Saturday, October 03, 2009

It's Not Really The Apocalypse, It's Yellowstone

Right now we are recovering from an adventure-filled day before our dinner reservation downstairs, and I hope we get to sit near the fire. We did a lot of walking today and I feel chilled through. Jarrah is in the bath and David is trying to get to the next level of an iPod game. And me? I'm blogging, of course. Because I'm obsessed with documenting every minute of this trip, apparently.

Which is why I must correct an omission from yesterday. When we got to our room, there was a plush wolf on the bed, encased in some plastic explaining something or other. Which of course Jarrah didn't care about. She'd found her new best friend. The fine print explained that by leaving the room with the wolf, you are agreeing to purchase it, and “a portion” of the proceeds benefit wildlife somehow. I hate it when they say “a portion.” It could be 10 cents. Anyway, the deal was sealed, and Wolfie has been with us ever since. He goes to meals, in the car, even on walks if we don't forbid it up front. I've taken to calling him “Volfie,” like Mozart's wife does in Amadeus. He's cute, but I'm sure he'll be abandoned like all the rest as soon as we get home. Enjoy your 15 minutes, Wolfie.

We have learned that many of the connecting roads through Yellowstone are already, ominously, closed for the season or for repairs, which suggests that tomorrow we'll be driving for 20 hours, in big circles, trying to get to Montana. I'm a little nervous about this, yet it's a testament to today's lovely sights that I'm also excited to see new parts of the park. Today we took the western route from Old Faithful, which travels through the village of Madison on the way to the park's western entrance in West Yellowstone, Montana (which, confusingly, is not in Yellowstone.) The distance was a scant 30 miles, but between stops, excursions and detours (planned ones) we were driving most of the day. The roads here are so pleasant and scenic, though, we hardly mind it.

Today dawned bright and sunny, though still witch's tit freezing, and we were glad to see the blues and greens of the park, and not just the grays. It had been a hard night—once again, I hardly slept, and there was a cacophony of coughing. I felt like I'd been slapped around without dinner first when Jarrah said it was time to rise and shine. The breakfast buffet was certainly ample, but it wasn't Jackson Lake quality. I think we were feeling a little too full the whole day. We hit the road about 10:00 and it wasn't long before we reached Midway Geyser Basin. In addition to the smoldering pits of the Old Faithful trail, there were massive crystal pools the color of opals and tourmalines, which are around 160 degrees and seem to descend to the center of the earth. In the cold air, the pools were billowing steam and mist so high they blocked out the sun. I told David later that driving through Yellowstone is like seeing the most gorgeous scenery on earth directly after the apocalypse. There are tall trees and snow-capped mountains and verdant meadows...and bare stretches billowing with smoke. We had a lovely ½ mile walk around the raised boardwalk while Jarrah kvetched constantly that she was tired. How is it that the child can literally run up and down a beach for six hours with 10 pound buckets of sand, but the second her sneakers cross the trailhead on a parent-enforced hike, she's exhausted? I ask purely for information.

Our next excursion was a loop road off the beaten path called Firehole Lake Drive (there were many references to the Firehole today, and I must say they all made me wince) wherein we were able to see scads of geysers without leaving the car. In fact, we saw our first unscheduled explosion—the Pink Cone Geyser—going crazy about a foot from our window, and that was really thrilling. (Unfortunately, I didn't realize David was filming until I'd already said something untoward about the spectacle, quite audibly.)

From that detour, we doubled back briefly to the bubbling fields known as the Fountain Paint Pots, and that was all kinds of cool. Everything seemed about ready to blow wherever we looked, and one geyser, The Red Spouter, was making noise that sounded like a Zambonie. The paint pots themselves bubbled very agreeably, and one of the geysers—I believe called the Clepstyra—was hurtling towards the sky when we encountered it. I find it so mind-boggling when this is happening, but I know David is a little disappointed to keep missing the beginning of the eruptions, which he thinks may be the best part.

We continued through Madison, and right after, spotted a crowd of people by the roadside with giant lenses. The next thing we saw was a herd of elk. We skidded to a stop to watch them—most of them were just chilling on their bellies in the grass, and we only saw one buck with huge antlers. But it was an amazing sight, even once we learned that this particular herd makes this particular meadow their home. I had just been speculating that we were going to to leave Yellowstone without a good look at the locals, so I was happy to be proved wrong.

From there, it was a very short way to the West Entrance, and we noted with consternation that we were leaving the park, having paid $25 to enter and forgotten our receipt to re-enter. Oh, well. I took a gamble on the way back and asked the (yet another) adorable ranger if they had credit card records, and she smiled and waved us through. It was so nice of her to do that on faith that I instantly felt guilty and wished we had offered to pay again. What is wrong with me?

And now we were in downtown West Yellowstone, and I was instantly in love. Like Jackson, there was a lot of stylized “old west”-type architecture, with rough logs and advertisements for bison hides and cowboy boots. If anything, it felt even more striving and tacky. But there were also a couple teeny community theaters, independent bookstores and coffee shops, and a Yellowstone cultural museum on the site of an old railroad station that featured every single china pattern of all the railroad lines that used to service Yellowstone. The main street had blinking red lights instead of actual stops, and the candy store offered chunks of just-pulled taffy to Jarrah. We ate some half-way decent barbecue in a place with no pretensions whatsoever and a table of guys in camouflage who ended every sentence with “man.” What really sealed my love was the public library, where I went to steal their Wi-Fi, flooded with natural light, delicious-looking books and lots of overstuffed chairs and couches. I am a sucker for libraries.

We took a leisurely route home, including a detour through some sheer cliffs with rolling white water at the base, and stopped to visit the elks again. This time they were more active, and one of them let a gaggle of photographers who were up in their faces know who was boss. It was funny to see them grabbing their tripods and backing away in a hurry. A talkative, maybe lonely guy, offhandedly complimented my parenting, which at the moment consisted of explaining to Jarrah that if she followed her desire to run down the hill and play with the elk, she might get squished. Turns out he works at a “raptor” rehab facility in Washington (silly me—I heard “raptor” and immediately went Jurassic Park in my mind) and had some harrowing tales of youngsters who messed with bald eagles and lived to regret it.

We had plans to do more trails on the way home, but it was mighty cold and I knew we'd be hearing from Jarrah the whole time. So we ended up back at our place, arriving—once again—in mid-geyse. We got some ice cream cones in the deli and took them to the balcony, where there were actually three open seats with a view. We ate ice cream, listening to the piano and the crackling fire. It was the right choice.

Dinner at the famous OF dining room was tasty (the Roasted Red Pepper and Smoked Gouda soup was sublime), but David and I are feeling the need for food detox at this point. A week of watercress soup is calling to me. I'm hoping we all sleep better tonight, with far less coughing.


Mary said...

I can't wait to see the photos!

We missed you guys tonight at the Moon Festival. It was nice, but not the same without you!



Anonymous said...

You saw the mud pots! My favorite part of the park. :) I especially liked the warning sign that said -- "Do not put your fingers in the mud pots." Because if there's a sign, you know some idiot saw the ground BOILING and thought "Huh, I wonder what would happen if I stuck my finger in there?" :) lix

Jennifer said...

Your posts are certainly making me want to plan a trip!!! Can't wait for the pictures!

Stephanie said...

We have a wolfie too, however he may go to collge with N.