Published: August 21st 2009August 21st 2009
Friday, August 14, 2009; 9:00 p.m. Salt Lake City International Airport: In Which the author describes Yellowstone's Weather, Tourists, and Animals
Loading Stinky (Sophie’s nickname) into the truck, I headed south on Rte. 39 towards Ogden, Utah, located about 25 miles north of Salt Lake City. I came into Ogden, amazed that I was again back in semi-civilization (and, lots and lots of strip malls and chain stores/restaurants). I ate at a Mexican place, just to get a heap full helpin’ of cheese. I got gas ($2.49, although I’d seen as much as $2.65 in the south part of town). Ogden, like many cities/towns, follows a similar pattern: On the outskirts is the “poor section,” with seemingly hipsters, “bums,” and punks (I saw 2 Mohawks). There were sketchy $19 a night run-down hotels, with various sketchy individuals hanging out on the balconies. Then, a considerably-size Mexican American portion, containing many small Super-merchadas, and other small business (I saw
2 vacuum retailers within a ¼ mile distance. I searched for a long while for the familiar blue recycling bins, as I was still toting around a ¾ full garbage bag full of cans that I had collected from the National Forests and needed to recycle. I ended up, after perusing the schools and borders of the city parks, guiltily dropping the cardboard Yellowstone firewood box, along with all the cans, in an empty city recycling bin that had been emptied earlier in the day. Hopefully, the resident was too mad, and I can only hope the cans will live in the bin for another week.
Situated at the base of the mountains, the structures became ritzier, with high-priced homes climbing higher and higher on the east side of the mountains; the valley highway hits the north of Salt Lake City and turns westward towards the airport. Since I was 45 minutes early, I bit the bullet and paid for parking, which is only $2.00 an hour. Plugging into the airport’s electricity, I have a chance to work on my final Yellowstone blog, a hodge-podge of leftover comments.
In Which the Author Writes of Yellowstone’s Weather, Tourists,
Animals: Of course, Yellowstone is known for its wildlife, which roams free and without restrictions in the park. One can see a tremendous variety, beginning with the iconic buffalo, which stand in numbers of 1 - 500+ in valleys, grazing on grass. Other nice sightings: Prongs (evidently, the fastest North American land animal), snakes (I saw one), bear (black bears are most common; grizzlies are more rare), bald eagles, osprey, a variety of ducks, elk, deer, coyotes (which, to me, look like mangy dogs), and, perhaps most excitingly, wolves.
To best view animals, one does need a bit of knowledge about the park. The buffalo are the easiest to see, as they are gathered in the huge valleys that the 5 main roads bisect. Most of the animals are located on the “northern loop” and its roads that lead to the entrances. Both the Hayden valley and sss are popular viewing spots. In most cases, wildlife are way far away (1/4 to a ½ of a mile?), so it helps to have a “spotter” in the car. One can also just look for the crowds; once an animal is spotted, a crowd forms quicker than
a Johnny Depp sighting, with cars pulling over (Yellowstone rule: 4 wheels off the pavement).
You’ll notice that my photos aren’t too spectacular; the camera I am using is a few years old. Suzie was quite happy with her $400 25x zoom, 12 megapixel camera. At the “bear jams” and “set ups,” folks usually have nice “scopes” set up, and are often happy to share. As Vik stated (many times more than once, “Where else can you see things like this in the lower 48?”
Weather: Yellowstone often has the lowest U.S. summer temperatures, and a few nights while tent camping, the temperature dropped into the high to mid thirties—quite chilly, and allowing me to break my pack animal rule and unzip the bag halfway to allow Sophie some warmth. In addition, the weather changes at the drop of a hat; I know this to be true, as I dropped my “Indiana Jones” Fedora (that I had gotten from an outhouse on the Dalton Hwy. in Alaska), only to rise and find that not only had clouds gathered, but large drops were starting to fall. I (tried to) quickly learn the accelerated pace that is often true
of Chicago weather—I can change quickly. Coming from the south, were thunderclouds roll lazily in, it took at least a year and a half to two years to learn to A: Take a jacket/raingear, if on a bike, and B: Close the windows. So many times, books, papers, etc. were rumpled from afternoon showers. In Yellowstone, or in fact, many places out west, the temperature drips greatly at night, and showers, ranging from short-drops a second, to steady, cold rain, to windy, blowing rain, increasing and decreasing the volume of nature in the tent. When driving, I kept both a fleece-like shirt and a rain jacket, and would achieve 20 different nature-inspired fashion combos throughout the day. The sun would come out, blazing, and I would go to the t-shirts and shorts. Clouds would move in; I would zip up the lower fabric to the shorts (making them long pants), then put on the rain jacket (adding the fleece if need be).
