Saturday, July 30, 2011

Balloon Festival

Late yesterday evening LC, Jamie and I drove down to Mentock Park in Cody thinking that we would have the opportunity to witness lighted balloons.
In my "Cody County Visitors Guide" it says:

Cody's annual Wild West Balloon Fest with the theme "Sweet 16" honoring the 16th year of the event. Organizers are planning for about 25 balloonists from around the US.  A spectacular balloon glow will start at dusk Friday July 29.  Balloon competitions will begin at dawn Saturday and Sunday.

We arrived at the park around 7:30pm and seeing that nothing was going on at that point, drove into downtown proper to eat a late dinner at a local mom and pop restaurant before heading back to the park.
I had expected glowing inflated balloons.
After spending some time watching the fearless kids performing gravity defying tricks on bicycles and skateboards and scooters in the skateboard park we ventured further to see what the balloonists were doing.,
Surprisingly there were no inflated balloons.
After resolving to come back to the park early this morning to see the dawn balloon takeoff, we watched for a short period of time in the waning daylight, as crowds encircled the craft baskets to see the flames................
Our neighbor had told us that the balloons began their journey at either 7am or 8am and that she thought that the balloons traveled towards the Belfry Highway.
The plan was to see the takeoff, visually follow the balloons as long as possible, hopefully grab a few pictures of the colorful display, and then head off on hunts for yard sale treasures.
So when we stepped outside at 7am heading for the truck I was incredibly surprised and disappointed to look over towards town and see that we had already missed the takeoff.
I made a grab for my backpack and then made a grab for my camera, hoping to capture a couple of pictures before these colorful and wonderful balloons disappeared from sight.
I stood in the back yard and as more and more balloons made their appearance I quickly snapped shot after shot.
I had never seen a balloon festival before.
It was cool.
It was very way cool, and became even cooler as I started to see first two, then three, then four, then 10 or more balloons gently floating through the air..................
As LC and I continued to watch them, and point enthusiastically at different balloon designs, it became very clear that these balloons were not heading away from town and towards the Belfry Highway after all.
They were headed our way.................... 
We excitedly followed them and excitedly watched as the lead balloon floated within a mile of the house.
It seemed from our vantage point up on a rise to be almost following the line of the road leading directly onto ours.
And we excitedly watched as this first colorful craft came in for a soft landing.
It appeared to have landed right on the road.
With Cedar Mountain in the background.
OK - it was time to get outta Dodge.
To load our dog and ourselves into the truck, drive the mile down to the road and to see if we could track down this balloon.
And the others as well.
Because they were all headed our way.
What great fun so early on a Saturday morning!..................
I had imagined that the balloons would take part in some lengthy journey and was surprised to realize that they were all indeed heading towards the ground only a couple of miles from where they started.
Regardless, as we approached the road we saw chase vehicles heading down a side road that led to open fields.
We were only a couple of minutes from the house and as we continued, I realized that I would be able to get many good pictures after all.
It seemed like such a great adventure first thing in the morning to have a couple of fists full of hot air balloons landing in a field almost right next door to us...............
We pulled the truck over to the side of the road behind some of the chase vehicles, I climbed out of the truck and commenced to snapping.
Taking pictures in all directions as they wonderfully and colorfully floated above and behind and in front of me.
Trying to catch them in action before they floated down to the ground, sometimes softly and under control and sometimes........not so much.
I turned to LC and he was smiling at this unexpected adventure as much as I was................
Neither LC nor I had ever seen a balloon festival before.
To have these balloons fly so close and then to land so close to our home was very fun and very exciting.
Our experience this morning was quiet and serene and colorful and we enjoyed more than I ever could convey here, just how much we loved this intimate opportunity to experience the balloon festival first hand.............

Cedar Mountain - Part 2

I hope I get this story right.
If you look at the picture above you can see snow towards the center right of the mountain that is shaped like a horse (face pointing to the left, long neck leading down the mountain).
That is a consistent snow pattern on this mountain - seen each Spring and throughout the remainder of the year even during the hottest months.
As the weather eventually begins to warm up and the Spring melt-off begins locals watch the horse.
When the melt-off begins you can see the reigns of the horse hanging down from the front of the face.
Locals watch the reigns.  When the reigns eventually disappear they know that the melt-off is complete.............

The picture I took in the previous posts of my two hiking friends standing on a ledge was taken down at the bottom of this hill.
The consistent theme throughout our hike had been endless climbing - one hilly switchback after another for six straight miles.
I thought that we were finally done climbing but of course we were not.
This short stretch of grassy double track led up to the first of a handful of radio towers we came across.
The others walked the double track while I veered off trail to wander along the hillside to the right of this picture.
I stood for a few moments looking out over endless miles of hazy mountains off in the distance, still snow capped mountains along the Southfork, never ending rolling hills and farmland and barely-green tabletops and a sky so blue that it could only be described as Wyoming-blue.
Stood looking out over forever.
A few pictures and I traipsed along behind my compadres feeling great accomplishment that we had climbed a million miles away from civilization and into a magical mountain world.
Too cool.................
One last climb into the world of radio waves and microwave frequencies.............
As we bypassed each of the towers we heard a noise off the trail to our left.
I searched the ground looking for the source of the noise and suddenly saw this bird.
I am not certain what it was.  LC says "prairie chicken" which I have never heard of before.  I thought at the time that maybe it was a pheasant.
Regardless, all three of us stood in one place, one behind the other on the trail, while I fumbled with my camera trying to zoom in and capture a picture of her before she flew away.
I snapped a couple of quick pictures and this is the only one that turned out.
As we watched her wandering back and forth and obviously upset by our presence, one of my hiking buddies said "she has a nest"
At that we realized that we needed to move along...............
It was a long and hot climb.
It was definitely worth it.
We stood looking at the 360 views of incredibly rugged and beautiful terrain carved over millions of years of rock and ice and volcanic activity.
And then took a few pictures, ate and drank and quietly celebrated our achievement before heading back the way we had come...............
I did not stop to take pictures of this place on the way up but did photograph it on the way back down the same rocky and dusty and gravel-covered switchbacks we had covered on he way up.
Surprisingly it is a private home and even more surprisingly I learned that a good part of Cedar Mountain is private property.
By the time we had climbed about half way up the mountain we began to regularly see signs.  The public was welcome to travel the area as long as they stayed on the road.
My first reaction when I learned that a good portion of the mountain was privately owned was "how can anyone afford to own a mountain?"
There is a lot of money in Cody as evidenced by real estate prices, the very large ranches in the region and the number of private planes that land at the Cody-Yellowstone airport every single day.
But there are also people such as the owners of this lone mountain home that has been in their family for generations.................
If you look very closely at this picture there is a very extensive rock fence that completely surrounds this home.
In all the fence spans approximately five acres.
All three of us were amazed at the amount of work that must have gone into the building of this structure.
I have seen many rock fences over the years down south but this wall was much thicker, in much better shape, and much more detailed.
And all three of us wondered where the rock had come from.
After looking closely at the rock that made up this fence and then looking at the rock in the area they did not match.
Rock on Heart Mountain is primarily grey or a reddish color.
Not the white and light beige rock of this fence.  It must have been transported in.
Which makes this fence an even more incredible accomplishment.................
Two of the cauldrons close to the winding Shoshone River..............
It was a very good day.
My walking companions were good fun.
The hike was challenging but very doable and the payoff for the effort were stunning views of the area.
I'll be sore for a couple of days.
But it was definitely worth it...............