Thursday, September 03, 2009

Yellowstone Pics Of The Day: Days 2 & 3

Day two of our trip to Yellowstone did not go as planned. Day two was supposed to be a leisurely exploration of mountain passes and valleys full of bears, with maybe a moose sighting or two thrown in for good measure. Day two was supposed to be picnics, and wildflowers, and old western lodges, fine dining, good wine, and lots of pictures of happy friends. Day two was not supposed to be what we came to affectionately call The Plague Day--as in the ten plagues of Egypt from the Biblical story of Moses. Day two was not supposed to be headaches, and infestations of ants, and upset tummies, and skinned knees, and temper tantrums, and road construction, and detours, and mosquitoes, and car-sickness, and a very, very late night. “Supposed to” doesn’t count for much in real life, though, and, unless you have some secret key to controlling time and space of which I am not aware, you have to let days like Day 2 happen how they will. Fighting a force as strong as the ten plagues is pointless—even Pharaoh couldn’t do it—so you might as well give in with a good grace and find what pleasure you can in wherever the day takes you. Even the best adventures tend to have some trials. The key to enjoying any vacation is holding onto your agenda with a very loose grip, flexing when flexing is called for, and looking for the bright spots in those unexpected detours that send you off where you hadn't planned on going. Such is the lesson of Day 2.

In some ways, Day 2 was a timely rest. We had been driving for days, both getting to the park, and exploring on our first day, and everyone was a bit road-weary. When I woke up that morning with a nausea-inducing migraine, I don't think anyone really objected to hanging around the RV park until my head started improving, sometime mid-afternoon. The kids got to ride their bikes and meet some new friends in camp, Scott got to do some homework, Ked and Mary both got to read The Shack a bit, and I got to curl up in blessed stillness until the waves of pain passed.

It was good for the grownups to slow down, and it was equally good for the kids to speed up--burning off some of the pent-up energy that had been building during our long days of travel. Some of that energy was a bit explosive, resulting in the temper tantrums and skinned knees which comprised part of our list of plagues, but these were nothing that couldn't be handled by amazingly calm parents and a few more spins around our camp on bikes and scooters. It's funny how kids whose bloody knees seem to be causing them real pain can instantly decide that scooters hold more appeal than parental sympathy, and go scampering off to find the next bump in the road, but some kids are tough that way, aren't they? They bounce.

Everybody had a nice pastrami and peanut butter sandwich lunch (separate the pastrami and peanut butter, if you would, please), and, if you ignored the ants crawling around on people's toothbrushes in the bathroom, things were starting to look up a bit.

Eventually, I was able to emerge from my cocoon, and the group of us prepared to go salvage part of our plan for the day. So, we drove into Yellowstone Park, later than expected, but still thinking that we had a good chunk of time to play with, since this was the end of June and the days were long. We made note of the time our road would be closing for construction--10 pm--and knew that we had plenty of time to find Lamar Valley, and hopefully those bears we wanted to see. It was important that we not miss the road-closure deadline, since not getting there before the road crews got going for the night meant a three-hour detour around the southern loop of the park--not something which was even conceivable considering that we had already had a rocky start to the day. The Lamar Valley is on the opposite side of Yellowstone Park from West Yellowstone (the town where we camped), and a long drive on a good day, so this was the one time we planned on eating dinner in the park. Bears often come out at dusk, and since Roosevelt Lodge is near the Lamar Valley, we figured we had a good chance of squeezing both dinner and bear-watching into the evening, before the road closed and we had to take the three-hour detour which would be our only option for getting to bed that night.

We crossed the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone, stopping to snap a few quick photos, and proceeded on to Roosevelt Lodge. The wait for dinner was a little longer than we would have liked, but it gave Ked and me a chance to wander around the cabins a bit, and our friends a chance to wander around the gift shop. Eventually our buzzer summoned us to our meal, and we entered the charming, if rather unnaturally loud dining room. (Lots of wood everywhere made for some serious noise amplification, and conversation was something of a challenge.) I had a hard time getting our waiter to understand my inability to eat wheat (don't know if he couldn't hear me, or just couldn't fathom the notion), but the time came when we all found ourselves sharing a lovely meal of western barbecue together.

