On Sunday, I got back from a twelve day, eleven night driving, hiking, and backpacking trek through Glacier, Yellowstone, and Grand Teton National Parks. Over the course of the trip, we drove about 2,000 miles, backpacked 55 miles, spent ten straight nights in tents, and took maybe four showers. We ate enough granola bars and peanut butter to choke a grizzly bear, and in the course of our trek, we suffered a sprained ankle, a blister, sore shoulders, bruises, and the occasional bout of near-hypothermia. (Well, at least it felt that way.)
On previous trips, I’ve blogged and documented almost every single day, but given the vagaries of connections in the Montana wilderness, not to mention the difficulties of carrying a laptop into the backcountry, that just wasn’t possible this trip. So now I sit here, in the aftermath of it all– endless fascinating stories that don’t really connect unless I want to write something novel-length; several hundred pictures; a few amusing and/or weird videos that do not really belong on the planet Earth.
Heck, I’ll start with one of those. When people think of Yellowstone National Park, they think of bears, or crowds, or Old Faithful, or a volcano that will one day kill us all. But when you’re standing in or near the caldera, in one of the countless geyser basins that litter the area, the utter strangeness of the landscape makes it difficult to remember you’re still standing on our own planet. The stark muddy landscape, with orange and brown bacteria mats spreading as far as the eye can see, and bubbling hot springs that throw up a field of steam so dense it’s like you’re walking through sulfurous London fog… well, it’s not planet Earth. It’s the sort of place you’d expect to find Captain Kirk fighting a guy in a lizard suit, is all I’m saying.
While we were at Yellowstone, we walked around Shoshone Lake, which is believed to be the largest lake in the lower 48 states not accessible by road. Only hand-powered watercraft (canoes and kayaks) are allowed on it, and when you reach the top of a hill on the lake’s edge, you can essentially look out and see miles and miles of scenery– water, forests, and marshland– that looks no different than it would have to a fur trader in the area three hundred years ago.
On the southwest corner of Shoshone Lake is the Shoshone Geyser Basin, which is a prime example of one of those alien landscapes I mentioned. It has eighty geysers in a 1600×800 foot area, and, well, you’d best watch your step if you’re walking through it. It’s a landscape that smacks you in the head and says, “Why, yes, you ARE standing inside a 45-mile-wide volcano. Have a nice, non-terrifying day! Muwahahaha.”
Both Yellowstone and Glacier National Park are also famous for their wildlife. Before either park lets you camp in the backcountry, they subject you to a fifteen-minute video detailing how to avoid bears, and what to do in the event of a bear encounter (answer: not be an idiot). In fact, a large swath of Yellowstone was closed to hikers, thanks to a recent bear attack that resulted in a fatality. So we followed the advice in the video, but despite that (or perhaps because of it), we didn’t even see any bears at all. Darn it!
We did see plenty of bison, and chipmunks (see right), and one eighteen-inch long critter that looked sort of like a red fox, except that red foxes don’t climb trees.
There were plenty of elk, too, including a few lounging right in the middle of Mammoth Hot Springs Historic District, aka the biggest town in Yellowstone.
So Yellowstone was pretty awesome. Glacier National Park was pretty awesome, too– I’ll add a few pictures to the post, but otherwise I think my previously-posted poem about Glacier National Park speaks for itself. Yellowstone wins as far as weird scenery and wildlife, but Glacier wins when it comes to sheer, raw nature. (Until the day Yellowstone erupts and kills us all, that is.)
As for Grand Teton National Park, we only got to spend one night there, unfortunately, and didn’t get to hike in the mountains at all. But they were still darn impressive. Hopefully in the future I’ll be able to spend more time there. They’re only… fifteen hours away… through some of the most monotonous scenery this side of Texas. (Montana and eastern Washington are cool and all, but the driving does get old after a while.)
If you’re interested, here’s the full set of photos from the trip.
And, for one last obligatory video, I leave you with Old Faithful erupting. (Skip to 1:50 if you can’t stand the wait.)