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Flying the Edge of America:

Yellowstone National Park (Part Two)

The motel Julia and David stayed at, while in Yellowstone, was a few blocks from West Yellowstone's main drag and looked very shabby from the outside. But their room was clean and had good wireless Internet access. Once inside it was like being in a mountain cabin with wooden walls and timber ceilings. There was even a spot for cooking up some grub in a mini-kitchen area with lots of flowery ruffled curtains hanging from every edge. Come to think of it, there is definitely a theme of wood cabin in lots of America's motels. Julia and David's newest incarnation of a motel was comparatively luxurious with its kitchen and two bedrooms.

Lazy G Motel

They strung up their shoelace washing line in the second bedroom and used it as their personal underwear drying room, as was their fashion on this trip around the USA. It was very handy, although Julia tried not to think too much about what the housekeepers would think when they saw their "smalls" hanging all over. The motel was called "Lazy G Motel". Julia saw lots of places with the same name as they travelled and was not sure of the origin of the name. Is the letter g naturally lazy? And how is it possible for a letter to be lazy anyway? There must be something else she was missing.

After settling into their accommodation they took a look around the town. It was a very pleasant afternoon so they took full advantage of it by leaving their car and walking from their motel to Main Street. West Yellowstone is not very big; it is one of those places with a small permanent population, and large numbers of transient workers and visitors. In the middle of summer it was difficult to imagine how quiet the place must be in the dead of winter. It is laid out on a very symmetrical grid of streets, with the main street passing right through the heart of the town before it makes its way to the west entrance of the park. Main Street is lined with restaurants and tourist shops. Strangely, they encountered many multicolored life size buffalo sculptures scattered about town; Julia and David are still not sure what they were other than very kitsch art. In fact, this was the first sign of what Julia and David began to refer to as: "Kitsch America".

Good Old Faithful

The park is home to many different wild animals from bald eagles to bison. And of course, there are brown and grizzly bears. There are lots of warnings about bears in Yellowstone. The park service has a set of instructions on how to avoid meeting a bear, such as making noise while hiking and only going out in daylight hours. And instructions about what to do if you encounter a bear: when it comes running at you just stand still then slowly back off. It sounds like good advice. Julia just could not imagine being able to stand still in one spot, while a huge 1,000 pound creature made a high speed dash directly at her. She wondered how the instructions were developed, and if they had been put to the test. They wanted to see a bear in theory, but in practice, when they were out on a long hike with no-one around, they really did not mind missing this part of the adventure.

They began to feel more nervous about a bear encounter the more hikes they went on in Yellowstone. By Their last day in the area, they had become quite skittish about the prospect of a face off with a bear. They had a near miss. They had met a family who had just seen a black bear on the trail where they had just come from. But it had run off before they came around the corner and they did not see it. Hiking can be surprisingly dangerous. A gentle walk across the fields can lead to broken bones, bites, and blisters. They tried to be prepared against danger. They carried a GPS emergency locator in their pack, rain gear, a map or directions, extra food, and lots of fluids. Given all the possible risks, for some reason bear attack became the one they were most paranoid about. Their curiosity about encountering bears was tainted with gruesome pictures in their minds of shredded backpacks and broken bodies left on the trail, after the bears had stripped them of power bars, packed lunches, and their lives.

West entrance to Yellowstone

Their fear of bears was at its height on one particular hike in Yellowstone. Before they started on this trail they had checked out the route at the ranger station. The officious ranger had ominously said to them, "There are many bears on that trail, so be very careful." Compelled to put themselves into danger once again, they set off and became distracted by the many wildflowers, the Yellowstone River, and several buffalo on their route. Despite all the lovely surroundings, their reverie in nature did not last long; as they saw quite a few large bear droppings on the trail and they looked fresh. The trail was quiet. In fact, they had not seen any other people for the whole two hours that they had been walking. Then they entered some very dense woods, there was more bear poop and they felt as though the bears were watching them from the dark forest. It was a gorgeous hike that took them through both flower strewn meadows and densely treed woods. But the whole time they knew they were on bear turf and that the power lay completely in the bear's big paws. Luckily, the bears were feeling magnanimous that day and they let them take the walk through their neighborhood unhindered.

Continue the adventure, in my next excerpt from Flying the Edge of America.


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