Wednesday, July 31, 2013

A Grizzly Discovery

View from Our Pillows
June 9, 2013
Certain adults in the party could barely move the next morning, so we decided to stay in camp and enjoy the swimming pool. Or just sleep. That afternoon, we went into West Yellowstone to “walk around”, so Jack said. Well, we've been in W. Y. lots of times, and I had plenty of photos, so I decided to leave my camera. I didn't need any more photos of us walking around.

Once there, Jack decided to go to the grizzly bear and wolf exhibit across the parking lot from Imax. A certain photographer was rather bitter, since the camera was 6 miles away, and the car had been parked across town before we started walking. It was an exquisite torture to attend a facility like that with no means of documentation. The only thing that made it bear-able was that our ticket was good for 2 days, so we could come back without paying anything more.
Grizzly cub,
killed by another animal.

Became ill.
Some died,
some had to be
8-10" long.

Many of their rescued bears came from Alaska, and nearly all had been “troublesome” bears. One specialized in breaking into pickups. Grand Picnic Auto? Some had been orphaned and were scrounging anything and everything to survive. The little ones were often near starvation when saved.

NOT Bear Proof!
Now, in addition to being treated like grizzly kings and queens, they have a job. Real, genuine employment. They serve as bear-proof container testers. Odoriferous and desirable food, such as bacon or honey, is placed inside the allegedly bear-proof container. The bears are given three hours to work their magic. If the container makes it, it gets the bear-proof Stamp of Approval. Very few containers are that fortunate.

It was so good that we had to come back the next day, too, with a thicker coating of mosquito repellent covering our welts. This time I had my camera.

While photographing the raptors, one of those little incidents happens that really has no place on an elegant blog like mine, but I also strive for journalistic integrity. To me, that means not always telling about OTHER people’s embarrassing moments and ignoring my own.

Devon and I were hanging out with the bald eagles, including Isis, who had neurological damage and liked to sit there with her head upside down, the Great Horned Owl who had imprinted on humans as an owlet, and a couple of golden eagles. Devon walked around the bird area, while I crouched patiently to capture the perfect bald eagle shot. Better yet, several perfect bald eagle shots.

NOT Bear Proof!
No one else was around, and out of the corner of my eye  I could see Devon’s bright green shirt as he crouched a short distance away. Hunkered down, I incautiously released a raucous buildup of methane that would have been almost impossible to contain anyway. “Devon!” I exclaimed in mock scolding. “We are in public!”

No heeheehee greeted my little witticism, so I glanced over to see if he was even paying attention. You can imagine my horror as I saw that the green was a lady’s pants, as she stood quietly with her husband watching the eagles. Guess they got a little more nature than they bargained for.

As we were just about to leave, a bunch of sirens went off for a fender bender. The wolves went nuts, howling at the late afternoon sun. (Though with a little judicious photo editing, it passed for moonlight well enough. See the upcoming blog post about the fair for the result.)

After hours of fun, thrills, and a splash of humiliation, we got back in the car and headed to Bozeman for Phase II of our trip.

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Wild in Yellowstone

June 8, 2013
Sometime during the night, Clancy woke me up. At first I thought he needed to go to the bathroom, but he didn’t get excited when I asked if he wanted to go out – he just kept pawing my covers. 

Fortunately for Clancy, Jack woke up in time to remind me that we had an extra blanket over our sleeping bag. Jack pulled it back up, lifted it, and Clancy dived under. The rest of the night, he didn’t budge, snuggled down with his head on Jack’s shoulder. I don’t know exactly how cold it was, but the forecast had predicted 38F. Clancy thought it was more like -38F. That be why the weather service doesn't ask for his opinion.

At last the sun peeked over the mountains, and the air warmed quickly.  Thanks to Jack, the breakfast also warmed up quickly. Pancakes, topped with shaken-seasoned-fried potatoes, topped with maple syrup, made a tasty breakfast that lingered for hours…past lunch and most of the way to supper.
It was nearly time to go into the Park. As I gathered the items for my pockets, I was, um…………….speechless………….to discover what Jack had left on the stand right next to my head. One candy bar, and two aromatic empty wrappers. Did I mention these were RIGHT NEXT TO MY HEAD??????????  Guess who is not ever going to be able to convince his wife to go backpacking deep into bear country?

Right inside the entrance of the park, we saw one of those traffic snarls that means something REALLY EXCITING is on that side of the road. I was craning my neck all over trying to see what it was, but couldn’t spot anything worth stopping for. I finally figured that the lone bison near the road must be blocking my view of whatever they were running and shouting about. It finally dawned on me. They really WERE that excited to see the lone bison. Lying down. Chewing its cud. Not even charging or fighting, or anything cool. I’m glad to report that after the first couple times, even the newbie park visitors quit stopping for bison unless they were actually blocking the road.

