October 29th, 2010 – Exploring Yellowstone Park (Part 1)

I woke up to the sun warming up my tent.  It was around 32F, but that was still a good 20 degrees higher than what it got down to during the night with a low of 8F.  I unzipped the door and got out of the tent.  Everything was covered with a thin layer of frost.

I lit the camp stove and grabbed my cooking pot to fill it up with water.  Unfortunately, the water canteen that I had strapped on the back of the bike with about a gallon of water was frozen solid, which made it a bit difficult to get it out.  I took the plastic canteen and smashed it against the campsite table until the big block of ice became a bunch of smaller pieces that i could get out through the spout.  I don’t think I have ever had the “pleasure” of boiling ice before.

With breakfast out of the way, I packed up camp and loaded everything onto the bike.  I put the key into the ignition, turned it clockwise, hit the engine start and… nothing.  “Fantastic” – I think to myself.  Just to recap – I am in a Yellowstone campground, which is of a relatively good size and I have chosen, for security reasons, to use the furthest camp spot from the entrance.  Pushing the bike out to the road is not an option since it is all up hill and the bike weighs a ton.  The only remaining option was to hike out to the road, signal for a car to stop, hope they have jumper cables and that they would be willing to go into a closed off area of the park – this could take a while.

I hiked out to the road and started signaling.  I probably looked pretty silly – imagine someone who looks like they are hitchhiking, in a national forest about twenty miles from the closest entrance and to top it all off, wearing what must have looked like a space suit.  With that in mind, I was pleasantly surprised that I was able to get a car to stop within ten minutes.

Jim and Carolyn, a retired couple traveling through Yellowstone driving what looked like a very rugged all-terrain vehicle, pulled over to the side of the road.  I asked them if they would be willing to help and would be ok with driving their car inside a closed campground.  To my surprise, they agreed.  If an image of a spaceman hitchhiking did not amuse you, this one will.  Imagine that same spaceman lightly jogging a quarter mile, while an all-terrain vehicle is slowly following him.  The day had barely begun, but the adventure was already in full swing.

We finally made it to the bike and I quickly took the front seat off to reveal the bike’s battery.  We hooked up the jumpers to my beemer and it started right up!  Before continuing on our respective journeys, we chatted a bit and Jim kindly offered for me to stay with them in South Carolina, when I pass through.  I vehemently thanked the couple and once again we were both on our way into the park.

My first stop was to see some of the smaller geysers and boiling mud pits. The weather was really playing in my favor and the lighting was perfect, which allowed me to capture some great shots of Yellowstone.  While chatting with one of the local rangers, he told me: “This is the best day of the year here in Yellowstone – the mountains are covered in snow and it is a very clear and sunny day – a rare combination.”  As I returned to my bike after seeing the geysers, I was alarmed to find my bike had been burglarized!  My flashlight, anti-fog fluid container and small waterproof camera were scattered all over the grou… Wait a second, why didn’t the thiefs take a $300 camera?  Upon closer inspection I realized that the only thing that was missing was a power bar I had in my tank bag – hungry hikers or a bear with some opposable thumbs that can operate a zipper perhaps?  I also noticed some claw marks on the top of my tank bag and the final clue – a large bird excrement on the top of my handlebars.  At this point it was clear to me who the culprit was – one very smart crow must have smelled the food inside my tank bag, decided that she needed it more than I did and proceeded to open up the tankbag.  I gathered up my belongings off the ground and was quickly back on the road and on my way to see Big Faithful.

Half way to Big Faithful I came around a corner to find about 20 cars stopped in the roadway.  After sitting there for a minute I decided to get around them to see what the problem was and if a motorcycle could squeeze by where a car couldn’t.  To my surprise I found that the problem was caused by a herd of buffalos that decided to take their afternoon nap on the warm asphalt.  Waiting for the buffalos to move was potentially a very time consuming proposition so I decided instead to ride my bike in between the buffalos, slalom style.  Before taking off, I handed the camera to the driver at the front of the line so that in case things go awry, at least I would have video of the whole thing.

I shifted into first and started on the approach path.  As I neared the first group of buffalos, they looked up at me curiously – they were obviously not used to such an odd looking motor vehicle. As I went by, a couple of buffalos stood up quickly and backed up, which spiked my adrenaline levels at the anticipation of a charging buffalo.  Before I knew it, it was over and I was through.  I parked the bike on the side of the road and looked back at the pathway that I had cleared.   The cars that did not want to risk going through the herd, were now moving along slowly through the “buffalo roadblock.”  The gentleman with my camera pulled over and handed the camera to me with some parting words – “You are either braver or crazier than I am.  Either way, I hope you have good insurance.”

Finally I made it to Big Faithful.  As I walked up to it, I noticed that photographers were folding up their tripods and putting their cameras away.  I asked one of the photographers about the geyser and he informed me that I just missed it and the next eruption will be in a little over an hour.  Time for plan B – eat some food and come back later to photograph the most famous geyser in all of the US.  Unfortunately this plan also had a problem – “the only restaurant in the area is closed for the season,” one of the photographers informed me.  She introduced herself as Barb and invited me to have some lunch with her and her husband, Lloyd.

As wonderful as the food was, the conversation was even better.  I found out that Barb and Lloyd traveled to Yellowstone from Wisconsin and they had some great luck finding wildlife to take pictures of.  (Pictures below are courtesy of Barbara)

They also invited me to stay the night with them when I pass through Wisconsin, which was a very welcome alternative to sleeping in the tent, especially considering that Wisconsin was promising to be one of the coldest states of the trip. We said our goodbyes and I headed back to Big Faithful to take some shots of the large and faithful geyser.

To my disappointment, Big Faithful was neither very big nor faithful.  We spent about fifteen minutes after the “scheduled” eruption, waiting in anticipation.  The woman next to me kept saying “Ohhh, it’s about to blow!” every thirty seconds, shortly followed by a disappointed sigh. When it finally erupted, it was not nearly as impressive as I had anticipated.  My disappointment must have been very apparent, as an older man leaned over and said to me – “It used to reach five times as high back in the day.”

I spent the rest of the day riding through Yellowstone and enjoying some of the best nature views I had ever seen.  The waterfalls, creeks, canyons, lakes and wildlife in Yellowstone are absolutely stunning.  If you haven’t had the pleasure of visiting this incredible park, I highly recommend that you do so, both in the winter and the summer months.

As I exited Yellowstone through the southern entrance, I entered an equally fascinating and, as I soon found out, adventure-filled park – Grand Teton National park.

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3 Responses to October 29th, 2010 – Exploring Yellowstone Park (Part 1)

  1. Scarolina says:

    Glad to see you’ve resumed posting….Jim says “Hi.”

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