Saturday, September 29, 2007

Day 27 – A quick summary of the past week

Haven’t had much time to get online since early in the week. Probably a good thing since when I’m on the road I spend way too much time online.

Wednesday morning I worked at the Center for Great Apes cleaning out storage rooms. Found some interesting stuff that staff had forgotten about, including a large trash bag filled with pine cones. The next day I wrapped up my volunteering by dipping pine cones in warm peanut butter to make snacks for the chimps and orangs.

Wednesday afternoon I drove down to Lake Placid for an early dinner at D&D’s beautiful new home. All the kids and grand kids were there. A very relaxing and enjoyable evening. I couldn’t stay too long as I needed to get back to CGA before all sunlight disappeared. It gets really dark on those country roads and I was worried about finding the turn offs to get back to CGA.

Thursday I packed the car and tidied up the cabin. I took a walk around the grounds to see as many of the resident apes as would come out to see me and took a few photos. Darling Grub, the original alpha male at CGA, made me two (count ‘em: 2) masks and dropped them to me from the overhead chute. (Grub’s shtick is to tear three holes in pieces of paper as a way of courting visitors. The proper response is to hold his work up to your face to show your appreciation.) In the past few years, since more male chimps have come to CGA, Grub has become more interested in capturing my attention.

I finally pulled myself away and drove about three hours to Barefoot Bay, the eastern-most point of my travels. Here I’m enjoying the hospitality of R, my dad’s widow, watching TV, doing laundry and gabbing about family stuff.

Friday I drove to Save the Chimps, just west of Fort Pierce and the southern-most point of the trip. I first visited Save the Chimps on my previous trip when the sanctuary was nothing more than the freshly poured foundation for the first planned building. Now, seven years later, there are 12 large islands, each with a sturdy (hurricane-resistant) night house. Seven of the islands are occupied by chimp groups of varying sizes totaling about 130 chimps. Eventually the 150 or so chimps remaining at the New Mexico facility are being transported to Florida to retire in the sun.

I helped prepare treats for the chimps by smearing peanut butter on pineapple crowns and tucking in a few pieces of dried fruit. Wish I could watch them enjoy my handy work. I also prepared drinks (non-alcoholic, of course) and explored the property a bit with some of the staff. I had such a great time and the staff were so welcoming that I decided to return on Sunday (tomorrow) to help out again in the kitchen.

Today (Saturday) R and I got up early and headed to Melbourne and joined S&D and their daughter (R’s grand-daughter) K for a trip to the Brevard County Zoo. Getting there just after opening gave us a chance to see the animals at their most active – and before the day got hot. I’ve visited this small zoo repeatedly over the past 10 years and have watched it get more impressive with new exhibits and informative signage.

Around noon we headed back to S&D’s house to be greeted by their energetic little Yorkies. There we enjoyed a delicious, home-cooked turkey dinner (with all the fixins) and I was surprised with a birthday brownie cookie.

As I write this I can hear the wind and rain outside. I parked my car out in the driveway hoping that the rain would wash off some of the prolific Florida wildlife. With luck – and I’ve been having a lot – the weather will clear by morning and I can enjoy a dry visit to Save the Chimps.

Not sure when I will log on again. Monday -- the beginning of week 5 and the beginning of the second half of the adventure -- I will start heading west (well, north, then west) toward my next major destination: Shreveport, LA.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Day 23 -- More apes, no driving

Not much to report today. I did a little cleaning and some laundry. Made a few treats. One job is to stay out of the way when someone is trying to shift their apes so I don't distract them.

I think I've seen all the apes finally. Even Linus the orangutan. He was here when I visited in February, but he's kind of shy and I never got to see him. I just visited him in his night house a little while ago. He put on a bit of a display and started doing a call. Don't think I've ever heard a male orang call before. (They're usually pretty quiet.)

I spent some time watching the chimps who live in the back part of the sanctuary. And they sat there in a row and watched me right back. I didn't go to that area yesterday because the vet was there and they didn't need any disruptions. But today I got to watch the two youngest residents -- Stryker and Kodua -- act like the little kids they are. I could spend hours watching them.

I haven't left the grounds since I arrived on Sunday. Tomorrow, however, I will be driving down to Lake Placid to visit family. I need to be sure to get back before dark. Out here there are no street lights and it gets really dark. Not sure I could find the driveway. Plus I will have to unlock the gates to get in. Proabably won't be able to blog tomorrow. Not sure when I will get online again.

On Thursday I will leave here and head for the east coast of the state. Visit with family and one or two days volunteering at Save the Chimps. Then on Monday I start the heavy-duty driving again.

Monday, September 24, 2007

My lodgings at CGA

[Written at 9:45 PM, Sunday, September 23, 2007.]
Here I am ensconced in the little cabin at Center for Great Apes. It’s about 15 feet by 10 feet (guesstimate) inside with a screened porch of about the same size off the back. At one end is a little bathroom with a shower and a little kitchen that opens to the rest of the cabin. It’s furnished with two day beds, a round table, a desk and a dresser upon which sits a small TV. (The TV gets good reception on a couple of channels and poor reception on a few more.)

There are plenty of small windows and the interior is decorated with more care than my house. Well, that’s not saying much. Let’s try that again. The cabin is attractively decorated with a nature motif.

I remember when I first visited 7 years ago and Patti took me on a tour of the sanctuary, which included this little writer’s cabin. I thought how wonderful it would be to stay in it. I never dreamed I would really get to.

A few years ago – after I had been coming to visit and volunteer for just a day at a time– I discovered that I had an open invitation to stay for a night or more. The first chance I got, I did, and that time I spent a single night in the cottage that had been built just across from the cabin. The cottage is bigger: a little bedroom at each end and a kitchen and living/dining area in the middle. Bathroom off of one bedroom. And all very creatively decorated, right down to animal-print towels. The cottage has a screened porch in the front.

Over the years I’ve stayed in the cabin several times. The last time was in February, and it was so cold I almost went to bed fully dressed. A space heater kept the icicles from forming on my nose. Today it’s hot and steamy, but the wall air-conditioner is keeping me from wilting.

For some reason I’ve never spent much time on the porch. Tonight I went out there and sat for a bit in the wicker rocking chair. It’s probably not a night to hear critters rustling through the underbrush. Since a sudden downpour just before dark the trees have been dripping and things have been falling off the trees and hitting the tin roof of the porch. Sometimes the bang is so loud I imagine coconuts hitting the roof. But even if you could hear rustling, you couldn’t see what was making the noise. It’s really, really dark out there.

Day 22 -- Earning my keep

In the past when I've stayed at the Center for Great Apes (and when I've volunteered at other primate sanctuaries), I load and unload washers and dryers, prepare snacks, and do other odd jobs that need to be done but aren't part of the daily care-and-feeding routine. Well, doing laundry is, but it's peripheral.

Today I was called upon to help clean out night houses and outdoor areas, too. And I was assured that I was actually helping out and not just getting in the way. Good to know that my time here is actually useful to the staff AND that they trust me enough to permit me to walk in areas that are off-limits to visitors. (CGA is NOT open to the public, but donors and a few other invited guests are sometimes allowed to visit and take an escorted tour.)

Not sure what's in store for tomorrow. One thing I can probably count on is more hot, muggy weather.

Sunday, September 23, 2007

Day 21 -- Finding sanctuary

I'm writing this from a secret place hidden in the orange groves a few miles from Wauchula, Florida: the Center for Great Apes, which houses chimpanzees and orangutans. Most of the residents come from the entertainment industry or pet situations, and each one has a story.

