Photo of the Month: Evening Light in Dog Cove

Photo of the Month: Evening Light in Dog Cove
Showing posts with label Road Trip. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Road Trip. Show all posts

Monday, December 26, 2022

Western Adventures For 2022

This year, my family and I made it back out west after a year off. In that time, we added a new family member which would make this trip both richer and also more challenging. That also had a lot to do with why we missed a year. In case you forgot, the last time we were out west was for our epic trip to Glacier National Park for a TON of hiking and northern Idaho for my quest for a bull trout. Those stories encompass some of my all time favorite adventures, so we had high hopes for this next installment of our western adventures. 

The first challenge of traveling cross country with a one year old was how to keep her entertained and also not lose our minds with her fussing. It seemed like the perfect opportunity to break out one of my favorite traditions, driving late at night cross country. This is something I've been doing ever since I started traveling out west and have done many times since. On some of the trips, it was a most of the night type drive, with a couple of hours spent in a rest area. Occasionally I would even drive straight through the night without stopping. For this trip, our plan was to just take advantage of the first hours of the night. We figured the little one would fall asleep shortly after sunset and give us some uninterrupted driving hours. The goal was to find a hotel somewhere around St. Louis.

Well, like most well laid plans, things went awry. The baby slept beautifully which made our traveling much more pleasant. We stopped for supper around sunset at a rest area in southern Illinois along I-24 just north of Paducah, KY. A quick picnic included some time for the little one to run around and burn a little energy. After that, she went to sleep easily enough. 

By the time we were approaching St. Louis, it was getting late enough that we were ready to stop and get some good rest for a hard drive the next day. My wife started checking for hotel accommodations online. My first inkling that we were in trouble came when I asked her what she was finding and her reply was a looooong time in coming. Apparently there aren't enough hotel rooms in the St. Louis area, or maybe there was a big event going on that we didn't know about. Either way, there were no rooms to be had. 

As I was starting to get a little tired already, I told my wife that I wouldn't make it that far. She thought that she might be able to drive farther, so we just kept moving. By the time she took over in the middle of Missouri, I was shot. With some instructions on where to go, I crawled into the back seat with the baby and tried to get some shut eye. 

There are a few things I remember from that night, including some confusion on the Kansas turnpike that ended with us having to drive through a toll booth because we didn't have the right ticket to pay our toll. That required some "fixing" later on, but it eventually was taken care of without any penalties. In between the catnaps, I also remember lightning and some heavy thunderstorms that we managed to mostly dodge in between. When Leah finally pulled into a rest area in central Kansas around 3 or 4 am, I was still shot and she was getting pretty tired. We both slept as well as you can in a car that is overloaded with little wiggle room, but I was feeling much better when the sun started to come up around 6 am. 

We hit the road into a bright day with endless possibilities and soon had our first fun experience with the baby. With COVID and a general preference for eating at home, we hadn't had her in a restaurant yet. That changed at the Junction City, Kansas Cracker Barrel. She thought it was great having someone else bring us our food and we were glad to eat after a long night. We were in for a treat as well. Cracker Barrel is not typically known for being vegetarian friendly. As vegetarians, we have learned to work around that. Now, they are at least making some token steps towards accommodating other dietary preferences. We enjoyed the Impossible Sausage (plant based imitation sausage) with our hash browns and scrambled eggs. Thanks to Cracker Barrel for offering that!

After breakfast, we headed out feeling content and wide awake thankfully. The hilly part of Kansas soon gave way to the wide open plains. I always enjoy driving across the plains. The big views are a tremendous part of the appeal. I don't know if I would enjoy living there long term or not, but even the consistently strong wind is enjoyable at least in short bursts.

Wide Open Spaces in Kansas


The rest of Kansas flew by. The 75 mph speed limits out west are fantastic. As someone who enjoys speed, it is nice to be able to roll around 80 mph without constantly looking over my shoulder for the local tax collectors. We stopped for lunch in Colby, KS at the Oasis Travel Center. They had an amazing playground that was perfect for little bit to run around and play. While I normally don't like taking 45 minutes out of my day that could have gotten me much farther down the road, she needed to run around, and it was all worth it to watch her have fun. 

Playing!


Not long after that lunch stop, we crossed the line into Colorado. Our first camping reservation wasn't until the following day, so we needed to figure out a plan. This time, we didn't wait until the last minute, having learned that lesson the hard way our first night on the road. With a hotel reserved in Loveland, Colorado, we kept rolling into the late afternoon and right up to a Red Robin in Loveland. Little bit had gone from never having eaten out to doing it three times in one day! Each time was better than the last. She got a kick out of having food brought to us ready to eat and liked the French fries way too much. 

The last adventure for the evening was watching her experience a hotel room for the first time. She loved everything about it, including jumping up and down on the bed. She's small enough now that we can get away with that. 

Not much more than 24 hours after leaving Tennessee, we were in Colorado and ready for the adventures to begin. Since we drove through the night instead of stopping as planned, we had freed up an additional day. Leah had a good friend who recently moved to Denver, so we made plans to hang out with her and hike the next day. We watched the last of the twilight fade over the Front Range, and then went to bed. Exhausted but glad to be a little ahead in our itinerary. We were excited to start hiking, camping, fishing, and otherwise adventuring...

