Thursday, September 6, 2012

Road Trip Part 7 - "Gawd, this place is dreamy"

May 2012 

 The drive to Yellowstone was again an uneventful one. The landscape changed again from mountainous rugged to flat and green to mountainous again. The weather also became more like home; much, much colder and much wetter. So much so I had to buy another hoodie in Walmart (admittedly I did lose the one I had bought with me in Vegas…). On route we stopped off by the side of the road to stretch our legs, and commented on how like England it was. The clouds were low and grey, drizzle was in the air and everyone was shivering in the summer clothing we had been wearing for the last few weeks. The route north straddled the Wyoming/Idaho state line, and so I took great delight in announcing the entry to the state every few miles. We went through miles and miles of farmland, with signs warning of loose livestock, and endless pickups passing us bye. Due to the wild goose chase of trying to find the Great Salt Lake earlier in the day we had left SLC late, and so stopped in Jackson, Wyoming for the night. Arriving in the pissing rain me and Barney got incredibly annoyed at some of the group who refused to budge from the RV to help park it and hook it up when we arrived at the park.  The evening was pretty unremarkable – the usual good food from Wahid, some booze and debates on whatever was hot topic of the day – except it rained all night. Just adding to the illusion of being back in Britain there! 

Stopping by the side of the road in Britain - sorry, Wyoming.
As we drove the rest of the way to Yellowstone the next morning the scenery became more and more stunning, with snow starting to appear on the ground as we climbed elevation, but there wasn’t any worry as the roads were clear. I took the last leg into Yellowstone National Park ($25 for 7 days like the Grand Canyon – absolute bargain!), and was told there was an expectation of 6 inches of snow that day by the ranger in the booth. Couple this with the signs everywhere suggesting using snow chains in the park made me begin to worry slightly. But then, how bad can it get? Looking at the map we were given, we aimed for the lake, slowing down to see why loads of vehicles had pulled off haphazardly to the side of the road. Pulling over (rather neatly I hasten to add!) we saw a crowd of people excitingly look towards a bear in the distance. Seeing a Grizzly Bear within ½ hour of arriving in Yellowstone was pretty damn cool you’ve gotta admit! It was rather amazing see the Grizzly within 100meters just rambling around, and hilarious seeing all these guys with stupidly huge camera lenses (something to make up for maybe?!) try and outdo each other on knowledge of Grizzlys.

Scenery driving into Yellowstone

First grizzly bear seen in the fur and blood
The girls
 Moving onwards, with everyone keenly looking out for more wildlife, we passed the large lake (with a couple of illegal U-turns prompting angry honking and Michael leaning out of the window to tell the drivers to fuck off in his thick Glaswegian accent!) and saw the first of many of the Yellowstone hot springs. There were lots of signs all over warning people to keep off the area around the springs due to thin ground. Aparently people had fallen through and been badly burnt from the temperature or toxicity of the water. Lovely…

Driving away from the lake we headed towards Old Faithful; a spouting geyser which erupts every 78 minutes (give or take 10 mins). The weather had begun to come in at this point with it raining pretty hard. Undeterred we headed out towards the geyser, braced for the 2 mile walk the guide book indicated from the car park. Two hundred meters later we arrived. Errrmmmm, what?! We were then informed it was another 45 minutes until the next eruption. Bit too much advance planning there! The others went in search of a coffee, and I struck out alone to wander around the other hot springs around us. The whole area looked very post-apocalyptic, with steam constantly hanging in the air and not much vegetation immediately around the springs themselves. Old Faithful is the most predictable and regular empting geyser in Yellowstone (by comparison, the next frequent erupting geyser erupts between every 4-50 years, and hasn’t since 1995!). It is also the second highest, spraying water 100ft into the air.

Eight of the nine of us walking towards Old Faithful
The post-apocalyptic scenery around the geysers
Old Faithful erupting
Antonio ready for some geyser watching!
Kim and Eshe being oh so fashionable too

Meeting back up with the others, we began out wait for the Old girl to begin her eruption. Entertainment was provided by this incredibly full on Yank with his camera ‘trying to get the crowd going’; his wife and kids getting more and more embarrassed with his antics. Highlight of the moment? Asking a Korean guy where he was from to the reply of ‘Oh cool. I’m from Oklahoma”. Good one buddy… Old Faithful was in a ‘playful’ mood to quote a Park Ranger, erupting 10minutes late with lots of ‘pre-play’ as the same Ranger called it (chortle!). When it did get going however it was an impressive sight, although unfortunately the column of water was hidden by all the steam being produced. Lasting about 2-3 minutes, it was a cool thing to see, and something one definitely has to do when in Yellowstone. However, it was slightly spoilt by the usual American crap of applause and wooping. Please, its nature not a performing monkey…

We got back in the RV, and after some tricky maneuvering to get some gas we continued our drive around Yellowstone with Wahid at the wheel. Our progress was hampered however by a Bison in the road, causing a rather large traffic jam behind him. To be fair to him/her/it, he/she/it was being very law abiding; on the right hand side of the road and everything! Although he did not give one shit about anyone else and took his sweet arse time. Eventually however the Bison moved off the road, and resuming normal speed he went a bit further down the road to come across a ‘fuck load’ (as Wahid put it in his best Attenborough voice) of Bison a short distance away.  

