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Entries about animals

Columbus, Ohio

OHIO - PART II

sunny 30 °F

The first thing that comes to mind when I think of Columbus is The Ohio State University. Maybe it is the number of times I have heard players emphasize the "The" when announcing their school on Monday Night Football. Regardless of the reason, it was our first stop when driving into Columbus.

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It reminded me a little of NC State, probably due to the color red that was everywhere. Students were on winter break when we arrived, so we didn't see many people walking around campus. I wanted to see the football stadium since it is one of the largest in the nation (Megan was more interested in finding a buckeye). The football stadium isn't the only large part to this campus, Ohio State has the third largest campus in the country. It took us a while to walk down to the football stadium.

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The stadium was pretty large, but the cool part was the river that passed right by the stadium. Across the river you could see the basketball arena. We rested our legs by leaning over the bridge and watching logs get trapped against the supports of the bridge.

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On the other side of the football stadium was a courtyard that had been planted with rows of buckeye trees. Apparently the first 22 were planted in a football formation, but all the others honored the top football players that had played at Ohio State. I took a picture of Megan looking for buckeyes that may still be remaining on the ground.

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We made our way back through campus to grab a quick bite to eat. The only restaurant that looked open was Wendy's, and they had the Bengals game on TV! I never get to watch the Bengals live in Raleigh, so we took our time with our bowls of chili to watch the game.

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Before the sun went down, we wanted to check out another section of town called German Village. As the name would suggest, German Village was originally settled by German immigrants. This area of town still has streets made of brick (with a trough in the middle for horse whiz and snow runoff). All the homes used traditional Christmas decorations. German Village was pretty, but the look comes with a steep price. A medium sized house was listed for over a million dollars!

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German Village has some traditional shops and restaurants as well. One restaurant in particular had caught Megan's eye on The Food Network's Man vs. Food for its Sausage Autobahn, an all-you-can-eat sausage buffet. German food mean German beer, so was I all for it. We stopped for dinner at Schmidt's Sausage Haus.

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Schmidt's was packed! Luckily we didn't have to wait for a table since we only had 2 people, but we got shot some dirty looks when we bypassed everyone in line upon checking in. After a quick glance at the menu, we both decided on the Sausage Autobahn. Schmidt's makes 4 types of homemade sausage along with a large variety of other traditional German foods, and it all looked delicious (I hadn't seen German food this good since we were in Sheboygan). While I took my time trying to get a little of everything, Megan took off at 100 mph down the Sausage Autobahn.

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After multiple returns to the buffet, I couldn't even look at another sausage. Unfortunately for me, Schmidt's has another delicious tradition—giant creme puffs. These creme puffs took two hands to eat and were jam packed with different flavors of creme, and they were fantastic!

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We ordered one extra creme puff as a gift for our Couch Surfing host in Columbus. We left Schmidts (slowly since we were so stuffed) and headed back through downtown. Our host for the night, Tom, wanted to meet us at a local bar near his house. Just like James (our Cleveland host), Tom was easy to talk to and had a ton of stories to tell us about Columbus. I talked to Tom about life in Raleigh and Cincinnati while Megan slowly drifted into a sausage-induced coma. After a couple of beers, we headed back to the house and crashed for the night. Tom was such a great host that he went late to work the next morning to take us out to breakfast at a diner around the corner from his house.

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The real reason for our trip to Michigan/Ohio was the Columbus Zoo. Megan knew that I absolutely love zoos and discovered that the Columbus Zoo is one of the highest rated zoos in the world (largely because of the work of director "Jungle Jack" Hanna). When Southwest offered $100 tickets to Columbus (I guess people don't like flying north in the middle of winter), it sounded like an awesome opportunity. We said goodbye to Tom and made our way to the zoo.

Despite the zoo's popularity, it was empty on Monday morning (I'm sure the sub 30s temperature didn't help either). We had the zoo to ourselves. Unfortunately, many of the outdoor exhibits were closed for the season, so we had to observe the animals in their inside enclosures.

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The zoo was pretty large, but it didn't seem too much larger than some of the other zoos I had visited. What made the Columbus Zoo so nice was the extensive detail put into all the enclosures. The aquariums were stunning and enormous. The reptile house and bat house were made to accommodate large groups of people. The manatee enclosure made me feel like I was standing on a dock in Florida.

Some of the more active animals were the gorillas and bonobos (a primate that looks similar to a chimpanzee). We were able to stand right next to the gorillas (they were eye level and only separated by a pane of glass). Two younger gorillas wrestled on the ground while the large male occasionally broke up the fighting. He also gave Megan a look when she sat down next to him!

