Ronan came over for dinner around 6:30. It was good to see them again and we talk a lot about Kevin’s work at Home Depot. He was recently transferred from the Murfreesboro store to one in Hendersonville.  A substantial reduction in his commute time. 

Day 1 – Headed Out

We left the house a little after 3:00 headed to my sister’s house in Gallatin,TN. We took the back way through Canton to get on I-75 North at Adairsville, GA. 

After going through Chattanooga, I noticed a problem with the car’s air conditioner. The air coming out of the vents felt cool, but it just wasn’t blowing. Even when I turned the blower to the max, it would only blow a little harder. You could hear the blower, but the volume of air coming out of the vents did not match the sound.

We stopped at the rest stop at Mount Eagle just past the Sewanee exit. Shari started driving.  Now we were not getting any cool air, so we rolled down the windows a little.  This improved the temperature in the car, but the noise was so loud you couldn’t hear the music anymore. While we drove, I removed the glove compartment to get to the cabin air filter.  I removed the filter and could feel the blower blowing.

Once we made it to Murfreesboro, I texted Martha like she asked me to. Murfreesboro it about an hour from her house.

We arrived at Martha and Mike’s house around 6:45. Once we arrived inside the house we were greeted by their new dog Bella. She barked and growled at us anytime we moved. Bella is a border collie poodle doodle.

Martha made lasagna and a salad for dinner. We brought a bottle of Hess Allomi wine to go with dinner. I has two small glasses with dinner. After dinner Mike persistently offered me a bourbon, but I declined sighting my diet for not wanting any.

Great American Road Trip

Leaving today for a classic road trip across the Western United States. Our plan is to drive North to Mt Rushmore, then to Glacier National Park in Montana. Next we will drive to Crater Lake National Park in Oregon. From there we will drive West to the Pacific Coast Highway and take it to Santa Monica. At Santa Monica we will get on Route 66 and head East as far as St Louis, Missouri. Then we will turn South to Memphis and go to Graceland. After Graceland we will head for home. We plan to be gone a month. Should be a great adventure.

Penny’s Baptism

This afternoon we attended the baptism of my Grand-niece at St Mary’s Catholic Church in Yonge’s Island, SC. It was a very nice ceremony. The church staff made it special, despite the Wuhan Virus restrictions.

Welcome to your faith family, Penny.

Family

We are in Charleston, SC this weekend visiting my sister, niece, and new baby. When we first arrived, we were a bit stand-offish because of the Wuhan Virus. Then my niece Daisy saw Albert and it was hugs and kisses. So much for social distancing.

Final thoughts about New Zealand

  • Driving on the left side of the road from the right side of the car was not as difficult as I imagined. I was very nervous about driving in New Zealand, but the rental car agent gave me a great piece of advice, “Just follow the car in front of you.” In three weeks, I only recall two times that I reverted to driving on the right side of the road. Both time I was alone on a rural road. My wife quickly corrected me.
  • New Zealand is an incredibly beautiful country with a enjoyable climate. I’m happy we had the opportunity to drive through it for three weeks. I think driving was the best way to see it. I could have spent another week or two there exploring the areas we bypassed the first time.
  • The Kiwi’s are more practical about the drinking age. The drinking age in New Zealand is 18. Albert is over 18, but he doesn’t look it. I don’t think any restaurant server ever carded him. We had a couple of severs tell us that if he is drinking with his parents, his age doesn’t matter. So a child of any age can drink in a restaurant with his/her parents. I think this is great. Parents should teach their children to drink, not let their peers do it in high school and college.
  • The Orion constellation is upside-down in the Southern Hemisphere.
  • When you order French fries or chips in a restaurant they are served with a garlic aioli (garlic mayonnaise). It is a delicious alternative to ketchup.
  • New Zealand has a dollar coin and a two dollar coin. Paper money starts with the five dollar note. This is similar to the Euro. I think the US Mint should follow suit and eliminate the one dollar note and issue a two dollar coin.

Day 27 – Headed Home

We had a leisurely morning and went to breakfast at the hotel restaurant.  I felt an air of tension and short tempers at breakfast.  People were grumpy.  After breakfast we went back to the room, finished packing, and checked out of the hotel.

