YELLOWSTONE

// Day 7: Yellowstone

I guess I have only ever seen pictures of sun-drenched, safari-hat wearing tourists standing around Old Faithful in the dead of summer, and imagined all of Yellowstone to be a scorched, flat, yellowed landscape. I am so wonderfully wrong. Yellowstone is bigger than some states, and sits mainly on a plateau about 8,000 feet above sea level, surrounded by grand snow peaked mountains, and in our case, the sun is nowhere to be seen. We are in the park by mid-morning, following the curving, sloping roads. It is the morning of our first bison sighting: we start to see them before we even cross into the park. They are everywhere, and they are magnificent.

We are given a map of the park, and note that we have entered through the east entrance. We are spending the night at the Old Faithful Inn, so we have only to make it down to the south-west side of the park by evening. A hike in this on-again-off-again rain seems risky, so after stopping at the first visitor’s center to get our bearings, we decide to take the long northern route around and down to Old Faithful – nearly 50 miles that way. The drive is punctuated by two other visitor centers and dotted all along the way with self-guided walks. We stop everywhere – geothermal features, rivers, waterfalls, scenic overlooks, wildlife viewing areas. Everything is beautiful and bizarre, even in the grey. Despite the wetness and the few minutes where it actually hails, the views are remarkably clear and the clouds part every now and again to show some blue. It does not seem possible that water bubbles and spits out of the earth in manners such as these.

We think what a terrifying thing it is that we are standing over a collapsed volcano the size of Rhode Island that will most likely erupt again one day. Many of the geysers we walk past are labeled with large signs noting the date of the last eruptions and explaining that future eruptions are impossible to predict. At any moment these enormous openings in the ground could bubble over and break open the earth in a serious, devastating, landscape altering way. Here we are, walking around with our cameras on these little wooden plank ways. I have to now ask about humans what I asked about Mt. Rushmore: are we admirably intrepid or wildly stupid? The answer, I think, is the same: we are both.

We reach the Old Faithful Visitors Center around 6:00pm. Old Faithful herself is scheduled to erupt at 6:45pm. The restaurant at the Inn requires reservations, and the wait is currently an hour to an hour and a half, anywhere between 7:00 and 7:30pm. The evening schedules itself perfectly. I love when things fall into place. We haul an overnight load in from the car and change clothes, catch the eruption, and are back in time to grab a drink at the bar and sit in a pair of leather chairs in the five-story open lobby of the Inn before our table is ready. Dinner, dessert, and into a bed for the second night in a row, sleeping like rocks on top of a volcano.

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