I'll boast a bit and say that Ked's grilling kicks on anything Roosevelt Lodge serves up, but by not-from-Kedley standards, it was delicious. The noise was a problem though, more so because the plagues were back, and what had begun as a small nagging headache for Ked became a pull-over-to-the-side-of-the-road-I've-got-to-throw-up-some-barbecue kind of trauma. We almost headed for home at this point, but Ked said that he could handle the headache, and we drove into Lamar Valley, hoping the bears would make it all worth Ked's pain. We did see a grizzly, too far in the distance to see without a telephoto lens, and then eventually hit the jackpot--a black bear ambling among the brush, looking for his dinner. Ked, still in too much pain to function, handed me the video camera and sent me out to capture the event for him to see later. We all piled out of the car, even Ked, braving the rising cloud of mosquitoes (the daily plague of our Yellowstone vacation), and oohed and aahed at the reason we all were there. We got to see a bear!! I have no pictures to show you, since I was on video duty, but will you take my word for it? I'm too lazy to go dig a still shot up out of the video footage right now, but I promise you it did happen.

By this point, it was pretty clear we needed to get Ked home. We had gotten some headache medicine at the Lodge, but it had not yet kicked in, and he was suffering dreadfully, so Scott took the wheel and we started the long drive back. It was at this point that we realized that we would be cutting it close for making the lock-down time, but we knew how long it had taken to get where we were, and we still had a few minutes to spare to make the deadline. Little Emma and I swallowed our rising car-sickness, and off we went, taking the curves of the canyon at a faster-than-comfortable clip, but determined not to hinder our necessary progress. We were doing okay, queasy, but stable, and then it happened. Scott caught a glimpse of a magnificent elk on the side of the road--and I do mean magnificent. It was a seven point buck, and close enough to make you nervous. It was starting to get dark in earnest, so it was amazing that Scott saw him at all, but in the end there he was. I'd call him the sight of the day, probably even better than the bear. He was majestic. He was exciting. He was impressive enough to get Ked out of the car, and behind the video camera again, his headache responding slightly to the impact of an Advil/Tylenol cocktail. We gave that buck exactly four-and-a-half minutes before the pressures of time dragged us all back to the car to try to make up lost time, with Scott's foot pressed a little harder on the gas pedal.

It is disconcerting driving in the dark in Yellowstone. There aren't any street lights to guide you on your way, and you know the animals come out to play at night, so you just can't drive too fast with safety. Our trip that night was a combination of fear that we would miss our deadline, and fear that we wouldn't miss a buffalo. Fortunately, we didn't hit any animals. Unfortunately, we didn't hit our appointed time, either. We pulled up to the gate at 10:04, and the none-too-pleased policeman did not bat an eyelash when he turned us back to face the long drive around the southern loop. Our four-and-a-half minute elk stop had become a three-hour tour. Shades of Gilligan's Island rose up around us.

Our situation continued to deteriorate. Scott was able to slow the pace of the car, since we no longer had a time to beat, but it was too late to stop the effect of our previous zippy return through the mountain pass. Emma, sitting in the back seat, mildly mentioning that she didn't feel well, was reintroduced to her dinner, as was the back of the car. Our detour now included a stop to clean up the child, and the vehicle. Mary wrapped everything she could that had been fouled into a plastic tablecloth, made sure Emma was feeling better after the purge, traded places so Em wouldn't be subjected to the back-seat-effect anymore, and we set off again--the good thing being that Emma's stomach was growing calmer, and Ked's head had, for the most part, stopped throbbing. Ked was well enough recovered to be riding in the second row of seats at this point. He wanted to watch Ratatouille, and I was quite thankful for a chance to sit in the front seat after all the twisty roads. I did not want to follow the example of Emma's rebellious tummy.

In keeping with the theme of Gilligan's ill-fated excursion, the weather around us started getting rough. (There were thunderstorms almost every day we were at Yellowstone.) By the time we were an hour into our detour, we were completely surrounded by storm activity, flashes going off everywhere. You never knew which side would bring the next bolt of lightning. We drove along in the darkness, the night broken only by these shining moments, which disappeared as quickly as they came. I mention this now, not as one of the plagues, because to me, this light show was not a bug, but a feature. I love lightening and thunder, and as we drove down past a blank Grand Canyon, an invisible Yellowstone Lake, and a shrouded Old Faithful, the storm gave what would have been a thoroughly frustrating drive (okay, it still was frustrating) a few of those bright spots in the unexpected detours that I was talking about at the beginning of this long tale.

As we drove, Mary read her book, Ked watched his movie, and the kids eventually demonstrated that uncanny knack that all children seem to have of being able to sleep anywhere. Scott and I got a front row view of the sky show, and remembered that, despite all the mishaps, we had done some pretty cool things on Plague Day. We had seen some glorious scenery. We had eaten a fine meal. We had seen bears, and a magnificent elk. We had a fireworks display, provided by God, days before the Fourth of July shows would arrive. Headaches had passed. Nausea had passed, and this long detour, too, would pass--and tomorrow was another day--another vacation day to boot. Not too bad for a plague day.

