Ranging the Yellowstone

August 2019

My Stories

Ranging the Yellowstone

Lisbon Portugal- Part 1

Lisbon and Sintra- Part 2

Evora Portugal- Part 3

Coimbra Portugal- Part 4

Porto Portugal- Part 5

At the Mammogram Office

Venice- Part I

Veneto- Part II

Ravenna- Part III

Cinque Terre- Part IV

Vernazza Bonus- Part V

Granner

Crunch Time

Putting on the Ritz

Granada and Sevilla

Amsterdam

Tuscany and Umbria - 1

Tuscany and Umbria - 2

Driving in England

Dwelling in England

A Dozens Reasons

In the Hamam

Istanbul Greece Diary

Pearl Harbor Team

Old Girl

Paris

Provence

Grandpa's Cabin

Pay-It-Forward Latte

England and France

N. Italy - 1

N. Italy - 2

N. Italy - 3

N. Italy - 4

Lessons from 4 Corners

Mexico

Going to the Dogs

Don't Embarrass Me!

Letter from Siena

Arrivederci Roma

Joining the Matriarchs

Living History

Newlywed Game

Chaos Theory

Zach on the Road

Huckleberry Season

Stanley & the Sunbeam

I Dare Say

Middle School Relay

Grad Party

Yellowstone

Moving On

Newlywed Couches

Visitors

Old Faithful Inn

Snowbound

Sweet Potato

Mother Bear

Two Blondes in Iberia

Revisiting Spain

Curly's Truck.

Old Buildings

Chelsea's

Split Seams

All Nighter

Talent Show

I’m back in the Old Faithful Inn lobby, this time stationed in a corner on the third floor at a writing cubby about as far removed from the buzz in this space as possible.  For the moment, it’s quiet; likely an eruption is imminent and everyone’s outside standing sentinel.

Jim has ventured out on still another hike; my guy can’t get enough geysers.  We hear Yellowstone has upwards of 500 geysers, and Jim seems determined to track down most of them. 

I agreed to come back to Yellowstone because it’s a fun way to remember my grandparents who worked and met here 100 years ago for their summer jobs, Grandpa driving tour buses and Grandma cleaning rooms at Old Faithful Inn.  And because I can’t get enough of some of my favorite folks in the world:  Park Rangers.  

Mostly we returned to Yellowstone as part of Jim’s first year of retirement bucket list; specifically he’s always dreamed of staying in Old Faithful Inn itself.  Unencumbered by not only a job schedule, but of children, we’re doing Yellowstone this time exactly as we want.  That includes some unconventional stops on our journey here that our kids would never have tolerated.  Like a tour of the world’s first civilian nuclear power facility in eastern Idaho (now decommissioned) and nearby, the first town to suffer a nuclear accident. 

 

 

OLD FAITHFUL INN: 

Little ever changes at the Inn, but that’s part of the appeal, for sure.  They run short-staffed at the end of the season since many summer workers have already returned to college.  We couldn’t get into our room until 5:30 PM for our five-day stay.  The staff seem to remember us from check-in, possibly because we didn’t get mad at them.  Not their fault, we know.

Yellowstone has yet to enter the Internet or cell phone age, at least in 99% of the park.  “If you go to Mammoth up north and stand on the second lion statue, you might get a good signal,” one helpful bell-hop informed us.  They still have telephone booths throughout the park, and instead of laughing and pointing at the artifacts, you think to yourself, hmmm...useful!  We have discovered, however, that late in the evening, our room (#3021, for future reference) on the third floor of the far east wing of the hotel sometimes captures enough aberrant wifi to check our email or even send a photo or two to our kids that we didn’t invite along this time.  

I texted one such photo and description of Jim lounging in this cathedral-like lobby of Old Faithful Inn, him scanning a magazine while listening to a middle-aged female vocalist/viola player doing an admirable rendition of Prince’s “Purple Rain.”  Not something you see everyday. 

“Is Dad reading a Lego magazine?” Taylor replied.  Apparently that’s all that Taylor took away from this entire scene. 

Our room barely registers beyond fine--Motel 6 quality with Four Seasons rates--but it offers a bed and a shower, and you know, this remarkable location, so we’re set.  Two days passed before we realized our door didn’t actually lock unless you slammed it shut, something we generally try to avoid.  But Yellowstone’s a pretty safe place, unless you get too up-close and personal with a grizzly or a buffalo, so all was well.

CANYON:

On the east side of the park, we encountered herds of buffalo then a grizzly feasting on a buffalo carcass across the river about 300 yards in the distance, which was plenty near for me. 

Ten minutes later a red car in front of us stopped suddenly; one vehicle beyond them, a mama grizzly and her pair of cubs sauntered across the highway.  Two women hopped from the red car, camera-ready, and inched toward the bears.  A guy behind us walked next to our truck while we commented on the danger.  I think he heard us, because he flashed a micro-expression, something between awareness and terror, before high-tailing back to his car.  I rolled up my window and held my breath as we watched the bears recede into the woods.

