Thursday, September 3, 2009

Trade, did anyone have money on Wyoming?

Arrived in Yellowstone at about 7:00 and went straight to the first campgrounds. I was going to finally tent it. But right as I drove into the registration area, I saw the sign that said no sleeping on the ground due to a lot of bear activity. Alrighty then, so where the heck was I going to sleep, in my car? Granted, I had thought of that before leaving NYC to save on cash but now it wasn’t sounding so appetizing. I walked in anyway and asked if they could help me find a place where I could in fact “sleep on the ground.” The kind gentleman behind the counter showed me Bridge Bay 4 miles down the road so I went there instead. But not until I got something in my belly. The last I had eaten something was the corn dog and let’s just say, that didn’t fill me up. I went and got a pulled pork sandwich with fries at the Yellowstone General Store and it ain’t no real general store. It’s more like a tourist trap extravaganza. Merchandise a plenty with this cute little lunch counter in the back. All the folks that work there are from various countries around the world. I guess they have some kind of exchange program. My waitress was from the UK. Rachel was her name and you could tell that she was so tired of answering folks questions about where she was from in England because they had visited England before. Woop-di-doo! I wasn’t at all tempted to buy anything because all that stuff always turns me off. And I read somewhere, probably in Lucky magazine, that women over 30 should never wear T-shirts with words on them. Maybe because it gives men an excuse to stare at your chest? Who knows.

At Bridge Bay, there was a bit of a line to register so I listened to the questions asked so I’d be prepared once it was my turn. The folks before me were from Denver and had a popup camper on their pickup and asked to be placed as far from others as possible. I think they were on their honeymoon because the man kept saying that his woman was costing him lots of money and she would respond, “well, you married me.” I stepped up to the window and the first thing out of my mouth was, “Please place me next to a lot of people. This is my first time camping solo at a real campsite.” Sorry Mom and Dad, but Point Sebago doesn’t count. The woman asked for my information and as I recited my Woodside address, I chuckled and said, “it sounds like I live in a place like this but it’s New York City, Queens to be exact. I do have some trees outside my windows but that’s the extent of nature in the area.” I also asked if I could be near the amphitheater since I overheard another person mention that there would be a park ranger presentation there at 9:00 and it was 8:15. I was soon to be the new resident of space E233 which was easy to remember since my grandmother lived on W233 in the Bronx.

She proceeded to go through the rules and asked if I wanted any firewood and/or kindling when she came to the safety regulations pertaining to campfires. I laughed since I couldn’t imagine pulling that off in the dark (which it was now) along with getting my tent situated. After all, what would I do, warm up the beef jerky that was in my purse still? Next was the wildlife discussion. I had already seen quite a few signs about being careful on the roads and then of course the bear warning at Fishing Bridge up the road but she told me that if a bison were to park himself next to my tent, to just ignore him. Now, who on God’s green Earth would seriously be able to ignore a 2000-pound monster is they were sitting beside their flimsy tent? But she wasn’t kidding. The morning after, I saw a bison right across the way from where my tent was. Since she now knew how green I was, she asked if I had a flashlight because I’d need one to walk to the amphitheater. Check. Always had one in my car for emergencies.

So I drove over to the site, not easy to find in the pitch black even with headlights. It was more than sufficient for me since I didn’t have much else than the tent. I opened up my self-erecting tent bag and sure enough, it just popped up and was done. I had noticed on the board next to the registration lady that they were expecting a storm so I put the additional rain guard on top of the tent and secured it in all the right places. But I didn’t bother with those bendy things. I didn’t have the patience to figure out where they went and it was already resembling a tent so whatevs, as Nicole would say. I threw my sleeping bag in there and took the the flashlight with me to the amphitheater. I had no clue where the path was to get over there but I took whatever looked traveled upon. It was a cute little spot and the ranger was about to start. The presentation was entitled, “Photographing Yellowstone.” It was a series of photos from around the park that he took and he told helpful stories of safety and prime spots to shoot the sights. It was a great introduction to see what I’d be seeing in the next couple of days and what not to miss. I walked back to the site and simply went to bed. No air mattress, just me in my bag on the ground. Slept very well until 3 a.m. when it started raining. I thought, ‘please let it stop,’ since I had nothing between me and the ground, like one of those tarp things. It stopped soon after thank goodness. I woke up at 6:30 because I started to hear others waking up. Went to the restroom and came back to disassemble the tent and get on the road to start seeing the park. That was the part that wasn’t so easy. I wish I had bought the self-disassemble AND self-erecting tent. There were directions on the inside of the bag that held the tent but this NYC girl was stumped. Luckily, there was a seasoned camper next to me, a teenager on vacation with her parents from Minnesota. She did it in 4 seconds flat. She even undid it and did it again so I could watch one more time. I think I have it? I told her I was from NYC so this wasn’t so second nature to me. I think I keep using that whole “I’m from New York City” line as my “get out of stupid jail for free" card.

