Monday, July 5, 2021

Yellowstone Part 3: Mindfulness

Seeing sunrises like this, reminds me of how few I take the time to watch when I'm at home.
The next morning was early rising, packing things up, and getting fuel for the day's driving. The towns around Yellowstone all seem to work on similar hours. Nothing in town is open until after 9am, and the majority of people don't seem to get up and around until then. I'm not sure which came first to make it that way.
Rush hour in the mountains...
But there will always be like minded people that also get up early to get in line on the roads leading back into the park, in an effort to get to areas before crowds start to gather and parking spaces become more scarce.
Nothing like lining up a shot to have your subjects suddenly look the other way.
It could also be that some bison are milling about, so traffic slows to a slower pace for safety and photo opportunities. Once again, as a side note, if you are planning to come to Yellowstone, you WILL see bison. Everywhere. At practically anytime.
No picture really captures how absolutely majestic Old Faithful is in person.
I believe Old Faithful goes off every hour and a half or so, and because of that, there is a circle of seats that encircle the geyser so people can sit and wait. The biggest thing that struck me was, I can remember moments from 1st grade where my teacher spoke about US landmarks and showed pictures of places like Old Faithful. Maybe because it's one of those things most people grow up hearing about, or just being referenced in media, it hits differently when you finally get to see it in person. It felt like stepping into one of the history books or posters I saw in my youth.

The time that Old Faithful took to run through it's release was about 5 to 10 minutes. I have video of it which I'll post up in the last update. The funny part was all of the false starts that the geyser would do. As a group you could watch a line of cameras and phones rise and fall in unison, all in anticipation of catching the eruption when it begins.

After watching the majestic actions of Old Faithful, the next nearby area you can walk to is the Upper Geyser Basin, with more geothermal activity on display. 
The creeks and rivers all around, are some of the most scenic I've ever witnessed.
The walk to the basin, goes over a wooden bridge with a ridiculously photogenic creek underneath it. I couldn't help myself, I kept stopping to get just a bit more video, or just a few more shots of anything I saw that was inspirational, beautiful, or just great reference for future art projects.
Fire up the Toy Story feels...
I don't know how long this little lost toy had been on this fence post on just the other side of the creek. But in my mind, some little kid may have been missing it, or this little toy was dropped and forgotten.

Not wanting to take it with me in the event that a parent or child would come back looking for it, I just chronicled the little stuffed toy laying there, seemingly patiently waiting for it's owner to come back. Maybe I was feeling my imagination fire up, but as I walked the Upper Geyser Basin I had a very Toy Story like narrative that developed about this little baby bison toy, whom I named Bisley. It involved him traveling around the park until he finally ended up near a gift shop and reunited with his owner, a small boy named Tony.

I think I was still a bit dehydrated and the hiking around was tiring me out, but I'd also like to think I was feeling my creative rut starting to fade away.  
I was worn out enough that I could not figure out why the walking path was just one way. Was I breaking a law? Which way was... and then I realized it was just saying that it was 1/2 a mile that ONE WAY, and another 1/2 mile and back.
All of the geothermal activity areas had burned out trees in them. It was kind of wild to see these stark almost ethereal looking ghost like trees that still stood. They reminded me for some reason of a modern art installation, similar to the 60 foot stainless steel tree on the south lawn of the Nelson Atkins Museum. In particular how that metal tree looked on the security monitors when it was turning dusk.

The monitors security would watch are in color, but have night vision to some degree, and as the evening came on, the screens would switch to grayscale video. But the one camera that watched Ferment, would have this very odd, almost surreal look to how it displayed. It made the tree look like it could have once been alive, it's hard to really put it into words, but it was the camera I liked to have up on my monitor to watch the half hour or so as the sun went down to see that effect play out
I didn't wander off the path, but I was interested to see how the bark or apparent lack thereof on these white trees felt.
Some of the springs look very alien in coloration. Truly like nothing I'd ever seen before. It is a shame though that signs have to be placed up near them to remind visitors to not throw coins or other things into the centers of these fragile natural creations.
The reason from what I understand that there is such an intense blue is from the way that sunlight is reflected back out. 
Along the walkway, there was this little guy just chilling out and staying out of the way of people walking about. He was pretty tame, and more curious than really weirded out it seemed.
He probably appreciates the long walkways with the shaded undersides that allow him to go anywhere, but in a pinch allow him to gain higher ground to get away from a predator if need be.
I wanted to give him a name, just to imprint this moment more in my head. Which then led to a new idea that I have to learn embroidery for to pull off. In the wider shot of this area around where he is looking up at the camera, were the hoofprints of bison and some other fauna. Something about seeing his little paws, as he sat surrounded by all the rest got me thinking about something I will add to my hat soon.
You are fluffy, and I shall name you Captain Fluffy Nibbles the Brave.
There are many other geysers around Old Faithful that are in some ways more spectacular, but not as well known. Take this one for example, I can't remember the name, but I believe it was the tallest erupting one in the park.
Someday I hope a camera lens is invented that can actually come somewhat close to what the human eye observes.
After getting done with the walking trail, I was walking up past the area near Old Faithful and evidently there were a handful of EMTs and Park Rangers that were milling about attempting to keep park attendees from wandering over too close to an area where some Bison had randomly decided to come and rest at. 

