June 7, 2018: Yellowstone National Park, Day One

After luckily securing the last campsite left at Rainbow Point campground on the shores of Hebgen Lake the afternoon previous, we were sporadically awoken on the morning of June 7th to a violent thunderstorm in the early morning. Around 4 or 5am, I can’t quite remember when exactly, Danielle were fast asleep in our tent, when Dirk woke us up, warning of the impending storm. Raindrops the size of grapes had began to fall, and thunder was booming in the distance. We had seen via the forecast the high potential for this storm, and had gone to sleep nervously the night before. With Dirk luckily awaking right on the cusp of the storm, we quickly began packing up our campsite as the thunder and torrential downpour began to overtake us completely. Rushing to finish before soaking ourselves and gear by the light of flashlight, we crammed our packs into the Thule, and hopped in the Ac’, and drove to the shore of the lake to watch lightening crack across the sky and reflect off the grey and wavy water.

The four of us sat in the car for a few minutes in awe as we watched the lightening arc across the sky and listened to the rain pelt the roof. We laughed at how quickly we’d packed up the campsite fueled by panic, and how the rush of adrenaline had shaken any feelings of grogginess we’d normally have getting up so early. After storm-watching for some time, we started the car and headed towards Yellowstone.

As we drove, the sun began to slowly rise, and the clouds began to clear, with a double rainbow vividly appearing. Once we reached the park, the sky had cleared completely, and the roads were near empty. We got our first taste of wildlife, encountering a female elk on the side of the road. Soon after, we were met with a Yellowstone traffic-jam — a herd of bison blocking the road. Needless to say, we were ecstatic. We waited for the herd to pass, and continued deeper into the park, hoping to find a spot at Madison Campground, but fearing again the campground would be completely full as it was the night before.

Arriving at Madison, we found a man waiting outside the campground office, half an hour before it opened. He explained to us that all reservable sites in the campground were full, and first-come-first-serve sites had to be renewed each morning, otherwise one may lose their site. So, hoping for the best, we joined him in line, hoping someone would be leaving. Once the office opened, luck was on our side again, and a very nice park ranger was able to find us a vacant spot, which we promptly headed to and set up our camp, leaving behind a line of disheartened folks who were unable to cop a spot.

After setting up camp and having a bit of breakfast, we headed out to explore the legendary park. Our first stop was what I believe was Artist Paintpots, a short boardwalk trail through various thermal landscapes. Although the boardwalk was extremely busy, the thermal environment was unique and enjoyable despite the crowds. Given the sulfuric smell and heavy crowds, we didn’t stay very long.

Continuing the theme of heavy crowds, after leaving Artist Paintpots, we headed to perhaps Yellowstone’s most popular attraction, Old Faithful. While the geyser viewing area was absolutely packed with tourists, and this would normally not be my scene whatsoever, Dirk and I found great enjoyment in listening to American tourists from the southern states interact with each other and try to sort their cameras and other shit out in anticipation for the geyser to blow. We waited for the geyser to erupt for about a half hour, before it finally began. I was anticipating Old Faithful to be overrated, and was honestly expecting to be underwhelmed. However, perhaps because my expectations were low, I was quite surprised by the magnitude of the geyser. That said, the American tourist banter was easily the best part of the Old Faithful experience.

Now a bit hungry, the four of us left Old Faithful and headed out to find ourselves somewhere to have a picnic and then go on a hike. To be quite honest, I can’t remember the name of the day-use area we made our lunch at and parked the car before our hike, but regardless, we enjoyed a nice lunch break away from the crowds, and then did a shortish hike through a pine forest to a tranquil lake, spotting a cinnamon black bear on our way. After the hike, we headed back to our campsite for a bit of relaxation.

As if our day hadn’t been full enough, as the late afternoon approached, we decided to make the drive to catch sunset at the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone. We drove across the park, arriving at the Canyon as a storm began to close in on us. I practically sprinted across the parking lot in order to snap off a few shots before the impending storm, and was happy with my success, getting some of the photos I’d specifically been hoping for before departing on the roadtrip as a whole. We explored around the canyon for a bit and then the storm hit us hard.

As it had early when we awoke that morning, thunder and torrential downpour struck. The sky became incredibly dark, as we began the trip home, this time taking the southern route this time, heading towards Yellowstone Lake. We drove across the plains, with the dark clouds obscuring any sunlight and shrouding us in darkness, with the only break in the darkness being oncoming headlights and the cracking of lightning above us. As we got closer to the lake, however, the storm began to fade, and clear skies and evening light began to break through. We stopped at the lake to watch the last bit of pink leave the now clear sky, before continuing back to Madison Campground where we miraculously found our tents dry, with the storm somehow bypassing this area of the park. We then enjoyed each other’s company before falling asleep, looking forward to a longer sleep than the night before.

People in this blog: Danielle’s Instagram.

BONUS STORY: Normally the following story wouldn’t really fit the narrative of a blog post of mine, but we got so much enjoyment out of quoting it that it would be a sin to not include it here. Thus, please enjoy the following true story.

So after we returned to camp after our long day of exploration, we made a delicious dinner and relaxed at our site, playing games, chatting, and enjoying some Montana beers we’d picked up in West Yellowstone. As the night wore on, it was time for us to retire to our tents, and I headed to the nearby washroom to brush my teeth.

The building in question was your typical park bathroom built of cement, split down the middle with men’s and women’s sides. The layout of the men’s washroom was as such: the entrance was on the left of the building, and immediately through the door was two sinks/mirrors, and to the right of those, two urinals, and then to the right of those, three stalls. As I approach the door to the washroom, a young adult male (probably between ages 19-23) is standing in the doorway about to exit, just as I’m about to enter.

As I walk in, I hear from the nearest stall, the voice of an approx. 50-something year old man with a thick southern accent exclaim to the boy in the doorway, “Johnny! Can you go grab me some shorts out my dufflebag!”

Johnny then exited the building fully, while saying something in agreeance, vanishing into the darkness. I then look to my right, to see a small child, probably around the age of four, messing around on the ground in the muck and the mire of your typical public washroom. As I nervously begin to brush my teeth, I hear rustling and grunting coming from the stall, and the young boy, sitting just outside the door, says — again in a thick southern accent, “Daddy, why is Johnny getting clothes for you?”

The man, clearly struggling to what I assume was undress, replies matter-of-factually to his young son, “Well, Daddy’s made a mess of himself. I done pissed my shorts.”

At this point I’m was both dying of laughter internally, but also weirded right out, and decided that was enough teeth brushing for me. I finished up, and left the bathroom, heading back towards our site. As I’m walking back, Dirk is approaching the washroom in order to brush his teeth. In passing I say, “good luck in there” and head back to camp.

Later, Dirk returned, and mentioned how there was a rough sounding southern man in the stall talking to a small child on the floor of the bathroom. I told him and the girls what happened while I was in there and we all had a good long laugh about it. Dirk said Johnny never returned with any replacement shorts while he was in there.

A good omen for a good day?

The traffic jam begins.

Our first sighting of thermal activity.

Tourists, man, tourists.

The insane crowds waiting for Old Faithful.

When it was steaming like this we were not really expecting much.

And then it began.

Cinnamon Brown Bear we spotted before our hike.

Some phlox.

Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone.

Swallows were swarming around catching mosquitos and one targeted Dirk.

After hanging out at the overlook for some time, we headed to a different overlook just above the waterfall.

The rain then began absolutely pounding down. As we began to drive back towards the campsite, but we had to stop to take some photos of these majestically stoic bison.

The rain broke as we arrived at Yellowstone Lake.

Elk chilling in the village.