YELLOWSTONE LAKE: 

Our kids will be astonished that I not only agreed to, but suggested, a boat ride on Yellowstone Lake, given my extreme seasickness, but we like to keep our youngsters on their toes.  The truth is it was just one hour long, and on a lake, so I wasn’t too concerned.

We departed a few minutes late to allow Mary Frances, her walker, and her entourage to load first on the boat, like Platinum members on Delta.  The captain announced that Mary Frances was celebrating her 93rd birthday today, and we all cheered.  Her family takes her to a different National Park each summer, most recently to Denali in Alaska. 

Mary Frances’s daughter showed our guide, Ranger Tina, some snapshots of her mother’s travels on a cellphone.  “And here she is crossing the Arctic Circle last year!”

But before we could embark onto Yellowstone Lake, Captain Amber had some housekeeping to attend to over the intercom:

1.  The usual stuff about life jackets and life rafts.  “If you see us running to the back, you might wanna follow.”

2.  A question about the white van.

Turns out somebody had left their child in their white van in the marina parking lot, doors locked and windows rolled down.  Given the mild temperatures, nobody freaked about immediate safety issues, but you really aren’t supposed to leave your kid in a van in the park. 

“Anybody here have a white van, and maybe you have a child?” Captain Amber asked cheerfully.  The rangers wanted to make sure nobody abandoned their kid to cruise the lake, I guess.  Fortunately they soon heard via radio that “the white van situation was resolved” and we were good to float. 

Two tweens from South Dakota flopped into the row directly ahead of us.  “Faster, faster!’ they hollered at Captain Amber as we puttered through the no-wake zone.  They peppered our infinitely patient Ranger Tina, with questions and comments throughout our hour, such as, “All this water’s making me thirsty!  Heh, heh.”  

I whispered to Jim, “Beavis and Butthead,” and he laughed.

B & B’s parents were nowhere to be seen.  Ranger Tina eventually asked me if they belonged to us.  Nope, I answered, relieved. 

But privately I speculated.  Beavis and Butthead’s Mom and Dad?  Owners of a van out there, a white one.

NORRIS:

Yellowstone’s park rangers hail from all over the US and I like to hear their stories of where they’re from and what brought them here.  I’ve discovered the best opportunities for maximum ranger time come during guided walking tours while trekking together between steamy emerald pools, simmering geysers and bubbly mud pots. 

I got to know Ranger Laura this way, a young woman stationed at the Norris section, site of the world’s tallest geyser, Steamboat.  But I found Ranger Laura herself just as fascinating, someone about as native a Yellowstonian as you can get. 

Ranger Laura’s dad, a 30-year veteran ranger himself, served as an all-season paramedic at Old Faithful when she was just a tot.  Her family would load up multiple Costco runs to supply themselves for the winter.  Whenever Ranger Dad had to transport an injured snowmobiler to West Yellowstone, Laura’s mom would radio the town grocer with an order of fresh foods for him to pick-up afterwards, items like iceberg lettuce and milk.  “Luxuries,” Ranger Laura called them. 

The family eventually moved to Mammoth so Laura and her brother could attend elementary school--two of six students enrolled.  I don’t believe Laura has ever lived anywhere other than Yellowstone except for college. 

Ranger Laura is whip-smart, has a ready laugh and giggle, and speaks like a surfer dude for unknown reasons.  We adored her. 

RANGER TALK:

We booked a riding tour on a yellow Jammer bus built in 1938, similar to the one my grandfather drove at Yellowstone in the early 1920s.  Despite the 12-seater being fully booked, nobody showed up but us and Driver Laura (not to be confused with Ranger Laura).  Laura explained that foreign package deals for Yellowstone often include the bus ride but guests sometimes don’t realize it.  Or maybe they’re just too jet-lagged, she concluded. 

Everything in the buses is original except the engines which they replaced exactly once.  I got to sit in the front passenger seat, a marvelous experience, except I never could unlatch my door myself.  Jim or Driver Laura had to open it for me from outside at each stop, dignitary-style. 

Afterwards Jim and I attended an evening ranger talk, fulfilling my goal of participating in at least one ranger-led event per day.  To my surprise, Jim selected the front row of the auditorium.  Right before the talk, our speaker, the sprightly Ranger Joanne, approached us. 

“I think I know you,” she said, studying my face.  “You look familiar from somewhere.”

I recognized Ranger Joanne as the Old Faithful Inn tour guide from our last visit in 2003.  Following that tour 16 years ago, I’d told her about my grandparents.  She’d asked me to send her our family’s old Yellowstone photos and stories for park historical records, which I did, as we briefly corresponded that summer. 

“Oh, yes, I remember you now,” Ranger Joanne said, beaming and grasping my hand. 

Later, as Jim and I strolled the Old Faithful boardwalk on our way back to our room, he had just one question for me:  When would I be ready to plan our next trip to Yellowstone?