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The bonobos had just been fed when we walked by their enclosure, so they were very active. Their enclosure looked like an elementary school playground, filled with slides and monkey bars. It was astonishing to see how quickly and easily they climbed around the enclosure (sometimes scaling the walls using only the tiny bolts that secured the glass). One bonobo was playing with a spinning seat by throwing objects into the seat and spinning it around until they went flying out. Even the baby was playing around by going up and down the slide.

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We wandered through the Australian animals, the African animals, and the South American animals, but about half of these exhibits were closed or could only view the animals indoors. The real action was in the North America section which had all of its outdoor exhibits still open.

We saw a wolverine lounging in a hole, bald eagles eating mice, and an arctic fox chewing on its enclosure. These animals were all very active, moving around their enclosures and playing.

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There are too many animals to even try to name all the ones we saw. Deer, bison, reindeer, wolves, foxes, antelope, goats, pigs—the list goes on and on. Megan did her best to look Canadian by posing with a moose holding her Tim Horton's coffee.

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The bears were some of the scarier exhibits. The polar bear was big, but it was nothing compared to the grizzlies that were sleeping up against the glass. These things were gigantic! After seeing these guys, maybe I should have been a little more nervous on our early morning hike in Glacier National Park!

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We spent nearly 6 hours walking around the zoo, and that's with no lines and some of the exhibits closed. I'm sure Megan was getting tired of me spouting off my ancient Ranger Rick knowledge (for those that don't remember Ranger Rick, it was a kid's animal magazine). Despite our tired legs and Megan's tired ears, we enthusiastically entered the last animal house. We had saved a special treat for last, the elephants (there was a baby elephant).

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I could have spent another whole day at the zoo, but we had to leave. Our flight back to Raleigh was leaving in a couple of hours. Sausages and animals, I don't know if I could have asked for more.

Posted by Mike.Flynn 12:30 Archived in USA Tagged animals beer colleges local_food Comments (0)

The Most Southern Place on Earth - Mississippi

STATE 25 - MISSISSIPPI

sunny 90 °F

Mississippi is the Most Southern Place on Earth. Well, geographically it is not the most southern on the Earth, or even the most southern in the US. But according to James C. Cobb, a former president of the Southern Historical Association, due to its unique racial, cultural, and economic history, no place is more southern. Megan and I were headed down to Mississippi to rub elbows with the locals and attend a down-South wedding!

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It should come as no surprise that the Mississippi lies in the Mississippi River Valley (the Mississippi River runs along the length of Mississippi's western border). The Mississippi River has greatly influenced much of Mississippian culture, from antebellum times to current day. The state of Mississippi is relatively flat, so when the river floods, its effects can be far reaching. Megan and I decided to stretch our legs after a long ride in the car and experience the Mississippi River runoff first hand by taking a hike through the floodplain.

It was a hot, muggy morning despite being late September. My shirt was sticking to my back and it was barely 9am, good thing we were hitting the trail before it got even warmer. Megan and I checked in at the front desk and told the ranger we were going on the river trail. Upon hearing our trail choice, the ranger looked up and said, "you watch out now, I heard the mosquitoes are real bad right now." I didn't give the warning much thought. Back home in North Carolina you have to deal with mosquitoes every second of every day during the non-winter months. Mosquitoes may be a nuisance, but they aren't going to keep me from taking a hike. We said good bye to the ranger and started off on the trail.

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The trail was dominated by wooden walkways. The river runoff trail could get pretty soggy, and large portions of the trail wound through marsh land. We descended lower and lower into the valley until we reached the bottom of the valley and the marshlands extended off in every direction. There was very little direct sunlight beneath the canopy of the trees, no wind at all, and the water seemed completely stagnant.

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As I followed Megan on the trail, I noticed her shadow looked really weird. It seemed be vibrating and inconsistent. Suddenly it hit me, it wasn't Megan's shadow I was seeing, it was the thousands and thousands of mosquitoes following her! I tried to keep from panicking, but I realized that if we stopped moving, we would end up having an incredibly itchy weekend. It was just about then that Megan wanted me to stop to take the picture above. It took a lot of convincing, but I agreed to a single picture, but I was going to keep moving until the last possible second to keep the mosquitoes from landing on me. Unfortunately Megan caught my "mosquito dance" on video.

