Day 23: Road Trip in the Time of Covid
Yellowstone National Park (Hayden Valley, Old Faithful Geyser & Full Moon)
Since I woke up at Old Faithful, I went over to the historic Old Faithful Inn to relax in the shade and get a daytime geyser eruption photo. The Inn is a work of architecture art. Built in the early 1900s, it’s the largest log hotel in the world.
Unfortunately, it was closed for the season due to Covid. But, they have a wonderful portico with a perfect view of the Old Faithful Geyser.
My plans for the day were to take care of a little personal business: feeding my addiction (buying soda) and finding a shower. I went to the nearest General Store and the only multi-packs of soda they sold were outrageously priced 10-packs of those little 7.5 ounce cans. I’m a girl with a minimum of a four-can a day habit - those miniature, baby canlettes are insulting.
So, I decided to trek an hour to the nearest town outside the park: West Yellowstone, Montana. It’s a pretty drive and I knew right where their grocery store was located. After stocking up for the next week, I drove back into the park to the one place the park's website said had pay showers available inside Yellowstone: Canyon Village. Once I got there, however, they informed me that all showers were cancelled due to Covid. Just like the Grand Canyon. Man, I wish their website had reflected that info. Hmmmm.
The nearest place to get a shower was back out the north entrance of the park in Gardiner - the place I had spent the night a few nights ago. Unfortunately, I didn’t have the inclination to drive 1.5 hours one way to shower and then have to drive all the way back. Not to harp, but I still struggle to understand the logic of cancelling showers. I see tons of signs all over the park, encouraging me to wash my hands, but they won’t let me wash my body? I feel like I’m in a Monty Python sketch where the filthy old peasants are claiming that bathing more than once a month is sin against God. Rant concluded.
I knew the moon was going to be full that night, so I wanted to try to capture a photo of the moon and Old Faithful, together. This meant I’d be up pretty late, so I spent a few hours in the afternoon, leisurely buffalo spotting in Hayden Valley (where they like to hang out). I found a good spot to pop the hatchback and alternately doze and soak up the view. There were some buffalo in the distance, but none wandered close.
Back at the Old Faithful complex, I waited until after sunset and placed my chair in a spot near the Inn where I knew I could get both the full moon and the geyser together in the photo. Unfortunately, the moon was still behind the treeline when Old Faithful erupted. It still made for a cool photo since the moon was orange that close to the horizon and it cast an orange glow on Old Faithful.
For the second attempt, I tried to anticipate where the moon would be 90 minutes later (that’s the approximate time in between eruptions). I picked up my chair and three blankets (it was getting cold) and I walked along one of the trails in the Upper Geyser Basin. It was dark, but the full moon was so bright, I didn’t need a flashlight to follow the trail. Once I found the perfect spot, I set the camera up on my little tripod and I brewed some coffee while I waited.
As 12:30 AM rolled around, I knew things were about to start happening. The cool thing about Old Faithful is that five minutes before it goes off, it will spew up a couple feet of water once or twice. I call it the “pre-show.” When this happened, I abandoned my chair and blankets and got down on my hands and knees to be in position to repeatedly press the photo button on my phone.
A minute later, I heard the most awful animal sound I’ve ever witnessed. There I am, out on a trail in the pitch black with only the moon for light and there is an unidentifiable animal screeching somewhere in the treeline about fifty yards behind me. Instantly, I knew it wasn’t a bear - the sound was distinctly canine. My first thought was someone’s dog was losing his mind, but I looked around and there was no one out there with me - I would have heard them talking or seen their phones shining. First thing I did was dive for my bear spray and bear bell. I rattled the bell and shouted, “Hey! Who’s there?!” The sound stopped for a moment and then picked up again. It sounded kind of like a dog fight but the noises weren’t like any dogs I had ever heard.
So there I stood, clutching my bear spray, ringing my bell and desperately wanting whatever it is to go away so I didn’t miss my chance to take a full moon and Old Faithful photo. The sounds finally stopped, but I was still freaked out, squinting into the black to try and spot movement. When Old Faithful went off, I finally turned my back on the trees and concentrated on getting a photo. I was praying that I could get a good picture before being eaten alive.
Fortunately, no Kristins were eaten and a relatively decent photo was taken.
In hindsight, I don’t think it was a wolf since they don’t usually travel that far south in the park. The thought briefly crossed my mind that it could have been a fox. Of course, then that horribly catchy, “What Does the Fox Say?” song got stuck in my head. (And may I point out, the song never seriously answers the question, so it was no help in this situation.)
In the end, I’m thinking it was a coyote - the park is crawling with them and I have seen one or two in the past. But, dang, whatever he/they were up to in the trees - they weren’t playing nice. Those were some scary sounds in the dark of night.