Thursday, January 29, 2015


Ohio is the single worst state for road tripping. Hands down. No questions asked. No contest. Not even close (despite what I said about Indiana). 

It all started with my first trip to the state in the spring of 2000. We were traveling to the University of Miami, Ohio with my sketch group, Casual Sketch. We stopped in the eastern part of the state for some dinner at Burger King. As I unwrapped my Whopper, I overheard a conversation between two old men next to me. "You know that commercial, 'Where's the beef?'" one asked the other as a half-eaten french fry fell out of his mouth. "I'll tell you who has the beef. It's those damn lying dirty democrats!" Political preferences aside, I couldn't help but laugh at this ridiculous non-sequitur.

After the meal, I got up to use the restroom. As I approached the lone stall, a man with his small son under his arm busted into the bathroom and said, "Hey buddy, my kid had a bit of an accident. Can we cut ahead of you?" Of course I obliged. They finished their business and exited. As I walked toward the stall for a second attempt, another man bursted into the bathroom, screaming child in tow. "Hey pal. Bit of an accident. Mind if we use this stall?" I noticed poop streaming down the boy's shorts. Again I obliged, and left. After the backwards old men and the apparent pants-shitting epidemic, I gave up on the bathroom, and on Ohio.  

I've now criss-crossed Ohio a good ten or more times, and every pass-through has reinforced my opinion of the state. Several trips to visit family back in New England and a few to destinations within the state have resulted in multiple speeding tickets, bad traffic, treacherous storms, odd smells, endless construction, expensive tolls, unkept restrooms and long, boring drives. I tweeted my latest journey to the not-so-great state of Ohio with the hashtag #ohiosucks. Check that out on twitter and note the numerous participants. I am not alone on this! 

Despite my strong anti-Ohio sentiment, I have had a few memorable trips there. An inspired road trip to Niagara Falls, Cleveland and Toronto with my high school friend Chris brought me to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame for the first time. 

Phish's giant flying hot dog
I am a huge fan of this place. The museum houses a plethora of rock and roll artifacts that will excite fans of any genre of music. One of my favorite exhibits is the collection of famous rock outfits, which includes the suits the Beatles wore on the cover of Sgt. Pepper’s, David Bowie’s Ziggy Stardust outfit, Michael Jackson’s jacket from Thriller and even George Clinton’s slippers. 

The Thriller Jacket
George Clinton's slippers
Nothing at the Rock Hall tops the displays of musicians' notebooks with drafts of famous songs written in them. It's fascinating to see the first incarnation of a famous hit in the artist’s real handwriting, complete with scribbles and side notes left during the writing process. These documents have so much life to them, and they stir up true emotions, especially when stumbling upon songs that already hold special meaning. It's worth enduring Ohio's nuances for those alone. I also have a vivid memory of Chris and I sharing a pair of headphones for an hour as we rocked tunes from the Rock Hall's list of the 500 greatest rock and roll songs of all time.

Something from Pink Floyd

The museum warrants multiple visits. I gladly made a return visit in the summer of 2012 as part of a trip with Matt, my close friend and partner in stadium chasing. We ventured to Ohio to see Progressive Field in Cleveland and Great American Ball Park in Cincinnati. We were joined in Cleveland by Matt’s school friend John and John’s wife Leah. All three of them were wonderful company.

John is a big Grateful Dead fan, so he was delighted to hear that the museum was offering a Grateful Dead exhibit when we visited. The installation featured a representation of the Dead's famous concerts, complete with live show footage on an incredible state-of-the-art video and speaker system. The replica of the band's Wall of Sound, a massive arrangement of speakers stacked as high as the stage, added an extra touch of authenticity. I am not a huge GD fan, but I was definitely more into them after seeing this exhibit. Paul Simon is the featured artist for 2015. I might have to make trip #3 to check that one out.

Inspired by the museum, Matt rocks out.

After taking in the museum, we wandered around the city for a while and found quite a bit of quirk, including bad poetry etched into brick walkways, a truly creepy statue and a tongue-in-cheek sidewalk surprise. 

This bizarre statue is a nod to Hungarian freedom fighters

Our wanderings eventually brought us to Euclid Ave, a fancy part of town not far from Progressive Field. The highlight there was a meal at the Greenhouse Tavern that included foie gras steamed clams. 

