Monday, October 17, 2011

October 15, 2011

(Kathi wrote up this day and I just stole it!)

Saturday, October 15, 2011
Kathi got up at 7am from a lovely night’s sleep…I mean nap…to find that I had been up since 5:00! Yikes! I had made coffee, the smell of which is what had finally penetrated  Kathi's subconscious and caused her to come out and investigate.  We spent our normal couple of hours writing, blogging, and arranging and sorting pictures. We finally showered and left the condo (did I mention this place beats the hell out of a hostel?) and went to breakfast at Running Bear Pancake House. I had French toast and Kathi had eggs and pancakes. Both of us had lots of yummy bacon on the side and justified it by saying we needed to have lots of energy to get through the physical day we had planned.
We haven’t talked much about the weather, which has been really great so far. Despite the threat of rain and possibly snow, Thursday and Friday had lots of sunshine, and temperatures in the low-to-mid 50s during the day. It definitely cooled down last night, but in general it could certainly be worse up here in the mountains. Today it is somewhat cooler, with a definite nip in the air, but still there is some sun despite the forecast this morning of 70% chance of rain. So we’re feeling optimistic!
After breakfast we drove into the park. Just so that anyone reading this can understand the breadth and grandeur of what we mean by “park”,Yellowstone National Park is 3,469 square miles in size, larger than either Rhode Island or Delaware.  We stopped at the ranger station at the entrance to show our paid receipt (we had to pay $25 yesterday to enter the park, but it is good for an entire week and both Grand Teton and Yellowstone) and the ranger told us that Dunraven Rd. is closed today, probably for the season. We were slightly bummed because we had intended to drive this stretch as it spans some of the highest areas (and areas where bears are most likely to frequent), but we quickly got over that. After studying our map, we decided that, having driven in from the south the day before, today we would go east and then north to Norris, which has a geyser basin – an area of thermal activity where it’s plain to see that Yellowstone definitely still has volcanic activity.
On the drive to Norris, we experienced our first “real” sighting of surprise wildlife when we came across a herd of bison lounging off the side of the road. We pulled over to watch and to take pictures. As we got back into the car, I asked, “Do only male bison have horns?”  This is a type of question quite typical to Girls Weekend,  and one of the reasons we so love travelling and seeing new things together. The question was not rhetorical, and was not asked benignly – in fact, Kath immediately wrote it down so that when we got back to the room we could look up the answer. There is nothing like being around someone who has the same thirst for knowledge as you do; even if the appetite is not for the same TYPE of knowledge, the understanding is still there to support the SEEKING of the knowledge. By the way, both male and female bison have horns!

A little farther along we stopped again, this time to gaze at a herd of elk. We didn’t get out of the car this time, as there was a majestic male with a full rack of antlers who was out in the meadow looking around and grazing. All of the literature warns tourists that regardless of how beautiful and calm they may seem, these animals are wild, and it is not smart to get too close.  A couple of his harem were with them, but several more ladies were on the other side of the road, looking as if they wanted to cross. After a few moments, that’s exactly what they did 

do, taking their time and causing all the drivers to have to wait patiently until they 
were across. 

Our next stop was at Gibbon Falls, and overlook of a beautiful waterfall of the Gibbon River. This stop prompted the next non-rhetorical question of the day: How many rivers are there in Yellowstone? Answer: A lot. J We found the names for 12 rivers, the largest being the Snake and the Yellowstone, and 3 creeks. There are also over 292 waterfalls and cascades. It’s a bit overwhelming in scope. In a word, this place is stunning.
Back into the car and driving again, thinking that surely we will now go directly to Norris without stopping, we saw cars pulled over. This always means that someone has seen wildlife and others have also stopped to look. We saw, way out in a meadow, one lone bison and thought we’d just drive on by, when I spotted…a coyote! He was moving stealthily and steadily, stalking some birds and something else that only he could see. We pulled over and jumped out of the car, trying to get a good shot and probably risking life and limb in the process, but it paid off. My zoom enabled her to grab a great picture of the coyote shielding behind a bush. This is like real-life National Geographic, folks!

We finally reached Norris Geyser Basin at 12:45pm. We parked and took a walk around the Porcelain Basin, which took almost an hour. This is a thermal area with areas of fragile ground. Visitors must remain either on the paths or on the boardwalks which are built up and out over the area, to prevent stepping through a brittle shelf into boiling thermal pools! With all the small geysers and bubbling thermal ponds, walking around in this area has to be similar to walking on the moon.