After the picture, Megan and I took off at a sprint back to the visitor's center. Once making it safely back inside, we slapped each other silly to kill the mosquitoes that were sucking us dry. My smug North Carolinian pride took a big hit as I realized that I couldn't handle the onslaught of Mississippian mosquitoes.

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The visitor's center was pretty cool. It was like a mini-zoo displaying all the types of wildlife that could be found in the Mississippi River run-offs. Terrariums filled with turtles, alligators, and snakes filled one humid room, while another had over 25 aquariums recreating the different environments of the river and forested ponds.

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I've seen plenty of turtles, bass, bluegill, catfish, and minnows before, but the museum made them seem exotic in the beautiful and realistic aquariums. As we exited the aquariums, we entered a large room filled with stuffed versions of the mammals that call Mississippi home. Megan and I posed as the different animals. I chose to mimic the boar and the bat, while Megan did her best two-headed snake impression (the snake was actually alive!).

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Megan and I left the trails and museum to grab some lunch. We headed to downtown Jackson to grab a bit to eat at the Mayflower, the restaurant from the movie The Help. The local Jackson residents we had met the night before had warned us about walking around downtown (apparently the area was full of crime and was dangerous). However, just as it was walking around downtown Montgomery, it seemed as if we had the entirety of downtown to ourselves. The security person guarding the building that we parked in front of (who watched us suspiciously as we consulted the map to get our bearings) was the ONLY person we saw while downtown. No cars, no one walking around, nothing. Even the restaurant we had planned on eating at was closed because the owner was a wedding.

Side note: Notice how weird the roads look. The were almost a pink color and seemed to be made from paved gravel instead of asphalt.

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We walked from the middle of downtown uphill to the Old Capital building and home of the war memorials. The Old Capital (the state capital building from 1839 to 1903, including when Mississippi helped form the Confederate States of America) was located in a beautiful area overlooking downtown. The following picture features the War Memorial that sits to the left of the Old Capital building.

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When Jackson was founded, the entire area was a giant swamp (not too dissimilar from the area we had hiked through that morning). I guess that's why the capital building was placed on the highest point downtown. Looking the other direction, you could see the Jackson skyline (I didn't have the best vantage point when taking the picture).

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We walked through the War Memorial. There was an area that housed the Mississippi soldiers that died in battle, as well as a number of sculptures and inscriptions honoring the soldiers. Since we were the only people there, the entire area felt very serene.

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Of course it wouldn't be a southern state capital if didn't also include a memorial to the Confederate soldiers, which was located on the other side of the Old Capital building. Standing at the heart of the memorial was a life-size statue of Jefferson Davis.

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From the site of the old capital, we walked down to the new capital building. Squirrels were everywhere and clucked loudly at us as we walked by. After taking a short rest on the benches in front of the capital, we made our way back to the car.

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That night we met up with our friends at a Mississippi restaurant, Cock of the Walk, overlooking the river. The restaurant only served two things, fried catfish or fried chicken. You could also order sides of fried onions, turnip greens, fried pickles, and cornbread. Everything is served on tin plates, and beer is served in tin pitchers. We ordered multiples of everything, it was delicious!

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The next morning Megan and I headed out to the Mississippi Ag Museum to get a feel for "the real Mississippi". The Ag Museum was actually a collection of buildings. The largest building was a museum with displays on Mississippi agriculture, but other buildings held special classes and displays. Adjacent to the museum was a collection of historic Mississippi homes and buildings that had been relocated here. We decided the check out the main museum first and work our way outside.

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Upon entering the museum, we were greeted by a very realistic looking Mississippi man.

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The man sat outside a replica of s simple house, and I guess he was supposed to represent a native of Mississippi. He was incredibly lifelike, and it wasn't until I got up close that I realized that he wasn't real. He was also pretty creepy, take a look at his eyes.

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Escaping the gaze of the Mississippi man, we entered the first display. Row and rows of different types of axes filled several walls, showcasing the various tools of the woodworkers (or the types of weapons used by the creepers represented by the man guarding the entrance).

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Reminiscent of the dinner from the night before, the museum had a display on catfish farming. Mississippi farms more catfish than anywhere else in the country. When you eat catfish, it was probably grown in Mississippi.

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The next portion of the museum focused on the cotton roots of Mississippi. At the time of the civil war, Mississippi was the 5th wealthiest state in the country due to its cotton production. Even after the war, cotton remained king. They had an old cotton gin and examples of the textiles that were produced by Mississippi.

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The best part of the museum, other than the axes and freaks, was the music that was constantly playing in the background. The upbeat, banjo-pluckin' tunes prompted Megan and I to have a hillbilly dance-off! Who do you say won?

