9. Ice, Rain, Geysers, Steam, and Hot Springs

The next leg of our journey would take us to Yellowstone. Our failure to plan for poor weather became more apparent as we drove past more snow, frozen lakes, and freezing rain. As we scoured the map and our surroundings for campgrounds, we discovered that most of them were still closed due to the early season.

Big Blue was still acting up—either not starting right away or struggling to climb hills. Something didn’t seem right. We stopped by a general store ask where we might be able to find an auto parts store. After describing Big Blue’s symptoms they suggested we try some starter fluid.

As we continued through Yellowstone, somewhat aimless, torn between wanting to explore and making sure Big Blue was running properly, we took a detour to see Old Faithful. It was slightly anti-climatic but also great to witness such an iconic part of the American West. We had to wait about 40 minutes to see it erupt. As we sat and waited I was suddenly aware of all the tourists. For the past few days it had mostly been us. We were the only ones at Mt. Rushmore and the only ones at the Grand Tetons. How dare these “tourists” interpret our trip! Of course we were all sitting there with cameras in hand, every bit tourists ourselves. But we felt different—and I think we looked different too.

Finally we saw Old Faithful erupt. It was a little underwhelming. We sort of felt like, “We waited 40 minutes for this?” The surrounding area was bleak, the distant background was desolate (due to the 1988 forest fire), the sky was grey, the steam was grey, so it just all seemed a little muted.

Maybe it was just the weather or the overly touristy vibe, but we were ready to move on. We took another detour to the Midway Geyser Basin. We didn’t know what to expect but the poor weather and concerns about Big Blue made us anxious to get out and see something interesting again. This detour didn’t disappoint!

It was an active geyser area with lots of warm steaming pools and strange colors. We took our time exploring the various walkways and wondering about the mysteries of mother nature.

As we journeyed west, further into Montana, the weather finally started to break a bit and our spirits lifted greatly along with the clouds. As we came around one particular curve we noticed a long line of cars ahead of us. They were stopped because 8 buffalo were taking their time crossing a bridge. We waited patiently, in wonder as we watched those magnificent creatures take charge. A few minutes later Big Blue came to a quick halt as I heard someone yell, “Elk!” Sure enough, there stood two powerful looking elk in the middle of the road. We waited as they too scampered off into the woods. Two more crossed the road behind us as we drove on.

As the evening came to a close we were on high alert for a campground but the weather had taken turn for the worse again. It was raining, pretty hard and steady, and darkness had come before we were able to find an open campground. It seemed like a miserable night to set up camp.

We felt pretty lame for suggesting it, but we decided that we should maybe find a hotel or something to spend the night. Eventually we found Weary Rest Yellowstone Inn which sounded perfect. They were little cabin-like rooms and only costed $40 a night. Forty-dollars split eight ways sounded like a pretty good deal. The only catch was there was a 4 person limit and there were eight of us. So we parked Big Blue a little way up the street from the inn and had four of the guys go check in. Then, one by one, the rest of the guys discreetly joined everyone in the cabin. We were thankful to have warm dry beds. Weary Rest Yellowstone Inn even had a sauna that we lazily enjoyed that night as well.

It felt like a sort of in-between day, but every hour I was filled with gratitude for being able to just wander around Yellowstone with 7 of my friends—stopping at will, laughing together, and just enjoying the freedom from any sort of itinerary. The night faded into sleep as we all sat around writing postcards, journaling, and talking about ideas for our second day in Yellowstone.

Next Post – Rainbow Mist

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