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Driving the Beartooth

Clouds over the Beartooth, originally uploaded by tomkellyphoto.

Red Lodge hadn’t been in our plan. Neither was the Beartooth. But as we left Teddy Roosevelt National Park for Custer Battlefield National Monument, my Facebook friends (yes, I was online) changed my mind. We headed to Red Lodge for the night and the trip over the Beartooth. Snow was not something we had in mind!

The Beartooth Highway is an amazing road. Charles Kuralt called it “America’s Most Beautiful Road.” It was not really on our radar. But it is now – one of the most breathtaking 62 miles we’ve ever driven.

Arriving in foggy Red Lodge at sunset, the Beartooth was bedecked in clouds. “Not sure it will be open,” said the front desk manager. Snow was falling in August and the plows were out. At the summit, a full mile above the Montana border village, heavy snow was falling.

We hit the Beartooth at 8 a.m., twisting and turning up the switchbacks. The sun was breaking in and out of clouds, just starting to light the tips of the peaks straddling the Wyoming-Montana line. It was cold – mid 30s – as we made our way to the summit.

Just as friends had said, it took forever – stopping for photographs at nearly every turn. Turn by turn it became more and more spectacular. The sun touched into mountain valleys, while starting to bathe the peaks in morning light.

It was the first light to touch the 4-6 inches of fresh snow, blanketing wildflowers and covering a moonscape of rock at the 10,947 foot West Summit.

Dropping over the summit to the Cooke City side, we encountered the first traffic from the west including motorcycles that had to scramble for lodging when snow kept them from the crossing the evening prior.

The descent into Yellowstone was bittersweet. The scenery turned from breaktaking above-the-treeline skyscapes to heavily forested mountainsides.

The small collection of buildings in Cooke City marked the end of the Beartooth and the beginning of Yellowstone’s Lamar Valley, with buffalo at every turn.

I imagine that every time you drive the Beartooth you are greeted with new scenes. And one thing’s for sure, once you drive it you’ll be counting the days to your next drive.


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Menacing Midwest Storm

Menacing Storm, originally uploaded by tomkellyphoto.

One of the things we really miss about the Midwest are the storms. A few days ago I blogged about the amazing lightning storm in Hayward. On our I-94 drive across western Minnesota, we watched a mid-morning line of powerful thunderstorms form in front of our eyes for over a half-hour. We pulled over to document the massive clouds that had formed.

In this scene, taken along a corn field on I-94 east of Fergus Falls, we watched a series of parallel, horizontal lines of layered clouds suddenly come together in this huge mass of weather.

It almost looks like a massive tornado bearing down on this small farm nestled in the protection of a grove of trees. Soon, we were wrapped in the clouds with wind and rain before it passed to the southeast.

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Tornado Warning Sky

Tornado Warning Sky, originally uploaded by tomkellyphoto.

One of the things we miss living in Utah are the thunderstorms and freakout weather that can hit the Midwest. It was dark a bit early Saturday evening, with nearly pitch black skies just after 9:00 p.m. Ben and Meghan called us out to the deck to watch a lightning show above. Then, Ben’s fire pager went off: ‘potential tornado at Nelson Lake (8-10 miles)’ and it was heading our way.

Being in the calm of a storm is like a trance. The air was still, but the sky was electrified with seemingly thousands of bolts of cloud-igniting lightning every second. We looked to the north to see an eery sky.

The next 15-20 minutes bounced from fascinating to scary, not knowing the patch. Weather radar showed its path heading just east of us, likely over Round Lake and the Chippewa Flowage.

The sky boiled in the darkness with its menacing green tone illuminated by the flashes of lightning.

We gathered first on the deck, then the driveway. I clicked away, making photograph after photograph of the pitch black sky – using the lighter digital images to showcase the story of the terrifying sky.

Soon, it was calm again with the lightning storm passing to the east. It was reassuring to the young kids, who didn’t know whether to watch in amazement or fear.

Such is the power of mother nature!

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Trumpeter Swans, originally uploaded by tomkellyphoto.

No one really knows how to pronounce Totagatic. Our friend Kathy, whose family had a cabin in the Totagatic wilderness, calls it Tobatic. I’ve always known it as Togatic. But whatever you call it, this sprawling wilderness extending from between Hayward and Cable, Wisconsin west to Minong has always attracted me.

When I lived in the Northwoods, it was one of those mystical places to take the fishing boat, navigating lily pads and cattails, with northerns comping for a spoon on every cast.

Sunrise photos were hard for me in the Northwoods this trip – too many trees and early morning clouds. So Saturday morning I retreated to Totagatic, ever mindful of bear (none) and deer (plenty) around every corner.

Arriving at the rustic boat ramp, I spotted two trumpeter swans floating lazily amongst the reeds, just cruising at their own tempo. Birds flew overhead as the sun crept over the trees, illuminating the steaming, foggy swamp.

This is what the Northwoods is all about on a peaceful August morning.

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Deep Fried

Deep. Fried, originally uploaded by tomkellyphoto.

There are very few questions to be asked at a Wisconsin fish fry. When our perennial schoolteacher turned waitress Darlene comes by our table at The Waterfront near Hayward, the only thing you have to say is ‘deep fried.’