I think it's all too easy for people to get lulled into this idea that the bison will be serene and gentle all the time. It's a wild animal, a BIG wild animal, and it's far too easy for them to decide that your approximate range from them is making them feel trapped or having their personal space invaded.
The park rangers were losing their minds trying to get the attention of this EMT that was just casually walking past two huge bison.
One of the last things to see for the day was Mystic Falls, which is a bit of a hike to get to. Not even kidding, my legs were already wanting to get out. I had clearly not prepared myself adequately for the amount of hiking I was going to be doing.

This area in particular is pretty remote, and amazingly beautiful. It felt like being in a Grizzly Adams film or some modern western. Mystic Falls itself is this great gem hidden back some ways. The path does sort of lead up to the side of the falls, but the best view was from where I sat to rest a bit and took the photo below. 
REALLY thought I was going to run into a bear in this area, sure enough some of the upper paths were closed due to bear activity, but alas no bear sightings.
By that afternoon, it was time to get to the next set of lodgings, which if I remember right, were about a mile or so outside of one of the entrances to Yellowstone.
The Shoshone Lodge and Guest Ranch and the friendly pooch there to greet people.
I used to play this game on an old iPhone I had, called "Campers!", and while the gameplay was a bit flawed, it was still a great old school campsite building game that had buildings just like these in it. They also reminded me of a lot of the buildings I would see at Bartle Scout Camp from my younger days in Scouting.
This cabin is so damn awesome.
The cabins are really comfy, clean, and relaxing. No central air or window units of any kind, but to be honest, they weren't needed.

It was a nice change of pace to go from the large crowds of people to the quiet in a small cabin at this lodge. The area around the site is not very large, but it does have modern conveniences like Wi-Fi, laundry machines, a few ice and vending machines
It was so quiet and beautiful all around, I regret not having walked about to have gotten more photos.
As the afternoon shadows began to draw out, dark clouds began to move in, leading to an early evening of rain. Even though rain isn't really something most people want on trips, it gave me a chance to think, to write, and to sink into the moment more. I could easily have spent more days at this location.

Be sure to come back for the next installment, and a chance encounter or two that really ramped up the attachment for me to this incredible National Park.
Until next time, remember to support artists and local businesses. Be kind to your fellow beings and always take the path less traveled. We all may live in times uncertain, but kindness, understanding, and believing in the good that is in most each and every one of us is what can bring about better days!

Mario, the Artisan Rogue
Illustrator, Voice Actor, Writer, Animal Rights Activist

Tuesday, June 22, 2021

Yellowstone Part 2: Happiness

The Roosevelt Arch is located at the north entrance of Yellowstone, in Gardiner, Montana.
I don't even remember what hour I got up, I think around 5:30 am or so, to get out before the crowds would start to gather. A lot of the businesses don't open until 9am, and most people get started around 9:30. So if there's any advice here to be had, get up. Early. And you'll have a much more full day and more things done before noon than you can shake a stick at.

The first bit of historical coolness that was on the way into the park, was the Roosevelt Arch. The arch was constructed after Theodore Roosevelt laid down the cornerstone, in 1903. There's a quote at the top of it, that is from the Organic Act of 1872, that reads, "For the Benefit and Enjoyment of the People".

If you've never been to Yellowstone, just about every aspect is large and expansive, so this arch was a nice preview metaphor for the day to follow.