I first had an opportunity to visit CGA on my trip 7 years ago (when it was known as the Center for Orangutan and Chimpanzee Conservation). I have been back at least once a year ever since. In 2000, there were two orangutans and six chimps, including two who had just arrived and were not yet out of quarantine. Director Patti R told me then that she expected to grow to hold maybe 15 or so apes (if I'm remembering correctly). But the need is great and she has been asked to take on many apes who were being "retired" from show business or whose owners were overwhelmed trying to care for them. CGA is now home to more than 40 chimps and orangs, and the facility has grown dramatically to make room for the larger population.

When I visit I get to stay in a little cabin on the grounds of the sanctuary. When I first heard about CGA, the word "magical" was used repeatedly. And it is a magical place, for those of us who are privileged to visit and volunteer here but also for the apes, many of whom came out of sad situations, who get wonderful care and enrichment.

Maybe I'll write more about CGA later -- and maybe add some photos. The sanctuary's wireless network doesn't reach all the way to the cabin, and that's probably a good thing. I'll have to actually read the books I've been carting across the country. By 4:30PM, all the hirsute residents have retired to their night houses, so even though it is still light out, there is no one to visit. I'll get to see them all in the morning -- for the next several days, as I will be staying until Thursday. Not sure what kind of work I'll be doing, but I heard that filing (as in filing rough spots off metal) is not one of them. (Yea! It's too hot to even think of doing that.)

About the weather: I feel like a moist blob much of the time. It has been somewhat cloudy and very, very humid. Went through another squall on the way down here. I hear there may be a rain storm coming in our direction. A good soaking might wash the Florida wildlife off the car.

I was going to write a separate post about the bugs on the windshield. I was going to title it: "Flying sex bugs." These little bugs are everywhere. I first ran into them in Tennessee, I believe, and then again in Georgia. But in Florida it's like a plague.

They're less than half an inch long and have red spots that I first thought were big red eyes. The female and and smaller male are literally hooked together as they crawl across your parked car, fly through the air, or splatter on your windshield as you barrel down the highway. By the time I arrived at CGA my windshield was almost opaque, it was so covered with bug guts. I've learned that they're called love bugs (I wasn't too far off) and found some information about them on Wikipedia.

Not sure whether I'll get online everyday while I'm here, but keep those comments and emails coming. And take a few minutes to read about some of the chimpanzees and orangutans who live at CGA.

Saturday, September 22, 2007

Day Twenty: From Gainesville to Gainesville -- and beyond

Last night after studying the maps and playing around in Google Maps, I decided I should aim for Gainesville, Florida. Not only would that put me just a short (3-ish hours) drive from the Center for Great Apes, but it would be amusing to say that I drove from Gainesville (GA) to Gainesville (FL).

I wanted to drive back roads to enjoy the scenery and pass through the small towns of Georgia, but I could see that I wouldn't be able to make it even to the Florida state line in one day, much less to Gainesville. It's not just the lower speed limit. The interstate (I-75) is the shortest route. The secondary roads amble all over.

So I compromised. I decided to take state route 11 as far as Macon, GA, where I would pick up I-75. The route was a good choice. Turns out that it's labeled a "Georgia Scenic By-Way." Once I got past Jefferson, where 11 has weird little spokes that dead end (and got me mixed up) it was an easy drive. I stopped in several small towns including Monticello, where I walked around a little crafts market in the town square and bought some homemade cookies and a fan, and Gray, where I visited a local bookstore (with beautiful wood floors) and chatted with the owner.

I was having such an enjoyable time, I started studying the maps again to see if I could extend the non-interstate part of the drive. Fortunately, I was able to discipline myself. At Macon I got onto I-75 and started making good enough time that I was confident I would make it to Gainesville by 5PM -- or close enough -- even stopping at almost every rest stop and one outlet store. (The same one I stopped at 7 years ago. They carry my brand.)

I crossed into Florida pretty much on target. I stopped at the Welcome Center -- where visitors are offered a small cup of orange or grapefruit juice -- and picked up some motel discount coupon books. I studied the options and decided to continue aiming for Gainesville, even though there appeared to be more and more economical motel options in Lake City, which is not quite as far south.

As I continued down I-75, the clouds were gathering and I started to see flashes of lightening. Then the rain started to fall. I found myself driving into a squall so strong that I lost sight of the tail lights of the car in front of me. I slowed way down and turned on my hazard lights. Lake City began to seem like a good option. Then the rain eased up. I drove through several squalls. Sometimes the road was covered with water and I worried about hydroplaning. Apparently many of the other drivers didn't, because they never slowed down. Funny thing is that on the trip 7 years ago, when I entered Florida near Jacksonville, I was hit by a sudden downpour. That time I actually pulled off the road and waited it out. Something about Florida -- in hurricane season.

I finally made it to Gainesville right around 5PM. I headed to the motel I had targeted based on price and internet access. It didn't look all that great, but the advertised price was reasonable. But the check-in clerk said that coupon price was not available. It would be $15 more -- and, by the way, internet access is only in the reception area, not in the rooms.

I decided I should shoot for Ocala. But before driving another 30 minutes, I called one of the hotels. Not only would they honor the coupon price, they would give me a better rate. Plus breakfast is included and there is a restaurant right there, so I wouldn't have to drive to find a meal. When I checked in, they gave me a gift pack!!! And did I mention that the rate is better than I would have paid in Gainesville. A very lucky turn of events.

So here I am. All fed and 35 miles closer to my destination tomorrow. I plan to sleep in. I covered 415 miles today!

Friday, September 21, 2007

Day Nineteen -- Gorillas, back roads, chickens and accidents

A very full day today. I didn't make it as far south as I'd hoped. Before 4PM I decided to grab a room just outside of Gainesville, GA, because I was feeling tired and didn't want to be hunting for a room in Athens, GA, ... after 5PM ... in heavy traffic.

I set out from my comfy room in Dalton, GA, at 8:30AM, figuring it should take about 90 minutes to get to Gorilla Haven. The detailed directions were very good, but the traffic signage not so much. I missed a turn and had to back track. Then, just as I was about to start up a winding, steep uphill road I found myself behind a big, slow truck hauling ... chickens. Hundreds of live chickens. Feathers were fluttering in the breeze like snow.

Despite the delays, I arrived at Gorilla Haven shortly after 10AM. As busy as she is, Jane D treated me to a full tour of the facility, including introductions to the two resident gorillas: Joe and Oliver. GH is quite an amazing place. Jane pointed out the many measures taken to protect the people who work there and the gorillas who will find a haven there. GH is not intended to be a permanent sanctuary. The idea is to provide a place to temporarily house individuals or groups who need to be moved out of their zoo situations.

We visited the veterinary and food prep facilities and she showed me the indoor living area under construction. It's designed to hold two gorilla groups but will allow a lot of flexibility for arranging groups. We looked out over the expansive outdoor areas (right) and at one point could see Oliver, looking very small far on the other side.

Then we went to meet the two boys. Both of them are gorgeous silverbacks. Joe (pictured on left) has no use for women (of the human variety) but deigned to accept the snack Jane brought. Oliver (pictured below right), on the other hand, adores Jane -- but he's not crazy about visitors. It took him a while to come out to get his yogurt while I looked on. Oliver lives with two goats. Really. Nothing kinky. They're just roomies. The goats are supposed to control the grass, but they seem to prefer animal crackers.