After the dance-off, Megan and I made our way outside. After exploring the big city of Jackson, it was time to walk through Small Town Mississippi!

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The Ag Museum had actually moved buildings from historic sites around the state to create a little town. Several old houses (most of them log cabins), an old church, farm buildings, an old schoolhouse, and a trading post were just some of the buildings that made up this little town. Animals grazed in the pastures and rested in the barn. As you walked through the old homes sensors would detect as you entered each room which started an audio tour. Everything was kept was authentic as possible and was very well done.

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You could also walk into the largest (working) cotton gin in the world. It was massive! It was steam powered and even included a vacuum sucker that could pull cotton out of wagons. You had to walk up a flight of stairs to see the main compartment. As hot as it was already inside the room, I wouldn't want to be there when they fired up the cotton gin.

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Between the agriculture tour and the relaxed attitude of its residents (not to mention the delicious down-home cooking), Mississippi reminded me of life in North Carolina (although I would agree with James C. Cobb in that the Deep South is a different type of southern). Megan and I started to make our way out of the Ag Museum, but not before one last hillbilly dance in the town garden.

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Posted by Mike.Flynn 11:08 Archived in USA Tagged animals museum marshes historical local_food Comments (2)

Glacier National Park

STATE 22 - MONTANA

sunny 60 °F

We left behind the beautiful state of Idaho and entered another state just as scenic. Megan and I headed to one of the most awe-inspiring National Parks in the country, Glacier National Park!

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Driving through the Rocky Mountains was just as beautiful crossing from Idaho into Montana as it was driving through the mountains passing from Colorado to Utah. Forested mountains surrounded blue lakes, and it seemed like we were the only people for miles.

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To get to Glacier National Park from Sandpoint, Idaho, we were supposed to follow a state highway north to about 10 miles from the Canadian border, head a couple miles west through a mountain pass, and then come back down south to the entrance of Glacier National Park. It was a long loop, but apparently there are not many passes through the Rocky Mountains in this area. When Megan pulled up the directions to Glacier National Park, the GPS found a direct route through the mountains that would cut 2 hours off our drive. I'm not usually one for blindly following the GPS, but a 2 hour time savings sounded too good to pass up. I left the highway and followed the road heading straight east.

Turning off the highway, the road looked like a standard two lane country road. 15 miles later, it turned into an unmarked paved road.

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In another 15 miles, we were no longer on a paved road.

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At this point, we had been driving for about 40 minutes. We could only drive about 20 MPH since our tiny 2 wheel drive Ford Focus was not quite equipped for off-road travel. I figured that turning around would cost us 40 minutes of time backtracking, plus 2 additional hours of driving time. The road was probably only gravel for a few miles before connecting to another road. Unfortunately, that didn't quite happen.

It turns out that NFSR-401, the name of the road we were on according to the GPS, does not stand for "Neat and Fast Shortcut Route" as I had naively thought, but rather for "National Forestry Service Road". The narrow, unpaved road we were traveling on was used by the National Forestry Service to travel through the Kootenai National Forest. The slow progression down the road was bad, but seeing that we still had another 43 miles until the next turn was even worse. I took a couple deep breaths, and tried to focus on the beautiful scenery around me. That worked until we encountered a log laying across the road.

I slowed the car, and briefly considered turning around. We had been traveling on the detour for over an hour, and it was going to start getting dark soon. I didn't want to be caught driving through a National Forest, on a narrow dirt path, with hundred foot drops at night. I said screw it, and stubbornly decided to continue forward. I punched the accelerator and attempted to "jump" the log. The car slammed into the log, the steering wheel jerked hard to one side, and Megan and I were thrown forward. When we landed, we miraculously ended up on the other side of the the log, and I thanked God when the car still seemed drivable. Expecting that the worst was behind us (there was now only 10 miles until we left the NFSR), we ran into the next obstacle—a river was running over the road.

I always heard you shouldn't drive through standing water, but it's not like we had a choice. I didn't want to try log jumping again, and the water didn't look that deep. Megan, who kept uncharacteristically silent during the log incident, began to openly express her concern with going across the water. I told her that I would try to go through the shallower looking mud and just try to keep moving. Figuring it had worked well before, I punched the accelerator and tried to get as much momentum as possible before reaching the water and mud (while muttering a quick Hail Mary). Water shot off the side of the car as we sliced through the river. We slowed to a crawl, and I fully expected water to start coming in from the door jams. Somehow we made it to the other side without getting stuck.

