Summer of 1993
Chapter 1--A tourist in a new world

    I drove my parents' new Plymouth Voyager to the gates of the East Entrance.  All of us--my mom, nearly sixteen-year-old sister Gloria, and my twelve-year-old brother Alex--were glad finally to be in Yellowstone after a long drive that had begun early that morning just west of Rapid City, South Dakota.  I approached the gate excited with the entrance fee in hand.
    At the gate, the ranger gave us various literature about the park.  My mom asked how far it was to Lake, where we had reservations.  All of us were a bit downcast to find out that it was about another twenty miles away through an area of maximum speeds of 45 miles per hour.  That may have been my only moment ever lamenting that Yellowstone was too big.  The land is so magical that I have ever since only wished it to be much larger.
    The land as one drives west from the East Entrance is dominated by the heavily forested Absaroka Range.  As we drove through on June 9, it was a bit harrowing for my mother.  Imagine driving on a narrow mountain road.  On this road, you drive near the edge of some steep cliffs, sometimes with no guard rail there to protect you from catastrophe.  It is also a land still covered in snow.  Although our drive through these mountains was not nearly as treacherous as our drive over the Bighorns earlier the same day, the shock of those same mountains had not left my mother.  She could not help clutching to the car with all her might.  As for me, the land already had won me over.  I felt euphoric that I had the opportunity to work in this high elevation mountain paradise; and if I never saw the spot I was in again, I felt lucky that I could see it once.  Though tired, every curve brought some call upon my fellow passengers to ooh and aah, "Wow!  Look at that!" and "Unbelievable!" and "Look at all the snow--in June!"
    When we came out of the Absarokas, there was Yellowstone Lake.  To see Yellowstone Lake is awesome enough, but to think about it as one sees it is absolutely mind boggling.  This immense high altitude lake hits you as you drive along its northern boundary as unbelievably large. Though we were used to the ocean-like endlessness of Lake Erie, Yellowstone Lake's enormity was not lost on me.  It is a very large lake confined only by vast lodgepole pine forests and mountain ranges at an elevation of over 7,000 feet.  It was like nothing we had ever seen.  The sunshine on the lake made the water sparkle wondrously.  You cannot begin to understand its aesthetics until you see, and see again, and see again hundreds of times this precious jewel nearly one and one-half miles over my head which writes at this moment at sea level.  Seeing it then, I did not understand.  I did not know that I had driven through a range called the Absarokas nor that the trees that I were seeing were lodgepole pines nor that Yellowstone Lake would witness some of the most important events which colored the life that is mine today.  Nevertheless, it left me in awe, an awe that only grew with time.
    My mother read the literature as we drew nearer to Lake and the rest we so dearly wanted.  The most memorable pamphlet was one with a drawing of a man flying through the air after being gored in the butt by an American bison.  My education of Yellowstone began by learning that bison were extremely dangerous, that they could run up to 30 mph, and that they sometimes attack humans.  Nevertheless, I could not help stopping the Voyager when we saw our first bison just outside of Fishing Bridge.
    Ignorance cannot be the only explanation of what causes people to stop their cars dangerously in the middle of the road the first time one sees these giant monsters, remnants of America's past.  The bison is a most impressive animal.  It is not simply a giant cow in appearance.  With its dark brown hair, odd-shaped face with huge, sad eyes, and its matted mane the bison announces itself instantly as unique.  To see something unique in the wild so close to the road, the first instinct I had and many others have had was the need to record the experience, to capture its essence for the future--the future that would desperately try to relive a fond object of the past.  We knew that the first bison was just such a moment.
    Had I to do it again, I would not have stopped, however.  Knowledge changes the values one holds and how one freely chooses what present moments should be revered by future moments.  Though the lack of knowledge does not explain why one stops precariously close to a bison, it goes a long way.  Ignorance and curiosity and the desire to remember have been replaced by knowledge, love, and the desire to respect.  I still have that desire to remember--I could not write without that desire--however, I want to remember a moment of respect rather than the cheap thrill of getting a better bison shot than Joe down the street.  Again, though, better pictures are good things, but a better picture taken in a moment of selfish disrespect is worth little to me anymore.
    Very shortly after seeing my first bison, we drove into Lake Village.  We soon approached the parking lot of the Lake Hotel, a large yellow structure that does not necessarily impress anyone from the parking lot view.  I must admit that my primary interest, as I looked for a place to park, was to find as many different out-of-state license plates that we had not collected already on the trip.  I parked, and we got out of the car in order to check in to our cabin.
