We knew a trip to Yellowstone would mean live animal sightings sooner or later. We also knew tourists and animals sometimes don’t get along and mistakes can be made by one party or the other. Rest assured if we’d suffered one of those debilitating bear attacks that grab news headlines on slow news days or trend heavily on YouTube, I would’ve written about it here by now. Bears, in fact, made a point of hiding from us all vacation long. We spotted nary a real bear the entire trip, not even in captivity.
That doesn’t mean all our wildlife encounters were amicable. Apart from driving up and around rainy mountains on Day Four, our scariest moment occurred in, of all places, an outdoor art walk.
Previously on Midlife Crisis Crossover:
Every year since 1999 Anne and I have taken a road trip to a different part of the United States and seen attractions, wonders, and events we didn’t have back home in Indianapolis. From 1999 to 2003 we did so as best friends; from 2004 to the present, as husband and wife. We were each raised in a household that couldn’t afford annual out-of-state family vacations. We’re geeks more accustomed to vicarious life through the windows of pop culture than through in-person adventures. Eventually we tired of some of our self-imposed limitations and figured out how to leave the comforts of home for the chance to see creative, exciting, breathtaking, outlandish, and/or bewildering new sights in states beyond our own, from the horizons of nature to the limits of imagination, from history’s greatest hits to humanity’s deepest regrets and the sometimes quotidian, sometimes quirky stopovers in between.
We’re the Goldens. This is who we are and what we do.
Technically not even 2020 stopped us. We played by the new rules of the interim normal and wandered Indiana in multiple directions as safely as we could. This year the long-awaited vaccines arrived. For 2021 we agreed we had to go big. Our new primary objective was Yellowstone National Park, 1500 miles from Indy…
After the battleship memorial and the tiny waterfalls, we returned to the hotel fetched my son and our luggage, stopped for gas and a non-traditional breakfast for him (in this case a microwaved gas station burger), and hit the road to continue Day Three.
(TOTAL ROAD TRIP MILEAGE AS OF GAS STOP #4: 782.50)
Our next stop was 25 miles west of Sioux Falls and impossible to overlook when you’re cruising down I-90. Just look for the giant head of Apis the Egyptian bull god, or something remarkably not unlike him.
Porter Sculpture Park is a collection of 50+ pieces by South Dakota man Wayne Porter, a former shepherd who also learned blacksmithing from his father. He later aimed his talents in a different direction and opened the park in 2000 as an outdoor showcase for his works. It’s open from May through October, with the artist himself often on hand welcoming visitor interaction. The largest showpiece is that horned leviathan’s head, a three-year metallurgical project weighing 25 tons and standing sixty feet tall, the same height as a Mount Rushmore head. It’s a better roadside advertisement than any ten billboards.
In Porter’s world you’ll find no idyllic prairie paintings, no idealized cowboys, no American Gothic homages, and nothing Bob Ross ever showed anyone how to make on TV. Some of Porter’s works have their amusing qualities. Some fall on the creepy side. The occasional online reviewer will find his handiwork downright disturbing. The most adversely affected have even called him “Satanic”. To other patrons it’s like Halloween in June.
The most unexpected part of the park was the proliferation of animals all around us. The fun began when we pulled up to a seemingly empty space near the fences and I realized I had to take care not to park on top of prairie dog holes. Their residents scurried all around, some of them hiding in the shadows of Porter’s pieces. Adjacent to the park, a small herd of cattle were unimpressed with both art and strangers. When leaving, we had to pause an extra minute to let one cow finish crossing the road.
Then there were the birds.
As we approached the big blue dragon, we noticed a pair of birds perched on top and chirping at top volume — probably black-capped chickadees, according to Professor Google. Our first instinct was, “Awww, how cute!” That sentiment vanished when one of the chickadee leaped off and dived at my head. I ducked and it missed. Maybe that was only a warning pass. It circled back to its landing strip and continued staring at us along with its mate. Their itty-bitty steely glances were unnerving.
We walked around to the other side, leaving a fair berth between us and them. Anne took a few tentative steps toward them, as if surely they wouldn’t menace an adorable little human like her. Her advance set off the other chickadee, which made like a missile toward her head, again missing yet cocksure in the knowledge that it could clobber her anytime it wanted. The tiny enemy ace had shown mercy.
Closer inspection through the safety of a zoom lens revealed their nest inside the dragon’s mouth, which you can see in our lead photo. Now we understood and retreated, laughing and shaken.
The other animals were thankfully standoffish rather than confrontational.
To be continued!
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