When I arrived I delivered a gift from April at PRC. Jane asked me to deliver some gifts to the other sanctuaries I'll be visiting. I'm glad I have room in my car. I feel like a little elf distributing cheer.

Shortly after noon I was on the road again. I wanted to take back roads and Jane showed me how to get to a scenic route going south. State route 60 between Morganton and Dahlonega is probably listed in books or articles about the best scenic drives in America. Little in the way of sweeping vistas, but the curvy up and down roads are fun to drive. Picture the road up to Timberline Lodge at Mount Hood, now imagine it 40 miles long. Along the way quite a few motorcycles passed me ... going well above the 45mph speed limit ... and in no passing zones. I guess it's considered a destination drive.

Well into the second half of the drive I came around a curve to find a line of traffic. About six cars lined up in the southbound lane. People standing outside their cars talking to each other or on cell phones. The line of cars went to the next curve, so I couldn't see what was holding things up, but someone said there was a wreck. Eventually we learned that a motorcyclist had hit a traffic sign. He refused to be taken by air lift (???) and eventually an ambulance showed up. We were probably there for 20-30 minutes.

Back on the road, I finally made it to Dahlonega and continued on to Gainesville. In Gainesville the traffic almost came to a stop. I figured this is what I was facing after 3PM on a Friday. As we crept along I caught sight of flashing lights, then I passed another accident, a really smashed up car in the middle of the street. Also on the way into and through Gainesville, I saw three more of those huge chicken trucks. I think it was three different trucks, but they all looked alike. maybe it's just one truck stalking me.

I'm going to get to bed early tonight. But I say that every night and never do. The plan is to drive on south on back roads and maybe make it into northern Florida. Gotta do the map math tonight to see where I need to be tomorrow night if I want to get the the Center for Great Apes by mid-day Sunday. If things get too tight, I can jump onto the interstate and cover the needed miles. Leave comments so I'll know someone is reading!!!

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Day Eighteen -- To Chattanooga and then Georgia

Wednesday was, as planned, a relaxing day. I didn't put a single mile on the car. In the evening S&R and I went out to eat at a place called Bar-B-Cutie (warning: link has audio) for ... barbecue. I had barbecued pork.

Today started with a panic. S&R went to work and I pulled myself together to leave. After showering and dressing I went to put on my glasses. My glasses? Where are my glasses?!?

Without my glasses I'm legally blind. At home I only put my glasses down in one or two places. In motels, the same. Only on the nightstand or next to the sink. It's necessity. Without my glasses I can't see my glasses. I checked every logical place in the bedroom and bathroom and checked and checked again. No glasses. Where could they have gone? Glasses don't just get up and walk away. What could I do? Call S at work? Wait all day for her to come home and help me search? I was just about to give up in despair when I remembered that I had exercised in a room on the other side of the house. There they were on the end table.

That was plenty of adventure for one day.

At 8:30 I set out for Chattanooga, south and east of Nashville. That meant crossing back into the Eastern Time Zone again and losing an hour. Once the traffic lightens up, it's a nice drive. Part of it is up and down some steep slopes. So steep that on the down slopes there are several run-away truck ramps. I've seen plenty of those over the years, but this is the first time I've ever seen a truck that has used the ramp -- and gotten stuck in the sand.

In Chattanooga I had trouble finding the tiny zoo. I'd been there twice before, but there is little directional signage. But I finally got there. I went immediately to find the chimps. This is the chimp group that is shown in the photo in one of my earliest post.

Josie, daughter of the Oregon Zoo's Coco, is now being housed with long-time Chattanooga resident Hank. They were inside where it is hard to take pictures because of the low light. Hank loves to interact with the public and often comes to the window when people come in. Josie is like her mom and has little interest in the people coming to see her, including me. I'd brought a picture of Coco -- a professional portrait from a calendar -- and held it up to the window. It caught her interest and she came up close to see it. I have no idea whether she recognized her mom, but chimps often recognize people they haven't seen in years.

I had asked about talking to one of the keepers and as I started to explore the rest of the zoo, keeper Dave found me. We went back to the chimp exhibit and he tried to persuade Josie to come back to the front of the exhibit. With some success. I got some photos but nothing great. Dave and he other keepers were very interested in Coco's picture and in information about Josie and Goliath's origins.

Another keeper, Kate, later escorted me around the grounds and introduced me to some of the changes since I'd last been there, including several new exhibits. Many animals in the Chattanooga Zoo have been rescued from pet situations. Giant zoos like Toledo and Columbus may have eye-popping exhibits and large animal groups, but small zoos have their own charms.

I'm glad I hadn't planned anything else for the day -- or arranged to go to Gorilla Haven this afternoon. I would have been too rushed and would not have been able to enjoy the special treatment I got in Chattanooga.

Tonight I'm in Dalton, Georgia. Will leave in the morning for Gorilla Haven and from there a leisurely (I hope) two-day drive through Georgia.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Day Seventeen - Resting

S&R have gone to work. I have no plans to even get in the car. I can rest, blog & surf, do laundry, and walk down to the lake.

Tomorrow I will head for Chattanooga. The tiny zoo there houses two chimps who were born at the Oregon Zoo. Then on Friday I will visit Gorilla Haven for a brief tour.

Don't know yet what route I will take through Georgia into Florida. Probably back roads. Looks like I may have enough time to do a little exploring.

Day Sixteen -- Kentucky, Tennessee and primates

Monday night at the Super 8 Motel in Nicholasville, KY, was the worst night so far on the road. Worse even than the night surrounded by the girls' soccer team at the Day's Inn in Spearfish, SD. The walls were thin. The guy next door apparently had a broken arm or something because the door kept slamming. And slamming. Even after 1AM. Apparently there was a circus troop in the room upstairs and they continued to perform -- maybe with trained elephants -- until after 2AM.

Most of the motels I have stayed in have been surprisingly quiet. And I've been having especially good luck with the Super 8s. This one was a disappointment. Anyway, on to the fun stuff.

I arrived back at PRC shortly after 9AM. I resumed my job of popping corn until I had filled up the large bin. The pop corn, mixed with assorted cereals and dry snack food, is scattered in holding areas as a form of browse. A treat for the chimps to search for. Gives them something to do.

I also got to help prepare lunch for the chimps (and dinner for the monkeys). It was decided to fix a carb meal: pasta or rice. Michelle, the newest PRC staff member, encouraged me to be creative. We surveyed the pantry and decided on shell pasta, green beans, peanuts and barbecue sauce. Not something I would choose to eat, but I watched it served to the chimps and no one spit it out. In fact, they seemed to enjoy it.

The chimp outdoor area is right next to where I was working, so I could go out and watch them -- and they watched me, the stranger. I didn't have time to learn to identify everyone, but I did take a liking to Cory, a handsome young male.

I ate a quick lunch and then took a nap in my car, parked near the chimp outdoor structure. With the lack of sleep and afternoon driving, I knew I would need to get refreshed before hitting the road.

April took me on a tour to see the various monkeys housed at PRC. I'd done a similar tour when I visited six years ago, but it's still remarkable how many different species there are, including some that I have seen only in books: vervets, Sulawesi macaques, Barbary macaques, snow monkeys, pig-tailed macaques, black & white colobus to name just some of them. I especially like the spider monkeys. But how anyone can think these wild animals would make appropriate pets...? April spends a lot of time explaining the facts of monkey pet life to people who contact her. She says that everyone who begs her to take their pet monkey off their hands says "I wish someone had told me before I got this monkey."

