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What I Did on My Summer Vacation

OK. So I had all these posts planned out, and in the great tradition of Sarah Vowell. Bill Bryson, and about every travel writer ever, I was going to have "themes" and thesis statements for each of my daily travel posts. (Montana = geography, Minneapolis = The Mary Tyler Moore Show, North Dakota = music, and so on.) I'm still working on some of these, but they'll end up being written way after my trip, at this rate. (They're all written down in my little notebook.)

In the interest of exhaustion and general laziness, though, I just want to get out my adventures, so without flowery prose, and in barely correct prose, here goes.

I left on Saturday, and drove through Wisconsin and Minnesota. I loved how green everything was, and as I said earlier, marveled at all the indoor waterparks as well as all the shopping malls. I did not stop at the Mall of America, though it's title alone would have made a great blog entry! In what seems to be the grand tradition of midwestern shopping malls, the Mall of America is surrounded by two smaller shopping malls.

On Sunday, I left Minneapolis for the wilds of Minnesota, North Dakota, and Montana. I know you guys who are from there may think different, but to me, nothing says "Americana" like the midwest, especially places like North Dakota. I've never had a reason to go there, and always suspected that there wouldn't be much to do there but drive through it. I was fascinated with all the small towns along the way, and wanted to get off the freeway at every exit and explore. I didn't do that, but I get off ocassionally and opt for the US highways or state roads instead of the interstate. I got to drive through some farms, small towns, over the river and through the woods (for real). I loved how green everything was there too and really reveled in traveling through the "heartland."

I was supposed to end up in Montana that night, but instead ended up in Dickinson, North Dakota. For the rest of the drive through Montana, see my earlier post about Montana and geography.

On Tuesday, I took a tour through the lower loop of Yellowstone Park. Of course, one of the best things about those organized tours is the tour guides themselves. I went on a small tour, with only one other couple, from upstate New York. I sat in the front seat next to our guide, Scott, from, well, everywhere. He was thoroughly entertaining, whether he was telling us about the park, or talking about politics. Yes, politics. He would randomly go off on tangents, and start talking about his hippy anarchist ways. He is also studying to be a homeopathic doctor. I have to admit, I really enjoyed talking to him. While I at first thought some of what he said was inappropriate, and could have done without the constant "the government is going to ruin everything" chatter, eventually I thought he made some really good points.

What hit me right away, as soon as Scott started talking, was that here I was, taking a vacation to a National Park - a place that is rooted in nature, so you would think it was the least political type of place you could visit. But really, you're treading on land owned and controlled by the government. That's government property you're enjoying, your tax dollars at work, etc etc. So of course politics are infused in everything you touch in a National Park! Scott had many theories about how the feds are going to ruin Yellowstone (maybe), and about how being a Park Ranger is a sucky job (probably).

Of course, Yellowstone was the first national park, started by Teddy Roosevelt, "for the benefit and enjoyment of the people." So really, it was never about the earth, it was always about our taxes going towards places we can enjoy. Which may or may not be a bad thing.

Scott, being the anarchist that he is, also had many more theories about how the government is too involved in our lives, is not upholding the constitution, and is going to ruin everything. I have to say, I can sort of get behind the "big brother is watching" theory, but maybe not to that extreme. According to Scott, Obama is trying to "shut down" the internet (I'm not even sure what that means), uphold the patriot act so that if you say you believe in the constitution, you are considered a terrorist (if you say so), and is involved in some kind of financial scam with banks (eh, probably).

He also talked a lot about his studies and research on climate change, and told us that some scientists have been saying that human interaction really isn't affecting climate change. What it is doing is polluting the earth, so that ecosystems are dying and changing because there is no clean water or air. You know, I think Scott may have a point there. When you look at all the geothermal features in Yellowstone, you can see how old the earth is and how much the climate and bacterial makeup have changed, and it makes sense that everything is cyclical. So the current global warming is just part of that. But, I suppose that Al Gore's theory is that human pollution is just speeding up that process, which we don't want, because it makes it harder for us to live here. So it's really an argument about a technicality.

Our political conversation continued, and I enjoyed listening to his views. However, I have no patience for, and am really sick of, people comparing Obama to Hitler. Really, it's just mean and unfounded. Obama may be a very polarizing type of leader, but I just really don't see the comparison between an elected leader trying to get people on his side, and a racist dictator. I just don't. I mean, I get that you think we're in the same kind of depression that Germany was, and all it took for them was to have a leader who promised all kinds of hope and change. Fine, whatever. But I just don't foresee President Obama deciding that we, as a nation, need to kill off an entire race of people to make our country better (I mean, it's not like he's George Bush or anything...). Not that I even need to make this argument, because I think you all get why this comparison would bother me (or anyone), but... now I'm done.

