Yellowstone the Magnificent

Yesterday started with a long drive from Cody to Yellowstone, via the Chief Joseph Scenic Byway.

It seems rather sad that we commemorate this noble leader by naming the road after him on which he and his people fled the US Army, who had orders to kill all Indians.  Does that really seem like sufficient mitigation?

We doubt that Chief Joseph was remarking on the scenery.  But we had some spectacular views and breathtaking vistas.

Though we later saw the iconic North Gate entrance, we came through the northeast gate of Yellowstone, which took us through the Lamar Valley (the “Serengheti  of America”). While it is known for its variety of animals, the only ones who would pose for us were the buffalo.  Lately, we’ve mostly been seeing stuffed ones, so these were a treat. I know they all look the same, but trust me, these are representatives of many different herds.

Now, if you are a person who thrills to geothermal aberrations, abnormalities and anomalies, you will love Yellowstone National Park.  We saw more steam coming out of the earth and more pools of sulphurous slime than you can find in most horror movies. You get to see what is under the skin of the earth, but I personally prefer earth with her skin on and think grass and trees are the start of an excellent wardrobe. However, they are very dramatic and picturesque.

We spent some time at Mammoth Springs, both the town and the springs for which it is named.  Lots of evidence of elk under our feet, but we only saw one cow grazing on the town grass.  This is the place that housed the original troops who guarded the park, and the park administrators.  Evidently, it was a highly desirable posting.  It has a huge hotel and dining facilities, and my friend Denise worked there one summer making beds.  Will grill her on hotel room stories when I return.

The actual Mammoth Springs secrete limestone and I would be lying if I said they were pretty.  But enjoy the visual drama, and be grateful you can’t smell them.

And then there were many other springs and pools, such as the Norris Geyser Basin and the Midway Geyser Basin, which includes the Grand Prismatic Spring.  You can be forgiven for thinking these all look somewhat alike, but they were striking.

At the end of the day, we arrived at the historic Old Faithful Inn, our destination for the evening. This is the real thing, built for the crowds who came in droves to Yellowstone when it opened in 1904 as our very first national park. And it wasn’t until 1914 that cars were allowed in the Park, and started pulling up to the hotel.

Now, for the geyser you have all been waiting for – Old Faithful.  It is indeed right outside the door of the Inn, and I saw it erupt three times.  The first was when I was standing by our car waiting for the bellman.  That was a treat.

Then, 90 minutes later, we were properly seated, along with hundreds of others to watch the 6:30 show.  The geyser erupts at about 90-minute intervals, and the force of the eruption varies.  Ideally, the time to witness it at its most dramatic is when there is no wind, which was not the case on our visit.

But my best Old Faithful experience came this morning.  I tiptoed out of the room while Don slumbered and was able to see it go off at 6:30.  It was a smallish eruption, but the setting was wonderful.  It was snowing, and I was almost the only person out there.  Now that’s how I wanted to see Old Faithful!

It was also great to see the glorious three-story lobby empty of the crowds too.  What a beautiful place.

If only the rooms were equally charming.  It is very difficult to get in here, as they really have location going for them.  But we are so over sacrificing a bit of comfort for “rustic charm.”  Before I start my tirade, understand that we were given one of the best rooms in this huge inn – not some remnant space.

So here goes:

No rooms with king beds?  You are kidding. Why can’t each side of the bed have a lamp?  Why was the table under a window with no outlets?  (We moved it under the window with outlets.) Why no table lamp? Why no chair and lamp in the dead corner with more outlets?  I could only work till the sun faded. (Could you at least provide candles?)  To add to the lighting woes, the shade on the room’s sole lamp had to be removed in order to have at least a dim (fluorescent, yuck) light cast on my side of the bed.  And it’s 2014, people.  You have to provide WiFi.  No more excuses from innkeepers and no more forgiveness coming from the team of Don and Jo.

In conclusion, a word about the crowds.  This is really the first time in our travels in the West that we are at the cusp of the tourist season, in a place that draws tourists by the millions.  So at times, walking on the boardwalks to see the springs was a bit like shuffling though Grand Central – or Port Authority – except New Yorkers move faster.  Too many people for my taste.  I was mentioning this to a tour bus driver standing next to me as we were watching Old Faithful erupt.  He then asked where I was from, and burst out laughing when I said New York City.  But, as I explained, you come to a place like this for the sense of nature, not to stand elbow to elbow with your fellow man.  So there. We’re not crabby – we just have standards.


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