By 2:30PM it was time to hit the road. I would gain an hour because Nashville is a bit west and I would be crossing back into the Central Time Zone, but I wanted to make sure I had enough time in case I needed to rest or if I ran into any traffic problems. April gave me directions for a scenic shortcut to the Bluegrass Parkway. It was a pretty drive on smooth but narrow roads past horse pastures.

The scenery on the highway was thickly wooded rolling hills. The parkway was bordered by interesting rock formations. I figured there must be plenty of early fossils in there (but according to this website, it is apparently not a productive area for fossil hunters).

For some reason, north-south interstates seem to attract the most aggressive drivers, so when I reached I-65 I looked for a way to get to Hendersonville on the back roads -- and avoid the traffic through Nashville. I remembered that 31-E went right through Hendersonville, so I found a place to exit the interstate. It took a bit longer than I thought, but I managed to arrive at S&R's house shortly after 6PM. (Which was really 7PM according to my weary body.)

No blogging last night. Didn't even pull the computer out of the case. Just eating and gabbing.

Monday, September 17, 2007

Day Fifteen -- Finally get to work

Got a slow, easy start this AM. Since I wasn't supposed to get to the Primate Rescue Center until after 2PM, I enjoyed a leisurely continental breakfast provided by the Mason, Ohio, Super 8 Motel and then hung around my room until about 10AM.

I meant to drive around Cincinnati but took the wrong exit and found myself on I-75 going right through the center of town. Oh, well. At the south end of Cincinnati is a bridge. On the other end of the bridge is Kentucky. At the first rest area I picked up a map of the Lexington area and some advice about taking a scenic route to get to the PRC. But suddenly the time I had to dawdle away was all dawdled. It was 1PM, I was still north of Lexington and I needed to stop for a bite to eat. Scratch the scenic route.

I had to find a quicker route, but there is no direct path from one side of the city to the other. I got some advice, but no one agreed on the best route. Then I got discombobulated. It was after 2PM when I finally reached the route I needed to follow past Nicholasville to the PRC. I managed to find it (again, I was there six years ago) with no more difficulties.

April T was there to greet me -- and put me to work. Even though it was late afternoon, I was able to help out by preparing frozen fruit treats and popping corn. Not sure what kind of work I will be doing tomorrow, but the popped corn bin is not quite full.

The PRC houses 11 chimps and assorted monkeys. Most are former pets that people are desperate to get rid of once they realize they aren't really cute and cuddly. The facility is currently filled to capacity. Since primates are social animals, and the residents were often singly housed when they were pets, April has to introduce various residents to one another -- and not always to individuals of their own species. One especially interesting example is a lone siamang (an Asian ape) that shares living quarters with South American spider monkeys. Call it primate diversity. Grooming is a universal language.

After quitting time, I retraced my path back to Nicholasville to the motel where I'd made a reservation and then April came to get me for dinner. We went to a local restaurant called Ramsey's. Real local Kentucky food. I enjoyed my first catfish of the trip. Very good. And since homemade pies are one of their specialties, I had a big slice of Pear-Berry pie, a Ramsey prize-winner made with spiced pears, strawberries and blueberries. Really good. Really, really good.

I'll be back at PRC tomorrow around 9AM. Tomorrow night in Nashville.

Sunday, September 16, 2007

Day Fourteen -- More apes

Towns are closer together in the midwest and east compared to the west -- but they're not THAT close together. Ohio has quite a few big cities, and they are an hour or more away from each other. I took it easy this morning and didn't leave my motel until about 9:30. Was surprised when I realized that I wouldn't get to the Columbus Zoo until noon -- and the zoo is north of town.

It's kind of perverse that I spent yesterday (Saturday) and today (Sunday) at zoos. Those are the busiest days and here I am on vacation. Wish I could have worked it to visit the zoos on slower weekdays. And today was Jack Hanna day at the Columbus Zoo, drawing even larger than normal weekend crowds.

The new parking lot at the Columbus Zoo is HUGE. It appears to be practically as large as the whole Oregon Zoo. The zoo itself is also very big. Once inside the zoo, I found some staff people and asked about contacting some of the ape keepers. They radioed the keepers for me and I was directed to the gorilla & bonobo habitat, clear on the other side of the zoo. I got plenty of exercise today.

At the gorilla habitat I met Catherine, a docent who gave me lots of info about the many gorillas before Dan, the keeper, showed up. Dan took me all around the bonobo habitat and told me about the individuals. They have 17 bonobos, including several youngsters. All can be melded into a single group (sometimes) but they put them together in different subgroups. After the tour I spent quite a bit of time watching them.

Only six zoos in the U.S. have bonobos. I've visited three (now four) and two were less than impressive. I thought the Columbus Zoo set up was great.

Just as I was about to head out to see other parts of the zoo, I heard a loud noise coming out the the gorilla exhibit. The big male was racing around. He was being chased by the three females who were screaming. They didn't let him off easy but kept him darting around the fenced exhibit.

I spent maybe another hour and a half exploring the zoo before returning to my car way, way out in the parking lot. I decided to head for a highway exit just north of Cincinnati even though I wouldn't get there until about 6PM. Once again I quickly found a budget motel near several eating options -- and a supermarket so I could stock up on fresh fruit.

Not sure what I will do in the morning. I'm not supposed to get to the Primate Rescue Center until 2PM and it looks to be about 2 hours from here. Cincinnati Zoo? Maybe. Or perhaps I'll sleep in.

Monkey video

I was just checking the online Sunday Oregonian and saw that they have posted a story and video about the Oregon Zoo's francois langur baby that was discovered my last day working there before the trip. (The one and a half minute video has sound.)

Saturday, September 15, 2007

Day Thirteen -- Back in the car

This morning I left my aunt's house and headed for Toledo. But on my way out of town I stopped for a brief visit with my mom's best friend.

From Detroit down to Kentucky it's apes all the way. Shortly after noon I was at the Toledo Zoo. It's a very impressive place, but hard to navigate for a first timer. Suddenly I had a lot of sympathy for the visitors who get lost at the Oregon Zoo.

As I tried to find the primates, I saw a set of barricades to manage the crowds expected to line up to see the baby polar bears -- except there was no one there. I strolled into the exhibit in time to see one baby and mom get shifted inside and twin babies and their mom shifted out. They had three babies within a month last fall. All are now getting pretty big.

When I finally got myself aimed in the correct direction, I crossed the bridge over the highway to the larger section of the bifurcated zoo. There I quickly found the first of the primates. A young colubus monkey was chasing a young Allen's swamp monkey around a mesh enclosure. The smaller swamp monkey was managing to stay ahead of the colobus, but the colobus looked like he was not just playing around. I suspected that the swamp monkey had probably instigated something. Sure enough, when the colobus left to join the others of his kind, the swamp monkey started scrapping with an adult from his own group. Looked like maybe he was being weaned.

When I went to see where the young colobus had gone, I discovered him playing with an infant, all snowy white. Baby polar bears, young and infant monkeys. This zoo sure had a lot of births. And there were more to come, including a white-cheeked gibbon youngster.

When I got to the ape building I saw people crowded around a glass corner. An old male chimp was sitting close to the large window and began displaying. A tall Amish man (with beard) had his face and arms pressed up against the glass and the chimp (Harvey) had to respond to the challenge. An old female (Fifi) kept coming over to Harvey to calm him down. (This is Harvey to the left.)
If visitors look closely, they can see that Fifi is carrying something. It's a plastic alligator, about 7 inches long. Apparently she has been carrying it for years now since she lost her former mates and was moved to this zoo (if I remember correctly what I read). There are only the two old chimps now. Their space is relatively small but pretty complex.