Aside from the slightly inappropriate political talk, Scott was a very knowledgeable guide and the tour was a great chance to talk to people other than my stuffed Winnie the Pooh.

Moving on. I have to admit, on the day 1 tour, I was really excited to see Old Faithful and all the weird volcanic stuff in the park. When the tour website said it was going to take us to the hotels, I was all, "what do I need with a hotel?" But let me tell you, those old hotels are fabulous. The Lake Hotel was built in the 1890's, right on Lake Yellowstone, and is all Victorian and has this grand lobby with a dining room and a piano. It even has columns out front, like the White House. Old Faithful Inn was built a little after that, I think, and it was made to look like it fit in with the trees. It's like this gigantic log cabin, and everything inside is made from these ganrled up trees. The lobby is this huge atrium that feels like the inside of a tree. The Mammoth Hotel has another grand lobby, but this one is more 1930's style, and there's a huge map of the Unites Stated made from wood tiles, in 1937.

Aside from the hotels, we saw all the geysers and hot springs - it's amazing how old those things are. Plus some bears, bison, elk, and a chipmunk.

Day 2, I went into the park on my own, drove to Mammoth Hot Springs, was too lazy to hike up to the top, and then went on to drive through the Lamar Valley. That's where all the wildlife live, and I saw lots of Bison, a moose with her baby, some birds, lots of elk, and some coyotes, even though I'm biased against coyotes because the ones that hang around LA are so annoying. I was so excited about the animals, and at one point, I asked my tour guide, "What are those duck-like things?" He told me they were Canada Geese, and that yes, I was in fact getting excited about those stupid birds that shit all over the park by my house.

On my way back through the valley, the sun started coming out, and all the animals came out to play. Saw lots of elk, deer, bison, and chipmunks. Plus one weird looking bird that looked like a cross between a duck and a really small turkey.

I finally left the park around 5, and drove down US-20 (the same one that goes through Boston!) towards I-15 in Idaho. That road was really pretty also - lakes, rivers and valleys with snowy mountains in the background. There were lots of elk there also, playing in the meadows by the side of the road, and horses as well. (I'm pretty sure the horses belong to ranchers, but not sure about the elk.)

Once I got on the freeway, I realized I was driving right into a big lightning storm. Now, I grew up in the Northeast, so I know from thunderstorms, but I am still terrified of them. Especially lightning, even though I know a car is a pretty safe place to be in lightning. I even got ut at one point and asked the guy in a gas station if he had heard a weather report, and if he knew which direction the storm was moving. Then it hit me that I had no idea when the last time I asked someone if they knew which direction a storm was moving in!

I drove in and out of clouds for a while, trying not to hyperventilate, until I finally decided to find a hotel in Twin Falls, instead of Boise as planned. So now I'm in Twin Fall, Idaho, which I believe is the title of a movie by one of those weird directors, like David Lynch or someone. (Jeremy? Do you remember this movie?)

Fun facts/diversions/silliness:

- On the radio in Minnesota, just outside Minneapolis: Christian Rock, Christian Country, church services, Mormon church services (it was Sunday), and the usual Clearchannel top 40 and "alternative" stations.

- On the radio in Idaho: Christian Rock, Christian Country, Christian Rock again, Country, Country, New Country, Old Country, NPR, and one top 40 station. I would have liked any of the country stations if they hadn't been consistently playing Toby Keith, Tim McGraw and Reba McEntire.

- My conversation with the park ranger who took my ticket this morning:
Her: Is Winnie the Pooh having a good time? (Referring to the stuffed Pooh who sits perched on a pillow in my back seat.)
Me: Yes, he is. He came to visit his friends.
Her (amazingly, still playing along): Did he see any of them?
Me: Yes, he did. He said hello.
Her (... and, now she's done): Well, ok. You have fun now.

OK. Now I have to go close my eyes because they feel like someone is repeatedly stabbing them with needles.

Pictures from Yellowstone Day 2:


Jun. 4th, 2009 04:38 pm (UTC)
Scott is the one from Ashland, right? That means he has no grip on reality. Did he wear shoes?

That said, people are always comparing someone to Hitler...or Castro. I tend not to notice anymore, but now that you mention it, it's like...dudes, COME ON! When ObamaBushClintonwhowasthatprimeminsterofIsraelwhotouched
thewailingwallTonyBlairOprah starts setting up concentration camps for like...the Mexicans...then maybe we can bring Hitler into this conversation.

Off to look at pictures...

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