Travels

Glacier National Park, Where Ground Squirrels Have No Shame

Before we traveled to Yellowstone we visited Glacier National Park. It wasn’t a park I’d heard a lot about before we had some friends go there on their cross country trip last year, but I knew it was supposed to be one of the most beautiful places in the country. It did not disappoint.

Well it might have disappointed just a tiny bit, but not on looks. Glacier is aptly named, even in mid May it was still covered in snow for the most part. Some of the lakes were still frozen, and we actually heard an avalanche while hiking. Because of this, we couldn’t drive the Going-To-the-Sun Road. Apparently this famous road opens fully at the end of June (at the earliest). Below is a photo of the road plowing progress while we were there.

(photo from the Glacier National Park flickr page)

What we could drive of the road was around the lake and it was absolutely stunning.

As you can see from the photos, when we arrived the lake was like glass so the reflection was crystal clear.

My Mom didn’t think they were real when we showed them to her. The park was unsurprisingly not crowded, which was a nice way to see the limited amount that was available. In the two days we were there we did do two hikes. The first was a hike to Avalanche Lake. We actually had to walk through snow to get there from an avalanche and then heard an avalanche on the way back. Over doing it a bit I think.

The lake was amazing. Mountains filled with snow around it and this wide, shallow, and very clear body of water underneath.

The hike there was through trees, so it was pretty crazy to come out of them and see this. There were also a lot of waterfalls going down the rocky mountains (without snow on them). This was cool because every time that we’ve gone to parks in California it’s been a drought so all of the waterfalls are either drips or dried up.

There were plenty of logs to sit on around the lake, so I took advantage of that.

One of the waterfalls we stopped to see and A. skipping a rock on the very active river.

We took another short hike after Avalanche lake that wasn’t too exciting except for the weird trees and the fact that we got pretty nervous about bears.

There are signs everywhere in Glacier and Yellowstone about bears. Even when you buy your pass they give you a pamphlet that’s just about bears. They advise you not to hike without bear mace or in a large group. We disregarded this at Glacier, but since we saw about 19 bears in Yellowstone, we opted not to hike there. Seriously. Bears.

The last hike we did in Glacier was the longest I’ve ever hiked, somehow A. got me to do a 7 mile hike that included a long piece of it up hill (climbed a damn mountain) and then some pretty deep snow at the top.

This is me at the top. I am exhausted and it was cold.

A view from the top. I think that’s how I made it, the whole hike was in the open so you could see beautiful views the entire way.

A. on the way down. I don’t have good knees so the way down was actually pretty bad for me. It took me two days to be able to walk without pain afterwards. This is why there is a photo of A. on the way down, and not me, I wouldn’t have been smiling. Unless it was during the part where we came across two ground squirrels doing it on the middle of the path. That was hilarious. It involved a lot of tail twirling and when we finally decided to keep going and they didn’t stop while they moved off the trail and into the bushes.

Last of all, here’s another photo of the lake. We actually drove to the other side of glacier, but that was completely covered in snow and you couldn’t do much without snow shoes other than watch ground squirrels run around.

I ❤ Ko Tao

I could write a love letter to Ko Tao. Definitely my favorite spot on the trip. We arrived in Ko Tao via our ferry speedboat around sunset. image

 We found our hotel pretty easily. We were staying in town which was a nice change from our previous stops because we could walk to food, massages, bars, etc. We rented two scooters the first day for around $7 a day each, hard to pass up a deal like that. Most of the “taxis” were guys on scooters, so also made a lot of sense for two people getting around a small island.
Ko Tao is known as a diving island, people come from all over to go to the many dive spots off the island. It also turns out that most of the beaches have great snorkeling right off of them. They also aren’t crowded because most people are diving. We rented snorkeling masks for about 75 cents a day and traveled to the local beaches. The roads were pretty bad and also really steep which was interesting at times with our sub par scooters. However, this also meant there were absolutely stunning views.

