Saturday, June 03, 2006

Vacation Pictures

So, a couple of weeks ago, I went on a whirl-wind 28 hour tour of Yellowstone National Park after spending 4 days in Billings, MT. I finally uploaded some pictures, so rev up your broadband and let’s go. Some I'll display on the site, other’s I’ll just link to.

Billings, Day 1. The first thing we saw in Billings was Moss Mansion. Open from 1 pm to 3 pm with tours on the hour. It was built in 1902-03 for $105,000 dollars when the average house cost $3000 and the hospital only cost $40,000. Priorities, baby! It’s a shame I couldn’t take pictures of the inside. Each room on the main floor was designed with a different culture in mind – a Moorish entry-way, a French parlor, a British library, and a dining room with Buddhas in the corners.

After our 1 hour tour of the Moss Mansion, we drove out of Billings a bit to see the Pictograph Caves. They’re not really so much caves as overhangs where people used to take shelter and make doodles on the walls. Here’s the cave where most of the cave drawings were found. Here’s the one where lots of tool-making equipment was found. It was a 1000-yard hike to see all there was to see. This place is entirely memorable (at least to my mom, my sister, and me) because of the ranger. When we first arrived, there were at least two other cars there. But by the time we finished the hike, we were it. Our conversation with the ranger went about like this.

Ranger: So, where are you from?
Us: Virginia.
Ranger: Oh, you got a rental car. What’s the big thing you came to see?
(at this point, I should have screamed “This is it! This is the pinnacle of our vacation!” Because it wouldn’t have made him think we were any more crazy that he eventually did. And it would have been hilarious.)
Us: Yellowstone.
Ranger: (unsure) Yellowstone? This time of year? You realize just about everything will be closed.
Us: Well, most of the roads are open. And we have reservations at a place in the park.
Ranger: (having seen me drive up) Who’s going to be doing most of the driving?
(I raise my hand)
Ranger: (concerned) You realize that you need a really experienced driver on some of those roads.

He probably thought I was barely old enough to drive. I should have reminded him that 25 is the cutoff age for driving a rental for most companies. Also, I should have told him that I drove through the mountains of Tennessee in a stick shift when I still just had a learners permit. Now that’s a “shouldn’t a more experienced driver be doing this?” moment. Anyway, by the time we got back in the car to drive away, I think he was thoroughly convinced that we were out of our minds – visiting Yellowstone before Memorial Day with a “teenager” driving on all those windy, twisty roads. Whenever we hit a rough patch during the remainder of our vacation, we remembered him and had a good chuckle. Perhaps we should send him a postcard to let him know we made it out alive.

Billings, Day 2. We did the only thing there was left to do in Billings – we went to the zoo. It was a zoo mostly dedicated to animals from northern climates. I should note here that we were expecting high temperatures in the 70s, but the entire time we were in Billings, it was sunny with highs were in the 90s. The northern climate critters were miserable. The big-horned sheep were panting in the sun. The red pandas (which looked like foxes with panda faces) found the only shady spot in their living area and slept there. The tiger, likewise, was pretty immobile. Because most of the critters were trying to get out of the heat, the only things I really got a picture of were the two bald eagles.

Billings, Day 3. We had already done everything there was to do in Billings, but circumstances kept us there two evenings and a day longer than we had planned. By the way, if you ever find yourself in Billings, the Cherry Tree Inn is quite nice, very affordable, about two miles from the airport, and right across the street from the hospital.

Billings, Day 4, Yellowstone, Day 1. Having learned the layout of downtown Billings better than any tourist should ever have to, we set off to Yellowstone. You know those 90 degree days? The instant we reached the park entrance, it started to rain. The temperature was 55 degrees in places. Grrrrrrr! Aaaargh!

We saw a bear, but didn’t get pictures because too many people had already stopped to take pictures. We saw lots and lots and lots of buffalo. Actually, we saw more buffalo than people. We also saw elk and caribou. But the best pictures were of buffalo because they feared nothing and just stood right next to the road, or even in the road.

Despite the rain on the first day, I managed to get a picture of the Uppers Falls of the Grand Canyon of Yellowstone (or maybe that was the Lower Falls. All the waterfalls kind of blur together after a while). Here’s the falls.

And here’s the best picture I got of the canyon. Oooh. Color.

At the continental divide, we found a lake that was still thawing. The lake was also special because it drains into both the Pacific Ocean and the Gulf of Mexico.

When we finally got to the Old Faithful Snow Lodge where we were staying the night, I managed to get some pictures of Old Faithful erupting at sunset, with the sun back-lighting the column of water. Here’s the tease, five minutes before eruption. Here’s the start of the eruption. Getting bigger. The geyser at it’s highest. But here’s the best one:

Yellowstone, Day 2. I didn’t get much sleep the one night we spent in Yellowstone. But I was still better off to drive than either of my parents. Hooray, vacation! I took a picture of Old Faithful in the light of day, and then we were off.

We saw three baby buffalo, though this is probably the best picture I got out of it.

We saw Dragon’s Mouth Spring, which sounds like a dragon roaring because of the water splashing inside the hole that the steam is coming out of.

I’m skipping some stuff, but it took us 8 hours to get out of the park. I’m sure was saw some other things. Countless waterfalls. Heards and heards of buffalo. Oh, and one place we stopped to see a waterfall was so windy that it nearly ripped the door off the car when I opened it. Insurance covers that, right?

The last thing we saw before leaving was Mammoth Springs, which I think was probably the second most beautiful thing we saw after Yellowstone Canyon (Old Faithful is more “impressive” than “beautiful”). That white stuff is not ice. That’s a combination of calcium and bicarbonate called travertine. The newest deposits are surprisingly white. It looked like a layered cake. So if you see three things when you go to Yellowstone: Old Faithful, Yellowstone Canyon, Mammoth Springs.

Looming dark cloud, but the sun is still lighting it nicely:

A closer look at the "icing":

Then, I was done. It was a 3-hour drive back to Billings, which we were flying out of the next day. After 2 hours of sleep and 8 hours of driving (not to mention all the other driving that week), I was exhausted. I turned over the keys to my father, who hadn’t taken any cold medicine since that morning. Did I sleep on the way back? Of course not.

And that the was picturesque part of my vacation.


Blogger Jody said...

as far as weather and driving in Yellowstone, it once snowed on me in July in Yellowstone. So it's really not safe to drive there anytime of year. In fact they should just pack up the whole park and move it to Nebraska. Or maybe winters in Phoenix and summers in Lansing. ;)

6/04/2006 8:11 AM  
Blogger SpakKadi said...

I can see it now: Yellowstone on tour! Geysers, hot springs, steam spots, waterfalls, buffalo, elk, caribou, bears - all coming to a town near you!

6/04/2006 1:47 PM  
Anonymous diana said...

"Insurance covers that, right?"

Yes. LOL.

6/04/2006 4:53 PM  
Anonymous diana said...

Your pictures were beautiful, and I am glad that your mom is feeling okay.

6/04/2006 4:55 PM  

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