Sunday, June 06, 2010


Yesterday we finally got around to visiting a scenic wonder in our metaphorical backyard: Yellowstone National Park.

It's an amusing place to visit because you'll be driving along, minding your own business, then suddenly hit a traffic jam of cars in the middle of nowhere. People will be running along the road carrying binoculars and cameras, with new arrivals parking haphazardly wherever they can find a spot and hurling themselves from their cars to join the crowd.

The reason, of course, is that Wildlife has been spotted. A wolf, a bear, or perhaps a particularly scenic buffalo all warrant the mass destruction of several hundred yards of roadside wildflowers if there doesn't happen to be a pullout handy. The downside is that sometimes, you have to have a 200X zoom lens on your binoculars to actually see the Wildlife, so those of us who weren't smart enough to bring binoculars with that magnification are left squinting into the distance trying to figure out if the black spot we're looking at is an elk or a tree stump.

Of course, a lot of the more common wildlife know that their only chance for personal recognition is to make themselves readily accessible. Buffalo were especially good at this, and could be found near the road at many locations. By the end of the trip we were buffalo connoisseurs, only deigning to stop if the buffalo was closer than 5 yards to the road, had particularly well-groomed fur, and perhaps threw in a little song-and-dance number.

At the beginning of the trip, though, we weren't sure what we'd find so we snapped pictures of whatever black stumps we could find:

Pictured below: Roaring Mountain. It was interesting enough, although I didn't actually hear any roaring. Or snarling, hissing, or even grumbling for that matter. Maybe I just wasn't paying attention. It seemed to be a common theme throughout our trip that the sights we saw didn't quite live up to the pictures we saw in the various Yellowstone-sponsored publications. Either Yellowstone has a dedicated Photoshop crew, or we just hit the park at a bad time of year.

Pictured below is another prime example. This is supposed to be Mammoth Hot Springs, which in all the pictures I've seen has brilliant colors and pouring waterfalls. We were lucky to see a trickle of water from one or two pools, and the predominant color was grey. The below patch of dried-mustard yellow was pretty much the only other color we saw. Ash's expression accurately mirrors my own feelings.

The below picture was the best part of Mammoth Hot Springs, and it wasn't even at the Hot Springs proper. It's from the little loop that goes behind and above the main hot springs.

For lunch, we stopped in the little town by Mammoth Hot Springs, where three doe elk had smartly positioned themselves near the picnic tables to take full advantage of lunching vacationeers. Their migration patterns seemed to be dictated by the flow of tourists rather than the seasons, and about the time that lunch finished they moved off across the main square to take up a new position by the botique stores to catch the after-lunch window-shopping crowd.

Ash's hightlight of the trip was the strawberry she got to eat at lunch. Would that we all were satisfied with so simple a delight.

Some of the buffalo were clever enough to bring along the kids, knowing that tourists are unable to resist taking pictures of baby-anything. (Child took dozens of pictures of a "baby geyser," which I would have classified as a gurgling golf-hole but since it was 1/10th the size of a normal geyser, it was apparently much more attractive. I don't pretend to understand.)

On the plus side, I did manage to catch a shot of the elusive 8-legged buffalo. Seldom seen (i.e., photographed less than 500 times a day), he slipped across the road like a 2000 pound shadow before fading into the grass a few feet from the roadside.

The obligatory Old Faithful shot. Our timing was excellent; it began to erupt right as we walked across the field towards it. Other than that...yeah. Old Faithful. In its defense, it's probably kinda hard to live up to the hype it gets.

The Fountain Paint Pots. Bubbling mud holds a strange fascination for me. Maybe I should see a psychologist. I think it's because geyers are all up in your face, shouting, "Hey, here I am, everyone look at me," while mudpots are more like, "Heh heh heh, you have no idea what I'm plotting beneath this opaque, mysterious liquid, but I'll give you a few cryptic hints in the form of a sulphuric-smelling bubbles."

Yeah, I should probably see a psychologist.

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