image

I traded my scooter in after one day because the back breaks were shot. The guy tried to tighten them and I had to explain that the break pad was obviously gone, so that wasn’t going to work. Little did he know I am well versed in scooter break issues. Our first night we went to a japanese restaurant on a hill that over looked the bay and it was one of the most beautiful things I’ve ever seen. We were on a porch overlooking it and it was lit up by the town and boat lights and just gorgeous. Food was great too.
One of the first places we snorkeled was a bit of a disaster for me. A big reason we came to Ko Tao is we were told there were reef sharks you could swim with (from a french dude on our elephant trip). We went to a place called “shark bay” and went to the wrong entry point which required a long walk down and getting in via some rocks. It also turned out to be really shallow which was pretty stressful for me. Try snorkeling in water that’s only a few feet deep and not being able to touch the bottom anywhere. Lots of sucking in and thinking floaty type thoughts. Also great with a somewhat gangsta snorkel set that leaks. I tried to take a break and stand on a harmless looking rock after we’d been there for a while and ended up slicing up all of my toes and some of my fingers. Pretty lame. A. saw some sharks, but I unfortunately did not after all that.

Next beach we went to was more my speed. White sand, easy entry, and deep water to snorkel in with no fear of accidentally touching anything. Lot of parrot fish and the second time we went there we saw about 12 baby reef sharks which was really cool. We also ran into these super creepy little fish with black and silver stripes that were only as long as a finger, but there were hundreds of them. We discovered they will bite you if you stay still, so it gets pretty creepy when you’re being followed by hundreds of them. When you’re treading water to clean your snorkel out, it puts a lot of pressure on you to keep everything moving. Other than that, the snorkeling was amazing. We saw lots of beautiful fish, you could hear coral being chomped on under the water, lots of urchins, sea cucumbers, corals of different types, and about 12 or so baby sharks.

This was one of our last stops and the beginning of the low season so we decided to splurge for a couple of nights. We originally tried to stay at a place on a hill (lots of these) but they didn’t have anything available in our price range. So instead we went there and snuck into their infinity pool which overlooked the water on a cliff and watched the sunset. Pretty sweet and free.

Another fun place we went to was a tiny restaurant on top of a hill that some people we met told us about (never would have found it otherwise). We were the only ones there and it was an amazing view.

image

Which you can’t see at all in this photo, but oh well. Look how happy I am, must have been an awesome view right?

After this place we headed down into town and sat on the beach at a hookah bar and watched the sunset.

image

It was pretty much the best hookah bar setup ever. Big comfy beanbag cushions, white sand, perfect weather.

imageTerrible sunset right?

We then walked around the town which had closed the street to vehicles. Great place to walk around and look at stuff. Lots of restaurants with fresh seafood you could select and have grilled. We were wondering where everyone was though. Then we walked up to this bar that had a pool and discovered everyone and their Mom was on a giant organized bar crawl that included t-shirts (super cool), and some chick was in the pool topless and everyone was cheering. It was pretty weird. Not that people were cheering about the topless chick, because I mean that’s what you do in that sort of situation I guess, but that the whole island had signed up for an organized bar crawl.

Here’s what the non-pub crawl part of the street looked like:

image

(empty)

While we did not attend the pub crawl, we did finally stay up past 9:30 and actually go out while on Ko Tao. The second night we were here we went to party at a bar/hostel/restaurant that seemed to have been built by burning man aficionados. There was a tree house, an igloo thing that had a religious style stained glass window and other things inside, bean bags (of course), and other random seating arrangements. They also had a band upstairs that probably has a price on their head based how bad they murdered everything they played.

A couple of nights later we went to the Castle which was another sort of art bar, but this one was made for parties. It had an upstairs and downstairs (three floors in all), a triceratops, at least 4 different spots that were selling nitrous (apparently a ko tao favorite), and multiple bars. We shared a tai whiskey with coke in a bucket and hung out for a while. The DJs weren’t exactly something to write home about, but one of them mixed No Diggity which made me very happy. I think we managed to stay out until midnight, crazy!

The second place we stayed at was this small resort setup which didn’t have a sign on their road to stay exclusive (so fancy). It was pretty great though because we basically had a little house to ourselves, bedroom, kitchen, and living room. It was nice after traveling so long to be able to spread out. There was also a pool that was nice to come back to lay around at.

