Days 27 & 28: Trail’s End - Yellowstone
Unlike the Imperial-hubris of Fraser’s 'End of the Trail' sculpture, of the exhausted, defeated native warrior, I ride to my trail’s end, energetic and excited, eager to experience the magic of Yellowstone - after a childhood diet of Yogi Bear and Booboo Bear. After a long, lonely month, my wife now rides shotgun, in my fossil-fueled stagecoach, drawn by mechanical horses. The three-hour drive to Yellowstone is, to put it mildly, spectacular.
Cody is past in the blink of an eye, and up to the gate of the national park, it is average on the wonder scale. Thereafter, the road climbs into really breathtaking scenery, with a racing mountain river keeping us company. Eventually, dramatic snowy peaks emerge, and, before you realise it, you are actually at the snow line. There is ice right next to the road - nearly in the middle of summer! Traffic, unsurprisingly, is quite heavy, but moves smoothly. At every scenic outlook, there are thoughtfully arranged pull-off areas, where you can stop and stare, in awe and wonder. After innumerable oohs and aahs, we eventually make it to Grant Village, on Yellowstone Lake, right in the heart of the nearly 9,000sq km protected wilderness and wildlife habitat.
A pleasant and helpful receptionist informed us that our room would be ready only at 4pm, and suggested various things we could do, or see, in the intervening three hours. We decided to have a late lunch and browse the shops in the village. When we returned at 4pm, a different receptionist curtly informed us that our room was not ready and that check in was only at 4.30pm. When I mentioned the other lady had given us the 4pm time, she curtly barked, “Then, she informed you incorrectly.” By then it was already4.26pm but she responded, equally curtly, “It’s not 4.30.” So, we waited. She eyed me stonily, till the four minutes passed, and then handed over the room key. On enquiring about a Wi-Fi password, she spat, “You have to pay for it.” This is one of the very few places in the US where you do. Welcome to Yellowstone!
That behaviour really dampened our spirits, but it only lasted till the next morning. Though it dawned overcast and drizzly, we did not let that affect our enthusiasm for the grizzly, and decided to head out early, to beat the crowds. And we were rewarded. Arriving at Old Faithful, the amazing, huge, incredibly punctual geyser, the sporadic rain stopped, and we were in time to grab the best ringside seats. As we waited, a condescending Brit tourist asked us if we knew we were all sitting on the world’s biggest volcano, which could erupt at any time. To his obvious chagrin, I confirmed we did, and added that it would save us all cremation expenses. He was not amused! Exactly at 10.39am, Old Faithful built up a head of steam, and let loose with an utterly jaw-dropping thermal geyser. In size, height and intensity it was everything it had been cracked up to be. What surprised us was how quiet the eruption was. Almost like a ballet, this prima donna was accompanied by an entire troupe of subsidiary geysers, letting off steam, all around. At the end of the performance, we joined the, largely Chinese, audience, in giving Old Faithful a rousing hand of applause!
Heading to Mammoth Hot Springs, near the northern entrance to the park, we realised the entire area is a collection of thermal basins, filled with steaming lakes, hot springs and myriad geysers. Nearing Mammoth, the rain resumed, accompanied by mist. Nothing could dampen our excitement at the wild and wonderful spectacle. Sections of the road were under repair, and awash in mud, which camouflaged our car brilliantly. On the way back, we decided to try the alternate route, via Canyon and Lake. This was a mistake, as it was just boringly lovely, compared to the stunningly lovely route via Norris. However, we finally did get to say hello (from my wife, literally!) to some wild life. Massive buffalo (actually, bison) grazed contentedly all around, completely ignoring the admiring hordes of tourists. Further down the road, we met a couple of elks, right next to the road. One posed its behind for my wife’s camera. I must confess, I avoided eye contact, having just had elk sliders for lunch.
And then, we were attacked by a grizzly bear! Just kidding. Earlier, when we stopped at a pull-off, near another motorist, he told us we had just missed seeing a grizzly, by five minutes. Perhaps, tomorrow.
Back at the Deer Lodge, we decided to drown our sorrows at missing the grizzly, with a bottle of wine. Completely forgetting that we had picked up a corked bottle, and there is no corkscrew at the lodge! There ensued an epic battle. Nothing gets between us and our wine! Pressed into service were car keys, scissors, coffee stirrers, and considerable perseverance and ingenuity! Needless to say, the wine was drunk!