We woke up early this morning to the sounds of young kids singing (more like screaming) “I’m sexy and I know it. Wake up!” As far as I know, the words were directed not at us, but at the siblings of the obnoxious brats screaming those words in the tent next to us at the KOA campground in Cody, Wyoming. Luckily, the free pancakes at the campground breakfast made us forget our early-morning wake-up. But my favorite part of the morning was seeing some guy wearing a tee shirt of a stick figure of a man with his hands raised in victory, and underneath the words, “I pooped today!”
(An aside: inspired by our visit yesterday to Little Bighorn National Memorial, Toby, Aytan and I have begun referring to each other by the Native-American names we’ve given each other: Grinds His Teeth (Aytan); Walks Without Shoes (Toby); and Speaks of Bowels (Me).)
After breakfast we packed up our tent and left Cody for Yellowstone National Park, about 50 miles away. The drive was beautiful, with amazing scenery all around us. The last time I was in Wyoming was in 1989, when my brother Mike and I drove up from Denver and stopped first in Jackson and the Grand Tetons for several days before entering Yellowstone from the south. This time we entered Yellowstone from the east entrance, about halfway up the park, and it’s a very different experience entering from the east. Of course, just because you’ve entered the park doesn’t mean you’re anywhere near your intended destination, given the size of the park.
Our first stop was at Lake Village, about 30 miles in, to meet my college buddy Farland Chang and his daughter, Lauren, who drove in that day from Montana. Unfortunately, Farland was running late, and because there is no cell service in most of the park, we had great difficulty contacting each other; every now and then while driving we hit a spot where we got one bar of cell service, so we’d send an e-mail or text and hope for the best. We finally reached each other around 12:30 and agreed to meet up about 15 miles north of where we were, on the way to the Norris campground. When we spotted Farland’s car (a 2005 Honda Odyssey EX-L, much like ours), it was among many cars pulled over to the side of the road, with dozens of people on the hillside looking out at something. So we hopped out and greeted Farland, who told us of the grizzly-bear sighting. So we ran like madmen to the hilltop – Toby barefoot, as he often is — with our cameras to see the bear, which by this time was no longer visible. So we waited and waited, and at some point I saw through my telephoto lens what appeared to be the bear on all fours, walking over the hillside. I only glimpsed it for two or three seconds before it disappeared, and while I can’t be 100% certain, I’m assuming it was the grizzly bear that others had seen. For those of you who don’t know, spotting a grizzly in Yellowstone is a pretty rare event – during my week in the park in 1989 my brother and I spotted almost every variety of wildlife here (bison, elk, deer, etc.) except for bears, so I was pretty amazed at a grizzly sighting within one hour of entering our park. Given that we will likely only be in Yellowstone for 2-3 days before heading to the Tetons, I’m not holding out hope for another bear sighting.
We finally made it to Norris campground around 2:30, after stopping several times on the road to see and take pictures of more wildlife, including a herd of nearly 100 bison lounging in the sun (apparently without sunscreen; those animals live dangerously). There were only a few campsites left, but fortunately we got a beautiful one right near a small river (probably still available because it had very little shade, unlike most of the other sites).
So after setting up our tents and paying our registration fee ($20/night per site), we got back in our cars and drove 15 or so miles to the Grand Canyon of Yellowstone for our first hike in the park. We took a trail down to one of the waterfalls – nearly 350 steps straight down – and the view did not disappoint. In fact, I remembered doing the same climb with my brother in 1989 and taking pictures in the very same spot. (Of course, we didn’t have digital cameras then, so we had to wait the three weeks until we got home, sent our film to Clark Color Labs and got our photos back in the mail to see how handsome we were standing in front of the falls.)
After the trek back up the stairs, we continued on the south rim trail along the top of the canyon. It’s a spectacular hike, with the rim of the canyon immediately to one’s left, 800 feet above the canyon floor below. The walls of the canyon are many different colors, from yellow to various shades of red. I believe that a hike along the canyon rim is a must-do in Yellowstone, yet apparently so many people who visit Yellowstone (read: fat, lazy American tourists) aren’t even aware of it. But I digress. At the end of the South Rim trail we picked up another trail to Sublime Point. We turned back shortly after Sublime Point, as it was already close to 7pm, and we had a long hike back to the car, then a half-hour or so drive back to our campsite, with a stop at the grocery store in Canyon Village to pick up some final supplies for dinner, including wood for the fire. Dinner was a multi-course event, starting with quesadillas (cooked in a Teflon pan atop Toby’s small propane stove); Hebrew National lowfat hotdogs (only 1 gram of fat and 45 calories per dog!); corn on the cob (roasted over the fire pit); and roasted marshmallows / smores.
That evening I also met the guy at the campsite next to us; his name is Tim Young, and he is a paramedic who lives in the East Bay near San Francisco. He and his 11-year-old son, Colin, were on a father-son trek somewhat like mine with Aytan, although on a motorcycle (way cooler) and for just a week or two.
I noticed that Tim was wearing a tee shirt that said “PARARESCUE” on it, so I asked him whether he had served in the Air Force, which indeed he had. For those of you who don’t know, the US Air Force Pararescue unit is one of the most-elite groups in the US military; their motto (which appears on their berets) is “That Others May Live.” How badass is that!?! They are also know as “PJs” – for “pararescue jumpers,” since their job entails parachuting from planes and helicopters to rescue people – military and civilian alike — in combat and non-combat environments, on land and in water. One of my roommates at Cornell had been a PJ before going back to college, so I was well aware of the unit (and the incredibly grueling training they go through), even though they’re not nearly as well-known as the Seals or Green Berets. Anyway, it’s pretty impressive shit. Tim said that he really missed being a PJ (he served more than 20 years in the Air Force), and the fact that he’s a paramedic now shows that his dedication to helping people has continued beyond his military service. Also, he looked like he is in incredible shape, particularly for a guy in his early-to-mid 50s (my estimate). So, feeling like a complete out-of-shape loser, I bid Tim good night and hit the sack.