We also got quite a bit of amusement out of meeting a busboy that looked like a younger version of Matt.

The busboy (left) and Matt (right) 
With our bellies full, it was time to head to Progressive Field, home of the Cleveland Indians. Progressive is a fun but flawed stadium. The playing field is seventeen feet below sea level, which gives the stadium an intimate feel, and its downtown location adds a nice backdrop. However, several minor annoyances added up. The stadium was hard to navigate. Long railings made it hard to get to your seats without colliding with other fans. No cup holders in the seats. Fans were unspirited. Row numbers would skip a numeral or two for no reason. Not such big deals in and of themselves, but when you look at them as a whole, you realize that Progressive is in the "good-but-not-great" tier of baseball stadiums. 

There was one feature of Progressive Field that out-shined all other stadiums: the post-game fireworks. Many stadiums feature fireworks, but this show went above and beyond your normal crackle and boom. It was Beatles-themed, so the fireworks exploded in sync with many fantastic Beatles songs. A trippy custom-animated video accompanied each song. Fireworks were launched from not only behind the outfield wall, but from field level and the top perimeter of the stadium. As if that wasn't enough, they added a coordinated laser light show. The fireworks went on for a good half an hour, and I loved every second of it. If you go, be sure to go on fireworks night. It's worth the price of the ticket for that alone.  

Matt and I said goodbye to John and Leah the next morning and made the four hour journey from Cleveland to Cincinnati for a day game at Great American Ball Park, home of the Cincinnati Reds. The drive was both care-free and cop-free, both rarities for drives through Ohio. 

When we arrived in Cincinnati it was blazing hot, somewhere in the upper-90s. We arrived early and had some time to kill before the game, and we noticed a nearby bridge that stretched over the Ohio river. Turns out the bridge was a pedestrian bridge to Kentucky. We had been in Ohio for a good day and a half and jumped at the chance to leave its clutches, if only for a few minutes. It felt about ten degrees cooler on the Kentucky side of the bridge, so I’m blaming Ohio for the unbearable heat, too. Apparently it’s also cheaper to park in Kentucky and walk across state lines to the game.  

With that out of our system, we ventured into the stadium. Great American Ball Park is a real gem. I was delighted by its Mark Twain vibe, which is hammered home by its steamboat theme. The stadium features a giant boat propeller near the entrance, a replica steamboat (which is actually a fancy restaurant) in center field, and two smokestacks in right center that blow flames to celebrate home runs. 

It also offers many down-home amenities that fit the theme perfectly, including the world’s largest selection of slushy flavors and a general store with wood paneling that sells huge beers in huge koozies. 

The beer selection was great throughout the ballpark, and they had an in-stadium bar, which was handy because we needed their AC to save us from the heat. The air conditioned gift shop was also a nice break.  

It’s also worth noting that the tickets to Great America Ball Park are very affordable. For less than the cost of our nosebleed seats in Cleveland, we scored seats about twenty rows from the field and just a couple of sections from home plate. The only complaints I have about this park are minor. The aforementioned replica steamboat restaurant blocks fans from making a complete loop around the stadium, which is a sacred part of the stadium chasing experience. The other small flaw was that there’s a Reds Hall of Fame that’s part of the stadium, but it’s ten dollars extra to get in. The Royals, Mets and Mariners each have a hall of fame in their stadium, but they’re included in the admission price. I tried to talk our way in for free, but no dice, so we skipped it on principle. Looking back, I should have just forked over the ten bucks. 

Overall I was delighted by Great American Ball Park. I’m surprised it’s not more highly regarded among stadium enthusiasts. For me it’s a top five stadium.  

When one considers the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame the baseball stadiums, it becomes apparent that there are some great things to do in this state. That doesn't change the fact that #ohiosucks.  

