(composed Sunday 8/20/06 for later posting)
We awoke and piddled around in Livingston for a while. We got gas at a Sinclair station (yes, they still exist!), and bought a souvenir t-shirt. Thomas made an interesting observation as he scrubbed dead bugs from Eurovan's windshield. Although it was not too hot, the air was dry and water evaporated from the windshield almost before he could squeegee it off. So it wasn't very hot, but it was a dry "not very hot."
On to Yellowstone, which we reached about half past noon.
Yellowstone National Park is huge. The guidebook says it's 63 by 54 miles, probably bigger than most of central Maryland. At the same time, it is "without a doubt, the most geologically fascinating place on this planet." (The guidebook again.) There's enough there that a week would probably be the minimum to scratch the surface. We breezed through in nine hours. (Our constantly-repeated refrain was "we can't see everything.")
Words can't describe most of what we saw. Even pictures can't do it. Like the Badlands, Yellowstone has to be seen in person. Nevertheless, here are some of the highlights of what we saw.
Very hot water bubbles out at the top and, steaming constantly, flows down the hill. Along the way all the minerals precipitate out, leaving fantastic, brightly-colored shapes of stone.
The Yellowstone River, which flows out of the park, has carved this enormous, beautiful canyon (it's very grand indeed).
We climbed way, way down a steep path to the best vantage spot, and then climbed way, way, way back up. It was steeper on the way back. And since all of Yellowstone is higher than Denver, the air was thinner than we're used to. Nevertheless, it was worth the climb.
Now we get to the really cool stuff: the geysers. Basically, these are holes in the ground that spew steam and hot water. Some are pools of hot water that bubble and steam alarmingly. (Puddles at home do not do this.) The faint smell of sulphur hangs in the air. Thermophilic bacteria in reds and greens, along with mineral deposits in various colors, make the landscape surreal.
The ground is a thin crust over boiling water and steam; visitors are cautioned not to stray from the paths for risk of being scalded to death. (The warning signs have an amusing little drawing of a kid getting scalded to death.) Needless to say, we did not stray from the path. Thomas reached down to stick his finger in a stream, but decided against it when he felt the heat above the water.
We saw lots of other things in Yellowstone, and took hundreds of pictures, but time is short so I'll just make a list: Liberty Cap, Tower Falls, Elk, Woodpeckers, Chipmunks, a coyote, Gibbon Falls, and some friendly German tourists who were hiking and needed a ride back to their campground.
Yellowstone was definitely great, and we already know that we will be back someday, to spend the time we really need to see it all.
We left the park about 9:30 and stopped for dinner at the Old Town Cafe in West Yellowstone, MT. Then we headed out on Highway 20, into Idaho. After a brief stop for some stargazing (you wouldn't believe how many stars there are up there), we arrived at the Sawtelle Mountain Resort in Island Park, ID. The office was closed, but there was a sign on the door: "NEED A ROOM? Take a key from the black box to the left, come to the front desk in the morning to pay."
We took a key and settled in for some well-deserved rest.