Updating #2: Yellowstone & other Western parks

Lower Yellowstone Falls.

So.  This summer I took a very memorable trip with dear friends to visit a number of fantastic parks in Wyoming and the Dakotas.

The first surprise was Theodore Roosevelt National Park in North Dakota. As it’s one of the parks people might casually spend a few hours at on the way to or from other, well-known parks like Glacier or Yellowstone, I can see why some might overlook this unit.  They would be making a mistake.  Rich with colorful badlands, windy vistas and truly breathtaking river views, it’s just beautiful.

Of course, the principal destination was Yellowstone, and it didn’t disappoint. Certainly, the First National Park presents a formidable lineup of features… geysers, mud pots, canyons, waterfalls, mountains… it’s all there.  We also, through the invaluable advice of my friend Dan Keifer, made a point of staying inside the park for the six days we were there.  This meant overnighting at historic lodges like the Old Faithful Inn, cabins at Roosevelt Lodge and Lake Village, and more modern accommodations at Grant Village.  I wouldn’t do it any other way.

It’s difficult to say what one likes the most about Yellowstone. For me, it probably has something to do with water, whether bubbling up in a spring, exploding from a geyser or falling 300 feet over Yellowstone Falls. For others, the abundant wildlife, wide-open skies, quiet mountain hikes or milky way night skies are all competing for your attention.

We also took a day to visit Grand Teton NP, another gem just a short drive south of Yellowstone. Had an absolutely fantastic hike up to a place called Inspiration Point, looking out over Jenny Lake. We visited in mid-June, which turned out to be the sweet spot in terms of awesome weather, waterfalls at maximum flow and relatively manageable crowds.

Here’s a clip of that surging water… Cascade Creek, it’s called.  Some creek.

Cascade Creek in action.

On the way back we stopped by Badlands NP in South Dakota, as well as Devil’s Tower, but those were return visits for me, so they didn’t count towards trimming down the National Park unit count.  You can find a lot more images from our trip by looking on Instagram and using the NPSCircleTour17 hashtag.  There are some really lovely wildlife shots by my friend Eric.

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#89: People love dog and cat videos.

Item #89 was to create a YouTube video with over 2,000 hits. Well, I have one that is almost at 18,000 — a video of by brother’s Havanese puppy which has been online for quite a while, but nonetheless every few months or so I get a nice note from some pet lover. To be honest… the dog is damn cute.

Might as well try to get the count over 20,000, so here’s the video—get watching!

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All right, time to get this restarted and totally break the rules and add another 1000 days on to the objective.  Things, happen.

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Number 7 for #15 is an impressive entry

All right... the train isn't this fast through the keyholes, but you do pass through them rather quickly...

All right… the train isn’t this fast through the keyholes, but you do get through them fast enough…

On a sun-drenched, Ohio Chamber of Commerce-type day with temps in the mid-70s, Cedar Point officially introduced GateKeeper, its 16th roller coaster. GateKeeper is a relatively new style of coaster, called a “wing” coaster because the riders ride out on the edges of the coaster train, with a sensation that’s sort of like what a wing-walker might experience on a biplane.

The assembled crowd of coaster geeks and media during a brief welcoming ceremony. The event started at 4am [I arrived at 9], and many of the people I rode with had indeed been riding pre-dawn. And some people think *I'm* obsessed.

The assembled crowd of coaster geeks and media during a brief welcoming ceremony. The event started at 4am [I arrived at 9], and many of the people I rode with had indeed been riding pre-dawn.
And some people think *I’m* obsessed.

I was there for Media Day, and am pleased to report that the ride is a superb addition to Cedar Point’s collection of coasters. GateKeeper is the longest coaster of its kind and also boasts the largest drop of 164 feet. Riders enter that drop after experiencing the world’s highest inversion on a coaster— right off the lift hill, the train inverts and dives into a loop. Further moments of airtime happen as the train crests hills and spirals, then it’s time for GateKeeper’s signature element: a spiraling dive through two vertical “keyholes” that brings the words “shit-eating grin” to mind. The keyholes are right over Cedar Point’s brand new front gate, which is simply beautiful. A world-class welcome to a world-class park.

Yes, these people are having more fun than you are right now.  Click to see a bigger version and check out those smiles!

Yes, these people are having more fun than you are right now.
Click to see a bigger version and check out those smiles!

The new front gate is almost as much of an attraction as the coaster!  Impressively designed, too.

The new front gate is almost as much of an attraction as the coaster! Impressively designed, too.


I got to ride it six times, in the front, middle and back. The ride is rather different depending on what side of the train you are on, as well as how far in front or back you are. This just makes you want to ride again, and try out the differences in sensation and speed from varying seat locations.

