Thursday, August 30, 2012

Colors at Yellowstone

Wednesday, Aug 15 2012

I got up to pee and had just gotten back into bed when the neighbor's alarm clock went off.

"What time is it?" asked a female voice.

"5:15" said a male voice. Then what followed sounded like one elderly deaf person asking another elderly deaf person how to work the shower

After listening to them while I dozed, I finally decided I wasn't going to get any rest and that I might as well get up a look at the geysers along the Fire River.

I dressed, collected various photography tools, and wandered off to Old Faithful. The lobby of the Inn had one or two people in it. When red double doors were closed, and went I went through them, the cold air wrapped around me. The sky was turning lighter shades of pearl. A sliver of a crescent moon hung below a bright planet which I thought was Mars the other morning, but turned out to be Venus--I want to blame the haze for making Venus look redder the other day.

There were a few other early-bird geyser gazers at the bleachers around Old Faithful. I wanted to get a photograph of the moon in the geyser's plume to complement the one I had taken of the sun the other day. Something about the geyser made me think an eruption wasn't too far off, so I waited.

Video of the geysers seems to come out better than the stills I take, so I pulled out my iPad and managed a few shorts of Old Faithful before and during the eruption. In some ways recording events this way works better because I can watch both the equipment and what I'm videoing without feeling like a Borg or a technophile two times removed from the event that is happening. On the other hand, I aways think about how Mark says to experience the moment and not live it through the filter of devices.

After Old Faithful was finished, I went out into the geyser area on the other side of the river to pretend to be David Attenbourough. There were a couple of times when I was facing away from geysers and watching me talk in front of them that struck me as kind of odd--but I was having fun, and I'd appreciated the geysers directly earlier in the week.

At 7:30 we all met for breakfast. I was starving and had a big one.

We went to thermal features near the lodge, working our way to the Artists Paint Pots and then back toward Old Faithful. The most interesting thing about the paint pots are the way that mud piled up around the mud-hole, and the cracked mounds surrounding the gurgling mud. I expected more colors in the mud, but it was mostly cream and sepia. Some times a dried out hole might have a dusting of mustard yellow, presumably from sulphur, which we smelled. Drier holes made a hushing and whistling noise as steam rose over crazed mud tiles; wetter holes sputtered like oatmeal.

The Firehole area had more color. Steam rose from broad pools of deep turquoise rimmed with greens and browns, and made a rainbow in the early morning sun. Actually, our sunglasses contributed greatly to the rainbow effect.

Mark got into timing Jewel Geyser. While we were there, it had a period of about six minutes. The most fun we had was with a visiting family--they sounded British--waiting for the next eruption. They were suitibly impressed, and told Mark that he should sell tickets predicting the geyser; Mark said something about visiting Stonehenge and our woo-woo tour guide; Larry said that Mark should make up something like, "Oh! I can hear the crickets! Can you hear them? They're telling me the geyser is about to go off." Hearing the crickets then became the joke of the hour.

We crossed the highway and took a short hike to [sage brush] geyser. We were hoping that it would go off, because the blue waters in it appeared to be rising and bubbling. But a local geyser gazer stopped by and told us it would be several hours at least before it went off.


Mark and Larry went off for another Birthday Hike. The farther they got into the back country, the fewer other hikers they saw. They did not see any bears.


As I drifted off to sleep, I heard the old man next door ask, "Did I take my pills?"

The old woman asked, "Which pills are you supposed to take?"

"Well.. I think I'm supposed to take a either an aspirin or a pain pill..."

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Stupid Tourist Tricks

As we were driving along the roads at Yellowstone, we happened upon a bison crossing the road.  This one was a smaller bison, but still, it probably had as much mass as our car.

The SUV folks in the opposite lane thought it would be ever so delightful to parallel the bison so that they could take video and still pictures out of their car's nearest open orifices.  In other words, they were A) driving with their cameras, B) harassing the wildlife, and C) herding the bison into our car.