Further on were the orangutans. I stood for a long time watching a family grouping: big dad, mom, a four-year-old and a one-year-old. Above the exhibit some staff came and began treating the orangs to some pudding. After the pudding had been passed out, the four-year-old stole the one-year-old's pudding container. Mom immediately went after the juvenile delinquent and was going to administer some justice until dad started paying attention. When all had settled down, the thief retrieved his stolen pudding.

In front of the orang exhibit is an interesting enrichment device. A shower head is installed above the visitor walkway, and the orangs can push a button in their exhibit to administer a shower to the public. It didn't happen while I was there. I wonder how often they do it.

Further on there was a large (10-member) gorilla troup that apparently had only recently been blended together from two troups. No little babies but plenty of youngsters. A lot of apes in one zoo. I explored the rest of the zoo and saw that they had African elephants, including a youngster still housed with his mother.
On the way out, I found a volunteer -- I hadn't seen any except for the two in the polar bear exhibit. Apparently they have a rather small volunteer corps, only about 80 (she was guessing), not including the teens. That's not many for such a large zoo. No wonder I didn't see any more on the grounds.

I left the zoo shortly before it closed at 5PM and decided to try to find a place to stay in the Toledo area rather than driving further along on the way to Columbus, tomorrow's destination. In my AAA guidebook I identified an area that had several budget motels and was easy to reach from the zoo. Got my first choice -- and there are plenty of restaurants within easy walking distance.

I guess it's about two and a half hours to Columbus. Better get to bed.

Catching up

When I last wrote I was on my way to Pontiac to visit my aunt (who is actually my cousin). The last family member of her generation, Helen is 92 years old. She's rather frail physically but mentally she is all there. The two day visit was filled with stories about my dad and grandparents and other family members. It was a break from email and the internet.

Shortly after I arrived, we drove out to visit family graves and then went out for an early dinner. Thankfully, my younger cousin Carol did all the driving, which was a welcome rest for me.

On Friday I went to the Detroit Zoo (which is actually in Royal Oak) hoping to be able to see Bahati, the young male chimp who spent a number of years at the Oregon Zoo before being transferred to Detroit. I was lucky to run into one of the keepers who gave me an update about Bahati and some hints about how to find him in the large outdoor exhibit.

The one-acre island has a grassy moat, and the troop members spend much of their time down there -- out of sight of the public. The keeper pointed out a female who was in estrous and said Bahati would not be far behind. Sure enough, he showed up trailing her. I spent quite a bit of time at the chimp exhibit and managed to spot the pair again later as she led him out out of the moat and then around to the other side. Just look for the bright pink chimp bottom and then count to ten.

I figured I should visit other areas of the zoo, where I spent many hours of my childhood. The old bear grottos, which were so innovative in their time, are still in use, but grass and bushes soften the concrete and gunnite area. Much more attractive and more interesting for the animals. I walked into an arctic exhibit and eventually found myself walking through a glass tunnel under the water. Seals were swimming overhead. Someone said that sometimes the polar bears could be seen there.

It was starting to get quite cold and the sky was darkening. I'd planned to leave by two o'clock, and on the way out I made a detour back to the chimp exhibit. Just in time. The five members of the troop that were outside were traveling across the rise of the exhibit. The sexy female was in the lead and Bahati was bringing up the rear. I managed to snap a few more pictures before they all disappeared again.
Oh, and a strange thing I saw at the ape exhibit: Opposite the chimps is a gorilla exhibit. The females were inside and I could see a large male outside, leaning against the window. Past him I thought I caught a glimpse of a baby gorilla. When I went closer to investigate, I saw that it wasn't a baby gorilla, it was an adult mandrill. From what I could see it was actually in the same enclosure as the gorilla. I have to write a note to the zoo and ask about that very strange pairing.

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Day Eleven -- The prequel

It's 7:30 AM. Just rolled out of bed and will start pulling myself together for the short trip to my aunt's house. Still need to figure out what route to take to get there. There are many, many choices.

Funny thing. As much as I have always loved maps, I realize that I have never really looked at a map of this part of Michigan. Oh, I have found my street and neighborhood on maps and in mapping software, but I have never looked at the larger area. I never looked at where Redford Township is situated in relationship to Pontiac and Ann Arbor and all the other nearby places. I never drove these roads. I was always a passenger. So I never had to figure out how to get from here to there. I was with people who knew the way.

I think that instead of following the Google Maps directions, which would take me much of the way on the expressway, I will take some surface roads I know w used to travel. I think I will take Telegraph Rd much of the way, because I know we used to travel that to my grandmother's almost every weekend when I was little.

BTW. Here I am on my birthday and I am just a few miles from the hospital where I was born. I considered going to look for it to get a photo, but I don't think I want to mess with the traffic. And besides, I learned yesterday that the building that used to be the main hospital is now a nursing home or something.

Better get moving. After I find something to eat I'm going to go get an oil change. Then off to family. I may be going dark for a few days, but you can always leave or send messages for me to find when I am back online. Bye for now.

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Day Ten -- Home Again

No, I haven't suddenly returned to Oregon. Today I crossed the state line into Michigan, where I was born mumbledy-mumbledy years ago tomorrow. I grew up and lived here until I was about 21. I tell people there's a law here that if you don't have a driver's license by the time you reach your 22nd birthday, they make you leave. Except for the few months I took drivers ed and had a learner's permit, I never drove in Michigan. I only became a licensed driver when I was ... mature and living in Massachusetts.

I'd planned to spend the night in Kalamazoo. Figured that was as far as I would get. Then it looked like I could get to Battle Creek ... or maybe Jackson. Each one was 30-40 minutes apart. And it was only another short jaunt to Ann Arbor. So here I am. Only a little over an hour to my aunt's house near Pontiac. I'll be able to get there fairly early tomorrow so we can spend more time together.

In Battle Creek I needed to stop for gas. As I was trying to choose an exit where I could also get something to eat -- ice cream, maybe? -- I saw it: a sign for several gas stations and for Big Boy's. That was it. I would go and have a Slim Jim. I used to live on those sandwiches when I was in high school. Hadn't had one in years. Love that special sauce.

So here I am in my economy motel. Only places within walking distance are a MacDonald's, a Taco Bell and some coney island joint. I figured I have driven enough for one day, so I had to settle for a light snack from one of the above.

Not sure I will have any opportunity to go online after tomorrow morning until Saturday or Sunday. At least I have a cell phone signal. I may add another post tonight. Or I may just draft some stuff and add it at a later date.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Day Nine -- Iowa Observations

Hard driving day today. No time to stop and see any of the local sights. So this will be just a few random observations from my drive across the state.

Shortly after I crossed into Iowa I thought I smelled sauerkraut. Early today, as I drove rural roads, I again smelled sauerkraut or cooked cabbage. I figure it was probably a farming smell. Maybe manure. Not awful, just distinctive.

Yesterday as I was finding my way to Storm Lake, I noticed off in the distance a few windmills -- the modern kind, not the old Dutch kind. Then I looked around a saw bunches of them. Again today as I continued through the northwest part of the state I saw several more fields of windmills. I wonder if farmers are leasing part of their land to a power company.

