Friday, October 02, 2009

She Is Indeed Faithful

This is a long one, coming to you from the public library in West Yellowstone, Montana (which is not actually in Yellowstone--Yellowstone itself has no wi-fi, apparently.) I will be writing more about this adventure, and hopefully getting some photos up finally, when we get to Billings.


Ensconced in the famous Old Faithful Inn, which—let the record show—really is within spitting distance of Old Faithful itself. Which was erupting as we pulled into the driveway. Which was pretty freakin' cool.

While our room is rustically comfortable (I was particularly overjoyed to find a rickety old table fan in the closet, as I can't sleep without a lot of white noise) there is no Wi-Fi at all on the premises (the horror!) so this post will be coming to you on Saturday at the earliest.

Just now we took a turn about the lobby and its verandas (I do believe that's the expression they would have used back in the 19th century, when the place opened) and the place is nothing short of magical at night. I mean, it's glorious during the day—soaring ceilings of knotty logs held up by flying buttresses fashioned from whole trees, a stone fireplace three stories tall—but at night, with an unobtrusive piano player plunking out Mozart from the second balcony, a fire blazing, couples and families cozied around the hearth in comfy chairs, and (the piece de resistance!) nothing but scores of candelabras for illumination, I was lulled towards a less frenetic time, when people didn't have laptops and didn't miss them. But here's the kicker, and it's amusing me still, hours after realization: the real reason I felt so giddy with happiness as I soaked in this scene is that it reminded me—oh so powerfully—of a cross between The Haunted Mansion and the Blue Bayou restaurant in The Pirates of the Caribbean. That's right, I felt peaceful and nostalgic because something actually old and lasting and grand reminded me of a totally fake corner of Anaheim. And I'm sure whats-his-name, the post-modern “simulacra”guy (see what's happened to my brain since motherhood?) would have lots to say about this.

But I'm getting ahead of myself. Today was filled with adventure. We took to the road about 1:00, planning to have lunch at Flagg Ranch, near the Yellowstone border. I thought this would break up the trip nicely. The mountains were stellar in the occasional winks of sun through the clouds. Then we hit a patch of road construction that had us going 20 over some gravel for half an hour, and then Flagg Ranch was closed for the season. Oookay. Back on the road, Jarrah now remarking firmly about every minute or so “I am ready for lunch. Where is lunch?” There was no lunch. We passed into the park, greeted by a lovely and friendly ranger.

And then the next half an hour or so was like arriving in fairyland. The car was completely enveloped in an avenue of very tall trees, and every tree and stick and rock was lightly dusted with about an inch of snow, so it was like driving through a negative—blinding white frosting, and dark, contrasty everything else. I was enchanted by Yellowstone already.

The map showed a settlement called Grant Village well before Old Faithful, so we planned to eat there. And when we arrived, all the restaurants were closed for the season and the whole area was like a ghost town. Jarrah did not like this. Here is a conversation we had in the car:

J: Mommy, we have not had lunch.

D: Good observation.

S: No, sweetie, I know. But look around you—do you see any restaurants?

J: No.

S: Should we stop and lick some snow off the trees?

J: No.

S: Then I think we're going to have to wait, don't you?

J: I get it, Mommy. You are very funny.

S: Ah yes, that's going to be your burden in life, isn't it?

By some miracle, a tiny general store in Grant Village, run by an elfin old couple, was open, guarded by the largest crow we've ever seen. We blew through the door with whirls of snow, and Jarrah helpfully handed us bags of gummy centipedes for our “snack” as we perused the offerings. We finally decided on the adult version of Lunchables—these terrifying boxes with cookie-shaped turkey, ham, cheese and crackers in them. And soda and chips. We sprinted back to the car and ate with the heater on, and you know what? That was an amazing lunch. We made little sandwiches out of the processed meat-like circles and squares, and were perfectly satisfied. I guess it's all relative when you haven't eaten in eight hours.

Soon after, we pulled over at Keppler Cascades, a several-tiered waterfall tumbling over a really steep cliff. And you can experience the steepness with brain-rolling vertigo by going to the end of the observation deck above the falls. Which we did, and it was very nice, though Jarrah was more excited about the chunks of snow she found on the ground.