The ride is really unlike anything else at CP: Unlike it’s cousin Raptor — manufactured by the same company and also featuring the dangling leg sensation, GateKeeper flows through its layout with speed metered out in big, graceful arcs, like a skywriter who is practicing his cursive. Raptor is more like a fighter jet, with quick turns and pivots.


It’s also insanely photogenic — I can’t wait to come back and shoot some nighttime pics.


The ride and the queue are right along the shore of Lake Erie, which will make the lines a bit more palatable on summer days with an assist from the lake breezes.

The ride and the queue are right along the shore of Lake Erie, which will make the lines a bit more palatable on summer days with an assist from the lake breezes.

I’ve been a Cedar Point geek since 1972, including the summer of 1984 when I was a summer employee. Take it from this geek, GateKeeper is so good it has taken over the #2 spot on my ranking of CP’s coasters. Millennium Force, the 310-foot high, 93-mph wonder on the other side of the peninsula — remains in the top spot. I’ll let Maverick and Dragster battle it out for #3.

Thanks again to Cedar Point for the opportunity to preview this fantastic new machine.

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Continuing Along With List Item #2

All right, time to update the blog… been way too long since the last entry.

Boyhood Memorial Visitor Center

We’ll begin with list item #2, visits to National Park Service units. In July, as part of the mini roller Coaster Tour, we spent some time at the Lincoln Boyhood National Memorial. Much more than just a cabin in the woods, it’s an expansive area with a very nice visitors center and museum. Lincoln spent fourteen years here, from 1816-1830. The introductory film is even narrated by Leonard Nimoy.

Lincoln's cabin
Visitor Center Entrance

One of the more unusual features of the park is the Trail of Twelve Stones. It’s a trail winding through the woods with twelve stops, each with a stone that was important to Lincoln’s life. For example, stones from the original foundations of the White House and the Capitol, bricks from Mary Todd Lincoln’s birthplace and Abraham’s birthplace, a large block from the house where he wrote the Emancipation Proclamation… and even a stone from where he delivered the Gettysburg Address.

One of the plaques identifying the stones... this one is Gettysburg.

One of the plaques identifying the stones… this one is Gettysburg.

...and myself seated upon it.  I know, rather unexciting.

…and myself seated upon it. I know, rather unexciting.

Jan standing atop said stone...

… and Jan standing atop said stone.

I can’t help but smile if Mr. Lincoln could have known that not only did the town closest to where he spent a large chunk of his life would be called Santa Claus and include some of the best rollercoasters on earth, but that his biographical portrait would have been narrated by a beloved sci-fi icon.

The re-creation of Lincoln's boyhood residence.

The re-creation of Lincoln’s boyhood residence.

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Halfway done with #15

Took a quick mini-vacation with Jan, David, Marion and Eric to visit Holiday World in Santa Claus, Indiana and Kings Island near Cincinnati. Just an extended weekend, but it was a fun trip.

Santa Claus offers numerous opportunities for cheesy photos with the big guy.

I’d been to Holiday World a few years earlier, so none of the coasters there were new to me, but that won’t stop me posting a few pics. Holiday World is home to what I personally consider to be the best wooden coaster ever, a beauty called The Voyage. Set in the Thanksgiving section of the park, The Voyage (163 feet high, with five tunnels and a lengthy 6,442 feet of track) is a great combo of an out-and-back coaster and a twister coaster. It’s amazingly engineered, snuggled into the rolling hills of southern Indiana. It actually feels like it gets faster after the mid-course brake.

The Voyage awaits…

Holiday World is a great park, friendly, family-run and full of unusual perks like free parking and unlimited free soft drinks in the park. It also includes a large waterpark called Splashin’ Safari. We didn’t have a lot of time for the waterpark this trip, but we did ride the new signature attraction, the world’s largest water coaster, appropriately named Mammoth. Taking the power of Linear Induction Motors (LIMs) to a new level, Mammoth propels six-person rafts up and down and up again over its splashy run. I’ve never been on anything like it, and could probably have a very happy day just riding it over and over again.

Here’s a shot of a Mammoth ride tube going uphill. Truly an amazing ride. Photo © Holiday World.

We stayed at the Lake Rudolph campground in one of the new Christmas Cabins, which was fun if somewhat cramped for a tall guy in the shower. And Santa Claus is a charming setting for the park and campground.

After a morning at the Lincoln Boyhood Memorial (more on that in an upcoming post), we headed over to Cincinnati and Kings Island. We got in on Sunday night, and rode the first of two new coasters for me, Diamondback.