    Inside the Lake Hotel, the world is more impressive than outside and behind.  The place had an air of elegance.  The porters were dressed nicely, all with name badges showing the states they were from.  There were several places to eat.  The hotel looked quite modern.  I was soon surprised to find out that the hotel was about one hundred years old.  Recent renovations gave it a very comfortable look.  The front lobby faced Yellowstone Lake.  The chairs there offered the guests and other tourists pleasant seats with which they could sit and have a relaxing view of the beautiful lake.  Waiters attended to anyone sitting down in the lobby.  Connected to the lobby was an attractive restaurant and a souvenir shop.
    Being poor, we knew that we had to be of another economic class to stay in the likes of the Lake Hotel, but there was no loss in that.  At least we were staying in very close proximity of it.  We received the keys to our home for the next two nights.  It was a small cabin right off the parking lot.  The lot was littered with more bison, and people seemed to move around them as if it was the norm.  Thirty minutes ago, I had not seen a bison.  Now, they seemed commonplace.  I must say, though, that I would never get anywhere near as close to those bison (at least by my own design) as I did that day.  Really, there was no way to avoid them.  They lay near everything.  Frankly, I cannot comprehend my fearlessness.  Now, the thought that maybe a bison might be around me makes me think twice about going near an area they might be.  I digress.  Let us not get too far ahead in our story.
    For the rest of the afternoon, we were in the Lake Hotel.  Mom called Dad.  Then, we ate submarine sandwiches at the Deli in the hotel.  I recall that I enjoyed it very much.  After eating, we went to the souvenir shop.  I looked at the t-shirts and was surprised to find that none of them said "Yellowstone."  Many of them said "Wyoming."  I thought to myself, "I think their t-shirt sales would be a lot better if they said 'Yellowstone' on them."  Later, I found out that Hamilton Stores had a monopoly on most products saying "Yellowstone" and "Old Faithful" while TW Services (the concessionaire, who unbeknownst to me at the time, ran the Lake Hotel) seemed to have the unenviable monopoly on "Wyoming" products.  After looking at souvenirs, we sat for a few moments relaxing in the lounge facing the lake.
    Tired, we went to bed very early.  We had begun the day just outside of Rapid City, South Dakota, very early in the morning.  I went to bed exhausted, yet excited, and also nervous wondering what my summer had in store.  That was still two days away, and I was happy to have a day to see the park before facing the mysteriousness of what life would be like working in a new land, ministering with people I did not know to people I did not know.  How would I get by as a scared and shy boy in a completely unfamiliar world?  I thought about all these things.  I wondered if I'd meet my future wife in Yellowstone.  Mostly, though, I was glad to have a day with my family where none of that mattered.
    We arose early to a sunny sky.  After eating a breakfast that was probably no more than generic pop tarts and granola bars, we walked to the Lake Post Office to mail some postcards my mom had bought.  The plan was to take a tour bus because Mom was tired of driving.  Besides, she wanted to learn about the magnificent land we were in.  I remember my mom's excitement at everything we saw.  The trip made a strong impression on her.  I do not really remember Gloria's and Alex's reaction.  I suppose they seemed generally positive toward the experience.  All I remember is that we fought very little on the trip.  That was quite the blessing on this trip because we fought all the time at home.  Alex and I genuinely did not like each other.  This trip was quite pleasant, however.  That morning and throughout, it was fueled by my mother's enthusiasm.
    Bison, once more, lay in the parking area.  There were approximately a half dozen.  They seemed to be a very natural part of the landscape.  No, they were not running freely on the grasslands of the Great Plains.  No, it did not seem odd that Bison and the technological monster of modern humanity should mingle in a national park.  It seemed to me quite wonderful that technological humanity and bison could co-exist.  How great it was evaded me, however, and how fragile it was had only in the faintest way been stamped on me.
    My mom made reservations for a tour of the southern loop.  The roads in Yellowstone form something like a figure eight.  The park is so large that the tour buses operated by TW in Yellowstone can only take tourists around half of the park in a day.  A day was all that we had.  Old Faithful, the most famous geyser in all the world, lay on the southern loop, and so that was the obvious choice for one day in Yellowstone.
    It was true that I had two and one-half months to spend in Yellowstone, but I took the attitude that this would be my only day of touring, potentially, all summer.  I knew that Grant Village was twenty miles from anywhere; and having no car, it would be foolish of me to expect more.  Besides, I was there primarily for ministry.  The attitude, and it was most sincere, served me well that day and every day after during my first summer in Yellowstone.  Everything I saw was a blessing, and every extra moment was savored like I would never have that opportunity again.  While lowering expectations may lower ambition, I know the sincere humbleness of that summer did me nothing but good.
