(Ok, Kathi wrote up this day and I am going to leave it in her voice)
Our last full day. Every year it catches us by surprise. We have so much more to do and to see!
I was in bed last and up first – that almost never happens. Lori must have been tired! I actually got up at 5:45, journaled, sorted pictures, and made coffee before waking Lori at about 6:55. We are getting out early today, remember? Side note: this is obviously a lie, as I am typing this at 10:09 a.m.! We just hate to rush our last morning, since we have already planned to be ON THE ROAD tomorrow morning at 6:00. We’ll get out of here soon, we promise! After Lori was up and showered we ate more delicious yogurt and furiously turned to getting caught up on blogs and journaling. It is a stunning morning, with crystal blue skies and lots of sun. The living room of the condo is such a pleasant place, as we can look out of the sliding glass doors and over the balcony to see the outdoors.
After it became obvious that indeed we would NOT get out of the house by 8:00, I made us a more substantial breakfast of broken yolk sandwiches with cheese (eggs fried in olive oil and butter, bacon, and sharp cheddar cheese on buttered toast – delicious!) Lori is now fussing at me to get out, so here we go on our adventure. It is 10:15. That is kind of like 8:00, just different. OH, WAIT!! First we have to toss the states. It’s my turn today…I can’t wait to see…..OOOOOOOOHHHHHH NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!!!! Only two are left face up on the floor. Colorado, and OKLAHOMA!! What the hell?? I feel like I’m back in Yellow Springs staring at the puzzle pieces which say New York and Arkansas. Please, Colorado, please!!!
Walking out of the World Mark brought a shock…it was COLD. Maybe 40 degrees in the sun, but obviously much colder in the shade, as the car was covered in frost and the doors required force to be pulled open. Lori went back inside to buy a scarf, hat and gloves set in the gift shop, and came back out looking smart in her new red accessories. At the park entrance the ranger told about a road in the park that was closed due to snow, and Lori and I started thinking about our route back to Jackson tomorrow. We had planned to go back the way, we came, which was through the park, but if they were closing roads or requiring snow tires, it would throw a wrench in our works. We made a mental note to check out the alternate route on the interstate.
We entered the park through the now familiar west entrance, and decided to turn down a pass called Riverside Dr. which Lori had seen a couple of times but we had not explored. It was exactly as it was named, a beautiful drive along the river which eventually put us back on the main road about a 1/5 mile farther along. Our elk were not in their normal spot today. We stopped to take pictures of, and us in front of, Mount Haynes, gorgeous in the sunlight and at an elevation of 8,235 feet. After driving another ½ mile, there they were, our elk herd! They had moved quite ways east, and were almost to Madison Junction. They were all on the north side of the road now, in the woods, all reclining and chewing cuds. We stopped for pictures, though the shadows of the trees made for tricky shots. Lori and I felt very close to this group of animals, as we have been privileged to see them every day now.
At Madison Junction we turned north (I have a vision of Lori and me at 80, sitting with heating pads and/or ice packs on our aching joints, sipping hot toddies and pouring over a map of Yellowstone, running our fingers along the routes, reading this journal and remembering these times…) heading in the same direction as we did on Saturday. The road climbed higher, the temperature started falling, and we started to see snow on the ground. As we watched the digital thermometer in the rental car creep toward 36 degrees, and we saw the frost and snow on the ground and on the trees, we saw something unbelievable. It wasn’t a moose or a bear, though we’d have loved nothing better, and it wasn’t a cavern or a stunning mountain peak, though Lord knows there was an abundance of those. Whizzing toward us from the other direction on the narrow two-lane road was a suntanned, sunglasses-wearing person – I couldn’t tell if it was male or female, though I highly suspect male – driving a convertible. With the top down. Like it was nothing. Lori and I, in perfect unison, exclaimed, “What the hell??!!” It takes all kinds. We turned up the heat. The sight had made us cold.
