Friday, August 12, 2011

Where the Deer and the Antelope Play

I’ve moved on from where the buffalo roam. You’ll definitely hear a discouraging word or two in this post. But hey, at least the skies were not cloudy all day.

And I would know if there had been any clouds, because I saw every moment of this day, from before sunrise to after sunset. I managed to drag myself out of tent at the ungodly hour of 5:25, with the ungodly temperature of 35 degrees so that I could watch the sunrise against the Tetons. So I saddled the Horse with No Name and drove the half mile to the edge of the bay. No way was I walking in that weather. As it was, I wore a t-shirt, fleece jacket, and windbreaker to bed, along with gloves, of course.

As I stood, shivering despite my many layers, a dynamic palette of colors unrolled in front of me. At first, I was satisfied just trying to capture the reflection of the mountains in the lake, which, more than anything, killed some time and helped me find a good spot for the camera before the real show began.

Just after sunrise, sunlight was able to reach the bottoms of the clouds and just barely illuminate the tops of the mountain peaks with a soft pink glow. Although I stayed around for a while longer, this turned out to be my favorite picture from the morning.

The spectacle continued and eventually the colorful glow from the clouds transferred to the mountains.

After that, I saw that the show wasn’t getting any better, so I raced off down the main park highway to see what other viewpoints I could get to while the mountains were still glowing pink. It’s amazing how watching the sun rise can wake up and energize a person, despite freezing temperatures.  

Turns out the number of turnouts was 2.

The second of these was from the Snake River Overlook – a turnout that I found somewhat bittersweet. From this spot, Ansel Adams took one of his most famous pictures:

The Tetons and the Snake River by Ansel Adams
Unfortunately, it’s impossible to replicate the picture today, since the trees and other plants have grown taller and now obscure much of the river from that spot. What I found strange is that there’s no mention of the photograph along the built-up walkway at the overlook. If they stuck a picture of it in one of the informational signs, everyone, not just those who’ve seen it, would be able to look out over the river and contemplate what lies in front of them, just hidden from view.

After those 2 viewpoints, I turned back around to officially start my day, 2 hours after I got out of the tent in the first place. Since this was my last time camping on this trip, I wanted to use up as much as possible of the consumable camping stuff I wouldn’t need again. So, while it probably wasn’t necessary to use half a bag of match light to get a little campfire going for heat this morning, I did. To coin a phrase, Greggy like big boom. Anyway, I used up the rest of the bacon, and instead of making pancakes and using 1 egg, I made scrambled eggs which used 3 instead. I also made tea, because I had time, and smores, because I had smores stuff. Fat, protein, and sugar. All part of a balanced breakfast. Too bad I didn’t have the other stuff to make it balance.

I then took some time to strategically rearrange the car, putting the camping box right in the center since I wouldn’t need to get to it again, consolidating all the posters into one tube so I would only have to worry about one thing being crushed, and putting away all the random papers I’d just thrown on the front seat over the last 3 days. People have said that I must be really organized to make this trip work, but as many of you know, organized is not one of the top 10 words I’d use to describe myself. Instead, I think my secret is that when I first left, everything had a place where it belonged, and I brought an almost-empty suitcase to put all the souvenirs in. I designed the system mainly so that when I was camping in bear country, I wouldn’t have to search every bag to make sure I got all the scented items out, and then not be able to sleep out of fear that I missed something. So all the clothes, and only the clothes, went in one bag. The toiletries got their own spot. All the food either goes in the cooler or in the one big dry food container. This actually allows me to put away all my groceries, when I go shopping, while standing in the parking lot.

So once everything that had been pulled out, thrown around, or tossed wherever over the past few days at Yellowstone and Grand Teton was put back where it belonged, I was off to my next destination – South Dakota.

Oh, how I long for a good old fashioned east coast traffic jam. There, drivers want to get where they’re going, and although they may move glacially at times, it’s rare to come to a complete stop for more than a minute or two. Not out west. I have a new archenemy – the flag man. He’s the guy who holds the orange flag and the long stick with the signs on the end – stop on one side and slow on the other. I never seem to see the slow side. What happens is you’ll be cruising down at normal highway speeds, about to turn the iPod to Guster because you’re in the mood for something upbeat you can tap your foot to, and then the dreaded flag man will appear on the horizon. You’ll be the only car as far as you can see in any direction, but you’ll sit anyway. Seconds go by, then minutes. Then you start counting how many songs have played since you’ve last moved. Today I even managed to write a couple of postcards while stopped at the troll… I mean flag man. Then, eventually, a line of cars will slowly approach from the other direction, led by a pilot car – a car that you have to follow because you can’t be trusted to go the speed limit or follow lane lines yourself—and you’ll think it’s gotta be close to your turn to go. Then you wait 5 more minutes and you’ll get the privilege of driving the next 5 miles of this 65-mph highway at a whopping 15. That is, unless you get stuck behind a truck. Then you find out how slow your own car can go without stopping.

I had the pleasure of this experience 3 times in my first 300 miles today, putting me behind schedule by over an hour. As a result, I took steps to minimize the amount of extra driving I’d have to do today, so I decided to scrub Deadwood from the schedule. If timing permits, I’ll probably be able to swing by there after Mt. Rushmore and Crazy Horse tomorrow. If not, I can probably even get there on Saturday.

Instead, I beared south and crossed over into South Dakota – the better Dakota, I’m told. It’s easy to remember which one South Dakota is – it’s the one with stuff. It’s got Mt. Rushmore, gold, a couple of cities, and probably a few dozen people. I don’t think North Dakota has any of that; ergo I’m not going there.

Right after I crossed into Best Dakota, the sun was setting, so I tried to find a decent spot to take some pictures. I found what I thought was a good place, but once I left it to find somewhere else, I realized that everything past that point was part of the Jewel Cave National Monument, with windy mountain roads and no shoulders. So I could see all the interesting colors of the sunset, but couldn’t stop to take any pictures. Here’s what I did come away with though:

While I haven’t found a home on the range, by the end of the weekend I’ll certainly have visited plenty of it. Then it’ll be onto southern Minnesota and Wisconsin which, sadly, have no good songs written about them that I can use for blog titles.

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