September 06, 2007

Vacation Pics!

Okay, folks, I'm back. No car troubles. No random murders. No real drama. Just relaxed vacation fun. With pictures!

As I posted previously, as far as I-90 goes, South Dakota is one long expanse of nothing. Hour after hour after hour of horizon as far as the eye can see. Then, after about five hours of mind-numbing sameness, you encounter the badlands, and you're left wondering what, exactly, that seemingly endless gash on the landscape is even there for. Acres upon acres upon acres of eroded features carved out of an ancient seabed now exposed to rain and wind. Yes, the photos are small here, since has had an issue as of late when it comes to thumbnail images.




We could have spent hours just wandering over the ridges, but we had to get to our campsite before nightfall, because setting up a tent in the dark would have been, shall we say, difficult, especially since it was a tent still in its original box that I'd never set up before.

The next day, we did the obligatory visit to Mt. Rushmore. This was my second trip to the stony presidents, the first being when I was six or seven. Things have changed a bit. Not with the carved heads, mind you: they're pretty much the same, but there's a new grand walkway consisting of pillars with all the state's names and years they were granted statehood. It was all very stately and grandiose and neato and all that.


And, of course, the iconic Mr. Rushmore image:


More pictures and narrative to come, once I figure out how to better edit these images so they fit nicely in my ThunderJournal.

After reaching Gardiner, Montana, we stayed at the only place in that town that had a campsite with showers and water. I think it was Rockey Mountains Camping, or something. Whatever it was, it crammed tents together like sardines and RVs were give the royal treatment, with royal treatment being, well, green grass which was watered regularly.

For reasons that make sense for only a very select few people, here's a picture of Bjork:


The next morning, we entered YELLOWSTONE at the northern entrance, where Teddy Roosevelt laid the corner stone of the arch into the park, for whatever that's worth. Rather than waste our time right away at Mammoth Hot Springs, Mel and I decided to do a 5 mile hike, which started like this, with a view of the hot springs:


The hike was called Beaver Ponds Loop Trail, because there are a bunch of, well, beaver ponds, like this:


Of course, Mel had bearanoia so bad, she had to wear a bear bell, which annoyed us both to the point of insanity, but Mel insisted it was necessary. Still, we stopped at one of the beaver ponds for an automated shot with the camera, which caught an image as fuzzy as any bear we didn't see:


Upon our return to Mammoth, we actually did, you know, the Mammoth Hot Springs boardwalk hike, which takes you a lot longer than you may expect, but is still worth some awesome photos, provided nobody is in the frame.

Like this one. It looks almost like winter in the foreground, thanks to the extremely hot, clear blue water, but in the background, it's painfully late summer in northern Yellowstone.


And then there's this image:


I'm so happy about that picture, I could crap my pants. . .

OOPS! I crapped my pants!

On to the next day, when we hiked, and hiked, hiked. . . and HIKED around the Yellowstone Grand Canyon (YGC) area:



Unlike the Grand Canyon everyone else knows about, the YGC was carved out rapidly, if the park ranger narrative is to be believed. Whereas the better known Grand Canyon is known to have taken millions of years, the YGC is believed to have been primarily carved out in just a few weeks, many many thousands of years ago. How is this possible? Because of a combination of Yellowstone's many thermal features, which can turn hard rock into basically pretty unstable soil/rocklets, the warming of the earth that began in earnest several thousand years ago, and the unleashing of a glacial lake; all of which culminated in a deluge that was able to carve out this most amazing rift in an astonishing amount of time. For a wiki explanation, GO HERE. Ice Age: The Meltdown, also addressed this.

Looking the other direction, you see the Lower Falls which, in addition to being more solid and resilient than the rest of the canyon (yet still slowly eroding) are about the most photogenic falls in the park:



We also hiked down to the Lower Falls starting point, where a rainbow was visible in the mist and prompted the inner voice yelling "you must get the perfect rainbow shot!" I tried. Many, many times. I failed. But I'm still going to post one image:


The same day we hiked the YGC, we also made our way to our campsite within Yellowstone itself, Grant Village, which would be our "home" for the next five evenings, which wasn't our plan, but an eventual, and unexpected rain came about that made us NOT want to pack up a wet tent, because who wants to do THAT if they can avoid it.

Anyway, on the way to our campsite, going South from the YGC, we saw all manner of things, including herds of bison, which basically walked where they wanted, when they wanted, clogging up traffic like an artery block, but also making for Kevin Costner-esque landscape pictures:


Later, further on our drive to our campsite, we saw a forest fire in the distance, across Yellowstone Lake:


When I first saw it, I thought it was a massive park thermal feature. Turns out, we were in the park during about the peak forest fire risk time-frame of the season. The scars of the 1988 massive fire that devastated 1/3 of the park are starkly visible practically everywhere you look. Dead trees stick up like God-sized toothpicks (God being a subjective size for all, depending on belief system; atheists can can call them "tall burnt trees" I guess), even amongst the most picturesque of views:


There has, of course, been nearly 20 years of growth, which varies depending on how hot and long the fire burned in places, as well as when fickle seeds decided to take root. Still, it had to be devastating for park rangers, and visitors really, to enter the park only a couple years after the blaze. It must have been dreadfully bleak and sad. Today, of course, there's life amongst the carnage:


Please note, I took that picture entirely for dramatic and photogenic effect. There are much taller trees than those that have been growing in the park since 1988. Honestly, the fire that killed the trees in that picture could have been killed 5 years ago. I have no idea. Hell, I may have planted them, for all you know. I didn't, but I'm just saying.

