A writer's tale of living and working in the country.

Month: September 2012

Yellowstone Day 6: Old Faithful and Old Swimming Holes

My Blog has been read over 10,000 times!
And no, it does not count when I access it;)
So, many thanks to all of you who take the time to read my musings!
Back to Yellowstone…
Day six was planned as the day we were going to meet Old Faithful. I know that it’s just a geyser, but I can’t remember a time when I hadn’t known of her existence. She was heralded as a living, breathing being that had to been seen at least once in one’s lifetime.
Our opinion after seeing her throw a tantrum?

The pine trees in the distance are full grown.

The whole area of the Upper and Lower Geyser Basins is incredible. Like walking around on an alien planet that is constantly warning you to get back into your spaceship.

Sunset Lake

Sapphire Pool

Completely normal, beautiful forests give way to exquisite cauldrons of turquoise water rimmed in bright orange rock. The color invites you to swim, promising an experience like the Caribbean. Then the smart part of your brain screams out, “No! It’s boiling!” And you nose is suddenly filled with the smell of rotten eggs.
The strangeness of the place is intoxicating and eye-opening. After all, nature is more than capable of protecting it’s existence so when I looked down to see this sign, I laughed out loud.

The land is not what’s fragile in Yellowstone.
The people are.
The upright-bags-of-mostly-water are the ones who cook in the mud pits, get eaten by the hungry bears, and drown in the raging rivers. Yellowstone does not need the people for it’s existence, it’s the people who try to calm her outrageous temper and primp her for their recreational pleasure.
This same day, as we were driving the many miles between West Yellowstone and The Lower Geyser Basin, a traffic jam suddenly appeared due to a buffalo sighting. Some crazy tree-hugger leans out of her window and screams, “Just leave the buffalo alone!” to the small band of tourists who were responsibly taking pictures.
Out of the blue (don’t laugh) my sarcastic nature blurted out, “They have the whole of Yellowstone. We can only go on this road, they should leave us alone!”
Some of you have just lost a lot of respect for me.
Others of you have just gained a lot of respect for me.
You all know how much I adore nature. It’s the people who act like they can actually protect it from other people that drive me crazy. People who live in urban areas and drive electric cars and have never tried to control nature.
They don’t know what past generations knew and what I have come to learn over the last two years.
It cannot be done.
You may be able to manage it for a moment in time but, before your body is cold, it will have retaken every bit of toil you expended in your lifetime.
Whew. Apparently that has been building for awhile. Now that my tirade is over, lets get back to our peaceful adventure to Yellowstone.
After spending most of the day at the Basins, we made a spontaneous turn down a road called Firehole Canyon Drive. This paved road winds parallel to the Firehole River and provides not only fantastic scenery, but great swimming opportunities.
The kids climbed in the back and changed into swimsuits, then rushed down to the rocky riverbed. For all the growing they have accomplished in the last few years, it’s not until you see your children in a rushing river at the bottom of a rocky canyon that you fully see how small they really are.
Or rather, how small we all really are.

Ian swimming in Firehole River Canyon.    
Firehole Falls

Because it was our last night in Yellowstone, we stopped by the Firehole Swimming Hole which can be reached by a walk down a steep flight of stairs. When the sun started to move behind the trees, we dragged the kids out of the water and returned to the RV park where we readied the trailer for the day’s trip to Grand Teton National Park.

Yellowstone Day 5: Don’t Look Down

I’m sorry for the extended time between blogs recently, things at the Funny Farm have been, well, chaotic. Great for blog material, but time consuming.
Don’t worry, I’m keeping notes 🙂
Did you know that Yellowstone has it’s own Grand Canyon
The scenery is amazing as long as you are not afraid of heights.
On day five of our awesome adventure, we spent several hours at the Upper and Lower Falls at the Grand Canyon of Yellowstone.
We hiked a couple of miles then decided that we should allow the blood to drain back into Ian’s hand after I had gripped the life out of it. Hiking in Yellowstone is definitely at your own risk. The trails are narrow, bear-filled, and frequently perched on the side of steaming mountains.
The dirt path to Lookout Point was literally two-feet-wide and one misstep to the right meant plummeting down a thousand feet into a water fall.
If a grizzly didn’t eat you first.
Needless to say, after the first two miles, we opted for driving.  