Friday Fish Fry is a Wisconsin tradition. We schedule entire vacations around it. It’s so popular at spots like The Waterfront on Grindstone Lake, that lines are already forming by opening time of 4:00 p.m. Six hours later, as many as 400 people may pass through the tiny Northwoods bar.

The menu is simple: deep fried cod, french fries, cole slaw and rolls. For the record, you can also choose broiled fish and baked potato (or twice baked). But that would not be in tradition. Nearby Pine Ridge is also now including chicken – sacrilegious yet popular.

There are many legends on the origin of Friday Fish Fry. Being Catholics, we tend to believe that it grew out of the former ritual of no meat on Friday (now observed only during Lent). Friday Fish is a popular church or civic group meal even today.

Each community has its favorites. And those favorites change! When I first arrived in the Northwoods in 1977, my memory is going to fish at Dick-Sy Manor on highway 77. A few years later it was Lost Land Lake Lodge. And we spent many a Friday at Trailways.

In more recent years, our son-in-law’s family’s restaurant, The Waterfront, has led the way in Hayward.

The Friday of our Hayward vacation we thought we would beat the crowds by arriving before 5:00 p.m. There wasn’t a single parking spot in the lot, and boats were arriving like a flotilla. An hour wait – not bad, actually. By 5:30 p.m. there wasn’t a square inch of space on the bar or out on the patio.

In the tiny kitchen, Diane was rolling through the orders while another cook kept the deep fryers going with batch after batch of beer battered cod and fries. As always, Darlene kept one step ahead of us on beers and fish, snaring a plate of extra deep fried fillets for the table to share.

Fish fries are more than just the food. It’s about socializing and sharing stories, watching the kids jump off the dock to swim and relaxing with a Leinies while watching the sun set over the lake. It’s talking about the Badgers and Packers, while trash talking the Vikings and Bears at the expense of the tourists.

You leave stuffed but rejuvenated, with a reminder of the hospitality that made Wisconsin famous.

Wisconsin Fish Fry Resources

Fish Fry Wiki

Classic Wisconsin – Fish Fries

Wisconsin Fish Fry Blog

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Bee on Final Approach

Bee on Final Approach, originally uploaded by tomkellyphoto.

Our Tour de Heartland has landed us in Wisconsin, with an entirely new set of weather and wildlife from our native Utah. While, yes, we are the beehive state, there’s a bit more pollinating to be done in the Midwest.

Today’s journey took us to Token Creek Park outside Madison. It’s a wonderful preserve that was initially built about the year I left town in 1977. It was my first trip, although mom and dad went out there often.

Our short hike took us along Token Creek (named for an Indian Taukanee) through amazing vegetation ripe with monarchs and other flying creatures.

This particular set of wildflowers was brilliantly lighted against a dark backdrop – perfect for a closeup photo. But what I hadn’t planned on was the bee activity.

While I have an entire set of great photographs, this shot of the bee on final approach was special.

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Paddlewheeler on the Rock River

Paddlewheeler on the Rock River, originally uploaded by tomkellyphoto.

It was a long day for Tour de Heartland, starting at 6 a.m. in Kansas City, then an eventful nine hour drive to Dixon, IL for Brandon and Charlotte’s wedding reception, then two hours to Madison. To make it a perfect day, we took the scenic route.

The water is amazingly high in the Midwest. We took a beautiful route for sunset from Dixon to Rockford along the Rock River. Sadly, our timing was a bit off as most of it was post-sunset. So when we initially passed this paddlewheeler, I didn’t even stop.

But young Naomi kept talking about how nice the clouds looked in the sunset afterglow. So I spun the Audi Q5 around and went back, just in time to catch this paddlewheeler lazily strolling upstream with the clouds in the backdrop.

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Father and Daughter

Father and Daughter Bride, originally uploaded by tomkellyphoto.

First of all, my apologies to Brandon for not choosing a photo of you with your new wife. Hey, you’re cool and we all love you. But this shot of Charlotte with dad was just too good to pass up!

Tour de Heartland took us from Kansas City to Dixon, IL for Brandon and Charlotte’s wedding reception. The reception was a fabulous Midwestern affair – maybe not quite as exciting as the crash-bang Key West wedding earlier in July, though!

Charlotte and her sister Emily, daughters of my sister Pat and her Lutheran pastor husband Gary, have always been favorites for us. We’ll never forget their trip to Park City and Yellowstone (with Coco) many years ago. We never knew how much young girls can eat until that trip!

This photograph was taken close to the end of the afternoon. The two of them were standing there and, frankly, I was more interested in the cool light on the sunflower on the gift table. I simply could not find an angle that really cooperated. So, composition wise, this ain’t the greatest.

But you can throw out all the composition rules in the world when you get two smiles like this. It says it all!

P.S. And if you want to see more, just click below:
Brandon and Charlotte Wedding Gallery


Scootering with Hannah

Scootering, originally uploaded by tomkellyphoto.

Tour de Heartland is underway, the annual trek to our Midwestern roots. It’s a great way to stay grounded, and the food alone will do that. Stop number one was Kansas City, where the highlight was taking Chris’ scooter for a ride.

After a few rounds in the quiet Shawnee Mission neighborhood, it ws off to the streets for a two-state tour – this year with a brave Hannah in tow.

Even with two people, you can get this baby up to 50 MPH in a heartbeat. And the best part was filling it with gas – a whopping gallon to fill the tank.

Next stop, Illinois!.