The West

The Western States of the US, including California, Oregon, Utah, Colorado, and so on

Chaco Culture National Historic Park

Chaco Culture National Historic Park

At Chaco Canyon, many of the original “Vigas” are still embedded into the walls. These wooden features made up the floors of multi-story buildings as well as the foundations for the rooftops.

We’ve called them many names in the past. They were the Anasazi, the Ancient Puebloans, and today, at Chaco Canyon, they’re called “Chacoans,” or just “Chaco People.” The truth is, none of the names we’ve made up over the centuries really fits, and we have no idea what they called themselves.

What we do know is that Chaco Canyon was the cultural, political, and economic center of these ancient people from around 850 A.D. to 1250 A.D. It’s thought that thousands of people lived here while roads were built and maintained throughout their area of influence.

We visited Chaco Canyon recently and walked among the many ruins, enjoying the landscape and the isolation of this northern New Mexico National Historic Site. The closest town is Farmington, and getting to Chaco Canyon took a bit of determination. Starting from State Highway 505, we turned off on County Road 7950 and drove about five miles until the pavement ended. We then proceeded along a dirt road that was minimally maintained for another thirteen miles, then another five miles over a road that was not maintained at all. We made it okay, and so did lots of other folks. The one small campground was full.

There were two first-come, first-served campsites. All others were by reservation only. Part of the campground is currently closed because the nearby rock walls are tending to fall, making for a potentially hazardous tent site.

The main entrance to Chaco Culture National Historic Park is from Highway 505 and along County Road 7950, about 20 miles from the highway to the park. Much of the trek is unimproved dirt. And to be fair, when we visited the park, the trip in was at about 10 MPH and we encountered a grader working the shoulders. On the way out, the road was comfortable at its posted speed limit of 30 MPH. The grader had finished his work while we were there.

There are several hiking trails within the park, but for this trip, concentrated mostly on the various pueblos that were situated along the loop road from the visitor’s center. Below are a few images we made along our way; mostly from Pueblo Bonito. This massive pueblo was thought to house a thousand inhabitants, and it’s a truly believable number. we encountered a volunteer ranger at the site that was able to tell us a great deal about the structure and what we believe to be true about its history. If you visit, be sure to seek these folks out. they have a great deal of knowledge and are willing to share.

Here’s a brief overview of what we found on our last visit to Chaco Canyon (Chaco Culture National Historic Park).
Posted by Donald Fink and Bonnie Fink in Blog, The West, Travel, US Parks, 0 comments
Impressions of the Parks Near Moab

Impressions of the Parks Near Moab

If you like wide-open spaces—and who doesn’t these days—then one place that might be at the top of your list should be Moab, Utah. And we don’t mean the City of Moab—even though it’s a fine city—but the overwhelming number of national, state, and county parks in the immediate area.

To tell you about everything to see and do around Moab would take a sizable book. In fact, books are written pretty much everything you could think of to do in this American Southwest destination. From rock climbing to day hiking, mountain biking, four-wheeling, you name it, it’s here. There are tours if you want to be shown around, and there are rentals if you want to head out on your own. Many people bring their own equipment and head out to the backcountry.

Our quick little video here shows just a bit of only two parks in the Moab area: Arches National Park and Canyonlands. Both are easily accessible with any kind of vehicle and are an easy day trip from downtown Moab.

Canyonlands and Arches National Parks are two of our favorite places in the southwest. We’ve spent a great deal of time visiting these wonders over the years, and it seems as though it’s a new experience each time we come.


Posted by Donald Fink and Bonnie Fink in Blog, The West, Travel, US Parks, 0 comments
Lamar Valley, Yellowstone National Park

Lamar Valley, Yellowstone National Park

One of our favorite spots in the U.S., or even the world for that matter, is Yellowstone National Park, in Wyoming and Montana. We travel there as often as we can and try to make it when we have the best chances of seeing animals.