Thankfully we emerged from the dirt road with our car still intact. Our route through the forest had taken over 3 hours. The previously white, shiny car was now covered in mud and dust. A thousand insects peppered the front grill and windshield, but at least Megan and I had made it through alive. I wish I had more pictures of the off-road ordeal, but honestly I had been too nervous to think about documenting the experience.

Sticking to the main road, we eventually found ourselves on the outskirts of the National Park. We entered an Visitor Center to get more information on which trails through the park were closed. Never did I expect that we would have to worry about trails being closed due to snow at the end of July. It can snow at Glacier National Park at any point during the year, even the middle of summer! The Visitor Center didn't have any information on closed trails because it was actually the Alberta Visitor Center (for traveling into Canada). I took a picture with a mounty, looked around quickly, and then got back into the car to head into the park.

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Glacier National Park is humungous, over a million acres in size. Wildlife is abundant. Mountain goats, black bears, grizzly bears, bighorn sheep, lynx, cougars, wolves, moose, deer, and plenty more can be found throughout the park. Megan was scared to death of encountering a bear while we were out hiking, and I had spent a good portion of the road trip assuring her that we would not see a bear. However, not 30 seconds after paying the entrance fee to enter the park, we came across our first bear.

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It was awesome seeing the bear walk through the forest, although also a little scary. Megan had read up on what to do when encountering a bear (play dead when encountering a grizzly, fight back when encountering a black bear). She had also tried to convince me to get bear bells (bells attached to your backpack that jingle as you hike so you don't sneak up on a bear) and bear spray (heavy duty pepper spray). My fears grew upon stopping at the Visitor Center when we learned that of the top 3 trails we wanted to hike, 1 was closed due to snow, 1 was closed to a bear attack the day before, and the third had both a grizzly and black bear sighting earlier in the morning. To get Megan's mind (and mine) off of bears, we walked outside to take in the view of Lake McDonald and head to a bear-free trail.

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We took the bus to the Avalanche Trail trailhead. There is only one road that winds through the mountains of Glacier National Park, Going To the Sun Road. It is incredibly scenic, as we caught spectacular views of Lake McDonald and the surrounding mountains.

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We did a quick hike through the Trail of the Cedars before heading up Avalanche Trail. The trail was only a couple miles long following an ice-cold, cool-blue stream. The trail was fairly busy, with a large number of people jingling from their bear bells. With all the foot traffic, it seemed unlikely that a bear would be anywhere close to this trail (I was both relieved, but also disappointed). Bears, or no bears, the hike along the stream and through the woods was great.

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At the end of the trail we encountered a glacier lake, Avalanche Lake, that was the source of the stream. The sun was warm, and encouraged us to wade out into the water. The water was like ice! Waterfalls streamed down the mountain ridges in the distance, and the clear, blue water sparkled magnificently.

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We sat on the edge of the water and took in the scenery. It was late in the afternoon, so the crowds had thinned out, and we were almost left alone. Once our feet had thawed from wading the water, we put our boots back on and made our way back down to the bus stop. Tomorrow morning we planned on getting an early start to do a full day hike on the trail with the multiple bear sightings.

We parked our car at the trailhead leading to the Granite Park Chalet. The sun was just starting to rise over the horizon, and everything was eerily quiet. The trail lead straight up one of the mountains to an overnight camping lodge, although we planned to hike back down later in the afternoon. We were the first ones on the trail that morning, and a sign that said "Entering Grizzly Country" reminded me that this trail had bear sightings the day before.

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As we hiked, Megan did her best to engage me in a conversation (one of the tactics to prevent a bear attack is to make noise while hiking, such as talking loudly, to make sure you don't surprise them), but I am not much of a conversationalist on the trail. Plus, I thought, I would be able to spot a bear well before we got close enough for it to be a threat. About that time, the bushes rustled 10 feet in front of me and a large animal jumped onto the trail.

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It was only a deer, but it could have been a mouse and I would have been just as startled. If I didn't see a deer 10 feet away, I was just as likely to miss the bear. On either side of the trail, grasses and flowers rose 4 feet, almost totally obscuring the immediate view. Once my heart started beating at a normal pace, we started back up the trail.

The first part of the trail wound through a section of dead trees. A wildfire had burned 10% of the park in 2003. The dead trees weren't as pretty as the live ones, but they allowed clear views of the surrounding mountains while we hiked.

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Wildflowers were everywhere on the trail, adding vibrant color and contrast to the green fields and trees. Pink and purple, yellow and white, big and small, flowers were in every color and size.