    We waited for the tour bus in the lounge of the Lake Hotel.  The morning had been crisp, though not too bad.  I expected cool mornings considering the elevation.  In many things regarding Yellowstone, I was not so much completely ignorant as I was ignorant of the extremes of the Park.  On the doors of the lounge, a great many obnoxious bugs hovered.  They were neither houseflies nor mosquitoes.  It turned out that they were called buffalo flies.  Ironically, I have rarely noticed that insect since that morning.
    After about an hour of waiting, an old dingy-looking tour bus arrived.  It was loud, but it was about what one would expect for a day tour.  The bus driver, a brown-haired, bearded man in his mid-thirties named Dan introduced himself personally to everyone on the bus.  His voice had a strong hint of Appalachia, and he mentioned (not to the surprise of anyone in my family) when finding out that we were from Ohio that he was originally from Kentucky.
    Dan made a strong impression on my mother, and she still remembers much of what he said that day.  He was both amusing, informative, and autobiographical.  He made a permanent residence working for TW at Old Faithful, working as a tour bus driver by summer and a worker at the Snow Lodge at Old Faithful by winter.  He had lived permanently in Yellowstone for the past seven years and related that he skied to work in the winter.  Old Faithful, according to Dan, receives an average of 240 inches of snow a winter.  "Wow!"  I thought wondering what the people in Cleveland's snow belt would think about that.  Dan was also prone to exaggerate and tell traditional myth rather than historical fact.  An example of that included his remark that Shoshone Lake was the largest lake without road access in the world.  More examples will appear in my tale of that day.
    We left Lake and headed south along Yellowstone Lake toward West Thumb, a mere three mile drive from Grant Village.  The road along the lake is generally covered with tall, skinny pine trees that Dan informed us were called lodgepole pines.  We did not stop until reaching West Thumb Geyser Basin, a small geyser basin on Yellowstone Lake.
    Dan gave us some instructions.  We were to stay on the boardwalk because the crust of the earth was very thin and dangerous in geyser regions.  We were not to, under any conditions, approach any animals.  He explained that approaching the animals was not only foolishly dangerous, it was not good for the animals to lose their natural fear of humans.  Of course, we were not to litter.  Finally, we had to be back at the bus in twenty minutes.
    Most of us stayed near Dan during our walk through this area.  He mentioned that it was very unlikely that any geysers would erupt here but that it was possible.  He informed us that the water was boiling hot, though quite near a Yellowstone Lake which had just two weeks before melted from the winter freeze.  When approaching an extremely clear blue pool that appeared to be misnamed "Black Pool," he gave us evidence of the volatility of the region noting that a few years back this perfectly blue pool used to be black.  A thermal shift had changed the color of the pool dramatically.  In twenty minutes, Dan had given us a brief but fascinating glimpse into a geyser basin I had never heard about in school or anywhere else.
    My feelings at West Thumb were no less than giddy.  As we quickly strolled past one unique sulphur-odored hot pool after another, I knew that my home in Yellowstone would be very near this little geyser basin on the shores of this bay of Yellowstone Lake.  The recognition of my luck had not escaped me.  Even though West Thumb nearly never makes the top list of wonders in Yellowstone, I thought then and often how such a spot would be the pride of entire states, including my native Ohio, and turned into a tourist resort.  Gladly, West Thumb, amongst the gargantuan wonders of the park, seems relatively boring.
    One thing at West thumb disturbed me and other tour bus compatriots at West Thumb.  Many of the hot pools had been littered with coins.  Tourists, thinking that these natural fountains were much like fountains in a shopping mall, often threw coins in the ponds, often damaging, sometimes destroying the plumbing of the thermal features.  The stupidity and the selfishness angered me.  I still have no understanding as to how people could be so remarkably ignorant in thinking that their coins would have no effect on the features.  I also have no understanding at how aesthetically deficient some people are.  Can a coin in a spectacular feature add a single bit of beauty to the pools at West Thumb and throughout Yellowstone?  I later learned in my research of Yellowstone history that tourists used to throw soap in geysers attempting to ignite premature eruptions.  In any event, I did not even have to be as steeped into Yellowstone as I am now to express instant disgust at the behavior of tourists.  Disgust toward Yellowstone tourists, in general, only grows, unfortunately.
