Monday, May 12, 2008

Zion, Bryce, and Yellowstone: Trip To America's Nicest Corners (Part IV)

While I overslept again (till 7am that is), the temperature was below freezing and the fog along the road was still at times so dense that it was hard to see the bison, or the idiot tourist parked in the middle of the road without lights. I still managed to get some nice shots of elk in the morning, joining a friendly German wildlife photographer. He told me about his frustration with Nikon and loved my 300L/IS lens, and asked for help about where to get a new 80-200 lens which he just crashed. Later the day the temperatures surprisingly reached a new record high with 25c (90F) and the whole climate turned rather unsuitable for photography, due to the strong sun. Some Park Ranger divers apparently took advantage of this and took a dive in Lake Yellowstone, very much to the pleasure of tourists such as myself who could not get enough pictures of this water species.

The night was pleasurably quiet, except for the screaming elk and the car horn that went off at close to midnight - for about five minutes. Five minutes, in the middle of the night and in a campground, that's like eternity, you see. And once the horn went off the whole campground applauded to the unknown good spirit who saved the night. Which was not that long for me, anyway, as at 5:35 my alarm went off so that I got at least THIS sunrise. The plan was to shoot the Grand Teton, which I missed due to extreme rainfall during my visit past week. After about an hour's drive, the sunrise was almost as perfect as seen on the "typical" pictures - there were no clouds whatsoever, and that was slightly lacking.

These days, you can find a chip in everything: your watch, dishwasher, and of course the computer. On my way back to Yellowstone I unfortunately could also find a chip in my windshield. Just as I was trying to pass this ugly pickup truck, it threw a rock on me and left a minor crater in my windshield, just barely off the main vision field. Alright, change of plans: where can I get a windshield fixed, before the crack spreads too much? West Yellowstone was the answer. So just after lunch I visited the guys at the local body shop, which turned into quite an experience. Very friendly and professional, when writing up the bill soon the question emerged: "How do you spell Audi"? My folding car key was also cause for bemusement and interest, with all the stares from all employees and the UPS guy who was there at the moment. His feedback was that he'd never seen such a thing before, and his father was a locksmith. The idea of heated seats and 4WD in this small package was also taken with awe; the information that we pay $1800 for rent was however taken with bewilderment. "I visited SF once and I still wonder why and how people can live there", said Craig, who was doing my windshield, talking on the phone with customers most of the time. And indeed, I do wonder about that at times, too.

On the way back to the campground I hung out with some photographers - some from Germany, some from the US - and one of them was actually a Yellowstone Park Ranger on vacation. He had a lot of insight into what and where, and it wasn't till after 9pm that we dispersed to the respective campgrounds. I had new neighbors all around again (seems that people are coming just for one day these days), and was entertained till midnite by the loud voices of my Swiss neighbors who were talking as if they were in a noisy subway station (oops, no subway in Switzerland). The thus delayed rest was soon interrupted at 4:35am when the other neighbor's baby started screaming. And I mean, SCREAMING. I'd scream too if I were 1yr old and in a tent and it was below freezing. It took the parents till 5:30 to realize that it may be a good idea to get into the car and leave the campground. But at that point I was already wrapping up my things as well.

Glacier Natl. Park, and beyond... Or: speeding in Montana?

The drive from Yellowstone to Glacier was quite interesting. Leading through Montana most of the way, the speed limit was "prudent and safe", whatever that means. Let's say the average over 500 miles, of which were 100 still in Yellowstone and many others on the interstate, was 65mph. I think that's prudent. I had to learn that the roads in Montana are definitely not built for speeds much above 110mph, and neither are the drivers: twice an idiot merged right before me, with maybe a few car lengths to spare, at speed differences of maybe 50mph. This lead to some harsh braking (which - unlike with my old Accord - worked) and also to the conclusion that I would not test the advertised top speed of 138mph; instead I stayed in the 90 range most of the time. With about 22mpg the gas mileage reached a new record low, though - this in contrast to about 29mpg for most of the trip.

I arrived at Glacier at around 5pm in a slight rain shower. Just as I was setting up my tent a number of park rangers approached me and said that the tent nearby was attacked and demolished by a black bear just about an hour ago and that they discouraged people from sleeping in tents tonight. When I objected that I slept maybe some 4 hours last night and had a long drive both behind and before me, the ranger suggested that I have my car remote handy at night and - if attacked by a bear - sound the car alarm, which will most likely distract the bear. So I tested the car alarm for the first time ever, just to make sure it works if needed. And I had both remotes in my tent as well.

The campsite next to me was occupied by a number of rainbow flag guys from Montana who were here hiking. One of them has a bumper sticker on his car saying "Thank me - I voted Clinton / Gore". Especially in the current context a very funny sticker indeed.

No bear came by my tent during the night, but I still got up early to get on the road. There was no way to stay, anyway, as the rangers closed the campground until further notice, because of bears. The weather in the park was very inhospitable and so there was one less reason to stay. The main reason for an early departure, however, was in the beauty and simplicity of American immigration laws. I have no clue what really happened, and in a sense I don't want to know as I would probably kick some @$$, but over the past days I was in contact with my boss at Apple and the attorneys and - surprisingly - something went wrong again. Kinda hard to believe, after all that is (and more importantly, what is left out) in the preamble to this travelogue. Anyway, I had to rush to Boise, where I was meeting an old friend, and now also where the lawyers were FedEx'ing some documents to me. Ah beauty.

The "fact" that there is no speed limit in Montana is a misconception, at least according to the two officers in bullet-proof vests who pulled me over for going 114mph on I-90. While I didn't have an opportunity to contest the issue right on the spot, I could also not come up with a strategy of how to fight this ticket - it's less the $70 than the entry on the record that bothers me. For me, having logged thousands of miles at speeds around 140mph in Germany, 114mph in Montana traffic (i.e., no cars) doesn't sound like a big deal. Oh well, somewhere deep I probably think I deserved it.

In two stages, but in one piece I arrived in Boise where I was expected by two FedEx packages - papers to fill out, fax and send back - and then, finally, meet with my friend Sarah. Unfortunately, her grandfather had just died and so she was obviously preoccupied with bigger issues, and we didn't get to spend too much quality time together.

While scouting out the Boise area, I got hit by the State Fruit, i.e. a potato, that fell off a truck. I should consider myself lucky, though, for not being hit by the logs that fell off a camper just ahead of me. You should have seen the maneuvers performed by myself and other motorists, including an eighteen-wheeler, in order to avoid a collision! Either way, now I have a nice dent in the hood, which was soon joined by even prettier scratches caused by a random cat or other not well behaved animal that felt like fooling around my hood. I guess a few hundred bucks will, or more accurately, would fix it. But it's just a car and casualties are to be expected.

Crater Lake Or: where does the story end?

At this place, the original travelogue continued along my route to Crater Lake, but it was destroyed by a sad chain of events. Less for you to read - next time, maybe? Because Oregon is one of my absolutely favorite places on the map, I guess that I will visit again, soon - possibly with some snow around the crater's rim...

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