Had breakfast at Lake Lodge’s cafeteria and headed off to see Hayden Valley and the Mud Volcano. The volcano and caldron were already teeming with people. (Mostly seniors and European couples since school had already been in session since last week Wednesday, there weren’t many kids in the park.) The mud pots were cool, bubbling over with sulphur-smellin’ steam coming out of them. One guy said to me, “Can you imagine what the people that discovered this place must have thought when they saw this? They probably thought they were in hell.” He was so right. It smelled awful and smoke was coming out of the ground all over the place. There was a trail that went up the hill that looped around to the parking lot again but it was about a 2/3 mile “hike” and some parts were steep. I figured I might as well do it so I could get myself acclimated to doing some exercise in case there were other sights that I would HAVE to walk a lot to get to. I went up the boardwalk (which is what the ranger said last night you should always stay on) and there were these two guys from Wisconsin who were coming down and they warned me that they had just seen a herd of bison crossing the boardwalk and had to wait it out. They said they had gone already but to be careful nonetheless. I walked up over the hump to see if the coast was clear and I saw the herd they spoke of going up into the mountain with a few stragglers that were following their same path. I was about 1000 feet away at this point. Once they were all out of sight, I continued on the boardwalk trail. Right before I reached the spot where the others had crossed, two bison surprised me from the left, so I literally backed up. I had just taken my camera out to take a photo of the landscape. Granted, I was probably 500 feet away when I saw them because I remember taking a photo at full zoom. But instead of following the same path as their friends, they literally got ON the boardwalk and started heading right toward me.

Now, I don’t have cable at home so I’m not a frequent Nature Channel viewer but I did know that with bears, you’re supposed to play dead. But Mr. Ranger last night didn’t say a thing about what to do if a bison is charging you ON the approved boardwalk passageway. I was following the rules. The damn signs everywhere said to always remain at least 25 feet away from a bison. Who the hell are they kidding? That’s like 5 short people lying down one after another. I was 500 feet away and I know what that looks like because I once asked a fireman how far that was since it always says to keep that far back behind a firetruck. Now as many of you reading this know, although I’m thin, I am severely out of shape, so running was a challenge. And from what this sign says …

… USELESS since they can run three times as fast as you. And in my case, probably 6x as fast as me. But I have no death wish so I ran like crazy down the boardwalk back to the people I had just been alongside. I really wasn’t sure if I was going to make it out of this situation alive (and I know I am an exaggerator at times but I am being completely serious). I mean, look at this photo of them coming at me.

I was only taking a photo from 500 feet at full zoom because I assumed they were going to go UP the mountain just like the others. It’s mating season after all. Didn’t they want to follow the girls? (I learned that last night at the presentation. August is mating season for bison). So luckily, once they got to the part where there were railings, they went down onto the pasture and barreled down the hill toward the parking lot. I finally stopped running and these elderly couples asked if I was okay but I was hyperventilating. Now, the last time and only other time I hyperventilated was when I hit a 10-point buck (that’s an old deer I think) on my way to my high school one evening to hook up with my mother at a PTA meeting. So there’s got to be a pattern here. I need to breath into a bag whenever large game are involved. One of the women that came to my rescue literally dumped her souvenirs on the boardwalk to give me the paper bag they came in. Soon enough, I was okay and had calmed down a bit. But I still cannot believe that these enormous animals were literally inches away from me and I wasn’t even sure if they would strike. I’m so sure my mother was worried about me going off with strange men in South Dakota. Who knew that I’d come close to meeting my demise in a national park considering all the third world countries I’ve travelled to alone. Or better yet, all my visits to jails and prisons. You’d think Rikers would be scarier than Yellowstone. I think I now know why those in middle America have guns. Yikes!

I got back in my car and headed to the next sight. Waterfalls. They were beautiful and so plentiful. The ranger last night had said that they were in full force in May and June once the snow starts melting so I wasn’t expecting a lot of water coming down but woah! Along the trail to get to the best vistas, I heard this woman say to her husband, “Oh look, there’s that poor girl who was almost gored by those bison.” And then down the hill a bit, another woman came up to me and said, “How are you doing? That was scary, right?” I nodded. “I guess you should be insulted though that they didn’t want you as their prey. Maybe too thin, not enough meat.” Then her husband chimed in, “Maybe they didn’t like white meat.” These retired folks have a lot of time on their hands to come up with these clever quips. One guy in their party asked where I was from and said, “Oh, so you’re just used to being chased by purse-snatchers, not wildlife.” So needless to say, I’m glad to be alive. I started in on this trail to another waterfall and when I stopped seeing folks around, I doubled back. No self-guided trails for me. I am definitely spooked by this experience and it wasn’t until I got cell phone service at 10 p.m. that I was able to call my mother and recount the whole ordeal and I wept like a baby. That was a good thing because I wrote all this soon after it happened and instantly went into humor mode but when I told the story to my mother, it all came back and I was seriously inches from being severely hurt or killed.