    Leaving West Thumb, we rode toward Old Faithful.  The road, I later learned, was called Craig Pass.  Craig Pass is a mountainous, forested road, which crosses the Continental Divide twice.  This is what most struck me, at first.  I had never crossed the Continental Divide, and it seemed like an accomplishment.  I suppose I liked crossing it because I did not know that it went through Yellowstone.  If I had only thought about it a little or looked at a map, I would have figured it out.  Yet, it was a nice surprise all the same.
    The lodgepole pine forests were thick as they had been throughout.  We had not really noticed any evidence of the famous fires of 1988.  As it happened, our initial route through the park had just missed evidence of the fires.  I do not remember if I looked out over Thumb Bay at West Thumb where I surely would have seen burnt forest, but we had not really been in a burnt forest.  This ride was no exception.  Dan said that this was an L5 forest, meaning that it was the oldest and most mature stage of a lodgepole pine forest.  Between the lodgepoles grew small Douglas Firs.  The forest looked thick and endless and quite alpine.  These trees were thin, fairly tall, but not enormous nor diverse.  Yellowstone forests are most remarkable not in what beauty they behold in themselves but that there are such thick forests at all in an otherwise barren region.
    Our bus stopped at Shoshone Point for a quick look.  Shoshone Point looks down over the lodgepoles out three miles through the valley of DeLacy Creek to the northeastern portion of Shoshone Lake.  Beyond Shoshone Lake, about forty miles away, the Teton Range stood faintly.  Although the sight probably is not as aesthetic as a simple view from my old apartment in Seattle of the Cascades, the Tetons had one thing the Cascades did not.  They had a look of natural isolation.  No roads went to Shoshone Lake, the second largest lake in Yellowstone.  No roads connected my view to those distant mountains.  This thought was not lost on me.  The tour guide made the outrageous claim (which I have not researched to disprove) that Shoshone Lake was the largest lake in the world without road access.  Nevertheless, this land was isolated.  Although it was not entirely invisible to a bus of ignorant sightseers, it was invisible enough.
    We moved on to the second crossing of the Divide to a peculiar little spot.  It was not so remarkable as memorable, probably because of our bus driver's fictional anecdote about it.  To this day, my mother asks me whether I visited this place as if it was one of the most interesting places in all of Yellowstone.
    We stopped at Isa Lake, a very tiny body of water resting on the Continental Divide at over 8,200 feet above sea level.  Much of the year, the body of water, about the size of a small pool of flooded rainwater in a baseball field, is covered in waterlilies.  That day, it was quite clear and calm, surrounded by snow on the banks.  Isa Lake's claim to fame is the oddity of its drainage.  The eastern half of the lake flows west to the Pacific Ocean while the western half flows east to the Atlantic.  This occurs because the Continental Divide does not run straight north to south but zigzags throughout.  The fact of Isa Lake makes people think twice, at least those people who bother to stop and read the signs posted by the National Park Service.
    Isa Lake would have slipped into personal obscurity, however, without having been told a myth about it from our driver.  With his Appalachian charm, he told the following story:
    Back in the fur trapping days, two trappers happened
    on this body of water.  They weren't quite sure what to
    make of it.  Each had his own idea of what it was.
    One exclaimed, "It's er lake!"
    The other retorted, "It's er pond!"
    This went on for awhile when all of the sudden the lake
    rose up and said in a deep voice, "I's a lake!!"
    The name Isa Lake stood ever since.
Dan quickly recanted his myth by noting that the lake was named for a woman named Isabel.  In fact, it was named for Isabel Jelke.  However, the legend seemed quite apt for the body of water and our moods that morning.
    We rode toward Old Faithful.  A few miles from the region evidence of the geyser basin took the form of steam rising here and there through the valley.  While we sought for evidence of an erupting geyser, we received instructions for our tour of Old Faithful.  We had approximately ninety minutes to eat, view an eruption of Old Faithful, walk through the area near Old Faithful called Geyser Hill, and see the Old Faithful Inn.  Dan told us that although he could not describe its beauty, we would understand it as soon as we walked through its doors.  Such intriguing words left me ready to see this inn.
    Besides being ready to see the most famous geyser in the world and whatever other beauty lay in waiting and the fact that I was hungry, one other thing crept.  I was afraid of tomorrow.  At Lake, we had started with a rider who was not on the ride primarily for the sake of touring.  She rode with us to get to Old Faithful where she was slated to work for the summer.  At Old Faithful, she was dropped off to work.  A twinge of fear shook me for just a moment as I tried to block out the reality of tomorrow with the fantasy of today.  Ironically, the present was a dream in the face of the next day.  How many of us lose sight of where we are to dream of tomorrow?  Quite to the contrary is Yellowstone.  For me, Yellowstone quickly became the land where tomorrow was a dirty word.
    The bus approached the giant log inn.  By the crowds moving toward it, the driver correctly surmised that we had just missed an eruption of the geyser.  Dan pointed out Geyser Hill and commanded that we keep our eyes open for an erupting geyser.  He dropped us off at this beautiful log structure.  Before I take you in and describe my memory of this place, it would be wrong of me not to paint a picture of what the first moments in the upper geyser basin looked like.  Too often, Old Faithful is but a photograph of a geyser eruption without relationship to its environment.  Perhaps, that is because there is a loneliness to Old Faithful as it stands at the edge of the basin off to itself with its cone coming out from its spout ever so gradually and gently so as to not be near any other geyser.  Nevertheless, our eyes see more.
    When I first went to Washington, D.C. the summer before, we walked by the White House.  On the news, this building seems to hold an isolation it does not have.  You do not see the busy streets around the house, you do not see the many buildings built near the house.  Furthermore, you never see that the building is hardly as impressive a structure as it appears on television.  The Capitol is a truly impressive building, but the television leads us to believe that one building may as well be another.  Pictures of Yellowstone also have that way of lying.
    The upper geyser basin upon which Old Faithful sits is a land where the trees break open to allow something truly remarkable.  There is not just one geyser, nor just one great geyser and a lot of smaller ones, nor is Old Faithful really the center of the eye's attention.  Sure, when I first drove into Old Faithful and it seemed that we might just catch an eruption, my eyes looked nowhere else but the high columns of steam, but it soon turned toward this other world that no picture had ever been shown to me in school.  I had thought that Old Faithful was surrounded by trees and by itself.  Besides the enormous human tourist world created around it, the land near Old Faithful is truly odd.  Rarely does one find a collection of fountains and cones, bizarre shapes, wildlife, and a beautiful river running through it anywhere on the earth.  Nowhere could imitate the upper geyser basin.  As I looked at Geyser Hill from the bus, it was a blur, a land yet unseen.  When Dan had told us that there were geysers more impressive in height than Old Faithful, I wondered what buried treasures lay in this land.  To this day, whenever I go to Old Faithful, I always go with some other motive than to see the world's most famous geyser.  Yet, somehow, I always find myself watching yet another eruption of the poor geyser whose only fault was a fame for which it never asked.
    We now stood in front of the Old Faithful Inn.  It's giant red wooden doors already spoke of something different, but I wanted to know what was inside.  We stepped in, and we understood.  Should I describe more?  Should I tell you what you will not understand?  Or, should I leave these things to myself?  It was wooden, the logs were unmistakable, there was a large fireplace, restaurants, shops, and lots of people.  You can view some of my pictures of it from the outside and find some pictures of it from the inside, and still you will not understand.  The American transcendentalists were fond of saying that the whole was not the sum of its parts.  Such is the Old Faithful Inn.  And, although it is a human creation, its beauty was no less astounding to me.  As I write now, I certainly have a bias in favor of anything that is Yellowstone, but I hope you will believe me when I tell you that there was no such bias in the summer of 1993.  I was then and am still now a very critical person with no need to like something unless I find in it something not only that gives me a good feeling but that I think is somehow in alignment with the rational order of things.  I truly could not imagine someone being able to duplicate such a structure, if for only it would be impossible to assemble the same unique wood chosen for the chore.  Entering the Old Faithful Inn was like entering a giant log cabin but with infinitely more elegance.
    We ate at the inn in a fast food place at the inn.  It was not the best food I ever had.  I think I had something called a geyser chicken sandwich.  We ate it, and then went out to Old Faithful to await the eruption.
    At the geyser itself was constructed many viewing seats, and it was something of a circus.  We did our best to get a good view for a picture.  After some time, the geyser begins to eject water.  Cameras go off.  They mistake the ejection of water with the beginning of the geyser eruption.  Old Faithful teases you for awhile with this sort of action.  It is almost as if it was saying, "Even though you know that I am going to go off, and I will go off,   I'm still going off on my own terms."  We waited at our spot of the boardwalk as more people crowd around the geyser.  On this day, I did not see people step off the boardwalk, which is a rare refreshing memory of tourist behavior in the geyser regions.  Indeed, Dan had warned us that the boardwalks were there for good reason, and that the crust of the earth gives out under the feet of some disobeying tourist every year, sometimes scalding them to death.  In the old days, people had their pictures taken right next to Old Faithful.  It was a really silly practice...and just as soon as you get lost in thought, there she goes!  Old Faithful erupts in all her majesty rising in increments, with a very classical air about it.  It rose that day to about 140 feet and lasted for approximately three minutes.  Its eruption is short, not as high as we imagined, but it nevertheless is classical.  I have no trouble believing that if the Greeks had known about Old Faithful that they would have thought it would fit in quite well with their ideas of beauty and form.  We took our pictures, and left to see what we could of the other thermal features.
    We had about half an hour to see everything else.  Half an hour!  There was no time, and I was very scared of missing the bus.  My mom and Gloria were quite fascinated by the thermal features and spent quite awhile gazing at each one.  I did not fully appreciate what I was seeing because I knew that we had to get moving.  There was a moment, however, where I did take some time.  We were on the back side of Old Faithful.  To one side was Old Faithful, to the other was the Firehole River and two elks feeding on the stream.  These were the first two elks that I had ever seen in my life.  We took a picture and moved on.  The Firehole River was very pretty there with no signs of the thermal region upon it.  Not more than a few hundred feet downstream, thermal pools spill over its sides into the river creating an awesome display of color on its banks.  There were also thermal features in the river itself.  How many rivers in your hometown have banks of white striped with orange, brown, and red streams?
    After a bit, I took my brother Alex and began nearly running for the bus.  The maze of boardwalks seemed endless, and we had but a few minutes.  Alex and I barely reached the bus on time, and we had to tell Dan that my mom and Gloria were on their way.  It was a little embarrassing.  It was also a good thing I had made it ontime because he might have left us.  My mother and sister made it in about five minutes later, and we were soon on our way north from the Old Faithful region.
    At Old Faithful, we had seen our first burnt forest.  Dan began explaining about the fires of 1988 and his experience with them.  Fires had scorched forests all around Old Faithful, and he told us that it was a miracle that the fire unexplainably jumped the Old Faithful Inn without burning it to the ground.  He remembered being led out to Old Faithful itself being that a geyser out in the open was the safest place to be.  The fire changed the Yellowstone people had grown up with into the Yellowstone I know and recognize.  Fires burnt about one-third of the parks forests, but new forests had already shown signs of growing in their place.  Throughout the park, we could see little lodgepole pines, not much bigger than blades of grass, growing throughout stands of burnt forest.  Dan explained the ecological importance of fire to the life cycle of the park and that it was unfortunate that most people only saw fire as a bad thing.  Furthermore, he noted that the national press had exaggerated the situation greatly.  They set up their cameras near the worst of the burnt forests and announced, "This is all that is left of Yellowstone National Park."  Nothing could be further from the truth, and the burnt forests weaved in and out with unburnt forests creating a diversity of landscape that was most interesting, AND beautiful.
    We drove north toward the Middle Geyser Basin, and we made a stop there.  Unlike the many thousands of people at Old Faithful, this area was much more quiet.  It seemed that we were out in "nature."  In fact, we saw our second geyser eruption of the day.  We had no luck that day at Old Faithful as it was unusually quiet with thermal activity.  This geyser shot up only about eight feet high but in a straight jet.  Unlike Old Faithful's short eruption, this one went on and on and on, and was still going when we left.  It was one of those pleasant little experiences that color one person's experience from another's.  All experiences like that are Yellowstone, but each is its own story, its own little geyser eruption, if you will.
    As we drove north, we made another small stop at a thermal region, then moved toward Madison junction.  Our route was guided by the Firehole River; and like at Old Faithful, it was not uncommon to see thermal features spill into it creating a display of color and oddity like no other river I had ever seen.  Yellowstone Lake had just melted, but Dan told us that the Firehole River never froze even when it was forty degrees below zero.
    He told us of Christmas in Yellowstone, a day when all park employees celebrate Christmas every August 25.  He said that it was started long ago by guests at the Old Faithful Inn who had been snowed in on August 25.  They decided to celebrate Christmas, and the tradition has stuck.  One should say that the traditional myth stuck, as it turns out that Christmas most likely was started by the concessionaires.  Dan did not tell us this, but he likely believed the myth himself.  Anyhow, for his part, Dan and the other drivers traditionally leave a case of beer on a small island in the Firehole River for one of the rangers, and every Christmas that ranger collects his or her gift.  I certainly looked forward to August 25.