You can't drive diagonally across the state. Most of the roads are north-south or east-west. You have to sort of tack, like sailing into the wind. I'd wanted to stick to rural roads, but I needed to make better time, so I started on back roads and gradually moved up to ever larger -- and faster -- routes. I guess the label "avenue" denotes a north-south road, but it's really strange to see a street sign for an avenue marking a dirt road. No, I didn't take any dirt roads.

Corn. Corn Corn. As far as the eye can see. Corn. I'm sure they grow other crops here, but corn is what you will see.

As I approached Davenport on the eastern edge of the state, the traffic got thicker. No more wide open roads probably for another month. I made a wrong turn and had to find my way back to the highway. Then when I got into Davenport and could see the motel I wanted to go to, I made a few mis-turns and ended up in the far left lane of what I thought was a one-way street. It wasn't. The drivers turning into the lane were very compassionate and polite. I managed to get into the proper lane and get to the motel without causing an accident.

Nice, inexpensive motel. Room is half the size of some of the giganto rooms I've had, but quite adequate. Walked across the crazy intersection where I'd disrupted traffic earlier and had a very nice dinner at the Thunder Bay Grill.

Trivia: The one thing I know about Davenport? This is where Cary Grant died two decades ago. He was here for a performance. Just something I picked up when I was working as an abstracter back then.
Tomorrow it is on to Michigan. Kalamazoo? Battle Creek? I'll see how far I can get. Just driving. No sightseeing. And I have to figure out where I will lose another hour as I enter the Eastern Time Zone. Want to get to my aunt's house in Pontiac early on Thursday (my birthday). BTW, after days without a cell phone signal I was finally able to use my phone once I reached Waterloo.

Also: I updated yesterday's post with links, photos and a bit more detail (in italics).

Monday, September 10, 2007

Day Eight - Just a brief summary [now updated]

This will be very short. More details to follow. I'm staying at a ... dicey motel. Only thing I could find because there is something going on in a nearby town and I would have had to drive another hour to the next town where I might find a room. And it was already after 6PM. Internet connection is only available in the front office. [All turned out well. Room was quiet. Blocking the door with two well-placed chairs helped.]

Anyway, I left Chamberlain, SD, and drove about an hour to Mitchell. Before I found the Corn Palace, I found the road to a museum devoted to a pre-historic native American settlement archaeological dig. Spent about an hour there. Interesting to see an actual dig, although there was no one actually working the site at the time.

Found my way to the center of town and marveled at the world-famous, only-one-of-its-kind, it's-not-what-you-imagined Corn Palace. At this time of year, the workers are installing the corn mosaics on the sides of the building, so it was more interesting than if it was all finished. I called up a question to one of the guys working on the mosaic. He told me they were sawing the corn cobs in half length-wise. I cold hear the saw and the staple gun. Then he tossed me a half cob. [Jody, I'm bringing it back for you.] You can't see it very well in the photo at left, but the black part of each picture is tar paper with a paint-by-number drawing. The guys staple up the appropriate color cob to fill in the image.

From there it was on to Le Mars, Iowa. I took I-90 across the state line into Minnesota and then went south on a rural route into Iowa. I managed to find the Blue Bunny visitor center despite a lack of signage. Took the tour of the ice cream museum and then had a late lunch: a two-scoop hot fudge sundae. And I did something I don't think I've ever done before -- I left about a third of the sundae uneaten. It was delicious, really. It was just way too much.

It was close to 5Pm and I could have found a room in Le Mars, but I wanted to try to get a bit further east so I can cover the territory I need to by tomorrow evening. No stops planned. My sightseeing will be traveling part of the way over rural routes rather than the interstate as I make a diagonal path through Iowa. I hope to get at least to Davenport. I may need to stop there because according to my AAA map, there aren't many towns on my route through Illinois that I can tell have motels. At least not listed in the AAA guidebook. (The place I am staying tonight is NOT in the guidebook.)

I'm going to stop here. I'll add detail, links and photos tomorrow -- or the next time I get an internet connection. Tonight I really, really am going to get to bed early so I can get an early start. No idea yet what I will do for breakfast. [Ha. Finally got to sleep even later than usual.]

Sunday, September 9, 2007

Day Seven -- A not-so-bad day in the Badlands

As promised it was cold this morning, but there was little wind and no rain. After a cobbled-together breakfast, I set out for the Badlands National Park.

I started out going on the unpaved road to the west. Someone told me that was the only place I might see the buffalo. I figured I would go as far as the prairie dog town -- five miles -- and then return to the paved loop heading southeast. I almost turned back because the washboard road surface was making the car vibrate and my teeth chatter. I had to concentrate on finding smooth ruts so I could avoid the shaking and couldn't really enjoy the scenery. The prairie dog town wasn't as active as the ones I'd already seen. Maybe the cold was keeping them all home, curled up in bed. And I never did see any buffalo, unless they were those tiny dark dots out in the distance.

Back on the paved road the traveling was better. I stopped at almost every view point and at many turnouts. I figured that with the not-hot weather I might have a better chance of spotting some wildlife. I was really looking for big-horn sheep. At the first view point, where there were quite a few visitors, I was amazed at the amount of scat -- right by the edges of the drop offs. Looked like deer. There are obviously plenty of animals in the park, but they have a lot of room to roam. At one point I did see a few antelope out on the prairie side of the road, oh, and a prairie rabbit. And I did get to see some more prairie dogs very close to the road. But that was about it as far as wildlife goes. That and the scat.

From a distance, the barren landscape of the Badlands looks like it's made of granite or some other hard rock. But look at it close up and you'll see that it's very crumbly. Like gravel held together by mud. The rain and snow easily erode the formations, which change shape in just a few years. At several points I could see what looked like animal tracks along the steep slopes near the road. The climbing hoof stock no doubt contribute to the erosion.

The eroding landscape frequently yields fossils. The final view point before the visitor center was the Fossil Trail, a short boardwalk path with fossil displays. You could almost picture a bone just beginning to protrude from a slope. But, no, I didn't spot any fossils except in the displays.

At that point I felt rain drops. By the time I left the visitor center -- after looking at the exhibits there -- it was raining. Not hard but steady. There was still a bit more park to see from there to the exit, but I didn't feel a need to get out of my car to see anything a few yards closer.

Soon I was back on I-90 heading east. I decided that I would aim for Chamberlain, about an hour west of Mitchell. I figured that I would get there about 4-ish and could have a long relaxing evening. Just as I was congratulating myself on this plan I spotted the sign: "You are now entering the Central Time Zone." I had just lost an hour. Wasn't expecting that. Then the speed limit went down through a very long construction area. I was lucky to get to Chamberlain before 5:30.

Quickly found my motel. The rate was a bit higher than listed in the AAA guidebook, but not bad. Older building. Interesting room. The ad boasts "Recliners," and there is indeed a recliner in my room. And interestingly the internet access in not wireless but with an ethernet connection.

I haven't figured out the mileage yet, but my plans for tomorrow are to stop in Mitchell to see the famed Corn Palace and then to go into Iowa for a stop in Le Mars, the self-proclaimed Ice Cream Capital of the World. Not sure how far I'll make it through Iowa, but I am on or ahead of schedule.

Saturday, September 8, 2007

Day Six -- A good day for museums

Suddenly it turned cold. Cold and windy, with a little rain. I'd heard the weather forecast, so I was not unprepared. They'd said it wouldn't get above the mid 60s, but it was in the 50s all day. Fortunately I'd already planned to do some indoor activities.

