Notes from Yellowstone #15

This morning, I opened a cupboard to get a cup and the door didn’t swing back and hit me in the head. I placed an egg on the counter and it didn’t roll away from me. [I’m not a complete idiot. I first wrote that I’d “laid an egg” and then changed it to “layed” and then made a note that I needed to look it up; and then I realized that either one was going to get me in trouble because if I couldn’t remember the difference, I was sure to hear from somebody else who couldn’t either.]

The Hovel is level. It’s kind of heavenly. I should have done this weeks ago. I was off by one inch. The one inch I put under the wheels on the right side when I parked it on July 13 because of that poorly installed level on the front cap of the 5th Wheel. Installed by an idiot. But not a complete idiot.

The smoke is still pretty bad here in West Yellowstone from the fires out west. It burns in the nose and has made my throat scratchy. It’s given me a voice I imagine to be a lot like Lauren Bacall and is probably more like Bobcat Goldwaithe.

We’re supposed to get some weather that will sweep the smoke away, according to my weatherman. I hope so. Before it does, I hope it drops enough rain on those fires to stop them. That’s the good thought of the day. The supplication. The prayer. Can I get an Amen?

sgf///8/21/2015

Additional notes:

One month from today is my last day in Yellowstone…for this year.

44 days TV-free. I brought a few DVDs with me.  Then I found out I don’t have a DVD player onboard the Hovel, but I do have a VHS player. For all the VHS tapes I no longer have. 

Oh. By the way. I’m going to be a Grandma! Woo! Hoo! Yay! Yay! Yay! Huzzah! O frabjous day! Callooh! Callay!

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Notes from Yellowstone #14

Tuesday. Unsettled. The feeling has dominated the day. Tomorrow is my last day of the work week. I’m glad for that, but melancholic over the passage of time and the distance between me and the people I love the most. There is a storm building here. The lake is choppy with white caps, and I could hear the waves hitting the shore below the helipad. I don’t remember hearing that sound before, in all my walks down here — and the dogs and I do a lot of walks. There is smoke on the water from the fires in Idaho and other western states. The haze is  heavy along the shoreline, and the Absarokas are completely hidden from view. 

Geese are beginning to gather for the journey south.  The grasses are turning brown, the green disappearing as the color of the wildflowers has also faded. The summer is more than halfway over. I want it all back. I want a do-over. 

Tonight I am unsettled because I can’t control space and time. You’d have thought I would have gotten over that sort of irrationality at my age, but I’m not feeling at all rational right now. I’m feeling strangely weepy and sad. And unsettled.

Thursday. Have you ever met one of those big old unpeturbable dogs that tolerates all manner of abuse from children riding him, using him for a pillow, pulling his hair? One of those dogs that never gets grouchy about it, unless the kid is the jerk from down the street who just doesn’t know when to quit and keeps poking and pushing and pulling. Then he might bark or growl a bit. It’s the kind of dog that takes a lot to piss off — like a real threat. Some danger to himself or his family. Only then are the teeth bared and the old dog barks and growls. I’ve met only a few of these dogs, and they were real treasures that I remember decades later.

I’m losing two of my friends/neighbors/coworkers from Workcamp Yellowstone today. Dennis (not his real name) worked with me on many shifts these past few weeks. He was one of those folks who was always a pleasure to work with. He knew what had to be done and did it with no complaints and very little ceremony, beyond letting a co-worker know where he’d be and what he would be doing if needed. He was crazy reliable. You knew you didn’t have to check supply levels of anything when Dennis was working. He had it covered. 

Dennis is one of us over 60-types who came to Yellowstone to work for the summer and live in the campground. He is a giant of a man, well over 6 feet tall and not willowy. He is gentle and kind and considerate to a fault. He and his wife, Julie (also not her real name) had found the Yellowstone work experience to be a little different than what they had imagined, but they were willing to stick it out to the end. And then…

One day last week, a customer came in and demanded a service. It was not an unreasonable demand, and it is a service we provide, but most customers ask nicely and are quite courteous about it. This one chose to be not so much. As Dennis complied with the demand, the customer became increasingly demanding and asked for other services and Dennis questioned the appropriateness of one of these demands. The customer became threatening as well as demanding and in the process violated Dennis’ personal space.

