“Thank you both for visiting us at all three of our campsites in Teton National Park. We are sorry that your friend Wolverine was so shy and only made one brief appearance. We appreciate your hospitality in sharing your beautiful home with us.”

Still not sure whether or not it worked out to our benefit that the passes were all snowed under. On the one hand we had to do a lot of vertical to get to our camps in cascade and paintbrush canyons and on Leigh Lake; on the other hand we had an amazing time and saw some cool wildlife. Even without doing the passes we still had to hike through snow to get to our campsites. It was amazing to see the waterfalls making their way through the snowdrifts and all the wildflowers displaying their beautiful shapes and colors. Our night on Leigh Lake was our closest run in with a grizzly to date. A crazed-looking guy came breezing along the trail at dusk with his finger on the trigger of a can of bear spray and a bike helmet on (!?!?). He paused long enough to tell us that a Grizzly had been seen near our site the night before. In the tent getting ready for bed we heard a heavy-set animal walking in the water which is only 10 feet from our tent. With relief we found that it was only a deer. We fell asleep that night with some trepidation. Hiking out in the morning we found some tree scratching 7 feet up a tree and a massive pile of fresh scat. Needless to say we picked up the pace and kept our bear spray close. If only we had packed our bike helmets.

Started our day at 5am with an hour drive through Teton NP; we encountered a herd of Elk, multitudes of bison and zero traffic. Then it was on to a river raft trip on the dangerous Snake River, Joe and Val were not too sure about it all, so they opted to sit on the floor of the raft. It was a scenic and relaxing float trip along the base of the Tetons; we saw Moose, Elk, Eagles, Geese, and evidence of Beavers. After warming ourselves up with a dozen cups of tea at a café in Jackson Hole we were off seeking more thrills taking the tram 4000 vertical feet to the top of Rendezvous Mountain. The views were stunning, if not a bit intimidating and Dale and I breathed a sigh of relief that our trekking plans had been altered due to too much snow. I am not sure if we were quite ready for the intensity of these peaks. Needless to say, with a morning like this we took the rest of the day to relax and recover.

Spent half the day on a quick stop at the Buffalo Bill Museum learning about the life of William “Buffalo Bill” Cody, admiring the taxidermy of Yellowstone animals, learning about the ways of the plains Indians and appreciating Western Art and the largest collection of guns we had ever seen. Dale did not even discover the second level until too late, we were all educated out. So what did we do next, drive up the hill and stop at the Buffalo Bill dam to spend another quick 15 minutes turned hour at the visitor’s center. We flashed through Yellowstone, stopping only to admire some elk grazing by the roadside, and arrived in Grand Teton National Park. Capped off the day with a lovely picnic beside Jackson Lake admiring the Tetons and discovered the existence of ground squirrels.

Devils Tower is monolith of rock in the middle of rolling hills. This is remarkable enough but even more so when you get close enough to see the vertical striations and geometric structure of the tower. The first white man to climb the tower was a rancher who wedged sticks into the side to form a makeshift ladder, we saw some better equipped climbers tackling the rock. We were content to stay on solid ground and merely walk a mile around the base.

The rest of the day was a long, laborious drive through ever changing landscape. From the Black Hills covered in pines, to the mountains with  lovely streams and vicious mosquitos, to the dry dusty plains with  wild horses grazing on sage to arrive in the Wild West town of Cody, Wyoming.

After a lovely drive through the ‘real rocky mountains’ (according to Joe) with short stop for Pam to educate us on the fish life, we arrived in Deadwood. After a few re-enactments that fell short of our expectations we consoled ourselves by throwing money at the pokies. (Slot machines for those not in the know) On our way home we drove through Central City, where my grandfather grew up, to see what real small town living is all about.

We woke up in Black Hills at the historic Sylvan Lake lodge and started our day with a walk around the pristine lake. From there it was a pleasant drive on the Needles Highway followed by rolling hills, with a lunch date with some bison and prairie dogs. We stopped in at Hot Springs to prove to Joe that there are old fossils out there that are older than he is. Everyone marveled at the massive mass of Mammoth bones found in this collapsed cave turned slippery waterhole. With less than half of the site explored there was still an abundance of bones and history. Our drive through Custer State Park was slowed by hundreds of bison lounging on and around the road. Some seemed less than amused at our presence, while others ignored us completely, the ranger said it was a truly unusual day with the various bison herds gathering together at this time of year. As if the day had not been exciting enough we pushed on to Mount Rushmore to dine with the presidents.

Our foray into the wilds of South Dakota’s Badlands yielded many prairie dog sightings which pleased Joe to no end, amazing vistas of sandstone formations, a wild thunderstorm, big horn sheep and a great day for everyone. It was mostly drive-by tourism with a short jaunt into a canyon to look at more dirt, but it was truly beautiful and amazing, and unlike anything anyone in our group had seen before.

Five hundred miles of driving the plains and prairies of Iowa, Minnesota and South Dakota are hard on the body and spirit. Nothing like a cob of sweet sweet corn to top up the tank. The Corn Palace of Mitchell can only be described as the corniest artwork I have ever seen, pun intended. The vastness of the plains of South Dakota had everyone a-maized (pun also intended). After six years of city-living we couldn't believe the unbroken vistas of green prairie grass and blue sky. We ended the day in Wall SD eating dinner at the famous drug store. Unfortunately we forgot to try the free water.

Quirky first day of the trip - turns out the right politician can interrupt even the best-laid travel plans. Hit traffic trying to leave Chicago on the start of our trip caused by an Obama motorcade. Not to be outdone in any way, the Republicans stepped up with a delay caused by a Mitt Romney fundraiser that had comandeered the paddle steamer we were booked on to ride the Mississippi River in Dubuque. Ended the day in Mason City IA for no other reason but that it was a point on a map.
Somatosensory Processing in Learning and  Memory: An Examination of the Ventral Posteromedial Thalamus and Somatosensory  Cortices

 Yesterday I successfully defended my dissertation against hoards
of angry PIs. Not that I am complaining but it did seem a bit anticlimactic. It
may just be that I am brilliant (I doubt it) but they did not have much to
‘attack’ about my work.  So after six long, frustrating and productive years I am nearly done with my PhD.  

Oh and last week got a paper about my work accepted to be published (Infragranular Barrel Cortex Activity is Enhanced with Learning), it will be coming out in 2 weeks in the Journal of Neurophysiology if anyone needs  some help falling asleep.