June 7, 2016 – Old Faithful Inn, Yellowstone National Park 

Who would think four days (so far) on a bus would be so exhausting? Here we are in Yellowstone National Park, it is 8:49 p.m. and still light outside, and we really just want to go to bed.

The last two days have been spent touring Yellowstone. We entered dramatically through Roosevelt Arch at the North Entrance and promptly saw elk perched on a hill. We immediately encountered a wonderland, an other-worldly place that seems lost in time – until you get elbowed by foreign tourists and their ubiquitous selfie sticks.

Yes, it was crowded. But it’s a big place. It did not bother me, who hates crowds, because it was Yellowstone and everyone just seemed happy to be there.

In the case of Yellowstone, it’s probably best to let photos tell most of the story. And I will – see below. It’s hard to describe all there is to see in Yellowstone – Ansel Adams vistas with snow-capped peaks and winding trout streams, the largest collection of geysers in the world, gurgling mud pots (as in the video), hissing fumaroles, herds of bison, male elk in velvet, swooping osprey.

One of the strangest sights was kids having a good time with their families – thanks to no TV, virtually no cell phone coverage and – well, it’s hard to maintain that air of boredom when there is a bison glowering at you in the road.

So what is so exhausting? One, we are used to sea level and we have been at 7,700 feet and higher; that has zapped a lot of us.

Two, I have easily managed to get in my 10,000 steps and then some every day (18,000 today). For instance, yesterday we were dropped off at the top of Mammoth Hot Springs and worked our way back down to the valley along a boardwalk past the travertine terraces and geothermal vents that smell of sulphur. That took 45 minutes including photos. There are several opportunities throughout the day to walk.

Three, we are both either sick or suffering from allergies. We suspect it is the cottonwood fluff floating all around us. It is becoming increasingly difficult to ignore the sneezing, dry coughing and mouth breathing. We don’t want to be miserable.

Four, it’s just a lot to absorb. Our heads hurt as we have digested Lakota traditions, Lewis and Clark, General Custer and Crazy Horse, flora and fauna, the 1988 Yellowstone fire that is still very evident today, geology, dinner choices, bizarre thermal features, and hey – there went a western bluebird!

The bus ride has been mostly pleasurable. My biggest frustration has been wildlife photography. If we were driving ourselves, we could just pull over, jump out and start shooting. This morning, we started seeing individual bison, which suddenly gave way to a huge herd all the way down to the Yellowstone River. All we needed were 1,000 Lakota on horseback across the Hayden Valley to complete the scene.

But our very conscientious bus driver couldn’t find a place to pull over. Another company’s tour bus was parked, with elated inhabitants snapping away and their tour director laughing at our misfortune. When we finally found a place, we were well past the herd and down to a lone bison. I made the most of it, after I finally got off the bus. Every time it stops, it’s a lot like getting off an airplane; everyone grabs their stuff from their seats and overhead bins and files off. Slowly.

By the way, we are staying at the famous and sold-out Old Faithful Inn, which opened in 1904. The hotel’s namesake erupted just as we were pulling up to the portico. The soaring lobby of logs is worth seeing even if you are not staying there. We were too tired to try the main dining room for dinner or the popular Obsidian dining room at the Old Faithful Snow Lodge.

Today ended with a guided walk around Geyser Hill, which is a fantastic assortment of thermal features, each with its own personality. After that, it became difficult to put one foot in front of the other as we slogged over to the cafeteria, where I had bison meatloaf and Sue had turkey and dressing. Tomorrow we will be in Jackson at the foot of the Grand Tetons, where we have promised to treat ourselves to elk.

Tomorrow: the Grand Tetons

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