Dennis barked. 

After a week of investigation by the company and the park service authorities, Dennis was offered a demotion and a pay cut and a job with no customer contact of any kind. It was one indignity too many. Dennis and Julie are packing up and leaving today. This is not a memory of Yellowstone that I will treasure.

The smoke from the western fires is so thick here now that you can smell it and feel it in your throat. I can’t even see the other side of West Thumb this morning, and we haven’t seen the Absaroka Mountains in days. I guess I’ll skip the hike today for my lungs’ sake. 

It may be time to level the Hovel.

sgf///8/19/2015

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Notes from Yellowstone #13

It’s been quite a week. We’ve had exciting weather. A couple of those mountain thunderstorms that are so dangerously beautiful. You know you should stay away from the windows, but you just can’t help yourself. Flashes and spider-webs across an angry sky cracking with fury. Fortunately, it all came with lots of rain, so any ground strikes were extinguished quickly.

This was followed by breezy, sunny, partly cloudy blue sky days that never got quite hot enough to need more than an open window or vent — as long as there was no rain in the forecast! I came back to quite a mess the other day, after waiting out a storm in the employee dorm day room. I had left a couple of vents open in the Hovel. Only a little. It was enough.

I finally got out for hike before my work break ended. A little 2.2 mile loop from the parking lot at West Thumb Geyser basin, up to a point overlooking the West Thumb of Yellowstone Lake and the Absarokas, where The Park ends. The trail passes by some steam pots and hot springs and spitting sizzling holes in the ground that aren’t cordoned off or boardwalked around. This is where the warnings about the instability of the ground around these things are relevant. I stayed on the trail!

Getting up to the overlook and back, the trail goes through meadow and forest and I forgot how close I was to a very well-traveled road. I’d picked the route on purpose. You may have heard or read that we had a bear incident a week or so ago here in The Park. Only about 30 miles or so north of me. A tragic end for both human and bear [see footnote]. 

The road, the eastern part of the Grand Loop, had been my excuse not to strap on the bear spray when I put the binoculars on my belt. I won’t do it again. It was stupid. I was spooked for most of the walk. I had assumed that such a short trail, so close to the Grand Loop Rd, would be heavily traveled and that I would have plent of company. That was a bad assumption. I never saw another person except for the first/last 500 yards of the trail. Several groups started and got as far as the road they had to cross to the trailhead, and the sign listing bear precautions…

So, there I was, alone in the woods with no bear spray or even the whistle my friend, Lissa, gave me. Only my bravado and my voice to keep the bears away (Yo! Bears! I’m coming through here!) And my antler tipped walking stick. Perhaps I could go all kung-fu on a bear and send it packing?

On the way back in from the lookout, I saw evidence of downed logs freshly torn apart by a probable bear or bears in search of grubs and insects.  (Yo! Bears! I’ll be outta here shortly! Y’all have a good day!)

I saw no bears. I saw no other critters either, except for a raven or two and the chipmunks. A dear friend of mine has noted how many times I’ve talked about the chipmunks, suggesting that it would even make for an impressive word count. I promise you, in terms of numbers, the chipmunks are impressive. If I had this many elk or bear or bison scampering around the Hovel, I would be writing about that, too!

Next time, bear spray. I’ll enjoy the walk a lot more, I think.

Both yesterday and today. the Absarokas have been partially to completely obscurred by smoke from the fires out west. Without mountains to provide perspective, the lake seems to go east forever, disappearing into a smoky haze. No nearly as beautiful and definitely not as inviting as when the air is clean and there are only mists disguising the shores.

