Chapter 8 -- Yellowstone

September 16, 1997 (continued)

After getting my oil changed in Bozeman, I started driving toward Yellowstone. I noticed fresh snow on the peaks around here. Went east to Livingston, then south to Yellowstone. There was quite a bit of sleet during the drive, but no accumulation to make the road slick. I visited the visitor center at Mammoth Hot Springs, just five miles into the Park. This place seems even more built up the Yosemite. Perhaps it's that much of the nearby park housing is modern, with new siding, looking like it was built as part of a '60s suburb.

I walked through the Mammoth Hot Spring terraces area. It's very beautiful, as you can see in the photos. There's very colorful travertine, a stone deposited by the mineral-laden hot water. It builds up in this area at a rate of up to eight inches per year.

Got a campsite close by. There's a herd of elk that hang out near and/or in the campground. Pepper is very interested.

Checked out the gift shops, and snapped a few more pictures of very tame elk on the lawn of the lodge.

I didn't have a telephoto lens. These elk were very used to having their pictures taken.

I went back to the campsite for a nap. Cooked dinner, then noticed that it's fairly clear, so I tried to get the telescope out for an observing session. It wasn't too productive. I looked at the triple star Iota Cassiopiae, but had a hard time finding it before I realized that the finder scope was out of alignment. Finally found it, and couldn't quite resolve all three stars. Seeing two was hard enough at 125x.

Then the nearly-full moon came up over the horizon. It gave a pretty spectacular view, with it rising over the treetops. Through the telescope, it looked just like the moon in Spielberg's E.T. Before it came up, it illuminated the clouds brightly. The moon was too bright to do much deep sky observing, so I packed things up and went back into the van. It was a very easy packing session, because I could see so well by moonlight.

Went inside and finished Ed Abbey's The Monkey Wrench Gang. I enjoyed it, and I'm starting to read Desert Solitaire next.

The morning of Sept 17th I went to Norris Geyser Basin. Pretty impressive, even if I didn't see an actual geyser eruption. Then I headed over toward the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone. Also very, very spectacular. The weather has been a bit blustery, however. At the canyon village, a man told me that it was 28 degrees the previous night. Suddenly, after going to several of the canyon overlooks, I was struck with an acute case of NPBS (National Park Burnout Syndrome). Symptoms: a "so what" attitude toward some of the most spectacular scenery on the continent; utter disgust at the sight of RV's and retirees; hatred of traffic; mentally calculating with contempt an ever-rising ratio of vehicular length (or weight) per person carried.

The only prescribed solution: get out of the park ASAP. I went to Cody Wyoming. I'd always wanted to see that town, ever since, 20 years ago, I came back from a vacation one summer in high school to find that my sweethart had suddenly left town for this faraway, unimaginable place called Cody, Wyoming. She wrote a couple of times and said it was beautiful, but we lost touch. She was right, it is beautiful. My curiosity forced me to check the phone book, her father was still there. I didn't call.

Just about the most scenic drive I've been on this trip was highway 126 through the Sunlight Basin, between Cody and the Northeast entrance to Yellowstone. Unfortunately, the scenery is so big that an ordinary camera can't do it justice. What it cries for is one of those 360 degree IMAX shots from a helicopter swooping through the area. I didn't take many pictures; mostly I just watched in awe.

In Cody, I stopped at a nice little local Mexican Restaurant called Zapata's. Wonderful food and friendly small-town service.

September 17, 1997

This morning I stopped at a laundromat in Cody to wash clothes. While there, I started sitting at the computer, studying the mapping software, and figuring a strategy. I have to decide where to go next, and how to get there. I sort of have to go back to Sausalito to pick up mail and pay bills, but I'm already more than a third of the way to Illinois, where I'll visit family. It's getting cold (there's fresh snow on the high peaks) so I want to head south. After checking out alternatives, I decide to head back for Sausalito, from there to St. Louis, and back via the southern route, following old route 66, more or less. It'll be about 100 hours of driving, according to AAA Map'n'Go, my trip routing software. But I've got almost a month to do it in.

Only problem: to get from Cody to Sausalito, I've got to backtrack. Worse yet, I've got to face Yellowstone, after my NPBS episode just one day ago. Since the East entrance to Yellowstone is closed for road construction, I retrace my steps to the northeast entrance, then cross the park to the west entrance, stopping very little. I did see a couple of herds of Bison,

and some Pronghorn Antelopes, which were pretty neat (and not at crowded overlooks). I only stopped for one picture picture at an overlook, of this colorful mudpot spewing boiling water into a stream.

Drove through some pretty heavy snowfall near Mt. Washburn. It was accumulating just a short distance above the road, but no accumulation on the road itself. Today has been rainy/snowy and blustery all day.

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©1997 Richard Cochran
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