Eleven years ago today, I began a love affair that hasn’t ended yet.
But I’ll get to that in a bit. My first stop that morning was in Virginia City. Now, I know of at least two Virginia Cities that started out as mining camps and ended up as tourist traps, which may be a bit more derogative a term than I intend. I liked Virginia City, Montana. Most of the town is on the National Register of Historic Places, and many of the buildings date from the 1860s, when gold was discovered nearby, including the Wells Fargo office:
And the courthouse:
After Virginia City, I kept going east, and soon enough was back on familiar ground. I’m told that my first visit to Yellowstone was when I was four. I don’t remember it, unfortunately. When I was 19, in 1978, my parents and I came to this part of the world to camp and go trout fishing. When I was 26, in 1985, my ex and I visited Yellowstone on our way from Oregon to Colorado to visit his parents and fought the whole way, which was par for the course at the time since it was less than a year before we got divorced.
Anyway, my parents and I had stopped at the Forest Service Visitor Center
that tells about the Hebgen Lake earthquake
, the largest earthquake that ever occurred in the state of Montana, and, at the time, the third largest earthquake ever felt in the lower 48 states. I didn’t realize when I revisited the site on this trip that it was going to become fodder for my fiction, but I’ll get back to that later.
It was far too windy to picnic at the visitor center, so I went on down to a forest service campground, where I was about the only person there, and watched over my shoulder for bears while I ate my lunch.
I didn’t stay long, and not just because of supposed bears, but because I was eager to go on to what has since become one of my favorite places on the planet, Yellowstone National Park
. I arrived in West Yellowstone, a small tourist town on the western border of the park, about mid-afternoon, and found myself a hostel, which was in an old log hotel that was one of the first buildings in West, back around the turn of the last century, across from the then brand-new railroad depot. Movie stars like Gable and Lombard once stayed in that hotel. As I found out a few years later on another visit, it’s also haunted. But that’s a story for another time.
I couldn’t wait to go in the park, so as soon as I had my bed paid for I headed out again.
One of the first things I saw on my way in was a herd of elk, bedding down for the night:
They look rather like tree stumps, don’t they?
I got as far as Old Faithful that late afternoon, but the only other pictures I took were at Biscuit and Black Sand Basins.
This is Biscuit Basin.
And this is Black Sand Basin. I’m almost positive that the geyser off in the distance is Cliff Geyser.
These pictures were taken 11 years after the Yellowstone fires of 1988, and the evidence of them is clear, in all the dead trees looking like snaggletoothed combs on the ridgetops and marching down the hillsides. But there were literally millions of new young trees springing up around them, at the time all just about my height. It really was a most encouraging sight.
And now, here at the end of this entry, I must make a confession. I spent the next five days in Yellowstone, and took more pictures of steam than I’m willing to discuss even here. I will try, very hard, not to inflict any upon you where you can’t actually see what I was photographing through that steam. I promise.