Critters. Yesterday morning we had an elk and her young calf visit the campground. The calf was very curious about the people walking with noisy little 4-legged animals, but stayed close to mom. Yesterday afternoon, on my way back to work after dinner break, a magnificent red fox was standing in the road, staring at my truck, before he ran off into the woods.

What a place. As I told a friend: I am besotted. I don’t want to leave. But as sure as rain turns to snow up here (and piles up 70-90 inches) and the lake turns to ice, I’ll have to face reality and the end of the summer. Until then, I’ll be giving her long, adoring glances and breathing deeply of her scent during those moments she hasn’t taken my breath completely away from me.

sgf///8/17/15

Footnote: I spoke with the folks in the Backcountry Office at Grant and it appears the genetleman who was killed had violated several guidelines. He was hiking alone, offtrail by 1/2 mile, carried no bear spray, and was wearing headphones. He may have felt safe because he was so close to a well–traveled road and a populated area. The mama bear was euthanized — for being a bear. The cubs will live the rest of their lives in a zoo. There are no happy endings to this story.

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Notes from Yellowstone #12

It’s only weather
It comes.
It goes.
It’s only winds
rocking the trees
making the great lodgepoles sway like grasses
It’s only rains
pounding cold against the window.
It’s only a stubbornly gray sky
hiding the sun.
It’s only the weather that has me
missing you until my bones ache from it.
It comes.
It goes.
It’s only weather. sgf///8/8/15

The fog is so thick over the lake this morning that you can’t tell there is a lake or even a lakeshore there. Just a soupy bank of gray cloud below the rim of the caldera. It’s clear here in the campground, or rather the clouds are overhead rather than at ground level. It makes for a beautiful, though eerie, scene.

Every day is different here. Every hour. Two hours later, the fog is completely gone, the lake is calm and glassy, reflecting a blue blue sky with puffy white clouds moving quickly before the sun evaporates them.

I suppose it’s that way everywhere. It just becomes more obvious when you are in such a beautiful place, without all the other stuff that usually gets your (my) attention: TV, telephone, internet, work, worry, etc. I find myself, in the early morning or late afternoon (when I am not working), just sitting in front of my window facing the forest on the edge of the lake. I sit and watch whatever is happening right there in the real world. Chipmunks, squirrels, weasels, ravens, jays…

I hear the Presidential Primary debates have begun. sgf///8/9/15

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Notes from Yellowstone #11

I was up early today. It’s the last hours of my break, and I was going to go back to West Thumb this morning, to watch the sunrise across the lake whilst surrounded by the steam and mists of the geysers there. It sounded so romantic.

I woke up to steady rain. It only let up a little for the dogs and I to dodge the puddles a couple of times this morning. No sunrise has been observed. 

So, we’re huddled inside the Hovel watching and listening to the rain until it stops or it’s time for me to go to work, whichever comes first.

Short shift tonight: 5-11. The rest of the work week won’t be as attractive. Sunday and Monday: 1:30-11pm. This includes two shower cleanings and closing. Tuesday and Wednesday: 6:45am-3pm. Then break. With no supply run to make this week, I’m going to try to see some more of the park. That is why I came here, after all. I want to do something that more than 98% of the people who visit Yellowstone fail to do: get more than 1/4 mile off the main road. 

I will repeat the above work schedule the following week, unless of course another coworker or two bales. I overheard some folks yesterday, who work in other departments for the same company, that there have been several exits this past week for all kinds of reasons: School starting for some, job offers for others, and of course some disappointment and dissatisfaction with the long hours, low pay, and difficult work. 

Another motivation for me to stay is just to see how all of this turns out. The park visitors will keep coming until the park closes the roads for winter, except for the road between Gardiner and Cook City at the north and northeast entrances. I wonder what the visitor experience is with lodging, housekeeping, campground and camper services all short-staffed in a year that Yellowstone is poised to break attendance records? This would make for a pretty good expose of how privatizing these functions in national parks with 20-year contracts may not be very beneficial to anyone except the contract awardee. It certainly doesn’t add to the perception of the government being very efficient, because even though these are not government jobs, the people filling them are the face of the national park and the face of the government. 

