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.

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