We were at Old Faithful village before we knew it, and we laughed later about how I'd shrieked from the main road “Everything is on fire!” Forgive me—I am new to the wonders of geothermal phenomena. When I heard “geysers,” I assumed we'd see a couple of fields of bubbling, smelly mud, but hello! Have you people been to Yellowstone? The place is crazy!

After we checked in, we had an hour before OF's next scheduled eruption, so we crossed the parking lot to the warren of trails (helpfully raised above the smoking earth on wooden platforms) that weave in and out of the geyser fields mere yards from the hotel. We walked for over an hour, and I can't even tell you how many wild things we saw (well, earth-wise—the wildest fauna we've seen has been chipmunks and what we think was the rump of a mule deer)--even Jarrah was impressed. Everything was steaming and bubbling and shooting and stinking, and there were glassy pools of water in the most unnatural colors, shaped like stars and hearts and ears.

And, finally, Old Faithful—in the distance, which was my fault because I didn't really believe it would be on time and I was engrossed in the trails. But it is definitely very high and very impressive, and tomorrow we won't be so cavalier about the time.

We weren't able to reserve a table in the fabled Old Faithful dining room, so we headed towards the Snow Lodge for dinner, but ended up in the regular lodge (David thinks they suffer from a dearth of naming creativity around here) and I'm glad we did. It was closed for the season (natch) but had a picture window overlooking the geyser, old wooden rockers (Jarrah and I rocked on them, and she said, “Look! I'm just like a mother.”) and 20-foot-high wooden grizzly bear holding a trout. I mean, what could be better than that?

Eventually we found our way to the Snow Lodge dining room, which was lovely but the food was meh. I did like the corn chowder; the various meats I could have done without. Oh, and “The Yellowstone Sundae” (shortcake, huckleberry ice cream and hot huckleberry compote) was pretty special. Jarrah wouldn't touch her food, which is getting really old.

Oh, and we had one of those mortifying moments when she insists on being in the photo with total strangers who have just asked us to take their picture. A nice couple from Kentucky, who said how pretty she was (they did say it in that special voice that always sounds to me like “Oh, look at how Chinese you are!”) and then took ours, too, which was sort of necessary at that point because Jarrah was crying. That's right—weeping because people she's never seen before might not want her in their photo. And of course they didn't say that—I always figure it's implied. But do me a favor, would you? If Jarrah ever jumps in one of your photos, humor her? You can delete it later.


Logical Libby said...

My husband and I ate nothing but licorice on our last trip to Yellowstone. It was all they sold we could eat at the stores where we stopped. We did get some great chainsaw bears though.

And we didn't make it to Old Faithful. Crowds scared us...

Robyn said...

Jarrah "the Photobomber". I love it! Your Lunchable episode sounds eerily similar to my Spaghettios-eaten-directly-from-the-can episode. Those Spaghettios were Dee-Lish!! Keep enjoying your trip and we'll see you soon.

Anonymous said...

So lovely to hear your report! (And that simulacra guy was Baudrillard, right?) xx Lix

Calvin said...

Did you take a walk on those wooden dock-like passageways through the bubbling geysers? It's crazy, boiling mud all around you. The smell isn't great though. And Jarrah seems like the young, adorable version of that crazy photo lady that my family encountered at PL Seafoods not too long ago.
Have fun.

Sam said...

@Libby: Try going in late September. You might get snowed on, but no one's there. ;)

@Robyn: Must hear that story! And I have to confess that my favorite part of ice skating lessons as a child was eating the Hormel spaghetti out of the little cans in the vending machine. ;)

@Lix: Yes, Baudrillard! At least one of us is still smart. :)

@Calvin: We've spent a great deal of time on those boardwalks, and me being me, I keep wondering why they don't burn up. David has to explain very slowly that only actual fire can burn wood, not just hot water. ;)

Mary said...

I really want to go to Yellowstone!

I have never been there!

Glad that you are having fun!



Sarah said...

The really big crows are actually ravens. They are cool when they fly by you because you can hear their wings.

Jarrah is always welcome to be in my pictures.