I suppose I will see some of the oversight, as we are due to have a Nat’l Park Service inspection sometime before the end of the season. As an old taxpaying, national park loving, somewhat experienced in standards and training, but totally unbiased employee (<— sarcasam), I look forward to speaking with the inspectors (as I always have {<— obvious sarcasm})

The rain is off and on now and the morning is almost gone. The spruce outside my big window occasionally glistens with drops at the tip of each needle while the sun teases, branches drooping slightly from the weight of the water diamonds. Just about the time I starty thinking about socks and boots, instead of wicked good slippers, another blast of wind and another driving rain squall convinces me that the Hovel, and its wonderful view of the storm and the trees, is a pretty good place to be.

Critters. Last evening I watched a chipmunk actually teasing the dogs. Who knew they were such pranksters? We were taking our last walk of the day at dusk. Down to the lake view, as well as a view of the steam rising from the West Thumb geysers, at the helipad. There, no more than 10 feet in front of them, a chipmunk stopped on the pavement and appeared to be observing them. 

Gidget want it SO badly.

We are working on walking skills, as opposed to pulling Mom on her face skills, so I kept the leash very short and let them creep forward a step at a time.

The chipmunk remained motionless. We were now perhaps 8 feet away, and the leash is 6 feet. I let it out, a little at a time — and the chipmunk was off to the woods. Those little guys move like rockets, and I knew the critter was pretty safe from my two predators. 

Ah. Sorry guys. So close, too! But what a story you’ll have to tell, next time you’re at the dog park. That time you almost caught a chipmunk in Yellowstone.

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Notes from Yellowstone #10

Monday. It’s cool and wet this morning. We had rain overnight and could have some more today. We needed it. It doesn’t take long for things to dry out up here. It will perk the wildflowers up, and bring a lot of people into the showers and laundry today. Something about camping overnight without electricity sets off this basic human need which I’m sure Maslow merely overlooked in his pyramid of human needs. My sense is that it comes between safety and security and before self-esteem, given some of the behavior I’ve observed by campers in their single-minded pursuit of a shower. 

We’re a combination laundry, as well, and that leads to  even more interesting behaviors.  The other day, a family (European) came in to do showers and laundry. Mom, an attractive woman in her late 30s, went into one of the restrooms and stripped down to nothing, wrapped herself in a thin towel, and then came back into the laundry to load the family’s clothes into the washers while they showered. When they had finished, she went to the shower. I would not have noticed, since we were so busy, but she came to get a refill on her coffee while the boys were all in the shower. As she stood there, holding her blue microfiber towel up in one corner, with no obvious self-consciousness, and I filled her coffee cup, I wondered who else was paying attention. I looked around. No one. I even asked one of my male co-workers, after the family had showered, laundered, dressed and gone, if he had noticed. Nope.

Speaking of co-workers…I seem to be losing them. Two of them will be quitting in the next week. So, those of us left get more hours and more work during those hours, since there are less people and the same number of tasks. I’m not the least bit excited about this. I’m going to continue to “chop wood and carry water” for the time being, but I am reassessing the situation daily. Another co-worker has already made it known that she will not be staying until the end of her contract. That will bring the crew down from seven to four to cover the showers and laundry from 6:45 a.m. to 11 p.m. seven days a week. This could get ugly, and I didn’t come here for ugly. 

This news going into my catnap/coffee break/ turn-around has me a little depressed. On the other side of that is my break, and two days off! 