Twilight over Loveland Colorado


Tuesday, September 25, 2018

The Journey West

For many people like me who happen to be avid trout anglers in the eastern United States, the holy grail of our sport is a pilgrimage west. For some, this is a once in a lifetime opportunity to cast flies in streams where trout are large and plentiful and the bugs hatch like clockwork. For others, this is an annual or semi-annual tradition. While I have been blessed to travel and even live in the west more than I deserve, every trip still excites me as if it is my first and perhaps only trip.

Preparing for the Trip

As my good friend Byron Begley of Little River Outfitters once said, "preparation is a form of anticipation." While this quote comes from the excellent daily fishing report from his shop, it is actually referencing his own preparations for a big fly fishing trip. So much goes into getting ready for each and every trip. There are may flies to be tied of course. This is true even if one's fly boxes are already crammed full to overflowing. Most fly anglers take the Boy Scouts Motto to the extreme. Being prepared is good and all, but when you decide to take your wife's Toyota Corolla on the long awaited road trip to Yellowstone for the good gas mileage, space is at a premium and extra fly boxes start to look an awfully lot like clutter.

I slowly pulled together an increasingly mountainous pile of gear. In the weeks leading up to the trip, I ordered a new two person sleeping pad. When it didn't fit in my two man tent, I also had to buy a new tent. Such is life when you are getting ready for a big trip. Unforeseen dilemmas appear and must be dealt with, but the preparation marches steadily towards the climax when suddenly you find yourself loading the car carefully, fitting each piece in like a jigsaw puzzle. The thought is always tickling your brain that it might not be possible to get everything back in the car for the return trip, but you move forward and hope for the best.

Departing for the West

On the day of our departure, my wife Leah had to work before we actually left. The plan was for me to pack the car and do all of the last minute chores around the house. When she got home, we planned to head west for an all-night drive. We had reservations in the Black Hills of South Dakota for the next evening so it was essential to make good time that night. We hit I-40 west from Crossville Tennessee at around 6:00 pm Central time. The sun was sinking low in the sky as we approached Nashville. By the time we were in Kentucky, the reality of a long night ahead was setting in.

Other than quick stops for gas, we kept on moving through the night. Paducah and St. Louis came and went. Finally, as I approached Kansas City at 2:00 am, I was getting sleepy. Knowing that a bit of rest was crucial for the hard push west that day, we found a rest area and stopped for a quick snooze. Four hours later, Leah woke up and felt ready to drive. I felt like I had taken NyQuil and just could not bring myself out of the fog. I guess I'm getting too old for these late nights and long drives.

Enter South Dakota

As the sun came up, we were soon in Iowa and then South Dakota. Excited to finally be out on the plains, I was awake and took over driving duties for the rest of the day. Of course, it would be a long day. The plan was to stop briefly in the Badlands on our way to the Black Hills. We arrived there late in the day and made the quick drive through the Park. Wildlife abounded and we saw several interesting birds and animals including mule deer, bighorn sheep, prairie dogs, a lone bison, and a burrowing owl.







The sun was setting as we merged back onto I-90 headed west towards Rapid City. There we would leave the interstate and head southwest into the heart of the Black Hills. It was well after dark as we pulled into Hill City and found our accommodations for the night. Both of us were extremely tired and fell asleep shortly after hitting the bed. The next morning I felt like a new person. A good night's rest and nice breakfast had me ready for another big day.

Big Day Two

The agenda for that day was optimistic: stop by Mt. Rushmore, drive through the scenic Spearfish Canyon, see Devils Tower in Wyoming, get groceries for the weekend ahead, and finally snag a campsite in the Bighorn Mountains near the Medicine Wheel for the night. Amazingly, we kept moving and made it all happen. As the sun sank low in the sky, we had our tent setup at the Bald Mountain Campground near the Medicine wheel just off of highway 14A high in the Bighorn Mountains. Nearby, cattle kept things interesting for motorists by wandering along the highway throughout the night. The occasionally honking reminded us that, while it might seem that we were in the middle of nowhere, civilization was still just a car ride away.




The Moose Magnet Legend Grows 

This day was a continual list of highlights. The prairie dogs highly entertained us at Devils Tower while a moose spotting added to a growing legend. My car, the Moose Magnet, was not with us on this trip. Leah's car gets better gas mileage and we decided that would be more important than marginally better comfort. The sun was getting low as we ascended the Bighorn Mountains. Driving up a high mountain valley complete with a meandering meadow lined with seemingly endless willows, I mentioned to Leah that she should keep her eye out for moose as it was excellent moose habitat. As I drove around a curve a quarter mile later, I saw it and added, "Like that moose over there..." Sure enough, a large bull moose was feeding below us in the waning light. Just up the road, we would spot a second moose, this time a cow. By the time our trip was over, more moose would be spotted prompting my wife to suggest that perhaps I was the moose magnet and not my car. I countered with the suggestion that maybe my awesome car had just rubbed off on her car. Regardless, in the meantime the legend continues to grow.