Must see in Ohio:  

- Rock and Roll Hall of Fame (Cleveland) 
- Great American Ball Park (Cincinnati) 

Check it out:  

- Progressive Field (Cleveland)

Skip it:  

- The rest of the state 

More Stadium Chasing:

Busch Stadium
Kauffman Stadium

Oriole Park at Camden Yards

Sunday, January 25, 2015

Wyoming, Part 2 - Lamar Valley and Mt. Washburn, Yellowstone

Mrs. Tires and I aren't morning people, but as I mentioned in Part 1, we had occasion to start our second full day in Yellowstone with an early wakeup call. We were headed to Lamar Valley, home of many types of animals, including the grey wolves that were reintroduced into Yellowstone in the 1990s. The best wildlife viewing is in the morning and evening hours, and not wanting to do another Yellowstone drive at night, we were up and out the door at about 5:00 AM. The route took us through the north part of Grand Loop Road and then off the main drag. As soon as we pulled off of Grand Loop, we got what we came for, a real life wildlife encounter. Actually this might have been more than we bargained for. A huge herd on bison was crossing the road to get to the Lamar River. They casually strolled between cars while we watched in awe. They were so close to our car, it was both thrilling and unnerving. They're massive beasts and can be dangerous. Thankfully none of the ones strolling by our car wanted any trouble. I imagine the "a bison attacked my car" conversation would be a difficult one to have with the representatives at Hertz.

Bison jam
After we had encountered our first bison jam, we continued down Lamar Valley's main drag, encountering many more bison and several pronghorns. Pronghorns are more upright versions of gazelles, and they have horns that are, well, prong-like. They're quite graceful and unusual. 

At one of our stops to admire the wildlife and the view, we stood next to a well-equipped man with a fancy camera and a two-way radio. We heard his radio squawk "we've got animals." We weren't sure what that meant exactly, but knew it had to be code for something, as this very innocent-sounding comment got this guy packing and moving in a hurry. We figured out what the fuss was all about at our next stop, where there were a ton of people and cars. We inquired and found out they were all tracking a wolf! I busted out the binoculars and started searching the area they were pointing towards. It took a while because he was pretty far away, but I caught a certified glimpse of him and stood transfixed on this rare and wild creature. I handed off the binoculars to Mrs. Tires, but during the transition, the wolf ran into the woods, never to be seen again. I was really glad to have made the sighting, but was sorry Mrs. Tires didn't get to see it. It wouldn't be the only time Mrs. Tires missed out that day. 

Lamar Valley
After the wolf sighting, we continued down the valley and saw more bison and pronghorns, plus a few mountain goats. As the morning progressed, the valley got more and more crowded and eventually we called it and turned around. On our way back we had another close encounter with the bison. Having gotten a bit more comfortable in our surroundings, we got out of our car while bison were just fifteen feet away. Some yelled at us that were were too close to the animals while we took this shot. Whoops! 

We returned to camp and Mrs. Tires took a nap while I went out for some ice and some intel on our next adventure. As I made my way, I noticed a rather large animal sitting cozy in the middle of a cluster of cabins. It was a full-grown male elk! He was enormous and had a full rack of horns. I froze in place and stared at the animal. I was in awe and wanted to appreciate the amazing creature that was so close to me. At the same time, these elk are very dangerous, so I couldn't linger too long. I took a few photos and watched some more, taking some comfort in the fact that he was sitting down and didn't look like he wanted to pick a fight. I later found out that they're just as dangerous when they're sitting down. Whoops again! I moved on after a few more photos, and noticed some staff members pointing to the the animal and talking into their radios. As I walked further away, more park staff members were arriving on the scene. Not sure how they did it, but they ushered him off the premises while I was at the visitor's center. Another top notch sighting, and another one Mrs. Tires missed.

While in the visitor's center, I spoke to a ranger and got the latest report on our next adventure, a hike up Mt. Washburn. I had chosen this hike months ago. It's profiled in National Geographic as one of the best hikes in the country. 

Among the items that drew us to this hike were the promise of mountain goats, wild flowers and a view of the Grand Tetons. We'd win Yellowstone bingo by seeing all three. The report was for fair weather, but windy and cold at the summit.  

I grabbed some ice for the cooler and headed back to wake up Mrs. Tires, tell her about the elk and get us ready for our big hike. This hike was to be the burliest hike we've ventured on as a couple, a good 7+ miles. We had been working out on the StairMasters at the gym to prepare, but still, the "moderate to strenuous" label on this trail was intimidating. However, we had done pretty well hiking in the Badlands a couple of days earlier and our spirits were high, so we went for it.  