Wednesday. I had “the talk” with my manager yesterday. I told him that I had some serious concerns about being able to physically keep up with the increased work hours and smaller crews and not get injured. I explained that at 65 with a 16-year old hip replacement and a knee my ortho described as “messed up,” I am a little slower, more deliberate, and not as mobile as someone in their 20s. I didn’t want to be whiny, but I needed to be realistic about my abilities. He was understanding and willing to accomodate my biggest worries. I think he thought I was going to tell him that I was quitting. He doesn’t know me very well, yet.

The red and purple pink light of the sunrise coming through the lodgepoles is accompanied by hard cold rain on the roof of the Hovel. It will be a busy morning for the showers today.

Two days later: I was right. What an analyst! We did >290 “free” showers (comes with the campsite in Grant), and at least 150 paid showers between 7 am and 1:30, when we closed to clean and sanitize the whole shower/restroom complex. We also check them regularly in between the two cleanings to keep them spiffy-ish. There are 12 showers on each side and four restrooms each for women and men. We also have three very nice ADA shower/restroom combinations. It all stayed busy. I won’t go into the details of the whole process of cleaning and sanitizing. It’s pretty rigorous, and high on the yuck factor.

I get that men love long hair on women. I read Desmond Morris. Long shiny hair indicates healthy breeding stock.  If men had to hose down a women’s shower facility and watch all that hair sliding down the walls in ropy clumps and then across the floor to the drains — which then have to be cleaned to keep the water flowing in the drains — I suggest they might lose some of the fascination. But, that’s just the practical side of me talking.

Yesterday, after the dogs were fed and walked, and I had a second cup of coffee and my supply list in hand, I headed for the eastern entrance/exit to Yellowstone and Cody WY beyond it. 

This was another phenomenal drive. I saw that bull elk again! (NFY#1) This time he was grazing on the left side of the road, between West Thumb and the burned area going toward East Entrance Road, for those of you keeping track on that map I gave you. 

It’s a 200-mile round trip to Cody from Grant Village. People who work in Yellowstone make it because

  1. It’s Cody, Wyoming. Buffalo Bill Cody. Rodeos and Wild West shows. TV and movie recreations. Some of you will get this and wax nostalgic about Saturday mornings. I feel a little sorry for those of you who don’t understand.
  2. Sierra Trading Post Outlet, where I scored a $140 pair of Keen water proof over ankle suede day-hikers for $49. And dog toys. Of course.
  3. Walmart Super Center. I won’t comment on the politics or the optics. I had a list that included hardware, kitchenware, groceries, and liquor (Woodford Reserve and Yukon Jack) and needed to be back to the Hovel for the dogs before 6. Walmart it was. 

As I said earlier, the drive was pretty glorious. Starting with the elk. Turns out, I’d miscounted before. He’s got 14 total points (7×7) and possibly 15. Enormous!

The drive out to the East Entrance Road is all along the west side of the Lake Yellowstone, and then the Entrance Road continues along northern part of the lake, through Fishing Bridge complex (in a bit of irony, no fishing is allowed off of Fishing Bridge), and out the park entrance into greater Wyoming and the Absaroka Mountains. These are the mountains I can see from our vantage point on the western thumb of the lake. 

The early morning light and early morning mists on the lake, with it’s random steam pots and geysers along the edge, make it one of the most mystical places I’ve ever visited. You can imagine that it was somewhere like this that legends like The Lady of the Lake were born. 

From Yellowstone out to Cody,  and back, I drove through the rugged and craggy Absarokas. All day, going and coming, I saw hundreds of bikers wither going through Yellowstone on their way out to Sturgis, or on their way back. Hundreds. Singles, pairs together on one bike or two, groups. All kinds of demographics, but mostly middle-aged and older. Making the sacred pilgrimage.  

sgf///8/7/15

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Notes from Yellowstone #9

Another week behind me! Not that I want the time to go by too quickly. It’s the work I want to go by quickly, so I can get to the fun…now that I am recovered enough from the work to have some fun.