Medicine Wheel Wildlife

Waking up the next morning as the sun was rising, we decided to head over to the Medicine Wheel and let the sun warm things up before taking down our dew laden tent. I'm always in awe at the Medicine Wheel. The large stone "wheel" lying on the shoulder of a mountain in the northwest Bighorn Mountains is around tree line which makes for some incredible views. While we were there, heavy smoke from fires across the west made visibilities restricted. The Bighorn Basin was completely obscured. Views to the east across the Bighorns were marginally better but still not great. The marmots and pikas proved to be a highlight of our visit to the Medicine Wheel. Already some of my favorite creatures, Leah also fell in love with them, particularly the pikas.



Western Cattle Roundup

Upon returning to camp, we noticed several cowboys and cowgirls heading out. As it turns it, we were fortunate to witness a roundup. The free range cattle that had been startling drivers on the road the night before were pointed down the valley. Snow was not far away at this late point in the summer and the ranchers were apparently moving them towards lower elevations. This was perhaps one of Leah's favorite parts of the trip in no small part because of watching the herd dogs helping out. The dogs looked like they were having the time of their lives and so were we watching them work.

Repacking for Yellowstone

The sun finally dried things out. I am always amazed at how fast this process can happen in the dry climate of the American west. Taking down a tent and putting it back up is much better if that tent is dry. We were soon back on the road and making the harrowing descent into the Bighorn Basin. This was the day we would make it into Yellowstone and we were both excited!!!

-To be continued...

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Saturday, April 11, 2015

South Carolina Trout Fishing: Day Two

Now that we are a month removed from my South Carolina excursion, I'm finally getting around to day two of the adventure. Things got busy in a hurry once the weather turned nice so I'm a little behind. Other great stuff is on the way this week including a trip report from the Smokies last week in which I matched my second best all time day for numbers. The quality was good as well.

So, back to the headwater streams in the northwest corner of South Carolina, after our day one trip to explore the lower reaches of the stream, we were excited to hike in a bit and see how the stream fished higher up. The weather was again perfect and the only fly in the ointment so to speak was the necessity to get back home to help my cousin do some work around the house before it got too late. Seeing as how the stream was relatively close, that was actually not really a problem so we headed out early for a great day on the water.

We headed up the trail, completely unsure of what to expect from the fish. The stream was beautiful though and it was not too hard to imagine a trout or three in every pool and pocket.


Dry flies were still tied on from the day before so we were ready to fish! Heading slowly upstream, we had a few hits and even caught some smaller trout. The fish were obviously there but the action was not quite as fast and furious as the day before. Overcast conditions probably did not help since the sun was not warming the water as early in the day.  Eventually, however, the bugs did start to show up. Quill Gordons were hatching along with a few stoneflies and caddis.

By the time we were getting hungry, we had progressed on up the stream a ways and were needing some energy to fuel our last hours of fishing for this particular trip. Some delicious chili and chips on a cool spring day hit the spot.


Not long after lunch, we started finding some nicer fish. The pools were perfect and obviously provided habitat for quality trout.



While the fish were still not large, they were better than the tiny two to three inch fish we also were catching at times. These wild streams always provide a variety when it comes to the fish size. Most streams have large numbers of one and two year old fish and fewer of the three and four year old fish just because of the natural cycles. That means that any time you are on these streams you better expect to catch a few of the little guys also.

While stopping to catch pictures instead of fish, I had fun with my camera and my cousin took the opportunity to catch a nice rainbow.



What was particularly interesting to me about this rainbow is how golden it appeared and also how dense the spotting is. I'm quite curious about the genetics in this stream. Does anyone know how much coloration like this is a product of genetics versus the environment? The stream produced several of these golden colored rainbows with a lot more yellow compared to the fish I catch in the Smokies. Some of the rainbows looked a little more "normal," though still with a yellow tint.


Eventually, after having more fun with the camera along the way, we reached a good point where we could get out and hustle back down the trail. We were pushing our deadline to get back to my cousin's house and knew we better hurry. What a fantastic day though! I'll be looking forward to getting back down there. I went ahead and got an annual fishing license and am sure there will be more fishing adventures in South Carolina!




Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Watauga Morning


On my recent trip to upper east Tennessee, I fished the South Holston and Watauga rivers as well as a high elevation freestone stream.  Of the three streams I fished, the Watauga was the easiest by far.  The fish are less sophisticated than on the South Holston and would eat most any nymph I drifted through their living room.

I only fished the Watauga for a few hours in the morning but probably caught 30 or 40 trout during that time.  None were large but all were in great shape.  Some of the browns I caught looked like they were wild.  For that matter some of the rainbows did as well although I'm not sure how many wild rainbows are in that river.  Once the clouds started to break and the sun peaked through, the fishing tapered off a bit but was still very solid.

The only downside of this trip is that now I'm wishing I lived closer to these fine streams so I could fish them more often.

Here is one of the browns I caught on the Watauga that is a strong candidate for prettiest fish I've caught this year.  Just look at those spots!!!