Photos By: Sam Taylor
I’ve seen it before, the burnt landscape. Only small clues of it on the tallest points in West Virginia. A singed tree, victim of a chance lightning strike. I wonder if the tree thinks, “Why me?” The lightning struck tree does not go down alone, it takes all its closest neighbors with it.
Driving into Yellowstone, burnt trees cover the earth. Sweet fuchsia fireweed blankets the forest floor beneath the thin spindles.
We drove a long way to be in this place. Our jeep putters up the hills and back down, the weight of our gear heavy upon it.
Today is not a normal day in Yellowstone. It is the day after THE GREAT AMERICAN ECLIPSE of 2017. This means people are everywhere. We hoped some of the crowds would have fled but no such luck, it’s worse than we expected. It is morning, we check for a campsite and there is not a single one open in the entire park.
We are forced into only one day here and aim for Mammoth Hot Springs, it is the farthest north point (we are in the middle of the park) but it is the one thing I desperately want to do.
The traffic is thick but it is a beautiful day. The sky is blue and the sun is beating down hot, but good. I scan for unfamiliar animals and plants from our stopped car. We inch forward and we see there is road construction ahead. We wait there a long time, maybe 30 minutes. I can feel Sam’s patience seeping into the mountain air.
We finally get through and follow the traffic in front of us off the pavement and down to a dirt, one-lane road lined with orange cones. It is so bizarre to see these symbols of human occupancy in this wild place.
We break loose from the construction and pull into a wide spot to stretch our legs. I grab snacks out of the cooler and Sam starts climbing on boulders. We see the old road below us. It mimics the one where we stand. There is not much more of note here. A car pulls in behind us. They are looking for what we see, for why we are stopped. There is nothing, no grizzly, no moose, no crazy critters. It is just Sam climbing a boulder. They get in their car and pull away annoyed, underwhelmed.
Back in the jeep, we head the rest of the way to Mammoth. It isn’t far. Getting close, I see the stark white tower rising out of the pine trees, the travertine reflecting the bright, August sun.
We grab our packs, spray on a heavy layer of sun screen, and trudge towards the glistening terraces. Our floppy hats cast shade on our hot shoulders. We take the boardwalk past pools of mineral-rich water and algae that casts insane shades of orange and teal onto the white calcium. The algae overtake pine branches. They look like orange pine-shaped clouds floating in the clear water.
We wander past big cascades, little yellow flowers peeking out of the white, harsh landscape. Trees, naked and weathered, stand tall out of the pools. Evidence of territory shifts. Once there was soil enough to grow this tree, now a pool swallows it.
The boardwalk leads us from the white cascades to the hot, black parking lot. We jump back in the car and head south. Road construction again on the way back. A mass of traffic at an intersection that had no stop sign our direction. Cars lining the road as we approach the geyser basins. Can’t do that. Too many people. People. People. People. We are people. We are just like them, all these people. We just want to see these wonders, these spectacular events of nature. But we are not like them. We know about nature, we know how far to stand away from animals, we know that this isn’t the only place to find these critters, we know there are so many other beautiful things to see, we know there is so much more to Yellowstone than the people, we know there are better things, better adventures just down the road.
So down the road we go, we head on out of Yellowstone. We stop at a pretty waterfall. We pass beautiful tree-lined pastures. We drive into a magical burnt forest, wildflowers taking it back from the fire. Madly colorful blooms growing on everything. Perfect. The sun shines through the tall, burnt poles.
Better adventures are just down the road, I promise.