The first place I started warming up my camera finger at was Mammoth Springs' Hot Springs area. At first, it looks a bit odd, bleached white, a little unfriendly, and not seemingly too photogenic. Even the warnings which are in a few languages, but rounded out by the international language of surrealist tinged artwork meant to serve as a warning, but is absolutely meme worthy fodder, were weird.
I love that NO ONE in the background is reacting to this bizarre tragedy in the foreground.
The springs are very alien in appearance to me. Maybe this is from years of science fiction, but each in my head, especially as I filmed them, felt like I was on a locations scouting hike for the next Star Wars movie.
Through the lens of the camera phone, all of the springs looked like something out of an alien landscape.
What you're seeing in these photos came into existence over thousands of years. When hot water from the spring outlets would cool and leave deposits of calcium carbonate (it's also called travertine, which is a form of limestone), they form these fibrous looking wild patterns in the rocks. It's an amazing observational study of erosion, additive sediment action, and geothermal process, unlike anything I'd ever seen before.
Geologically, interesting and beautiful, from an art influence perspective, incredibly inspiring!
Terrace Mountain in particular is the largest of these sort of spring carved natural formations, followed by Minerva, which from what I understand, was rendered dry because of some minor earthquake activity. 

Evidently, earthquake activity is per the norm, as a LOT of geological activity is consistently hashing out it's earthly issues, far below.
[Left] Liberty Cap. [Right] An accidental shot of my shadow as I tried to photograph Liberty Cap.
Liberty Cap is an odd relic, with a colorful history. So it stands at around 37 feet tall, marks the norther portion of Mammoth Springs, and got it's name in 1871, by the Hayden Survey group, because it resembled the peaked caps worn during the French Revolution.

The spring that created it was pretty consistent when it was flowing, and what you see is a few hundred years of deposit formation. It's pretty unique in that it just sticks out distinctly. I always try to fathom what was going through the minds of the first European based travelers as they came across not only Liberty Cap, but the springs in general.
The mineral deposit colors from the overflows and run offs are so stark!
After spending a few hours walking and appreciating the springs, I wanted to get out of the sun, and see what sort of little collectibles I could find for myself. Yeah, I'm totally that guy, not the one that always gets the t-shirts anymore, but I have my own physical earmarks of memorabilia I like to look for and discover. 
Hobbies of any kind can be a wonderful ice breaker. While at a park gift store, I discovered National Park tokens (which are collected in folios similar to pressed pennies, but with no pressing involved), and as I spoke to the lady at the register, it only took a few "testing the geek waters of conversation" and it led to full on conversations about comic conventions, the 501st stormtroopers group (she was an Imperial Officer cosplayer), and random comments about what fandoms and hobbies we liked. All in like a 4 minute window of conversation, that ended in both of us agreeing we missed attending comic conventions something terrible!
Pressed Penny collecting addiction.
Onwards into mid day, a road side rest stop that brought out the kid in me was this area of large climbing rocks. Now under the best of circumstances, I'm not always a fan of heights, but I was a kid that would climb some trees, and always crawled around and under big rocks. I think it's why I love canyons so much when I can get a chance to go to them.

The weather was very windy, but warm. One thing I didn't realize at that time was that although I knew enough that air gets a bit thinner at higher altitudes, I wasn't keeping as well hydrated as I should have been.
An area by the wayside of the road that's handy for climbing...
Getting a chance to just be out and look around and feel like I was a little kid again, was priceless. I didn't think about the extra little exertion I was doing in climbing in and around, because I got a pretty good dosage of happiness that washed over me like a fond memory.

Yellowstone was beginning to let me lose a lot of my own self doubt, worry, and pulled me into focusing the living world around me. How far this was from a corporate cubicle. How rough and varied the textures of the surroundings were around me. For a lot of years, this was something I knew from my years camping, and just being in Boy Scouts. 
...but also for crawling around underneath within the shady large rocks.
Running my hand over the rough bark, lines of sticky sap, now across my palm. The cool shaded areas underneath the larger rocks... feeling the wind blow hard around me, made me think of a lot of the parts of myself I'd locked away, if only because I didn't feel a connection to those times as strongly as I once did. 

But right there, I did. It was gottdamn wonderful.
Bison are everywhere. LITERALLY. EVERYWHERE. I half expected to find one in the men's room at the hotel.
I remember thinking, I wonder how many bison I'd see. If you have not been to Yellowstone, and you will be there for more than a day, put that worry to rest. They are there. They are there so often, you'd think they were there to talk to you about a limited time offer to extend your car's warranty.

All kidding aside, if time had been on my side, I would have sat and watched, sketched and just chilled out at a "park recommended safety distance, because in NO reality can you hope to outrun a bison", and been freaking happy. 

