ID-WY Day 4 – Volcano everywhere

The campground showers open at 8AM.  I am standing at the door at 7:50.

A 30ish woman of Eastern European origin scowls at me as she unlocks the door. She slogs through her morning routine, starting the hot water in each side of the facility and depositing cash into the cash drawer. Fifteen minutes later she seems to notice me again, sticks out a hand to accept my money, and shoves a towel into my arms.

I set my expectations low on the cold, half-mile walk to the showers, resigned that I would be presented with a small trickle of water slightly warmer than the outdoor temperature. The torrent of hot water and steam coming from the shower head is a welcome surprise.

When I exit the showers, the woman who greeted me is gone, replaced by an older, grandmotherly-looking woman who smiles and tells me to have a nice day.

We eat first sausage, pack our gear into the car, and leave the Grand Tetons behind as we drive toward Yellowstone.

My first impression of Yellowstone isn’t great. The southern entrance is packed with people and not much can be seen besides a low forest of evergreens. It feels very much like driving through a giant Christmas tree farm.

Soon after entering, we discover that the 15 mile road to Old Faithful is closed. However, the 80 mile road that loops around to it is not. A park ranger tells us we need to hurry to our campsite before all spots are taken for the day.

We claim our site and make a short trek to the Norris Geyser Field nearby. It is nearly overrun with tourists.  The geyser field is “neat’ but not what I would consider “pretty”.

The air smells strongly of sulphur and we see several passive-aggressive signs detailing the damage that humans have done to the park and the nature contained therein.

“If you feed a bear, we’ll have to kill it, and you’ll be single-handedly responsible for the demise of an entire species.” (sic)

It is late afternoon and I am hungry. This results in me being short with Matt and Terry and making a firm suggestion that we eat after watching Old Faithful spout.

The Old Faithful Grill provides the least-flavorful burger I’ve ever had – meat content somewhere south of 50%. I make up for it by buying a bag of Twizzlers and Reese’s Pieces which I proceed to demolish as we hike the boardwalks surrounding the geysers north of Old Faithful. These pools and geysers prove to be more colorful and interesting than the others we have seen during the day.

I am finishing off my Reece’s Pieces as I watch a man jump off the boardwalk to retrieve an action figure he dropped into the mud below. Given that he is just a few feet away from super-heated steam and bubbling clay that is hot enough to melt flesh, I think I would have abandoned Tiny Hulk to fend for himself if it were me. Unfortunately, he makes it safely back onto the boardwalk.

The sun sets and provides us with the best view of the day – a scene that reminds me of pictures from Iceland and doesn’t match my expectations of northern Wyoming. Yellowstone has largely made up for its poor first impression.

 

ID-WY Day 3 – Walk the planet

Early on in the trip I noticed myself becoming frustrated and unreasonably impatient. It has taken two days for me to push down the anxiety created by operating in “go go go’ mode while everything around me is moving slower than I’m accustomed to. I do my best to adjust to the new pace. Still, I wake up early each morning, not wanting to waste daylight.

We have an aggressive plan for the day – a hike of somewhere between 16-20 miles (depending on which map we referenced and who we asked). Camp is at roughly 6000ft and we have been at this altitude for less than 24 hours. We are idiots, at least on paper.

It takes several miles before the hikers begin to thin out. As we push past one of the last large clumps of them, a man from Slovakia strikes up a conversation with us. He is summiting Mount Whitney in two weeks and asks me what he needs. I tell him climbing and cold weather gear but have misunderstood his question. He is asking what paperwork he needs to fill out.

He also asks us why so few Americans visit our national parks. I play into his implied bias and tell him it’s because Americans are fat and lazy. Terry is more gracious and provides the reasoning that most parks are far away from where people live.

We reach a junction we had identified as being our “must reach” goal and consider pushing on to a lake 3 miles further and 3/4 miles higher up the trail. Sore feet win the argument and we make our way back, running across a pair of moose on our way.

Our return destination was a ferry dock that would shave 3 miles off of our trip. We arrive at the dock, excited to be finished with our hike, but soon discover that we have missed the last boat of the day.

I borrow a pair of loaner trekking poles from the boat dock and lead the way back, and by “lead” I mean “callously abandon my companions as I hike/jog the last three miles of the trail”. Because trekking poles are awesome and sometimes leadership means letting your friends fend for themselves against bears and Korean tourists. I think that’s a Edmund Hillary quote.

Terry has requested we end the day at a high elevation for golden hour picture fun time so once we all arrive back at our car we drive up a nearby mountain that looks out over what seems to be unspoiled wilderness. While Terry is taking pictures, Matt and I watch someone in a rented RV repeatedly back into a bathroom building in the summit parking lot.

As the sun sets, we head back to the camp site and discover that the showers closed thirty minutes before our arrival. I try to wash off some of the trail muck and sweat with a damp t-shirt and silently plot the murder of the facilities manager who decided an early switch to winter operating hours was a good idea.

