Wednesday, August 05, 2009

Yellowstone Pics Of The Day: Day 1

Into the park we go!! We arrived in West Yellowstone after a two-and-a-half day journey, raring to go, and ready for fun and adventure. Days of driving, sleeping in rest stops, less-than-adequate coffee, and the challenge of finding gasoline in rural Idaho (towing a trailer requires more fuel than I'd care to admit in this Carbonly Correct day and age), had made us more than ready to reach our destination. Hurray! We set up camp the night before, and when morning came we were finally set to head into the wild and... do some more driving! Yellowstone National Park is big, and to get to the places you want to see, you have to cover an awful lot of ground. Fortunately, not having to tow the trailer anymore made for quicker travel, and since everywhere we drove there was something lovely to see, we all found ourselves peering out the windows in cheerful anticipation of the sights and sounds of America's very first national park. Everybody--eyes peeled--who's going to see the first buffalo?!

As an aside, I find the less-than-adequate coffee thing rather amusing. I have never liked coffee, never wanted to for that matter, but my friend Mary has gotten me to try sips of her concoctions over the last year or so, and taught me how good really good coffee can be, when adequately made to taste like coffee ice cream, and in doing so, she got me coffee-inclined. After drinking her coffee all through our trip to Jellystone, she's got me hooked. It can't be just any coffee, mind you. It's got to be GOOD coffee. That's what I find amusing. I've gone from non-coffee drinker to coffee snob in one fell swoop. I'm goofy that way.

Off we set--four adults, two kids, and numerous snack foods--with anticipation in our hearts. Whatever we saw was going to be new, and when vacationing, new is almost always interesting and fun. (We'll skip thinking about new ways to lose your luggage, new ways to get dysentery, new kinds of rashes, and similar vacation-related horror stories. I'm still recovering from my recent fall down the stairs, and I'd like to keep this cheerful, okay?) What follow are some of the sights, and some of the memories of that first day. I hope you enjoy them. (Click to enlarge.)

Here it is, our very first elk, one of a pair that wandered close to the road as we made our first explorations. We did what all visitors do when they first arrive at Yellowstone; we stopped and made a huge fuss over seeing a couple of large mammals that were unintimidated and unthreatened by the throng of people who gathered to celebrate the magnificence of their elkly existence. "Look, look!! Elk!!" They weren't running away, but placidly munching the grass and wandering closer to the gawking humans who snapped photo after photo in breathless wonder at a sight so foreign to most city dwellers. By the end of the week we would watch with benignly jaded smiles as other tourists performed the same ritual, thinking, "You are new, aren't you?" Today, however, we were the newbies, and we all enthusiastically entered into the spirit of the occasion, and I especially was clicking away for all I was worth. It's a really good thing that God invented digital cameras, otherwise it would have cost a fortune in film, just to get this rather unimpressive image of a very vivid memory! (Ooh! Not long after our introduction to Lady Elk, we had the tumultuous joy of seeing a grey wolf trotting by the side of the road near our car. I managed to get the camera out in time to snap a few pictures, but they are not very good, and I won't post them here. Just to have seen it was exciting enough!! The poor thing was actually rather scared, and, in seeming confusion, tried to cross the road through quite heavy traffic. Eventually some never-to-be-chastised-sufficiently motorcyclist gunned his motor and ran at the animal, sending him off into some nearby woods. It was an ignoble end to an otherwise thrilling event.)

Here are our friends, Cheerful, Sweet. Mischievous, and Tolerant, also known as Scott, Mary, Ben and Emma. I'll let you figure out who is who.

It's nice to see that 5-year-old little boys can still cling to Daddy when the world looks very big. There's just something right about it.

The world isn't just big at Yellowstone, it's also very colorful. This huge caldera is so full of varied terrain that sometimes it feels like you're travelling from planet to planet as you move about the park. Our first official stop was the Artists Paintpots on the way to the Norris Geyser Basin. This was our introduction to the amazing things that heat can do to water and earth. Color and steam mingle here to create the picture which God himself envisioned when He called this place into being. I wonder how long this art will last before the forces which shaped it turn it into something entirely new, as must eventually happen. Even the stars don't last forever.