The only disappointing thing that happened at Ko Tao was our night snorkeling. Two people we had met on our scooter trip up north had told us about night snorkeling, specifically glow in the dark algae that was supposed to be pretty awesome. Ko Tao was the place I found it available on our journey and was pretty pumped on the description (see below).

image

Worse nightclub ever. The two of us went out with our snorkel guy who promised all sorts of amazing fish and coral. Well the UV Flashlights were pretty weak so you couldn’t see that well and mostly all you saw was some coral (definitely no anemones) that glowed green that was cool for the first 5 minutes and then was like, well, I’ve seen that. We did see a couple of fish, but we were out there for over an hour, so two fish and the same coral over and over again was pretty uninspiring. However, I did get to play with the algae which was cool. if you turned your light out so it was pitch black and moved your hands, the water would sparkle where you touched. A. unfortunately did not hear the guy explain this and I didn’t realize that, so he missed what I thought was the coolest part. Overall though, skip the UV snorkel.

I think A.’s favorite part (besides the snorkeling) was this huge rock that you could climb using a rope and jump off into the ocean. I unfortunately can’t do that because I can’t survive in the wild (more specifically I have some ear thing that causes me a lot of pain if I try to even jump off a diving board). A. does not have this problem so he had a great time. I saw on the beach and counted the slices on my toes and fingers.

Next up was Ko Samui and here are some view photos from the ferry.

image

image

Real time update: We’re in Toronto, headed to Niagra Falls and Vermont on Thursday.

Yellowstone Is Where Dreams Come True

Alternative title: We got charged by a grizzly and chased by a wild mustang stallion.

spoiler: we survived.

The third stop on our road trip was Yellowstone (Glacier will get its own post later). Everyone who knows me knows I’m an animal lover, how you know me tends to skew what kind of animals you associate with me. Childhood would tend to make you think I’m a horse person, college would make me a dog person, and adult life would make you think in the cat and/or dog direction. I grew up with two parents who were animal lovers in Vermont with cats, dogs, horses, chickens, pigs, and the occasional turkey. Those were just the domestic animals. I’m a mostly indiscriminate animal lover who will get excited about pretty much any type, especially if they’re wild. There’s something really special about getting to observe a wild animal, it’s a gift.

Yellowstone was a place I’d wanted to go since I was a child and to go there exceeded all expectations. The first thing we saw crossing into the park were buffalo grazing right by the road. They were massive and completely care free to people stopping and taking photos. You really got the sense after being there a couple of days that these creatures really didn’t fear anything. They’d walk down the middle of the road at times and weren’t concerned when a grizzly or wolf was around either. They weren’t tame though, they ignored people and cars because they didn’t perceive them as a threat (or anything else).

image

Next we saw a giant elk across the river. I was blown away by how large it was and how easily it stepped over a giant log. We then journeyed to watch Old Faithful. This is a pretty entertaining process. Hoards of people sit on benches around the geyser waiting for it to go (about once every hour and a half). There are lots of little spurts before it really goes so everyone is leaning forward in their seats with a few saying “this is it!” and then it sputters out, another dud. When it finally did go it was worth seeing. It was impressive and beautiful.

image

There are actually hot springs, geysers, and other things created by all the thermal activity all over the park. It was something I hadn’t expected when I though of yellowstone and pretty cool. Lots of colors created through all the minerals, boiling water and mud like substance, and mineral/rock formations. There was also a lot of bison poop all around them, apparently bison are into them. However we did see a pile of bones in one of them, so clearly doesn’t work out for everyone. We also touched some of the water running by the boardwalk from one of them and it was seriously hot.

image

(part of Mammoth Hot Springs)

After leaving Old Faithful we saw our first bear. It was a grizzly and a cub walking in a field. We got to see the cub romp around and it was pretty awesome. When there’s a bear everyone and their Mom pulls over to see it, so you can tell by the cars. There’s also usually a ranger or two to make sure people don’t do anything stupid. May was a great time to go because kids were still in school so it wasn’t super crowded and even at the stops where there were a lot of people, there weren’t to many to prevent you from enjoying the animal. The next grizzly we saw was an adventure. It started out pretty far up a hill and slowly worked its way down digging in the ground and eating roots. We watched it for quite a while and then it started to get a little too close. Next thing we know it’s charging across the road and everyone is running for their cars, except for a few people who apparently thought that it was a giant stuffed animal. We scrambled into our car (I give A. full credit for this, because everyone who’s seen me interact with wild animals knows that I’d be standing outside watching on my own). No one was hurt and the bear calmed down as soon as it reached the other side and resumed meandering around eating. I now know the answer to “how did the grizzly cross the road?” Answer: It charged.

