- Where We Started: Jackson, Wyo.
- Where We Ended: Billings, Mont.
- Miles Driven: 418 (14,987 total).
- New States: Montana.
- States So Far: 24 (Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, Alabama, Florida, Mississippi, Louisiana, Tennessee, Arkansas, Missouri, Oklahoma, Texas, New Mexico, Arizona, Colorado, Utah, Nevada, California, Oregon, Washington, Idaho, Wyoming, Montana)
THE DAY'S HIGHLIGHTS
The schizophrenic weather we experienced on Tuesday wasn't an issue Wednesday: this time, the weather sucked the entire day. The maddeningly consistent misty rain, combined with the fact Yellowstone National Park is still in the midst of re-opening after the winter, meant we couldn't do a whole lot. But it was still an interesting day, as the weather created some interesting photo opportunities, and Yellowstone's wildlife was out in full force.
Because the road that connects Jackson Hole with Yellowstone isn't opening until Friday, we had to take the long way to the park. This wouldn't be an issue for 99 percent of parks in the country. But Yellowstone is sort of big, so 150 miles and almost three hours later, we finally reached the park's west entrance, in West Yellowstone, Mont. (The park itself is in three states: Montana, Idaho and Wyoming, though 96 percent of it is in Wyoming). It had been raining when we left Jackson, but we'd held out hope the weather would improve as we got closer to the park. It didn't, and it was drizzling and gray almost the entire time we were there. But the weather didn't effect the park's wildlife, as they made frequent appearances throughout the park.
An animal of some kind tries to stare us down, but is betrayed by a goofy look. I did a little research, and I think this may be a female pronghorn, since their horns are sometimes not visible. If anyone has a more definitive answer, though, bring it on. I'm definitely guessing.
A bison calf hangs close to mom near Old Faithful at Yellowstone National Park.
This animal is a beagle, also known by its scientific name: four-legged eating machine. Here, Fred hops out of a deep snowbank after, shall we say, making a permanent contribution to the landscape at Yellowstone.
Because some of the main park roads are still closed, getting to some parts of the park is quite time-consuming and getting to others impossible. Since we spent two days at Yellowstone back in 2003, we didn't feel the need to see everything. So we focused on what we think are the coolest things in the park: the geothermal features, specifically the geysers and hot springs. Half of the world's geothermal features and two-thirds of its geysers reside within the boundaries of Yellowstone National Park. The park's unique ecosystem was created by a series of events that included massive volcanic eruptions, the collapse of a large portion of what is now Yellowstone National Park, the subsequent creation of a basin and the fact that enough magmatic heat remains from the area's volcanic days to then generate the geysers, hot springs, fumaroles and mudpots.
Our first stop was the most famous geyser in the world: Old Faithful. The most predictable of geysers, it pretty much always erupts within 55 to 75 minutes. We were there for an eruption in 2003, but got unlucky on Wednesday, arriving mere minutes after an eruption. Since we'd seen Old Faithful erupt before, we weren't up for waiting an hour to see it again. But here's what we saw in 2003.
We made two other major stops on our geothermal tour: the Black Sand Basin and Mammoth Hot Springs. Many of the other geyser basins were closed, some for bear habitat reasons and others without any explanation at all.
Jim wanders through the steam enveloping the trail at Black Sand Basin. All the "trails" at the geyser basins are wooden walkways because walking directly on the ground can cause serious damage to the ecosystem, not to mention it can get you killed.
The main terrace at Mammoth Hot Springs. These "terraces" are created when travertine is deposited as white rock by the park's hot springs. Microorganisms and bacteria then help generate the colors that cover this white rock.
By the time we got back to the car after hiking Mammoth Hot Springs, the rain had picked up again, so we decided to head out. Joan declared herself done for the day from a photography standpoint, but that didn't last long. About one mile from the park exit, we turned a corner and encountered a huge rainbow, which was soon joined by a fainter second one.
A double rainbow at Yellowstone. The lighter of the two rainbows rises from the middle left of the photo.
Then, our Yellowstone day ended just the way it started: with a herd of bison. This time, they were minding their own business, peacefully grazing in a field.
Once we left Yellowstone, I briefly considered doing death-march drive to Glendive, Mont., since we're a little behind schedule on getting home. But, cooler heads prevailed, and we set down in Billings, Mont., and planned to get an early start on our trip to the Badlands.
- Sorry for the delay in getting this post live. Normally, I write in the morning at our hotel, but we wanted to get an early start Thursday, so Joan came up with a great idea: she'd drive and I'd write and post from the car, using my wireless card. This sounded like a great idea, until I realized that AT&T apparently hasn't yet discovered eastern Montana or western North Dakota, which meant I either couldn't connect at all or had an absolutely brutal connection. These connectivity issues eventually led to a time-out error when I was trying to save the blog, eating a half-hour of work. I think I've been pretty open about how frustrated I get when I lose work, and Wednesday was no exception. I was not pleasant to be around for a good chunk of the day.
- One of the things that continues to amaze us on this trip is the incredible number of foreign tourists we've seen in national parks. We visited an overlook at the Grand Canyon where we were the only people who spoke English. We saw so many buses full of Japanese tourists at Yosemite, I asked Joan, "I wonder who's minding Japan right now?" Again, at Yellowstone, we saw foreign tourists from all over the world, and this on a day where the weather meant for sparse crowds. I think those of us who live here too often forget how amazing the landscape in this country is. Those outside the country seem to know, though.
- We pulled into an Exxon to get gas in Livingston, Mont., and as soon as we did, we saw a young man start walking our way with a clipboard and trinkets. Obviously, he was coming to ask for money, and it was obvious it wasn't for a bake sale or the Boy Scouts. He could barely speak English, but let me know he was from Korea and was with the Unification Church. Now, I live in a city where one of the daily newspapers is owned by the Unification Church, and I've never met a member there. I wasn't expecting my first encounter to be in Livingston, Mont. If we didn't have a two-hour drive ahead of us and he spoke better English, I might have asked some questions. Plus, I was trying to pump gas, and as I learned in Oregon, this is apparently a very dangerous task, so I wanted to pay 100 percent attention to that. So I didn't ask him any questions. I just did what too many other people do -- and what the church undoubtedly counts on -- and gave him $5 to go away. Later, as we were eating dinner, I saw him wander from the Exxon to another location, and I really wondered how this kid had gotten to this place on this day. As we drove down Interstate 90 to Billings, I wished I hadn't been so tired and had put my reporter hat on.
- FHMA got a nice writeup from roanoke.com -- a great site, by the way -- in its dog blog, The Happy Wag.
- Hank is suddenly terrified of bathrooms at our hotels. We have no idea why this is -- and, yes, please hold your jokes here -- but we now have to leave the dogs' water dish outside the bathroom so Hank will drink. Part of how we learned there was a problem was when we saw Hank trying to drag the water dish out of the bathroom. Note: He wasn't successful. Since we got Hank from a shelter (via a beagle rescue), he was pretty damaged when we got him. He's much, much less skittish now than he used to be. But watching him suddenly become terrified of a bathroom makes you realize that shelter dogs like Hank have histories us humans will never know about, which makes these kinds of issues harder to resolve.
- Our visit to Yellowstone reminded us of two funny stories from our 2003 visit there.
- We decided to walk a short trail at the Mud Volcano, and Fred was not allowed to join us. But it was 75 degrees out, so we could not leave him in a hot car. So we came up with a brilliant plan: We'd leave the car running and the AC on full blast and lock the car with our remote keypad. We tried this, but found that the backup remote keypad would not allow us to lock the car while it's running. So Joan reached in and locked the doors by hand. This seemed so clever until we realized that the remote keypad STILL wouldn't lock or unlock the doors, leaving us unable to get into the car -- or to Fred -- at all. Unfortunately, Fred did not understand our command to unlock the door, and minus opposable thumbs, was pretty useless anyway. So we then started to panic. We began brainstorming solutions, i.e. call OnStar, break a window, etc. Then, Joan comes up with the best idea of all: "Wait. Why don't we use the ACTUAL CAR KEY to unlock the door?" Yes, because we'd been using the remote key fob for so long, we forgot Acura had been nice enough when we bought the car to actually provide a hard copy of the key. Not surprisingly, this worked, and Fred was soon free. I guess this is a sign that we have become a little too dependent on remote locking devices.
- While Joan was using a rest room in the park, I was sitting in the car reading a map when I heard a knock on the passenger side window. I looked, and it was an elderly man. He knocked again, and then tried the door. I decided I was either about to become the victim of the world's oldest -- and most polite -- carjacker, or he was indeed at the wrong car. I yelled to him that he was at the wrong car, but he did not hear me, and started knocking in a more annoyed fashion. Finally, I rolled the window down, and he poked his head in, presumably to ask me why I wouldn't unlock the door. Immediately, he had his answer, when I said, "Helllooo." The poor guy looked at me, and scurried off to the silver car right ahead of mine without saying a word. We saw him a few times later in the day, and he was so embarrassed, he would not even make eye contact.