Yes, it’s practically that fast…

I had read good things about Diamondback, but wasn’t prepared for such a smooth and fun coaster. This ride has amazing ejector air, plus is so buttery smooth that re-rides are a complete pleasure. The ride doesn’t have the insane intensity of The Voyage, but it’s just as enjoyable as you float over hill after hill after hill. Plus you get a splashdown finale. It’s probably just *that* much better than Apollo’s Chariot that Diamondback sneaks into my top five.

The other new coaster for me at KI was a flying coaster, Firehawk. It’s one where you load and travel up the lift hill lying flat on your back. Only after the train crests the top of the hill does the track turn around and riders hang from the coaster car in an elaborate harness. It was fun enough, but I consider this and similar rides like the Superman coaster at Great America to be more or less “novelty” coasters. Call me a coaster traditionalist, but I like my roller rides where one sits upright and faces forward.

Firehawk in action. There is a giddy feeling of having no idea where the ride is going while on board…

At any rate, we purchased the add-on FastLane passes. FastLane is a “skip the regular line” system in which you purchase a wristband (pricey, even at the “group” rate of $45 each) that lets you use a special entrance that results in basically walking on the most 20 popular rides in the park. On a hot, busy day, like we had, FastLane was a godsend and I’d buy it anytime I visit the park when it’s jammed. The waits were so short, it was like what one gets when visiting on a cool weekday in May. And I’m sure CedarFair’s investors are delighted.

The historic 1799 farmhouse that is still part of the Kirkwood Inn today.

A fun discovery (thanks to TripAdvisor) was the place we stayed in Mason, OH called the Kirkwood Inn. The modern part of the Inn is a nice but not necessarily-out-of-the-mainstream motel, but the rest of the place is beautiful, with expansive grounds scattered with flowers and nature paths through woods. Most impressive of all is a 1799 farmhouse that served as the historic Inn, and was a place where dignitaries like Henry Clay stayed. Today the building is restored and is where the Kirkwood serves up a great breakfast buffet, including some truly awesome peach butter.

Here’s the setting for your breakfast each day at the Kirkwood Inn.

We all had a great time!

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Hey, You Got Ten Great Years Out of Your Hat.                               OK Then, Here’s a Free Replacement. Wait… WHAT???

With my bro at a UofM football game

And now, a brief pause from the regular program of list items for a message from our sponsor. Or at least “a” sponsor. I want to talk about Tilley hats and a tale of amazing customer service.
1About ten years ago I purchased a Tilley Hat. It was made from hemp, and was sort of expensive for a casual hat — about $80. It was well made, it floats, has a secret security pocket, and was my nearly constant summer companion. Beyond functionality, the product and the Canadian company that makes the hats is just plain cool. For example, Tilley hats come with a set of “brag tags” that owners are encouraged to give to those who might be curious about the hats. I distributed my first set some ten years ago, within six weeks of buying the hat. And yes, a few fellow Tilley owners have approached me to ask if my hat was a Tilley, and to share a story or two. Here are a few tags; check these out… in a way, it’s a very original form of Social Media and brand evangelism.

Click on the image to see the full-size image and read the tags…

Another one of the intriguing reasons why I bought a Tilley was the impressive guarantee that comes with almost every hat they make — if it’s lost, stolen or destroyed in the first two years, they will replace it at 50% of the current price. Maybe that confidence motivated me to use the hat as often as I did:

The hat has been to some 35 states, several national parks and one Magic Kingdom.
It’s influence is considerable: For instance, the hat made me stop and hug these two complete strangers.

Couldn’t you just see this as the insert for a picture frame you would buy at Target?
All credit to Mrs. Deal: Having Jan around makes any photo that much nicer.

Sadly, the hat didn’t prevent me from appearing in silly shots like this…

… or making silly faces. I have to assume that, since we were at a Tigers game, Scott and I were growling here.

The replacement guarantee is great, but if you don’t lose the hat, it’s even better. Should your Tilley ever wear out, they will replace it with a new one. Free. All an owner does is send the old hat back and pay $7.50 for shipping. After a long and fruitful life, my well-worn Tilley had started to fall apart. It was even separating from the brim in a couple of spots. It’s not like I didn’t get my money’s worth; still, I wasn’t sure if the guarantee would cover normal wear and tear. But it did. I received my new hat (current value: $84) in about a week.

One issue; the company stopped making the Hemp Hat in the natural color; all they make now is a “cocoa” colored model. But that is just fine with me, and I really like the look of the different color. So that’s how the Tilley hat people do business. Kinda cool, huh?

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