Sunday, September 9, 2012

In an Unwashed and Unconnected State: Wyoming

Dateline: RAPID CITY, S.D.

My hair is drying from my first shower in days. It feels good to be clean again, though it wasn't as bad to be dirty as I expected. (Attraction to flies not withstanding.) I've been mentally writing this entry in my head for days, but between the post-shower relaxation, and all my remaining energy being monopolized by my stomach as it digests the enormous meal I just ate, it's all I can do to keep up with Family Feud on the Game Show Network. We'll see how coherent I'm gonna be.

At any rate: I'm alive, I didn't get lost in the woods, and bears didn't eat me -- nor did dragons or the Quebecois that had the campsite next to mine (*queue Maurice Chevalier laugh here*).

I spent the last three nights camping out in two National Parks: Grand Teton and Yellowstone. I went with the suggestions of a couple people who said not to skip the latter, and I'm glad I didn't.  The big downside to this plan: they don't seem to believe in internet connections at National Parks, meaning I've been out of touch for too long. I had planned on documenting each day, but with no ability to immediately post, there was no motivation to write. It's a bad thing that I'm a procrastinator.

Thursday I got a campsite in Grand Teton for the night at Jenny Lake (highly recommend: it's beautiful, quiet, and affordable), and spent about 40 minutes trying to figure out how to put up my tent on my own. Somehow it was easier in my parents' backyard last weekend than doing it in real life. I almost gave up and went to get a room in the lodge at the main lake up the road, and then suddenly it came together in a passable way. When it didn't collapse after a few minutes, I figured it was good to go, and patted myself on the back as a true outdoorswoman.  As a reward, I drove out to one of the hikes recommended by my guidebook, a 6-mile round trip up Signal Mountain to a view that was promised to be gorgeous. Just as I was starting, a guy with two dogs started on the same trail, so I figured I should be fine going it alone, since I'd be close behind someone who had animal protection in case the wildlife got a little too close-and-personal.

And then I saw the sign warning about possible bear attack, and how to handle it. And I realized that I was not following two of the suggestions -- that is, traveling with someone else (the guy with dogs didn't count, since he was at least 30 feet in front of me from the get-go), and carrying bear spray.  I thought for a moment about going back, and either picking up some of that spray or picking a different trail to hike, but mentally smacked myself for being timid, and told myself that I should be more adventurous and take more chances with my life.  This was supposed to be an adventure, right? What kind of adventure has no element of danger?

So that's how I spent three hours being scared half to death, expecting a bear to appear out of the bushes at any moment and take a swipe at my face in way of greeting. The trip up wasn't so horrible, since for most of it I knew that guy and his dogs were within distance of hearing if I screamed, but the way down was bonechilling: I didn't run into anyone, and it got darker and darker until it started raining on me for the last mile of my trek. I sang "99 Bottles of Beer" loudly on the way down, and did a lot of crazy talking to myself. The biggest thing I saw? A mule deer that I startled out of its afternoon meandering for dinner. No bears at all.

The hike also took a lot more out of me than I had expected: by the time it was over, every muscle in my body hurt, and I had a dehydration headache (and yes, I did carry a bottle of water up with me that I drank on the way). I chided myself for being a wuss, but on the drive today I realized that it wasn't all me being out of shape - though yes, that's part of it. It was a pretty steep climb up a hill that was at a much higher elevation than I'd hiked in years, if not ever.

But despite all that, it was worth it. I don't think I'd do it again anytime soon -- not alone, without anti-bear weaponry that is -- especially since I could have driven up to the top and seen the exact same thing without all the fearmongering.

Oh, well. At least now I know I can do that. Hooray for me.

That was the big thing I got to do in Teton. I didn't have much time, especially since I wanted at least a day in Yellowstone. I took a lot of pictures, did a lot of driving through the area looking at things.

Friday morning I packed everything up pretty quickly -- there were less shenanigans taking down the tent than in putting it up -- and headed into Yellowstone. That park is huge. I mean, I drove through the entrance gate, and it took me a good 30 minutes of driving before I passed the first major Visitor Center area. I spent the first two hours driving around trying to find a good campsite, and ended up at one of the big Xanterra ones, in Madison. (All the major hubs have names -- Madison, Fishing Village, Mammoth, Canyon, etc.) Putting up the tent was much faster, whch was great because it gave me half the day to go exploring and end up at Old Faithful just in time to see it blow.

Yellowstone is pretty, but not quite like Grand Teton. What it does have going for it, at least as far as I am concerned, is all the geothermal activity. Geysers and mud pots and hot springs are everywhere, I wonder how they can tell a real fire from all the steam coming up all over the place.  I did as many small nature walks as I could - mindful that I was still sore and winded from Signal Mountain, o wuss that I am - as well as doing the longer Fairy Falls trail and stopping off the side of the road a lot to take pictures.

On Friday I drove up north of Mammoth and swam in the Boiling River swimming area (definitely a highlight of the trip - it's where a river of hot-spring water dumps into a regular river, combining to make a perfect blend of water that's just bearable for humans). Then I drove the whole 142-mile loop, visiting various spots along the way. The Grand Canyon of Yellowstone was much more impressive than I'd expected, and I saw a lot of bison, birds, deer, chipmunks ... but no bears. (Yay!)  A couple times I got stuck in traffic as tourists got excited by an elk sighting 20 yards off the side of the road and just had to stop and take a picture, or a few times when some bison decided to use the road as their own personal path to the next meal. It was kind of fun to have so many close encounters. I spent two night in Yellowstone, and wish I'd had time for more.

It's after midnight here, and I have a long day ahead of me tomorrow. Gonna stop writing for now, and continue the update when i can -- hopefully tomorrow evening. For now, all, here's a photo of me at the Dragon's Mouth Spring. I already shared it on the Facebooks, but it's still good for this entry, too. I even look happy. ;)

No comments: