The road trip. Day 7: Yellowstone
When we left off, Lia and I had turned our glamorous tent into a sweat lodge, and were taking our sweet time to get ready for bed so the heat could have a chance to escape.
We'll rejoin in the middle of the night, when the both of us were wide awake, terrified that the canvas was about to come unhinged from its pegs. The wind was buffeting our enormous tent; whipping down the nearby mountainside, across a flat field, and into our back flap. Needless to say, there wasn't much sleep had in our second tent of the trip either.
Though, I suppose it could've been a team of bears shaking the structure for a laugh.
Next morning we showered outdoors again, said goodbye to the host and her many dogs, picked up some grub and gas on our way out of Cody, and headed towards the park.
Since I invited her to join me on this trip, Lia had been most excited about Yellowstone. Our schedule only allowed us one day to do it, so after some diplomacy we'd agreed a route and the major sites we wanted to see. This meant heading from the east into the western portion of the park, where the majority of the geysers and hot springs live.
An hour into the drive, we reached the park entrance. We were pretty high up at this point, and the road only climbed further, until we were driving through snow and bleak fog. Our first landmark was Yellowstone Lake, and it emerged through a visage of dead tree limbs, rather spookily.
We stopped for our first photo opportunity of the day on a rocky shore of the lake, and pitifully attempted to skim some stones to feel cool. It quickly became apparent that we were indeed quite high up in the mountains, so we raced back to the car for warmth.
Shortly after leaving the shore, we came across our first wildlife of the day: bison! Or buffalo. Not sure what the difference is.*
Bison/Buffalo observed from a safe 25 yard distance and Lia suitably chuffed, we trundled on through the rapidly changing landscape of the park. We'd transitioned from snowy, stark mountains to thick woods either side of the windy road. The varying, vast landscapes of Yellowstone were a microcosm of our trip so far. We'd seen the flat farmlands of the midwest, the dry and sprawling terrain of Wyoming, and the lush forests of North Carolina which all too quickly turned into flattened, commercialised roadside in Tennessee.
I'd imagined before the journey that these noticeable changes would be not only one of the coolest parts of the trip, experiencing many of the different climates North America is home to, but also would serve as great markers of our progress. As it happened, the changing panoramas were less noticeable, and more of a natural progression from one into the other (duh), but it was fascinating to see the environment alter so drastically in the span of a couple of hours driving around the park.
We began our sulphide-filled geyser experience, grateful for the warm steam cutting the brisk air. Stupidly, we hadn't checked the expected eruption times at Old Faithful before arriving, and thanks to an ill-advised detour to try and see a lesser geyser (*cough* Lia's idea *cough*), we pulled into Old Faithful's parking lot as it was erupting.
A quick powwow later, we sat back in the car, eating our packed lunches while running the clock down till the next time the earth would predictably spit lots of steam. Then, as we were there so early, we decided to at least claim some front row seats to the action and sat for 30 minutes in the cold before Old Faithful blew.
Old Faithful having earned its name once more, the cargo short-clad masses and the Asian tour buses followed us around the corner to mob the Grand Prismatic Spring.
As an entirely natural phenomenon, the Grand Prismatic Spring is definitely one of the coolest parts of planet earth, that I consider myself extremely fortunate to have seen, and extremely fortunate to have such a cool girlfriend who knows about these things.
We were approached by perhaps the only other normal looking couple in the whole of the national park to take their photo at Excelsior Geyser Basin - who later offered to do the same for us at Grand Prismatic Spring - before returning to our crafty parking spot on the main road outside the entrance, which was bottlenecked by RVs and station wagons.
Now heading North, with time pressing on, we saw some more bison/buffalo (now becoming commonplace), another couple of elk (which everybody had stopped to take pictures of early in the day, but not so much anymore), and eventually, and briefly, a pair of grizzly bears! I was so excited - I'd wanted to see grizzlies more than any other animal in the park. They were a fair distance off, and I didn't stop to clog up the road like the rest of the tourists had thoughtfully done, but through the treelike, I saw a big one and a little one. Presumably mother and cub. Ain't springtime grand?
A few more elk later, we emerged from the park unscathed and with an SD card full of photos (you're welcome for me not including all 200 of them) pushing forth into the stunning wilds of Montana, and towards a hopefully tame bed in Bozeman.