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August 23, 2008

Seeing Yellowstone Park ... Before it Explodes

Donald Pittenger writes:

Dear Blowhards --

Your Faithful Scribe is drafting this posting at the edge of Yellowstone National Park and will add photos when I get back to Seattle. And I plan to be quick about it because this place might be atomized and blowing east at 30,000 feet any old time between now and half a million years in the future.

You see, much of the park is a gigantic volcanic caldera where several immense eruptions occurred within the last two million years or so. There's a "hot spot" under the Earth's surface that a continental tectonic plate has been sliding over for tens of millions of years, a dead part of it being Idaho's Craters of the Moon area. It's similar to the situation in the Hawaiian Islands except that the Wyoming rhyolite rock helps create explosive rather than lava-flow type eruptions. For more information, click here.

I'm here because Nancy's treating her grand-daughters and son & wife to a trip to someplace they've never visited. I'm along to do the driving. Snapshots are below.


There are various ways to get to Yellowstone, but we had to fly because we had four days of high school reunion activities immediately prior to the time we were scheduled to be there, so there was not enough time to drive. This photo shows a Horizon airliner (of the type we flew) pulling up to the Bozeman, Montana terminal. Nice little airport, nice terminal, nice weather.

As for ground transportation, we had four adults, two children and a bunch of luggage to contend with, so a Chevy Suburban filled the bill. The Suburban was redesigned last year, which means it's the latest and greatest. Actually, it really was a good vehicle for our purposes. There was enough storage space and elbow room, and the big slug handled well as we wandered through the park.

If you wish to tour the park in style -- 1938 style -- there are a few touring buses like this one back on the roads. There were several generations of such vehicles roaming Yellowstone, Glacier and perhaps a few other national parks circa 1915-50, the one pictured being of the last generation from the mid-30s. They were built on a modified White truck chassis and have a canvas top that can be rolled back, allowing passengers to enjoy the sun and lofty sights. The modernized buses have modern steering wheels, instrument panels and other features. I love seeing 'em, but didn't take a tour in one, alas.

Backing off a few yards to show the bus in front of the classic 1904 Old Faithful Inn.

View of same bus taken from the deck over the porte-cochère of the Inn. That white smudge in the background is Old Faithful venting steam during an interval between shows.

Once you hit the road there are occasional impediments, so don't expect to breeze from site to site. When I first visited the park in 1953, the problem was bears begging for food. We counted more than 50 of them during a three-day visit. This time, we saw zero bears. On the other hand, there were a fair number of elk near the roads, causing drivers to pull over to view them. But the biggest travel-time pests were buffalo that assumed roads were part of their turf. On previous visits, I only saw bison from a distance. This trip, I experienced two serious traffic backups that they caused. In one case, a critter stood in the middle of the road for a good 10 or 15 minutes.

Eventually, you get to a site you want to see. Here are tourists being beckoned by rising steam that implies interesting, colorful viewing, perhaps accompanied by a whiff of sulphuric odor.

For instance, you might see steaming pools of various hues...

...or even colorful patches beneath a hot veneer of water.

Here is some of the terracing at Mammoth Hot Spring in the northwest part of the park.

Given a little sunshine, a "can't miss" photo opp is the Lower Falls of the Yellowstone as seen from Artist's Point.

However, I found the colors and rock formations of the canyon just about as interesting and photogenic.

Possibly my greatest finds of the entire trip were Moose Drool baseball caps, one of which is pictured above. I posted about Moose Drool ale here. I also drank a bottle of the stuff, though I'm not an ale guy. Amateur's verdict: pretty smooth, but not as smooth as a good pilsner beer.



posted by Donald at August 23, 2008


What, no Old Faithful erupting?

Hope you hung around to see it. If I remember correctly OF blows every hour or hour plus one minute. Really lives up to the hype, too.

Posted by: ricpic on August 23, 2008 7:27 PM

ricpic -- Yes, I did see it go off four times during our stay. But my snapshots weren't all that good or interesting, unlike the Moose Drool cap.

Posted by: Donald Pittenger on August 23, 2008 7:35 PM

I drove up to Yellowstone and the Grand Tetons in May...amazing...saw a grizzly bear, two black bears…one with two cubs, trumpeter swans, a moose, bison, elk, pronghorns, a coyote, and a marmot. It's amazing to see these animals up close, but I think there seems to be a false sense of security among many of the animal paparazzi…

I stayed at the Old Faithful Inn. We stayed there back in the early 70's on one of our cross country family trips. I hated it then. This is after staying in a string of Holiday Inn's (with pools!). I was seven or eight. OFI was dark, musty…we had to share a bathroom, and the beds and fixtures were from the 1920's...freaked my little anal retentive ass out. I loved it this time…maybe for sentimental reasons…They're currently renovating it...could/should be amazing in a couple of years…hope they upgrade some of the furniture…

Posted by: Scott on August 23, 2008 10:28 PM

Displaying verve and perseverence, you have shared a visual and written record of your visit to Yellowstone.

Posted by: Clardo on August 24, 2008 11:18 AM

Wow, fab travel journal and great visuals, tks. Yellowstone really is amazing.

Posted by: Michael Blowhard on August 25, 2008 11:38 AM

Thanks for the pics, Donald. Fond memories, good times. I love Yellowstone; hell, I'm pretty National Park-crazy all 'round.

Scott - I hope they don't renovate it out of recognition. I'm very fond of the style we came to label "Forest Service Gothic" in our peregrinations through the Parks over the years; it would sadden me to see it disappear.

Posted by: Moira Breen on August 25, 2008 11:57 AM

Hi Donald,
Found your post when looking for something on Google. Your pictures look as if you took them from my hard drive as we did the same trip in July - same rental car, same bus at old faithful inn, etc.

If we had known, we could have had a "Pittenger" reunion there.

Brad Pittenger
St. Louis, MO

Posted by: Brad Pittenger on August 25, 2008 1:47 PM

Brad -- Yes, Pittengers are a small species. There was a gal in my high school class named Jan Pittenger who really resented the fact that other kids took us for siblings. Well, her resentment may have had to do with that, plus the fact that she was cool and I was a nerd.

Other than that, the only other non-related Pittenger I ever bumped into was a Donald R. Pittenger at the army's ASCOM processing center in Korea. He was on his way home and I (Donald B.) had just gotten off the troop ship. The bad thing was he'd been getting some of my mail from a girl friend.

Anyway, hope that you too got a Moose Drool cap while in Yellowstone.

Posted by: Donald Pittenger on August 25, 2008 6:17 PM

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