While in Yellowstone, we have several spots we like to visit, but one of our favorite spots is the Lamar Valley, located in the northeastern part of the park. We almost always encounter animals along the road from Tower Junction and east until the highway starts its climb up and out of the valley. We usually encounter bears, pronghorn, many bison, and an occasional wolf (in the distance) or coyote.

This past summer’s trip was especially good for us so we put together a quick video of some of the animals and sights we found while driving the road in the Lamar Valley. Take a look:

The Lamar Valley in Yellowstone National Park is one of our favorite places for spotting wildlife. This picturesque highway between Tower Junction and the Park exit is home to a large variety of critters and with ample places to pull off the road for observing, it’s a great place to spend some time. Photos and videos by Don and Bonnie Fink.
Posted by Donald Fink and Bonnie Fink in Blog, Featured, The West, Travel, US Parks, 0 comments
Seeing Yellowstone in a Quick Trip

Seeing Yellowstone in a Quick Trip

What if you had only one, two, or three days to see Yellowstone? Where would you go? What would you see? It turns out that a close member of our family is planning just that in the near future and was asking what thoughts we might have about it. As we thought it over, it occurred to us that other people might have the same time constraints and might appreciate some thoughts about where to start.

Before we start, we should point out that it would be easy to spend a year or more exploring Yellowstone. There’s more to see and do than you could imagine. But most people don’t have that kind of time all at once, so we need to spread it out a bit. With that in mind, here we go with our recommendations.

Where to Stay

Camp sites are simple but cozy at the Madison Campground at Madison Junction. Sites do not have hook-ups but there is water and toilets in the campground. No showers. Photo by Don Fink.

Our family folks will be travelling by 5th wheel travel trailer, so they’ll be interested in places to stay surrounding that travel medium. They’ll be entering Yellowstone from the north through Gardiner, so the first, most obvious place to set up camp would be Mammoth Hot Springs Campground. This campground is a typical national park campground: it has no hookups but offers a place to stay close to the park, since it’s actually in the park. Since they’ll be staying only two or three nights, and since they will have a small generator with them, no hookups shouldn’t be too much of a problem. Mammoth Hot Springs Campground is the only park campground that’s open year round.

Another park service campground that’s worth considering is Madison Campground. Madison Campground is located at Madison Junction, just east of the West Yellowstone Entrance. It’s along the Madison River, although there are no views of the river from the campground. Like Mammoth Hot Springs, this campground has no hookups for RVs. The maximum length here is 40 feet. It usually opens in late April and this year they’re planning to close October 14th (October 14th, 2018).

The only campground in the park that has hookups is at Fishing Bridge RV Park. Fishing Bridge is located near Yellowstone Lake where the Yellowstone River exits the lake. Unfortunately, Fishing Bridge RV Park is already closed for the season and is scheduled to remain closed for the 2019 camping season due to construction and improvements.

So, what if you want hookups? You know, water, electricity, and so on. There are some options outside the park.

Starting at Gardiner, there are two that come to mind:

First, there’s Rocky Mount RV Park and Cabins. They can accommodate pretty much any size rig and offer up to 50 amp power, water, sewer, cable, and WiFi. Unfortunately the close this year on September 30th, so time is getting short.

Next in Gardiner, there’s Yellowstone RV Park. This facility can accommodate most big rigs with some sites up to 65 feet. Some sites have 50 amp power, and all RV sites have water, at least 30 amps, sewer, cable, and WiFi. Our information doesn’t give us a closing date for this year, but the do advertise off season rates in October.

The Yellowstone Grizzly RV Park has everything. Full hook-ups, showers, rec room, you name it, it’s probably here. It’s located just outside the park at West Yellowstone. Photo by Don Fink.

The next RV park to consider outside of the park is the Yellowstone Grizzly RV Park and Cabins, in West Yellowstone. This campground is in West Yellowstone, near the Grizzly and Wolf Discovery Center. You can probably hear wolves howling in the morning if you stay here and are located near the front. Surely, you can hear them if you walk about a block down the street at about 6:15 each morning.

