Sunday, October 14, 2007

The Great Family Vacation, Part Four

Day Six: The majority of the day consisted of a wild goose chase, where we came within one or two miles of finding what we were looking fore… but we turned around just short of the goal, not realizing how close we were.

We started with breakfast at the Old Faithful Inn Dining Room, and it was an added bonus to have the server only charge us for three plates for the buffet instead of four (saved nine bucks!).

I had a couple of things I wanted to see on my trip to Yellowstone, one of which was mud pots and the other was the Roosevelt Arch, the arch structure that Teddy Roosevelt dedicated when the park was created. I’ve been to Yellowstone numerous times in my life, but I never remembered seeing this arch or any of the other little towns around the park. Maybe I’m wrong, but I think I have only seen the Old Faithful section and really nothing else (that I remember, anyway), so we were bound to do something different. Since Jason, Raquel and Alex were also looking to do some sightseeing, we formed the caravan and set out in search of the Roosevelt Arch. Kara kept her eye out for a moose, her ultimate goal, and she also wanted to go to Montana, if not just to set foot in another state on our trip. We headed north through Madison and Norris, around the bend toward Indian Creek and Mammoth Hot Springs. We stopped at Gibbon Falls again so Jason and Raquel could see the falls, and it was extra nice this time because nobody was there. It was just us.

At Mammoth Hot Springs we visited the Grand Terraces, a calcium carbonate formation that looks like stair steps up the side of the hill. I expected them to have water in them, but they were dry. After having a few days of clouds, rain, snow and fog, it was nice to see clear blue skies. The view from atop the Terraces of Mammoth Hot Springs was nice, and below looked like a nice village to live in. Natalie got a little crabby about having her picture taken (she was hungry), and Alex decided to taking a flying leap off of the walkway and into the dirt below. He was unharmed and didn’t cry a peep, so it was pretty funny. At Mammoth Hot Springs, we parked in front of Fort Yellowstone’s officers’ quarters and sat at the picnic tables for lunch. We were surrounded by lazing Elk, as they bellowed at each other and munched on the grass; across the road, a couple of buffalo wandered around looking for something to eat.

Jason and I took the kids into a little general store/gift shop to look around, and we ended up buying a couple of bottles of local beer, Old Faithful Ale and Yellowstone Beer. Jason bought another one, and for the life of either of us, we can’t remember what it is called, only that it has a bear on it and it was made in Idaho.

The visitor’s center had a nice display about the history of the fort and upstairs were some of the animals found in the area. Kara mailed a postcard at the unusually large post office building and we pushed on, mistakenly down the wrong road, a windy one toward Gardiner, Montana. This was fine for Kara because she wanted to visit Montana, and incidentally, we passed by a sign that told us we were halfway to the North Pole, which was strange to see (it was the 45th parallel line). We pulled out at a turnout and took Kara’s picture next to Gardner River (no, that’s not a typo; the town’s Gardiner and the river’s Gardner…for whatever reason) and headed back toward the circle, toward a place called Tower-Roosevelt, which we assumed would lead us to Roosevelt’s Arch. It seemed logical.

All the while, Jason and I talked back and forth on the radios. I brought with us hand-held radios so that we could stay in communication, and we spent much of the radio’s power (they lasted nearly until we got home, dying just after leaving Wyoming) making jokes, exchanging funny movie lines and giving each other funny handles (like Smelly Moose, Stinking Buffalo, etc.). It made the drive more fun, and it served a good purpose to keep us connected so we knew what each of us was doing. Of course, with a speed limit of only 45mph, it wasn’t like we were going to lose each other.

Once we arrived at the Tower-Roosevelt, there was no Arch. We drove until the road closed, and still no Arch. However, we saw the Tower Falls, which seemed to make sense that it was there. Unfortunately, we surmised that we had driven 18 miles for nothing… well, nothing except for the Tower Falls. On the way back, we stopped at the Petrified Tree, and the adage holds true: If you’ve seen on petrified tree, you’ve seen them all. It’s a tree that’s a rock, and since they had an old cemetery fence surrounding it, you couldn’t even get near it to begin with. Jason and I took the kids up to see and take a picture, while Kara and Raquel stayed by the cars with Alex.

Since Chittenden Road was closed for the season, we had no choice but to return to Old Faithful via Mammoth Hot Springs and Madison, so along the way, we stopped at a few things. On a chance, we returned to the road to Montana above Mammoth Hot Springs in the guess that the Roosevelt Arch was there, and after five miles of driving down the windy road into Montana (and only about a mile past where we turned around the first time), we rounded a corner, and there, standing tall and surrounded by yellow grasses, blue sky and snow-capped mountains, was the Roosevelt Arch.

We went through it to Gardiner, Montana, and poked around in a few shops along what appeared to be the main street. I bought a print of a Old Faithful by Albert Bierstadt for $20.00 (more on this later), something to hang over the fireplace, an updated picture of our latest trip… the one that hangs there now is from Oceanside, California, when we stayed there three years ago.

Our day’s trip was taking longer than we expected, and since the next day, Wednesday, was our last, we had reservations at the Old Faithful Inn Dining Room for a big farewell dinner, but there was no way we were going to make it back on time. Raquel called to change our reservations, but they only had something at 8:30, much too late for the kids. Instead, when we reached Mammoth Hot Springs again, we decided to eat at the Terrace Grill, a seemingly nice place to eat dinner. It was five minutes after 5pm, and they had just closed for the night. What kind of place that serves dinner closes at 5pm? Admittedly, I was getting irritable. I hadn’t eaten all day and it was starting to wear on me, so I popped my head in and asked if they were still closes; I knew they were, but the outcome was what I had hoped. They said they were, but if we’d like, they’d sill prepare us something.

Instead of taking up their time—there’s nothing worse than eating food around grousing restaurant staff tapping their feet, waiting for you to leave—we decided to take it to go and eat across the street. Of course, we forgot the napkins and the moment we left, they locked the doors.

We stopped again at the Artists Paintpots, so Jason and Raquel could see the mud pots, something they had on their list. It was very nice, not as cold as our previous visit.

All the while we were driving, there was nothing but animal sightings, buffalo, elk, deer, pronghorn (sorry, no moose), but we were excited to finally see a bear. It was wandering down the road to Norris, looking for some food and trying to keep away from the three or four cars that had stopped to take some pictures. It was a brown bear, and looked rather perturbed for being the center of attention, and I couldn’t imagine having it come up to the car for a treat like I had seen in so many of the old pictures.

It was dark by the time we got near Old Faithful Inn. Jason kept reminding me on the radio to watch out for animals, and we would point them out by the side of the road (in the lights of the truck) as we drove by. Kara and I were ironically discussing the fact that we were more concerned with deer and pronghorn than elk or buffalo, because deer and pronghorn seem to be able to dart onto the road, while buffalo and elk rather lumbered slowly. We weren’t speeding; in fact, we were probably going only about 40mph. Just then, in my headlights, loomed two giant buffalo, and I kid you not, they darted up the embankment and onto the road before I could react. I slammed on my brakes, everything in the truck lurched forward as the nose buried down toward the blacktop. I’m sure I swore. Meanwhile, the headlights were full of brown fur, and I lurched the truck to the right to avoid the two buffalo as they dashed across the road.

It was really, really close.

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