And Grand Teton
Wed 30 May 2012 - Thu 31 May 2012 65 °F
On the morning of Wednesday, May 30, I was overjoyed to discover that the (post-Half Dome) pain in my legs had finally subsided. A stress-free night and a good sleep, and my calf muscles were almost good as new.
I have to give a shout out here to my calf compression sleeves. I get shin splints pretty badly, which is one of the reasons I tend to be sedentary. Before this trip, I was determined to figure out how to deal with them, and came across compression sleeves as a preventative measure. Good god, why didn't anyone tell me about these before? Not only did they completely eliminate my shin splints for the entire roadtrop, they helped with overall calf muscle fatigue. I'm a fan for life, even if they do make me look like I'm wearing knee-high socks in the summer. I have a pair by Zensah and a cheap pair of neoprene sleeves I picked up on eBay; both work equally well, but the neoprene ones are kind of gross when I peel them off.
Anyway, enough of that. It was time for a visually stunning drive into Wyoming, through Grand Teton National Park, and into the mother of all parks, Yellowstone, complete with its terrifying grizzly bears and ability to basically destroy human civilization instantly should it choose to erupt. I thought when I was planning this trip that Grand Teton's mountains would scare the shit out of me, because I'm generally nervous around mountains. I come from the flattest country on earth, where the tallest mountains barely qualify as hills in this country. When the earth is nearly vertical for miles, I get a little uneasy. But it seems my Yosemite exploits have cured me of this feeling, at least temporarily. Actually, at some point, I remember wondering, "When am I going to stop swaggering and sneering at everything? When is the feeling that I'm King Shit because I climbed Half Dome going to wear off?"
That's not to say that the Tetons didn't take my breath away. They are some right proper mountains.
The Tetons also apparently have the support of a lot of very rich people. The nearby village of Jackson was much bigger than we thought it would be, and felt very much like a resort town for the upper middle class plus. In fact, we found out later than Harrison Ford lives there, which didn't surprise us at all. The National Park's Visitor Center is without a doubt the nicest, swankiest visitor center we visited on the trip, which is saying a lot, because we've been into a lot of visitor centers.
Eventually, after navigating a lot of closed roads (both parks weren't officially "in season" yet, so there was still a lot of winter repair roadwork being done, which meant we couldn't drive around Jenny Lake *sadface*), we made it to THE SUPERVOLCANO.
By now, you are almost certainly sick of me saying WOW THIS PLACE IS AMAZING, but WOW THIS PLACE IS AMAZING. This was one of the first sights that greeted us as we started on the Loop Road, next to Yellowstone Lake. It didn't seem real. It still doesn't. As Matt said at the time, "This is like cheating at photography."
Our campsite was a right turn, but we turned left instead to see our first geyser eruption: Old Faithful.
Yellowstone was kind enough to put on a show for us. After watching Old Faithful, we wandered around the sulfur-odorous geyser basin taking pictures of the brightly colored bacteria* ...
... when suddenly, whoosh! A random geyser in the basin erupted.
And then, a few moments later, another! This eruption was even larger than Old Faithful and went on for such a long time that Matt was able to get close to it even though we were some distance away.
Yes, that's my Matt there right next to the geyser, while all the other observers stay about three yards back. He got wet. But he was pretty happy about it.
Turns out this third water spout was the Beehive Geyser, which erupts on a very unpredictable schedule that can vary from eight hours to a day. Thanks, Beehive Geyser!
Next, we were on a mission to see some bison, so we drove the (very) long way back to our campsite around Yellowstone's loop road, and were duly rewarded:
My video of buffalo fording a stream.
And OMG baby buffalo!
We spent the night at Bridge Bay campground, where we were informed that bears will not break into cars. This seems counter to what we were told at Yosemite, which is that bears will rip your car apart, leading to thousands of dollars of damage. And Yellowstone bears are meaner! I have no idea what to believe, but I kept my bear spray strapped to my hip.
Actually, we have christened these "bear blasters" after Powerthirst:
If I had a million dollars right now, I'd start a bear spray company and call it Bear Blaster.
However, despite all our precautions, we did not see a single bear the entire time we were in Yellowstone -- indeed, since I am writing this after the fact, I can report that we did not see one during the entire trip. I am not very disappointed by this. I read too many bear attack stories during preparation.
The next day was spent on a more leisurely trip around the Loop Road, seeing all of the typical touristy sights Yellowstone has to offer to the intrepid traveler willing to venture onto a supervolcano in bumfuck. Here be bubbling mud volcanos and bizarre terrace formations spewing the fetid stench of brimstone, and a gorgeous canyon with multiple waterfalls that required us to once again climb a lot of stairs to view. Unfortunately, climbing Half Dome a few days earlier had not made us instantly fit. Damnit.
That last line of thumbnails contains shots from Norris, the "hottest" geyser basin in Yellowstone, and the area which most made me remember that this location could at any moment trigger the apocalypse. While here, we met a hilarious Chinese tourist couple who pulled up in their RV and upon seeing us, immediately asked: "What is a geyser?" It turns out they had somehow traveled to Yellowstone without doing any prior research whatsoever -- apparently a regular occurence for them, since they seemed astounded by my rudimentary knowledge.
"How do you know so much?"
"Umm, I like to read about national parks."
"Wow, you read a lot."
A few minutes later, we saw the male half of the couple, Ray (he gave us his business card -- he is a "Representative for Celebrities and Entrepreneurs"!), bounding across the geyser basin toward a steaming hole in the ground. He was not on the boardwalk. He was clambering over the thin crust of the basin. The thin crust surrounded with warning signs not to walk upon it, because sometimes it collapses and causes the errant walker to fall into waiting holes of boiling water and die (so I have read). This has happened to tourists in the past, and we thought for a moment that we might be witness to this horror.
"Tell him to get back! He could die! Quick!"
His girlfriend yelled out some panicked Mandarin and he returned to us, grinning while we tried to impress upon him the importance of not running off the boardwalk to peer into geyser blowholes.
After we returned from our boardwalk stroll in the drizzle, he approached us again. "Where are you going next? We'll go with you. You can show us. You know a lot. Do you know where we can see bears? We want to see bears."
Unfortunately, we could not take him up on this offer of companionship, as we were on our way out of the park to our next exciting destination: Thermopolis, home of the Wyoming Dinosaur Center. We said our goodbyes. I hope they survived.
- N.B. I used my PowerShot's "Super Vivid" mode for these pictures. Because, if you take a look at any pictures of these bacteria pools by professional photographers, you'll notice that they all mess with the saturation. If they can cheat, I can totally cheat too.