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Eventually the trail wound above the treeline and offered awesome views of the mountains and glaciers off in the distance.

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About 2/3 the way up the trail, snow and ice began to dot the side of the mountain and eventually covering the pathway. The trail also wound back through a heavily forested area. Megan began trying to talk to me loudly again, so I knew she was nervous about entering the forest. After an hour or so of clear visibility, we could no longer see what was waiting around each turn.

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Deciding it was time to take a break, I turned around to give Megan some water. I noticed she was carrying something in each hand. When I asked her what she had, she held up a rock in each hand. She had picked up weapons to use in case a bear attacked. One rock was her "stunning rock", a larger baseball-sized rock, while the other rock was the "cutting rock" due to its sharp edges. In the event of encountering a bear, I was now more likely to be pelted with rocks as to be attacked by a bear.

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We made it safely through the woods and up to the Granite Park Chalet. The view was outstanding.

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We sat down outside the lodge and ate a light lunch. Chipmunks scattered about, anxiously awaiting for us to drop something. From the lodge, the trail forked to go different directions. We watched hikers attempt to cross snow covered passes off in the distance. Only one group made it successfully across, the others turning around to come back to the lodge. The cold bite in the air encouraged us to begin the hike back down the mountain.

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We got back to the car and decided to drive the rest of the Going To the Sun Road through the park. The entire road was over 40 miles long, but it offered magnificent views of roadside waterfalls, valley views, and mountain ridges. The road was uncomfortably tight, and delays due to road construction gave us plenty of time to soak in the views. Upon reaching the far side of the park, we encountered a totally different view of the park. The great plains of the middle of country stretched out as far as we could see, a stark contrast to Rocky Mountains behind us. We circled around the park to begin the long drive back into Washington to catch our flights home.

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Posted by Mike.Flynn 10:10 Archived in USA Tagged mountains animals hiking national_park world_heritage_site Comments (0)

The Great Salt Lake & Antelope Island

UTAH - PART II

semi-overcast

Resting our legs after hiking in Arches National Park, we drove out of the flatlands and made our way into the mountains. It wasn't as steep as driving through the Rockies, but the snow covering the ground made it feel like we were even higher. At one point while driving through a mountain pass, a huge wind farm sat directly in front of us. The blades were lazily turning, and although installing these "eyesores" in the North Carolina Appalachians has been a controversial debate, it was mesmerizing to watch them spin. It may have just been the little kid in me remembering playing with a pinwheel.

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We passed through Provo, which was a disaster. The main interstate was under construction, and our GPS nearly blew up trying to calculate the remaining time on our trip as we crawled foot by foot. We had already been driving 9 hours, and it was only another hour to get to Salt Lake City. We got off the interstate and decided to follow some back roads to bypass the city. Other than the congested highway, the city was beautiful. Scenic farms with mountain backdrops were only a mile from the city. A mix of rustic barns and the colors of spring were able to take my mind off the traffic momentarily. We looped back to the highway just in time to see some crazy people jumping off cliffs wearing parachutes.

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We entered into Salt Lake City in the early evening. You can't help but admire the gorgeous views from the city. Snow-capped mountains surrounded the city to the east, while the lake borders the city to the west. It was very pleasant outside, and the grass was a rich green (which was a stark contrast after staring at sandy-brown dirt and shrubs for the past week). I could see why Brigham Young selected this spot as the home for his community and his church after conflicts forced the church to leave Illinois.

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We drove right through the heart of the city to reach our hotel. As we aproached the end of the drive, I was surprised that we got such a great location while booking a hotel through Priceline. We passed the Utah Jazz NBA Arena and turned onto Temple St. The GPS had said we reached our destination at this building.

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This is the Salt Lake Temple, the largest temple of the The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Obviously this was not where we were staying. After consulting the hotel confirmation and the map, we figured out the error. The address for the hotel was 2100 Temple St, but the "2" was covered by a paperclip, and Megan had entered the address of 100 Temple St. Since we weren't staying within walking distance of the arena or the temple, we took in the beautiful gardens surrounding the temple while we were there. A crowd of people were walking into the arena, apparently a big game since the Lakers were in town (about 1/3 of the people had Lakers jerseys on).

I was amazed at how wide every street in Salt Lake City seemed to be. Even down side roads and through neighborhoods, roads were easily 5 lanes wide. Apparently Brigham Young had designed the city streets to make sure that you could do a U-turn in a horse and buggy on any road in the city (or at least that is what I was told by a local who overheard Megan and me talking about it).

