Posts Tagged 'Yellowstone'

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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Yayhound

Sooo, I have made it to West Yellowstone, a tiny village in Montana just on the state line and the accompanying entrance to its namesake. I am 24 hours late because the bus was somehow full yester… wait, the day…-

Oh man, my sense of time is all screwed up. Twenty-six hours on Greyhound, woo.

A bright and early start (with my pre-purchased ticket) saw me leave the spires of Seattle behind, a Starbucks munchable in my hand and a diligently charged set of amusements in my bag. The scenery en route was absolutely gorgeous, at least to start with. The Rockies, of course, claw their way north up through Idaho, and the spine of America is just as stunning up here as it was down in Colorado. There are differences: here the rocks are sharp grey instead of soft roseate, and the tall pines rummage their roots over rolling hills as opposed to the megalithic chunks of rock and flat sierras that comprise the range’s tail end. But passing by still lakes with their swift streams, and through the toothy mountain passes that snaggle the skyline, the sense of wonder is exactly the same. I spent a great deal of time simple staring out of the window, until night fell and the landscape was swallowed up.

I had a six-hour layover in Butte, Montana, a tiny town of 33,000 that nonetheless contrives to be the second-largest settlement in the state. It was dark, and extremely cold, so I lined up four chairs and my towel and got what patchy rest I could. Which turned out to be, none.

Oh, also, the TV was blaring the entire time I was there, adverts and all. And now I understand why so many people here are crazy.

By the time I dragged myself on to the 7am departure for Idaho Falls, I was barely aware of what was going on. It was freezing outside, enough to see one’s breath, and I sort of folded in on myself and thought no more of anything until we reached our destination. I then took another transfer, which lead to another transfer. For once I had had the foresight to arrange all this in advance, and luckily the companies were very helpful in accommodating my delay. The times stayed the same, and so I religiously trusted my notepad scribblings as the rest of my brain gave up on me.

The patchy sleep I had claimed – twenty minutes here or there – was just enough to keep me cognizant of the only other two people in the shuttle: the driver and a chap from North Carolina. The latter had come to Yellowstone to shoot stuff with a rifle almost as long as I am tall. I was in no business to ponder the ethics of this in any depth, and was more fascinated by his accent. Somehow he was putting ‘u’s into his sentences where they really had no right to be. I swear he pronounced his ‘o’s with an umlaut. I was so absorbed in the phonics of his speech that I was actually slightly startled when he proffered a small round tin of foul-looking black stuff to me over his shoulder. My default reaction was to decline, and then I found out what it was.

‘Chewin’ tobaacuö,’ he clarified, waving it under my nose again. I was feeling really rather too fragile to deal with this right now, so I repeated my declination. He shrugged and turned back around, and then I found out something about chewing tobacco. The driver winked at me.
‘It’ll make yer girlfrein’ real happy,’ he said, knowingly. I had no idea why this would be. Surely it couldn’t smell that nice? My head was in no state to think about such things. My confusion was soon put to rights, however, by the hunter.
‘Yep,’ he said cheerfully, ‘stuff’ll make yer dick harder thanna brick.’

At this point in time I became very interested in the grass by the roadside.

The rest of my journey passed without event and I found myself in Yellowstone at around 4pm. After some poking around I found that the park is, in fact, entirely without public transport, so a matter of fifteen minutes before I started writing this I booked myself a tour that is due to start at 8:15am tomorrow. I hope I wake up.


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