Wednesday, September 7, 2016

Urban Yellowstone

I've had two of my readers tell me that what I wrote in my last post was a bit of a tease and that they want more stories about the trip, so this is for you K.S. and A.S.!

Reflecting on the trip west, I most fondly think of the evening at Boysen State Park in Wyoming.  There were approximately 40 sites in the campground, six were filled.  The river ran right next to the campsite, rising up from the far side of the river was a steep canyon wall. The park description said that there might be big horned sheep about.  We arrived about an hour and a half before sundown, the light on the canyon walls made them glow.  The road that outlined the far side of the campground was not heavily traveled and after dark and in the morning there was even less traffic.
Boysen State Park--the river cannot be seen from this angle, it is just beyond the large trees of our campsite.

After dinner, I stared down the river and drew in a deep breath, as I scanned for goats. It was stunning, it was quiet, it was a great moment to be alive.  I wanted to spend more time there, but our reservations for Yellowstone started the next day, and if we missed the first night we'd lose the whole reservation.  The girls weren't happy with the pit toilets, so they were very happy to move along.

The next morning we drove through the Wind River Canyon and the Native American reservation there.  It was the first time either of the girls (my daughter's friend, who has become a regular in our explorations, joined us for the trip) had been in a canyon, behind us in the car they gasped at the height of the walls and the rock formations.

We continued on through somewhat less stunning parts of Wyoming.

Side note--thirty-ish years ago I traveled through Wyoming and the choices of music on the radio were Country, Western, or Christian.  This summer we found a really cool alternative rock station, NPR and quite a lot of heavy metal. Things have been a-changing in Wyoming.  Side note on a side note, I had to submit my work time card while we were in Cody, WY, so we located the local library to get a hard connection because the previous attempt on a Wi-Fi connection didn't go through.  I should have taken pictures of that library.  There were sculptures, chairs that were arranged in ways that could encourage conversations, open spaces, quiet corners, tasteful color combinations that didn't come across as if the lowest bidder won the contract.  The bathroom was nicer than most bathrooms in fancy restaurants. I wanted to take the library home with me, but we just couldn't fit it in the car, not with the tissue boxes and everything.  Side note on the side note, in the parking lot for the library was a pick-up truck, it had a sticker on its bumper that read, " Welcome to Wyoming - Now go home & take a wolf with you."

That afternoon we drove into Yellowstone.  Mile after mile of the hillsides were covered with gray, leafless, branch-less, bark-less, scorched trees left from the fire of 1988.  A few small trees were attempting to make a go of it, but with little success.  I kept hoping that around the next curve there would be lush green forest, only to be disappointed. After the uplifting experience of drinking coffee alongside Wind River that morning, I started to think, "We left that awe inspiring place for this???"

Eventually, we did arrive at a point where the new trees were growing and there was a bit of hope rising from the forest floor.  We passed some small lakes and caught a view of Yellowstone Lake, things were looking up.  We drove into Fishing Bridge Village, there were cars everywhere.  Pedestrians were crossing willy-nilly, RV's were trying to make turns they couldn't make, parking lots were full to capacity.  The traffic was stop and go for a few minutes.  We didn't end up with a campsite at the campground at Fishing Village, because there were too many bears hanging about in the area and sleeping in a tent was prohibited.

We drove on a few more minutes to Bridge Bay Campground and checked in.  We were in section E.  We drove past a giant open field with campers and tents, and on to an area that had trees between the sites, which is where we ended up. We set up camp, relieved that were were not going to be taking it down again the next day, since we were staying four nights. As we started dinner the people from the neighboring campsite arrived back at their site.  They had been there several days.  They warned us to get up and out early, because the parking lots near Old Faithful, West Thumb, and Mammoth Hot Springs  and others all filled up later in the day, making it difficult to see anything.

The next morning we were up at six and out by seven.  By 10 AM, the tour buses started rolling in to the lots, disgorging hundreds of tourists from virtually every country in the world.  We arrived at Old Faithful around 11 AM, after making several stops along the way.  The lot was three quarters filled, and by the time we left cars were following people leaving the site to their cars, so that they could snag their parking spot. It was like the mall the day after Thanksgiving.  We ate an early lunch of peanut butter sandwiches as we watched ravens vandalize Harley Davidsons, stealing their snacks from their packs, as on-lookers tried to shoo them away, being very careful not to touch the motorcycles, because, no human with a shred of sense would mess with someone's Harley. Ravens apparently don't care.

It kept turning right as I was snapping pictures, I guess it didn't want to be identified.

It appears that other brands of bikes are inspected also.

We followed the crowd to Old Faithful, there was a Trex deck with benches forming a huge semi-circle, so that we could share this wonder of nature with a couple thousand other people.  There was a large hotel complex, several shops, restaurants, and finally, the Old Lodge, which was the only thing that I remembered from my last two visits in '87 and '90.  The rest were brand new.  We waited 20 or so minutes for the geyser, watched it spew for about three minutes and then moved with the wide river of people into the interpretive area. When it came time to find our car, we first had to figure out which lot we had parked in, and then had to use the remote to make our huge beast of an SUV beep, so that we could find it in the sea of SUV's and RV's.  I wasn't feeling connected to nature from this experience.

It wasn't until much later in the day when we saw a herd of elk that I started to feel a connection.  Later in the afternoon we experienced a long "bison jam" south of Yellowstone Canyon, complete with photographers getting too close to the animals.  We sang Dumb Ways to Die for the lady who risked everything to get a better angle.

We continued to be up and out of the site early, because we saw the truth in what the other campers had told us.  Later in the day it was a very urban experience, not what we had anticipated.  Crowds of people milling about, trying to keep tabs on the girls in the knots of people, waiting for people to leave to be able to use a picnic table in a picnic area, not seeing some things because we couldn't park, it wasn't how I had pictured our experience in my mind.  My last visits were nothing like this, it had all seemed so remote to me at that time.  At times during this trip, I just wanted to leave and go back to Wind River or Scotts Bluff, NE.  Sure, Yellowstone was beautiful and I'm glad the girls were able to experience it, but I wish it was a little more like my first experiences there.

Later in our visit, a lone bison arrived in the field next to our campground loop and it settled in for a snooze around sunset.  The following evening a herd of deer grazed their way through the back of our site and on to a patch of grass just on the other side of the road.  The girls froze in place as the deer walked around them.  The deer seemed to pay no attention to us.

A few sites down young kids were whooping it up, but the deer seemed unflustered by it all and eventually wandered off a half-hour later. Those are the things I want to remember, not the hot parking lots and the crowds and the desolate hills scorched thirty years ago.

When it was time to move on, I was ready.  The Black Hills were our nest destination, with Mt Rushmore...but that is my next post.

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