The Grizzly RV Park and Cabins is a reasonably large facility, and can accept pretty much any size RV. They have all the amenities including all the usual hookups. They don’t say on their web site when they close, but we’ve been here in the winter. It’s unlikely they are open year-round. A call or email to them would be appropriate if you plan to come to Yellowstone late in the fall.

What to Do

Our focus in Yellowstone has always been on the wildlife and the geology, and that will naturally drive our thoughts when it comes to finding things to do here. We picked the above camping locations mainly because they offer close proximity to those activities.

Day One

You should not pass up an opportunity to see Old Faithful in action if your visit Yellowstone National Park. It’s the icon of the park and may be one of the reasons the parks even exists. Photo by Bonnie Fink.

On the first day, we would suggest a road trip from wherever you’re staying to Old Faithful. You’re visiting Yellowstone. Not seeing Old Faithful would just be wrong. Old Faithful erupts every day and more or less regular intervals that range from 30 minutes apart to 120 minutes. You can find predicted times posted in most of the buildings in the area, or you can visit Geyser Times and get an idea of when the geyser might erupt. There are listings of all “predictable” Yellowstone geysers listed on this site. Arrive at least 30 minutes early, not only for your best chance at a spot to view, but to be reasonably certain you’ll be there when it goes off.

If you’ve ever wondered how geysers work, we posted a quick explanation about them awhile back. You can read about it here.

When you’re finished with viewing Old Faithful, be sure to take a walk around to the back side and head out to Geyser Hill. This is a short (less than a mile) walk that will take you past geysers, bubbling springs, and steaming pools. You should see some of these geysers active since something is usually in progress in the area. The eruptions won’t be anything like Old Faithful, but it’s interesting to see these features in action. If some members in your group don’t feel like making the walk, there’s always a chair on the porch and ice cream at one of a couple of different.

The Walk around Geyser Hill should take 30 minutes to an hour, depending on how interested you are in geologic features as you stand in one of the worlds most dangerous and active volcanic cauldrons.

Elk gather in many places for the rut and winter in Yellowstone, but seem to concentrate along the Madison River between Madison Junction and West Yellowstone. Photo by Bonnie Fink.

After viewing Old Faithful, head over to Madison Junction and take a drive down the Madison River. In the fall, you’re likely to see bison and elk all along the river. Starting in September, the animals tend to congregate in this area and remain there through much of the winter. The drive is special because it allows you to get closeup views of the animals as they go about their business in or near the river.

As you head toward West Yellowstone (about 23 miles east of Madison Junction), you’ll come to a spot that crosses the river. Instead of driving on the north side of the river, you’ll find yourself on the south side. When this happens, start watching the tops of the trees as you drive. You’ll soon come to a spot that has an active eagle nest. It’s been active as long as we’ve been visiting the park.

If you make it all the way to West Yellowstone, you can visit the Grizzly and Wolf Discovery Cnter. Here, you can view grizzly bears and wolves, up close. There’s also an iMax theater in town as well as two reasonably good grocery stores.

That’ll take care of day one. Of course, doing these things won’t take the entire day, but the way things go in Yellowstone, there are always distractions along the way. There an animal along the road or a geyser that will undoubtedly catch your eye and before you know it, you’ve spent the entire day having fun.

Day Two

The wide open spaces of the Lamar Valley allow for some great wildlife viewing. Photo by Bonnie Fink.

On day two, we would suggest a trip out to Lamar Valley. This road is an area located in the northeastern part of the park that begins at Tower Junction. To get there from Mammoth Hot Springs, head southeast along Grand Loop Road. Tower Junction is about 18 miles from Mammoth Hot Springs and there’s plenty to see along the way.

