"It's as if a great bird lives inside the stone of our days and since no sculptor can free it, it has to wait for the elements to wear us down, till it is free to fly." Mark Nepo

Friday, July 31, 2009

Yellowstone Surprise

It's interesting the difference between looking forward to something and looking back on it.

I had ideas and expectations for Yellowstone, based in part on our previous visit there several years ago. I was hoping for moose and bear and bison sightings. I was expecting to be stirred to my core by the sights and wonders, the way I was with Old Faithful on that earlier visit.

We decided to start with the north part of the park this time, thinking in some hyper-optimistic part of our brains that we might see all of the park we missed in our first visit.

None of that happened. The only animals we saw were small herds of elk in the distance, one lonely bison bull grazing at the side of the road, and a couple of antelope. None of the incredible sights moved me like Old Faithful did - nothing could because I saw that wonder of the world through the eyes of my inner girls, not my adult. And of course we didn't even come close to doing the entire park.

What happened instead was a surprise symphony. Yellowstone's visual beauty amazed, but it was the aural extravaganza that will be forever linked in my mind and heart with this visit.

It started when we stepped out of our condo into a glorious sunny morning. I thought I heard a woodpecker pocking away somewhere nearby. Walt pointed out the raven sitting on the roof. As I approached him, this huge shaggy-maned trickster flew away clucking like a chicken. We last saw him perched on the bed of a pick-up truck gobbling like a turkey, giving us an exclusive solo performance as we sat with the car window rolled down offering him encouragement.

Once in the park, our first stop was Beryl Spring. It was early enough that there were few people with us, and steam all but obscured the brilliant blue water, so the rhythmic blowing, hissing and gurgling really stood out.

Artists Paint Pots was our next stop. Our walk through began with a few hissing holes and occasional pools of madly dancing water. At the top of the loop the sounds changed to thick bloops and blurps as viscous mud bubbled away. One hole sounded much like a coffee pot at the end of its brewing cycle. An unearthly clear spring at the bottom of the loop boiled furiously for a minute, then stilled completely for a couple of minutes, then repeated the whole thing over and over and over.

Norris Geyser Basin gave us Steamboat Geyser. Potentially much more powerful than Old Faithful, it's much less predictable. Instead of regular periodic shows of grandeur, it puffed and gurgled and blew in a very short cycle like its namesake. Our walk around the loop was accompanied by the rhythmic huffing of Steamboat in the background. Every other geyser we saw sang a slightly different song. Pitch, volume, rhythm - unique to each.

The Grand Canyon's Lower Falls provided us with music on an entirely different scale. Water falling over 300 feet onto solid rock creates a whooshing rumble with the power to hypnotize even the most anxious soul into a state of calm. The smaller thunders of Upper Falls and Tower Fall were ironically more invigorating.

Throughout the day, the gurgles, hisses and rumbles of earth, water and gas were softened by the chattering of swallows, the deep-throated conversations of ravens, and the occasional whisper of wind teasing quaking aspens into giggles. At every stop nature's music was muted and embellished with children's squeals of delight, a Babel of languages and accents, and my own repeated mantra, "Wow, oh wow!" Growling motorcycles, laboring RVs, impatiently tapped horns, tires crunching on gravel, car doors slamming - all provided a steady percussive beat the the day's symphony.

On the drive out, at the end of a very long and happy day, we passed Roaring Mountain. An entire hillside, at the edge of the road, with so much gas being pushed through the surface that it did indeed roar like a lion, or a fierce wild fire, or angry gods.

The very last thing we experienced in the park happened in awestruck silence. Traffic was backed up, creeping so slowly we knew the people ahead were seeing something interesting. We'd already been stopped twice while everyone watched elk graze in the near distance. I hoped for bison or moose - even deer would have been fine. What I saw was a sign: Eagle Management Area - Do Not Stop, Leave Your Car, Or Walk On The Road. And there it was, at the very top of a snag just off the road, a Bald Eagle nest, with one of the parents sitting in a branch of the next snag over.

From Raven's silly songs of imitation to the rhythms of Earth's inner music to the varied songs of Sky's water to the chorus of Human voices to Bald Eagle's majestic silence - no composed symphony could possibly be more musically perfect. Not what I expected. Much much more.

Pictures by Walt. The one of us shot by the guy taking pictures next to Walt.


Midlife Roadtripper said...

"no composed symphony could possibly be more musically perfect"

Ah, that tends to make it all perfect.

Jessica Nelson said...

Oooh, I'm so glad you posted pics. Very nice!!
I went as a teen and saw a whole bunch of buffalo. It was awesome. :-)

I'm glad you're having such a wonderful time.

Anonymous said...

It was lovely to get to see your face and your husband's as well. You two look happy. Yellowstone sounds wonderful.

Carrie Wilson Link said...

Great picture of you and Walt, and the perfect symphony for you two!

Kathryn Magendie said...

Love the photo of you and hubby---

I wish I could have traveled to the GC from Vegas - but couldn't get there.....I've never seen it.

I'll probably be back in Oregon before the year's out, but not sure when yet....

Jerri said...

You look lit up in this photo. Gorgeous.

And of course Eagle was there to greet you. Makes perfect sense. You are so ready to soar.

kario said...

I want to travel with you (again)!

Thank you for sharing this with us, Deb.

Carol Murdock said...

Hey Deb, great pictures! We've never been and talk about going but so far "not". :)

hooray said...

I LOVE the photo of the two of you! You look so free and beautiful! I can't believe it's been nearly two years since I've seen you!

Wonderfully beautiful trip!

Deb Cushman said...

It's a new adventure, traveling through Yellowstone in the company of your words. (The last time I traveled there was in a van with 3 sweaty teenage boys. An entirely different experience from the one you're having!)

Amber said...


One of my happiest childhood memories is seeing the park in my grandpa's RV...You brought it back.


Gammary said...

got caught up with your reunion and travels...sounds and reads so wonderful! Hope you are enjoying your summer, making dreams come true with this new life you've leapt into. I wrote and posted a reunion piece as well. Looking forward to getting together with you when you return.

Mark Lyons said...

Simply an incredibly BEAUTIFUL post. I found myself there with you.



Kathryn Magendie said...

seeing if you had something else up! :)

The Unbreakable Child said...

Great pictures and looks like fun, deb!

Elenka said...

Love your photos. Brought back many happy memories. What a place!

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