Great Falls to West Yellowstone

We hadn’t decided last night whether we were going to Yellowstone or just going to move on East, but this morning I got some good, cheap advice and decided that, hell – I never know when I’ll be in Wyoming again (never?), so there was really no excuse to skip it. Our new plan was to go through Yellowstone and see Old Faithful, then head out towards Cody, WY.

After we gathered all our things and packed the car we ate some quick breakfast on the road from McDonalds. Nothing better than orange juice and coffee in the morning. Yum! We then drove around town taking some pictures of the many, many casinos as well as hundreds of signs for an “Ultimate Elimination Event”. The sign wasn’t specific, but we feared the worst.

The road to Yellowstone through Montana is really long. Will drove the whole way and we just took some pictures of the scenery and the landscapes. Lots of fields, bales of hay, black angus cows, and some mountains in the distance. It really is cowboy country. We drove past quite a few flat top mountains (think Table Mountain in Cape Town). I wonder how these are formed? Seems like someone stood next to a mountain and chopped it down with the edge of their hand. After driving for a long time we realized we had missed the turn-off by a long shot! So we were about an hour farther West than we needed to be. We backtracked and started back South again towards the park. Most of the rest stops we hit were populated by mainly farmers and hunters. Lots of hunters actually, all wearing camo-gear and bright orange hats.

Finally we made it to the entrance of Yellowstone. There’s a big stone arch leading into the park. It cost $25 for a 7-day pass into the park. One of the cheapest national parks we’ve been into!

After a short drive you end up in the small “town” with the visitors centre. It was steaming hot by the time we got there! We got changed into shorts and t-shirts and we were still sweating like crazy. Quite a far cry from the 0 degree glaciers and Rocky Mountains. Yellowstone is the first national park in the world, and so when it was created it was actually patrolled by the United States army. This town that we were in, Fort Yellowstone, was the military base which has since turned into a tourist town/information center for the park, after the National Park Service took over in 1918.

Yellowstone has incredible scenery. No towering mountains like the Rockies, but there are huge valleys and the mountains are wide and expansive. There is also a wide variety, from rivers and plains to desert like landscapes. There are a lot of fallen tree logs everywhere and most of the trees in the park are only about 6 -10 feet tall. It looked like there was a tornado. Later in the day we saw a sign that explained it – in 1988 there was a massive fire that destroyed most of the park. Visions of Bambi swam in my head. I’m not sure if it’s accurate, but Will says that they used to have really strict forest fire control policies and this caused the underbrush to overgrow, this is what triggered a far more devastating fire than would be expected naturally. That’s what Will says, but he’s a walking encyclopedia so I trust he’s right.

Our first stop in the park was the Mammoth hot springs. Wildly different from the hot springs we’ve been in so far – these are completely natural and untamed. Steaming hot water runs down a hill forming terraces like rice paddies but of all sorts of colours – blue, green, orange, yellow. The hill has all sorts of crystals growing on it. It kind of looks like the mystery chemical bucket we had in the lab back in Waterloo. The air smells strongly of hard boiled eggs from the sulphur in the air. The ground all around it is cordoned off as “thermal ground”, a concept which is prevalent all over Yellowstone park. The ground can appear solid, but it’s often just a thin covering with boiling water below it. The sign said hundreds had been scalded and over a dozen have died from the burns of walking on these thermal grounds. Not a monument to those wanderers in sight, we decided it best to stay on the trails. I did however dip my finger into one of the pools against Anne and Will’s protestations. It was very cold because it was further down the hill. After not being burned they quickly shifted gears to worry me about the extremophile bacteria crawling all over my fingers now! These bacteria can thrive in the extreme heats of the hot springs eating up all the hydrogen sulphide. Yummy.

We were stuck in road construction for 30 minutes on our way to Old Faithful. Construction even happens in the middle of nowhere it seems. At this point my mind wanders and I start thinking about trying to find the double rainbow guy. He’s somewhere in this wilderness, crying, and awe-struck.

On the way we saw a few elk grazing in a field quietly. Very beautiful. We finally saw some bison right on the side of the road. People were about 15 feet from it … complete idiots, but we took a picture from the car. Animal count +1!

We stopped at some geysers on the way. The ground is multicoloured and steaming there. Some parts of the ground were smoking and looked burnt like a cigarette burn. Oh! We saw a raven killing a snake on the road in front of us. Nature in progress, hurrah! At one of the geysers we saw the paint pots which are essentially muddy geysers. The sound is pretty unforgettable, “blup blup blup”. It looked like a prehistoric, primordial, tomato soup. Later we found a herd of bison on either side of the road. Mothers and children running around and grazing. Cool! Round about this time I started driving because Will was getting tired. Saab’s are really nice, smooth drive and they’re really fast.

