Going to Yellowstone National Park this past Labor Day was mostly an accident. One of those trips we planned because, at the very last minute, we realized the summer was going to be over and oops! We didn’t make any plans for the summer’s last hurrah, the Labor Day Weekend. With three days to burn and with so much beauty all around us, it was not hard to pick. Actually, it was hard to pick, because we can never narrow it down to one destination – we have so much to see just within driving distance, we can never pick one thing.
But Yellowstone it was. And, at the advice of one of our friends, we decided to come back to Utah through The Grand Tetons, another amazing work of nature.
We drove up through Utah and Idaho to make it to West Yellowstone, MT on Saturday. The drive is mostly through a “mild” desert, not quite as arid as Southern Utah or Arizona, but still yellow enough to not call it a pasture. Idaho had no potatoes to be seen from the haste of the car! Kind of shocking, really. We stopped for fast food on the way up, just because we wanted to make it to Montana before dark, and get to see some of the sights around town. The KFC in Pocatello, ID had the worst mashed potatoes I have ever had. Ever. Hands down. In Idaho, mind you! And also, KFC was out of … chicken! Yep! No white meat left.
Once you cross the Montana border, everything reminds you of Twin Peaks (its creator, David Lynch is from Montana, of course) or Brokeback Mountain. (Where would we be without our pop culture, right?). The mountains are rolling and green, the pine tree woods are lush and majestic, the streams are cold and crystal clear. The air is clearer. Everything is lush! The grass is soft and green. Log cabins and river stone walls abound. Montana is like coming home, to me. Everything I ever wanted when I am thinking of peace.
Seeing Montana is another dream come true for me. Always dreamed of the tall mountains, the untouched territory, the bison roaming free, the Last Frontier, the Big Sky … It’s all that and more … You just need to explore it – there is no way to do it justice by enunciating what it looked like to my own, biased, naked eye.
The second day, Sunday, we planned to just drive through as much of Yellowstone National Park as we could! As much as daylight would allow, that is. After an “interesting” breakfast (more on the “people” and food of this trip later), we headed west, towards the border with Wyoming. Wyoming, or as much of it as I have seen, is much like Western Montana, relief-wise. Lots of very well taken care of farms, too.
Now, as far as I am concerned, Yellowstone was a total mystery to me. I had no idea what to expect. Every time I would google images of Yellowstone, I would get pictures of wildlife. So, I was not expecting one kind of landscape over another. I had no clue what kind of land I’d be in: woodsy? Desert? Rivers? Falls? Lakes? Prairie grass? No idea!
Coming from Utah, I am always amazed at how diverse this land out here is geologically. How many different colors of rock, and how boulders and sand and everything in between are part of the same cohesive landscape … But Yellowstone is diversity raised to the rank of art. Not only the colors of various soil, or the juxtaposition of rock and grass and woods and clear rivers and deep, cold, serene lakes is breathtaking, but the consistency of every surface is amazing: from sand to crumbling rocks, from mud to clay, from bubbling hot waters to bitter cold mountain rapids – it’s all an explosion of color, substance and movement mixed in with stillness.
Everyone in the park was there to see “creatures”. At every stop, we heard people looking for some kind of animal or bird. I guess those google searches influenced everyone’s expectations after all. I didn’t want to miss out on the beauty of it all, so I took everything in – whether it was a creature (and they were plenty!) or a milky white puddle of boiling clay - I let my senses drown in the richness of it all.
Of course, Yellowstone is famous for the geysers, and mostly for its “Old Faithful” one, which erupts every day, almost every 90 minutes. As we have found out, it’s not all “that” faithful after all – 90 minutes is really an average – it can be 30 minutes or 2 hours … I won’t talk about all the geology behind it all, because you can easily research that for yourself … The geysers were indeed amazing. I have seen hot springs before, but never so active. And so present, and so … noisy.
The Yellowstone Movie
Being that close to an active puddle of sulfuric acid is surreal – you feel like a volcano will erupt in your face any second, but at the same time you feel humble, that the earth shares its life with you so viscerally.
It’s so amazing that these geysers which feel like they kill everything they touch are actually full of life – the signs explain all about the bacteria which lives in them. And there are trees around which are still green, and dragon flies landing on hot rocks. In the middle of so much apparent death – a glimpse that life is perpetual and stubborn.
I loved the geysers, but I also loved everything else about the Park – the Madison river, with its winding banks, full of fly fishers and trout and rapids was my second favorite, I guess. The way wild creatures share their presence with us, humans, also rendered me grateful. We didn’t see the much talked about and warned against grizzlies, but we saw elk, and bison, innumerable crowds of ravens, lots of dragon flies, ducks and geese.