What's not to love about these guys?! They are big and hairy, have legit beards, horns, and they grunt a lot.

The day would now lead into going to see more springs and mini fountains. One thing that is a reason to get up early, is that parking can be highly challenging to get into, especially during the peak hours of human interaction and mobility, which in this park is from the hours of 9am till 4pm. The park does not close, so it always got to me that people were not more spread out in how they went to see things.

Onto the Norris Geyser Basin area. It's a massive area of walkways that encompasses the Back and Porcelain Basins. From a geothermal aspect, the area has been active for well over 100,000 years.

Two things I should note, there are walkways. Do NOT leave them, and don't bring your pets. Seriously.

Oh an one more additional thing, if you have a hat. Tie it down, or put in in your pocket. Seeing a hat half submerged in a spring is both depressing, and just annoying. The rangers and caretakers of this park have enough to worry about in a pretty unique and fragile ecosystem.
I am a sucker for informational kiosks. Because I know some graphic designer and copywriter somewhere spent TIME on this. A lot of time.
So this cool informational area is the entrance to the Norris Geyser Basin walkway. It's the last bit of shade you will feel for a while if you take the long walk across the boardwalks.
Something that I can't state enough is how varied the areas of Yellowstone really are. You can go from lush grassy areas, to burned out forests, to wide plains, to partially barren hot springs and everything in between.

It's a good idea to bring some bottled water with you. I, did not. The boardwalk views are great, and it is something to see, just how many and how big the area is. Compared to other places in Yellowstone, it's not the most traditionally scenic area to be in, but bear in mind, you won't see places like this anywhere else in the United States.
I'm glad it was breezy, because it was warming up fast this day.
Evidently because areas like this were so isolated when westward expansion was happening, many early settlers regarded most of Yellowstone to be mythic or rumor at best. Areas like this were described as being not unlike a version of hell, with brimstone and steam inspiration coloring the tales.
The walk is over quite a long distance, make sure you've got good shoes.
As the day went on, I started to wear out. It was a combination of the hiking, the lack of prep on my part to stay effectively hydrated. Another bit of advice? If you are planning on going somewhere like this, start working on your walking and hiking game.  
Sunset on the second day at Yellowstone.
I had to call it for an early night, I was pretty sure between a headache and some muscle soreness, I had a bit of heat exhaustion. There were still some days to go, so drinking a bunch of gatorade and water and getting to bed right around 7pm was all I could muster. I still had some days to go, so I wanted to get better quick!

Even though I was not feeling that great, I still had happiness in me. Join me next week, when I'll be back with part 3!

Until next time, remember to support artists and local businesses. Be kind to your fellow beings and always take the path less traveled. We all may live in times uncertain, but kindness, understanding, and believing in the good that is in most each and every one of us is what can bring about better days!

Mario, the Artisan Rogue
Illustrator, Voice Actor, Writer, Animal Rights Activist

Wednesday, June 16, 2021

Yellowstone Part 1: the Discovery

My initial impression of Ranger and Bear interactions were WAY off thanks to this cartoon.
When I was a kid, I loved the adventures of Yogi Bear, and the park of Jellystone. I had no clue that it was based on the real park of Yellowstone. (Come to find out that there in fact multiple real world "Jellystone" parks people can go to, but that's a future adventure). 

It was when I was later in Boy Scouts, that the subject of Yellowstone came up from conversations of others in my troop. This was around the time we were all preparing to go to Philmont (a high adventure base in New Mexico). 
The talks of Old Faithful, the wildlife, and the immense size of the park, all piqued my interest. And come to find out, one thing that was shared between Philmont and Yellowstone was that each had sizeable herds of bison that roamed freely. I remember that at some point, it was mentioned that perhaps Yellowstone could be a Scouting trip in the next few years. But, within a year of coming back from Philmont, our troop merged with another local troop. Another year went by and after achieving my Eagle Scout rank, I left my Boy Scout troop and any chance to go to Yellowstone.

