Monday, August 16th
I climbed a mountain!
Granted, I did it on a path, rather than with ropes and pitons and things, but still, I did it. Went from the far side of Jenny Lake up to “Inspiration Point”, 7300 or so feet above sea level. Given that my primary form of exercise is sneering, I am proud about this.
After climbing the mountain, I was tired and peckish. Betwixt the mountain and our hotel, there was a little cowboy-themed store and restaurant, so we stopped off for a round of traditional western-style Red Bulls and some dinner. Dinner was described as “Real Chuckwagon Cookin'”, which I felt deserved a chance. Turns out there is a reason “cowboy” has died out as a career choice.
Gluey mashed potatoes with from-a-can beef gravy, undercooked beef short ribs, undercooked and unseasoned white beans, and “beef stew”, which was carrots boiled with stew beef for maybe fifteen minutes. It was, I swear to you, airline food. They also had a traditional old-west trailridin’ salad bar and an authentic pop dispenser removed from an actual covered wagon. The pop dispenser featured Dr. Pepper, which was the high point of the meal. The dinner might have seemed even worse had I not been ravenous.
En route home, we paused at the Snow King Ski Resort to ride the chairlift to the top. View from the top erased all lingering bad feelings left from dinner. Looking down into Jackson Hole was like looking at the gold-medal winning setup at a particularly lavish model train show. Unbelievable sight. A nightcap was had at the Million-Dollar Cowboy Bar, which has barstools topped with saddles, providing both sexiness and comedy in similar but separate doses. Following my local beer — Snake River Ale — it was time to climb into the Horrendous Bed.
Tuesday, August 17th
Tuesday morning we drove through a tedious misting rain to Yellowstone. Much of Yellowstone is under construction — both of the orange cone sort and the wholly biological sort — as the result of forest fires. Pains were taken to tell us that these recent fires were of the naturally-started variety but that we should be extra-attentive to things alight anyway, which I thought was fair. We drove though a telephone pole farm for maybe thirty miles to the geyser area.
The Florida Keys call to me. Vegas calls to me. The restaurants of southern Maine call to me. Old Faithful used to call to me. Old Faithful is one of those things that you should see once, and that once you have seen it, you are done. You can check “See Old Faithful” off your life list, and move on to “See A Volcano” or whatever without feeling the pangs to return that are usually associated with nice vacation spots. Old Faithful no longer calls to me.
This is not to detract from the thing’s impressiveness, you understand. The geyser area of Yellowstone is majestic, spectacular and like nothing else on Earth. It is also damp, crowded, and foul-smelling. (This space left blank for you to insert your own version of the fucking-Angelina-Jolie simile I want to put here but can’t quite phrase to my satisfaction: __________________________________________________________________________.)
One of the more spectacular geyserly behaviors was a geyser that started out looking like a rock-hole in the ground, slowly filled with water, burbled a bit, and then blasted out an enormous cloud of sulfur-steam, after which it drained completely of water. This process repeats every 15-20 minutes, and is most impressive. The impressiveness of this geyser combined with my excellent eyesight to create a fine vacation anecdote:
As the geyser filled with water, my traveling companion monitored it closely for signs indicating eruption. This was fairly easy, as we were standing on the five-foot-wide boardwalk that snakes through the geyser zone, and this particular steamer is no more than three or four feet from the boardwalk, nestled into the elbow of a sharp turn. She was peering at this geyser extra-closely when it blew, instantly and noisily engulfing us in steam. Apparently the sound of the detonation was more than she had expected, because she instinctively grabbed my hand and turned to bolt. (I was not entirely free of this impulse.) “Bolting,” however, was the least safe thing I could do right at that moment. She who had my hand was yanked back like a bad dog on a short chain, because I was rooted to the spot.
Were I more accustomed to wearing glasses, I might, while waiting for the geyser to shoot off, have anticipated the effect steam was going to have on my sunglasses. Given that I don’t often wear glasses — or didn’t, prior to the iron filing removal — I was not expecting the instant blindness I got when the steam met the shades. It was a startling and disconcerting effect, and I suspect I am not the only one telling a variation on this anecdote today. (“Daddy, remember that man who yelled “I can’t see” so loud the elk stampeded?”)
We also saw a bald eagle catch a fish, which was magnificent, but not as funny.
After departing Yellowstone, we were caught on top of a mountain on a dirt road in a rented Grand Am in a hailstorm. The metal roof combined with the hail to cause me to drop the Wiggles a few notches in the “Worst. Noise. Ever.” rankings.
We went to the Million-Dollar Cowboy Steakhouse that night for dinner, where we all ate too much. I had an aged buffalo sirloin, which was superb, and some elk, also excellent. I was way too full for dessert, which may be an unwelcome side effect of weight loss, or may be the result of the appetite loss associated with the realization that I was soon to retire to the Awful Bed.
Wednesday, August 18th
It rained. Some people went shopping. All day. It was awful. I can’t talk about it. I should have stayed in the Horrendous Bed.
Thursday, August 19th
We got up at 430am for a rafting trip. It was forty degrees and raining. But vacation time is precious and sacred.
We arrived at the boat ramp after a lot of grumbling. Our guide had thoughtfully placed an inch or two of water in the bottom of the boat, to avoid us experiencing the annoying feeling of one’s shoes gradually filling with water. We floated along in the dark for six or eight months, listening to the river rushing, the birds waking up, and a man in the front of the raft yammering endlessly about how he was the biggest expert the on western woods since Meriwether Lewis. Ye gods, what an asshole. I thought about ripping off my pinky toes and stuffing them in my ears — they were conveniently numbed already — but my fingers lacked the feeling necessary to untie my shoes.
Once the sun came up, things improved. Slightly. We saw herons, and ospreys, and pelicans — they summer in Jackson, which I didn’t know either — and otters, and mule deer. I’ve spent more comfortable four hour periods, but I’d do it again. Beat sleeping late in the Hideous Bed.
We breakfasted on triple-berry pie at the Bunnery, which I enjoyed very much — you know you are well-met with someone when you like crust and they like filling — and departed for the Salt Lake City airport.
But Vegas warrants an entry of its own.