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Remembering the road, day 7
Day 7 Yellowstone is an amazing place for a lot of reasons. Obviously, the wildlife and scenery are two big ones. Another is the friendliness of the staff. Nearly everyone here works just the summer months. They all have nametags with their names (surprise!) and where they are from. Most of these people are young... often still in college. Others are retirees. But no matter what, they are all incredibly friendly. I mean, I've never ever seen so many people so happy to flip burgers, empty the trash, pump gas, clean tables, or anything else. These are the friendliest people I've ever met. After a few days, it actually becomes a little eerie when the young woman picking up garbage says "Hi, how're you doing? Where are you from? Enjoying your visit?", but it's still very refreshing.
Driving around Yellowstone, you're always on the lookout for wildlife. Bison are the most common, frequently congregating in fields and often walking down the road. Several times we found ourselves surrounded by buffalo, with Cynthia pleading that I roll up my window. If a buffalo wants to get to me, I don't think a thin piece of glass is going to stop it. Elk are the next most common... grazing in fields, or sometimes just sleeping one off. Doe elk are more easily found than the large-antlered males. Bears are probably the most sought-after wildlife and when one is spotted, such as a grizzly we came across while driving along a thin mountain pass, nearly every car pulls over to watch it. The result is a "bear-jam." About 20 people (including us) got out of their cars to watch and take pictures of the bear, who was about 200 yards up a steep hill. We watched him dig, mope around, and look back at us. Two park rangers suggested children should return to their cars, while the rest of us spent rolls and rolls of film on it. Finally the bear wandered into the trees and everyone dispersed. During the entire time, one guy drove through the scrum and asked, "what's going on?" We told him there was a grizzly bear. "Oh," he said, and drove on. There's a stunning valley in the northeastern part of the park (about a two-hour drive from the central lake where we're staying) called the Lamar valley. We drove through it around dusk and came across a coyote, pronghorn antelope, and we think a wolf, although we weren't sure because it was far away. There were also lots of elk, "normal" deer (yeah, what's so special about them??), and buffalo. Oh, and chipmunks too. Today was also the day we checked in at Old Faithful. Every 88 minutes the geyser erupts into a 100-foot fountain of boiling water and sulfur gas. Hundreds of people gather around to watch, and then most of them get back on their coach busses to cross another sight off their list. We spent several hours hiking around looking at the many other thermal pools and geysers, all smoking and bubbling and boiling and stinky. We even met a couple from my small hometown, Kent, OH, named the Flowers. Freaky.
One geyser was hidden a mile back in the woods, so I went to look for it. Just a few yards in, all voices and other sounds evaporated, leaving me to listen to my footsteps and forest noises. I kept a keen eye for wildlife, especially bear. While I really, really want to see bear, I really, really don't want to be eaten by one. I could imagine scenes where a bear would just charge up and cut me in two. Or, maybe there was a bear in the tree waiting to pounce on me. Worse yet, what if I surprised a bear and we all know that bears don't like surprises! Then again, I don't either, especially if the surprise is being filleted by a bear. Park information says that if a bear does charge, you should stand still because they sometimes will change direction at the last second. That's just the sort of information I can rely on in an emergency. "Hmm, here's a 700-pound mamma bear and her cubs. She's charging me, but I'm just going to stand here because she might call it off at the last second. She's getting close now... no sign of calling it off. Maybe I should move... no, she could still... oh my god, those are my intestines on that bear's face!" Anyway, I saw the hidden geyser, no bears, and made it back to the lodge without incident. All in all, I was kind of disappointed... it would have been cool to see a bear in those woods. Now back at out cabin, I'm sunburned, itchy (from some bug that has taken generous bites out of my legs), in pain (from a toe blister... mmm mmm good!), we're both suffering from shin splints, and tired.