Last night was both the most expensive motel stay and the least satisfying. All the low budget places have been very quiet. In this one I could hear all sorts of noises coming from other rooms: water running, people talking, doors slamming. And to make matters worse, an entire girls' soccer team was staying there. They felt obliged to make their presence known both indoors and out. I don't know whether it was the cheerleaders or members of a wrestling team in the room upstairs, but whoever it was kept jumping. Like jumping off the furniture. When 11 o'clock struck and the jumping hadn't stopped, I called the front desk. The jumping stopped.

It's a good thing I didn't have a long driving day in front of me. I finally got to bed late and woke up early -- way early. After breakfast I lounged around my room and finally got going just before 10.

It was about 45 minutes to Rapid City where I was able to locate the Museum of Geology at the South Dakota School of Mines and Technology. Note that the website is very old, practically a fossil in internet time. And that is appropriate, I guess, because this little museum has tens of thousands of fossils, only an impressive fraction of which are on display.

From there I went a mile or so to The Journey Museum, a private institution that uses technologically enhanced displays to reveal the history of South Dakota from 2.5 billion years ago until the present.

It was too late to get a tour of Ellsworth Air Force Base, so I could only glance at it as I drove to Wall. I'd hoped to see the base where I was supposed to have been assigned back so many years ago before I swapped with someone and was sent to Loring AFB in northern Maine.

I arrived in Wall with time to find a bed for the night (actually two beds) and to stroll around main street and through the world famous Wall Drug. Tomorrow it's on to the Badlands National Park and then points east. Don't know where I will spend the night tomorrow. I'll see how far I can get.

Big surprise! I saw the first primate of my trip in Wall -- at Wall Drug of all places.

Friday, September 7, 2007

Day 5 – A day for critters

[Updated: Photos added]
There won’t be any apes on this trip at least until I get to Michigan. There I plan to visit the Detroit Zoo to see Bahati, the young male who once lived at the Oregon Zoo. A visit to the Great Ape Trust in Des Moines, Iowa, fell through. Oh, well.

I have been seeing some wildlife, however. Unfortunately, a lot of it has been roadkill. Three deer, countless skunks, and many more bodies that were unidentifiable all along the route from Idaho, through Montana and into North Dakota. Happily, today I got to see a lot more living, breathing critters.

I headed out from the motel in Glendive before 8AM and before long I had crossed into North Dakota. (My first time in the state.) The weather was looking pretty good, so I stopped second guessing myself and pointed the car to the Theodore Roosevelt National Park. The park is near where the young Roosevelt established a ranch, but it does not encompass his original ranch. Rather, it was created to honor his dedication to conservation and the national parks system.

With the radio turned off and the car window open, I followed the 36-mile loop through the park, up and down the winding road. Fabulous scenery. Badlands. Like the landscape at Makoshika but geologically younger.

The park features several expansive prairie dog towns. You can hear the little prairie dogs before you see them. They chirp like birds to warn the others when a car enters the turn off. They’re far enough away and so well camouflaged that it’s hard to photograph them. As I continued driving through the park I realized that there were hundreds … maybe thousands of the little guys. Where there was no turn off some hung out very close to the road.

As I drove through the park I scanned the valley and slopes looking for the larger animals that live there: buffalo, deer, elk, big-horned sheep. Nothing. It was late morning, when most would be sitting in a shady spot and avoiding exertion. I saw plenty of scat in the road, but not one hoofed critter. Then as I started up a steep slope, I saw what I thought was the silhouette of someone tall wearing a large backpack and rain poncho walking in front of me. First person I’d seen walking. Seemed strange. But it got stranger as I got closer and realized that it was a buffalo and that it was walking toward me – in the middle of my lane. I cautiously moved into the other lane, hoping that another car wouldn’t suddenly come over the crest of the hill. The buffalo walked by, looking in the passenger side window. No, I didn’t get a picture. I was too worried about being between a buffalo and an oncoming car to pull out the camera. That was it: thousands of prairie dogs and one buffalo.

After leaving the park I got onto highway 85 and aimed the car toward South Dakota. Lots of range. Lots of cows. Then I spotted something that looked like an antelope in one of the fields. Then I saw some more in other fields. At one of the few places I found to stop and rest, I chatted with a woman and learned that these were indeed antelope and that they were wild, not livestock. As I continued south I saw many, many more, including some that were sharing fields with the resident cows.

Ended the day in Spearfish, SD. I’ve pretty much made up for the time I’d lost, and the next two days I don’t need to cover many miles to stay on track. The weather is supposed to cool down tomorrow and it may rain the day after when I have more outdoor touring planned.

Thursday, September 6, 2007

Day Four -- To the eastern edge of Montana

Tonight I'm on "motel row" at the edge of Glendive. I was going to drive into North Dakota, but my destination for tomorrow is an easy hour's drive from here, and there are no sizable towns where I would have a choice of motels -- or even have found a motel. I might have had to drive past where I want to go tomorrow: Theodore Roosevelt National Park.

It felt like I drove a lot today, but I covered just under 250 miles. After Billings I was clearly in range country. Lots of rolling hills and cattle. Few towns to stop in for lunch. I tried to stop in Rosebud to grab a bite. I left the highway when I saw the fork & knife symbol and followed the road. I passed by a little town but didn't see any commercial district or any way to get there. A few turns later and I was back on I-94 -- still looking for lunch.

I left the highway again at Miles City and found myself on a strip of motels and fast food joints. Time to be daring, I thought, so I followed the signs into the city center to look for a local eatery. Bars and stores, but no cafes or restaurants. So I ended up back on the strip at KFC. So much for local color.

In Big Sky Country you can see the rain falling miles away. It was raining off and on along my route. Good for cleaning the Montana wildlife off the windshield. Unfortunately, it was raining when I arrived in Glendive, where I'd planned to visit either the local museum or the Makoshika State Park. Looked like a museum day, but I found my way to the park first, so that's where I went.

I paid my fee but found that the visitor center was temporarily closed -- just until 3PM. Oh, well. I proceeded into the park without any more information than was in the brochure I'd picked up days earlier. I only made it to where the pavement ended and decided not to risk the gravel. It was still raining and the parking lot was empty. Didn't want to risk getting stuck. I enjoyed the scenery but didn't spend much time out of the car. The best part was when I went around a sharp curve to see two whitetail deer crossing the road and climbing the slope right in front of me. I stopped and stared at them and they stared back.

After snapping a few damp photos, I returned to the visitor center and got lots of information from the enthusiastic park ranger. Makoshika is the largest state park in Montana. It is a treasure trove of dinosaur fossils. Some of them, including a triceratops skull, are on display in the visitor center. I wish I could have spent more time -- in better weather. But it looks like the weather will be better tomorrow when I get to North Dakota.

I realized today that I'm not getting any pictures of the scenery along the road. When I drove though southern Utah seven years ago, I pulled off at every turn out and took photos of the fabulous scenery. On the highways I've been traveling there aren't any places to stop for photos. I have to keep a lot of the scenery in my mind. But anyway, here is a picture of one of the rock formations at Makoshika. Don't you just want to climb down there and start looking for dinosaur bones?

Wednesday, September 5, 2007

Day 3 -- From dinosaurs to ducks

[Photos added 9/6/2007]

No broadband access tonight in my motel room in Billings, so I'm typing this offline and will load it using my dial-up access.

Woke this morning to find spots of water on the car. Headed out of Butte around 8AM in a light rain. Scenery kept changing. I thought the landscape would continue to flatten out, but east of Butte I found myself driving through a mountain pass. With the low clouds I could have been on the Oregon coast with the ocean just beyond the fog.