Ked and I played dueling cameras for our entire trip. Every time we turned around, there was Ked, recording the moment (and I, as well, had the shutter flying ad nauseum.) Over the week, he developed a technique to film us all from the hip, without our knowing he was doing it. He had the advantage on me here, because I was constantly looking through the viewfinder at whoever I was with, and I'm sure he proved far less annoying to the rest of the gang. I do have one advantage over him in the end, though. My photos are much easier to edit than his video, and it will be awhile before Yellowstone Video Of The Day makes it onto the Internet. I do hope to post some of it here; it just might take some time...

This wonderful bowl of goo is a giant mud-pot, bubbling and spitting away at the herd of humans crowded in as far as the rails around the path would let them. As for me, I know better than to get too close to this fascinating menace. The last time I was here, a particularly agile mud projectile flew right at me and instantly bleached a brand new, and bright red shirt. That acidic brew was so effective at ruining my clothing that the top immediately became a work shirt, never fit to be worn in the real world again.

That mud-pot is maybe thirty feet across, if memory serves--not really threatening, as long as you don't do something crazy like climb across the rail (hey, some people really are that insane)--just something to be respected. Just to be on the safe side, and knowing we were heading into the land of spouting mud that day, I made sure I wore clothing which had already seen some days as work wear. I probably should have warned my friends, though; the other ladies are wearing clothes that look like they might actually want to keep them!

Hey look!! Ked's face is out from behind the video camera!! Must snap a picture while I have the chance! I find the boardwalk wandering through this desolate wasteland, all interspersed with dazzling blue pools of potential death particularly interesting. The world of Yellowstone really is such a jumble of elements.

The clearness of the water here shows how odd these pools are. No gentle flow created this landscape. This isn't some collection of rainwater in an otherwise arid land. According to the Yellowstone website, Norris Geyser Basin is "the hottest and most changeable thermal area in Yellowstone." This is where worlds collide.

How fascinating is this rainbow flowing through the region of Norris called the Porcelain Basin? How long has it been here? How long will it last? Again, according to the official Yellowstone website, "Parts of the whitish rock-sheet before you pulsate from the pressure of steam and boiling water beneath them. A number of geysers and other features here have been born suddenly in small hydrothermal explosions. Some features are ephemeral, their activity lasting a few hours, days, or weeks. A few others have become relatively permanent fixtures in the scene." The constant change is one of the things which make this place so amazing.

After our trek through Norris, we climbed back into the car and headed farther into the park, stopping for a time in the Hayden Valley, a lovely place in its own right, and usually a great spot for seeing buffalo. The valley did not disappoint.

Speaking of worlds colliding, I'm betting the driver of the car ahead is hoping those horns don't collide with his rear end!!

I climbed through the sunroof to try and get a shot of this buffalo calf. The color contrast is pretty remarkable, don't you think? This baby has a bright new coat, and all the adults around it are still sloughing off the thick, dull coat of winter.

This is what happens to traffic in Yellowstone when the buffs are on the move (when any critter is in view from the highway, for that matter.) The line behind us was every bit as long. We just happened to be blessed with a front row seat!

This little bird doesn't just have a front row seat. He's in the thick of it--literally! That winter coat looks like fuzzy, peeling wallpaper, coming off in sheets--a little heavier maybe. You know that velvet kind from the 70s? The buffalo variety probably looked better in its time, and served more purpose than the velvet wallpaper ever did, though. (Okay, okay, it's a little decor snobbery to go along with the coffee snobbery previously mentioned. You can disagree with my design standards in the comments if you want--but why would you?)

Here's another little bird, who seems happy with his seat. I know the picture's blurry, but who could resist that smile?!

Here's one of the odder sights we saw that first day. We stopped to get a look at (and smell of) Sulphur Cauldron, and while walking caught sight of this fellow, enjoying a leisurely afternoon in one of the most active volcanic areas in Yellowstone, right next to a vaporous, chugging mud pit. It was hot, stinky, and, apparently, the perfect place for a snooze.

Neither Ked, nor I, are particularly fond of this photo, but it's one of the few pictures that we have to show that we were at Yellowstone at the same time, and that we both put down our cameras for long enough on that first day to have our picture taken! See--we're only mostly obsessed.

We finish our day with a stroll through the woods. These particular woods were shot through with lovely resting places such as Churning Cauldron, and the Mud Volcano, but for whole minutes at a time we had tranquil scenes such as this! Isn't it pretty? We needed the respite, too, for the following day was full of interesting trials, which I will share with you next time. I hope you've enjoyed our first day in Yellowstone. I know I certainly did!