Friday, July 13, 2007

Mad Hallucinations (Yellowstone National Park)

We left Boise Thursday morning, taking the long route across the southern "crescent" created by the Snake River. This is Lewis and Clark land and there are many references to the early explorers.

Our journey takes us to Craters of the Moon National Monument with its volcanic cones, lava covered landscapes, gnarled, painfully twisted trees growing up out of jagged black boulders. It looks like hell. I can imagine how awe-inspiring it must have been for those early pioneers, people who have never seen volcanoes or volcanic land.

But nothing prepares you for Yellowstone… like Disneyland does!

I read in the guidebook that it was a land of legends for the longest time. For the earliest humans, it must have been a spiritual place. Lewis and Clark skirted it, but a member of their expedition, a John Colter, went to look for the Land of Thunder after their epic travels. When he got back to St. Louis, three years later, and relayed stories of the land, people just thought he was crazy. "Mad hallucinations," they nodded, sorrowfully.

For us who grew up with Disneyland, however, we've seen Walt's recreations of these wonders on that train ride (which turned into Thunder Mountain or some other roller coaster ride much later) and I marvel at how authentic all of it was as we go from one thermal feature to another.

What a wonderland of water in all of its strange and spectacular forms! Steaming, spurting, crystallized. Gushing, bubbling, gurgling, burbling. Trickling, hissing, foaming.

Rivers flowing hot and red would feel at home in Hades. Green and blue algae grow in the more tepid waters. Some hot springs are so pure and clear, they look glacial even though they could melt your hand off if you were dumb enough place it in the water. Geysers and mudpots and terraced springs… I almost wished I'd never been to Disneyland. The amazement would have been that much more.

But, yes, it's just as it should be. Although some of the terraces were disappointingly dry, there were others that flowed. And, yes, when Old Faithful goes off, it really is a king-size magnum bottle of champagne, uncorked for the cheering throngs.

We get the extra treat of driving through a hailstorm with hail the size of M&Ms. It almost doesn't matter that the corn we've been toting the last few days is old and dry, that the baked potatoes are no longer edible, the fire pit was not the right place to start our barbeque, and we would really, really, really like a beer but the only option would be to go from campsite to campsite, asking the campers if they'd sell us a bottle or two and that would be too pathetic. It almost doesn't matter that the seams on the tent leak, bringing water into our tent during the night's thunder and lightning show. Almost.


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