Friday, November 13, 2009

Yellowstone Pics Of The Day: Days 6 & 7

I have never yet been on a permanent vacation, have you? If you have, my guess is that you are retired, and that really doesn't count as a vacation per se. It's more of a life phase--a life phase I wouldn't mind experiencing for myself one day, but not just yet. I'm not mature enough to handle non-stop self-determination. I need obligations in life to get me out of bed in the morning. I need responsibilities to motivate me to accomplish something. What makes vacations and holidays special is that they are fleeting and rare, and a break from the routine, and thus precious.

That being said, I am never ready to leave Yellowstone. I have never gotten my fill of its beauty (see Day 5 for my favorite pics of the park in its splendor), and I am completely serious when I say I could happily live there. I'm not saying that hiking in the back country could, all on its own, serve as an entirely sufficient motive for getting me out of bed every day for the rest of my life, but it comes pretty darned close. We have barely scratched the surface of a very diverse and mysterious place, and even at that have only been there at summer's beginning, never in the autumn or winter. Yellowstone in winter is definitely on the bucket list!

Alas, for now, our exploration of Yellowstone is coming to an end. I have one more set of photos to share with you, and then journey home we must. (We came home through the Grand Tetons, so I still have a few pics up my sleeve, but these are the last Yellowstone images I'll be sharing with you this trip.)

The last couple of days before the drive home were a jumble of places and activities. The first one was the 4th of July, and West Yellowstone, where we camped during our stay, is the perfect place to experience Independence Day in small town America, complete with parade and fireworks. The parade is just what you'd expect, with firetrucks, and horses, and candy for the kids. The fireworks display this little town puts on is amazing. Ked and I had seen it before, and had talked it up to our friends Scott and Mary so much that they were prepared to be disappointed. They were disappointed in that expectation of disappointment!! It was wonderful and satisfying. Every time you thought they must be throwing the big finale it turned out they were just getting started. (Well, okay, not every time. Clearly the show peaked eventually, but it didn't happen till we were perfectly ready.) The rest of the day was spent in bike rides and scooter races, souvenir shopping, and some yummy home cooking, and the day after that was an exploration of Mammoth Hot Springs and its environs. Stick around and I'll give you a taste of everything but the food... (Click on the photos to enlarge them.)

Scott looks like he's winning here, but never underestimate the power of a determined Mary!

Keep that helmet on, Girlie!! Safety first! Oh, and you in the back there--watch where you're going! That bike looks fast!

Speaking of fast bikes, there was a herd of them when we got to Mammoth. We got to talk to this Harley crew for a while. Really nice people who answered a burning question that Ked and I have wondered about for a very long time. What is the deal with those really long handles that some people have on their bikes? They look so uncomfortable, making riders keeps their arms way up high for the duration of their ride. They must be torture on long hauls. Wanna know what they told us? "Too much testosterone."

Doesn't Mary look pretty here, getting ready to hike up one last Yellowstone hill at Mammoth Hot Springs? Since this was our last day, we were determined to make the most of it, and tackle the climb cheerfully.

Ben looks pretty self-satisfied after the first part of the climb.

Part way up, we stopped to look back at the town below. There were lots of government offices and residences down there, some of them very old. We were surprised to see some not-so-old domiciles a little ways out of town, too, looking more like a suburb than a part of history, but rangers must live somewhere, mustn't they, and some of them (gasp!) actually have families. We were told that this little neighborhood was for the higher-up permanent residents, and that the summer crew lived in apartments and trailer parks tucked here and there throughout the park.

We were climbing the path, so why not climb a tree? (Actually, I think Mom or Dad set the boy up there, since the tree base was off the trail, and a definite no-no for safety reasons. This limb, though, was hanging over the path, so we reckoned this made it in bounds.

Emma got her shot at the almost-forbidden fruit as well.

Now there's a tree I wouldn't want to climb, although the scene is really lovely in its desolation. There's not much left alive up toward the top of these hot springs. Even the algae that you see so many places around Yellowstone is notably missing. It's a beautiful, dead world up there.

Oh wait! There's something that managed to survive. It's got a really cheesy grin, though. Looks like a few hardy trees hung in there, too.

After we saw all we wanted to at the springs, we headed into town to have a look around. There were some interesting old buildings. I loved how the traditional lion statues are replaced here in Yellowstone with far more suitable bears.

Our walk took us here to the Horace M. Albright Visitor Center. There were some nice displays inside to teach us about the history of Mammoth and Yellowstone, and Ked and I got our museum fix for the day. Our friends, though, had an extra important reason for heading inside. They had serious business to take care of...