The frigid cold gave way to the most beautiful series of days, with weather ordered up to please almost anyone. Sunshine, warm but not too warm, blue skies with only a few puffy clouds on the horizon, light breezes, and it’s payday!

My take-home for 43 hours (less campsite rental, medical program, and electricity along with the typical payroll deductions): $251. I don’t know what I will do with it all. I’m glad I’m not trying to pay student loan debt on this job, or simply live. I could not have done this summer without the benefit of my AF retirement and Bill’s social security and DIC. 

I’m grateful for them both, you know. The Air Force and Bill. The benefits I count from both go way beyond the material benefits, mentioned above. I probably wouldn’t be where I am, doing what I am doing were it not for all they gave and taught me. Them and the parents and grandparents, of course. 

The past few days have been rather tender anniversary days for me. Bill left this life on July 29, five years ago. I took some time with that, and enjoyed a couple of beautiful drives in the park.

On Thursday evening, a few hourse before sunset, the dogs and I drove from Grant Village to Canyon , along the western edge of Yellowstone Lake, and through Hayden Valley (here is a map to make it easier for you to follow along). This drive is enhanced (or complicated) by the number of wildlife, primarily bison — a LOT of bison — that wander back and fort across the road in parts of the valley.  The bison aren’t really the problem. It’s the tourists. The park is full of them this year. They stop their cars in the middle of the road. Dead stop. They park willy nilly on the sides of the roads, whether or not there is a turn-out or even a shoulder. They get out lawn chairs — I kid you not — they get out lawn chairs and watch these enormous irritable beasts from a ridiculously close vantage point. Yes. The calves are SO cute! But mama bison are not warm and friendly, and do not take kindly to your efforts to ensure your front row seat.

I guess you’ve heard by now, we’ve had another bison vs. human incident in the park. Another person, this one apparently a seasonal employee, trying to get that selfie with the bison. I wish I could say that I have no words. I do have words. Plenty of them. They’re just not very charitable words, and so I will keep them to myself.

I also saw another bull elk (looked to be 4×4) with a crowd building alongside each side of the road, and people walking with singularity of focus and paying no attention to the traffic on the road or even to the rangers attempting keep them all safe, including the elk.

At Canyon, I went to Camper Services to get an idea of how they were layed out, compared to our facility at Grant. Just a look-see, give the dogs a walk, and get home before dark.

The drive home was a special treat, with a fullish moon rising over Yellowstone Lake as the sun was going down brilliantly through the trees on the western rim of the caldera.

Yesterday, I went to Old Faithful, by myself this time. There aren’t too many places you can really walk your dogs in Yellowstone. Besides the actual park restrictions, which keeps them off of boardwalks and trails, most dogs would either be prey or competitor to a predator in these woods, and at risk. I keep mine on a pretty short leash. I’ve also never been comfortable forcing my dogs to interact with crowds of tourists, some of whom have apparently lost their minds, as evidenced in Hayden Valley.

The Old Faithful village complex is about an hours drive from Grant, north and west. I was there in time for the 10:53 eruption of Old Faithful. I took lots of pictures! I then took the trail up past some of the lesser known, no less spectacular, geysers in the same thermal complex. Beautiful colors in the organisms growing in the hot streams of mineral-laden water flowing down from these pressure cookers, against a fabulously blue sky with just enough clouds to make it intteresting in a photo. Speaking of which, it was about this time that I discovered that my camera memory was reading as full, although i had downloaded it all to my Mac before I set out. Downloaded and erased on the card. 

“Well. Shoot!”

Yep. That’s exactly what I said. That’s my story and I am sticking to it.

I tried ejecting and reinserting the card a couple of times. No joy. I tried deleting the picture that was on it. Yes, that’s right, picture. As in one. The camera was telling me that the card was full, even though there was nothing on it. The one picture I had was of Old Faithful, steaming about 10 minutes before the eruption. It was a setup shot. A throwaway. According to the camera message that would come up momentarily when I opened the shutter cover, this image was recorded to the camera’s internal memory. 