    How did the national park idea arise?  Dan told us the traditional tale of that happening.  In 1870, the Washburn Expedition was exploring the park.  They had almost completed their journey when they found themselves camping in front of a mountain and having a discussion of what they thought should be done with this region. Some favored dividing the land between them.  Others favored all sorts of other commercial enterprises.  Finally, Cornelius Hedges spoke and said that he favored none of those plans.  Instead, he favored setting aside the region as a national park for the benefit and enjoyment of the people.  Being moved by that, they set out to make Yellowstone the world's first national park and accomplished it two short years later.  The mountain by which we passed was the one where Hedges had made his speech and was named National Park Mountain in honor of that night.  I would not remember all the details of this tale if I had not spent a great deal of time researching this very subject.  Dan's story is Yellowstone myth, as it turns out.  I had great trouble believing it even then.  Hedges may indeed have made such a suggestion on that night in front of that mountain, but the history of Yellowstone becoming a National Park is far more complicated.  I invite you to read my paper on the matter.  It was this very telling of the oral tradition by Dan that aroused my curiosity in Yellowstone's early history.
    We drove past Madison Junction and continued north toward the Norris Geyser Basin.  The only stop we made was along the Gibbon River at Gibbon Falls.  I scarcely could tell that we had stopped following the Firehole and were now following the Gibbon.  Unlike the early explorers before me, I had great trouble reading the land.  Even they were known to make some notorious mistakes, but I should not hold their mistakes as anything close to my inabilities.  I even fancied myself as good at geography; however, there is a great difference in being able to read and understand a map than to be able to read and understand a land.  I suppose that difference is only one of scale, but it is a difference all the same.  Anyhow, Gibbon Falls drops about seventy feet.  It was nice; but like West Thumb, its beauty tends to be dwarfed by everything else in Yellowstone.  If it were in my backyard, I would probably spend a great deal of time and curiosity at the falls.  I love falls.  However, I do not remember that these falls have ever inspired much more than an "Oh, that's nice" from me.
    The bus noisily moved its way along until it reached the Norris Geyser Basin.  We barely had time to stop which is most unfortunate.  My mom did not even get out of the bus.  I had time only to go to the top of the basin and look down upon it for a quick picture.  It was too bad.  What I saw was something I would describe as hellishly beautiful.  Now, I know that writers have mourned the fact that so many of Yellowstone's attributes have been given names which attest less to their grace and beauty than to their resemblance of our ideas of hell, but I did not know about such things at the time.  My honest first reaction to Norris was to call it "hellishly beautiful."  With its odor, its peculiar surface, its bubbling pits, screaming fumaroles, and weird assortment of colors, I wondered how such a region was earthly.  Yet, what separated this land from that of Venus was that trees were growing right in the midst of it.  It was unlike anything I had ever experienced.  The other geyser regions did not quite evoke the same hellish thoughts to me in quite the way that Norris did.  I had only a few brief seconds, but that was all I needed.  We drove onto Canyon.
    We made no stops on the stretch of road between Norris and Canyon, a stretch that I think may be the most dull in all the park.  When I take tours of the park, I try to avoid this stretch because I do not find anything worth seeing.  The reader and lover of Yellowstone will have to forgive my attitude toward it.  For, I know it is not there to please me.  I know how intrinsically beautiful it is.  I know all of that.  However, it bores me all the same.  At times like this, I am glad that I am a rationalist.  If I had to depend upon my feelings toward a place, I would be betrayed even in Yellowstone.  Not all things are pleasing to the senses, and not all things move one to feelings of ecstasy.  However, I have a mind.  I know that this stretch too is good and for many reasons.  For that reason, it is as dear to me as anything else in the park.  Too often, though, we ransom our minds for the sake of passion.  Even the magic of Yellowstone cannot forbid that.  Before I foreshadow an entire tale, let us move to Canyon.
    The Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone River is something that many people know about before they come to Yellowstone, but I was not one of those many people.  Indeed, the canyon area may have been the most inspiring and aesthetic region to those who had a large part in making Yellowstone a national park.  Langford writes inspiringly of it in his journal.  The United States Senate, soon after creating Yellowstone National Park, bought Thomas Moran's canvas of the canyon.  I never knew Canyon.  The only thought I had about Canyon as I looked at my map of Yellowstone was, "I love canyons.  I bet whatever is there is cool."  Not only was it "cool," it was the most beautiful thing I ever beheld and have ever beheld.  Others disagree with me for sure, but I still believe that I have never seen a more beautiful thing.  I have been to Spain and many national parks in this country, but I have never seen anything so grand and subtle as the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone.  It is as beautiful to me now as it surprised me then.
