We pulled up to our allocated pitch and our attention was immediately captivated by our neighbouring tent. It seemed on the brink of defeat in its battle against the raging wind. Gönül and I set off to find a more sheltered spot to pitch but Nick was adamant that if we were told to pitch in place “x” that we had to pitch in place “x”. After much discussion we relented and all three of us took up the fight. This was to be home for the next three nights.
Once pitched we set off to explore by car a part of the enormous park. We all took one last look at the tent before turning our attentions to the drive ahead, but with our thoughts wondering if we would hear air traffic control reports of a large orange low flying object reported terrorising the wildlife.
We returned after nightfall and to our relief, and surprise, the tent was right where we had left it. The wind had abated, the temperature dropped, but with only a sweatshirt to adorn my underwear I snuggled into my sleeping bag.
On our second day the sun shone and we walked around the miles of trails that surround Old Faithful and the 100+ lesser known geysers that the park has to offer. Each is different; some bubbling away continuously but never spurting; some multi coloured pools that changed with the light; some spurting twenty or so feet in the air and others spitting angrily, not amused at our photophylic desire to get ever closer. Boardwalks had been erected to allow us to walk almost on top of many of the specimens and the most oft uttered word of the day was a simple, almost involuntary, “wow” as marvel after marvel enriched our passage.
Over the last couple of years I have felt a spring coiling tighter and tighter inside of me whenever surrounded by the beasts of the capitalist jungle. Ever taller skyscrapers, ever wider highways, mall after mall and concrete as far as the eye could see. Such is the nightmare that greets arrivals at Ataturk Airport and each time I encountered it the coil wound tighter. Time spent of late in the tiny village of Dicker, W.Sussex; in the Somerset countryside and especially in the rugged beauty of the Scottish Borders and the remoteness of the Scottish Highlands had caused a peace enhancing uncoiling but here in the utter magnificence of Yellowstone Park that spring was laid as flat as a perfectly baked breakfast pancake. As Nick strode ahead in search of shot after shot of stunning beauty, I strolled hand in hand with Gönül and revelled as contentment oozed into every pore of my being.
Our perfect day was followed by our nightmare night. The tent had not stayed quite as put as we had imagined. The gale had damaged one of the poles and split apart the plastic piece that connected it to the tent peg. The result was that the evening rain had penetrated the tent and Nick’s area in particular, and to a lesser extent my sleeping bag, was wet and we had standing water in our sanctuary from the weather. We mopped and bailed as the rain demanded entry and finally settled down to sleep with the tent still ominously moving at the behest of the driving rain. And then the woeful shrieking began. What on earth was that?? That, whatever it was, was getting louder and louder and closer and closer. We all shrank deeper into our sleeping bags as our once proud large tent wobbled with gust, and each gust was accompanied by a baleful groan that dominated the airways. Our tent grew more and more insignificant and the bottom of each sleeping bag closer and closer to our heads. And then a second a second shrieking started up, on the opposite side of the tent, fainter and yet growing stronger. We were right in the middle of a banshee sandwich….
Hours later I woke from a light slumber to the sound of persistent hammering on the tent. It was the rain, once more demanding entry. I looked across to both my companions, blissfully unaware in their no doubt bone dry dreamworlds and wondered, not for the first time, how anybody slept through such a racket. It was 1.30am and I was wide awake. Exhausted, sleepy and wide awake. I rolled over and tried to force sleep to come. I looked again at my watch. 4:30am. Once more. 6:30am. The world was waking up just as I was finally mastering the art of sleep – but there was no time left for that. Breakfast to be made.
On our third day we drove to Mammoth Springs on the far side of the park. Gonul captured the essence of Mammoth Springs perfectly when she described it as Heaven and Hell. Vast areas of sulphur rendered death, punctured with defiant signs of new life on scalded trees, presenting a visage of such stark beauty that it simply took your breath away. Bubbling hissing pools spread steam across the surface, forbidding entry onto this alien world. We were captivated, gazing in awe at the malevolent splendour.
Yellowstone has been my motivation to make this whole trip happen. I had such high expectations. They have all been surpassed. This is perhaps the most beautiful,amazing place I have ever seen. I could spend an entire season just in this park. If you have a chance you must come to see it. If you don’t have a chance, try hard to make one.
A trip of a lifetime.