Finally we made it to Old Faithful. It was quiet. We waited. After a while we decided to play a guessing game (Price is Right rules of course) as to when it would blow. We got there at 6:40, so Anne guessed 7:40, Will 7:25. I went with the $1, or rather 1 minute. While we were waiting I saw a bison roam in the forest behind the Old Faithful. A few minutes later a coyote ran in front of the geyser apparently too cool to notice the hundreds of people staring at it. All the people who brought yappy dogs with them started getting nervous. Around 7:10 the geyser started to bubble and tease us with an eruption. Right at 7:13 it started at full steam. I win two honour points, to be traded in at the nearest honour store. The water flies up into the air, apparently 200 ft to the sky!

After Old Faithful we went into the lodge and grabbed something to eat. Ironically we found a clock that predicted Old Faithful’s eruption times accurate to 10 minutes. It was set at 7:14. So much for our guessing game.

Then it became dark and Will decided to run off and disappear to look for the hotel after getting in a tiff with Anne. Bad idea. Darkness, wilderness, and splitting up, do not mix(unless in a Friday the 13th horror movie). We couldn’t find him for 30 minutes in the dark. I went out to find him and kept shouting while I was walking around because I was worried about bears. That’s what I’ve heard is the thing to do if walking in the forest alone with bears. You don’t want to surprise a bear – let them know where you are.

I managed to find the inn before I found Will. But unfortunately there were no rooms in the entire park! The man at the desk told me we’d be crazy to head to Cody because it’s about 2 hours through the park in the darkness with animals running out every few hundred meters and then a 2 hour drive through the mountains. Not possible at this hour. So we backtracked and went out the west entrance. The drive was pretty scary with thick forest on each side of the road and the possibility of bison or deer running out into the road. I ran over one mouse and saw one coyote on the side of the road, but luckily no bigger animals.

When we got out of the park it was in the town of West Yellowstone, a small village. We checked into the ‘Ho Hum Hotel’, an aptly named establishment. The owner looked like Norman Bate’s mother and all the license plates in the lot were from Iraq war veterans.

Anne ate dinner at McDonalds (again, gah, because everything else was closed at that time). We tried hard to avoid it. We came back to the hotel and bought some Samuel Adams Imperial White beer and watched some survivalist TV shows (popular in this part of America it seems) until bed time. It might seem ludicrous, but this is how we slept.


Vulcan to Great Falls, MT

Woke up around 9am and I am feeling a wee bit better. Thank goodness! We haven’t done much this morning. I just cooked some eggs and toast that Will picked up. Our plan is to encourage Will get his stuff packed up (it takes more than a carrot and a stick!), and maybe take a day-time tour around town.

Funny small town anecdote: Will’s general repairman is his landlord here in Vulcan, but there’s a notice that any appliance repairs (oven, microwave, etc.) are to be sent to Tom. Tom coincidentally happens to also hold the post of Mayor of Vulcan. Talk about multitasking. I wonder which job he held first, mayor or appliance repairman?

So it ended up at 4pm before we had the car packed and Will’s apartment cleaned. I learned a new skill: how to change a toilet seat. Lucky me. Finally when we were all packed up we took a quick driving tour around town and we went to the pharmacy to take some photos of the mural and pick up some more Neocitrine. I should seriously invest some money in Novartis at the rate that I get sick.

We had some A&W before we left (it was either that or Subway, the only two chains in Vulcan). The town gift shop was closed, but had good sign in the window, “Loiterers will be sent to planet c-12 in star sector 8c194”. They really like this Star Trek thing.

After we hit the road there really wasn’t much going on until we came close to the border. This took about 2 hour or so if my memory is not mistaken. When we got near the border we decided to put on some Johnny Cash and tried our best to look like cowboys. We were entering Montana after all.

At the border things went off without a hitch for the most part. The guy was actually pretty friendly at the booth. As soon as he found out I was British though … I heard “Kid.” And a pause. “We need you to pull the car up to the left there and go in and wait on the bench with the sign above it that says, ‘Group W’. Now kid!“. OK, he didn’t quite say that, but I still had to go inside and get inspected, detected, deflected, and all kinds of mean and nasty horrible things in there. Mostly had to pay $6 and deal with some snotty attitude, but then I was free to go into the Wild West where they shoot each other for leaving their lights on, on the highway (dun dun dun … foreshadow).

After this we had a relatively short night time drive towards Great Falls. Once we pulled into town we had to laugh at the fact that every second building had a casino in it. We stopped at 3 hotels, all of which had casinos, but found they were too expensive so we made our way to the Super 8 finally. The clerk at the desk is probably still telling us about the breakfast special. He was truly the slowest person alive in the service industry. I’m sure there had to be some non-living persons, so he can’t compete there – but in the living category, he takes the cake.

We got set up in our rooms (Will had his own), I took a look through the Gideon Bible for a bit to see what that was all about. It just started as two travelling Christian people apparently and then grew to this whole organization of people putting bibles in drawers. Our stomachs then dragged us around town to find food, and after searching for a long while we ended up at McDonalds. At this time of night McDonalds was the least disgusting thing you could get in Great Falls. I got a salad to eat back at the hotel which was quite nice and had Newman’s Own dressing. That’s all folks!