By the dawn’s early light, I dragged my sorry ass off the sofa and stood in a daze, trying to blink moisture back into my eyes and scratching myself. Maybe I can go tomorrow instead. But the morning had been cloudy the day before, and it was clear today. Make hay while the sun shines. I loaded up on gear and shuffled out to the car.

The Miata’s top was wet with dew, so I started the trip with it up. The motor came to life with a soft purr, which I immediately replaced with the blast of Rock ‘n’ Roll. Just as well the top was up so I didn’t wake the neighborhood. Down Main Street I rolled, even earlier than my previous sortie. There was no traffic. East onto I-90 as far as Livingston, which at 80 mph didn’t take long. Just as I had the last trip, I gassed up in Livingston and went to the McDonald’s next door for a cup of tea. It wasn’t open yet. Rarely have I wanted a cup of tea as badly as I wanted one after I learned that I couldn’t have one. Rather than bumble around the town like a latter-day Arthur Dent I decided to keep moving toward my target. I knew there would be a place in Gardiner.

Now with the top down and he heater cranked up full blast I headed south on highway 89. I had the road to myself again, right up until I got to Yankee Jim Canyon, a twisty bit with a speed limit of 70 I was really looking forward to driving. Just as I reached it I came up behind a slow car. A really slow car. I tried to calm myself, but all I could think about was the light. I wanted as much time with that early-morning light up in Yellowstone. Finally an opportunity presented itself and I shot past Pokey like an F14 coming off the deck of an aircraft carrier. I was starting to wake up.

By the time I reached Gardiner I was ready for a real breakfast as well as tea. I wanted a drive-through (The light, the light!), but there was none to be found. I found a little cafe that was open and filled with locals. The appeal of a real breakfast was quickly becoming more important than the half-hour of light I would squander. Eggs, toast, hash browns, and Earl Grey. I learned while waiting for my food that in 1893 Gardiner had 200 people and 21 saloons. My kind of town.

buffalo butts At the gate I turned off the tunes. It was time to become one with my surroundings. I entered the park and climbed through the Golden Gate, up and up into the cold clear sky. Before long I was in a traffic jam of a different sort, following a pair of bison as they plodded up the road, one beast in each lane. I had heard they can be crotchety, and have been known to attack cars when annoyed. As I putted along, I tried to get a picture that showed the slobber dribbling from their mouths and the steam gusting from their nostrils in the cold morning air, but mostly I concentrated on driving and not annoying them. Suddenly I felt quite exposed in a convertible, my face at the same level as the horns on the 200 lb. heads of the animals. Attacks are rare, I knew, but having these two giants close enough I could hear them breathing, I can tell you, those suckers are big. Pulling up next to one to pass it was intimidating. I chose the buffalo butt view for most of the time. On we plodded, and I was wondering just how much space I should have before I slipped between them. Finally a truck came the other way and one of the bison stepped off the road to go around the truck. I dared pausing for one shot as I eased past and was on my way. roadside bison

Having already tried a photo tour once, I knew several places I wanted to go. Already I could tell the day was going to be hotter than last time, so I was very glad I got an earlier start. I made my way south to roaring mountain, pausing in several places to take pictures. Roaring mountain was my first extended stop. The conditions, alas, were not quite as ideal as the last time I had stopped there; ironically the sun was still too low to light the steam up as well. I thought of waiting for the sun to be in the right spot, but as the day got warmer I knew the steam would be less dramatic. I’ll have to come back earlier in the year. Bummer. I set to work and got a couple of good steam shots and some nice dead tree shots. I like them, anyway. I also shot this Miata ad (bigger versions of all photos in the photo album):

miata ad roaring mountain

And so the day went. Not far past Roaring Mountain I was crossing a meadow still shrouded in mist, and got some decent snaps as well. sunlit dead tree In the few minutes I was there, the mist dissipated almost completely. I hopped in the Miata and continued south. I stopped in the Lower Geyser Basin and took a lots of dead tree pics as well as some shots of the geysers. The geyser basins look at first to be lifeless, blasted plains, the angry Earth spewing steam and toxic, superheated water onto the surface, scouring it clean. The sulfurous steam drifts over the barren land, hot and pungent. Tufts of short grass make a go of it a safe distance from the vents and away from the runoff.