After traversing the Northeast portion of the Grand Loop Road and gearing up, we hit the trail. The first leg was a real challenge, and we were out of breath and worried about what we'd gotten ourselves into. However about a mile in, the trail mellowed out. Phew! As we reached the flat part of the trail, we could see the peak of the mountain we were climbing. Here's Mrs. Tires pointing to our destination. We're headed towards the far peek, which is further away than the peak in the foreground and is actually taller (though it doesn't look so from this vantage point). 

Our surroundings were beautiful. The trees and shrubs were distinct and peaceful, and the sunshine and physical activity kept us warm. There were indeed some really nice wildflowers, and the sky was blue and featured just a few fluffy clouds.

As we climbed higher, we entertained each other with a harmonica. We were in bear country, so all hikers are advised to make noise on the trail. Though neither of us actually play the harmonica, we did our best to cover songs or make up our own. Mrs. Tires actually got quite good! 

As we climbed higher we noticed a bunch of hikers stopped up ahead and looking in our direction. They were watching a herd of mountain goats that were making their way down the trail and coming right at us! We admired them and stood still, but got quite nervous as they continued to come closer. These goats aren't normally aggressive, but males can be to protect their family, and this pack included two smaller goats. We stayed as far away as possible, but this still meant sharing a leg of the trail with them. They walked within three feet of us to get by, even with us shoved off to the other edge of the trail. The male goat definitely gave us the stink eye as he passed. 

We took a few breaks along the way to have snacks and marvel at how far away the beginning of the trail looked. Eventually we made it to the top. The last half a mile was the toughest, as the trail was steep, and the wind was furious, whipping and whirling around in all directions. It definitely gave us Chicagoans a run for our money. We had to put all our layers back on and curse and grunt our way to the top. 

The look of exasperated joy in this photo perfectly exemplifies how we felt when we reached the station at the summit.  

We sat in the lookout station at the top of the mountain for a half an hour, gawking at amazing views of the park that included the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone and the Grand Tetons. We heard the tetons are amazing and were sad we couldn't work them into our trip, so seeing them from this vantage point was a nice consolation prize. Rested and rejuvenated, we geared up to go to the top of the station for the full 360 degree view. The scenery was truly amazing and will be engrained in my memory forever. If only it wasn't so windy. It was tough to enjoy the view for too long.  

The view from the top 
Mrs. Tires and I try not to get blown away
Another shot from the summit
After another stop at the enclosed lookout center, we set off for our descent. 

On the way down we chatting with a threesome of travelers that seemed to be about our age before falling behind and saying goodbye. Towards the end of the journey, we ran into these birds. We think they're quails? 

We made it back down without incident and with a strong sense of pride after rocking this burly hike. The drive back was a real chore, and we were already exhausted. Thankfully we weren't as far away from Mammoth this time and we had a shorter ride. Still very stressful, but nothing another buffalo burger and pint of Moose Drool couldn't fix. 

The next morning we packed up and said goodbye to Yellowstone. We stopped in the gift shop on the way out and purchased, among other things, a Christmas ornament made out of bison poop and a pint glass with the logo of Yellowstone's Road Block lager, a nod to the phenomenon of bison clogging the roadways. Since we were getting the pint glass, we figured we had to get the beer as well. Two tall boys of that, please! 

We made our way out through the north entrance, stopped in town to refill the cooler, and then cruised due north. After such an amazing two days in Yellowstone, I couldn't believe I was leaving this wonderful place and heading to yet another marvel - Glacier National Park. That story will be in the entry on Montana. Coming soon! 

Our surroundings shortly after leaving Yellowstone

Must See in Yellowstone/Wyoming:  
  • Midway Geyser Basin 
  • Old Faithful 
  • Boiling River 
  • Mount Washburn 

Check it out: 
  • Lamar Valley 
  • Upper Geyser Basin 
  • Mammoth Hot Springs 
  • Lower Geyser Basin

The "Next Time" List: 
  • Fairy Falls hiking trail  
  • Hike the base of Devils Tower
  • Sites on the eastern side of Grand Loop Road 
  • The Grand Tetons 

For more on this journey:

#raymansgowest on Twitter

Thursday, January 22, 2015

Wyoming, Part 1: Devils Tower to Yellowstone

My first visit to Wyoming was during my inaugural cross-country trip in the summer of 2000. That's when I started referring to Wyoming as The State that Time Forgot. Where else does the local convenience store sell giant blocks of ice and coke in authentic (not retro) glass bottles? We were just passing through, so other than the anachronistic convenience store, my only memories are of the prairieland grass we drove by for hours and a quick stop in Cheyenne to call Cheyenne, my girlfriend at the time. She didn't pick up.  

