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Erik Trautman

“Everything you can imagine is real.”
-- Pablo Picasso

Yellowstone National Park

After a poor night’s sleep in a freezing teepee in West Yellowstone and a misadventure with some hydrogen peroxide, we set out to find a better experience in the park itself. We got as far as the parking lot before the next bit of poor luck hit — the frigid night had killed the bike battery and we had to wait for a jump start off of a staff member’s truck. By that point, though, the sun was well out and, beneath blue skies, we pushed into the park at last.

We retraced some of our route from the previous evening, heading more or less straight for Old Faithful. It was good to actually get a chance to see the landscape in the daytime. We passed beautiful river views, meadows, and gentle forested hills until their beauty was difficult not to take for granted. My girlfriend seemed to tire of the many photo-op stops before I did:

The only sad thing about the ride through the forest was the tens of thousands of felled trees that littered the hillsides like some hand of god had smashed them flat to the ground, leftovers from the 1988 fire that wiped out almost 800,000 acres, or more than a third of the entire park. It was the largest fire the recorded history of the US and its scars were all over the land even still.

A sudden traffic jam served as a friendly reminder that we are really just visitors to the park:

Eventually the trees peeled back and the ground calcified into hardened, colorful fields of geysers. It’s difficult to stand next to a geyser and not be impressed with how very *different* it is from almost anything else you see in nature. The holes are bursting with steam and color and an inorganic sort of life and personality. Some just bubble quietly along while others steam softly until they rumble forth and spew lustily into the air for several minutes before quieting down again.

We got to Old Faithful about midway between eruptions. That particular geyser can take between 50-90 minutes to recharge, depending on the violence of the previous discharge. Of all the geysers we saw, Old Faithful might have been the most boring. It was packed with tourists all around and just steamed quietly for a long, hot wait. When it finally did erupt it was impressive enough for the first ten seconds or so but, in this current age of wonders, it was more or less shrug-worthy overall.

From the geysers, we rode to the Grand Canyon of Yellowstone. The canyon was another gorgeous natural wonder of the park. The views from the top were vast and impressive and the canyon itself cut savagely and majestically through the yellow stones of the park’s foundation.

We hiked the 317 stairs of Uncle Tom’s Trail down the cliff face to get a better view of the falls:

From the canyon, we cut north past the Tower Fall (another epic waterfall but not very photogenic in the western light) and left from the Northwest entrance, where the Mammoth Springs are located. Overall, the park was so epic and incredible and amazing that the mind numbs by the sheer magnitude and diversity of natural beauty within. There are parts of our drive that were so beautiful that, were they divorced from the other wonders around them, would be worthy of their own feature destination status.

That said, because we crammed so much into just one short day, we got a bit numb and didn’t even stop for pictures after a while. It made me definitely want to return to the park when, a) there were less other tourists, and b) during the winter when the snow would make some of the views (and especially geysers) heart-wrenchingly beautiful.

The final ride to the park exit and into the land beyond goes down as one of the best of my life. Again, the ingredients just came together perfectly. The sun was setting and warm, the air was filled with the smells of flowers, hills, and the occasional whiff of campsmoke. The road cleared of the slow-moving gawkers who had dominated it all day and the descents into valley meadows were fast and sweeping. It was difficult not to just close my eyes and soak it all in. That ride to the park exit and into the rolling yellow hills of western Montana made me vow that I *will* return to that area and may even settle in to stay for a while on some day in the far (far) distant future.