We walked across the street to the International Terminal where, all but one entrance was closed.  Before being allowed into the terminal, we had to show a guard our boarding pass and passport.  Only travelers with a flight within 3 hours were being admitted.

Once inside we printed our luggage tags and waited to drop our check luggage.  I was briefly distracted and got too close to another passenger who barked at me about keeping the 6 foot distancing.  I didn’t breach the social distancing again.  After dropping our bags we headed for security and then on to our gate.  Along the way, most of the airport shops were closed.  Also the normally crowded and bustling airport was mostly empty.

Our flight to LAX was full.  It took off on-time for the 11-hour flight to Los Angeles.

Once we landed at LAX we had to walk what seemed like a mile through underground passageways to get to Customs and Border Protection.  Since we have Global Entry, we cleared Customs in about 10 minutes.  We waited for our luggage and then walked a short distance were we dropped it again for the flight to Atlanta.

We waited at our gate for almost 3-hours for our flight to Atlanta.  No restaurants were open, but all the other shops appeared to be open. During our wait we were entertained by a crusty old woman headed to Hawaii.  She must have been over 75 years old.  She asked me to use my phone and I obliged and dialed the number for her.  Apparently, She lived in Hawaii and was headed home.  The person she called was trying to let her know what the situation was at home.  She argued with him about each of his suggestions about how she should get home.  God Bless her, I hope she made it home.

Once our plane started boarding it boarded quickly.  There we only 27 people on the flight.  We pushed back and took off early for Atlanta.  I believe the Captain said we would arrive in 3 and a half hours.

The plane parked at the T-gates in Atlanta and American had a separate luggage claim area.  We walked briefly through the terminal on our way to the MARTA station.  We didn’t see many people, but many of the shops were open.  There was almost no one on the MARTA platform.  Once we entered a car, we were the only people in that car.  As the train made it way north, stopping at various stations, more people entered the car, but never more than a dozen in the whole car.  We were all practicing social distancing.

Once we arrived at the North Spring station, I pulled up my phone and opened the Uber app.  I was pleasantly surprised to quickly find a driver who was close by the station.  We waited about 10 minutes before the driver arrived.  We loaded up in the car and he drove us home.  GA-400 had almost no traffic.

Day 26 – Driving to Christchurch

We left the hotel this morning before sunrise.  It is a 4-hour drive to Christchurch.  Once there, we will drop off the rental car and then take a plane from Christchurch to Auckland.

On the drive to Christchurch was stopped at the Fairlie Bakehouse for breakfast.  It was a delicious breakfast and coffee and a good place to stop to break up the trip.

We stopped at a gas station about a mile before the rental car return to top off the tank.  Dropping off the car was easy.  We unloaded our luggage from the car into the airport shuttle.  We had to wait about 20 minutes before the shuttle left.  It was only a 5 minute drive to the airport terminal.

We arrived at the airport a little after 1:00.  We had a 3 hour wait before out flight left for Auckland.  We passed the time by playing Uno and people watching.

The flight to Auckland was less than an hour-and-a-half.  We are staying at the Novotel Auckland Airport.  Once we claimed our bags in the domestic terminal, we rode the green shuttle bus to the International terminal and the hotel was right there.  Checking in was a bit chaotic.  Each of us had to fill our a form about the Wuhan Coronavirus before they would check us in.  Before going up we made reservations in the restaurant for dinner at 8:00.  We rode the elevator up to our room and freshened up before dinner.

We went down for dinner a little early and had a drink at the bar.  Before we could enter the restaurant we had to complete another form concerning the Wuhan Coronavirus.  We only stood at the bar a few minutes with our drinks before our table was ready.  Near our table were other Americans discussing their travails getting home.  We struck up a conversation with a guy headed to Orlando, whose flight from LAX to Orlando had been cancelled.  When we spoke he had no idea how he was getting to Orlando.

Day 25 – Hiking at Mt Cook

It is very windy this morning, but the rain has stopped.  We started the morning by going to the Sir Edmund Hillary Cafe & Bar for breakfast and we picked up a few sandwiches and brownies for lunch on our hike.

