Adventures in Culture and Travel

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05 November, 2010

Yellowstone National Park. - Adventures of Another Reality.

I think of all the places in the U.S., Yellowstone has always held a special place in my mind and heart. It's one of the few places left in America that is as close to being untouched wilderness as you're going to get. It's an alien landscape with volcanic activity, moving earth, and wild animals. It's truly breathtaking, humbling, and at times overwhelming, yet, it's ironic such a place manages to exists within the suburban borders of American sprawl and smoke spewing SUVs.

Our trip to Yellowstone a few years back involved driving a Dodge Daytona up to Wyoming over two and a half days. We'd camp out along the way in some of the most rural yet interesting places. At one point we ended up driving eighty miles-per-hour on some back Wyoming road which managed to suddenly transform itself into some scene from the Dukes of Hazard; when we failed to notice the impending road construction. Do to the unfortunate (or perhaps fortunate) circumstance of the road ending in an incline with a four foot wide gaping hole in the pavement, and me not realizing this till it was too late to slow down, we managed to Bo and Luke duke-it, in our "General Lee" to the surprise of the construction workers. They all looked up in fear, and it's at this point when we're in mid-air, that I'm in the brace for impact position, squinting my eyes, hoping to God I don't die. Now if you've never done a Duke's style car jump, then there is no way I can explain to you what goes through your head as the wheels leave the ground. There's a surreal silence of road noise, with the engine free-revving, where you can literally hear your heart-beat. Needless to say the car landed right-side up, but the front end impacted hard  enough to dislodge the pop-up headlights out of place. We pulled over, and carefully made sure all four wheels were still attached, and then kept driving onward to Yellowstone.


We got to West Yellowstone a few hours later without further drama. Of course, West Yellowstone would be nothing but a bunch of trees in the wilderness, if it wasn't for the tourists and it being the gateway to Yellowstone National Park. There, hotels, and fast-food restaurants serve as the last icons of normal American civilization before entering the park.

I don't think we were expecting too much as we drove the first few miles into the park. After all, a lot of times you go to places expecting to see amazing commercialized attractions, only to find out that the hype is greater than the experience. But our faces lit up as we began to see bison, and buffalo the size of the Volkswagons in packs of hundreds grazing on the road. We were in awe of humongous waterfalls, and frozen lakes below the jagged mountains which can only be described as something from a fairy tale. It's an adventure of another reality.

We woke up each morning and ate at the Three Bears restaurant, explored Old Faithful, Mineral Springs, and the wondrous beauty of Yellowstone. By nightfall we were back in our Jacuzzi in our room, watching a movie and ordering pizza. It seemed like the perfect vacation for two poor young travellers.

Yellowstone is huge geographically, and it can take hours just to make it to the center of the park. Various geysers, hot-springs, and natural volcanic events involve parking and walking, often with temperatures varying in just a short time from eighty degrees to only thirty. Make your way to the other side of the Yellowstone park, and you'll find rustic diners, in rural towns, capable of feeding your  hunger and your curiosity.

About three days into our adventure at Yellowstone, we came out from a restaurant in West Yellowstone only to find the car wouldn't start. The temperature had dropped into the teens, and the engine had locked up. We ended up walking back to the hotel that night, trying to figure out what to do. Fun had turned to worry. The next day we decided to ignore the obvious, and rent a car so that we could drive down to Jackson Hole. We wanted to drive up to Glacier National Park, but we were slowly running out of money- and time, as they say, was of the essence. After all, back at the hotel sat our Daytona, which we were to find out was impossible to take to a mechanic, because in the off-season, the local Yellowstone mechanic works only on Wednesdays, which meant almost a week from now. To further complicate matters we only had about $150 left, which left us no way of paying for a hotel during that time, let alone a mechanic. So the next day we went to Yellowstone NAPA, bought a oil pump and pan gasket for about $50, then pushed the Daytona into a parking lot, and spent a day changing it out with a single tire jack holding up the car. That night, when we amazingly completed this phenomenal accomplishment, we went to start it and found out the battery was dead. We called Yellowstone AAA in hopes of a jump, and were told by the local tow truck driver that he was at his son's baseball game and we'd have to wait for several hours. While sitting there, a "friendly local" yelled at us for attempting to fix our car in his "supposed" parking lot. When the tow driver finally arrived with a chicken leg in one hand, and jumper cables in the other, we attempted to start the car and it wouldn't. As he drove away, there I was covered in oil, about to cry. I was defeated, exhausted, but then a single synapse in my brain fired. "The firing order!", I screamed. I had the spark-plug wires on backwards. I fixed it, then stopped for a moment as I sat behind the steering wheel praying for there to be just enough juice in the battery to turn the motor over one last time. I then turned the ignition key.

Cough, cough, varoom. It started!

When we left Yellowstone, it was with a trail of smoke, covered in oil. Our final few dollars purchased the only thing we had ate in the last eighteen hours, our trophy, our own chicken leg.

 We were a solid sixteen hours away from the coast of California, tired and beaten, our trip cut short by the most of unfortunate series of events;  but do you know what vacation, looking back, sticks out in our minds the most, out of all the places domestically we've been? That's right, curse-it, Yellowstone.

 Other than our slight mishap, this was exactly what vacation was supposed to be: exciting, life changing, and filled with memories to remember for years to come. That's Yellowstone.