Bison in the road!
Driving through Yellowstone

Wahid with Bison
Bison with Jon and Wahid looking on

The weather was starting to come in as we left the ‘fuck loads’ of Bison and began to look for a site to stay the night in. Finding an RV site, we trawled around looking for a flattish spot to hole up in for the night, with the snow starting to come down thick. This gave us a particular worry as we weren’t sure what the deal would be on clearing the roads in the park, or even if we could get the RV out of the park with the strong possibility of ice, which would affect our ability to get out of the RV site and onto the main Yellowstone road. After finding an ideal spot, on flat ground, not many hills to get out of and a toilet block metres away we were set. Until someone came along and asked us to move as they had reserved the spot. Bloody wanker… With a bit of an issue getting out of the spot (it was a tight one) we then found another one, slightly raised off the road but about as good as we were going to get considering the weather at that point. Settling down in the RV wrapping up tight (at least as best as possible as uncharacteristically for me I didn’t bring much warm gear – I thought we would be in the desert the whole time!), with the windows and curtains closed to conserve heat. Except this went to shit when the smokers wanted a fag without going outside. But there you go. I would love to say the night passed uneventfully as the snow fell around us, but it didn’t. The bloody carbon monoxide alarm kept going off, much to our alarm (especially in a snowy Yellowstone with no signal), and eventually turning off the propane fully and opening air vents seemed to do the trick. We hoped at least!

Discussing what to do with the RV whilst the snow came down thick and fast

Kim and Eshe snuggling up to keep warm
Hanging out in the RV

Gotta keep warm somehow!
 The next morning Jon and I woke early in a bid to get going and make the most of Yellowstone for the short amount of time we had there. Getting out of the RV, the place was stunning. Snow everywhere, with that sort of silence that only fallen snow can produce. I got a few funning looks going to the bathroom in my shorts and two hoodies, meeting a couple of guys camping near us decked out in all the North Face clobber (show offs!). Getting the RV out of the spot wasn’t as hard as I feared – not icy enough to send us slipping down the slop in the next RV and kissing our $1000 excess goodbye thank god! And to my immense relief the roads were cleared.

The scene in the morning

The RV

The stunning snow covered Yellowstone
 Yellowstone is a beautiful place, but in the snow it was absolutely stunning. It really was a struggle to keep my eyes on the road and not at the scenery around us. Pulling over a number of times to take pictures we came across a bison enjoying a hot spring, a cyote, some deer, and to top the day off already, another grizzly bear. Causing Jon to jump out of the RV as I slammed on the brakes. It was amazing to see it so close – we were within about 20ft - way closer than the park information said we should be! Jon went closer for a better photo and I hung back by the RV. Just in case it decided to change its mind and become bothered by the increasing numbers of vehicles around it. It also roused the others who sleepily had a look and went back to bed. Who sleeps when youre in Yellowstone in the snow?!

Bison enjoying a hot spring
Looking down into the valley with the hot springs creating the steam that can be seen
Second grizzly bear of the trip!
 We stopped for breakfast in Mammoth Hot Springs, with a wander around the springs there seeing the yellow stone that gives the place its name (obviously!), and then after the obligatory snowball fight drove around the scenic loop, stopping for photos at various points and playing Sigor Ros on the Ipod to add to the serenity of the place – magical! However, we couldn’t go all the way around the loop, as the road was closed at Tower, meaning we had to go all the way back around the loop (being only one road) adding roughly 2 hours to the journey time. Not including being stuck behind another Bison, causing Wahid to get road rage and everyone else giggle uncontrollably in the back. Having a late lunch by Yellowstone lake (not that much could be seen on account of the weather!) it was time to head south again to California.

Not particularly comforting...
Antonio and Eshe
Wahid ready to defend himself.

The hot springs that give Yellowstone its name

Yellowstone was stunning, even more so in the snow, and definitely a highlight of the trip. Whilst I was initially sceptical we would get there (and that fact we wouldn’t be able to afford to in terms of gas cost and mileage) I am so glad we did. I am gutted it was for such a short amount of time, and I will most definitely aim to visit Yellowstone again in the future. 

(map from Google maps)
(additional photos from Amy, Eshe and Kimberly)

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