But we gotta get there first and we happen to be in Colorado. This was just a squiggly line through the mountains I chose on unassuming Highway 14. Home of places like Rustic and State Forest State Park. For an extra couple road hours, (counting and calculating squiggles) I just wanted some open space thinking time after Denver. I know nothing about the Rockies. But we managed to stumble into a commercial for canoes or beer in high def. Dudes fished in the crystal clear river. The sun shined hot. We puffed, grinned and gaped all the way to Wyoming.
Now, we kick it up. Or sideways, I’m not sure. Wyoming is just different. It made me feel religious. The dome-like hum of silence. Lightening in one corner of the sky, yellow sun parting purple clouds in another–which was really far away because the Wyoming sky turns people into ants. The occasional cow mooed. I both breathed deep and forgot to breath at all. I felt the insignificance of my flesh and the overwhelming hugeness of everything else.
I’m reminded of the material world when we need to set up shop for the night. We’ve managed to wifi our way to another free campsite: high on a cliff, off Wild Mustang Loop. Reviewers called it “too windy,” “epic,” and “there’s really wild mustangs!” We found the dirt road that looped up high above a river and a train hub town, where train horns burrowed into my dreams and we fought mercilessly. Something about–well, precisely him wanting coffee in the morning and me saying I can’t have coffee without breakfast or I’ll need a bathroom nearby and look where we are. And something else about using too many baby wipes to clean dishes. We fight about stupid shit but we do it with such enthusiasm. When I finally got my way and made breakfast I immediately spilled it on the floor mat. Contaminated with Walmart cooties, gas station floors and and dirt from at least six different states. I thought about throwing myself off the cliff briefly, cried instead, and we drove. We only have a day for this adventure and my trusty companion has been looking forward to visiting these parks since he was three feet tall.
So we’re making our way towards the Tetons. Which is Yellowstone National Park’s next door neighbor. You drive straight from awesome into epic. Anyway we were passing through the town of Saratoga, Wyoming when I saw a blue sign, “Hot Springs.” I pulled over, car running, brain cranking. You know I’m a hot spring fiend? You know what a blue sign means? It’s a municipal sign! This changes everything. I do a U-turn to check out these town sponsored “springs.” We arrived to a dingy one story place with a closed sign, but I walked back where a building that looked like a stately hunting chalet framed a steaming pool.
The sign said this clear hot loveliness is open 24 hours and day…and it’s free. I stamped down hot bubbles oozing up from beneath the rocky pool floor. The natural-ness of this charmed me. I watched in awe as a man branded with diabetes scars lowered himself into the pool. Grizzled dudes de-robed their Wranglers and bundled them next to hard hats, taking sips off their oversized plastic mugs and jumping in. An Indian family splashed in rock lined pools in the cold river, ten steps away. I almost teared up at the sight of all these disparate and weary people soaking in the healing mineral waters, and no one was profiting from it. I must’ve been premenstrual. If I was one to be seduced by open spaces, big skies and free hot springs, I would be in love. Too bad I have a type- green palm fringed hair, sandy toes, warm constitution. All other kinds- desert, mountains, swamps– they’re just playthings.
Oh yeah the Tetons. We pull into the park and within two minutes we’re in a bear traffic jam. When the clot drains, outside the window a black bear is munching berries. I could’ve reached out and touched him. So okay, that’s pretty cool.
I pass over the touristy lakes and pick a hike in the brand new section of the park named for the Rockefellers. I imagine the family owned some land next to the park that they visited once every ten years and donated it for the publicity. Well the several mile hike out to Phelps Lake was kind of unremarkable, sunny and dusty minus one small waterfall and a river crossing. Signs warning people to never walk alone and carry bear spray. They even rent it. Yeah. Anyway. Then we pop out into this.
The is kind of place where the wind sounds holy. Granite mountains towered and I could see every pebble on the bottom of the lake. Butterflies swirled in lazy loops. It was so warm I wished I had a bikini.
And within an hour we’re crossing into Yellowstone. This park has HUNDREDS of waterfalls. Yellowstonenationalpark.com calls them “quite possibly the most waterfalls in the world for such a condensed…area.” Who knew?! But we were there to see new shit, and waterfalls is my middle name.
So we had just missed Old Faithful (she’s getting lazy and less predictable) so we casually pulled over at Black Sand Basin, named for its black obsidian sand. Right off the main road the Basin is a handful of colorful springs around Iron Creek. With names like Emerald Pool and Opalescent Pool. The latter of which drowned a stand of pine trees that are now white sticks arranged just so in a rainbow colored bubbling pool. That’s all. Nature amusing herself with sculpture and painting. And then there’s Cliff Geyser, right on the creek that erupts 40 feet in the air. So, let’s just say I wasn’t bummed about missing Old Faithful. There was a lot of smiling and a frenzied plan to rent a chalet up here in the snowy months. But we were there in the summer, and one of the awesome things about summer is animals. This is when we got into the bison jam. Cars are just stopped. Both directions.
Wanna see a bison say hello?
And TC goes, “These buffalo are great but-”
By the way I’m right. Google redeemed me.
He continues, “BUFFALO are cool and all, but I wanna see some moose.”
“Show me a moose!” he shouts, and throws his hands up.
Not two minutes pass before we roll up to a mama moose munching purple wildflowers on the side of the road.
2 hours, one bear, a heard of bison and a mama moose. I don’t know if we’re just lucky or Yellowstone is so brimming with awesome that we just breezed by and watched her cup spileth over.
Here’s a hint for broke folks: You pay when you leave Yellowstone. If you cruise out of the park towards Montana past normal business hours, the hefty entrance fee is…free.