image

The next bear adventure was really special as well. We got to see a black bear with three tiny cubs. This also involved drama. If you look closely at the below photos you’ll see the first with the mom at the bottom of the tree and the little clubs climbing the tree. The photo below it you’ll see what is called a “cinnamon bear”, it’s actually a brown black bear across from her in the field (brown bear on the left and black bear Mom on the right).

imageimageWe were all pretty amazed how tolerant the bears were to be so near each other. The cubs were rolling around and practicing climbing the tree. Really cool to see. Then the brown bear started getting closer to the Mom and cubs. All of a sudden all three cubs shot up the tree and then the Mom climbed up after them. She stayed much lower, going out on a branch to keep an eye on the other bear, which could try and kill her cubs. Eventually the brown bear went on its way and no one was harmed, but really cool to see how quickly the cubs could climb and how high (almost to the top of the tree). See the photo below of the big black blob is the Mom and the little black spots at the top are the cubs.

image

Another cool experience we had was spotting a fox running through the brush while we were driving by. We got to have that one all to ourselves and parked a bit ahead of it and got out to check it out. It was pretty big, originally A. though it was a coyote. The fox stopped when it saw us and we had a stare off before A. slipped off a boulder and it took off from the noise.

image

The most amazing thing that happened for me was seeing a wolf. Given that we didn’t have any binoculars I had no expectations that we would see them. On our last morning we went for a drive and saw a bunch of people and got out and stood around for a bit. Sounded like there was a bear and we were about to give up when someone said “wolf”. A very nice ranger let us use his scope and we were able to see a face peeking out in front of a tree. It was beautiful. It disappeared shortly after we both got a look and we were about to leave again when someone exclaimed it’s across the road! Somehow it crossed while we were all still looking for it in the hill and was trotting across the plain in front of us. Close enough to actually see it with naked eye. We ended up watching it for about an hour with our borrowed scope. It’s truly one of the most amazing things I’ve ever seen. It wandered around the valley because we were unfortunately positioned sort of near it’s carcass that it wanted to revisit, so it was trying to figure out what to do. We saw it walking around buffalo (who didn’t care) and then a pronghorn (antelope) started following it around which was pretty weird and funny. Another amazing thing going on was in the same valley you could see two mother grizzlys with two yearling cubs each (with a scope). An amazing amount of wildlife in one area. We also got to see buffalo crossing the river which was neat. Seeing the wolf was more than I ever could have hoped for and something I’ve dreamed of since I was little. Pretty overwhelming.

All in all, we saw about 19 bears (black and grizzly), 1 wolf, 1 fox, 1 coyote, 1 marmot, 1 marten or mink or weasel, lots of elk, lots of bison, lots of white tailed deer, lots of mountain goats, lots of pronghorns, sandhill cranes, and 1 american pika (google it).

The adventure wasn’t over. After Yellowstone we drove close to 3 hours to the Pryor Wild Horse range. I knew you could see wild horses in Montana and had discovered this wasn’t too out of the way from where we were headed. The scenery was starkly different from Yellowstone.

I wasn’t super optimistic about seeing wild horses either with our lack of binoculars and the expansive range they had. We drove through and I had given up seeing anything when I saw them. And useful thing I knew about horses after being around them for the first 18 years of my life flew out of my head. I blame it partially from spending the days before around herbivores that either ignored you or ran away. I told A. we should get out and try to get closer to them because they were hard to see. So we started walking towards them to get a closer look. I saw what I thought was the stallion based on his size, standing apart, and keeping an eye on us. I wasn’t concerned at all. We kept walking towards them, the stallion kept watching us, I was feeling elated at seeing these wonderful gentle creatures I love, and then he started jogging towards us. And then I thought “oh fuck”.

See stallions are not gentle creatures. Stallions are egotistical, moody, bastards who do not back down from a fight. This is why most male horses you will meet are geldings, most people can’t/don’t want to deal with a stallion. And one was coming at us with a clear intent. We started running for the car. Luckily this all occurred with us with a very solid chance (most likely) of getting to the car before he got to us. Even luckier still, after we’d run a ways he stopped, because he felt satisfied he’d run us off. While chasing us, he was smart enough to go behind bushes so when I got sight of him again and confirmed he wasn’t chasing us, he was much closer than I expected. Sneaky bastard. So no thanks to me, we survived being chased by a wild mustang stallion. Oh and seeing wild horses was another dream from childhood, just didn’t take place quite how I imagined.