I had one choice left, before I went in search of a new memory card. I reformatted the card. Brilliant. It worked. In time for me to see the Beehive geyser erupt. It’s a bit more dramatic than Old Faithful, in height and gallons of water expelled under pressure. And it only erupts once a day. I got the picture [to be included later].

On the way out of Old Faithful yesterday afternoon, I picked up a pair of hitchhikers, fellow seasonal contract employees, from Taiwan. They work in different areas of the park and were on their way to Fishing Bridge, on the northern edge of Lake Yellowstone, to rent boats and paddle on the water for a while. I was able to get them about a third of the way and to a junction where they could easily get their next lift. These hitchhikers are quite common in Yellowstone, and are almost always young folks working here for the summer and without personal transportation. They are pretty safe, and all have interesting stories.

Critters. The chipmunks have been so busy stripping the grasses of their seed tassels and the wildflowers of all their tasty bits. I always thought the tired mid-summer look of a meadow had to do with the age of the plants and the weather. This morning, it struck me that there were always these little critters pruning the meadow of its goodies, and storing a good bit of the haul for the snows to come. But not too soon. Please.

sgf///8/1/15

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Notes from Yellowstone #8

It’s gone cold and damp and gray in the space of less than a day. And of course, I have a cold now. I don’t have to be back at work for 20 hours, so I am having a nice herb tea in my outside pjs (sweat pants, long t-shirt, jacket, and some wicked good slippers over sox). I hope the propane holds out. I wouldn’t want to run out tonight. I’ll be sure to check it before the service station closes and I check out for the night. 

I’m using Mama’s medicine on Mama, tonight. Tea and graham crackers to snack on, while I decide what to pull out of my hat for dinner. Something nourishing and nurturing to keep me upright for THE TURNAROUND, or what I have nicknamed the coffee break. I’m going into it like it’s a hard training weekend for a marathon. It’s 15.25 hours of “workout” divided by 7.75 hours I can use however I want to. I’ll have the bed turned down and waiting for me when I get home.

I’ve checked the propane, and it looks good. Green is good, right? That’s the way I read the manual. Green=good. Red=bad. I’m going with good. It will be a very early night tonight, and a sleep-in to 6:30 or 7 tomorrow (Do you hear that, dogs?) Huddled up in the Hovel with an extra blanket on the foot of the bed. The gray and cold outside stops at the green of the trees around the Hovel. A dimmer light to see things around us in another way. I wonder what will come out in this grayer light that we don’t normally see during the day?

Speaking of critters, I’m pretty sure I saw a pair of martens chasing each other through the trees outside my bay window, at the north end of the Hovel. I also watched a chipmunk destroying, or rather consuming, the petals of one of the wildflowers that grow in the bare spot between the Hovel and the forest. It would eat flowers for a while and then move to the seed stalks of the shorter grasses. He showed a clear preference for specific flowers and grasses, rendering both unrecognizable after he’d feasted.

Tuesday morning. The rain put me to sleep last night, and I woke up to heavy frost on Old Blue and the furnace keeping us from freezing. I’m wearing layers today, for sure, and carrying gloves. I’m going to guess that there will be a lot of showers today, for shivering people camping in Yellowstone without hookups or generators. Because it’s July. July in the northern Rockies, that is. 

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Notes from Yellowstone #7

Every morning, when I walk the dogs out to the ridge overlooking our little corner of the lake, I can see steam rising from the West Thumb Geyser basin. Yesterday morning, I drove over there to walk around and take some pictures. West Thumb is a caldera within the caldera. A more recent eruption created it from within the giant caldera that holds Yellowstone Lake. While you won’t actually see geysers of the Old Faithful variety here, you will see boiling springs of azure blue (indicating the hottest of the pools) and steaming colorful paint pots with micro-organisms providing oranges, ochres, browns, and greens that steam away from the springs and into the lake.

