No, I didn’t forget or give up on this series, even if site traffic already did months ago. We were so close to the very end when Oscars season, two conventions, year-in-review entries, and mood swings got in the way. The cool part is, much like Watchmen, Kevin Smith’s Daredevil run, or the Dangerous Visions trilogy, future generations who read the full work in one sitting will have no idea there was a long, sad gap between installments. Sincere apologies, future internet users, or denizens of whatever replaced the internet, for this intro that may seem superfluous in hindsight!
The best advance investment we made for the sake of this vacation was an America the Beautiful Parks Pass. For one flat fee that felt exorbitant at first, pass-holders get one-year admission to any and all the national parks, monuments, and other qualifying attractions within your reach before time’s up. Anne did the math and realized our itinerary would indeed pay for itself if everything worked out and none of our destinations shut down.
The pass got us into Yellowstone National Park, our primary objective. It got us into Pompeys Pillar National Monument, which was on our return route. The next day, it gave us the clout to check out a third locale of natural splendor in North Dakota that exceeded the pass price and began netting us some savings. Any more national parks/monuments/whatever that we visit between now and June 2022 are basically free. We should probably take advantage of that. If the pandemic would shoo, that’d really help us out. Or if someone could open another national park conveniently here in Indiana, even better.
When recounting our disappointments about Yellowstone National Park, at the time two occurred to us: we wished everyone else in the world had stayed home so that we could’ve had the entire park to ourselves; and we wished we could’ve hiked more. We spent so many hours driving from one site to the next that we really didn’t walk a lot of long distances. We knew some exercise would do us a world of good, and yet its hiking trails — which we were pretty sure they had — didn’t stand out to us on their official, main map. It was all about dots of interest, not lines for walking.
Our next stop in Montana satisfied our urge to walk, then exceeded said urge until it began to pose safety concerns. As darkness overtook us at the close of Day Six, we stopped any and all jokes about “getting our steps in” for the rest of the trip.
Prior to 2021 I’d been to 32 of our United States. Plenty of Americans have walked around more states than I have, which is pretty cool for them. Our last six annual road trips took us to new places we hadn’t seen before, but they were all in states we’d already visited in the past. This year we finally crossed another state off the to-do list as we exited Yellowstone into the southwest end of Montana. Pound for pound Wyoming was prettier overall, but the Montana scenery had its charms.
It all comes down to this, our final hour in Yellowstone. Nine hours after leaving Cody 180 miles ago, I was so done with driving. The entire day had confirmed our hypothesis that, yes, Yellowstone is big. Like, really really really really really big. I tried my best to care deeply about the remaining flora, fauna, geological peculiarities, and man-made obtrusions that stood between us and the park’s north entrance, which in turn would lead to respite at the next hotel and check a new state off our lifetime to-do list.
The Grand Loop Road around Yellowstone kept going and going and going, and so did we…
After we finally parted ways with the Grand Prismatic Spring, our next few hours in Yellowstone were a blur of frequent stops and pervasive wonders. Each point of interest had its highlights, but few of them have enough photos to merit their own individual, full-length galleries. Honestly, after so many hours on the road in those surroundings, I was in danger of scenic overload.
Sure, Old Faithful was spiffy, but every ounce of its spewed hot water was the same ordinary color. Elsewhere in Yellowstone, organic and inorganic additives commingle in the waters to produce scintillating effects in multiple colors of the rainbow. Maybe not all of them, but quite a few. I wouldn’t have minded some purple, but the land wasn’t taking requests.
It all leads up to this: our opportunity to witness the world’s most famous geyser do its thing. Old Faithful is the main event for any newcomer to Yellowstone National Park, the one feature everyone’s heard of since youth. It’s the center of the public’s average mental image of Yellowstone as just a giant, grassy plain with the one big natural water fountain in the middle. Its popularity and its predictably sporadic yet potentially time-killing nature (depending on how soon we’d arrive before the next show) made it the highest priority to check off our to-do list above all else.