Your reward for reaching the end of this lengthy blog is some animal photos. And me wearing the outfit that an old Wyoming local challenged with “are you a farmer?” To which I replied “No, but my Dad is”.

(A. in horse country)

Real time update: Chicago tomorrow (Friday)

Portlandia and Bacon Covered Donuts

I’m a bit behind in my travel blogs and will continue my Thailand memoirs, but don’t want to get too behind on current day. We’ve just arrived outside of Glacier National Park in Montana after staying in Portland for two nights. Neither of us had ever been to Portland before and decided to give it a go before we vacated the west coast. We spent about 11 hours getting from San Francisco to Portland and did an air bnb in a nice family’s basement around 16th and E Burnside.

If San Francisco was clean compared to Bangkok, you could eat off the sidewalks in Portland. Our first night we got in and carried our many things from the back seat into our little room. Every place we stay except perhaps the place in North Dakota, we’ll be carrying half a cars worth of things inside and then repacking. We get to do this 7 times. We went for some ramen and then a walk across the bridge and then back to a bar nearby our place. Portland is in the basketball playoffs so it was sportstasic. Then in typical Jenna fashion, I got really sick and had to go home and that was my night. Left A. with a full beer to watch the game by himself at the bar. Typical me. There may have been an experiment in self-medicating that technically worked but also went horribly wrong. I’m not sure what the lesson was.

image

Anyways, woke up the next morning and was fine, as also per typical me. We took a walk to a good coffee place nearby and on the way A. got a haircut (first one in many moons). I had an ice coffee which was a little crazy, but couldn’t resist trying it. I’m a coffee fiend and quit successfully last April, but in Thailand I started dipping into it a couple of times. We’re casually flirting right now, but I have to watch it or we’ll end up u-hauling again.

We followed that up with a trip to Slow Bar, as recommended by a friend. One of the best burgers I’ve ever had. Amazing. Also amazing that it would definitely have cost around $15 in SF and it was $10 in Portland. What’s not to love about this place? Then we walked into the downtown and wandered around. We ended up going to Powell’s books because we were nearby, it’s huge.

I have a confession. I am a bookaholic, but I really dislike book stores, unless they’re someplace I can go on my lunch from work (I find them soothing then). As a kid I was a voracious reader (not a lot to do in rural Vermont when you can’t walk to any friend’s houses) and the small local libraries had poor selections (no Thoroughbred or Babysitter’s Club or Goosebumps). I couldn’t buy books to keep up with my habit and had to trade my books in at the used book store when I had a little money to buy new ones. Those of you that know what a huge rereader I am (partially based on not getting new books for so long in early life), this was traumatic. So I’ve held it against bookstores ever since and I’ll choose Amazon over local bookstores any day because I can buy super cheap used books and they always have the books I want. In short, Powells books wasn’t that exciting to me.

Then we started going to taprooms/breweries. Oh, I should also mention that the weather was incredible. It was in the 80s and the perfect kind of day to sit outside. So taproom number one I had a bitter ale with raspberry syrup, never had it with syrup before and it was delicious. So instead of being at a job on Tuesday, we sat outside and played boggle and drank beer around 2pm. Sorry, can’t help it. We then walked around more and hit two more breweries, these ones with the breweries onsite. The last one I got a chocolate stout with a toasted marshmallow. It was kind of amazing.image

Then we went to dinner and met up with two friends, former co-workers who are both living in Portland now. The place we went to is Papa Haydn and specializes in gigantic really good desserts. So after a huge burger and fries, three beers, dinner and dessert, I was ready to be rolled home in a wheelbarrow. Luckily we had the car and we went home and went to bed. The next morning we got some voodoo donuts and A. got a Stumptown coffee and I got an iced tea. The tea was super good, really spicy and delicious. The voodoo donuts we got were a chocolate peanut one (not pictures, already eaten), a chocolate donut with rice crispies and peanut butter on top, and a maple glazed donut with bacon. Bacon totally won. Usually novelty bacon food is not my favorite (hi SF bacon food truck, you’re really not very good), but this was d’bomb. An excellent end to our Portland travels.

image

(More donuts in the case, note the fruit loops and captain crunch)

image

(our donuts, bacon and rice crispies.)

We both really liked it and did a fair amount of complaining about how far it is from NOLA and VT as far as a place we could potentially live. We’ll definitely be back.