Hot pockets

So, I’m now in South Dakota with Verr, but let me tell you of Yellowstone.

I headed in on a bus tour, as there are literally no public transport options in the park and hitchhiking struck me as probably more trouble than it was worth. It was a nippy start, temperatures hovering just above freezing, and for the first time I had to wear my fleece. Comforting, in a way. We set off rolling, our guide a huge, seven-foot man with a bushy mustache and a sly sense of humour. He’s been working the job ten years and had a wealth of knowledge that he amicably inflicted on us in turns of factoids and petty threats, mostly involving bears.

The landscape is mostly pine forest, though a great deal of it was destroyed in the great fire of 1988 and still regrowing. A specialized pine-cone at the top of the tree has a hardened resin and can stay up there for twenty years. When fire burns down the tree, the resin is softened by the heat, the cone opens, and the tree re-seeds itself. Pretty amazing. The result is though that one often feels a bit of a giant, with miniature forests and miniature trees crowding the hillsides. It does make it easier, however, to spot wildlife. By the winding and ubiquitous waterways that thread criss-cross through the park, there are plenty of elk and bison to be seen, as well as eagle and other raptor nests, coyotes, and other rarer creatures such as lynx and red fox. We hadn’t even reached the first junction by the time we had seen some bison.

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The rest of the park is better conveyed through pictures, but suffice to say it’s a pretty alien landscape: steam vents off through random fissures; weird-coloured pools shimmer in the cracked earth, like some product of a mad alchemist. The vivid flat beds of bacteria stain the rocks, and in the distance the desolated trees only add to the sensation that this is a thoroughly otherworldly place.

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I haven’t actually that much else to say about the park itself, other than that it was thoroughly enjoyable and I forgot that 7000 feet elevation = another round of mild sunburn. I did see Old Faithful, and it’s eponymous lodge. It’s an impressive sight to be sure, water jetting up dozens of feet into the air, but the lodge is almost as fascinating. The inside, which sadly resisted photography, looks like M. C. Escher was told to design the Mines of Moria, timber lattice-work climbing up into the high peaked roof before burying itself in precarious-looking staircases.

On the way out we passed some more bison, and I’ll just leave you with this picture I managed to get – somewhat hastily – of one who seemed to want to spend the afternoon staring down oncoming cars. I suppose being the largest land mammal in the western hemisphere does lend one a certain amount of placidity.

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4 Responses to “Hot pockets”


  1. 1 Renée 13/09/2009 at 8:25 am

    Beautiful. I particularly like the second-to-last picture (placid Bison point notwithstanding) because the pool looks like just the sort of place that would be a portal to some other dimension randomly inserted into your average pine forest.

  2. 2 Dylan 13/09/2009 at 9:33 am

    Extremophiles ftw.

  3. 3 Marie-Claude 13/09/2009 at 4:11 pm

    Hey Phillip!
    I hope you remember me, it’s been a little while since we met in San Francisco! I have been so busy with school (I actually got to my appartment in Sherbrooke just in time for back to school), that didn’t get to check your blog until now. The photos are amazing, I wasn’t able to capture San Fran that well. I have read a couple of your entries and they’re really well written, I guess that degree in english literature paid off 🙂 (And I hope I’m not making a bad impression with my english hehe.)
    Are you still sure you are not going to stop by Canada? I definitly think you should (Montreal if possible :).
    Enjoy the rest of your trip!

    MC

  4. 4 flippyd 13/09/2009 at 10:21 pm

    Hi MC, of course I remember you, how are you? Thank you for your comment about the photos too, that means a lot to me; it’s a really basic camera that I’m using and it’s always a challenge to get the most from it.

    Whilst I’d love to visit Canadia on my travels, I have to skip it along with New England due to simple time constraints. My visa is only valid for 90 days over here, and I’m only just fitting most things in even with that much time. I’m already wondering about a second trip over here though, from New England, up into Canada, across to Vancouver, back down into California again and then flying to Hawaii. Then I’d either go to Fiji, Australia and Japan or South America.

    It’s a dream for the time being, but should I ever do that I will be sure to let you know =) Hope University is treating you well.


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