Remembering the Road, day 8

Day 8

[Editor’s note from 2009: While some might think this blog is somehow spawned by or in reaction to Frank and Hank Mark America, let it be known that this was originally written in 2002, and the republishing began before the public was made aware of the HMS Beagle, 2009 Edition.]

Yellowstone’s lodges are all great places. Built with giant timbers, nearly all resemble log cabins, although very fancy ones. They sport giant fireplaces, and huge windows through which one can take in the splendor of the park. The food served in each is pretty good too, although I’m getting really tired of seeing steak on the menu.


We visited more stinkpots today, and we’ve decided that we’ve seen and, more importantly, smelled enough of them. Yeah, they’re beautiful, but they make you want to hurl, and tossing my cookies isn’t what I planned to do on this vacation, so I think we’ve wrapped up our stinkpot visits.

So, instead of smelling sulfurous gasses emitted by the earth’s crust, we went horseback riding… only a minor improvement in the odor department. We took a short trail ride through some of the northwestern part of the park, where we saw more elk, and not a whole lot else. I, who was on “Rex,” was disappointed in the ride, as I was hoping to see more wildlife and learn a bit more about the area, but our “wranglers” spent most of the time loudly telling riddles such as, “What did the mother buffalo say to her son when he left for school? Bison. (Bye, son.)” HAHAHAHAHAHAHHAHA!!! Gosh, am I glad I drove 2,200 miles to hear that one!

I guess a hidden agenda of the “wranglers” was to be loud enough that no bear would come near us. That’s probably smart, since just before the ride I was flipping through “Bear Attacks Stories.” From one passage: “Paul was still in the tree when he called out to Michelle to tell her to unzip her zipper. ‘He’s already got it in his mouth,’ she shouted back. He next heard Michelle shout, ‘He’s got my arm off.’ Then she said, ‘Oh no, I’m dead!’ And that was the last thing Paul heard as the bear dragged her into the woods never to be seen again.” Hey, let’s hear another loud joke from the wranglers!

Cynthia, who rode “Jeff” and hadn’t ridden horses before, enjoyed the ride more than I. On a plus note, the ride did take us through back country and thus away from some of the road noise.

Interesting note: buffalo can run faster, jump higher, and are more agile than a horse. That, plus their horns, means it’s probably a good thing we didn’t come across any of them on our trail ride either.


Back in the car we took in some more spectacular views, (waterfalls, open plains, plunging canyons, fly-fisherman-filled rivers winding through grassy meadows), and saw more animals. Eagle-eyes Cynnie, as she’s now known, spotted a grizzly bear meandering through a grassy hill. We quickly stopped, initiating our own bear-jam. The bear, some 250 yards away, looked at us for a moment before wandering back into the trees and out of sight. The digital camera we have could get only so-so pictures of it, but with the potent zoom film camera I borrowed from my parents, we should get good, closer shots.

Following the bear sighting, we drove past a bald eagle’s nest where two or three eaglets are being reared. Cynthia snapped three fine shots of the nest, where not a single eagle could be seen, much to our dismay.

In an area known for moose, we found none, but we did see (with the aid of another traveler), a beaver.

People and wildlife are funny. First, people tend to laugh at the bison and elk when they all of a sudden do something as a group, such as flee in the same direction. “Pack animals,” we say with a hint of condemnation. Who are we saying this to? Well, the fifty other people who have pulled over to the side of the road to see what you’re looking at. Pack animals indeed!

Then there’s this slightly hidden competition among visitors. “What have you seen?” is the second-most common question after, “where are you from?” Bears are definitely the stars, as are wolves. Bison and elk are low on the pecking order.

Upon first arriving in the park, the instinct is to pull over any time any wildlife comes in to view. “Ooooh look! Buffalo! Hey, there’s an elk! Wow!!” But after four days, it has to really be worth pulling over for. “Eh, that’s just elk. I mean, if it was a bear, I’d stop…” It’s a little sad, although we started doing the same thing.

The similar thing is happening with the landscapes. They’re still as beautiful as ever, but after a while, you get vista fatigue. Hey, another stunning waterfall! Look there, it’s another snow-capped mountain rising majestically through the clouds! Yeah great, I’m hungry… when’s dinner?


