Montana, Wyoming, and Everywhere In Between

On Sunday, I got back from a twelve day, eleven night driving, hiking, and backpacking trek through Glacier, Yellowstone, and Grand Teton National Parks. Over the course of the trip, we drove about 2,000 miles, backpacked 55 miles, spent ten straight nights in tents, and took maybe four showers. We ate enough granola bars and peanut butter to choke a grizzly bear, and in the course of our trek, we suffered a sprained ankle, a blister, sore shoulders, bruises, and the occasional bout of near-hypothermia. (Well, at least it felt that way.)

On previous trips, I’ve blogged and documented almost every single day, but given the vagaries of connections in the Montana wilderness, not to mention the difficulties of carrying a laptop into the backcountry, that just wasn’t possible this trip. So now I sit here, in the aftermath of it all– endless fascinating stories that don’t really connect unless I want to write something novel-length; several hundred pictures; a few amusing and/or weird videos that do not really belong on the planet Earth.

Heck, I’ll start with one of those. When people think of Yellowstone National Park, they think of bears, or crowds, or Old Faithful, or a volcano that will one day kill us all. But when you’re standing in or near the caldera, in one of the countless geyser basins that litter the area, the utter strangeness of the landscape makes it difficult to remember you’re still standing on our own planet. The stark muddy landscape, with orange and brown bacteria mats spreading as far as the eye can see, and bubbling hot springs that throw up a field of steam so dense it’s like you’re walking through sulfurous London fog… well, it’s not planet Earth. It’s the sort of place you’d expect to find Captain Kirk fighting a guy in a lizard suit, is all I’m saying.

While we were at Yellowstone, we walked around Shoshone Lake, which is believed to be the largest lake in the lower 48 states not accessible by road. Only hand-powered watercraft (canoes and kayaks) are allowed on it, and when you reach the top of a hill on the lake’s edge, you can essentially look out and see miles and miles of scenery– water, forests, and marshland– that looks no different than it would have to a fur trader in the area three hundred years ago.

On the southwest corner of Shoshone Lake is the Shoshone Geyser Basin, which is a prime example of one of those alien landscapes I mentioned. It has eighty geysers in a 1600×800 foot area, and, well, you’d best watch your step if you’re walking through it. It’s a landscape that smacks you in the head and says, “Why, yes, you ARE standing inside a 45-mile-wide volcano. Have a nice, non-terrifying day! Muwahahaha.”

[youtube:http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vOm53c52tis%5D

Both Yellowstone and Glacier National Park are also famous for their wildlife. Before either park lets you camp in the backcountry, they subject you to a fifteen-minute video detailing how to avoid bears, and what to do in the event of a bear encounter (answer: not be an idiot). In fact, a large swath of Yellowstone was closed to hikers, thanks to a recent bear attack that resulted in a fatality. So we followed the advice in the video, but despite that (or perhaps because of it), we didn’t even see any bears at all. Darn it!

We did see plenty of bison, and chipmunks (see right), and one eighteen-inch long critter that looked sort of like a red fox, except that red foxes don’t climb trees.

There were plenty of elk, too, including a few lounging right in the middle of Mammoth Hot Springs Historic District, aka the biggest town in Yellowstone.

[youtube:http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DO-ABgs0mHo%5D

So Yellowstone was pretty awesome. Glacier National Park was pretty awesome, too– I’ll add a few pictures to the post, but otherwise I think my previously-posted poem about Glacier National Park speaks for itself. Yellowstone wins as far as weird scenery and wildlife, but Glacier wins when it comes to sheer, raw nature. (Until the day Yellowstone erupts and kills us all, that is.)

As for Grand Teton National Park, we only got to spend one night there, unfortunately, and didn’t get to hike in the mountains at all. But they were still darn impressive. Hopefully in the future I’ll be able to spend more time there. They’re only… fifteen hours away… through some of the most monotonous scenery this side of Texas. (Montana and eastern Washington are cool and all, but the driving does get old after a while.)

If you’re interested, here’s the full set of photos from the trip.

And, for one last obligatory video, I leave you with Old Faithful erupting. (Skip to 1:50 if you can’t stand the wait.)

[youtube:http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lau3SoQ1AcM%5D

A Love Poem to Glacier National Park

We’re in the midst of our 11 day trek through Glacier, Yellowstone, and Grand Teton National Parks.  Unfortunately, I don’t have the ability to get photos off my camera until I get back to Seattle, and can’t organize my thoughts well enough yet for a proper blog post. So in lieu of cool photos or interesting stories, here’s a poem I wrote by flashlight at 1 am last night, in a wind-buffeted tent in the backcountry of Glacier National Park.

It’s pulled straight from events and sights on our backcountry trek. It’s also the first poem of any length that I’ve written in years. The muse strikes in weird ways sometimes.

My thumbs got a workout typing this up on my phone. Forgive any typos- I’ll go back and fix them later, and pretend they never existed.

Update: Now that I’m back in Seattle, I did add some cool photos.

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Some see the kingdom of Faerie
In the mountains and vales of Scotland,
Others in the forests and glades of Eire,
Or the dark and brooding
Woods of Eastern Europe,
The lands from which the gypsies hail.
But to me, the greatest Faerie Queen of all
Lives in the wilds of Northern Montana.
She is not a gentle mistress.
Her arms do not offer
Titania’s warm embrace.
She is perhaps a relative of Mab,
Agent of Winter,
And her beauty is ferocious and cold.
You can see it in the ragged rocky peaks
Thrust toward the sky like
Turrets of the greatest castle
In the world,
In clear green lakes
All but glowing with magic,
Their pristine, icy waters encased in
Shrines of pine trees
And protected by rock walls
Soaring half a mile high all around.
If you dare to climb her mountains
You can feel her anger
In the gusts of wind that tear at you
With hurricane force,
As if to throw you off the high passes
And back from whence you came.
But the chance to see her domain
From on high, to see the cliffsides
Thousands of feet sheer
Surrounding the forests below,
The glaciers that shroud the slopes
In blankets of white,
And to see it all from the level
Of her eyes,
It is a sight worth incurring
The wrath of a Faerie Queen.

Yet she is not entirely
A Mistress of Winter.
For if you travel the lush forests
And alpine meadows,
You can see her beauty in the
Yellow and purple flowers
That line the trail,
Taste her essence in wild huckleberries.
Bears, elk, and mountain goats
Are her agents and her friends,
And if you sit on a log
And talk for a time with a chipmunk,
Perhaps he will tell you of her secrets.
But beware, if you set your tent
In her lands on a cold autumn night,
You can hear her roar,
Her and her army of Night Chills,
Roaring overhead with the force of a gale,
Roaring at the interlopers who have
Dared disturb her domain.
You can hear her coming,
Hear her getting closer,
Then she slams into your tent
As if throwing herself bodily against it.
Be assured she is not happy
To have you here.
Yet her ferocity and her wild nature
Only add to her beauty and allure.
Keep your pixies and your changelings,
Your sprites and woodland elves,
My heart belongs
To the Faerie Queen
of North Montana.