Bacteria mats at sapphire spriing But there is other life as well. Where the hot water flows from the bottomless sapphire pools, bacteria grow. These organisms are so tough that there are companies sampling them to isolate the exotic DNA that allows them to live where there should be no life. For me, however, the attraction is the sinuous bands of color they create. The color of the bacteria is dependent on the temperature of the water where it lives.

Occasionally in these bacteria mats there are the tracks of elk and bison. All I can guess is they enjoy the warm sensation on their toes – there’s nothing to eat or drink near the geysers, but there’s plenty of elk poop.

Finally I reached Old Faithful. As with the other two times I have been there, the geyser had just finished when I arrived. That was OK; now that I knew the drill I took some time to wander around looking at some of the other geysers scattered nearby. And honestly, of all the “must-see” things on the trip, Old Faithful itself was a bit of a letdown. I’m glad I saw it, and there was no question about going back to get some pictures, but in our day and age of thrill rides, a jet of water shooting out of the ground for a few minutes is not that exciting.

Old Faithful and Bison This visit had a special and very unusual bonus, however. A bison had wandered into the circle of benches that surround the big geyser. I got in the perfect position to get a shot of old faithful with the bison in the foreground, but there was a ranger trying her best to keep people back from the animal. She was having a tough time of it. As soon as she got people cleared off the benches near the critter other people would dash in and take them. Dutifully I surrendered my good spot only to have other people move in front of me. Still I managed to get a couple shots. I was also fortunate that the clouds dotting the sky arranged themselves to darken the background while leaving the geyser brightly lit. The hotter weather also meant that the water was less obscured by steam.

After Old Faithful the clouds started to come in, and I was starting to feel very tired. I visited a couple more Geyser basins and pulled under a tree by the moose exhibit and took a little nap. It was a good nap indeed. The sounds of birds, the warm breeze, all good. Finally I headed back home.

There are lots of other pictures in the album – here I emphasized pictures that depicted what I saw more than the artsy-fartsy sort that are my favorites. Go take a look!

And, yes, I am hoping to get Google hits on ‘buffalo butt’.

Buffalo butt, buffalo butt, buffalo butt.

15 thoughts on “Yellowstone

  1. 1) Logs at Roaring Mountain (B&W) is exceptional composition.

    2) Have you taken the other road between Bozeman and Yellowstone, along the Gallatin River (headwaters of the mighty Missouri) canyon? I remember that as an exceptionally winding and fun road (even in a Camry).

    3) I vote for “Impress her with my charm and wait for her to make a move”: hasn’t that always been the strategy, since going shopping with Bob in sweat pants in Ralph’s in Encinitas? (“Of course I appreciate it when girls look nice, but I shouldn’t have to work at it for a girl to pick me up.”)

  2. By the way, we spent Father’s Day dinner 2002 in the Montana Aleworks at Bozeman. We have an appreciative place in our hearts for the wait staff there as Brad left his retainer on the table there and they found it and mailed it on ahead of us to Illinois.

  3. Hey – What’s with the buffalo butt wearin’ a ballcap? Man that beard is getting nasty!

    PS. PADRES are in first place!

  4. Whoa, talk about a blast from the past. We’re looking back at dinosaur days when computers were rare and expensive, and most high schools had no computer but might have had a terminal connected to a computer at a nearby university. Our high school had a computer so rare, it was more powerful than the one at the university I attended after graduation — a PDP-11/70. But even such a powerful computer had limited resources, so students had to share accounts.

    Keith, is that you, my account-mate from those many years ago?

  5. Hmmm, I don’t recall sharing an account with you. (“Sharing an account” is hardly practicing safe computing, of course.) I did take a year of computer, but I think it was as a senior, so you would have been gone by a year. (you are class of ’80, are you not?)

