"There's a Buffalo in the Bathroom" and Other Tall Tales

Published: November 27th 2007EDIT THIS ENTRY

The gurgling of rolling water, plops of mud and hiss of steam vents provide the soundtrack to our meanderings along the Mud Volcano Trail. After four days in Yellowstone we found ourselves getting caught up in the mad dash from sight to sight and today decided to scale it way back. It's funny how easily we slip back into the same bad habits we had prior to traveling whenever we stay in one place for a while. Too much activity and we start wishing for something stable. Too much consistency and we start dreaming of the open road. So today we didn't want to do any intense hiking, but we wanted to make sure we stayed moderately active. Not only that, but today is an extra special day that only comes around every so often and we want to make sure we leave plenty of time for it. That's right, it's Shower Day! But first, some adventuring. The last thing we want to do is get all squeaky clean and then go tromping through a marsh.

I had hoped to venture out onto the lake so we went down to the boat docks to see about renting a canoe, only to find out they only rented row-boats. Andras vehemently disagreed with idea of rowing out onto the lake and I consented; nothing like sore arms to match our sore legs! Tickets for the lake cruise were far too rich for our budget, so we decide to drive around the lake instead and have a picnic before taking a short trail out to the shore. We found a pull-out on the east side of the lake, a little way past Steamboat Point. The view was lovely but again the winds were too much. After rather hurriedly making some chicken salad sandwiches, and then chasing down the bread bag and then the roll of paper towels that have been hijacked by the wind, we decided to finish our meal from the front seat of the car which was far less idyllic. Our proposed hike was less than 2 miles long and fairly easy, so we bundled up as best we could given the surprising dearth of warm-weather clothes we had at our disposal and dutiful hit the trail. No sooner had we fallen into stride than we her a familiar "Hey, Go Cats!" from a family hiking towards us. It took us
Pacific Coralroot OrchidPacific Coralroot OrchidPacific Coralroot Orchid

Corallorhiza mertensiana, the Pacific Coralroot, growing near the water in Grand Tetons
a while before we figured out how they knew we were from Lexington (Andras' UK hat tipped them off). As we discussed travel plans, the little boy eagerly tugged on his mothers coat trying to interrupt so he could tell us all about how he heard a moose. I'll admit it, I'm a tinge jealous. I want to hear a moose too! I think it's one of the greatest things to see a child so excited about nature. They were heading back home in the direction we had just come, so we shared some travel ideas before wishing each other well. We haven't been meeting all that many people on the road; it's been a fairly solitary existence, which is fine, but it's still nice to converse with others every now and again. The trail wandered through some sage-brush flats before heading through a patch of forest, eventually opening up to the lupine covered beaches of Storm Point. Compared to the forceful gusts knocking into us now, the winds back at our picnic spot seemed like a wispy summer breeze. The view, however, was unparalleled. The choppy blue-grey water spread out towards the horizon with the snow-capped peaks of the mountains standing sentinel in the background. It was too cold to admire it long, so we set the camera up to take some pictures to enjoy later. Just as the auto-timer went off another family rounded the bend. I knew they were in the shot, but they insisted that they wait "around the corner" to let us take another shot before preceding on. They next insisted we let them take our photo for us and the man had a fairly good digital camera around his next so we thought why not, we could use a good photo of ourselves suitable for framing when we get home. Now it used to be you could always spot the decent photographers out of a crowd because they were the ones with the nicer equipment. I'd say about the only downfall to technology being so cheap these days is that you can no longer assume that he who has it, knows how to use it! This was one of those instances. But we didn't want to argue with them...ten or fifteen minutes later after our ears and fingers have gone numb we have our (below average) picture and we leave him smiling feeling as though he did us a great service indeed. We must have looked silly as we walked along, Andras' behind me with his hands covering my ears to protect them from the wind, but what a sweetheart he was for doing it. We'd only been gone an hour, but by the time we returned to the car we were battered and breathless. We couldn't have picked a better time for showers!

Up until this point we've been able to shower fairly cheaply at National Forest campground facilities (with the exception of that time we "stole" a shower at Custer State Park. Even though there is no fee station when you enter the park along a major roadway, apparently you are supposed to just know that to use the restrooms you have to pay the park entrance fee and even though we paid for the shower itself, we still got a talking to by the ranger. Okay, so maybe even if we did know that, we were very dirty and were only being polite to our fellow future campers by cleaning up a bit. Right? We said we'd pay the fee on our way out but $15 for a three minute shower on top of the $1 we already paid for the water seemed excessive and...well it's not like we didn't pay for what we used). Here we found that showers were an incredible $3.50 a person! The nice thing was that they were practically limitless in length, but still I have to say they are taking advantage of dirty tired backpackers. Hot water has never felt so good and it soothed our aching muscles and dust caked skin. We alternated watching the laundry and relaxing in the "spa" and I took advantage of the power outlets to recharge the laptop battery for some blogging. Up until now I'd been charging in the bathroom while brushing my teeth which at first glance might seem odd, until you factor in the presence of the electric coffee pot that has been a near permanent fixture in the mens restroom since we set up camp nearly a week ago. Point being, traveling really puts into perspective the luxuries and joys we take for granted -- hot showers, clean clothes and electricity!

Today was also the last day for our campground neighbors and the gaggle of young children they have in tow. Ever since
At Storm PointAt Storm PointAt Storm Point

Gotta love the family "hiding" in the background.
we arrived we have been seranaded by shriks, and yells and hoots and hollers and all sorts of cacophany from these families travelling together. Although we will miss the stories and memories they have given us (who can forget them time the three young boys and their preschool age sister ran out of the mens room yelling about a "Buffalo in the bathroom!" until their father went to check it out and they all laughed and laughed at their funny joke) we will not miss the constant noise and action emanated from the campsites next to us. Here's to hoping for some peace and quiet!