When hiking, assume that you’ll be wet (I was cold and wet straight for 36 hours in Alaska, as all the water had soaked through all the rain gear, tent, clothes, etc.). I consider myself rather lucky
thus far on the trip, as a majority of the rain has been endured in the tent (and, mostly at night—bonus!) or in the safety of Vik’s and Suzie’s van. I take long rain pants for the backpacking trips, not for the water issue, but for the cold.
During the day, besides eyeing the cloud movements (one has to force oneself to glance up in a 360 degree turn of the head) every 20 minutes, the rain/storm pattern moves like this: wind kicks up, temps drop 10-15 degrees, and then the rain comes. The time between the first and the latter may be as much as 30 minutes or as short as 5 minutes. In any event, with the good (and expensive) outdoor gear manufactured these days, in general (unless you’re lost), the conditions are tolerable, especially if you have confidence in your tent (which will keep all items, including yourself, dry). When out and wet, and returning to the tent in the rain, I would shed all the wet clothes—a good sleeping bag will be dry and warm in no time (although, one might have to pull the bag closely around the face, allowing only the nose to
There has been hail (and some snow storms—which I was luckily enough to miss) throughout the trip—these minor details are so easy to forget/not know from the comforts of a warm environment during the planning stages—and snow is also common in the higher elevations (6000+ feet).
Tourists: As mentioned, the “tourists” at Yellowstone range (as I missed him by only a couple of days—his house is only 1.5 miles from us in Chicago) from President Barack Obama to gap-tooth hicks that for some reason decided to stop by (even thought that is one positive about Yellowstone—the park is, in general, visited by “folks who really want to be there,” as its remoteness, even to any facsimile of a town, is set). There are also different spectra of scientists/enthusiasts: the “wildlife folks,” and their sub-classes of “bear people,” “sheep people,” and the ever-devious and outside-thinking wolf pack people, “rock hounds,” “outside” hikers and backcountry people, geologists, and nature-lovers, like myself. The great thing about these dedicated sub-groups is that they’re almost all willing to chat about their findings, and one-upsmanship display of knowledge, skill, and luck.
Many are first-timers who, with the economy being what it
is, picked up the fort, loaded it into the SUV (hey, gotta’ have some semblance to the commercials), and are currently making a drive across America. These are the folks who will leave all 4 tires on the pavement, immediately exit their vehicle, cameras in hand, to view a lone buffalo a ¼ of a mile away. As mentioned, although frustrating to me, Vik revels in nature and the potential awe it inspires in new visitors to the park.
Often funny to watch, and tragic to hear of real-life examples of “nature taking its course,” are the folks who are so excited to “capture the moment” that the put themselves and others (i.e. kids) in potential peril by thinking that this is “Jellystone World” and that the natural, wild animals are actually animatronics dreamed up by some Ivy-league eggheads. Of course, now with the internet (which I will “not” let Microsoft Word spell-check me into a capital “I”!), there are thousands of documentations of people getting too close to animals. I’ve included a few photos of interesting potential internet moments.
Most folks, like many that you’ll run into on an extensive drive, will offer good and relevant/interesting conversation
for anywhere from 3-20 minutes (depending on one’s own wants and needs), sometimes offering excellent advice and stories.. Most predictably follow the “postcard format,” i.e.: where they’re from, where they’re going, what they’ve seen, what they think of what they are seeing, etc. One thing’s for sure—the American Roadtrip is back on the map, and many (including myself—also a “tourist”) are back on a quest to re-discover American and all the cool and interesting things that are here and available to us all.
There are more photos below