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Doug's Diggings: World of contrast - Yellowstone and Vegas

Within the past five or six weeks I have taken two trips and they couldn't have been more different. Earlier in June my wife and I went with my son Darrin and his wife to the Grand Tetons and Yellowstone. Just a week ago, we went to Las Vegas with my brother- and sister-in-law, Tom and Sandy Wells of New Richmond.

I had never been to Yellowstone, or the Grand Tetons. I'm reminded of the words of John Louks of North Hudson. Back in the day when we were scout leaders he told me Yellowstone was his favorite place in the entire country! We one reason or another, we never made it. Well John, I made it!

I now understand why John fell in love with the place. Many of our readers have probably been there. One of the highlights was Old Faithful. We went there two or three different times and probably saw Old Faithful erupt at least five or six times. Probably my favorite view was when we took a half-mile hike up a 600-foot hill and overlooked Old faithful during the eruption. We actually made the trip twice, the first day we were a few minutes late and missed the show.

Old faithful erupts about every 90 minutes, but the signs always point out that it is give-or-take 10 minutes. On our first trip up the hill, it erupted 10 minutes early! Of course, there is plenty of geo-thermal activity around Old Faithful with a couple of miles of hiking paths (all on board walks). Steam is coming out of the ground everywhere! And it's not just Old Faithful, there are several areas in the park with steam coming out of the ground. Among them are West Thumb, Mammoth, Norris and many other spots as you drive along.

One of the most beautiful areas in the park is the canyon area, with its upper falls, lower falls and the Yellowstone River. We did a lot of hiking, including three trips down into the canyon. The cliff varies in height from 500 feet up to 1,000 feet. One of the trip's down the canyon was at Uncle Tom's Trail. The trail is essentially 350 staircases that descends 500 feet to the base of the 308-foot-high Lower Falls. "Uncle" Tom Richardson first constructed Uncle Tom's Trail in 1898 at that time people paid to climb down his series of steps and ropes. He was essentially put out of businesses when the Chittenden Bridge opened. The steps, of course, have been improved over the years, but it is still quite an adventure.

One of the most beautiful views in the Canyon is an area known as Artist Point.

We stayed at a couple of different locations, the last being Roosevelt Lodge. It is named for former President Teddy Roosevelt who liked this part of Yellowstone in the northeast corner. The word "lodge," however, may be a bit too glamorous. It is a series of small cabins with no bathrooms. This was essentially a campground, but the tents were small log cabins with beds, electricity and a small wood stove. The lodge, however, did have a lovely little restaurant and a spot to sit and play games, or enjoy the fireplace.

Yellowstone was actually the second stop on this trip - we went to the Grand Tetons first. In that park we stayed at the Signal Mountain Lodge. Again, it included log cabins, but bigger and with a few more amenities, including bathrooms. But, what a gorgeous view every morning. The wakeup view was looking out over Jackson Lake at the Grand Tetons.

The Tetons probably don't get too much publicity because it is a relatively small park and in the shadow of Yellowstone, but the Teton area is beautiful. We did a fair amount of hiking, including a hike from the Jenny Lake Lodge into the Tetons, Hidden Falls and Inspiration Point. It was all beautiful. We rode a boat back from the Tetons to Jenny Lake Lodge.

We had spectacular weather the entire week. We only saw clouds and precipitation one afternoon. Most days were actually quite warm, well into the 80s. The one afternoon, however, we left the park and went to Jackson Hole. It is a huge ski resort - like a city in itself. We rode a tram up into the mountain (still plenty of snow around). On top we had a bite to eat and came outside and as we were waiting for the tram, it began to snow.

The Tram is huge, holds about 60 people. It ascends 4,139 vertical feet in 15 minutes to the top of Rendezvous Mountain. At the Tram summit, we saw views of Jackson Hole, the Snake River Valley, Grand Teton National Park and the summit of the Grand! We also went to the town of Jackson and attended a dinner theater one evening.

We saw plenty of wildlife. Daughter-in-law Jen loves to photograph wildlife, so we spent several evenings looking for animals. Of course, we also saw wildlife when not looking! She got photos of many bears (both black and grizzly), bear cubs, moose, buffalo - the list goes on. In the brochure there were photos of 15 or 20 animals - we saw them all except the big horned ram. Going back to our lodge one evening, we were in the midst of a big traffic delay and a herd of buffalo chose to walk down the road.

We left Yellowstone via Beartooth pass. We were able to see snow up-close and personal! The Beartooth Highway is a 68-mile road from the northeast corner of Yellowstone Park to Red Lodge, Montana. Typically the road is open from May to October. We heard that it had just opened in late May and saw evidence of amazing snow, with path cut for the road with walls of snow 15 feet and higher. There was still one ski location open and it was busy on a Saturday afternoon. Lakes in the area still had ice.

Las Vegas

In a world of contrasts, we found it when we went to Las Vegas for a few days last week. Temperatures were 114 degrees and we were living a life of luxury compared to our cabins in Yellowstone.

We did attend several shows, starting with Celine Dion and ending with Donny and Marie Osmond. Another day we went to a funny show titled "Defending the Caveman" and the wives went to a show titled "Menopause the musical."

We visited a variety of casinos and all the new ones are very glamorous. One morning when the wives were shopping, Tom and I decided to visit Pawn Stars - site of a popular show on the History Channel. When we arrived however, there was a long line standing in the 112-degree heat. We soon found out that they were filming that day and that the wait could be a while. We decided to leave. The building is anything but glamorous. Located just south of downtown on Las Vegas Boulevard (The Strip), it's in an unspectacular part of town. The success of the TV show, however, has made it a destination for visitors.

We had a great time. Everyone asks if I won. The answer: I'm still working.