Start: Gardiner MT (36345)
End: Arco ID (36672)
I dress in full leathers again this morning, still pleasantly surprised at the northern chill in the air here. I guess I got used to how stifling the South is in summertime.
I re-enter Yellowstone, determined to explore the geothermals that I didn't have time to see yesterday. It is a perfect day for sightseeing. The weather is lovely, it's the Fourth of July, and I have a map, a good road, a full tank of gas, and one of the gems of America in front of me. Life does not get much better than this.
First, I stop at the post office to drop off postcards for my family, earning them a genuine Yellowstone postmark. :) Then, the first big stop in the north part of the park is Mammoth Hot Springs, where I walk around for a while, admiring the spectacular colors and the sheer size! Steaming water cascades down the terraced cliffs, really an amazing sight. The air reeks of sulphur, and the yellows, blues and reds sparkle in the morning sun.
I head on down the road, stopping next at Roaring Mountain. Here, the entire side of a largish hill is covered with fumaroles and vents and steamholes, and there used to be so much geothermal activity here it gave the mountain its colorful name. It died off twenty or so years ago, when a lot of geysers changed their behavior patterns. Geologists suspect that some event happened deep underground that shifted stuff around in ways they do not yet understand. The cauldera lives, but Roaring Mountain no longer roars, just quietly steams. Water trickles out of numerous vents on the hillside and collects in a streamlet next to the road. I quickly dip my fingers in the water, wondering how hot it is ... it's not. All the heat has been given up to the atmosphere and it's now an icy mountain rivulet running at my feet. A park worker, picking up trash, glares at me ... guess I shouldn't be testing the waters like that! Tsk, tsk.
Heading south, I detour off the main road on Firehole Canyon Drive. This lovely little road travels a deep-cut gorge, following the river that's born near Old Faithful and drains the various geyser basins, flowing north. The river is reknowned for its trout fishing, and swimming holes are marked at some of the turnouts.
Crossing the Lower Geyser Basin, I see a park ranger frantically chasing after the tourists who are walking right up to the bison to get a good picture. Yep. People are that stupid.
Another geothermal side road is Firehole Lake Drive, offering a nice drive around the Middle Geyser Basin and some up-close walks around very active vents. I stop at a wide place in the road right next to a small pool; it's amazing to walk right up to the jeweled edge and peer down into it. The picture I take does not do the deep reds and tourquoise justice. I dip my fingers in this pool as well ... this one is QUITE hot. Later, I stop in the main parking lot, and spend some time walking around the big geyser complex. The roar and sputter of the geysers is constant; what a noisy place! As I am walking back to my bike, a raven lands on my duffle bag and busily tries to get in, perhaps thinking I have something good to eat. Heh. I am too amused to yell at her. She gets some of the velcro open, but is stymied by the cargo net. Those birds are damn clever.
I ride on, eventually exiting the park at the South Entrance, yet another lovely spot for a photo. The road leads me on through the Grand Tetons. The four great peaks stand amazing and jagged against the deep blue sky. It's a truly spectacular part of the country.
I head south through Jackson WY (or Jackson Hole WY depending on who you are listening to) which has an air of rich snootiness that reminds me of Santa Barbara. Heh. From there, I turn west & the road takes me through Idaho Falls. Hwy 20 crosses the Snake River right by the cascades that gives the city its name, then crosses I-15 and forges due west, and after that it is pretty much the MIDDLE OF FRIKKEN NOWHERE. But it's not empty. For miles and miles and miles and miles, a tall chain link fence stetches along the north side of the road, electified wire running along the top, marked intermittently with small plain placards stating GOVERNMENT PROPERTY - NO TRESPASSING and even more infrequently broken by large gates guarded by sentries in little air conditioned huts, set back from the road. I start to get seriously creeped out. It reminds me of nothing so much as the last few chapters of The Stand, where Trashcan Man goes into the desert and into the bowels of gov't nuclear facilites, bringing back a strange dark treat for his hero Randall Flagg. I halfway expect to see him come shambling forth, my life for you!!! and I am getting quite freaked out by my whole train of thought here. I pass a turnoff for Atomic City, and see a few signs telling me I am passing the Idaho National Labratory (formerly Idaho Energy Reseach Labratory.) Oh my god I AM in the middle of a government nuclear facility. Worse, I've been running on reserve for a while and I haven't seen any cars for a while, much less a gas station. Nothing to do but keep going & hope to make the next town. The sun is lowering, but the wind is not too bad here.
The next town, which is Arco ID, finally hoves into view as I am getting fairly worried about my gas situation. I fill it, all's well again. This seems like a good stopping point for the night, so I cruise down main street (still Hwy 20) looking for likely lodging. And ... whaaa? There is a submarine conning tower in the middle of town. Now that's just ODD. Across the street from the submarine, there's a cute little mom & pop motel. It looks nice and neat, so I check it out. It's more than suitable, it's a score! Good friendly people, a decent room at a great price, and LAUNDRY FACILITIES! I'm happy as a pig in mud! (If you ever find yourself needing a room in Arco, go to the DK Motel, I recommend it!)
The young lady running the hotel is friendly and chatty. After I get settled in, I go back to the front desk to ask her for quarters for the washing machine (she helpfully gives me some laundry soap as well) and I ask her, what's the happs around here on the 4th? And by the way, what's up with the submarine? She tells me that the 4th isn't the big deal in Arco ... their big summertime thing is "Atomic Days" later in July. Arco is famed for being the very first city in the US that had electricity entirely supplied by nuclear power (back on July 17th, 1955, for about five minutes. Hey, a first is a first. LOL) The conning tower is from a decommisioned nuclear sub. She doesn't know much more about it, but tells me there's a display over there, go check it out. (I do walk across the street later, and read the flyers posted under glass, telling me about the USS Hawkbill, decommissioned in 2003.) For the 4th of July festivities, they'll be shooting off fireworks at the high school, and she says that they sit out on the front lawn of the hotel to watch 'em. She invites me to join them.
And I do. As the sun goes down, a collection of nice folks drifts onto the lawn: a couple from Utah, young newlyweds from British Columbia, the hotel family (the chatty front desk woman, her sister, her sister's husband, and their young son) and me. The high school sits under tall cliffs (called "Numbers Hill" because each high school class paints their graduation year on it), and their bowl shape enhances the boom of the big charges until it sounds like old artillery thunder! We ooh and ahh, happily chat into the night, and applaud the final orgy of fireworks that lights up the sky. Best 4th I've had in a while!!
Next: Day Seventeen