ID-WY Day 2 – The earth abides

Removed from established civilization,  humans revert to their tribal roots and their language evolves to match their new way of life. The second day into our journey the words breakfast, lunch, and dinner have fallen out of our vocabulary and have been replaced with first sausage, second sausage, and third sausage, respectively. Any meal that does not contain sausage is referred to as not-sausage.
The Gregorian calendar has also fallen to the wayside. We are initially confused as to why several of the locations we had planned to visit are closed, but eventually realize that it is Sunday. We watch a base jumper with a Red Bull parachute jump off of the Perrine Bridge as we adapt our travel plan.

The Minidoka National Historical Site moves up on our destination list. There’s not much left there – the buildings are almost entirely gone, but the history is massive enough to fill the empty spaces. Minidoka was one of many WWII-era internment camps where thousands of Japanese-American families were locked up after being removed from their homes.

It’s yet another dark moment in our history that many people don’t know about – a time when fear and paranoia drove us to lock people away in “relocation centers” just as we were fighting fascists who were doing the same.

But those were the good ole’ days. Baseball, apple pie, and neighborhoods safe enough to leave your doors unlocked at night. When someone waxes poetic about the America of the past, it’s a good sign that they know very little about the America of the past. Only the future is worthy of poetry.

Leaving Minidoka, I was submerged in thoughtfulness, but we did take time to stop and take hipster pictures of an old farm house, because there’s only so much introspection a person can handle in one day.

We drove to Idaho Falls and discovered they had a well-reviewed zoo. I made friends with a goat in the petting zoo area and watched a monkey meditate.

Once we had burned a few hours at the zoo, we decided to proceed into Wyoming. Our planned stop was an arch of antlers in Jackson Hole, but upon arriving, we saw that it was engulfed in retirees and RV tourists and quickly moved on to Grand Tetons National Park.

We arrived at the park at sunset, just in time to catch the last light hitting the mountain tops and to see two young deer butting antlers.

A campsite was found and claimed, third sausage was prepared, and we settled in for what proved to be a very chilly evening.

 

 

ID-WY Day 1 – Forests of Corn

Shortly after leaving the airport, I discovered that Boise, ID is the inexplicable home of several Hawaiian restaurants. There is probably some interesting tidbit of history about their origin, but I haven’t bothered to look it up. I also haven’t confirmed that there are, in fact, “several” of them. I’m just taking the Shaka Shack cashier’s word for it. He looked trustworthy, if not at all Hawaiian.

Belly full of pineapple coleslaw and wienerschnitzel-jerk chicken, I piloted the rental Kia Sorento (a well equipped if comically underpowered vehicle) toward the first stop on a week-long road trip – a reserve for birds of prey just outside Boise. It was a short visit.

An actuary, a programmer, and an infrastructure architect walk into a nature reserve. Docent says “We’ve got a ton of birds here.”

Actuary says, “Really?”

Docent says “Yep.”

Bartender says “Don’t listen to her; she’s a liar. Don’t listen to me either. I don’t even belong in this joke.”

They had six birds on display, one of which was a plush owl.

The bar set appropriately low for the trip, we made our grocery run at the origin of most wilderness adventures – Walmart.

Receipt:

  • Breakfast sausage patties (48 count)
  • Jalapeno-cheddar sausages (6 count)
  • Bourbon-cheddar sausages (5 count)
  • Hot Link-flavoured sausages (6 count)
  • Beef bratwursts (6 count)
  • Eggs (1 dozen)
  • Fig Newtons (1 package)
  • Fruit & Nut Trail Mix (1 lb)
  • Crystal Light (18 count / various flavours)
  • Apples (2 lbs)
  • Bananas (3 lbs)
  • Styrofoam ice chest
  • Small skillet
  • Spatula
  • BBQ tongs
  • Propane (1 lb)
  • Lighters (5 count)
  • Ice (10 lbs)
  • Pez (100 count)

Coincidentally, this was the same set of supplies purchased by settlers traveling the Oregon Trail in the mid-to-late 1800s – plus 50 bullets, 2 spare wagon wheels, and a spare axle.

We then followed our GPS to a mislabeled park set amongst corn fields. The park contained a gorge created by a massive shield volcano. It did not, however, contain any signage pointing us to the park we had intended to visit.

While looking for the missing park, Terry, one of my fellow travelers, demanded that we stop so he could run into a corn field. We pulled over and he disappeared into the green stalks. Minutes later he returned, proud owner of a single, industrial quality ear of corn.

We gave up on finding the park and proceeded to our next destination.

Balanced Rock Park in southern Idaho contains exactly two noteworthy objects – a balanced rock covered in graffiti and a campsite, through which a muskrat-filled creek runs. I drifted to sleep listening to large rodents playing in the water and drunk, middle-aged Idahoans daring each other to jump in and join them.