This morning we did the Blue Lakes and Tasman Glacier hike first.  The hike to the Tasman Glacier was uphill all the way.  At a few locations they had installed steps.  The hike took less than 30 minutes to reach the top.  At the top we were along Tasman Lake and we could see the glacier about half-a-mile away.  Unlike other glaciers I’ve seen, the Tasman Glacier looked like it was covered with soil.  It was dark colored, not the white of snowy look of other glaciers I’ve seen.  We stayed at the viewing point for around 20 minutes.  It had spectacular views of the Tasman Valley.  On our way back down we could see the Blue Pools, which are now green, and we stopped to read a poster that explained why they were not blue anymore.

Our next hike was  the Hooker Valley Track.  The car park was full today and we had to park way in the back.  After stopping at the restrooms, we started hiking.  The Hooker Valley track is a 3 hour hike.  You cross 3 suspension bridges.  The last bridge is very close to Hooker lake.  It took us about an hour-and-a-half to reach the lake.  All along the way we a great views of Mount Cook.  There was a picnic spot beside the lake and we shared a table with two girls from Quebec.  Our conversation was pleasant, but naturally gravitated toward the Wuhan Coronavirus and getting home.

After lunch we walked down closer to the lake to get a look at the icebergs in the lake.

Icebergs in Hooker Lake

One of the girls from Quebec took our photo with Mount Cook in the background.

Once we finished exploring Hooker Lake, we started hiking back to the car.  It was a beautiful day with clear blue skies.  We had great views the whole hike which made it go by faster.  Once back at the car we loaded up and drove back to the hotel.

Once back in our room we all took showers and dressed to go out to dinner.  Tonight, our last night at Mount Cook, we decided to have dinner in the hotel’s fancy white table cloth restaurant, The Panorama Room.  Our dinner reservation was at 6:30, so we went down early and a had a before dinner drink in the Snowline Lounge.  We were the only patrons in the lounge.

At 6:30 we walked over to The Panorama Room for dinner.  Before we could be seated, the hostess had us fill out a form concerning our quarantine status.  Since we arrived in New Zealand before the 14 day Quarantine requirement was issued, we are fine.  I did find it interesting that we had to complete the form, but it didn’t require us to show our passport stamp showing the date we arrived.

We were seated at a table by the window.  The table next to us was occupied by a couple from Charlotte, North Carolina and their 18 month old son.  We struck up a conversation almost immediately.  They were renting a cabin near Lake Tekapo for a few days before continuing to Christchurch.  As before, the conversation gravitated towards the Wuhan Coronavirus and getting home.

We had a very nice dinner.  I had the venison and Shari had the lamb.  I don’t remember, but I think Albert had a burger.  It was all delicious.  Only about 5 tables in the restaurant were in use.  I can’t help feeling bad for the hotel employees.  They must feel like they are waiting for a storm to hit. Anxious if they will loose everything.

After dinner we went back to the room and packed up for the trip to Christchurch tomorrow.  In my mind this is the beginning  of our trip home.  It will take three days to get there.

Day 24 – First Rainy Day

Mount Cook National Park New Zealand

Today we experienced our first rainy day the whole trip. It rained when we were at Tongariro National Park, but it was an overnight rain and finished by 10:00 in the morning. It rained all day today, so we didn’t do any of our hikes.

We ate brunch in one of the hotel restaurants this morning, Sir Edmund Hillary Cafe & Bar.  After spending some time planning and chilling in our room, we decided to go for a ride and check out the trail heads we would hike tomorrow.  It is still raining, but it is nice to get out of the room.

We drove to the Hooker Valley Track car Park first.  It was mostly empty except for a few camper vans.  Next we drove over to the Blue Lakes and Tasman Glacier car park. It was a longer drive across a few one-lane bridges and through the valley.  Even though it was raining, it was a scenic drive.  The car park was empty.

On the drive back to the hotel, I suggested we drive to Twizel the nearest town that has a gas stations.  It is a 65 kilometer drive and will take us almost an hour each way, but what else do we have to do on a rainy day.  It will give me the opportunity to fill up the car with gas, before we drive to Christchurch.  We also went to a nearby Four Square Supermarket and picked up some wine and snacks for our dinner tonight.