The rest of the day was spent going to the many sights in Yellowstone. One of the roads was closed for repairs, which brought on detours that added to getting around but the park was pretty much empty in comparison to the regular summer months. It was nice because there weren’t tons of people in your photos. Seeing everything is a lot of stopping and going along the roads. There are these pullouts (vista points) where folks stop to take photos and I did a lot of that, as you will see in my Flickr set. It’s a must when you are faced with such amazing views. At the same time, the roads can be pretty scary. Sometimes, there aren’t shoulders and you’re looking down at the abyss. And other times, the non-CDL-license folks who have rented from 1-800-RV4RENT are barreling around curves and have no clue what they are doing. I overheard one senior couple talking to another at one of the geysers about their RV. They never had any intention of buying a recreational vehicle before but when some friends of theirs did this trip and said they had a hard time finding places to stay with their dog, they figured this would be the best way to have the pup and have no hassles. Their 20-something daughter chimed in saying, “Yea, some life this dog has. He gets a $60,000 RV so he can come along on the family vacation and they wouldn’t even pay for my college.”

One strange observation I had today was that celebrities could totally have a laid back family vacation here. Wear stupid clothes with dumb sayings on them, a baseball cap, sunglasses and hiking boots and no one will recognize you. I saw this one woman at the Norris Geyser museum and I instantly thought she was famous because of her amazingly toned body and perfect tan and gorgeous boyfriend or husband. I heard them speaking to one another and it was a language I couldn’t quite place but from the looks of her, I figured it was Nordic. She was about 6 feet tall, blonder than blonde and perfect in every way. I asked her where they were from and she said Norway. Not knowing whether a joke would be understood, I said it anyway: “Do all women in Norway look like you, because if so, I’m never going there.” Yea, she didn’t get it. She just nodded and smiled and moved on. But this old guy behind me got it and smiled at me.

Although Janet suggested at least 3 days in Yellowstone, I have to admit, having taken “the senior tour” and staying off the trails (which obviously take a while), I hit everything in a day. Granted, I woke up at 6:30 and left Old Faithful, my second to last sight at 6:45 p.m. but it was a good run. It was almost like that feeling when you go to Six Flags and you’re trying to get all the rides in before your folks tell you it’s time to go home.

Another hilarious overheard statement was from this young girl with her boyfriend sitting and waiting for the every 92-minute blast. She said, “Isn’t it amazing that all the roads in the park are so close to all the things we want to see!” Yea, she’s going to college.

After seeing the Grand Prismatic Spring ( from the ground, not like this aerial shot, I was back on the road, trying to leave Yellowstone and the trauma of my day. From the ground this amazing sight isn’t as colorful. I even tried to use that function on my camera that Matthea taught me once in Central Park where you can add color to pictures but it looked lame. Oh well.

Sure enough, I hit mountain road construction and it took me one hour to go 7 miles and I was starting to get tired. Stopped at the next lodging area in Grand Teton National Park, just south of Yellowstone and rented a tent cabin for the night. She warned of bears and I just ignored it because I really wanted to rest easy. Once I arrived at my site, I called my mother and went to bed.

I realized that traveling through Wyoming was going to take a while. I am now heading southeast toward Denver and plan on visiting friends there. Using Dubois, WY’s library. Another friendly, quiet place sans-wildlife. On my way here, I noticed all these ATV enthusiasts. They look like bandits with their bandanas wrapped around their faces. Scary. And there were also a bunch of cyclists along the winding, up and down mountain roads. They must be serious masochists to do that to themselves. There was even more construction getting here. The signs said, “Your Recovery Dollars at Work.” UGH! Construction in the mountains is no joke. Instead of just saying “slow down,” they have to escort you the whole way because it’s that treacherous. And based on the radio spots for the Idaho and Wyoming Meth Projects, teens talking about their addiction and quick demise, maybe an escort isn’t a bad idea. Why is meth a small town America problem and not seen as much in big cities?

Radio highlights: Didn’t have the radio on too much because I could usually only get country and as we all know, that’s not REALLY music. But I am now obsessed with Hope Waits. She’s the new Norah Jones from what the disc jockey said on KMTN. I really like her voice. Other than that, the only blast from the past I recall was “More than Words.”

Forgive me for the 200+ photos this time around. I didn’t have time to edit down. And stop your naggin’ Brynn. I know this isn’t the culinary photography trip you hoped for but if you were with me, you’d realize that following the Food Network guy’s Diners, Drive-ins and Dives is harder than it looks. He probably flies into each place and then rents those 50s convertibles. So I hope my roadside sandwiches and lodge cafeteria helpings have been enough for you. ☺

And for those of you that were stumped by the title of this post. My colleague Trade at WGEN started a pool on which state I would meet my demise, so I thought I’d send a little guilt his way.

1 comment:

Matthea said...

Amazing photos! I love the sequence of the buffalo warning sign followed by the buffalo coming at you. Glad you made it out safely!