Friday, June 3, 2011

Tacoma or Bust

We awoke Sunday morning to the sound of an alarm sounding at 5:00 AM and the gentle patter of precipitation on the tarp atop our tent. No, there would be no sunrise to witness on this chilly morning; instead we found ourselves adrift in snowflakes. The good news is that we were able to enter Yellowstone Park and as we did so, the rangers’ decision to close the park the previous night was suddenly terribly easy to understand: snowballs left little crevices in the snow as they had rolled down the mountainside and in some places, the snow drifts easily overshadowed our vehicle. It had snowed pretty heavily in the park and we realized that setting up a tent in that mess would have been, well, a mess. We thanked Baby Jesus and took a tour of Yellowstone.

I can honestly say that this has been my favorite part of the trip so far. Firstly, the scenery is unbelievable: towering, snowy Rocky Mountains, Blue Spruce and Ponderosa Pines, and steamy, misty geysers surround us travelers and it was a visual feast. Though the snow could might have dampened the spirits of some of my fellow travelers, I saw it as part of the aura of adventure. Secondly, the wildlife is astounding. We saw plenty of deer and numerous Bison, but we were also fortunate enough to get a good view of a grizzly bear (Note: a grizzly has a hump; a black bear does not) while it grazed a hill. We were also able to see some female elk. I think Yellowstone is a national park that does a excellent job of making the human presence relatively non-intrusive: there are paved paths and a few areas for camping, pull-offs, and bridges, but it’s a very respectful atmosphere. The people in the park have a hushed reverence for the wildlife, the scenery, the natural phenomenon that is Yellowstone National Park.

As we circled the park, we learned that Old Faithful was about to blow it’s infamous top. Despite the snow (Yellowstone was scheduled to get 5-8 inches that day!), cold air, etc., we stood outside until the geyser did its thing— it was a remarkable sight. The pictures won’t fully convey this, because it was so snowy, and white frothy steam and water don’t show up well against that backdrop.

We finally made it out of the park— and out of the snow— and crossed the border into Montana. The first thing we noticed about Montana: THERE WAS NO WELCOME TO MONTANA SIGN. You’re dropping the ball, Montana. I personally thought Montana was beautiful; mountains and valleys and scenic views, particularly in Paradise Valley. But it was a long drive from Yellowstone to Idaho. The general consensus was that Montana wasn’t popular with my cohorts; but we all agreed that the panhandle of Idaho was gorgeous. We stopped to eat at a restaurant called Tomato Street (delicious) in Coeur d’Alene, which was set against the mountains and a beautiful lake (Side note: speaking French in Idaho, even in a French-sounding city, proves to be ineffective. We did test that theory. Poorly.). We passed into Washington. I wasn’t sure what to expect from the Washington; but we weren’t expecting a barren, grassy land and frankly, that’s what Washington mostly was. It was lovely, but by now, we were geographically spoiled. It was dark by the time we hit the mountains in the west. In fact, by the time we hit Tacoma, it was a beastly 1:18 Pacific Time and we were exhausted. We crashed on couches and borrowed beds at Rebecca’s friend’s house, which was in an alleyway and populated by urban chicken farmers. In all, we drove 15 hours that day, all the time attempting to find a Catholic Church in order to attend Mass—we were unsuccessful. Sorry, Baby Jesus. Better luck with the Ascension.

Overheard: "Why's Washington's face on the street signs?"
Gastric Shout-Out: Smashed Fontina Sandwich
Listen To: "A Hard Rain's A-Gonna Fall," Bob Dylan

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