Once back at the hotel, we had snacks in the room for dinner.  We played Uno and read a chapter in the first Harry Potter book.  We have been reading it on our trip.  

Day 23 – Travel to Mount Cook

We are headed North today.  However, it sound like further travel restrictions are coming.  We may still have trouble getting home.

We ate breakfast in the hotel restaurant before checking out and loading up the car.  The three hour drive to Mount Cook was beautiful.  We arrived at The Hermitage Hotel around 3:30 and had some time to relax before going to dinner.  The view from our hotel room is spectacular.

We ate an early dinner at The Old Mountaineers Café Bar & Restaurant in Mount Cook Village.  Since it is Friday we all had the Salmon.  Shari and I had the Salmon salad and Albert had the Salmon pizza.  It was all delicious and we had a spectacular view of the mountains.

After dinner I went by the front desk and asked if we could extend our stay another day.  They were happy to accommodate us.  We went back to the room for the evening and planned our hikes for tomorrow.  We also got in a few games of Uno before bed time.

Day 22 – Queenstown

During breakfast this morning, Shari did some laundry.  Then we discussed our plans for getting home and changed our flight on American Airlines from Sunday March 29th to Tuesday March 23rd from Auckland.  Originally, we planned to drive back to Auckland stopping along the way at a few places we missed. Now we will continue our trip to Mount Cook and then drive and drop off the rental car in Christchurch as originally planned.  Now instead of flying from Christchurch to Melbourne Australia, we will fly to Auckland. Planning the trip took most of the morning.

 Albert requested we do the Skyline gondola ride to see the view above the city.  When we go there I realized they had a luge ride, too.  Unfortunately, I did not have the hardware I needed to connect my GoPro to a helmet.  Albert had some difficulty understanding how to brake on the luge, so we went down in tandem.  It was fun.

 After riding the gondola back down we walked over to Fat Badger Pizza for dinner.  After dinner we walk around wandering into shops looking for souvenirs.

Day 21 – Milford Sound

Today we are took a flight to Milford Sound and then a Boat ride on Milford Sound with Real Journeys. The flight took about 45 minutes and then we landed at Milford Sound.  We had about an hour before our boat ride through the sound, so we took our time and walked around the sound a little.  Out boat ride was at 1:30, so we arrived at the dock around 1:00.  Our pilot is our guide and escort all day, so he got us where we needed to be and waited for us to get back.

The cruise of the sound was wonderful.  The sound is so deep that the boat can get right up to the cliff wall.  A westerly wind was coming in from the Tasman Sea, so the sound was a little rough.  It also clouded up and rained a slight bit while we were cruising the sound. The cruise lasted about an hour and a half.

The video below is a bit long, but it has some beautiful scenery.

Since we had a light lunch we went out to dinner tonight.  We walked across the street from our hotel to Atlas Beer House. It was a small place, but the beer was good.  Unfortunately, there was a table nearby and the conversation was very salty with a lot of F-bombs being dropped.  It made for an unpleasant dinner.

Day 20 – Exploring Queenstown

I woke up around 5:30 and went down to the hotel restaurant around 6:00.  Yesterday, we heard that the Australian Government has started requiring all international travelers to self-quarantine for 14 days after arriving in country.  I sat in the restaurant drinking coffee and review what options we have for continuing our trip.
Around 8:00 I went up to the room and joined Shari and Albert and we all went down for breakfast in the hotel dining room.  During breakfast I shared with Shari what options we have for continuing our travels.

Since it doesn’t appear that I’m going to make it to Australia this trip, I went ahead and tried Vegemite at breakfast this morning.  The restaurant has small packages of it on the buffet.  I toasted and buttered a piece of bread and then spread the Vegemite on the buttered toast.  It wasn’t very exciting.  It doesn’t have much flavor and is mostly just salty.  It was edible, but it’s not something I thought was so great I will buy some at home.