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Megan and I got back in the car and headed towards the hotel. Good thing the roads were 6 lanes wide, because 4 of them were closed to construction (although I didn't see a single person working on the two mile stretch of road). I nearly went blind from all the reflective strips on the construction barrels.

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Although Mexican cuisine had been a frequent choice for a meal on this trip, we had been told that the best place to get dinner in Salt Lake City was the Red Iguana. The place was busy, as expected on a Friday night, so we got seats at the counter/bar. The specialty at Red Iguana was their variety of mole sauces. I'm not sure how many of you have ever been with Megan at a restaurant, but she needs time to consider each choice on the menu, and many choices means a lot of time to decide. We were given 9 different types of mole to try, and she began the scientific process of deciding which one she liked the best. A basket of chips later, she had finally made her selection. Only then did she open her menu to decide what food to put the sauce on. The waiter saved my sanity by suggesting a combination that sounded appetizing to Megan. The food was fantastic, and well worth the wait. As good as the food was, Megan was even more excited by the mango margarita.

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We woke up early the next morning to drive out to the Great Salt Lake and do some hiking on Antelope Island. The Great Salt Lake has several islands in it, and Antelope Island proved to be much larger than I had expected. The island received its name from the wild antelope that live on the island. In addition to the antelope, there are also herds of bison on the island. We drove down the land bridge that connects the island to the mainland (the Great Salt Lake is only around 35 feet at its deepest point, and has an average depth of about 13 feet). The view from the island was amazing.

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You can see how the water line seems to be pretty far from the shore. Since the lake is so shallow, its size can change drastically. A lot of the snow has not melted yet, so less water is flowing into the lake. I had wanted to swim in the lake, but it was a little cold to do that. And since the water was so far from the shore, I didn't even get a chance to dip my finger in.

We drove up to the visitor's center to get some information on the trails. There are a lot of different trails, and we wanted to make sure we went on the one where we would most likely see antelope and buffalo. The visitor center had a display of the two animals living in the Great Salt Lake (something does actually live in it), the brine shrimp (seamonkey) and salt flies. They had information on how the lake was formed and the types of animals living on the island, but not any information on which trails would be best for seeing wildlife. I found a ranger and asked her where we would should go, and gave me a look indicating I had just asked a stupid question and replied, "Anywhere but the visitor center."

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We left the visitor center and headed out to a trail that led up to a lookout on top of a hill. The trail was short and steep, but it did have great views of the lake and the rest of the island. They even had telescopes mounted at the top to allow you take a closer view. I scanned everywhere for bison and for antelope, but didn't see any. Disappointed, we hiked back down to the car to get to the next trail. Our disappointment didn't last long, a couple miles down the road we ran into our first group of buffalo.

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The bison probably look like ants in the picture, but they were only about 70 yards away. We got out of the car and watched them for a while, but they didn't do much except slowly make their way across the field grazing on the grass. I wanted to get closer to them, so we figured we would head out to the most remote trail in the park (and theoretically where the most wildlife would be).

Our destination was Garr Ranch, the home of the people who originally used the island as grazing land for cattle. Although the land is now a park, the ranch is still in use as a ranger station. No cows are on Antelope Island anymore, but a different type of livestock is raised here now. The park actually introduced the bison, and annually round up every single one to do vet check-ups. They try to keep the number of buffalo around 400-700, and sell off the extras. The island really was pretty big. It took nearly 25 minutes to drive to Garr Ranch on the other side of the park.

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In one of the barns next to the ranch, a museum of old tools and signs are on display. Utah didn't become a state until almost 1900, the US government not ready to accept a state that allowed polygamy. In fact, Brigham Young had to be removed from his position as governor by the US Army because he was becoming so influential and powerful. The museum was OK, but we were more interested in seeing something that was still alive.

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It didn't take long in our hike to see our next bison. He was huge! It was as close as I had been to one since I saw buffalo in Deer Park in New Zealand, only this time I wasn't in a car.

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As the trail came over the rise of a steep hill, we saw our first antelope. They turned and ran up the hill as soon as they saw us.

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The trail was 5 miles long to the top, and it offered great views down both sides of the ridgeline that divided the island. More buffalo were visible on the sides of the hill. A fire was visible across the lake, the tall orange flames clearly visible even from miles and miles away.

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We walked back down the trail to the ranch. Earlier in the day we had been the only car on the road. Now other cars and cyclists were winding their way through the park. It was a beautiful day, and it seemed like everyone was making the most of it. We passed more antelope and bison visible from the road as we left the park. Since we had enough hiking for one day, we sat in the car to appreciate the scenic view and the grazing animals.

