Days 29 & 30: Toksha Akhay
This is the last entry in my diary, for this epic, personal pilgrimage. I will never again have such an extraordinary adventure, in this lifetime. After 30 days, almost 5,800km, 83 hours of driving, 430lt of petrol, six states, three time zones, five ballpoint pens, four completely worn tyres and one speeding fine, my amazing odyssey is finally over. A lifetime of wonder is stored in my mind, for 'reflection in tranquility'.
Yellowstone National Park was the perfect culmination. It is one of the most fascinating, strange and beautiful places on earth. On our penultimate day, we discovered the canyon to Roosevelt road, easily the most exciting and diverse part of this giant wilderness. First up, we passed the huge Yellowstone Lake, with an inexplicable, narrow strip of land, with a stand of mature trees, right out on the water, unconnected to any other land. Yes, it is an island, but a rather unusual one. The next act was Mud Volcano, an entire area of constant thermal activity, with clouds of steam billowing out of the earth, everywhere, and a strong, sulphuric smell in the air. It could serve as a precursor to Dante’s inferno! Winding along the steep mountain road, we reached snow, at just over 8,000ft, and the scenery transmutes into Switzerland. Temperatures, that day, ranged from a high of 12°C, to a low of 2°C - in summer!
The next, most dramatic, act is the Grand Canyon of Yellowstone. This simply has to be on everyone’s bucket list. Over the millennia, the rushing Yellowstone River has twisted and turned its eroding way, over rapids and through spectacular falls, till it has ground out a very deep gorge through this Absaroka Range. It engendered the deepest respect, in me, for the native Americans and the intrepid Mountain Men, the fur trappers, who braved this utterly daunting river gorge in their flimsy canoes, a couple of centuries ago. They definitely were a different breed of men.
For two days, we had seen innumerable warnings about bears, and posters explaining the difference between black bears and grizzlies. Having not seen any the first couple of days, I was beginning to wonder if it was just tourist hype. On the way back from Roosevelt, a long line of cars were pulled over at the side of the road, and some Rangers were doing their best to keep traffic flowing. We had learnt that this was the surest indicator of an animal sighting, and so, hastily, pulled up too, and ran over. There were a couple of black bear cubs romping happily in the meadow grass. Their parent were, undoubtedly, around, but kept out of sight. Stoutly resisting the urge to take these bundles of cuteness home, since it might make the Rangers a bit unhappy, we moved on.
The day had started out rainy and misty, but soon cleared. The change in the weather seemed to have cheered the animals too, as we soon came to another procession of crawling cars - and there, several huge, brown grizzly bears were moving leisurely about, near some light woods. Unfortunately, it was not a place we could stop safely. Feeling really thrilled, we moved on, and reached a traffic jam. A couple of Rangers stopped traffic, to allow part of a herd of bison to cross the road. They did so with admirable traffic discipline. Finally, a Ranger shooed a small, baby bison, scampering on unsteady legs, back to its mother. The show was over, barring the sighting of several grazing elks and moose, and a couple of foxes, out scrounging a food hand-out.
On our last morning, we decided to head out early, for lilliput Cody Airport, in the hope of seeing more wildlife. We virtually ignored the passing elk and bison, to which we had become a bit blasé, by now. A lone deer made a cameo appearance, before bouncing off into the trees. And then, we were truly rewarded. Just ahead, loping along the road, was a large, adult black bear. Glancing warily back at us, every so often, it continued along, right beside our car, for quite a while, allowing us a great video opportunity, before entering the trees.
Breakfast was at Buffalo Bill’s original, wooden, hunting lodge, just outside the Park gates, and then, all too soon, the mountains dumped us at Cody. The magical interlude was over.
As the aircraft banked over the serene glory of the Bay Area, making its final approach to San Francisco Airport, I reflected on the entire experience. Despite the horrors, and heroism, of the past, there is definitely a slowly dawning sense of revival among the natives. I am confident Wakan Tanka will inspire this great, awe-inspiring country, of such heroic achievements and dynamism, to finally embrace them; and the great American Dream will, eventually, become an inclusive reality. As the dawn of a bright, new day shimmered through my aircraft’s window, it seemed an omen.
Toksha Akhay, till we meet again - in this lifetime, or the next.