"Tomorrow" was also Ben's birthday, and the day we visited Old Faithful. I'll tell you about it when you look at the pictures. Day 2 didn't have many photos attached, for obvious reasons, and Day 3 has plenty of pictures, but a little less story, so I'm telling what there is to tell in the captions and combining the days into one somewhat over-long post. Feel free to process this in chunks and come back later to finish. I wrote it that way, so you can certainly read it that way! If you want to see any of the pictures in full-screen form, you can click on them to enlarge, as always.

Here is the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone. The canyon is hundreds of feet deep, and contains some glorious falls. This was our only look for the day, but another post, I'll show you some more of the pretty.

Here is Scott, demonstrating the meaning of "Do as I say, not as I do" to his children, as he stands on the stone wall that is the only barrier between the highway and a deadly plunge. I admit to being a bit more sensitive to this now than I was at the time. After a bad fall recently myself, my "dangerous adventure" chops are sadly wanting--even if it's someone else's danger! At this point I think I wouldn't want to look, but back on the day Scott scaled this wall, my reaction was, "You're nuts--Let me get the camera!"

Here's Ked at Roosevelt Lodge, feeling a little off, but not yet showing the signs to the rest of us.

Here is the Lamar Valley, a pretty place whether you're seeing bears or not.

More Lamar Valley, as the sun goes down.

This is a terrible picture of our magnificent elk. The video is much better. (Ked's video camera takes very good night shots.) I did run the picture through Photoshop to lighten it enough so that you can see his antlers. I don't think you can count all seven points in this photo, but you get the general impression, I'm sure. Would I say this was worth the extra three hours of driving? Not the photo, no, but the experience? Definitely yes.

Well, that's the end of my Day 2 pictures. See why I combined them with Day 3? As I told you already, Day 3 was Ben's birthday, so we adults again gave the kids a play day in camp. They rode bikes, played with friends and cavorted at will. Adults rested, did laundry, homework and cooked a nice meal. Ked got to prove his superiority at the grill, and then we made a birthday trek to Dairy Queen, where most of us indulged in some ice cream. (Poor Scott opted for coffee, which would have been fine, except for the fact that the server accidentally put in salt instead of sugar. I can only imagine what that first sip tasted like.) Later we headed to the icon of Yellowstone, Old Faithful. It was a lovely day, enhanced by the fact that we had managed to get through the previous day and all still remain friends! Day 3 was cake after that--birthday cake, to be exact!

Mmmm.... steak...

We made some friends at DQ. This dog was adorable. and had apparently earned the treat of it's very own ice cream cone. Gosh, lucky dog--even Ked and I shared!

I know doggie enjoyed the cone, but I don't think more than Ben did, judging by the look, and the ice cream, on his face! The cutie behind him was part of a family that very kindly joined us in celebrating Ben's turning 5. They'd never seen us before, but invited us to join them, sang happy birthday with us and approved of Ben's presents as he opened them. Nice people.

We made it to Old Faithful Lodge just as its namesake filled the air with an explosion of water, which was very cool. Besides being what we were there to see, it saved us a long wait for the big event. Afterward, we were free to pursue other interests, which for Scott and Mary meant a quest for coffee, kids in tow for bathroom privileges, and for Ked and me meant a chance to snap a few photographs.

When our friends returned we walked the trail around the geyser field that sits in back of the lodge. There's lots to see there, and many active geysers. One interesting feature is the way some of that hot water runs into cold streams. Must make for some pretty confused fish!

We got pretty excited at all the natural fountains. I can't tell here whether Mary's telling us to hurry to see the explosion, or to run for our lives, but either way, she's excited!

Here is Emma, trying to get her dad to smile.

Here she is succeeding.

On this beautiful, sunny day, we were suddenly confronted with the threat of rain. Remember those thunderstorms I told you about? We did get dampened a bit, but nothing too terrible. The clouds sure looked mean, though.

Ked and Ben didn't let the threat of rain dampen their spirits. They look almost as bubbly as that geyser behind them.

Caffeine in hand, Scott and Mary are ready to face anything.

The clouds made Morning Glory a little less glorious than the last time we were at Yellowstone. The colors were muted, but still pretty, and I like the look of the glowing steam coming off the water.

After dodging the rain, we came back for one more viewing of Old Faithful. It worked out pretty perfectly. Not much waiting at either end of our walk.

Old Faithful Lodge has some lovely details to its design. I'd love to go back and stay longer, maybe in winter when the lodge is surrounded by snow, and you have to come into the park by snow-cat. Geysers in the snow would be very cool--worth learning to cross country ski, just to make the most of that vacation.

As the day wound down, we were treated to a lovely sunset.

Here's an appropriate place to say goodnight.