At Tower Junction, turn left at the intersection just after the gas station and head east. You’ll cross the Yellowstone River and almost immediately and start seeing animals. Watch for bison, antelope, bears (both grizzly and black bears), elk, coyote, and if you’re really observant, you’ll be able to catch a glimpse of wolves. It’s all here, and never the same.

Day Three

Swans are common in Yellowstone. This year we were seeing them in the Hayden Valley in the Yellowstone River. In years past, they have been in the Madison River, east of West Yellowstone. Photo by Bonnie Fink.

If there’s a day three, we’d suggest a trip up the Hayden Valley along the Yellowstone River. You’ll see lots of wildlife here including many of the birds that frequent the park. For us, the Hayden Valley is more about the scenery, but the wildlife is fun too. At Fishing Bridge, you can turn left or continue straight if you wish. Either route will put you along the shore of Lake Yellowstone for some more scenic driving. This year there’s serious road construction from Fishing Bridge east, so we’d recommend that you head south. You can either complete the loop back around to Old Faithful or simply drive along Lake Yellowstone for a bit and turn around.

If There Was Only One Day

If we had only one day to spend at Yellowstone, we’d head immediately out to Lamar Valley. It’s all about the wildlife, and while the variety of critters found will never be the same from one trip to another, it has never disappointed us in the decades we’ve been visiting the park.

Guided Tour

There are several tour operators working within Yellowstone National Park. This one, Xanterra Parks and Resorts, operates is several other national Parks as well. Photo by Bonnie Fink.

Many people choose to use one of the guide services operating within Yellowstone National. There are many. One advantage to using a guide service when you don’t have much time is that you spend time with someone who’s most likely been coming to the park all summer. They’ll know their way around, and know where the interesting things are. They’ll know which Osprey nests are active, for example, or know where the wolves have been hanging out this week.

We can’t personally recommend any of them because we’ve never used them, but the park service maintains a list of approved service providers on their web site. You can see their list here.


Whatever your pleasure might be at Yellowstone, the important thing to remember is to get out and move around. You’ll find something interesting pretty much anywhere you might go.

Posted by Donald Fink in The West, Travel, US Parks, 0 comments
Mono Lake: A Soup of History

Mono Lake: A Soup of History

One of the disadvantages of traveling the eastern Sierras is that it’s a long way from most people’s homes. Most northern Californians have to come all the way over the mountain passes to get there, and southern Californians have to drive several hundred miles along Highway 395, through some of California’s most inhospitable terrain before arriving at their destination. Of course, it could be argued that one of the best reasons for going to the eastern Sierras is because it’s hard to get there, and therefore doesn’t receive the tourist pressure of other parts of the state. Continue reading →

Posted by Donald Fink and Bonnie Fink in Featured, The West, Travel, 0 comments
Oregon Coast – Brookings to Bandon

Oregon Coast – Brookings to Bandon

It’s a rare place where you can find brutal power of nature on an unforgiving rampage, where the colors are vivid and alive with a deep blue sky meeting the foaming ocean, and a rocky coastline ranging from obsidian black rocks to sprinkles of turquoise. The sea seems to be held at bay with the thinnest of clean, undisturbed sand beaches before swallowing up the majestic rocks of the rugged coastline. On even the calmest of days, the Pacific Ocean seems to be straining the sand beaches, waiting for a chance to unleash her awful power on the land, and that very land standing solid and fixed against the attack. And yet, in the midst of this activity, you can find peace and solitude. It will bring order to your thinking if you let it.

The paradox between the chaos and power of the ocean against the land and the very peace it brings might be hard to understand unless you spend time along the southern Oregon coast. One day it’s foggy and rainy and the next the sun brightens the surroundings with colors from nearly everywhere, the landscape cleaned from the rains before.