Ben and Emma had worked all week to complete a very important mission, fulfilling the strict National Park standards of study and achievement to take their place among the ranks of Junior Park Rangers! Here you see them "Taking the Oath" to preserve and protect our natural treasures. Yogi would be so proud.

What can I say about this picture? I wonder if "two heads are better than one" would merely elicit groans, or if it would send you out of here in disgust. Hmmm... it's probably a close call. I came close to bailing myself at my lack of captioning shame. However, since I can't come up with anything that's actually clever to say, and since I want to post the picture anyway, I'll have to take my chances with your indulgence. You can give the post a poor rating down at the bottom if you feel the need to protest.

With our important civic duties behind us, we wandered out again to see the local wildlife. We didn't have to look far, because this young buck was stopping traffic right outside the visitor's center door.

Notice that park ranger keeping a watch over the scene? We talked to her later, and she said that's how she ends up spending a lot of her time. It's her job to keep an eye on the animals in town and make sure there aren't any "close encounters." Honestly, her job can't be easy, because, not only do you have an abundance of animal life wandering through the village, but you have lots, and lots, of the following...

People. Not the brightest people, either. We must have seen her talk to more than a dozen would-be-patients-in-the-making, who seemed to think that Yellowstone is Disneyland, and that nothing there will really hurt you, no matter how close you get. Seriously, it's like they think that elk is tame, and if they talk sweetly to him, he will let them pet him--or at least get that once-in-a-lifetime photo. They aren't thinking about the fact he weighs several hundred pounds, and his hooves are designed to fight off predators. They just want a pretty slide show when this trip is over. Now, the people above are crazy enough, but at least they can try to close the door and hit the gas if elk-boy here decides he doesn't like the way they're looking at him. Others we saw weren't even that cautious.

This photo is deceptive, since we were walking by under ranger supervision, and there was a truck between Ked and the elk, but even this made us rather nervous. The ranger told us some stories about park visitors getting stomped quite recently due to over-confidence, and we definitely wanted to keep our distance--even then, we were tempted by the photo-op. Human nature just wants to push the boundaries, doesn't it?

See what I mean? This girl actually walked up and turned her back on the animals so her friends could get a better shot. What were they thinking?!

It's not like there weren't any warnings anywhere, either--not to mention the ranger (who had to come up and tell this girl to get the heck away from the aforementioned dangerous wild animals.) Sheesh, people, get a clue! Not tame!

Okay, moving off of the lecture circuit, I now take you to a sweet family scene for your edification. At least I would take you to a sweet family scene, if Scott had not deliberately tried to thwart my shot by, shall we say, less than sweet family behavior. (Oh, go ahead and click on it. You'll see what I mean.) Not sure if he thought I would post this picture, but if he didn't, he now knows never to give me an opportunity like this if he doesn't want me to take advantage of it. I'm just not that tame, either, I guess.

Here's a caption for you "I Can Haz Cheeseburger?" fans:
Sucker: Ur doin it wrong.

Walking around town, it was clear it was 4th of July weekend. There were flags everywhere, private residences especially. (Yes, this is a private home.)

Some of these homes were so picturesque that it was hard to believe they weren't a Disney-type set. Maybe that's what got the tourists thinking that the animals should be tame...

Once we wandered around back of the main street, it became obvious that people with real lives did live here. Cars and canoes and satellite dishes. Yep. We're still in modern-day America.

Awww, now there's that sweet family photo I was looking for. Lovely old church, too. We saw a few more sights in town, and the decided to head out and squeeze in one more adventure. The hike we originally planned was cancelled due to nature, but Scott picked the brain of a local and off we headed to see one more lake.

Here it is. This is the only photo you will see of it, however, because this lake was a turn-on-your-heals-and-get-out-of-here kind of location. Why, you ask? Bloodsuckers. The mosquitoes knew this was our last day, and they were determined to give us a fine send-off. Stinking mosquitoes. Note that Scott has a mosquito-repellent wipe in his hand, and another on his hat, and still the nasty creatures came at him (and everyone else but me) in droves. The buzzing alone was enough to send me packing, and I wasn't even on the menu.

And here it ends. We saved this picture all week so that we could take it on our last night. I will confess that we headed into Yellowstone one more time, driving south on our way back to Portland, but this was our last day with any opportunity to explore. The adventure is not quite over. Come back again to see our driving tour through the Tetons on the homeward journey. I never knew they were so amazing. They are worth a trip all on their own. Maybe someday...