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Eventually we made our way out of the park and back into the city. It was time to explore the urban side of Salt Lake City.

Posted by Mike.Flynn 15:26 Archived in USA Tagged mountains animals hiking state_park local_food Comments (0)

Snakes in Albuquerque!

STATE 14 - NEW MEXICO

sunny 55 °F

We are headed into the heart of New Mexico, the 5th largest state in the US. Albuquerque here we come!

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Leaving Colorado heading southeast, the plateaus dwindled away while sandy hills took their place. There were almost no trees or vegetation. Looking on either side of the highway getting close to Albuquerque, everything was just brown. Even the houses were brown!

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I couldn't be sure, but it looked like the air conditioners were installed on top or on the side of houses rather than on the ground. I guess it was to keep them from getting clogged with sand and dirt? If someone knows for sure, let me know. Another weird thing New Mexicans do—they paint their highways turquoise and a light-brown/pinkish color!

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We arrived into Albuerque barely beating the rush hour traffic. Our destination was the American International Rattlesnake Museum in Old Town Albuquerque, the largest collection of rattlesnake species in the world.

This place had a lot of snakes. It was less of an official museum than I had anticipated (it was in the back of a souvenir shop), but the actual snake enclosures were nicer than you would typically see in zoos. Each display had information about the particular type of rattlesnake, and the snakes all looked alert and healthy. They didn't just have rattlesnakes. Other vipers like copperheads, turtles, lizards, and spiders were also on display.

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Unfortunately the snakes are fed after hours, so we didn't get to see any feedings. We also didn't get a chance to explore the rest of Old Town as everything was closing down for the night, but it looked like a lot of tourist souvenir shops and restaurants, so maybe we didn't miss that much.

We drove across town to the base of the Sandia Mountains, the towering peaks overlooking Albuquerque. Albuquerque is already at a pretty high elevation, it sits even higher than the Mile-High City of Denver. In fact, almost since we had entered Arizona, we had stayed above 5,000 ft (except obviously when we hiked to the bottom of the Grand Canyon). The Sandia Peak rose much higher into the sky, the summit over 10,000 ft high. You can ride a tramway up to the top of Sandia Peak, precariously dangling you over thousand foot drops along the way.

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The ride took nearly 15 minutes to get to the top, and we only passed over 2 towers to get there. The Sandia Peak Tramway has the world's third longest single span, and of course this is when you are the furthest away from the ground.

We reached the top and began walking around the platforms. During the winter, Sandia Peak offers skiing down the other side of the mountain. It was pretty quiet at the top now, the temperature too cold for hiking or biking, but too warm to keep snow on the slopes. Remember when we misjudged the distance of the Stratosphere in Vegas and I said you could see far away here in the southwest? Well, the view from the top Sandia Peak allows you to see mountains over 100 miles away. An ancient volcano looms off in the distance, and another ridge of mountains even further beyond that.

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You could see rain falling in the distance, as well as sun shining over the mountains. You could see the square borders Albuquerque. Albuquerque is bounded by an Indian reservation on one side, the air force base on another, and the third side stopped by a protected forest. We walked down to the ski slopes and took in the view the other direction. It was pretty cold at the top, so we started to head back to the tram station. We watched the tram climb up over the valley below, and then boarded to head back down to the car.

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On the way down, we asked our tram driver where to go for supper. He said if you only have one night in town, you have to eat down near University of New Mexico at Frontier Restaurant. He recommended the cheese enchilada with green chiles. Chile is the largest agricultural crop in New Mexico, and therefore New Mexicans like to put it on everything. At Frontier you can get the green chile stew or chopped green chiles on top of your burritos. I opted for the stew, which was more like a sauce. It was pretty darn good, especially when combined with the college atmosphere. We were also given sopaipillas, a flat bread, on which you spread honey.

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After supper, we walked through the middle of UNM. It was the end of March, but you could still plainly see chalk advertisements saying "Come to our show tonight! Feb 6th!". I guess it hadn't rained in a while. We found some statues, and Megan posed in some pictures. I took a picture with my Wolfpack brethren in the southwest, the Lobos.

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Apparently I was wearing the perfect urban camouflage for that picture.

We were only staying in town for one night, and thankfully I can stop having to spell the word "Albuquerque", quite possibly one of the most awkward words to have to type.

Posted by Mike.Flynn 13:50 Archived in USA Tagged animals museum colleges local_food Comments (0)

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