Oregon CoastlineWhile the Oregon coastline from Brookings to Bandon is not particularly unique when compared to northern California or even the rest of Oregon, it contains a combination of places to see and things to do in a combination that makes for a very good destination spot for a few days, or even a few weeks if you have the time. It’s almost too cliché to say that the pace is slow, but when this slow pace is in the background of one of the most active and powerful coastlines, it has a new meaning.

The Oregon coast, like much of the Oregon interior, has been inhabited by native Americans for many thousands of years. The people of the coast would spend their time gathering acorns, roots and berries from the land. They hunted deer and elk along the coastal mountains and harvested clams, salmon and sea lions from the ocean water, beaches, and rivers. When Europeans began to settle the area, they found that the nearly endless supply of food resources combined with the abundant supply of wood for fuel and building materials made life in this primitive and secluded place relatively easy. Most transportation until recent times was via the ocean and rivers, and it’s therefore easy to see that the settlements are generally located along the coast near rivers and bays where safe mooring could be found for boats and ships traveling along the coast.

Coquille River Lighthouse is located at Bullards Beach State Park. It's open year round and visitors are welcome. Image by Donald Fink

Coquille River Lighthouse is located at Bullards Beach State Park. It’s open year round and visitors are welcome. Image by Donald Fink

So what are the activities here that create such a great experience? For starters, there’s the opportunity to stand along the coast at just about any point you choose and just take it all in. You can go down to the water and stand as close as you dare to the waves. Try to figure out their patterns. You can stop along one of the many turnouts along Highway 101 from high up on the cliffs. Did you know that on a clear day, when the visibility lets you see all the way to the horizon, you can see the curvature of the earth?

From the point of view of an outsider who only occasionally visits the area, the State of Oregon should be commended for their park system along the Oregon coast. Their campgrounds and day use parks are progressive and evidently in touch with today’s modern travelers. The camp sites, for example range from primitive spaces for a tent, to full hookups for even the most majestic diesel pushers. They sometimes provide WiFi and cable. While there are many privately operated RV parks along this coastline, the Oregon Park system gives them serious competition.

Hiking trails appear to be endless along the coastline. They range from short ¼ mile excursions to adventures that can last for several miles and even several days along the coastline if that’s your interest. Just about anything you’re up for can be found at many points along the coast. You’re never far from incredible views either. Whether you’re walking along a beach with the water pounding and foaming its anger at the shore and rocks, or circling a hidden cove with sunbathing sea lions, the views are just about anywhere you look.


Posted by Donald Fink and Bonnie Fink in Blog, The West, Travel, 0 comments
Knights Ferry

Knights Ferry

In our present day country, we drive about on our road system that’s probably among the best in the world, and give little thought to the hardships that must have existed when this fabulous land was a wilderness; when a wheeled vehicle had never crossed the landscape, and nothing was moved that could not be carried on your back. We drive through little towns like Moss Landing, or Sweeneys Crossing, and give little thought to how they got their interesting names. To us, they’re just names. It might be a surprise then, that the little frontier town of Knights Ferry in the California foothills between Oakdale and Sonora got its name because it was once home to a modified whaling ship used for carrying passengers, goods, and livestock across the Stanislaus River. Continue reading →

Posted by Donald Fink and Bonnie Fink in Featured, The West, Travel, 0 comments
Mesa Arch

Mesa Arch

In the red rocks of Utah, almost everyone has seen the famous Delicate Arch of Arches National Park. While most people haven’t actually walked up to it in person, they’ve at least seen it on the Utah State license plates. The walk up to Delicate Arch is three miles round trip, and is a bit more than some people want to tackle.

There’s another arch that attracts a lot of attention too, and it’s just ½ mile round trip from the closest parking area. That’s Mesa Arch. Mesa Arch is located in the Island in the Sky District of Canyonlands National Park. It’s popularity probably comes from the extreme red glow it seems to emanate, and the close proximity for viewing when you arrive. You can almost reach out and touch it, but not quite. Continue reading →

Posted by Donald Fink in Blog, State Parks, The West, Travel, 0 comments