We encouraged them to move along.  I'm still trying to decide if the "thanks" from the red SUV meant, "Thanks for getting that silver SUV to move along," "Thanks for getting that silver SUV to move so we could have our turn harassing the bison," or "Thanks for letting us be selfish jerks."

Monday, August 27, 2012

Boy Scout Moment

On the way back to the car from Mammoth Hot-springs, I saw an older woman off of the paths and sidewalks, inching her way down the shoulder of the road. The first thing I noticed was her awkward gait, as if her hips or her feet bothered her; the second was the "I think I'm about to drown" look on her face; the third was that she wasn't wearing sensible shoes.

I looked and Larry and Larry looked at me and then we were crossing the street to help her. By this time she had found a rock more or less stool sized and was almost panting. There was a small breeze, but the sun was beating down on the rocky sinter cliffs. There were no trees to offer shade.

Larry and I greeted her, asked if she needed help, and offered her water and our steadying arms. She said her name was Estella; she was Peruvian, but had lived in LA for the past twenty-something years. She'd apparently gone off on her own from a tour bus. She wiggled her feet to free some gravel out of her heeled sandals and we continued to walk along the margin of the road. I looked down at her feet and marveled that she was able to walk at all--her feet had bunions the size of my thumbs and the joints of her big toes pointed outward like misplaced ankles. My feet ached in sympathy.

We took another rest. Estella drank some more water, and apologized for drinking all of it--she hadn't and I encouraged her to drink as much as she wanted. Larry went off to connect with her tour bus. When he came back, she said she'd rest and wait for her bus to pick her up and shooed us of.

We hadn't gone twenty-five feet when she got up and started walking again; so we came back and insisted on escorting her back. We figured she was embarrassed or possibly worried that two (younger) men were helping her.

Sunday, August 26, 2012

Fort Yellowstone

Aug 14, Tuesday Afternoon:

We made it to Fort Yellowstone and the Mammoth Falls. Mammoth Falls was probably one of the warmest adventures we had; it felt like it was 80 or 85F.

We saw an exhibit of life at the fort at the cusp of the 19th and 20th centuries. I found the boxy camera and the old Remington manual typewriter interesting, but what struck my eye was the spiraling ram's horn people were allowed to touch. I thought the coil of horn with its ridges was aesthetically pleasing, and I tried to make the photograph I took of it show how it was a circle extended into a third dimension.

Of interest was a collection of Thomas Moran--I recognized the view from Artist's Point in one of the watercolors.

The buildings had an American interpretation of the Arts and Craft movement; I liked the Engineering Building especially. We couldn't decide if it looked more like a Chinese lantern or more like a birdhouse. I photographed the lamps on either side of the entrance because I think they could work on the outside of our home.

Larry's ability to choose a line failed him, and we found ourselves waiting for A Very Long Time while a Bus Tour Driver, a Japanese Tourist, a burnt-out cashier, a replacement cashier, and a translating table busser had some obscure problem involving four receipts. And lots of hand waving. When it was finally our turn in line, the Driver tried to cut in on us as we placed our order.

We took a shortish walk up to the Mammoth Hot-springs. I was more impressed with the springs than I thought I would be. The springs are terraces of built-up sinter. Mostly they're white, with orange thermophiles at the edges.

Park Signs

I thought this sign was funny.  It's probably a good thing that I'm not in charge of signs at Yellowstone, because they'd probably be much more sarcastic or direct, like, "Don't be stupid, you could DIE" or "Yellowstone Thermal Area:  Weeding Out the Gene Pool."

Yellowstone Falls

Tuesday, Aug 14

The sky was still red, but not as hazy from the fire as it had been yesterday. As close to 7AM as possible, we hopped into the car and drove to the Upper and Lower Falls on the Yellowstone River. The sites are much more pleasant in the cool of the morning, and the crowds are less dense.

We started out at the Upper Falls viewing area. The morning sun was about halfway down the far cliff, and the falls were bright white where the sunlight hit them. Then we started down Uncle Tom's Trail.

