Notes from Yellowstone #18

Another swing shift today: 1:30-10. I hate swing shifts. I have always hated swing shifts. It’s not because they are boring. When I was working in an Air Force Surveillance and Warning Center, swing shifts could be when the most exciting stuff happened. The swing shift perforates the day, poking holes in time leaving the worker with little time for any other productivity. 

I find myself in a constant state of re-orientation. When I finish with work, it takes some time to quiet the mind and relax the body. Going to bed with either of them firing makes sleep impossible. I have to spend some time listening to music, doing some stretching to keep the leg cramps away, a shower, perhaps a beer and nuts or warm honeyed milk with graham crackers. Then, ideally, a good night’s sleep of +/- 7 hours. With no leg cramp dancing.

In the morning, we all have our rituals for orienting ourselves to the day. As I get older, I take more time with these ablutions, affirmation that I made it through another night. I won’t go into detail, but it takes a while, leaving about three hours for ensuring I have food and plans for lunch and dinner, walking the dogs a couple of times, straightening up the hovel, and writing a little. Then it’s time to get ready for work. 

I hate swing shifts.

The work itself is physical and something always needs to be done, so the shifts go by quickly. My body has adjusted (mostly) so doesn’t get as sore and crampy as it did in the first week or so. I also haven’t banged myself up in almost two weeks, either, so the bruises are fading.

Speaking of fading…so are the wildflowers in our alpine meadow. We’ve had several frosty mornings now, and while some of the yarrow and lupine are hanging in there, they are looking tired (as tired as the whores on 7th Ave) and ready for the season to be over. There’s an occasional dandelion or clover, and lots of browning grasses of various types. The rest of the flowers have been eaten by elk and chipmunk and other critters at that point when the plants were the most fecund. bearing the seeds of next year’s meadow in protein-rich seed.

Critters. Yesterday, when I was back at the Hovel for dinner break (and to feed/walk the dogs), I saw my first Bald Eagle of the summer. It flew, or rather glided, just above the spruce over Workcamp Yellowstone from end to end, flying right over my head as I walked the dogs. Maybe one day that kind of thing won’t take my breath away, but I don’t think so.


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Notes from Yellowstone #17

Sunday. The smoke was better this morning. The rising sun was a deep orange, instead of red, contrasting brilliantly against a sky that was still gray and the still darker gray of the calm lake waters. This morning The Lake was dressed in patches of white and gray lake fog gathered on the eastern and western shores of the Thumb.

It was a brisk morning, with frost lacing the leaves of the lupine, turning them into white stars, and glazing the grasses with glitter. Even the fresh mounds of the burrowing critters were frosted like a sugar-dusted cake.

Yesterday, for the first time since I arrived, the campground was not completely filled. The FULL sign wasn’t posted. The season is winding down. American families are heading back to school. Many of our customers are now European and Asian visitors. Even the big groups of bikers are gone, the sacred Sturgis pilgrimage over the year. 

One of the things I learned this week is that some people leaving Yellowstone leave behind stuff, all kinds of stuff.  Visitors supply themselves for a camping, biking, hiking, fishing experience; and once they’ve had it, they leave the stuff here (ostensibly for the next person?). Bicycles, tents, tarps, sleeping bags, coolers, folding chairs…It becomes something of a disposal problem. The bicycles get pressed into service for the young people living in the dorms, providing transportation that most don’t have while here. The other stuff? 

We see something similar in the laundry and shower. Last night we emptied a dryer full of someone’s towels that had been unclaimed for two days. At least they washed and dried them for us! We have a large box of single sox, another box with various articles of clothing, towels, hair bands, mated sox, and a third box with shampoos, conditioners, face cleansers, feminine cleansers, shaving cream, and various airline approved containers. These boxes get emptied regularly and fill back up just as regularly. It’s not bad enough that we fill our houses and garages with stuff, we have to do it to our national parks?

Leave No Trace

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Notes from Yellowstone #16

Some of you older folks may remember a song from 1966 about the morning sun rising like a red rubber ball? This morning’s sunrise was just like that, accompanied by the acrid smell and taste of smoke from forest fires. I took my coffee down to the rock where I can sit and look at the lake, except you can’t even see much of the lake this morning. The cold front that came through yesterday, about 2 pm, blew lawn furniture around the campsites and took down some dead lodge poles — one came down across our access road — but didn’t seem to do much about the smoke except perhaps fan more of it in.

Since a hike was out yesterday, due to the smoke, I had to do something else so as not to waste a day of break in Yellowstone. The dogs begged me for a ride in the truck, and Old Blue need to be let out a bit after two weeks of <25 mph. We headed toward the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone. 

There are two drives at the Canyon, one for the south rim and one for the north, with several short trails leading to amazing overlooks. The one at Artist Point, overlooking Lower Falls, was especially inspiring, even in a crowd.  In spite of the smoky haze, the colors and shapes of canyon walls are compelling. Reds splashing down the sides of chalky white crags, capped by deep greens. Lower Falls is over 300 feet and was flowing mightily. I promised myself a trip back before I leave to hike Uncle Tom’s Trail when the smoke isn’t so heavy in the air. The trail is described as a series of paved inclines and more than 300 steps [which] lead you about 500 feet…down into the canyon. Your destination is a platform from which you can see, hear, and feel the power of Lower Falls. The trail is not recommended for people with heart, lung, or other health conditions. And, of course, no dogs allowed. 

Another trail, to Red Rock Point, on the Northern Rim takes the hardy visitor close enough to feel the spray. Again, an adventure for another day. Since the dogs were in the truck, I did the shorter walks to the viewpoints and overlooks. I’ll spend more time here in the coming weeks. 

The drive alone is worth the trip. I love the drive past West Thumb Geysers and along the lakeside. There is a part of the forest, north of West Thumb, that burned so hotly that it is taking more time for life to return. I always feel like I’m passing a cemetery when I drive by the spot. Dead gray lodge poles like giant tombstones in the tall grass for miles overlooking the lake. It makes me want to whisper. From there back into healthy forest and past the mud volcanoes and sulphur caldrons, through the Hayden Valley with its herds of bison and an occasional bear for the delight of the tourists, who stop their vehicles where ever they are and pull out without looking anywhere but at the animals. This is why my friend, John, never comes here during the summer season. I actually had to use my horn yesterday as one fella tried to drive right into my driver side door from one of the lookout points on the other side of the road!

Back to work this afternoon. Woo! Hoo! Right now, I have four swings and a daywatch, but who knows? Last week’s schedule had four versions before the week was over. It’s a good thing I’m so flexible, or at least somewhat so. ;-)

The most excellent news is that the hours for the showers/laundry will be changing in a couple of days. We will close one hour earlier and open one hour later. That means that my coffee break between Tuesday’s swing and Wednesday’s daywatch gets extended by two hours! That’s almost a full night’s sleep!

Critters. One of the things I haven’t told you about is the bats. They are all around, and very often in, our laundry building. Little brown bats. They don’t harass anyone, but some people get freaked out about little brown bats flying over their heads and then attaching to and creeping along the rafters above them. I personally love bats. They eat mosquitos by the thousands.

Dennis used to rescue the bats by netting them inside the building and then taking them outside to release them behind the building. One day he discovered that the loud gathering of ravens outside was a group of the raucous black demons calling each other for dinner. He was devastated to discover that he’d been unwittingly feeding the ravens with rescued bats. You might be interested to know that a group of ravens is called an unkindness.  


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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?


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.


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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.


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.  


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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.


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