Doug and Laurel Go West

Day 5: Thursday, 7/3/2003

Big Game campground, right outside of Yellowstone.

I haven’t worn a watch for 5 days. I haven’t checked email in 5 days. I haven’t even used a keyboard for 5 days.

9:00 AM
Yellowstone National Park

The mud-volcano black dragon cauldron area is like a photographic negative of hell. The bubbling mud pits are green instead of red and the desolate depressing surrounding wasteland is white instead of black. Radiskull would love vacationing at the black dragon cauldron.

We are seeing lots of buffalo. Some have shed, some are in the process of shedding. One had his fur overhanging him like a blanket. He looked like he had bought a faux Buffalo skin at Wall Drug and was using it as a toupee.

10:15 AM: We went to Canyon Village, our first choice of within-the-park campground, to reserve a spot for later tonight. The sign said “Campground full.” I was ready to try our second choice, a distant second, when Laurel pointed out that it was shortly after 10 AM, and that checkout was at 10, and maybe a spot or two was available. Cut to the chase – she was right. The campsites location and cost are excellent. Such a nice campsite! Laurel saved the day!

As long as we are on the topic, we haven’t had a “bad” or even “fair” site yet. All have been nice or great. (and all have been inexpensive) (and we haven’t stayed in a hotel; fuck you Jeff and Kristie)

11:41 AM: We spent much time at the brink of the upper falls of Yellowstone’s “Grand Canyon.” Every few feet the view changed completely. By “view” I mean sight, sound, smell, feel of the air… everything. My favorite spot was just over the spray formed by the falling water hitting the river. It was ghostly, misty, loud, ever changing. You could picture Arwyn’s white horses coming out at any moment from the mist. I couldn’t wrap my consciousness around the fact that I was looking at 1000 shades of a color that I would normally call “bright-white.” There was white bright-white, silver bright-white, blue-white bright-white, light gray bright-white and each of those had a million shades, ever changing and moving. Columns of water would shoot out of the mist which itself was alternating between being thick and opaque (like fog or a cumulus cloud) and being thin and transparent like steam allowing the water to show through.

That was quite the waterfall.

11:53 AM: To hell with what Steamboat Sam said, I love my purple car and am glad I painted it that way.

I saw a line of trees and couldn’t help thinking of the Family Guy episode where the trees started to sing “The Cat’s in the Cradle”

12:21 PM: Buffalo are the tamest-looking dangerous animals that exist. They can run faster than a horse. They charge people and gore them. We saw videos of them attacking tourists. But, boy, when you see them they look so harmless and placid. Gentle, almost cuddly. Even in the videos of them goring and hurting people, they seem calm, not like they are making an effort.

12:35 PM: The Hokey-Pokey would be a fun dance to do at a nudist wedding, particularly if they added a newly relevant verse or two.

[later] Yellowstone does not only stimulate your senses of sight and hearing. It also gives your olfactory sense quite the workout. Some parts smell bad – pits of boiling sulfur for example. Laurel says that they don’t smell that bad. All I can say is that after leaving a particularly foul pit, I went to the bathroom and found it easier to breathe. AND it was a pit toilet.

So, some parts of Yellowstone, like the sulfur pits, smell bad. And some parts smell good, like the… like… okay, no part of Yellowstone smells objectively good, but many parts smell much less bad than other parts, and some parts are even relatively odorless.

I am having trouble with a sunburn, even though I thought I covered all my danger spots with sunscreen. Doug’s Camping Tip #5: If a part of your body requires mosquito repellent, it also requires sunscreen. This includes your fucking bald spot.

1:57 PM: Laurel: “It’s just amazing the number of ways nature can pile up a bunch of big rocks.”

[much later] After the upper falls, we had a nice picnic, and toured more wonders of Yellowstone, in the car and on foot. We saw buffalo, mule-deer, moose, an osprey, and other fauna. Unusual and dramatic natural phenomena.

And I started to get bored for the first time since we kissed Anakin goodbye and started the car. I was confused. I mean, Yellowstone is amazing. How can you be bored when looking at tree-beladen cliffs with steam coming out of them? Crystal clear lakes that suddenly boil? Glistening molten mountain spew that looks like a troll living in the Earth is vomiting up his dinner of banana splits and magma? This is the “A” material, gang, and I suddenly burnt out.

I’m not the first person to note that people’s capacity for “awe” can reach a limit. I may have experienced my awe-limit today. Suddenly I was thinking of my book deadlines, personal problems, and plots of movies I like. I very quickly moved from boredom to a loss of the here & now. It was as if the real me heard a knock on the door, foolishly opened it, and the depressed cyber-A.D.D. guy who has inhabited my body for the past several years shoved his way in, sat down in his usual chair, and grabbed the remote. Or maybe he is the real me now. Indian Creek, Sheepeater Cliff, another waterfall not as nice as the earlier one, Mammoth Hot Springs, etc.

The Hot Springs were dry and colorless, unlike their picture on all Yellowstone postcards and maps. A lady was touring the springs with us, and she looked sad. She was there about 20 years ago, when they were truly spectacular, and the ranger then said that they were drying up, and someday would no longer be so spectacular. And (she informed us) he was right. They looked neato to me, given my depression and all, interestingly shaped steppes and boxwork-like formations, but evidently, once upon a time, they were really something else.

When Laurel and I drove to our campsite, I was thinking that this was day 5, and for the first time I started to think seriously about going home and touching a computer keyboard again.

We had a visitor at the site, the biggest bird I’ve ever seen. It stood about 2 feet tall and had a giant beak. His feet were like bird feet, only very thick. Picture a crow, make it much bigger, furrier, and um… thicker. A ranger later told us that it might have been a Northern Raven. Big Black Mean Looking Northern Raven.

I took a piece of bread and wadded it up. “Do NOT feed it,” cautioned Laurel.

“We just have to avoid feeding bears,” I said. “The signs don’t say anything about birds.” Laurel told me the same logic applied, that we didn’t want to teach the bird that he could get food at the site, and that he didn’t have to fear humans. So I didn’t throw my bread.

He looked from Laurel to me and then confidently, brazenly, walked to the firepit, perched, and picked through the ashes with his death-beak, looking for food. When he found none, he perched on the raised grille, a few feet from Laurel and me. “Caw!” he complained.

He just sat there, looking at us. “We aren’t feeding you,” said Laurel.

“Caw!” he replied loudly.

Seriously, every time Laurel spoke, he would respond. “Caw” isn’t the perfect onomonopoeticum for the noise he made. It was more like a raspy gravelly hostile “E-h-h-h.”

Laurel went to the car, and the beast hopped off the grille, giving his wings a single wicked flap on his way down, and walked to the table and hopped on Laurel’s spot. “E-h-h-h,” he said, looking directly at me. What did he mean? “She has left you. I’m your master now. Give me bread” or “God, what a bitch. Quick, give me bread” or “I am about to feast on the warm, precious, iron-rich fluid that will soon pour from your throat. Or bread – your choice.”

I didn’t get a chance to ask a follow-up question because Laurel came back. She stood next to the beast and he turned to face her, his death-beak pointed right at her nose. I knew at that moment I was destined to drive home with the winner. The fight began.






The bird gave in and hopped to the ground, giving Laurel a “Yip!” which clearly meant “Fuck you.” Laurel pointed to a neighboring camp site. “Go there! I mean it! They have food! Go ask them!” I’ll be damned, but he walked away in the direction she pointed, making “Ye! Ye! Ye!” noises like a small dog.

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