Sunday, September 27, 2009

Retroactive Travel Post - Day 10 - Yellowstone

I'd never been to Yellowstone before, so I was a excited to check it out, even though I'd been warned that it is big and overwhelming and crowded. Even still, the place is beautiful. The ranger at the gate commented that we had the extra-cool park pass that R got and gives us entry into all the national parks in the country. It's good for a year and we most definitely got our money's worth.

Now the rest of Yellowstone was a bit of a blur, because we were racing against time. On our way to our campsite, we wanted to see Old Faithful, because that's what everyone has to see in Yellowstone. In retrospect, we were told that Yellowstone is best appreciated either camping off the trail, which is serious, hardcore camping and something we will work towards, or during winter, when you have to drive snowmobiles to get in.

Whatever be the case, we were going to see Old Faithful first. The drive took us awhile, what else is new, and we got there in late afternoon. Just in time, it turns out, to see Old Faithful go. They give you a rough estimate as to when she'll blow, and it's amazingly accurate. In fact, the tour buses time their arrival accordingly, and just as the time approaches, loads of people start pouring in, mostly elderly tourists from the Midwest and Asians (the Chinese are the new Japanese tourist, just louder).

And of course, while we were waiting, lots of big nasty dark clouds rolled in. With just about ten minutes to go, a freezing rain began to fall with strong winds, and we were freezing in our t-shirt and shorts. Luckily we had rain coats, we were more prepared than some of our compatriots, but even still, we got soaked. At some point, just as we were about to give up for fear of hypothermia, she went, and we were glad we stuck it out. It was cool, though R also wanted to walk around and check out the adjoining area, which had a lot of cool things to see, but it would have been hard while we went into hypothermic shock.

After seeing the geyser, we sought out shelter with the masses under the atrium and then went into the lodge. It's a beautiful place, warm and dry, and we looked into getting a room. We figured there was no way we were going to camp in these stormy and wet conditions, and I was all for having a shower and an internet connection. When we inquired, however, they told us the entire park was booked up. Everything in Yellowstone is run by a private corporation, so Big Brother knows the status of everything.

To get a hotel room, we would have had to have left the park, which meant hours of driving, and then we would have missed out on all the beautiful scenery. We decided to give it some time and walk grab a bite to eat. The cafeteria served this amazing buffalo chili that was awesome, but it's hard to screw up chili. It's like Indian food, enough spices will hide anything.

After dinner, the rain had calmed down a bit, and we went and checked out the grounds. While most people think of Old Faithful, there are hot springs all over the place, and they are really worth checking out. They've built a platform that you walk around, and you can get up close and personal with the springs. It's really cool, like walking on another planet, and there are other geysers that are not as big and reliable, but just as impressive. We saw several of them blow, and we all got huge kick out of it.

We cruised for a couple of hours, and by the end of our wanderings, it was not only dark outside, but cold. On the bright note, the rain had stopped. Now I was all for getting a room, but the downside would have been missing out on our camping and Yellowstone experience, and R was having none of it. It was decided that we would camp, and we headed out to the campgrounds. We weren't even sure if the grounds were full, but went for it anyway.

Just for the record, what made this trip affordable, and thus possible, was that we camped and spared ourselves the expense of hotel room and restaurant meals. You save a lot of dough camping, and the kids prefer it because it's so much fun. Who wouldn't love hot dogs for breakfast?

We arrived at the campgrounds after 9:30PM and set about finding a spot, which actually wasn't hard because it seems there are mostly two types of Yellowstone visitors. Those that stay in hotels, and those in RVs. The actual "sleep on the ground and eat beans" campers are fewer and far in between. We found a site, pitched a tent in the dark, and put the kids to bed. While they were sleeping, I set out to find firewood for the next morning, which proved to be an adventure in and of itself.

Being the short-sighted person I was, I set out looking for the manager's spot, where they usually stock wood and sell it. Of course, I didn't take into account that it was pitch black outside and had to remember how to get back. I just started walking. I got the front office and it was closed, and the wood had been pillaged. Bummer, but the bigger bummer was that I hadn't paid attention and didn't know how to get back. I had a moment of panic and just buckled down. I tried to remember the best I could, but the funny thing is, when it's dark out and you are in a campground, everything looks the same.

It took me about 15 minutes, but I found my way back. R must have been wondering where the heck I'd been, but we were too tired to discuss it. We climbed into our bags and crashed out, looking forward to the next day. One thing fun about campgrounds is seeing your neighbors, so we had something to look forward to the next morning. That, and campfires and hot dogs for breakfast.

Until the next time, thanks for reading.

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