More Than Six Percent

This blog entry about the events of Saturday, June 25, 2011 was originally posted on July 01, 2011.

PART 8 (DAYS 8-10):  “In real camping so to speak, you leave your car and go out [camping], but here the park is so big.  So it’s like, what’s the point of camping if you still need your car [to get around]?” I wondered aloud as we drove out of the Canyon campground for our daily excursion within Yellowstone National Park.  The nearest shower facility from our tent was half a mile away (which is doable if you have the luxury of time; we drove), but that’s nothing when you consider the fact that YNP is bigger than your average park — about the size of the states Rhode Island and Delaware combined.  Camping was our only option within the park due to the high demand of accommodations reserved months in advance; if we had planned way in advance, we might have stayed in YNP’s other options (all operated by the private hospitality company Xanterra): lodges, cabins, and even the fancy hotel in the historic Fort Yellowstone village of old military houses.  (Camping is fun too though — it’s nature after all — but perhaps not when it’s 40°F at night, there’s still snow on the ground, and you didn’t pack enough clothes.)

There is a small network of paved roads to navigate your way through the two-state-sized park; the main roads form a figure 8, and with limited time and a car, it’s advised to do the upper loop one day and the lower loop another — which is pretty much what we did for our two full days at YNP.  Each loop has its main natural attractions at about 20-40 miles apart, all evolved geologically over millions of years, due to the fact that Yellowstone is actually an active volcano to this day.  It’s hard to visualize this since the volcano erupted millions of years ago, and a lot of the original crater has been filled and capped with its own hardened lava.  But underneath it all, the earth is still bubbling with volcanic activity, which manifests itself on the surface in the form of gushing geysers, steaming hot springs, and bubbling, mud-filled “paint pots.”  And with some of these explusions of hot water come mineral deposits, which collect and harden over time.  Some mineral fusions manifest into coral-like formations, while others form beautiful waterfall terraces of calcium carbonate.  The largest collection of these are at the Mammoth Hot Springs on the northwest part of the park, where network of boardwalk paths go from the extinct spring cone known as the Liberty Cap, to the Palette Spring and the Canary Spring.

“It smells like you farted,” I told Cheryl.  One thing that you don’t experience when you see geysers and hot springs on film or TV is the smell.  They emit the most incredible sulfuric stench the earth can muster up, as if getting revenge on the humans that use up its resources. 

“Why’d you do that,” she retorted.  Later she realized, “I forgot to put deodorant today.”

“I don’t think it matters around here.  You could fart and no one would know.”  The stench of flatulence was overpowered by this one cloud of sulfuric gas that was unavoidable on one boardwalk path.  “Now that is beyond stank,” I said, diverting the fact that I was letting my farts rip all day.  (I was a little gassy from breakfast from the fancy Canyon Lodge cafeteria; we started to think it was silly and unnecessary to cook in our snowy campground when you could just go to any of the park’s restaurants — you need to drive places anyway.)

The most well-known (and less stinky) orifice of volcanic activity is the regularly spewing geyser known as Old Faithful, which spurts hot liquid up about 180 ft in the air at predicable 90-minute intervals, but for only a short period of time.  (Insert your favorite ejaculation joke here.) 

“How predictable is that schedule?” I asked a cashier at the Old Faithful gift shop (one of several gift shops in the park that made it like Disney World).  There was a sign showing the predicted time of the next eruption, give or take ten minutes.

“It’s usually right on time, a little unpredictable,” she told me.  “It’s got a mind of its own.  But it’s never let me down.  Hasn’t let me down since 1975.”

Cheryl and I were two out of hundreds of tourists who fight for unobstructed views of Yellowstone’s most popular natural water fountain show — so popular it’s the namesake of a local ale.  Old Faithful didn’t let us down; it was pretty much on schedule, spawning a sonorous wave of ooh’s and aah’s.  “It’s like the Bellagio,” Cheryl joked.

Water doesn’t always go upwards in YNP; there are several waterfalls within the park.  The most visited ones are near the Canyon area which we camped in, which I didn’t realized was named after geological features.  “We should see the canyon,” Cheryl suggested.

“There’s a canyon here?”  It was the Grand Canyon of Yellowstone, carved by the Yellowstone River — not nearly as grand as the Grand Canyon of Arizona, but still picturesque nonetheless.  Cheryl and I drove to a hiking path to viewpoints to see the upper and lower falls, which eventually flow into the big Yellowstone Lake — a body of water with an average depth of 150 ft, but goes as deep at 400 ft.  These stats (and more) were given to us by tour guide and crewman Nick when we took an afternoon boat cruise from the Bridge Bay Marina to Stevenson Island in the center of the lake

“I guarantee were going to see some of the best scenery in the park. And that’s saying a lot,” he told us.

He pointed out the eagles, and the fisherman, and the wreck of the E.C. Waters — the first cruise boat to sail the lake about a hundred years ago — plus this mountain formation that looked like a sleeping giant that I saw but Cheryl couldn’t make out.  By the end, we were happy with what we saw in just an hour on the lake, which Nick pointed out was a big deal.  “[If you went on every path that they’ve built in the park, you only see six percent of the park,]” he said.  “Whenever you go off those paths, like this boat, you see more than that.  Only about three percent of the people who come here ever do.]”

We were happy with any and all of the scenery we’d seen in Yellowstone; even the “generic” scenery that wasn’t a highlight was something out of a Boss Ross painting.  “That’s just some bitch lake.”  Granted, the geysers started looking the same after a while. 

“Should we stop at that geyser?”

“Nah.”

“After one, all the geysers look the same,” Cheryl said, getting “geyered out.”

“Yeah it’s like Asian people,” I joked.  (It’s not racist if you’re already Asian.)

“I’ve seen enough geysers for one day,” we overheard some guy say in the parking lot.

Regardless of that, both Cheryl and I were already planning to go back to Yellowstone.  I definitely suggest it to everyone.

“I’m already planning my next vacation here,” Cheryl said; she would try and stay in one of the lodges the next time.  (They have beds, 50s diners, and lake house breakfast buffets, oh my!)  Our time there was brief but we made the best of it given our allotted time there.  However, there was more to be seen in America’s National Park system — the next one juxtaposed with the YNP’s south entrance: Grand Teton National Park.  There would be no geysers though, so I guessed I would have to be wary of passing wind.






Next entry: A Dinosaur In The Tetons

Previous entry: Cowboy Country




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  • Coming soon: Tetons and Mormons…

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This blog post is one of sixteen travel dispatches from the trip blog, "The Global Trip: From Sea to Shining Sea," which chronicled a two-and-a-half-week road trip across the U.S.A., from New York to San Francisco, visiting several American national parks and monuments along the way.

Next entry:
A Dinosaur In The Tetons

Previous entry:
Cowboy Country




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