Capturing the Audi's shadow as we drove east through southern Wyoming
My second visit to Wyoming was epic. It was a major stop on the trip Mrs. Tires and I took from Chicago to Seattle in the summer of 2014. Our ultimate destination in the state was Yellowstone, but the visit started with a jaunt over to Devils Tower.  

Devils Tower is a bizarre rock formation in the eastern part of the state. There's an entire national park that houses it, the aptly named Devils Tower National Park. Don't skip the prairie dog town near the entrance - I could stand there and watch prairie dogs bark and chirp at each other from their respective holes for hours. 

Bonus: this adorable road sign:

The tower itself is a sight to behold, as it is covered in strange ridges and sits in stark contrast to its surroundings. There's a bizarre Native American legend surrounding the tower. The abbreviated version goes something like this:  

An Indian chief's wife is stolen by a giant bear. To rescue her, the chief turns into a gopher and burrows into the bear's lair. He rescues her, but the bear witnesses the rescue and gives chase. Conveniently, the chief's brother is in the habit of carrying a magic rock with him at all times. When he sees the bear chasing the chief, he sings into the rock and the rock becomes a tower, leaving the trio at the top of the tower and out of reach from the giant bear. The bear makes several attempts to access his escaped pray, but is unsuccessful. The claw marks make up the ridges that surround the tower.  

Mrs. Tires and I had just come from Mt. Rushmore and it had been a long, rainy drive from the presidents to Devils Tower. We still had a lot of driving to do that day, so we settled for a stop at the prairie dog farm and a drive straight to the tower, which is in the center of the park. You can drive right up to the tower, and many take the hour long minute hike that circles the base. Anxious about the late hour, we decided to skip the hike and just spend a few minutes at the base taking photos and stretching our legs. We would have loved to have done the hike, but it will have to go on the "next time" list for now, as we had an even more exciting destination in our sights.

I had been looking forward to visiting Yellowstone my entire life, and it did not disappoint. The park is as bizarre as it is beautiful, with strange colored pools and steaming geysers interspersed throughout the pristine wilderness. We gave Yellowstone a thorough exploration and loved (almost) every minute of it.

Our trip to Devils Tower took its toll on the schedule, so we ended up entering Yellowstone after dark. Not wise. The drive from the entrance to our lodging required us to navigate narrow curves in pitch black, with the ever-lurking presence of elk and other wildlife that could jump out at any time. It was nerve-wracking, but we made it to Mammoth Cabins just fine, vowing not to drive Yellowstone in the dark after that.  

TRAVEL TIP: Consider staying in a cabin if you visit Yellowstone or another large national park. They provide the privacy and novelty of camping without having to sleep on the ground. You're also sheltered from the elements (an actual roof goes a long way), they're typically cheaper than a hotel room, and you usually have access to the host hotel's amenities. Keep in mind that lodging books up fast in the national parks. We booked in February for our September trip and some of the options were already sold out even then.  

Our cabin in the daylight
Cabin interior. Very cozy!
After an effortless late-night check-in, we made our way back to the car, but stopped dead in our tracks when we saw a tall four-legged creature not twenty feet away from us. It was an elk, the first we'd seen. Elks are common in Yellowstone, especially near the Mammoth area. Fortunately this one was female. The males are quite dangerous, especially during rutting season, which just so happened to be in full swing. After admiring the elk for a moment, we heard a sound in the distance that was both truly unique and truly frightening. It sounded like it was straight out of Jurassic Park. Spooked, we ran for the car. We learned later that it was the bugle of a male elk. Fortunately the male didn't catch up to us. Mrs. Tires would run into a couple more female elk while on her way back from the camp bathroom later that night. Fortunately, she lived to tell the tale.  

The next morning we backtracked to the north entrance of the park. We love photographing ourselves next to the iconic signs at the park entrances, but it was too dark for the shot on our way in the night before. I proudly adorned my Yellowstone t-shirt as I stood next to the sign. This was truly dorky, but it's not every day you get to check a major item of your lifetime bucket list. 

