Adrienne and I awoke to the light tapping of raindrops on the rainfly of the tent. Adrienne, always the more intrepid member of our pair in the mornings, popped out into the drizzle. I groggily followed behind, dodging the soggy tent flaps as I straightened my back in the early hours. The giant pines of Yellowstone stood a silent sentry watch over the quiet campsite and a heavy fog obscured the sky. We set about making our coffee and coming up with a site-seeing plan for the day.
One thing I love about our national parks is the newspaper they give you as you enter the park. It’s a little folded publication that highlights different features of the park, and gives you a guide to activities that fit your interests, fitness level, and visiting time. We decided we wanted to prioritize seeing geysers, mud pots, and paint pots – all geological features unique to hot spots in the world like those found in Yellowstone. We left our tent and sleeping bags at our site, and packed up everything else to explore.
|Yellow Stone Paint Pots|
While the rain did not let up for most of the day, we did get a few brief moments of sunny reprieve as we watched Old Faithful erupt in a rather anticlimactic burst of steaming water. I personally enjoyed the colorful paint pots (extremophile bacteria create colorful mats around the hot water sources) and burbling mud pots (white mud!) more than the geysers. We also visited the Old Faithful Inn, which was built by the Civilian Conservation Corps and remains a beautiful example of craftsmanship and early 20th century imagination. We returned to our campsite that night after a few short hikes thoroughly wet and cold. After a semi-successful attempt at lighting a fire, we ate dinner and retired to our wet tent.
Normally my camping gear holds up pretty well to the elements as I only purchase gear that I know will be durable and resistant to most types of weather. However, it’s a lot to ask of a tent seam to be perfectly water proof after sitting wet all day and then freezing at night. Which, if you were
|Attempts to light wet wood and defrost our hands|
wondering, is why we woke up to a few dripping seams the next morning. The Alaskan chill we had hoped to leave in Fairbanks seemed to have followed us even to Yellowstone, and we found ourselves scraping ice and slush from the tent the next morning. As my frozen fingers fumbled with with tent flaps, I turned to Adrienne with dismay.
“Adrienne, I left Alaska specifically to be warm and dry. As of this moment, I feel we are achieving neither one of those goals, ” I whined pitifully. Adrienne nodded in agreement, and we shut ourselves in the car to huddle by the heat vents.
As feeling returned to my finger tips, Adrienne said, “Well, we could always leave. The worst that could happen is we’d be out the camping fees for tonight.” I nodded in agreement, and we hemmed and hawed for a moment about our two most prominent fears: wussing out (a technical term, surely) and losing money unnecessarily on our tightly budgeted trip. We decided the worst the camp-fee collectors could say was “no refund” and so we packed our tent and went to ask. Thankfully, they were very kind and reasonable people and granted us a refund for the third night we had booked, and we drove West as fast as we could manage. We ate a cheap but delicious breakfast back in Montana just outside the park’s western entrance, and began plotting our escape from the cold.
“We could just go straight south into the Tetons,” Adrienne suggested.
” I think we’d then be up too high to really escape this freezing rain. What about heading southwest into Idaho and finding a campsite nearby to Salt Lake City?” I said, point to the map. “I think there are a few national parks near the Utah/Idaho boarder. We puzzled over the map and decided to make a go for Craters of the Moon National Monument and Preserve, to which neither of us had been or knew anything about.
“Maybe it will be warmer there,” I said, hoping against hope for any temperatures above 40 degrees. We cruised south for several hours, stopping only for gas and iced tea. As we climbed up over the continental divide and dipped back down into Idaho, the temperatures began to climb and the landscape finally became green with the efforts of agriculture. Around mid-afternoon the landscape went from lush corn fields to sage and scrub brush. The land flattened until all we could see in the distance were the the outlines of cows combing the scrub for grass. We finally arrived at Craters of the Moon in the early evening, and our first steps outside the car were rewarded with a warm wind carrying across the localized desert that makes up Craters.
We stopped by the visitor center just before closing to get the scoop on camping permits ($10 to camp and an $8 park entry fee) and learn what snakes we should avoid (all of them), and which spiders might be left alone (all of them, especially those riding snakes). We made our way to our camp site
|Craters of the Moon campsite|
and were delighted (perhaps too delighted) to find that it was dry and the weather was pleasantly warm. We set up the tent to dry out (we had been forced to pack it wet again due to the persistent Yellowstone rain and sleet) and enjoyed a relaxed dinner eaten with only one layer of clothing shielding us from the evening breeze. All in all, a very agreeable evening passed and we fell asleep feeling remarkably better and pleased with our decision to leave the wet and snow behind.
The next morning we awoke to a beautiful, hot sunrise peaking over the volcanic hills of the park. In an effort to try to kick my butt into gear for my upcoming Tough Mudder run, I even attempted a jog around the park before succumbing to heat and my own out-of-shape whining.
After breakfast, Adrienne and I packed the car and began heading south again toward Salt Lake City. Our original plan had been to camp somewhere outside the city and then head in the next day for some touristy activities and to put Adrienne on a plane back to Alaska. After looking at our options
|Utah: Land of Warmer Weather|
and careening around the eight-lane superhighway that runs into Salt Lake (seriously, who designs these things?), we decided to bump our hotel reservation forward a night and take a real shower, do some real laundry, and get some real food. We enjoyed a huge dinner at the Red Iguana near Temple Square and thoroughly covered our room in all our camping gear as we sorted mine from hers and said our sad farewells. The next morning, Adrienne caught a plane to the airport and I tried not to get too teary-eyed as I headed south solo on the freeway.