We drove a couple more miles and saw a wide open meadow, seemingly empty, although upon second glance it was possible to see that a small, stealthy shape was moving in the middle of it. Coyote. We pulled over. Lori was able to zoom in to get a good shot of him. My iPhone (I no longer have a regular camera) had no chance to get close, but I managed a beauty of a shot to show perspective from where we were standing.
We reached Norris and kept heading north. On Saturday we turned east at Norris, so we were now forging into new-to-us park territory. As we climbed, the road snaked between evergreens and sudden, sheer cliff faces. Lakes dotted the landscape too. We stopped to take pictures of a pretty valley covered with purplish brush – we have noticed that most of the color here is in the sky. The land – though quite beautiful – is almost always some shade of green or brown, and almost all the trees are evergreens, so purple is noticeable. When we got out of the car the air was crisp and cold, and it was so quiet; there were far fewer cars and people on this route than the more popular, southern ones. It was profoundly peaceful, and indescribably beautiful.
Shortly after this stop the road started angling down again, and the temp was back up to 42 degrees in no time! My ears, which are always so sensitive, were popping like crazy. A few more minutes and the temp was at 46. The road was now quite sinuous – though not necessarily torturous, as it was fairly easy to navigate. Rolling, undulating layers of mountains were all around us, seemingly close enough to touch. This Indiana girl was awestruck.
And then, we reached Mammoth Hot Springs – our destination for the day! It used to be a US Army Fort in the early 1900s, when the Army was responsible for maintaining the Park. It is still like a little town, though the soldiers have been replaced by Park Rangers. There is a hotel, restaurant, general store, visitor center, public restroom, and several other buildings, but most of all, there are elk! Anyone who wants to see elk needs to go to Mammoth Hot Springs, they are literally everywhere – on the lawns of the visitor center, the hotel, the park.
The problem is, elk are not tame, and in rutting season, you don’t really want to go close to one. Lori always accuses me of putting us in danger, and I did go closer than I should have to get a picture of the buck of the herd. This elicited a strong warning from a passing ranger…OK, he yelled at me. I got the point, and backed off…after I had my picture. Later we saw video of bucks attacking tourists and cars, which made me admit that perhaps I had been a bit careless, but it’s all good – I survived! Anyway, the preponderance of wild animals makes it fun to walk about, you are sometimes guided to cross the street and come back over later, or use a difference entrance to a building. It’s a great sight to see the humans giving way to the animals who rule here.
Mammoth Hot Springs yielded a surprise – a black person sighting! An older woman, taking a picture of the elk! She must have missed the meeting the other day too. She brought the count to three, and that is where it remained for the rest of the trip; I can assure you of that as I am typing this right now during my layover in Denver. Therefore, to my knowledge, until I boarded my plane on Tuesday afternoon, and assuming the two men I saw on Saturday had not already left the state, there were four black people in Wyoming on Monday.
We spent a few delightful hours in this great spot. It is also a thermal area, which you may have deduced from the name, so we took a hike around all the formations and thermal pools, though it wasn’t as active as the Porcelain Basin or the Artist Paintpots. Still very beautiful though, and we enjoyed ourselves thoroughly, despite the huffing and puffing that our strenuous activity produced. Lori and I really want to blame the altitude for the heavy breathing, but we both know we need to be in better shape if we’re to keep this up for another 30 years.
Shortly after 4:00 pm we called it a day and began the drive back to the west entrance. It was a much quicker trip out, of course, as we had done so much stopping on the way in. We knew we had to get up very early the next morning, so we went straight in to the condo and settled down for a great final girl-bonding evening at home. Since we only had two states left, and since I needed the suspense to be over, I told Lori to go ahead and toss the puzzle pieces. Sigh. Yep.
Oklahoma it is. I griped and moaned, but really, it’s all good. My bestest buddy and I could spent the weekend locked in a bunker and come out having had a ball, so bring it on, Okies!! I am ready for you in 2012! We spent the evening watching some TV, snacking on hummus and popcorn, sorting the day’s pictures, and doing our normal thing, which we both love so much, until it was time for bed.