Wednesday was our last full day in the park. Although we'd wished for better neighbors, our hopes were quickly dashed when the father of the group approached us and said "Hey! Sorry about all the commotion. We're the Griswalds!" Although he meant it as a joke, the resemblance to Chevy Chases' family from National Lampoon had not previously gone unnoticed, as his wife started singing "Holiday Road" and his older children started arguing over the bicycles before tearing through our camp on the way to get firewood. Then there was the difficulty the folks
Lake YellowstoneLake YellowstoneLake Yellowstone

A nice place for a picnic if it weren't so windy.
on the other side of us had getting their camper unhitched. We hear arguing and raised voices and don't pay any attention until we here the mother call "The right one makes it go and the left one makes it stop" and whip our heads around to see their nine-year old son is now at the wheel of their pick-up truck! Anyways, today we ventured out towards the legendary Lamar Valley fingers crossed that our tent will still be standing when we return. With its vast size and wide open spaces, Lamar Valley is the ideal place to spot wolves, foxes and migrating birds. Our first hike took us along the Lost Lake Trail, climbing the mountain behind Roosevelt Lodge before disappearing into the forested hillside. It was a bit of a strenuous climb (which we have since nicknamed the "butt-buster") and I'm still not entirely convinced that we didn't accidentally veer onto the horse trail but we eventually emerged to find the sun streaking down through the pine-needles illuminating the entire hilltop. The lake itself was completely covered in lilypads, and apparently provided an ideal breeding ground for mosquitoes which up until this point hadn't been a problem, and
Predator SightingPredator SightingPredator Sighting

We spotted this coyote in the distance hunting a small prey.
was in reality the low point in an otherwise lovely morning hike. We followed the trail through a valley and then up another another hill which overlooked Tower Junction. Butterflies sunned themselves on the wildflowers and busily went about collecting minerals from adjacent mudbanks. It was nearing lunch as we looped back to Roosevelt Lodge and although we'd packed some (what else?) peanut-butter and jelly sandwiches the idea of treating ourself at the lodge restaurant was tempting. The rustic log cabin evoked the spirit of the "Old West" back when stagecoaches ran regularly and the western U.S was still an unmapped, untamed wilderness. It was a favorite retreat of former president Theodore Roosevelt and we couldn't pass up the opportunity to bide some time at this historic location. We lounged in the wooden rocking chairs on the veranda while we waited for a table. It was easy to picture the hunting lodge in it's prime--men smoking their pipes and cigars while women in long skirts carried around picnic baskets. The menu was short and traditionally American; the Roosevelt baked beans were fabulous and a culinary highlight of 'western cuisine' if such a thing exists. The recipe was printed on the menu and I meant to copy it down but forgot. Lima beans, butter beans, kidney beans, bacon and onion all stewed together with brown sugar, ketchup and cider vinegar. No wonder it's such a popular dish!

After filling our bellies full of food (which we didn't have to cook ourselves, for once!) we headed further into the valley for another meadow hike. Wildflowers again lined both sides of the trail and mule-deer were grazing as walked by. As it was getting late we opted to hike only the first two miles of must longer back-country trail, which made it feel ... incomplete somehow. It must be a marvelous area to visit in the winter, when wildlife is so much easier to spot on freshly fallen snow, but apart from the scenery and reflective harmony that the trees and grasses provided there wasn't much to write home about.

On our last day we head south, stopping just once more before we leave. Grand Prismatic Spring, best when viewed from above, is still a liquid rainbow steaming up when viewed from the ground. It's another explosion of color before we officially say goodbye, again caused by those wonderful little theromophillic
Rise and ShineRise and ShineRise and Shine

This makes day...three without a shower? Four? So hard to remember.
bacteria that we both appreciate on an entirely new level, but not before Yellowstone leaves me with a little souvenir. Somewhere between admiring the colors and avoiding being run over by a Japanese schoolchild racing her father back to the packing lot, this huge welt appears on my arm! I didn’t feel anything bite me, but one thing I know my arm is fine, the next thing I know I’ve got a knot the size of a half-dollar, sore and red, prominently on display. Hopefully it’s not anything too bad—I guess we’ll just have to wait and find out.

Leaving Yellowstone we drive directly into Grand Teton National Park. Not that it mattered much to us, but if you pay admission into one park you automatically gain entry into the other. Even though they were adjacent, the entire atmosphere of the park was different. Instead of the recently active geothermal activity taking center stage, the millions of year old granite peaks of the Tetons are the number one attraction. If we’d had more time it would have been nice to stay here as well—perhaps some other time. Don’t worry; we took some good shots of the peaks and routes so all you climbers back home can have something to dream about! As it was we stayed long enough to take a walk down to the water and picnic at another overlook.

It’s been a whirlwind tour through Yellowstone even though we’ve been here a week and have really tried to get down to feel the essence this preserve offers. We’re felt the grasses against our legs, and the wind in our hair. We’ve stayed awake at night listening to coyotes howl at the star riddled night sky and cooked our meals over an open fire. We’re heard rangers speak of the history of this land and of the great sanctuary, and destructive force, that man can reap upon the area when provoked. This area has definitly left an impression on us we will not soon forget. Can't wait until we're able to come back, but like always, it's time to push on forward. We should be in Utah before dark.


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