After we had experienced our fill of spewing geysers and spitting puddles, Kathi and I returned to the car, drove east to Canyon Village Visitor Education Center, and spoke for about 10 minutes with one of the park rangers stationed there.  We wanted to find out whether we would still be able to view the Grand Canyon of Yellowstone, the area we wanted to get to by driving along the road that the ranger at the west entrance had warned us was now closed.  We were thrilled to learn that we could still view the Upper and Lower Falls and followed the directions given to us. We were faced with a choice of staying up high where we were, going onto an overlook, and viewing the Upper Falls, or making our way along a precipitous, winding path to the brink of the Lower Falls. The park ranger had told us that taking the steep (600 foot change in elevation), sinuous path to the Lower Falls was well worth the trip, so that’s what we did.  It is important to note here that I always blame Kathi when we find ourselves in the midst of anything overly strenuous or seemingly dangerous. I want it to be noted here that it was a JOINT decision to go down – and more notably, back up – this path.  You could call it steep…or you could call it damn steep – either way we knew that the trip back up the thing was gonna be a doozy. There were 12 switchbacks (Kathi counted just so she could record that piece of data here later) that took us down hundreds of feet to the edge of the falls, where an observation platform was built out and over the rushing water. Words cannot describe the beauty we saw here. The Yellowstone River raced toward, under, and next to us, then dropped down over the falls to continue its journey what seemed to be a mile below. Meanwhile, sheer golden brown jagged cliff faces soared upward on both sides, forming a tunnel-like structure that zigzagged ahead, channeling this rushing lower river into a long ribbon that snaked forward so far until it seemed the two sides met. In mockery of the weathermen who said it would be an overcast day with a high chance of rain, a huge shaft of sunlight shone on the entire scene. It was truly God’s country, and a wonder to behold. Awesome.

Inevitably, the time came to begin the climb back up, and oh boy, was it torturous. (Holy crap, Batman, now it's time to climb back UP that 600 feet.  This is where I accuse Kathi of trying to kill me and tell her how much I hate her and that I will never do another trip with her again!!  All in jest, of course.  Look what we would have missed had we not taken this little hike.) Kathi and I stopped at least 6 or 7 times to catch our breath (that sounds so gentle, but we were actually heaving with exertion a couple of times. Damned altitude!) but we did eventually make it back up and to the car into which we gratefully climbed. I had to admit that the reward had been well worth the climb, and even said that since I knew what I was getting into, I would not blame Kathi for making me do it. Wow, now that is progress!  At 3:50 p.m. we decided to go west toward our park exit point, tired and figuring we’d had just about enough for the day. As we left the Falls parking area we began to feel a few raindrops. Maybe the weatherman was right after all, though we didn’t much care. We had just seen the artistic mastery of God.  We did not, of course, make it out of the park quite yet. We had heard that the area called Artist Paintpots was another thermal area where the bacteria produced much more vibrant colors than in the Norris Basin. Since we had to drive right past it, we decided to make a quick, easy stop there. Note the words quick and easy. We navigated the non-taxing walk in with no trouble, and were faced with a largish area of thermal ground which was smouldering and we could hear bubbling, but we couldn’t really see into the pools well, and it appeared to not be very interesting at all.  It was then we noticed that the wooden boardwalk path took off and climbed – yes I said climbed – quite a ways up, leading to a path that hugged the surrounding hillside. It was obvious that the view would be much better up there. I – still suffering the effects of having hiked up from the Falls, declared that if seeing more involved going up that path then I would just miss it, because there was no way I was going up there. After some extremely gentle and loving encouragement on Kathi's  part I did indeed agree to go with Kathi, but I let her know that I thought she was a   bitch for making do more climbing! (again, this is all said in sarcastic jest for I know of course, that Kathi is right and that there will be something spectacular to see once we climb those hundred stairs and I will be happy that we did so,  I just like to complain!) Once up there I did have to admit that the view was wonderful, we could see the colors in the pools, and we happened upon an amazing mud pit that was spitting boiling plops of mud into the air. It was so cool! We both just had to take a video of the bubbling wonder.

The rain sprinkles, which had stopped, started up again as we went back to the car. This time it seemed more intense, but as it turned out they only lasted maybe 15 minutes.  Driving toward the west entrance we came upon our herd of elk again. This time we got a great picture of a yearling.

Every year I keep a count of how many black people we see on our trip. I suspended this practice when we went to New Orleans, D.C., and Philly, but especially when we are west of the Mississippi, this is not a particularly demanding chore. This year, not only will I be able to leave my socks on, I won’t even have to take my second hand out of my pocket to keep tabs. We have seen exactly two – both were men, both in their 30s, both seen within 10 minutes of each other by the visitor center at Old Faithful. I guess I missed the meeting.
After all the distractions of the Paintpots and the elk herd, we finally left the park for the day and went to buy groceries. We then went back to the condo (soooooo luxurious, especially after the clean but bare-bones hostel) where I made a delicious dinner of pasta with garlic, olive oil, lemon, chicken, and broccoli. It tasted like it came from a restaurant! After dinner we settled on the couch to journal and sort pictures, but Kathi was a complete wuss and lasted only about an hour and a half before she had to give in and go to bed. My head was literally rolling on my neck. What a day!

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