Wednesday, August 5, 2009

"Where the Buffalo Roam..." (Montana/Wyoming, Day 2)

Ah, Yellowstone. Miles, miles, and more miles of breath-taking beauty. Wildflowers blooming in profusion amongst streams, lakes, and mountains. The "Wild West" at it's most fetching. While it lacks the enchantment of the Badlands, Yellowstone certainly lives up to all the hype. In a word, it is stunning.

Today we drove for four hours to reach Shoshone National Forest, which Mom was convinced was actually Yellowstone (partially understandable, since it really was gorgeous enough to be mistaken for it). Shoshone needs to be talked about more - it's glorious, pristine, and beckons to the eager traveler with all it's charms - purple coneflowers, yellow flax, rippling lakes of deep azure, butterflies galore, and even a few very musical rattlesnakes (they're neat to listen to...from a distance!).

Following Shoshone, we finally reached the highly lauded Yellowstone. I am so glad that I never went there as a child, because I was such a wretched little creature that I never would have appreciated it the way I can and do now. It was the deepest desire of my heart to see a bear today, but the perfidious beasts refused to make an appearance. The buffalo and elks were far more obliging, as we got to see enormous herds of buffalo (imagined how it must have felt to be a pioneer, gazing at herds of over a thousand!) and several very relaxed elk. I also had particular fun with a very friendly and fearless little chipmunk-like creature that wagged its tail at me like a little dog and almost stepped on my toe in an effort to see if I had anything in my fingers (I was kneeling on the ground, clicking my tongue at him and wiggling my fingers).

Just as we reached the hot springs at Mammoth, a huge thunderhead opened up and poured pellet-sized raindrops down on us. We sat in the car, munching our lunch of cheeseburgers, and watched in slight shock as the rain morphed into a brief hailstorm, and then back into a rainstorm. The sight of those foreboding, obsidian clouds looming over the mountains and bathing the trees in a gloomy mist is one that I shall not soon forget. Realizing that we were officially "rained out," we made our way back to the hotel (a nearly four-hour journey). On the way, I suddenly fell victim to a rare attack of car sickness, which I fortunately was able to catch in a bag. Our first visit to Yellowstone may not have ended well, but it was certainly worth it.

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"Passage—immediate passage! the blood burns in my veins! Away, O soul! hoist instantly the anchor!
Cut the hawsers—haul out—shake out every sail!
Have we not stood here like trees in the ground long enough?
Have we not grovell’d here long enough, eating and drinking like mere brutes?
Have we not darken’d and dazed ourselves with books long enough?

Sail forth! steer for the deep waters only!
Reckless, O soul, exploring, I with thee, and thou with me;
For we are bound where mariner has not yet dared to go, And we will risk the ship, ourselves and all.

O my brave soul!
O farther, farther sail!
O daring joy, but safe! Are they not all the seas of God?
O farther, farther, farther sail!"

~Walt Whitman, "Passage to India"