Inspiration Point used to stretch further over the canyon wall. An earthquake in the 70’s sent the observation deck tumbling into the valley below.

See the rock jutting out past the railing? That’s where the old observation deck was…

After a long morning at the Grand Canyon, we went to the Norris Geyser Basin.

It may look pretty but it don’t smell pretty…
Emerald Spring in the Norris Geyser Basin.

Do you know what the largest geyser in Yellowstone is?
Not Old Faithful.
It’s the Steamboat Geyser. The reason you never hear about that one is because it refuses to play nice. No one has any idea when will pop it’s top.

Steamboat Geyser. Apparently you have to use your imagination.

I think this is the day I finally starting sleeping well. Exhaustion will do that to a person…

Yellowstone Day Four: Riding the Rapids

Day four began at Grizzly RV Park in West Yellowstone. A chilly 34 degrees greeted my very early morning as I tried to get everyone up and going to meet our white water rafting guide Gardiner, Montana.
Having still not worked out all the kinks in RV life, I took at cold shower that actually made me scream out loud. The icy water hearkened back to my childhood spent surviving Ohio winters. If you have never felt this kind of cold on your nekkid body at 6am, count yourself blessed by the almighty hand of God.
The west and north entrances to Yellowstone are 54 miles apart, but the drive time can take anywhere from 1 1/2 hours to 3 hours depending on what kind of wildlife traffic jam you encounter. We had seen gazillions of buffalo the day before, so I was hoping for a grizzly bear or mountain lion sighting.
We got Elk.

Elk Crossing
So sweet.

Elk mommas crossing a river with their elk babies first, then an antlered Elk who was happy to show off for the camera. Not a people-eater, but pretty cool to see in the misty morning light. The kids and I were able to get within 30 feet of the young bull, along with about 100 other people.
The animals at Yellowstone don’t seem bothered by cameras clicking away as long as their owners stay quiet while hunched in their creepy-stalker poses.
But one foreigner that decides to scream to several other foreigners hanging out of a car window?
Charging horned animal + a hundred people pinned in by trees = A clip from America’s Funniest Home Videos.
Luckily, my cows had taught me the art of large-animal-avoidance before I went to the national park, so the kids and I were well out of the way when that 6-pointer decided he had had enough of the lurking paparazzi.
When the kids and I returned to the van and replayed our tale, all Andy could say was, “Elk have a bullseye on their butt.” This theme continued the entire trip… the kids and I appreciating the beauty of the wildlife and Andy appreciating how beautiful the wildlife would look over the mantel.

Hmm, it appears Andy was right about the bullseye.

Don’t worry, I was using a long-range lens.

 Two hours later, we found ourselves suited up in puffy life jackets while being instructed on how not to fall out of the giant raft waiting on the shore of the Yellowstone River.
Our first mishap showcased yours truly trying to get into the back of the boat from chest-high-water. The female guide hoisted me into the raft where I landed on my back after first going air-born. If you have ever been lying on the floor of a rocking raft, strapped into a life jacket, you can correctly imagine that this position left me looking like a snow-suited-toddler that had fallen into the snow.
When Andy was finally able to stop laughing at the sight of my arms and legs flailing in the air, he pulled me into my seat and handed me an oar.
Andy, Grant and I rowed along with the parents of another family sharing the trip. Our guide was a spunky 18-year-old girl who weighed all of 110 pounds but moved the boat, by herself, better than the other five adults combined. She maneuvered us around giant rocks hidden by the shadow of Electric Peak (aptly named because it’s iron ore composition attracts lightning during storms).
When the small sections of rapids gave way to deeper, smoother waters, our guide yelled out that we could jump in and swim if we wanted. Her only warning? The water was around 65 degrees. Two seconds later, I heard a splash and looked behind me to find Ian’s empty seat. I peered over the edge of the boat and found his smiling face staring up at me.
He kept a firm grasp on the safety line and let the current pull his body away from the raft. Ten minutes later, Ian was still in the water, his smile huge between purple lips. The guide called him back in the boat and we rowed through another few sets of class two and class three rapids.
The next call for swimming sent Ian back over the side, and this time two other people joined him.
For about 30 seconds.
The cold water was too much for everyone except the smallest person. I will never forget the pure joy on his face and the giggles interrupted only by the sound of his chattering teeth.
Grant and Sam took turns ‘riding the bull’ which means that they perched on the front of the raft while we rose and fell over the rapids…Sam, because he’s Sam, rode it backwards.
We used Wild West Rafting Company and recommend them highly if you are ever in their neck of the woods. The four-hour ride was one of great memories and we would do it again in a heartbeat.