Time to pull some gems from the comments area from the past week or so:
- Jen Parobek mentioned hearing that the world's oldest dog was a beagle. A little Web surfing turned up the fact that Butch the Beagle -- who lived in Charlottesville, Va. -- made it to 28 years old before finally passing on a few years back. The oldest dog title now belongs to a 21-year-old dachshund from Long Island.
- Dennis Tuttle followed an odd path from my link about LBJ's odd bathroom habits to male enhancement pulls. First, read his comment, and here's the article about the tragic end of Enzyte's pitchman.
- James Vaughn didn't pose a question here, but this comment was too funny not to pass on.
- Random iPod shuffle song of the day: "America the Beautiful," by Frank Sinatra. Seems appropriate, since we spent the past few days in Idaho and Montana, two of our most beautiful states, and are soon headed to one of our favorite places, the Badlands. Not everyone can carry this tune, and can say what you will about Ol' Blue Eyes, he can.
- Here's the Day 6 report on our A-to-Z iPod Exploration:
- First Song of the Day: "Becalmed," by Brian Eno.
- Last Song of the Day: "Big Wave," by Pearl Jam.
- Best Songs: "Because the Night," by Patti Smith (I hear Springsteen was involved in this song somehow, but don't remember where I heard that); "Begin the Beguine," by Artie Shaw & His Orchestra; "Behind Blue Eyes," by The Who; "Bell Bottom Blues," by Derek & The Dominos; "Bennie and The Jets," by Elton John; "Beth," by Kiss; "Better Days," by Bruce Springsteen; "A Better Place to Be," by Harry Chapin; "Between the Wheels," by Rush; "The Big Country," by the Talking Heads; "The Big Money," by Rush.
- Pleasant Surprises: "Behind My Camel," by The Police; "The Big Ship," by Brian Eno.
- Guilty Pleasures: "Being With You," by Smokey Robinson; "Best of My Love," by The Emotions; "The Best of Times," by Styx; "Best Thing That Ever Happened to Me," by Gladys Knight & The Pips.
- Bad Songs by Good Artists: "Simply the Best'," by Tina Turner; "Big Bad Bill (Is Sweet William Now," by Van Halen; "Big Love," by Fleetwood Mac.
- Great Rediscoveries: "Better Man," by Pearl Jam; "Big Log," by Robert Plant.
- Lunch: None. Yes, that's right, none. We split our leftover pizza from Tuesday night before we left the hotel, and then snacked on some almonds and other assorted snacks during the day, but we never stopped for a meal. Jim Nutrition Rating: 5 stars (out of 5). Finally, I found a way to have a healthy meal. Don't eat.
- Dinner: McDonald's, Livingston, Mont.: We were going to try and grab a non-fast food meal at Mammoth Hot Springs in Yellowstone, but we decided the bison and pronghorns wandering through the village would be too much for the dogs to handle, so we left the park and stopped at the first town of any size, which turned out to be Livingston, about 50 miles north of the park. I didn't want to eat while driving, so we stopped so I could have an even unhealthier meal than Chicken McNuggets. Jim Nutrition Rating: 0 stars (out of 5). How else can you rate a Double Quarter Pounder and fries? This may have been worth a negative rating. But, hey, we didn't have lunch. That counts for something, doesn't it? Restaurant Rating: 4 stars (out of 5). It was a damn good Quarter Pounder, though.
- Best Western Kelly Inn & Suites, Billings, Mont.: A perfect stay. We got a room with a door to the outside, so unloading the car was easy. The room was huge and clean. The walls were thick, the room dark, and the bed comfortable, so it was like being in a cocoon. And there was no pet fee. We were all thrilled and got a great night's sleep. Hotel rating: 5.0 stars (out of 5). Not a single ding, though I was a bit peeved my card key stopped working 10 minutes after I arrived. But since America's greatest minds apparently can't solve the hotel card key/cell phone conflict, I'll just need to be more diligent to keep them apart.
- As we suspected, the Homewood Suites in Jackson, Wyo. did not charge us $100 for the dogs. I'd say less than a third of the hotels that have said they have dog fees have actually charged us. I'm not sure whether this is forgetfulness or whether they only charge you if you create a problem, etc. Either way, we're not complaining.
COMMENT OF THE DAY
BONUS BEAGLE PHOTO