The viewing for the Lower Falls involved climbing down something like two hundred metal grid stairs bolted onto the side of a canyon wall. Clomping down them reminded me of the World of Yonada (pause to imagine John dramatically saying, "I must know the truth of the World!")

Probably the most alarming sight was not seeing through the mesh stairs onto the tops of rock towers below, nor the steep pitch of stair's flight: it was coming across dented and deformed steps and realizing that rocks the size of heads had fallen off of the cliff.

At the bottom of the cliff we looked up at the trees. Some clung to the rock by their roots, some grew away from the cliff in the way their coastal cousins grew away from ocean winds, some had obviously made a horrible mistake in choice of rooting spot and had become withered kindling.

The lower fall plunged over the cliff face and fell into a white mist before pounding the rocks below. A driven mist blew away from the falls and curled over and around nearby slopes. Secondary falls, fed by the mists, tumbled to the Yellowstone River. An arcing rainbow seemed to span the space over both shores of the river, reminding me of the Bifrost Bridge and Wagnerian music.

The walk up was easier than the walk down. The joke of the hour was "They went down this with knotted ropes and rope bridges!" Which was true--there were black and white pictures of Victorian women in dresses, large hats, and gloves grasping a thick knotted rope as they navigated a steep slope.

After the falls, we drove a short distance to Artist's Point, a favorite perch of Thomas Moran. By this time it was after 10:30, and the crowds were beginning to thicken. Still, we had a wonderful view of the Lower Falls. The cliff sides are visually interesting--the river has exposed different rocky layers, and rain and snow have eroded small craggy towers on both sides of the valley. Pines lined the top of the cliff, and what looked like deer trails strung down from the trees and crossed rocky spurs.

Saturday, August 25, 2012

Who Was That Man in the White Poofy Shirt?

Scene:  A street after The Eugene Celebration parade.

Tired looking Elderly Woman from the League of Women Voters who has just paraded fourteen blocks (seeing the crackers on the small collapsible table Mark, John, and various friends are standing around) : (to twenty-something LWV companion):  "Oh, Sue, wait; let's ask these people for crackers."

John (whisking a tea towel embroidered with a calligraphic alphabet over one arm):  "Oh!  (rushes up to TLEWFTLOWV) Here; have some cheese-ball, too."  (Holds up chilled bowl with cheese.)

TLEWFTLOWV scoops some cheese onto a wheat cracker.

John (explaining):  "It's Oregonzola and cream cheese mixed with almonds.  Take some more."

TLEWFTLOWV:  "Thanks; this is really good and I'm diabetic so it really... (noticing John's white poofy sleeved poet's shirt): "Who are you people."

John (successfully resisting the answer "I'm just a gay man with a cheese ball, ma'am, trying to bring culture to the streets of Eugene", but it's a really near thing):  "Oh, we just came to see the parade..."

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Cowboy Cookout

Monday evening, we went to a Cowboy Cookout. We arrived at the Parade Rest Guest Ranch, and after a short wait, got onto a surrey wagon complete with fringe. From a writing point of view it was interesting because the bumpy ride would have been bumpier if the surrey hadn't had modern pneumatic breaks and suspension springs.

The food--steak, corn on the cob, beans, slaw, and a brownie--was very good. We ate outdoors in a stand of aspen trees while a cowboy poet sarraneded us with western songs.

On the way back to Old Faithful Inn, we saw several herd of elk.

The Inn is a noisy place; the walls are thin and the windows aren't tight. If I listen as I type this, I can make out the conversation the folks in the next room are having, and it sounds as if they've just turned on an air pump for a mattress (at 10PM). The entryway varanda isn't far from our room, so we hear the late-night conversations of guests drinking there. The lobby has just quieted down, mostly due to the fact that the piano and chello player has just finished the music program for the night.

Geysers and Hikes

Monday, Aug 13

Woke up this morning at 6 to go and photograph geysers. I was expecting the sky to be much clearer than it was. There's a fire in Idaho that is making everything hazy. Also there were a ton of clouds which slowly went from dark grey to shades of coral and white as the morning progressed.

