When I finally arrived at the Mammoth Hot Springs area, I emerged from the car provisioned with my canteen, a map, a thick coating of sunblock and my cowgirl hat, committed to seeing everything there was to see in this intensely featured area. As I performed reconnaissance on how to best navigate through the maze of boardwalks, I noticed there would be quite a bit of vertical climbing required to reach one of the nicest formations, and combined with the high altitude (around 6200 feet) and the warm summer day, I was less than eager to set out. After quelling my childish sense of displeasure, I headed up to the first stop on the tour. The brochures I'd read made careful mention of the fact that the springs in this area were sometimes active, sometimes inactive. They did not, however, describe the inactive phase as resembling a post nuclear holocaust wasteland. The travertine formations along my route were all dry, desolate and colorless. I went past the Jupiter and Mars terraces, swung by the Minerva terrace, and shortly thereafter decided to give up the ghost. So much for my commitment - it apparently fell quite short of tromping through the heat to see various dead geological formations. I decided that there couldn't possibly be anything up on that hill that could be worth the climb I'd have to engage in, so I limped back down the dozens of flights of stairs I'd already ascended, and returned halfheartedly to the car. My rationale was that I would be able to find some much more user friendly steam vents elsewhere in the park that would likely have a much better payoff in terms of beauty.
I resumed my drive along the park road, scanning for a telltale plume of steam right next to the road (instead of at the vanishing point of a distant boardwalk). As I pulled into the parking lot of the next site I came to that looked promising, I felt the first twinge of anger I'd felt in a long time. It was kind of shocking, really. When I took a moment to examine why my patience with cars and tourists and the Disney approach to creating awe had expired, I realized that not only had I had passed the saturation point with natural beauty, but even more interestingly, I had finally become lonely. The tourists and the cars and the summer heat weren't any different than they'd been for days, but I had reached the point where being away from the people I love so dearly was taking a toll on me. I had wondered before my trip, how long it would take to get to this point or even if I would get to this point, and sure enough, Wednesday was the day. Once I realized what was going on, however, I immediately felt free to abandon the Plan (which had quietly reinstated itself in the form of "I must see spectacular natural beauty!"). My new goal became to find a nice spot to have a picnic on my way to Jackson, Wyoming where I would spend the night. Whew! Much better!
After many evaluative stops, I finally picked a nice little picnic table near the shore of Lewis Lake to eat the tomato salad I had prepared in my hotel room the previous night. I had assembled the salad as an antidote against all the patty melts, limp flavorless iceberg salads and mediocre hashbrowns I'd been offered in the last weeks. My salad had fresh tomatoes, avocado, sliced purple onion and feta cheese. I chose Premium saltines as a gesture toward eschewing elitism. Add a couple of inferior non-squeaky cheese curds, some nice cold diet Pepsi and a cool breeze blowing in off the lake and it was just the palliative I needed to ease my weariness.
After my restorative snack, I continued south toward Jackson. I emerged from the forested hills of the park to discover a sweeping view of the Tetons, impressive peaks even after all the amazing mountain scenery I'd enjoyed the last couple of days. This time, however, I was content to roll along and enjoy them from afar. I was ready to get to Jackson.