The north entrance also features the Roosevelt Arch, a huge rock structure dedicated by Teddy Roosevelt to commemorate Yellowstone as the first national park in America. I love the inscription: "For the benefit and enjoyment of the people." A simple phrase,  and a great reminder of the purpose of the parks. 

We took several photos of the sign, the arch the nearby sign marking the 45th parallel. Then we headed to Boiling River, home of a natural hot spring. It was a chilly morning, but we donned our bathing suits anyway, knowing we'd soon be in hot water. Literally. After an easy half-mile hike, we reached a shore of the river. To get from the shore to the hot spring, had to wade through the river a bit. The current of water we were trudging through was made up of a stream of cold water from one side that mixes with a stream of boiling water from the other side. A few times during this trek we had one freezing cold foot on icy rocks and the other foot flailing in the scorching water that was so hot it was impossible to stand on the rocks below. I strongly recommend water shoes of some kind for this journey. I made the trek in bare feet, but not without falling a few times, once in the scalding water and again in the freezing stream. Ack!

Mrs. Tires navigates the freezing, scalding river. 
The journey was totally worth it, as its reward in the end is a pocket of water that perfectly mixes the hot and cold so you feel you're sitting in a whirlpool. The area can hold a good twenty or so people. We relaxed in the hot spring for a good hour or so and chatted with other visitors, including a family who had experienced a narrow escape when an elk charged their car, and a river boat guide who was full if interesting stories about encounters with wildlife in the park. We soaked until we pruned and then waded back to the trail. 

Upon emerging from the water, a snake slithered across the path. I was not pleased. I absolutely loathe snakes, an irrational but very real fear that I think extends from my name (Adam), the Garden of Eden, the serpent, all that. Not thirty seconds later, another snake appeared. This made me quite nervous that Yellowstone would be crawling with them. Fortunately they were the only two snakes we would encounter on our trip, and neither of them offered me fruit of any kind.  

The second snake. Gross!
The next leg of our tour of Yellowstone was a trip down Grand Loop Road, a 140+ mile road which does a figure eight around the entire park and gives access to most of the main attractions. Our goal was to cover as much of it as possible. We knew it would be pretty much impossible to drive the entire figure eight because the south end of the road was closed for construction. If it's tourism season, there will definitely be construction delays in the national parks. 

Our first stop on the road was Mammoth Hot Springs, a collection of huge formations with steaming pools of water at the top and creamy white ridges down the side that were formed over many years. The boiling water from Mammoth Hot Springs flows over the ridges and into the river we were just swimming in.  

From there we really got going. The drive was beautiful, with yellow rolling hills, thick forest and spouts of steam coming up from the ground. Part of the fun of the drive was watching out for wild animals along the way. There's something very primal about this activity. It felt as if we had awoken dormant instincts from the wild. We spotted several elk and a few bison during our drive. Other highlights of the late morning and early afternoon included a waterfall and a nice picnic lunch at Sheepeater Cliff.

A right proper picnic at Sheepeater Cliff
Next, we headed towards the upper, middle and lower geyser basins. This geological hotbed is home to collections of amazing colored pools and geysers of all shapes and sizes. We hit the upper basin first, where we were drawn to Steamboat Geyser. This is the largest active geyser in the world, capable of eruptions three times higher than Old Faithful. Steamboat's eruptions are rare and unpredictable. The geyser can go up to forty years between eruptions. The last one had been about fourteen months prior. Larger geysers rumble, spit and spurt for a while before full eruptions. We overheard a tour guide tell his group that water spurts five to ten feet high were an indication of an impending eruption. We couldn't help but notice that the spurts looked about seven feet high at some points. As it turned out, Steamboat erupted later that night. Unfortunately it occurred after dark, so it had few witnesses. Still, we got some satisfaction from visiting it on the same day as this rare and unpredictable occurrence. 

Steamboat geyser preparing to erupt
The other memorable geyser at the upper basin was the Vixen Geyser. One dedicated observer said it is typically dormant, but it has been spurting like crazy all summer. Vixen's eruptions were rapid and short, and they just kept going on and on. It was mesmerizing to watch and made us realize that Yellowstone offers many different types of geysers.