On the third day, we started off towards the South Entrance of Yellowstone, again through Wyoming, and onto The Grand Tetons National Park. They are by far the most amazing and awe inspiring mountains I have ever seen. I have seen mountains taller than the Tetons, but there is something surprising about them! They rise completely straight up, at an 90 degree angle almost, against this clear blue set of lakes (Jackson, Jenn) – and the contrast between one’s tallness and other’s flatness is what makes them stand out. Plus, they are almost completely rocky. There is some pine-y vegetation towards the bottom half of The Tetons, but they are almost completely rock otherwise.
The town of Jackson, WY is the kind of town, at first glance, that I would love to retire to, one day, if it were close to a major airport. It’s definitely a mountain town, a cowboy land, and Western town, all in one. Art stores at every corner, and the architecture is crafted in such a way to not insult or disturb the beautiful landscape around. I also had the best nachos in the whole wide world at The Town Square Tavern, in downtown Jackson, across the central park of the city! Best guacamole and best seasoned ground beef –and I don’t even like beef!
And speaking of food. And of people. In stark contrast to the amazing beauty of this land was the relative ugliness of the people in these parts. I am not sure what it was, maybe it’s such a heavy trafficked area that people in customer service are just so tired of pleasing cranky tourists all day long they are just plain rude! The (dis)service we received was pretty appalling.
On our first night in West Yellowstone, we had dinner at the Bullwinkle’s Saloon and Eatery. The whole service was a train wreck! I asked for a straw three times, till she finally came up with not one, but three of them. Not sure why 3, but … I guess she showed me, huh?! She forgot to put our beer order in the computer. About 20 minutes later, after we asked about them, she said “someone didn’t bring them to you?!” in surprise. After another 10 minutes, she came back to admit she forgot what beers we ordered and to say she will put them in “right now”. She warned us that if Aa. wanted to replace his mashed potatoes with fries “there will be an extra charge because, you see, we need to make the kitchen think. So, they get paid extra for that”. OK! But then, when the food came out, she brought mashed potatoes, still. So, since they “didn’t think”, can we get the surcharge withdrawn? Don’t think so!
I ordered Idaho trout, and I got… a fish, but when I tasted it, it had the most foul taste ever. I have always said I have never met a fish I didn’t like before that night. And what was worst of all – trout is my absolute favorite fish! There was no way you can have a bad trout. Ever. After trying to talk myself that it’s probably my taste buds that got screwed up and the fish is fine, the waitress came back with yet another plate – of another fish but the same sides I had with my first dish: she admitted they gave me the walleye, and not the trout. So, she yanked my “wrong” fish from in front of me, and placed the trout down instead. And yes, the trout was delicious! At the very end, she “apologized” by giving us a free dessert absolutely drenched in chocolate, with the comment: “Well, I figured, everyone loves chocolate, so here you go”. Umm… yeah, everyone but this one (me!). No, they didn’t subtract the charge for the fries! $60 later we wondered where in the world is courtesy and common sense in today’s service world.
The next morning, at The Three Bear Lodge restaurant (we also stayed at Three Bear Lodge, which was beautiful!), my husband ordered the bacon and American cheese omelet. He got bacon and mushrooms. No cheese. The drinks were served by Grumpy (as in the dwarf). I have never seen a person so unfit for working with people. He acted like we woke him up from his nap and if we asked for one more thing, he’d pull his Colt 45 at us right away and then requests would perish! He never did come back with a straw, either. He didn’t talk. He just puffed and threw things … Pretty scary, actually.
People were overall cold up there, and pretty much unapologetic! The nicest man we encountered was the guy who sold us the entrance tickets for The Park – an elderly gentleman who sits in a lonely booth all day, waving people by at Yellowstone Park. Just sweetest man, who “thank you, Sir”-ed us and “have a nice day, Sir”-ed us, and smiled and just loved life! He was not working for tips, either!
As enchanted as we were by nature, we were equally put off by the humankind! Till we got to Jackson, WY, the very last day. In the middle of a strip mall, there was a box with these words on it ”Free Poems Weekly. Take One”. And we did. A small touch of humanity and unconditional kindness.
So, maybe … there is hope. Just like the small amounts of life in the death of the sulfur in the geysers. Maybe, just maybe, kindness and life will exist, albeit in small amounts. It’s worth searching for it, anyway.
From “The Poetry Box” - thank you, Chandler:
“But a single rose
Every petal every thorn
The rain pouring down
The sweet smell tingles my nose
Like the smell of that sweet rose
Raindrops run down my face
Like the tears I cry
Hidden among the cold drops
Tears only visible to your eye
Only you can see through the rain
Helping to relieve some of the pain”
(“You’re a Fallen Petal” – Chandler MyRick – 11th grade student at Summit High School)