It was almost noon before we left the hotel and walked around Queenstown.  We walked along the waterfront until we reached the Queenstown Gardens.  We walked through the gardens to the tip of the peninsula and then walk along the shore back to town.  It is a beautiful sunny and slightly cool day.  We continued to walk around Queenstown stopping in the odd shop to look for souvenirs. 

For lunch we went to a Queenstown institution, Fergburger.  It was packed when we arrived.  We waited in line about 15 minutes to order and then another 20 minutes to get our food.  The restaurant has very limited seating, so we took our burger down to the water front park and ate there. Albert and I each had a Ferg Deluxe burger and Shari had the Little Lamby burger.  We shared an order of fries.  The burger is large.  Perhaps 1/3 larger the the Burger King Whopper.  I’m probably just bias, but it was not as good as some of the burgers we have at home.

Day 19 – Franz Josef to Queenstown

Tried again this morning, unsuccessfully, to do the heli-hike on Franz Josef glacier.  Cloud cover on the glacier prevented the helicopters from flying. To sooth our disappointment, we went to Full of Beans for breakfast.

We started the drive to Queenstown.  We made two stops along the way.  We stopped at the Blue Pools and hike down to the pools.  It was a nice hike and pleasant break from the road.

Our second stop was in Wanaka New Zealand to see the famous Wanaka Tree.  The tree is just off shore in a local park.  With all I’ve heard about this tree, I thought there would be more people there.  Again, it was a nice break from the road.

We arrived in Queenstown around 5:00.  We found our way to the Crowne Plaza and checked in.  After getting settled in our room, we walked across the street to the Public Kitchen for dinner.

Day 18 – Franz Josef

I woke up this morning around 8:00 to the sounds of helicopters.  Heli-hike tours to the glacier are very popular.  Our heli-hike isn’t until 1:30.  This morning we ate a light breakfast and then drove down to the car park where we could hike to a viewing point to see the Franz Josef glacier.

Around 1:00 we started walking to Franz Josef Glacier Guides for our 1:30 heli-hike.  When we arrived we had to complete some paperwork before getting a wrist band and meeting our guide.  Our guide took us to a room where he gave a safety briefing and then to a dressing area where we were fitted for our waterproof pants, jackets and hiking boots.  We were each given a red fanny pack that contained our crampons, for walking on the ice, gloves, and a watch cap to keep our head warm.  After dressing we were each weighed.  Shari, Albert, and I were some of the last of our group to be weighted and as I prepared to step on the scale, our guide received word that our hike was cancelled.  Clouds were moving in over the glacier landing site and no more helicopters would be flying today.  Disappointed, we went back and took off all the protective clothing. Considering our travel schedule tomorrow, we felt we could do a hike early in the morning.  We rescheduled our hike for 9:30 tomorrow morning.

Since we didn’t eat much breakfast, we walked over to The Landing for lunch.  It was a gorgeous day in the valley, so we sat outside to eat lunch.  The restaurants had their heater on and I initially sat near one.  After a few minutes I was so warm I had to move.  We asked our waiter to turn the heater off and he did.  We ate lunch and watched the helicopters land bringing people down from the glacier.

The company we booked our heli-hike through also has several hot pools that we get to use as part of our tour.  After lunch we went back to the hotel and changed into our swim suits and walked back down to the hot pools.  We stayed about 45 minutes.  Initially, the hot pools felt great, but after a while the heat got to me.  We went back to the hotel and took showers and relaxed for a while.

Once again we had a dinner of wine and snacks in the room tonight.  

Day 17 – Travel Day to Franz Josef

Today we travelled from Christchurch to the Franz Josef Glacier driving through Arthur’s Pass again.  We ate breakfast at the World Famous Sheffield Pies.  Next, we stopped and hiked Castle Hill.

We continued the drive through Arthur’s Pass to the west coast of New Zealand.  We stopped for another hike at Hokitika Gorge.  Beautiful hike and a great stop to break up the trip.

We arrived in Franz Josef and checked into our hotel.  We are staying at The Terrance.  After getting settle we walked over to Snake Bite Brewery for dinner.

Day 15 & 16 Christchurch

On Thursday, had a leisurely morning in the room this morning and we ate breakfast in the room.  We had yogurt and fruit.