And wildflowers. There were different wildflowers here than at our campsite, only two miles away. Harebells in abundance around the hydrothermal feature named Bluebell. 

The place was thick with tourists, taking pictures of themselves with steaming geothermal stuff as the backdrop. There was a Ranger Interpreter out, leading a group from feature to feature, and teaching some geology as he went. I even learned one or two things by eavesdropping on the lesson. I learned, for instance, that you could gauge the temperature of the spring by the color. Blue is the hottest — over 163ยบ. No micro-organism survives that high a temperature, so the only color you see in these pools is from the light being refracted by the water (similar to the water droplets that refract the light of the sun and produce blue sky).

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Notes from Yellowstone #6

I’d forgotten how quickly two days off can go. Thursday was a good day to clean up the Hovel, from stem to stern. Then laundry. Then some internet time to catch up with the happenings in the world outside of Yellowstone. Yeah… Well. Enough of that.

Yesterday, Friday, it was time to get some groceries and other supplies. For workers in Yellowstone, the choices are West Yellowstone MT, Gardiner MT, Cody WY, or Jackson/Jackson Hole WY. Each of these choices is a 2-hour drive or better from Grant Village, where I am living. Each of these drives is charming. Going to West Yellowstone would take me past Old Faithful and the Upper and Lower Geyser Basins. Gardiner means a drive through Hayden Valley (where most of the bear sightings are happening and where I saw the bear my first day, only a few hundred feet off the roadway) and along the Yellowstone River up through Mammoth Hot Springs. The drive to Cody takes one over the northern edge of Yellowstone Lake and over some beautiful mountain passes. This time, however, I opted for Jackson and a drive through Grand Teton National Park. No major wildlife sightings, just a few weasels and squirrels, and maybe a fox, but the scenery on the drive…

Les Grand Tetons. Named by a lonely French fur trapper, reminded of his favorite part of the female anatomy. These are a young woman’s breasts — pointy and perky — dominating the western skyline for miles, catching the early morning light on their pointiest parts, and admiring their own relfection in Lewis Lake and along the Lewis River. They occasionally played peekaboo using the Lodgepole Pines as fingers for peeking through. How horrible that I have to drive two hours for groceries.

I took my time, yesterday. When I got to Jackson, I drove around it a bit to get a feel for the place. It’s a typical mountain tourist town. Prices are higher for everything. It has charm, no question (although I prefer Silverton CO for its more rustic and less dense features). Jackson also had at least one decent taquieria: Hatch. Excellent food. I had the tacos carnitas with beans and rice. The green chile sauce (Hatch, natch) is the bomb. I had a margarita — ok, I confess, I had two. 

I got hardware supplies, a haircut, and a pedicure – without polish, but a treat nonetheless for my hard working feet. They deserved a little pampering, and a rub! I got a nice lunch overlooking Broadway, the main artery through town. I got a nice walk through the shopping district and scored a warm vest in an acceptable Navy blue I can wear with my work uniform. It’s a men’s vest, but had more pockets for pens and notebooks and cameras and such AND was 50% off. I got groceries. I got gas. And I got back on the road to Yellowstone, for that perfectly horribly drive :-D with the Tetons now on my left in the late afternoon sun; the sun now joining the mountains in the peekaboo through the Lodgepoles.

By the time I got home and got all the stuff put away and the dogs attended to, I had no juice left for writing or reading news. But I did make time to sit for a moment in the truck in the parking lot of the closest employee wifi source to collect my mail. A note from the kids, perhaps. A report from my favorite weatherman, who keeps me apprised of all kinds of weather through all kinds of weather (my unfair weather friend). A love note from one of my sisters in life and in spirit? I can always count on one of them. There is always a little something, or sometimes a long note filled with news for me to bring back to the Hovel to read and read again. 

I hope they all know that they can always, likewise, count on me. Ain’t it good to know that you’ve got a friend?

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