More than anything though, I think it’s just a function of being tired. After some rest, I’ll be ready to see more buffalo and elk going over waterfalls, really.

Remembering the road, day 7

Day 7

Yellowstone is an amazing place for a lot of reasons. Obviously, the wildlife and scenery are two big ones. Another is the friendliness of the staff. Nearly everyone here works just the summer months. They all have nametags with their names (surprise!) and where they are from. Most of these people are young… often still in college. Others are retirees. But no matter what, they are all incredibly friendly. I mean, I’ve never ever seen so many people so happy to flip burgers, empty the trash, pump gas, clean tables, or anything else. These are the friendliest people I’ve ever met. After a few days, it actually becomes a little eerie when the young woman picking up garbage says “Hi, how’re you doing? Where are you from? Enjoying your visit?”, but it’s still very refreshing.


Driving around Yellowstone, you’re always on the lookout for wildlife. Bison are the most common, frequently congregating in fields and often walking down the road. Several times we found ourselves surrounded by buffalo, with Cynthia pleading that I roll up my window. If a buffalo wants to get to me, I don’t think a thin piece of glass is going to stop it.

Elk are the next most common… grazing in fields, or sometimes just sleeping one off. Doe elk are more easily found than the large-antlered males.

Bears are probably the most sought-after wildlife and when one is spotted, such as a grizzly we came across while driving along a thin mountain pass, nearly every car pulls over to watch it. The result is a “bear-jam.” About 20 people (including us) got out of their cars to watch and take pictures of the bear, who was about 200 yards up a steep hill. We watched him dig, mope around, and look back at us. Two park rangers suggested children should return to their cars, while the rest of us spent rolls and rolls of film on it. Finally the bear wandered into the trees and everyone dispersed. During the entire time, one guy drove through the scrum and asked, “what’s going on?” We told him there was a grizzly bear. “Oh,” he said, and drove on.

There’s a stunning valley in the northeastern part of the park (about a two-hour drive from the central lake where we’re staying) called the Lamar valley. We drove through it around dusk and came across a coyote, pronghorn antelope, and we think a wolf, although we weren’t sure because it was far away. There were also lots of elk, “normal” deer (yeah, what’s so special about them??), and buffalo. Oh, and chipmunks too.

Today was also the day we checked in at Old Faithful. Every 88 minutes the geyser erupts into a 100-foot fountain of boiling water and sulfur gas. Hundreds of people gather around to watch, and then most of them get back on their coach busses to cross another sight off their list. We spent several hours hiking around looking at the many other thermal pools and geysers, all smoking and bubbling and boiling and stinky. We even met a couple from my small hometown, Kent, OH, named the Flowers. Freaky.


One geyser was hidden a mile back in the woods, so I went to look for it. Just a few yards in, all voices and other sounds evaporated, leaving me to listen to my footsteps and forest noises. I kept a keen eye for wildlife, especially bear. While I really, really want to see bear, I really, really don’t want to be eaten by one. I could imagine scenes where a bear would just charge up and cut me in two. Or, maybe there was a bear in the tree waiting to pounce on me. Worse yet, what if I surprised a bear and we all know that bears don’t like surprises! Then again, I don’t either, especially if the surprise is being filleted by a bear.

Park information says that if a bear does charge, you should stand still because they sometimes will change direction at the last second. That’s just the sort of information I can rely on in an emergency. “Hmm, here’s a 700-pound mamma bear and her cubs. She’s charging me, but I’m just going to stand here because she might call it off at the last second. She’s getting close now… no sign of calling it off. Maybe I should move… no, she could still… oh my god, those are my intestines on that bear’s face!”

Anyway, I saw the hidden geyser, no bears, and made it back to the lodge without incident. All in all, I was kind of disappointed… it would have been cool to see a bear in those woods.

Now back at out cabin, I’m sunburned, itchy (from some bug that has taken generous bites out of my legs), in pain (from a toe blister… mmm mmm good!), we’re both suffering from shin splints, and tired.