Thursday was laundry day.  Our hotel doesn’t have a Guest Laundry, but a sister property, The Ibis, does.  To prepare we walked over to The Ibis to assess the laundry facilities.  While we were out we roamed down towards the Bridge of Remembrance and found a row of restaurants and stores.

On Thursday we ate lunch at Chiwahwah Mexican Cantina.  The restaurant had a lot of Day of the Death themed artwork and even the menus.

On Friday, Albert wanted eggs for breakfast, so we walked over to Table at Monks for breakfast.  Albert ordered a Spanish Omelet, Shari had the Lemon Ricotta & Blueberry Waffle, and I had the Salmon Eggs Benedict.  Everything was delicious.

After breakfast we walk down to the Margaret Mahy Playground which is on the Avon River.  We took a long walk along the Avon stopping at Victoria Square and the James Cook Statue.  We continued along the river to the Robert Falcon Scott Statue.  We took a break and sat along the Avon near the Bridge of Remembrance.  After a short break we continued on towards the Canterbury Earthquake National Memorial and then we strolled through the Christchurch Botanic Gardens.

Needing a little pick-me-up after all this walking, we stopped in at Ben & Jerry’s for an ice cream and then sat outside and ate it.  After getting a little sugar in us we explored the Riverside Market before walking back to our hotel and propped our feet up for a while.

For dinner tonight we walked down to Original Sin near the Bridge of Remembrance.

Day 14 – Arthur’s Pass to Christchurch

Today we traveled from Punakaiki to Christchurch across Arthur’s Pass.  It was a long day in the car, but with beautiful scenery.

We arrived in Christchurch late in the afternoon and found our hotel, The Novotel at Cathedral Square.  From our room you can see the earthquake damaged Anglican Cathedral.  After getting settled in our room we took a walk around our hotel.  We found a restaurant for dinner, Francesca’s Italian Kitchen, and since we were early they seated us right away.  We continued walking around the area after dinner.  Albert had to have a gelato after dinner.  We stopped in at Rollickin Gelato so he could get dessert.

Day 13 – Travel Day

Today we drove from Abel Tasman National Park to Punakaiki on the west coast of New Zealand.  The drive took us through wine country again and many small towns on the South Island.  We packed sanwiches and ate a picnic lunch along the way.  We stopped at the Pancake Rock Blowholes.  Unfortunately, we arrived after high tide which is when the blowholes are most active.  For dinner we ate at the Punakaiki Tavern.

We are staying at the Punakaiki Resort and had a beautiful sunset from our room balcony.

Day 12 – Abel Tasman National Park

Today we hike part of the Abel Tasman Coast Track from Torrent Bay to Anchorage with a stop at Cleopatras Pool. Today’s real adventure was taking a water taxi to Torrent Bay and back.

Today was our first encounter with the New Zealand Black Fly a.k.a sandflies.  They are similar to the mosquito in the States.  I really though nothing of the bites when I was bitten.  Just a nuisance.  But later that night, I woke up with fierce itching all below my knees.  I put Hydrocortisone on and took a Benadryl.  I was really surprised by how much the bites itched.  The itching lasted for almost a full week, too.

Tonight for dinner our hotel was offering “The Seven Deadly Gins” cocktails and tapa on the patio.  I tried a couple of the gin drinks and they were all excellent.  

Day 11 – Wharariki Beach

Today we did two hikes. The first was to Wharariki Beach. It is a beautiful beach on the Cook Strait, but you have to hike for about 20 minutes through sheep pastures and some woods to get there. Once there it is a large beach with rock formations just off shore.

The second hike was to Wainui Falls. It took a bit longer to get to, but well worth the hike.

Tonight for dinner we went to Mohua Eatery and Bar which was right next door to our hotel.  We sat outside and enjoyed the evening.  Shari and I split the Charcuterie and each had a beer.  We just didn’t want anything heavy for dinner.  Albert had the bar-b-que pork sandwich.  It was all good.  