Vixen Geyser
Next up was the middle geyser basin. This one was high on my list, as it hosts the Grand Prismatic Spring. In addition to the geysers, Yellowstone houses several boiling pools of water that appear in rainbows of color and emit amusing amounts of steam. The Grand Prismatic Spring is the largest and most colorful of these pools. They're so massive that it's impossible to get the entire pool in one photograph from the main touristy vantage point. Regardless, these pools are serene, bizarre and amazing. They were definitely a favorite amongst our many stops. There's a nearby hiking trail called Fairy Falls that comes with a view of the springs. We had a burlier hike planned so we skipped this one, but it's a definite addition to the "next time" list.  

The Grand Prismatic Spring up close
Steam rising from the Grand Prismatic Spring
Another pool in the Midway Geyser Basin
There was still so much to see, but before we knew it, the day was waning. It was almost 5:00, so we passed over the lower basin to catch the last must-see attraction on our list - Old Faithful. This is of course a very famous geyser, known for its impressive eruptions at predictable intervals. It erupts every 65-95 minutes, and an algorithm allows them to predict individual eruptions to within ten minutes. When we arrived, a sign informed us the next blow would be at 6:14. Our timing was not great as it was just a bit past 5:00. Should have known when we saw all the cars leaving the lot as we were pulling in. 

Fun Fact: There's a twitter account that broadcasts Old Faithful's next eruption: @GeyserNPS. 

Not as Fun Fact: Yellowstone has cell phone service, but only in select areas, very few of which are close enough to Old Faithful for the twitter account to be of much use.  

We used our early arrival to secure a good spot on the famous benches that surround Old Faithful. As we watched the geyser give off a steady stream of light steam, we remarked that the benches were just how we pictured them and were famous in their own right. We also joked that a good setup for an end-of-the-world sci-fi movie would be that Old Faithful somehow failed to erupt. We were also enamored with they idea of predicting the eruptions, and I had a sharp eye on the clock to see how close this prediction would be. Sure enough, Old Faithful erupted at 6:14 exactly. It started with some teaser spurts, and then blew up with a burst of water and steam. It lasted a good minute and a half and then slowly died down until it was over. Not sure if it was appropriate or not, but I gave the geyser a round of applause at the end.  

Old Faithful, pre-eruption
Old Faithful erupts at exactly 6:14
From there we poked our head into the Old Faithful Inn for a cup of tea and a lounge before getting back in the car. We knew we had a long journey back to our camp, and with the road to the east of us closed, we resolved to just head back the way we came. There was precious little time left for exploring, as wandering around Yellowstone after dark is frowned upon and we were weary already from the journey into the park.However, the adventurers in us kicked in and we decided to squeeze in a quick exploration of the lower geyser basin before heading back. In addition to a few more steaming pools and geysers, the lower geyser basin houses the Fountain Paint Pots, another type of crazy geothermal phenomenon. These ones spout bubbles of odd-colored gurgling mud. 

The Fountain Paint Pot
At the end of the exploration of this basin I was getting a bit tired of dodging other people and started getting sassy.

Perhaps I had tried to squeeze too much vacation into one day and was in trouble for being greedy, or maybe I was being punished for the rude gesture in the photo above. Or was it because I touched the Grand Prismatic Spring when I wasn't supposed to? For whatever reason, the park had it in for us, and we were about to endure the most treacherous drive of our two week road trip. Along the way were a million fellow tourists, each doing their own form of sightseeing while driving. Then there's the road itself, which can get very narrow and bumpy, especially near the construction. Speaking of construction, it was still going on, and at one point it brought us to a dead stop for almost an hour. Beyond that, there was the constant threat of animals jumping out of the woods at any time. Though an animal sighting is always welcome, dusk is when they come out and get aggressive, and the shadowy trail and setting sun make it harder to spot them. Darkness eventually set in and added to the whole ordeal. I white-knuckled the entire drive, and it was really quite stressful and exhausting. 

I could barely speak by the time we got back to Mammoth. We were starving and really needed a beer. After a wait of what seemed like forever, I got my hands on a buffalo burger and a Montana beer called Moose Drool. Both of these were outstanding, and they took the sting out of the harrowing drive.

We had lots of plans to write postcards and chill out after dinner, but we were so tired, we ended up hitting the pillow shortly after the last bite of buffalo burger. This was a good thing, as we had an early wake-up call the next morning...

Check out Wyoming, Part 2

For more on this trip, check out #raymansgowest on twitter.