Quite a few years later, the chance to go to Yellowstone finally came along, but I found myself being a bit hesitant to want to go. Being a freelancer, and still working to get aspects of my business up and running, I was nervous, if not reluctant. Going on a trip with family to Yellowstone of course seemed fun, but I still had my misgivings about going. Thankfully, I came to my senses and within a few weeks, found myself sitting in the KCI terminal waiting for my flight, starting up a new sketchbook.
(Left) Sketching other people around me in quick ink pen renders. (Right) Standard "out the window iPhone not really Instagram worthy" picture.
I had debated on what to take with me, what if any art supplies, whether or not to take my journal, things like that. I finally settled on a small sketchbook, some watercolour supplies (which did not get used), and none of my larger camera equipment, opting just to stick with my phone to record video clips, audio notes and take pictures.
A restoration of a 1918 Curtiss Jenny JN-4D - used often as a trainer for pilots in WW1, the first plane to fly airmail, and was also the mainstay of the U.S. Signal Corps.
The flight from KC to Denver wasn't too bad. There were some cool museum like displays about aviation at the airport that helped pass the time while waiting to board for the second flight to land in Bozeman, Montana. I wish more places would have things like this up for people to learn from and see. I mean history is literally around us all the time, but at times it takes a slight nudge to remind people that it's there.

The second flight wasn't as comfortable, in fact, I am here to tell you, riding the next to the last row of seats during turbulence is as claustrophobic and annoying as it sounds. BUT, at the end of the flight, I was not only beyond elated to get off the plane, but was eager to see what Yellowstone would be like.
I felt like I was on the set of every nature documentary made for the Discovery Channel that featured waterfalls, trees, and bears.
I want to start off with saying that no photo, no video, will prepare you for just how massive, how sense encompassing, and majestic Yellowstone actually is. Before you even get to the entry point in Mammoth Springs, the imposing mountain range, and the seemingly even more massive skyline, began to set a sense of ease and peace for me.

After checking out the town of Mammoth Springs for a bit, Lamar Valley was where it was decided to try and see some of the wildlife in the area. The drive out to the valley is some of the most gorgeous tree lined areas I've ever driven, and the winding roads can take a while to get around, but all are well maintained and have pull off areas in the event anyone felt like taking photos or stopping just to sight see.
Lamar Valley has seemingly endless low mountains and hills, and wide grassland areas with bison and as a few had seen, some coyotes (possibly wolves) lurking on the other side of the herd that was grazing at sunset.
From the Yellowstone Facebook groups as well as advice from the rangers in the park, the best times to not only see most of the park but also the most plentiful amounts of wildlife were either early in the morning or anytime from dusk till sunset (that's because the animals are out, and not a lot of humans are, I'm not kidding, the park becomes barren of people right around 4pm and onwards). I quickly learned that it was easy to see where a bear or wolf sighting was happening, because without exception groups of people would start to park in the pull off areas to get photos or just watch with binoculars.
Having grown up watching westerns with my parents, I kept thinking I'd see cowboys near the horizon.
Spending time watching the sun set, the bison herd graze, I had memories of the bison herds from Philmont and how much time had passed between then and this moment. No lie, it was a bit surreal, and I felt a bit of melancholy mix in with the wonder and happiness I had sitting there as cooler temperatures rolled in. 

Some of it may have been because of the time that had passed, but I reminded myself of some of the stuff I'd been working with my therapist on. To be in the moment, to appreciate where I was, and what was happening. On the way back to the hotel, there was a small road that was pretty easy to pass by, but at the end of that small drive was a very cool geological relic.
This lone Petrified Tree is the lone survivor of an Eocene era eruption, around 30 million years ago. There had others that had stood near this one, but relic collectors and vandals had managed to destroy those (hence the reason this one was fenced in). So this stone giant stands as the sole memory of a more turbulent geological time in Yellowstone.
There are a few different phone apps that provide information and guided GPS navigation voiced tours, but even those do not cover all of the minutia and out of the way things to see in the park. I can't stress enough that the more time you take to explore, the more you'll discover.

After checking out the Petrified Tree, it was time to head back to the hotel. On the drive back, we all noticed that it was about 10:30 pm, and though the forested areas were very dark, the sun did not seem to have set. No kidding, the sky was still a very faint light blue and not until about 11:15 pm did the sky actually darken up like a normal night sky. I'm not sure why but I have a feeling it had to do with the elevation and the refractive lighting from the other sides of the mountain range.
Futurama is always a welcome way to end any day of hiking and nature appreciation.
The next day would be starting out around 7am, to get out before the crowds would be crazy. Come back for the second part of my time at Yellowstone.

Until next time, remember to support artists and local businesses. Be kind to your fellow beings and always take the path less traveled. We all may live in times uncertain, but kindness, understanding, and believing in the good that is in most each and every one of us is what can bring about better days!

Mario, the Artisan Rogue
Illustrator, Voice Actor, Writer, Animal Rights Activist