The lighting was difficult, and the sights were beautiful, but beyond my camera and my photographer's skills. The Moon and Mars (actually, it was Venus, but the fires made Venus look like red Mars) hung in the pinking sky, and I took a shot of those. The combination of the very diffuse light, the vapors, and the white silicate ground around the sinter cones made taking any kind of interesting picture challenging.

The thing I learned was that if you are at a geyser with a camera, and it's doing something interesting which you can see, that's when you want to take a picture.

I returned to our room and we set off for a breakfast. We just missed Fountain Geyser, but drove on a little way to White Cone Geyser. Near the end of our meal the geyser went off. It was funny--as we were eating, folks would drive by, squint at the geyser, which was smoking, and then drive off; it was like watching folks drive by garage sales.

We visted another thermal area, Firehole Lake Drive: a headwater, with lots of geysers half-submerged by river waters and spewing steam into the air. From out of the mists, flying from the veiled valleys above, trumpeter swans came flying and trumpeting.

Then we went to Sentinal Meadows and Ojo Springs. Just to the west of the parking area was a solitary male bison. He seemed more interested in grazing a patch of grass a way from the road than in us.

Ojo Spring, located on the banks above the Gibon River, is supposed to look like an eye, but to me it looked more like it was shaped like a goose with boiling water coming up more or less where a goose's eye would be. We took a trailhead to the meadow of yellow and green spreading out from the river. The wildlife was spectacular. Red and blue dragonflies, smaller blue damsel flies, and white and orange butterflies flitted from flower to pond; the dragonflies especially seemed to like the geyser steams. Mark saw a weasel. And coming over a spur of a hill, we saw a large, yellow coyote. It saw us and went lope-lope-loping away into the pines. From where we saw the coyote, we looked down upon the roofless, Lincoln-log-like remains of Yellowstone's first spa facilities.

Monday, August 20, 2012

Red Peppers and Old Faithful

Sunday Aug 12 8:19 AM

I woke up this morning feeling like I had eaten a Deadly Red Pepper. At least I hope it was a DRP and not, say, the local water supply or some kind of 24 hour bug. Insert some sort of geriatric digestive aid and Old Faithful joke here.

I spend a lot of time in the men's room, which has intricate tiling on the floors (hexagons and squares), marble sink counters, and tilted oval mirrors over the sinks.

The Beehive Geyser going off at 5:30 AM woke Mark up, so he went out to look at stars and, as it turn out, bison. At least, I think it was 5:30. He said that that moon was up, so it can't have been any earlier than about 4AM. Mark also saw Castle geyser go off; he said the eruption lasted about a half hour.

As much as I like the aesthetic of our room's door, it requires two free hands to enter or exit our room. This can be difficult when one is encumbered with something like, say, a soothing cup of tea. Actually, now that I look more closely, the bar connected to the pull doesn't serve any purpose, so it is possible to unlock the door and push it open. Exiting the room does require two hands, as the automatic closer puts a lot of force on the door.

I managed to take a few pictures of Old Faithful with the rising sun veiled by its vapors. Then everyone left for the lake--I opted to stay in an area with readily accessible restrooms. A few hours later I felt like I could risk a short walk.

Watching geysers is an exercise in waiting. What strikes me is how many folks grumble that the geyser has not gone off yet. I imagine living or working here would give one a rhythm of how the geysers spout. I'm waiting near the Grand Geyser. In a surprise eruption, the Triplet Geyer nearby has started to erupt, shooting out three foot high bursts of water.

Grand Geyser has started to push water out of its mini cauldara. The displaced overflow ripples away from the spout and oozes down hill. Turban geyser, part of the system, is bubbling and its overflow is feeding the waters of Grand. Suddenly, Grand shoots water high into the air and I realize that what I thought was Grand is actually Turban and there's a rotten egg smell in the air as mist reaches toward the sun.

Sunday in the Park with Geysers

Sunday Aug 12 Early Afternoon

I reviewed the videos I shot of the geysers and delete a few. I take a few still photos with my camera of the radiator and of the basin. I'm feeling a little better and decide to risk a little bit of chocolate ice cream fro the snack bar.