We reached the Lower Loop, and commenced with our double mission: see as many park sights as possible, and tire Devon out. Well, we saw the sights, anyway. And tired ourselves out. By the time we got to the Norris Geyser Basin, Jack was done for. Even Tiggy decided to stay with him, leaving me to speedwalk up and down hills, winding around geysers – including the world’s largest, Steamboat Geyser, and passing vividly colored mineral springs. One of my favorite was Porkchop Geyser, so named because it looked like a banana.

Steamboat Geyser - the world's largest geyser,
when it wants to be.
 Pretty small the rest of the time.

 Just kidding!!! It really was shaped like a porkchop. It erupted regularly for a while after its discovery, until becoming plugged by rocks. The pressure built over a very long time, until one day a group of startled visitors narrowly escaped injury in the sudden hail of boulders ole Porkchop sent flying.

Main geyser basin at Norris.

Grow Zone and Fry Zone exist
side by side.

The whole basin was a wild mixture of beautiful mountain terrain and scorched earth. Not much grows in that acidic, chemical-laden soil, but you can sure see where the boundaries are. Green grass and wildflowers grow right up to the invisible wall, and stop. Skeletal remains of long-dead trees haunt the changing landscape. It’s hard to imagine they were once part of the green zone.

Climbing the last hill, we fell in behind a group of short ladies. They had courageously taken their friend down the slope in a wheelchair, so she could see the main overlook for the whole basin. It was easier to go down than up, as is so often the case in life. Without batting an eyelash, Devon jumped right in, taking one corner of the wheelchair from an exhausted lady. With his energy, they made it to the top in no time. And still Devon wasn’t tired.

Back at the car, we found that a comedy of nature was unfolding in our absence. We only caught the tail end of the show. A raven had been circling the parking lot, only to swoop down on a small car with its sunroof open.  Hopping fearlessly through the opening, the feathered thief began to ransack the picnic supplies in search of granola bars. He would carry them off in his beak, one or two at a time, and return a few minutes later for more. By the time we got there, he was on his seventh trip. 
Burgle, the Raven of Infamy

Dragon's Mouth
Jack is such a kidder, and when he told me what they’d been watching, it was hard to believe. It’s not the first time one of his tall tales turned out to be true, and this one I saw with my own eyes. There was even video footage from several different angles. We didn’t see any bears that day, but will always remember Burgle, the Larcenous Raven of Norris Basin.

Video of Burgle in Action, in Case You Didn't See It Before

By that time fully ravenous, (get it?) we stopped at the first picnic area we came to, about 2 miles up the road. Grinders (or subs, depending on where you’re from), disappeared just about as fast as fresh raspberries in August. Even Montana summer days eventually have an end, and we realized we’d have to hurry a bit if we were going to see Old Faithful.

Jack’s feet had begun to bother him quite a bit by the time we got to Old Faithful, so he sat in one of the incredible wooden thrones around the colossal fireplace. We went up to the second-story observation deck directly overlooking Old Faithful, until the increasing puffs of steam indicated that an explosion was imminent.

Being the incredibly kind and thoughtful family members that we are, we stopped by to collect Jack so he could see it, too. First he tried to tell us it wasn’t going off soon at all. Then he tried to send us ahead without him. We were far too unselfish to abandon him, and let him lean on us as he hobbled toward the door.

Emerging from the historic Lodge, we came face to face with the last fizzle of Old Faithful, arched by a fast-fading rainbow.  The photographer in the group was displeased. Jack tried to apologize, but it was Too Late. He even offered to stay until the next eruption, but everyone else opted to move on. “Besides,” the photographer remarked sourly, “there won’t be another rainbow.”

One very important stop remained, all the way down at the bottom of the Firehole Loop. Last year, when we drove the loop for the first time, we were up at the top of the mountain when we saw an amazing geyser blowing up in the distance. It was done by the time we got there, but we were all amazed at how close you could get to it. The wooden boardwalk went almost up to the cone-shaped base. We vowed to capture an eruption the next time, if possible.

I was ready to give up before Jack, after an hour had gone by with nothing. I remembered well from the last time, that eruptions are irregular, and usually between 1-3 hours apart. I really didn’t want to sit around another 2 hours, even though we were treated to a fabulous view of another huge geyser we hadn’t even known was in that valley.

We read stories, counted crickets, listened to the wind, took pictures of each other taking pictures, until FINALLY our (Jack’s) patience was rewarded. White Dome immediately became our new favorite geyser.

At each stop, our ventures grew shorter, till we pretty much took three steps, looked over the edge, and said, “Yep, we saw it.” Even when we got to the gorgeous Grand Canyon of Yellowstone. When our weary feet could take no more, we stopped for worship, closing one of the most glorious Sabbaths we have ever spent, admiring the handiwork of the Creator.

