Sunday, June 1, 2008

Today, Sunday, the first of June, we drove from Billings to Yellowstone. We left Billings at around noon, after stopping by Scott's house to see his parents and to meet their dog, Farley. We also had the privilege of seeing Scott's current photo show. His photography is really amazing.

The drive to Yellowstone was, of course, beautiful. We took Beartooth Highway and entered Yellowstone through the northeast entrance. This was the most convenient entrance for us by far, and we're really lucky it was open--it was closed until yesterday due to an avalanche. The highest point in our ascent up Beartooth Pass was close to 9000 feet. Here are some photos of our drive over the pass. I'm really bummed that the sky wasn't blue; the photos would've turned out a lot better.

At one point during our drive up the pass, I looked up at one of the snowy peaks and saw squiggly lines that looked exactly like ski tracks. I showed Steve, but he was skeptical. "Um, I really think those are ski tracks," I said. Sure enough, a couple seconds later I saw someone skiing (or snowboarding) down the peak. Incredible.

Our car has been doing so well up until now, and we were dismayed when it gave a violent lurch today while we were in The Middle of Nowhere, Montana. It was almost like it lost power for a second, but then kept right on going with no problem. It did this several more times. We racked our brains to figure out what was happening, and we even called my brother to see if he had any ideas. We came up with some possible problems but nothing definitive. We kept trying new methods that we hoped would make the problem go away (turning off cruise control, turning off the air conditioning, turning off the fan, staring at the engine and prodding belts and wires, putting premium gas in the car . . . ). The lurches kept happening at long and unpredictable intervals throughout our trip to Yellowstone, through our drive up the somewhat treacherous pass and down the other side, and on our trek through the park. It made us very tense, particularly because we were so far from home (either Aurora or Olympia).
Finally, as we were ascending another mountain within the park, I had an epiphany. I remembered that Steve had just changed the car battery about a week ago. I asked, "Steve, do you think maybe one of the battery connections is coming loose?" (This had happened to one of our other cars years ago, but I didn't even remember that. In that case, the car was an automatic and would just totally die whenever the connection would loosen. In this case, our car is a stickshift, so it keeps going after a momentary hesitation.) Anyway, Steve checked the battery connections, and sure enough, one of them was loose! Once we got to our hotel on the west side of Yellowstone, he tightened it up. We're hoping and praying that that was indeed the problem, and that it's now fixed. We'd appreciate your prayers about this too.

We had lunch by Soda Butte Creek, just inside the eastern edge of Yellowstone (see photo below). After lunch, I walked Jackson along the road, and he found what I'm pretty sure was some coyote poop. He was very interested in his find--he even tried to roll in it! This is not a typical Jackson reaction when encountering dog poop (which is one of the reasons I think it was coyote), and I'm really glad I caught him before he smeared it all over himself.

Over the past few weeks, I've been assembling a bag of treasures for Liam. Each day of our journey, he gets a brand new toy or activity at some point during the drive. Today's surprise was a bunch of animal figurines--cow, horse, chicken, bighorn sheep (some of you will catch the significance of this), and even a pig that oinks. He is very much enjoying his new collection, and he's working on perfecting his pig oink. He shared it with the hostess at the restaurant where we ate tonight, and she thought it was adorable, as do we.

Below are some photos of scenery within Yellowstone.
Beryl Spring:

Close-up of Beryl Spring's boiling water:

Gibbon Falls:

We also saw bison, elk, and even a pronghorn who had apparently just given birth to two calves (fawns?). At any rate, the pronghorn was so far away that we could hardly see her, and we couldn't see her newborn babies at all. But the huge crowd of people around us could see her quite well with their enormous telephoto lenses, binoculars, and telescopes. Below are a few of photos of bison. Don't worry; the second one is a zoom. I'm not a complete idiot, and I have no desire to be gored. I took the third one from the sunroof of our car. I'm also going to post some video from that particular bison sighting, which was amazing.

Now we're trying to decide what to do tomorrow. We were planning to take a quick morning drive into the park to see the typical tourist trap (Old Faithful), then head out to Missoula, MT. But we're having so much fun here that we're thinking about staying another night and skipping Missoula, or possibly driving to Bozeman, MT, instead of Missoula, which would give us more time in the park before we had to leave.

My camera ran out of battery this afternoon, and I idiotically forgot to bring the charger cord with us. Right now it's on the moving truck, which is somewhere in the Dakotas for all I know. We went to a camera shop here in West Yellowstone to see if we could get a charger cord or another battery (which wouldn't do us much good anyway, as they are sold uncharged). We didn't find either, at any rate--apparently our camera is fairly obscure. But I was desperate to have a camera, because there is so much to photograph in Yellowstone!

Besides, I dropped our camera about a year ago, and now it is very finicky. When you first turn it on, the screen is dark, and if you take a photo, it turns out entirely black. But then, once you've taken that first photo of absolutely nothing, it works just fine. However, this ritual can be quite frustrating, particularly when you're trying to capture a fleeting moment. We've been talking for months about getting a new camera, but we've been dragging our feet. I mean, technically our camera works, so we felt like getting a new one would be frivolous (not to mention expensive!).

Anyway, we did end up getting a new camera. This has to be the quickest, most impulsive decision of this sort that I've ever made. Typically I'll do hours of research before making this type of purchase. But the camera shop was closing in less than a half hour, so I did the next best thing: I got a personal recommendation. I called my friend Jan. She and my friend Elizabeth have the same camera, and they both like it very well. Hopefully I'll like it too!

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