Then I take a nap, which is an accomplishment given how much noise there is seeping around our windows. Busses pull up with hissing air breaks; garbage trucks beeep-beeep-beeep over the clank of metal trash bins being hoisted and banged about; someone's small dogs are yapping; and it must be just past lunch time because several infants have loud melt-downs. Beneath the punctuations of sound is the ocean-like murmur of hundreds of conversations.

When I wake up, the feeling that I've eaten a Deadly Red Pepper has returned. Bother. Now the question becomes, what exactly is causing the frequent runs to the men's room?

I went for a walk to see River Geser blow and on he way back, I walked by Sawmill Geyser. It was thruming and sending spouts of water up into the air. Then it stopped. I thought it was a pause, but then the water swirled around the rim of Sawmill's cauldera, and drained down the central pipe of stone. Thin vapour poured up the pipe, but otherwise, the geyser was dry.

It was like the withdrawal of some churning spirit.

Later, walking back to the lodge, some ravens played in a parking lot. I thought I'd try to photograph one. As I was doing so, a woman came up and started talking at them, accusing them of finding and eating garbage. Which she began to pick up. Which made me feel a little like a stupid tourist, so I helped her pick up the wrappers, paper bits, and shiney foil I'd failed to see.

11:19 PM

As we lay in bed trying to fall asleep, some Very Loud Brits began a Lightly Drunken Conversation on the benches two stories below our window. These were not Masterpiece Theatre Subjects of Victoria, nor were they incarnations of Mr. Darcey.

Sunday, August 19, 2012

Saturday Yellowstone Adventures

Saturday Aug 11 -- Mid Afternoon

After a five hour drive from Twin Falls, Idaho, and various stops, we pulled into the Old Faithful Inn. I'm trying to remember our visit ten years ago, and the edges of the memories are fuzzy, but I'm pretty sure there weren't quite so many people. I guess August is the High Season.

Old Faithful Inn, constructed in 1903, is built mostly of burled lodge-pole pine and some stone. Rough-hewn posts rise up about six stories to create a inside forest effect. The posts and beams look a bit like giants holding up a settler-style Circe du Soliel jungle gym. Even with windows on the east and west ends of the building, the interior is dark. A huge stone fireplace in the south end of the lobby rises up about seven stories.

There's lots of American Arts and Crafts style furniture decked around the lobby and observation decks encircling the fireplace. The most enchanting--for me, anyway--are the wood writing desks. An oblong Tiffany-style lamp is incorporated into the desk's organizer, which has four upright slots to hold postcards and writing supplies. The lamp's glass looks like malachite. The desktop is a god hight, with plenty of leg room.

Most folks are only allowed on the first third floors. The higher ones were damaged four decades ago by an earthquake, and the general public isn't allowed up there. Occasionally we notice folks looking out over the park from the Inn's "widow porch" on top; they must work here.

You can tell the architecture-type tourist because they always take pictures of the support beams. I think the best time to take a picture would be between midnight and 4AM, when the place is silent and empty.

Our room in the Inn is on the third floor. The walls are paneled in wood. The radiator looks old, but it's not rusty and there's a raised arabesque design on the cells. Bare bulbs on top of white columns remind me of candles. We share a very nicely tiled marbled bathroom with the rest of the hall, but there's a copper plated stand with a ceramic wash basin sink in the room. Rough triangle-headed nails are at the corners of the simple wooden frame of the mirror.

The Perseid Meteor Shower happens this time of year. I think the best one I saw was when I was near the Old Faithful bleachers, away from the lights of the Inn. Even with the lights from the lodge, the Milky Way was much more prominent than I've seen it in quite a while. The meteor shot out from the area between Perseus and Cassiopeia, mostly white with maybe a little bit of green, and a thick tail of sparks. Later I thought I heard one whooshing overhead, but the noises of the other guests on the verandah made it difficult to tell.

As I was reading on the bed, the world's largest and friendliest looking mouse waddled out from underneath the radiator and stared and stared at me. I just stared right back.