8.18.2008

It's all about steam, baby!

Monday was all about Yellowstone, Yellowstone, Yellowstone. I approached the park from the direction of Cody and was about halfway to the park when I saw signs on the side of the road indicating that a wildfire was in progress in the area and to watch for activity. Sure enough, thick yellow clouds billowed from the top of a distant ridge. I passed a large encampment of fire fighting paraphenalia - tents, mess hall, tanker trucks - the whole nine yards. I also saw a helicopter flying by with a large empty vessel it had just dumped on the blaze. Fire is most definitely a large part of the natural order of things in the park and is in evidence in many areas as you drive around.

The scenery in the areas that have burned previously is gaunt and beautiful. A short distance after entering the park on the east, the road runs through a large area that apparently burned several years ago. The skeletons of trees that have not yet succumbed to toppling stand guard over immense fields of fireweed and other wildflowers and grasses. I really love fireweed (go figure) and there were large swaths of it covering the slopes of the burn area, making for a splendid sea of pink. Ooooo-la-LA!

I figured my first official stop at the park (besides pulling over at every scenic lookout for 50 miles!) should be the quintessential park attraction: Old Faithful. It's funny, but I think a large part of what I was looking to experience at Old Faithful was watching the people. I derive a good deal of my enjoyment at tourist attractions from observing how people interact with something they suspect they should be in awe of. It's fascinating if you're an eternal student of human behavior like I am.

Yellowstone was our first National Park, established in 1872. As such, they've had a few years to get their nature viewing anomalies under control and create the perfect experience for visitors. Clean comfortable is-this-plastic-or-is-this-wood benches surround the steaming geyser which is located at a way-more-than-safe distance to aid in creating the proper respect. Looking into the crowd, I saw not only an ocean of faces of every flavor, but also a phalanx of various recording devices. Including mine, mind you - I am certainly not immuned. It is interesting to me, though, how we are increasingly living from behind a lens instead of in front of it.

Old Faithful was as right on cue several intermittent jets of water signaled the imminent eruption. Such a crowd pleaser that gal! After several minutes of vapoury splendor, violent ejections yielded to diminishing spurts, signaling the end of the performance. The docile crowd moved quietly and reverently toward the exits. I was somewhat disappointed that there hadn't been any clapping at the conclusion of the show. Oh well. I moved toward the exit too, got in my car and was off to see the next marvel.

Because they're such a novelty to me, I first focused on some of the park's geothermal features as I wandered about. I.e., places where water that has seeped far below the surface of the earth interacts with hot lava and then comes shooting back out through various apertures in the crust. There are geysers, fumaroles, boiling mud and hot springs, to name just a few. I visited several lovely areas in the park that are referred to as "terraces" which seems to indicate that there are a number of various features conveniently colocated in an easy one stop viewing area. Beautifully manicured boardwalks usher you past various steam portals, along with tourbuses and minivans and PT Cruiser-fulls of various and sundry other fun lovers. The beauty of the water and the colors was moving, even with lots of people milling about.

Back on the park road once again, I closed in on completing the bottom circle of the park's characteristic figure 8 shape, allowing me to depart on the same road on which I arrived and head back to Cody.

As I passed up and down along rolling grass covered hills edged with gold where the slanting rays of the sun made them glow, I saw brake lights and stopped cars up ahead of me on the road - a sure sign that some poor member of the wildlife species was being eagerly observed and photographed by every single human in a 1 mile radius.

As I rolled to a stop, I could see that traffic was at an utter standstill while members of a gang of buffalo ruffians wreaked havoc on the roadside gathering. I swear it was like that scene in a Frankie and Annette movie when the greaser gang rolls into town!

A large group of males strutted down the road snorting, inciting others to come racing down from on top of the adjacent hill (I've never seen a group of thousand pound animals deftly manuever through trees, running downhill before! Man that was impressive!) and still others to come galloping up from the distant valley floor below. Just as things started to heat up (cue West Side Story music), a huge Chevy Blazer driven by a Park Ranger pulled up to help quell the situation. The ranger used his truck to herd the recalcitrant buffalo bull, edging him toward the shoulder and off the asphalt with gentle movements. The bull moved, but wasn't happy about it.
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He even faked a charge as the Blazer moved away.

The Blazer quickly whipped around and returned to do any further punk management that was necessary, but I had grown bored of the proceedings and resumed my journey, the glow of a sea of red tail lights visible in my rearview mirror.
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I had to pull over one more time when I saw a sign for the spectacular sounding mud volcano! There were serveral beautiful features in this area and sure enough, the so called volcano had hot boiling mud, bubbling right up out of the ground. The acidity of some of the water in the park dissolves the minerals where it emerges and makes a sort of slurry or mud that bubbles as the steam escapes. It was really interesting to see all the different forms the mud took as it interacted with the water and steam and then dried. Beautiful mud cracks!
One of the other formations at the terrace was I think my favorite one of the day: Dragon's Mouth Spring. It's a hot spring that emerges from the mouth of a cave tucked inconspicuously into a hillside. Steam billows from the mouth of the cave in big intermittent puffs, along with mysterious subterranean noises and little eddies of water. The video I've included below does not do it justice in any way, shape or form, unfortunately. It's a be there sort of thing.



As I finished circumnavigating the boardwalk, the light was noticeably beginning to fade and I still had a lot of driving to do through forests full of darting animals, so I got back on the road even though I wanted to linger and see more. I had a lovely drive nonetheless, and I was able to find the perfect pull out to watch the sun go down.


2 comments:

Anne said...

You watching the tourists watching Old Faithful reminded me of my favorite tourist viewing experience. The last time Steve and I were at Stonehenge (June 20th, right before the Summer Solstice, everything was roped off to protect Stonehenge from the Druids or something) . . . I watched a Japanese tourist hop off a tour bus and stand in one position for over half an hour VIDEOTAPING Stonehenge!!! Steve and I still crack up whenever we think about it. Nothing like getting home and showing your trip to England to your friends who have to sit through half an hour of stones not moving :-)

Have fun, be safe, we love you
A&S
PS Your pix of the fireworks are AMAZING!!!! What a fun time you must have had.

Gabriel said...

Fun time with the fireworks, I'm sure. I am happy to read the aspects of self-discovery. Being mindful of your emotions. Wonderful.