Charcuterie board at Mohua

Day 10 – Travel Day

Today we took the car ferry from Wellington to Picton on the South Island of New Zealand.  Then we drove across the top of the South Island to the western coast and Pohara Beach.

We stopped for lunch at T.O.A.D Hall in Motueka New Zealand near Abel Tasman National Park.  It was a really nice place to eat lunch.  It was covered, but open-air dining.  They had a brewery associated with the restaurant.  Being unfamiliar with the beer choices we chose a sampler to start.

Shari sampling the Townshend Brewery beers

After lunch we continued our drive to Pohara.  In Pohara we are staying at the Ratanui Lodge.  It is a very nice hotel with only 10 rooms.  Steve, one of the owners, took great care of us.  He setup a full size roll-a-way bed in our room for Albert to sleep on.

After getting settled in our room we walked across the beach to Golden Bay and went for a walk on the beach.

Day 9 – Wellington

We started today at WETA Cave, the design studio that worked on the Lord of the Rings, The Hobbit, and Avitar to name a few.  We had a little trouble finding it.  It is tucked on the edge of a residential neighborhood in Wellington.  The tour took about 3 hours.  It was very interesting, but not what I expected.  It focused on the creation of models, and miniature sets a lot more than I expected.  I was hoping more about how they filmed the models and made them look real in the movies.  All in all it was a good tour and well worth the time.  Albert loved it.

When we finished the WETA Cave tour it was almost lunch time.  We are interested in seafood since we are here along the coast.  After doing a bit of research on TripAdvisor, we decided to go to The Crab Shack which was on the waterfront.  We had a delicious lunch and afterwards took a walk along the waterfront.

After lunch we drove back to the hotel and parked the car.  We went up to the room and relaxed for a while.  I took a short nap.

One of the top attractions in Wellington is the cable car.  we decided to ride the cable car to the top and then walk back down through the Wellington Botanic Garden.  The cable car seemed very short to me.  Once at the top we exited the station and started our walk through the botanic garden to the city.  It is a clearly marked path and took a through some spectacular sections of the garden.

Toward the end of our walk we entered the Bolton Street Cemetery.  It was established in 1840 and server the early settlement’s non-Catholic residents.  In the late 1960’s 3,700 burials, many unmarked, where exhumed and moved to construct the motorway.  I must admit that walking through and old cemetery made me introspective and added a nice touch to the end of our walk.

After our walk, Albert was ready for a gelato.  We walked back to the touristy shopping area of Wellington, but couldn’t find a gelateria or any ice cream shops.  Albert had his heart set on ice cream.  We came across a Mrs Higgins Cookies store and fortunately they offered 3 varieties of ice cream.  Shari and I got fresh baked cookies and Albert got a serving of chocolate ice cream.  We sat on the bench outside the store people watching while we ate our ice cream.  School must have just let out because we say many young people in their school uniforms.  We also observer that body sizes in New Zealand are comparable to America and not like Europe where the majority of people are thin.

Tomorrow is a travel day, so we decided to eat snacks in our room tonight for dinner.  There is a Countdown grocery store near our hotel, so we went there and bought a bottle of wine and some cheeses for dinner.

Day 8 – Travel Day

Today we drove from the Chateau Tongariro at Tongariro National Park to Wellington.  Immediately after leaving the hotel, we stopped at Tawhai Falls which was used as Gollum’s Pool in the Lord of the Rings movie.  It was an easy 30 minute return walk.

Next we stopped at the trail head for the Ohakune Old Coach Road.  This is like a rail-to-trails hike.  It is my understanding that as locomotive technology improved the railroad lines were straightened.  This hike is made up of the parts of the railroad that were removed.  It was an easy trail and took us about 45 minutes to return to the car.

We arrived in Wellington at rush hour, which was a little challenging.  We missed our hotel on the first pass and had to go around again to get to it.

We are staying at the Novotel Hotel on The Terrace in Wellington.  Tonight for dinner we walked over to Dillengers.  Our server was American.  She has been living in New Zealand for several years.  If memory serves me, I believe she was from Colorado originally.  After high school she moved to Nelson New Zealand to live with an Aunt.  Now she’s living in Wellington and working on her New Zealand citizenship.