Then I was driving through gently rolling hills. There were mountains in the distance, but they were sometimes hidden by cloud cover. I arrived in Bozeman by about 9:30 and quickly found the Museum of the Rockies. I spent about two and a half hours touring the geology and dinosaur exhibits.
The dinosaur exhibits are very impressive. Some of the pieces are casts of the originals, but others -- including an almost complete T Rex displayed embedded in the ground, much as it was found -- are the actual fossils. There was a series of triceratops skulls showing different ages. Lots of explanation about how scientists figure things out. Well worth the visit.

After a short stop for lunch, I was back on highway 90 heading toward Billings. I passed the road one can take to go south to Yellowstone and could see tall mountains in the distance, but my route was getting flatter. My planned itinerary had me going well past Billings, but I knew I wasn't going to make it as far as I'd originally figured. So as I drove, I started negotiating (read: dithering) in my head. Stop for the night in Billings, visit the zoo in the AM and then drive straight through to North Dakota. Or stop for the night in Billings, skip the zoo, hit the road early and then stop in Glendive for another dinosaur visit. Or...? While I was weighing all the options -- back and forth -- I realized that I could probably get to the zoo in Billings for a brief visit before it closed. After all, I was driving 75 mph -- legally.

So that is what I decided to do. I managed to find Zoo Montana (after some directional confusion) about 90 minutes before closing. It's very small and didn't take much time to see -- and I practically had the place to myself. Saw eagles, wolves, Siberian tiger, red pandas, river otters. Didn't see the wolverine. The last exhibit I saw before leaving was waterfowl, lots of geese and ducks, including one tiny duckling running around among all the larger birds.

A solid night's sleep last night kept me alert all day today, so I will discipline myself to shut the lights out early again tonight. Need to make up some time tomorrow, then I will have some lower mileage days to enjoy.

[Except that once again the computer (or the connection) started acting up and I have spent WAY too much time on the computer.]

Tuesday, September 4, 2007

Day Two -- Idaho to Montana

I'm spending tonight in a clean, economical motel at a truck stop just outside Butte. Hard driving day -- even though I lost an hour when I crossed into Montana.

The scenery continued to change as I headed east. Through Idaho and into Montana I was "in" or even "on" the mountains. The tree-covered slopes were very close. Then the mountains seemed to get a bit further away, but they were still mostly forested. As I got closer to Missoula, the trees were disappearing and the slopes were mostly covered with golden-brown grass. And the mountains were even further in the distance.

I was struggling with midday fatigue and had to keep stopping. Tried to nap a few times and hit the road again when I felt a bit refreshed. At one truck stop I shut my eyes for a bit before going in to get a snack. While I was trying to drift off, I'd suddenly thought about an ice cream treat I'd enjoyed as a kid. It was called a "push-up" -- at least that's what we called it. Orange sherbet in a cardboard tube with a stick to push up the sherbet as you ate it. Hmm. If I could find one of those, I'd get it, but I hadn't seen one in ... many, many years. I walked into the little store and over to the ice cream freezer. Would you believe: There was something called a Cool Tube. Orange sherbet in a cardboard tube with a stick. How weird is that? Yes, I did get it and enjoyed it.

My original plan was to get off the highway at Drummond and take a detour through Phillipsburg and Anaconda on my way to Butte. But I was running kind of late. And I was weary. It would take too long to get to Butte. I won't. Yes, I will. No, I'll continue on straight to Butte. Then, the turnoff was right there in front of me -- so I took it.

I'm glad I did. It was a nice, relaxing drive with very little traffic. (Just a two-lane blacktop but the posted speed was sometimes 70 mph) I was now wide awake and was not worried about needing to pull over again. I stopped in tiny Phillipsburg and went into the world famous Sweet Palace. Hundreds of kinds of candy in cases and in jars. House-made filled chocolates and fudge. Yum. I figured chocolate would melt in the car, so I selected assorted flavors of fruit slices: orange and lemon and grape and peach and -- I can't remember which ones I got. Very good. I wonder how long I can make them last.

Up until Phillipsburg the scenic loop didn't seem all that scenic. After that point, however, it got really dramatic. Curving mountain roads and large lakes. And a storm was coming in. The sky had been kind of smokey after weeks of fires, so people were glad to see the rain. It wasn't a heavy rain and by the time I had reconnected with I-90 it had pretty much stopped. Before I knew it I was at the exit where I would find my motel for the night.

Tomorrow it is on to Bozeman where I plan to visit the Museum of the Rockies. Not sure how far I'll get after that. I expect to spend the night in Montana and then head into North Dakota on Thursday.

Monday, September 3, 2007

Day One - Oregon to Idaho

It was a two mountain day today. As I drove over the Marquam bridge, I caught a glimpse of Mount St Helens, a bit covered with haze but looking very big. Then as I entered the Columbia Gorge area, I saw Mount Hood.

I find I keep comparing this trip to the one I made seven years ago: Weather about the same, sunny with a few clouds. More traffic, but then last time I left the day after Labor Day not on the holiday itself. Aches. Hmm. I don't remember my shoulders or elbows aching after a few hours of driving. I guess the body is seven years older. Will need to be sure to work out the kinks at rest stops.

The drive through the Gorge is always ... gorgeous no matter what the weather. The magnificent geology formed by the Missoula Floods. Boggles the mind how massive the rush of water must have been to carve out this scenery.

My itinerary was planned not for the shortest route but to travel places I'd never been before. The new stuff started just a couple of hours into the trip, when I got to Biggs, crossed over the Columbia and headed east along the river on route 14. Two-lane road with not much traffic. Very nice drive. This called for driving music. I pulled out a tape by Off Course, a Japanese pop group from the 1980s and played it -- loud, YES-YES-YES -- over and over until I got back into traffic.

When I started planning this trip, I had to figure out whether I should drive my 9-year-old car or get a new one. One of the factors that went into the decision was whether I would be able to listen to my 25-year-old Japanese pop music tapes if I got a new car, which would probably be equipped with a CD player. (I do have other tapes, but I am especially fond of the Japanese ones.)

Along route 14 I was for a while behind a truck that appeared to be hauling scrap paper. Little pieces of paper were blowing off the truck and scattering every which way. How terrible, I thought. Polluting this wonderful scenic area with garbage. After quite a while driving at a distance behind the truck I saw something roundish and white in the road. It appeared to be ... an onion! So that was it. The truck was hauling onions (Walla Walla was not far away) and the "paper" was onion skins. Never mind.

Tonight I am in Post Falls, Idaho, spending the night at the home of my friend Janet's mom. Very wired lady. She plugged me right in and I could check email and update the blog. Right now Chris (Janet's mom) and other scattered family members are chatting online -- as they do almost every night.

First day in 60 (or more) that I'll be on the road. I'd better get to bed to be rested for Day Two.

Saturday, September 1, 2007

Bon voyage surprise

Spent my last Saturday in town volunteering at the zoo. And what lovely parting gift the primates had in store!

During the night one of the francois langurs had given birth and the baby was discovered when the keepers arrived this morning. Francois are leaf-eating monkeys from southeast Asia. They are black with punk hairdos, but the babies are bright orange. I got to take a quick peek at mother and baby. The youngest monkey I've ever seen. Cute little ears sticking out from its Howdy Doody head.

By a strange coincidence, the last time I visited the zoo just a few days prior to my previous road trip seven years ago, I learned that a baby mandrill had been born just a few days earlier when I saw it on exhibit. Natalie is now a lusty little seven-year-old.