Anyhooooo! We finally arrived at our campsite, and the next morning was geyser viewing day, beeyatch! Starting with the West Thumb Geyser Basin, which hasn't seen an active geyser for over a decade, so it was more like a hot pool basin, which was cool in its own way, but not particularly good for pictures, except for Abyss Pool:


"Barely Able to Bear It," c. Ryan Rhodes, Sept. 6, 2007

Some of you may have noticed a conspicuous absence of regular ThunderJournal posts over the past couple weeks. Others of you are no doubt asking "Who are you, and why are you writing this ThunderJournal?"

Well, the reason I haven't been dutifully transcribing my existential foibles is simple: I was on vacation. Specifically, I was camping in Yellowstone National Park. Which, by the way, I want to make perfectly clear here sleeping on a cot in a damp tent, in 38 degree weather, eating questionable items burnt black over a campfire, isn't quite what I'd call a "vacation." Rather, it's more like a trial, or form of personal torture, with admittedly fantastic scenery to help dull the other senses so as to fool you into thinking you're actually having
some sort of fun.

I kid, of course. Well, mostly. The 38 degree weather at night was a particularly nasty surprise, even though I knew ahead of time it was supposed to be "cold." Apparently, my definition of "cold" differs considerably from the definition used by people who write Yellowstone travel brochures.

All of this was a longwinded way of explaining why you'll see several posts over the next few days or weeks dedicated to the topic of my Yellowstone vacation. For this installment, I'd like to talk to you about bears.

If you decide to camp within Yellowstone Park itself, you'll hear an awful lot about bears. You'll see enough literature about bears during your vacation, you'll be an absolute expert on all things "bear." You will not, however, probably see a bear. At least "The Girl" and I didn't, even though The Girl spent the better part of a month basically convinced she'd be bit and mauled by a bear at least three times before our vacation was over.

Now, I had been to Yellowstone previously. I was six or seven years old, and it was fairly standard practice at the time for motorists to actually feed bears from their automobiles. The bears, of course, loved this culinary practice, so much so they spent the better part of their day along roadsides waiting for the next free meal.

Eventually, park rangers started frowning upon the practice of carside-to-go bear feeding. They feared the bears would inevitably become so comfortable with automobiles, they'd start driving cars themselves and, given the already congestive traffic and crumbling roads, the park wouldn't be able to accommodate an influx of cars carrying bear motorists. Now, if you believed that last sentence, you should really consider putting your head in a bear's jaws to see what happens.

No, of course the rangers feared, rightly so, bears would become sofamiliar with, and fearless of, humans, they'd begin investigating campsites and rummaging through campers' foodstuffs, which is exactly what eventually happened, prompting the powers that be at Yellowstone Park to embark on a course of action to preempt motorists and, by extension, campers, from feeding bears or otherwise providing bears easy access to human munchies and, which would also hopefully preempt bears from munching on humans. The way they went about this was to try and scare the living bejeezers out of anyone even remotely thinking about camping within Yellowstone Park. They went about putting up fliers about the dangers of bears, and park rangers were trained to be extra serious when they explained to campers--with a Stephen King kind
of narrative delivery--the dire consequences of leaving any morsel within sniffing range of a bear which, if the rangers are to be believed, is just shy of 1,000 miles.

To their credit, the Yellowstone Park campaign to make bears more terrifying than nuclear weapons was a resounding success. As evidence of this success, I needed only look toward The Girl, who was so completely convinced a bear lurked behind every tree hoping to snatch a Pic-a-Nic basket, I started to believe she was suffering from a new psychiatric disorder I dubbed "bear-a-noia."

Bear-a-noid people are not a rational lot. When you ask a bear-a-noid person a question, no matter how bear-unrelated it is, the answer will almost certainly have something to do with bears.

ME: So, what do you want to do today?

BEAR-A-NOID PERSON: Well, I sure don't want to get eaten by a bear, if
that's what you're asking.

ME: Do you know where I think we should go next?

BEAR-A-NOID PERSON: You better not be thinking "Bear-ville, or
"Bear-opolis!" I don't want to go to either of those places!

ME: Did you know there's a bear right behind you?

BEAR-A-NOID PERSON: *relieves bowels*

As I said, despite The Girl's rampant bear-a-noia, we didn't see a single bear during our entire Yellowstone vacation, although we did see some bear tracks along a lake shoreline, and we saw an elk carcass consisting of bleached bones, which any bear-a-noid person will tell you had to be killed and stripped clean by a bear that very morning.

Tune in next time when I'll discuss why "Getting There is Half the Fun," is the vilest lie ever ever perpetuated as some sort of sage wisdom.

Posted by Ryan at September 6, 2007 05:07 PM | TrackBack

S. Dakota is blah except for the far western edge of it. Hard to believe so much arguing and death occurred over that land. Nice pics though and welcome back.

Posted by: dailytri at September 7, 2007 07:59 AM

Speaking of erosional landforms, I've heard there are numerous buttes in S. Dakota. Do you have any butte pictures?

Posted by: Crimson Guard at September 10, 2007 06:39 PM

Mel really wore a bell?! You do know, those are called "dinner bells", don't cha?!

Posted by: Autumn at September 16, 2007 01:10 PM

The Columbia River Gorge was carved out by essentially the same process, and in roughly the same amount of time. However, the glacial lake in question was Lake Missoula, which covered western Montana, and was dammed behind a little break in the mountains where Couer d'Alene, Idaho is now. It's estimated that the main part of the channel could have been carved out in as little as a couple of hours.

There are large parts of the Gorge that look rather like a sand table. A sandtable that's hundreds of feet high.

Posted by: B. Durbin at September 24, 2007 08:09 PM
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