    I do remember being in the Astronomy Club with you, however. Did you go on the train trip to Flagstaff?

    Did you click on my homepage link to determine if I am indeed the Keith you are thinking of? Don’t force me to go back to my year book to look for Keith’s in classes ahead of me.

  6. Yes, Brian, the beard is not what you would call a “chick magnet.” I think I’m going to shave it off when I get back to San Diego.

    By the way, Vegas is looking like late July. Anyone interested?

  7. Yes, Keith, I looked at your homepage, and you’re definitely the Keith I knew, minus the John Denver glasses. The computer class we took together was my senior year, your junior year. And yes, I remember the Astronomy Club trip to Flagstaff.

    BTW, did you know Ms. Ross is now a successful novelist?

  8. She’s written a couple of historical romances, and a young-adult book about life in Los Alamos when it was a closed city. She might be interested in Jer’s Novel Writer — she was a Mac person last I heard.

  9. I’m so embarrased to have shared a computer account with a woman and not even remember…What I floozy I was. Forgive, Carol Anne, I was young. I treat women, if not computers, with more respect now.

  10. Hey, Keith, I remember when you looked at my Homecoming dress and likened me to a Tyrolian maiden, and then you used a Risk board (or was it Diplomacy?) to show me where Tyrolia was.

    All is forgiven. Now I’m trying to get the offspring interested in geography so he won’t be as horribly ignorant as most Americans are. Risk and Diplomacy and Kingmaker are all sitting in the hobby-room closet, waiting for the perfect opportunity. If I can get you and Jerry and Bob and Bill and John all to come for a visit at the same time, we could have quite a game-fest.

  11. Wow, file this one under cosmic coincidences: What should arrive in the mail yesterday but our third copy of The Strange Disappearance of Uncle Dudley: A Child’s Story of Los Alamos by Inez Ross. Everybody wants us to have a copy, apparently. Perhaps I’ll send it to Bob; it is age appropriate for his kids, although I don’t know if he ever had Mrs. Ross for a Teacher.

    Mrs. Ross was at my mom’s retirement party in 2000 (where mom invited many of my old teachers). I probably had more fun there than at my class reunion of 2001.

    Whew! We better be careful or we’ll have to ask Jerry to start a nostalgia thread just for fond memories of high school and explosives.

  12. You know a cosmic alignment is called a syzygy, right? That’s how our boat got its name. (Long story, will tell more if people clamor for details.)

    Meanwhile, maybe Jerry’s next poll could be something about high-school memories.

  13. On the matter of the beard, if you’re following the rules you laid down for yourself, you’re committed to keep it for as long as you’re on the Homeless Tour, by the current poll. So you can’t shave it off when you get to San Diego.

    And who says it’s not a chick magnet? In order to declare whether something is or is not a chick magnet, it would be good to get some opinions from some chicks. A lot of women (myself included) find facial hair sexy. Admittedly, there are issues of cleanliness and having an appropriate arrangement of facial hair given the shape of your face and such other aesthetic factors, but for the Homeless Tour, I think it would be cool if you ended up looking like the guys in ZZ Top.

  14. Getting back to golly-gee-whiz old times, it occurs to me that Northern Rio Arriba County should be an ideal vacation destination for Keith, depending on how much his tastes have changed over the last 20-odd years.

    First, Keith used to be really into trains. Chama is the quintessential train-buff destination, with a historic railroad and lots of railfans who hang out there all the time. We have season tickets on the train and travel on it several times a year, to the point where Gerald is practically a docent.

    Second, Keith used to be really into the Beatles. The Chama radio station has just been bought by a guy who’s into classic rock and is especially a Beatles fan.

    And then there’s just the general idea that the hobby-room closet at Five O’Clock Somewhere is full of all those games Keith used to like to play, like Diplomacy and Kingmaker.

    Hey … how about a Bacchanal at Five O’Clock Somewhere?

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