    The Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone is caused by the river of that name. The Yellowstone River begins outside of the park south of it from Yount Peak.  It flows north into Yellowstone Lake and comes out again at Fishing Bridge where it flows into Hayden Valley.  After crossing the valley, it makes two dramatic drops creating the twenty mile Grand Canyon.  The first drop is called the Upper Falls, a 109 foot drop.  The second one is the Lower Falls, a most beautiful 308 foot drop spilling into the Grand Canyon proper.  The historian Chittenden thought the Upper Falls to be the more beautiful, but my heart is with the larger.  It spills grandly into the vast canyon with great force.  The most distinctive feature of it is an evergreen stripe of water along its left edge which gives it an unusual appearance.  I was once told that it was also called Evergreen Falls, but I have never been able to confirm that proposition.  The Canyon itself is unbelievable.  Its depth is about 1,200 feet at its greatest.  The Grand Canyon in Arizona is much deeper, but depth is not everything.  At the bottom of the Canyon, the Yellowstone River is very narrow and winds its way through a wall that is a geologist's dream, and a painter's heaven.  The wall expresses colors of yellow, white, red, orange, brown, and all mixtures inbetween.  Along its steep walls grow lodgepole pines.  This to me was quite remarkable, to see trees growing on such a surface.  There was evidence of thermal activity in the region.  We also saw an Osprey nest on the far side of the canyon opposite Grand View Point.  Its sheer size and grandeur still surprises me every time I visit it.  Each different natural light sets it subject with new colors to be adored. Like the Old Faithful Inn, it is impossible to understand.  Unlike the Old Faithful Inn, there is a great joy, however, in describing.  This paragraph writes like a shout for joy.  There is little frustration in conveying the remembrance of something so magnificent.  I had seen Niagara and that was the magnificence of sheer force and volume, but this was sheer beauty.
    We toured this paradise under cloudcover.  Although my photos of the day show more evidence of clouds, the reality was that the Canyon failed to lose its brilliance of color even then.  The photograph is supposed to be the greatest imitation of reality, but it truly is a liar when it comes to Yellowstone.
    We toured both sides of the Canyon, both falls, took many pictures, then headed to Lake, or home as it was becoming to seem.  We crossed Hayden Valley.  In Hayden Valley, Dan told us to expect to see a herd of Bison (or Bee-SONE, as he pronounced it in a rather obnoxious fake French accent).  He had told us that we were sure to see a bison herd that day.  We had not, and we saw only a few bison in Hayden Valley.  Dan had said that such an occurrence was rare, but we had seen about a dozen bison nevertheless.  We stopped at one point for a moment so that some of the tourists could take a picture of one of the bison.  At that stopped moment, a common event of tourist infamy occurred.  We were warned not to approach the bison.  We were explained the speed and power of the bison.  At this stop, the driver specifically told us not to cross the street.  In fact, his words were so impressed upon me that I did not even leave my bus seat.  However, one of our group disobeyed, crossed the street, took his picture, than had the stupidity to turn his back on the bison.  We all started yelling at him to get back.  His wife was screaming at him.  He took no notice as he took his time crossing the street.  The bison looked angry, but was kind enough not to pursue the matter this day.  It seems to me that the most galling of tourists always turn their back to the bison after they get their shot.  It disgusted me that day, and it angers me now as I think about it.
    Dan had one more joke for us.  On the hillsides on the western side of Hayden Valley was some snow.  He told us that this was called "Indian snow."  He asked us if we knew why.  No one offered an answer.  He hit us with the punchline below the belt, "It's called Indian snow because there is Apache here and "a-patchy" there... ."  It was a joke to groan at, although I find myself telling the same bad joke whenever I see Apache snow.
    We had no time to stop at the Mud Volcanoes.  We were due back at the Lake Hotel at 5 pm.  It would not be the last time I had little time to see these curious features.  Dan's only comment about them is that they wreak of sulphur and our just some more thermal features.  He is quite wrong in saying that they were just some more thermal features because they are quite interesting.  Anyhow, we were all tired, and many of us were glad to be done for the day.  It had begun to rain.
    He took us to the Lake Hotel, we had our dinner, went back to the cabin, and went to bed.  It had been a splendid day that I will never forget.

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