An Unexpected Detour

June 7, 2013

We rose and broke camp quickly, since we had an appointment to get an alignment before leaving for the next spot. The beautifully organized trailer of the day before now resembled a homeless encampment, with towels and clothing strewn around, and dirty dishes next to the potted artificial tree.

Then we got to the alignment place and had to drop the trailer so our car could go inside. Suddenly, instead of an appendage, the trailer became our new home. The amount of elegance depletion was directly proportional to the amount of time we waited. And waited. And waited.

There was no shortage of bedding to lay on, no shortage of beverages, no shortage of cream puffs for Damon, and no shortage of naps for anyone who wanted one.

Besides not making it to West Yellowstone in time for lunch, it was rather worrisome because we all know that Time = $ and Time in an Auto Shop = Lots of $. Sadly, by the time we finished, our cushion, and most of our budget, were gone. Still, we were very grateful that God allowed us the chance to get a repair under our own steam, and not breaking down by the side of the road.

We did some fast refiguring and brainstorming, and somehow it worked. We left Billings on our whittled-way-down-but-totally-fun workation.
A couple miles up the road, the car was handling so beautifully that Jack was able to notice that there was a problem with one of the trailer tires. Another fast re-figuring, and a spare trailer tire added itself to the damage report. More whittling. But at least we got Taco Bell.

We arrived in West Yellowstone shortly after 7 and began throwing the camp together in a big hurry. As big as the hurry was, I still made time to cut Electro-Boy’s wild hair.

It was pretty well dark by the time we got to eat our supper of BBQ’d veggie corn dogs and corn on the cob. The corn dogs were an experiment. We wrapped them in foil before putting them on the grill, and cooked them just like the corn. They were spectacular, though the sticks burnt to a crisp.

We had to take extra precautions, since we were in Bear Country. “Devon, no food in the tent,” I called sweetly, as Devon prepared to take his dessert to bed with him. I don’t care what anyone else says, the placid expression on my face couldn’t have resembled a snarl.

“I’m taking my dessert to bed,” Jack gloated.

“Just be sure to put the wrappers in the car before you go to sleep,” I kindly reminded him.

And we all went to sleep.


June 6, 2013

D-day. Also Mom and Dad’s anniversary. For 42 years now, they’ve claimed that was a coincidence. It was also D-day for us, if D stands for Departure.

We left a tad bit late, since we all wilted the night before without being fully ready. Still, it wasn’t too bad, and we were only going as far as Billings. The trailer, with its load of our camping supplies, Tina’s camping supplies, and all the big stuff for camp meeting, was neatly packed, stacked, and organized. We left in high spirits mid (or late) morning. Within a few miles, all 3 children were fast asleep.

Fantastic! Now we weren’t just vacationing, we were on a date!  My love and I cruised down the road ‘alone’ for quite some time before anyone joined our party of two.

***Boring business part omitted***

In due process of time, and with no fun except our simple joy in each other’s presence, we made the trip to our camping spot. Located by the Yellowstone River, it featured SHOWERS YEEHAW, a faucet, a power outlet, and even wifi. It was funny to hear the tappity-tap of everyone posting pictures to Facebook from inside the tent. Ah, camping!

The tent went up ~almost~ without a hitch. In fact, the actual going up was smooth – the problem happened before. As Devon was taking Clancy out of the car, I told, no ordered him to immediately take Clancy up the bank away from the campsite to go to the bathroom. Devon stood there, with a blank yet puzzled expression on his face as Clancy lifted his leg on the about-to-be tent site.

Our amazing and wonderful supper included Morning Star Chipotle Black Bean (vegetarian) Burgers and seasoned corn on the cob. We had a few question marks about bean burgers, but they were fabulous. We can hardly wait to get some more!

How to Take a Vacation…

June 6, 2013

When You’re Too Broke to Take a Vacation

1.     Combine your attempt at a vacation with a low-budget business trip. If you do not have a business, make one.  Accept jobs where you want to go, and allow several days between each one. This is called a workation.
2.     Bring your own food.
3.     Bring your own lodging.
4.     Bring your own pets.
5.     Bring your own children, so you can pretend it’s a real vacation, and not just a glorified work trip.
6.     Bring 95% of the things in your house. After all, you want to be comfortable on your low-budget vacation. And if you leave it home, you guarantee that you’ll need it before you’re through. Remember, you can't afford to buy one.
7.     After thinking about it, load up the other 5% of the items still at home. They must call it “home away from home" for a reason.
8.     Do not ask yourself the question, ”Why am I leaving, if my entire house is coming with me?”
9.     Don’t spend money.
10.                        Don’t break down.
Well, we got most of them right.