North Yellowstone terrain.
Mountain goats.

We drove back through the northern entrance, under the Roosevelt Arch and made our way to Mammoth Hot Springs.

Liberty Cap at Mammoth Hot Springs.

Mammoth Hot Springs from village level.

Mammoth Hot Springs from above the village.

More Mammoth Hot Springs.

We spent some time at Roaring Mountain and tried to hide our snickers when Andy almost cause a rock slide at Sheepeater Cliff.

Roaring Mountain named for the sound it makes due to tons of small steam vents.

“See Amanda? Everyone else is walking on the rocks. It’s not dangerooooouusssss…”
Virginia Cascade

Water and road weary, we ended the evening with a stop at Virginia Cascade and then headed back to the RV park where Sam fell off the tire swing and bloodied his lip before chowing down on some juicy buffalo burgers hot off the grill.

Yellowstone Day Three: Boiling Mud Pits and Bison Tid-bits

On day three we traveled from the East Yellowstone Entrance to the West Yellowstone Entrance, crossing state lines in the process. As we drove across just a small part of the park, the thought that struck us again and again was the sheer size.
That… and how much it stinks.
I also couldn’t seem to shake the nagging voice in my head that kept asking if we choosing to vacation on a caldera was really the best idea.
Yellowstone’s bizarre beauty captures your attention and beckons you to ignore your fear. The adults find themselves leaning in even as their children pull away. It is hard to tear your eyes away from Dragon’s Mouth Spring until you look down to see your six-year-old holding his nose under wide eyes as he inches backwards toward the parking lot. He seems to know what the adults have mysteriously forgotten: boiling water spewing from caves is a bad sign.

Dragon’s Mouth Spring

The parks department does a pretty good job of maintaining roads and facilities in the rumbling wilderness, but it is not unusual to pull into a parking lot and see orange cones marking a steaming sink hole. Your first thought is that it must be an old maintenance problem… until a child in the back seat points out the fresh paint on the top of the pavement. 
Yellowstone is full of optical illusions. The camera captures the remarkable beauty of lakes, forests, waterfalls and wildlife. But closer inspection reveals that the lake water is boiling, the tree trunks are blackened in memory of the deadly wildfires that regularly sweep across the landscape, the waterfalls are lined with steaming caves and the serene wildlife is looking at you while licking their lips.
A shocking reminder that you are not necessarily at the top of the food chain in this neck of the woods.  
Day three of our trip unfolded with a morning spent on the rocky beach of Lake Yellowstone where the boys skipped rocks into the crystal clear water.

Lake Yellowstone

We spent the afternoon hiking around the Mud Volcano. Muddy pits boil and bubble across the landscape and the air is saturated with the smell of sulphur. We had fun trying to convince the kids that the toddler shoe and pacifier floating in and out of the entrance of Dragon Mouth Spring meant that a misbehaving child had met his doom. 
They didn’t believe us.

Mud Volcano

The Hayden Valley provided a panoramic view of hundreds of buffalo while they grazed in an ancient lake-bed.

Just a few of the hundreds of bison grazing in a dry lake bed.

And we got our wish for a closer look at the bison when one blessed us with an intimate view of his tail-end while he sauntered down the road in front of us, causing a traffic jam.

“I wonder what all the traffic is about…”

“Ya, know you have a whole national park to roam. We only have this here road…”

We ended the evening with ooey-gooey s’mores under another star-filled night before wrapping ourselves up under layers of blankets in preparation for the temperature to plummet into the mid-30’s.