Thursday, September 30, 2010

Day 7- Part 2- A Very Exciting Day Indeed!

September 21st continued

We continued along Hwy 287 as it took us through the Gallatin National Forest towards West Yellowstone. I was very glad we took this route because we got to pass by Earthquake Lake and Hebgen Lake which is the area in which Montana's largest recorded earthquake occurred late in the night on August 17, 1959. It was also one of the largest earthquakes to hit North America. Earthquake Lake was actually created by the earthquake (hence the name) and must have been absolutely terrifying for all those camping nearby.

This 7.5 earthquake caused an 80 million ton landslide which dammed up the Madison River. It is estimated that the landslide traveled 100mph and ended up killing 28 unsuspecting campers. The thought of this just sends shivers down my spine. The rest of the people in the area had to quickly gather their wits and get the heck out of Dodge because by early morning the campgrounds in the area were completely submerged under water. Today Earthquake Lake measures about 190ft deep and 6 miles long.

Aftershocks of up to 6.5 on the Richter scale occurred for months after the event.

It was incredibly eerie to drive by this area. There were several interpretive signs on pull offs so that you could read more about the history and get a good view of the scenery. The skeletons of hundreds, probably thousands, of trees still stood in the lake. Poking out of the water as an unsettling reminder of the land that once was there and of the people who had been sleeping on ground now covered by a body of water.

We drove on towards West Yellowstone, stopping for gas along the way. I'm not going to lie, carting a 22ft travel trailer up and down mountains and across poorly maintained roadways doesn't bode well for your gas mileage! We met another traveler at the gas station, he was from somewhere in the south and luckily in talking to him we realized we needed to re-evaluate our lodging choices because RV parks were commonly charging upwards of $50 a night!! Thats absurd! AND they were charging tax, which I was like, um hello we're in Montana there's no sales tax but evidently resort towns can charge you tax anyways, to make an expensive trip even more expensive! I need to just say why this drives me crazy, especially on the border of a national park. I mean, in our history we have absolutely ravaged the lands of North America (not to mention other places) making it necessary for national parks to be formed. So people who are born later and had nothing to do with that rape of the land get totally jipped because now, if you live like most Americans you don't have much access to wild places (which I think should be a fundamental right) and then when you try to get close to them these people who run touristy resort towns are going to squeeze every possible penny out of you. It's taking advantage of a tragic situation. Then, when you make it difficult for people to access wilderness it's not as common for them to do so and then they don't form that bond with nature that makes them realize the inherent value of it. It is this connection to the land that is vital in future and present generations having any desire to protect it.

So pretty much this marked the time when the trip started to get really frustrating. I mean, as you've seen in Part I of this Day 7 journal entry, this day has been crazy amazing and totally epic. Arriving in West Yellowstone and our venture into the national park is the anti-climatic ending to what I can still say was overall a wonderful day.

We decided to try our luck in the park; maybe we could find a good camp spot there to park our travel trailer. We had bought the America the Beautiful Pass that is an annual pass allowing entry to all federal lands in the USA. We took off towards the Madison campground, amazed at the sheer number of tourists creeping along the 2 land road through the park, occasionally and erratically screeching to a halt because the drivers, who were probably concentrating on everything but driving, were trying desperately to crane their heads out of their windows in case any amazing animals suddenly appeared. I will just say that it was a wonderful practice in defensive driving!

And then, IT happened. We were crawling along on the road, enjoying the scenery but mainly trying to just figure out where we were going to spend the night. Every hundred yards or so there would be twenty cars pulled off the the side of the road (and sometimes mostly still on the road) with tourists swarming to photograph whatever it was they were seeing, deer, moose, bald eagles, etc. I was looking out the window and narrating for Tyler who, as most drivers should, was driving. I saw a deer lying on the side of a creek and these tourists, the bane of my existence, creeping close and closer and closer until they were literally about 2 feet away from the poor thing. My teeth and clenching and I am shaking my head even as I recall this. Their cameras were stretched out in front of them, and seriously, I don't think they could even capture the whole deer in the photos because they were really that close. Seriously, this is how tourists get hurt. I mean, first of all, it was a fricking deer so that is evidence to me that these people were seriously clueless. This isn't some amusement park with trained animals posing for photos. These are wild animals! No, deer do not eat meat but that doesn't mean that it couldn't beat the crap out of you if you scared it or made it feel threatened. And this comes very soon after the story about the grizzly bear in this very area attacking and killing someone at a campground. This isn't just a case of wild animals gone dangerously crazy, it is more probably the case of a photographer baiting the bear with food so as to get a good photo or of some general kind of bear country ignorance. Don't go into bear country unless you are prepared and you know not to keep food in your tent, or any of the other basic safety precautions one must take. It is very, very uncommon for an animal to just randomly attack someone, usually there is a reason. When I first heard of the grizzly attack I was immediately skeptical about the circumstances leading up to the attack, now seeing this nimrod creeping closer and closer to the deer in hopes of getting a sweet picture, my doubts were confirmed. And the sad thing is that unnecessary ignorance isn't just endangering that person's life and the lives of the campers who will come after them, if a bear attacks someone it will definitely be found and killed by forest rangers. So now some poor grizzly bear is going to lose its life because someone thought it was acceptable to be ignorant and irresponsible.

Well, I'll admit that was a bit of a rant but really, can you blame me?! I've actually been kind of dreading writing about this because I knew I was going to be pretty pissed off but I'm trying to be honest and clear about all the things we encounter on this trip. I want to discuss them and I'd love to hear other people's thoughts. I feel that writing about all these day to day experiences and talking about them more in depth really shows something about the complexity of the human spirit. Seeing that tourist interacting with the deer did initially make me angry but if I break that down and think about what I actually think about it, it just breaks my heart. This basic ignorance is absolutely tragic because it shows how deep the disconnect is between the general human population and the wilderness.

We got to the campground, finally, and we were flabbergasted because there were over 250 camping spots! I mean, usually have twenty other parties of people at a campground is a lot but 250? Holy cow. We turned around and headed back to West Yellowstone, more than a bit frustrated at this point. We had some luck back in the town when a man who ran an RV park said he had a super basic spot that he'd rent to us for the night for only $20. That's more like it. We had initially wanted to spend a week in Yellowstone but we decided one night would suffice. Tomorrow we'll explore some more and hopefully have a better experience.

Despite the touristy feel of W. Yellowstone we decided to try our luck with getting dinner out because both Tyler and I were exhausted after the long day. We ended up going to an italian restaurant not worth mentioning because the food was not that great. However, the cool part of the evening was that when we got there we got the last table because it was very crowded. A middle aged couple walked in after we'd ordered and since we were sitting at a table for four, Tyler offered them the 2 remaining seats if they didn't want to wait. I was kind of surprised when they looked excited and said okay but it turned into a great time! They were a very sweet couple named Vicky and Emmett from California and we ended up having unexpectedly good conversation with them! Also they were the founders of the Mule Deer Foundation which does work to conserve mule deer habitat... pretty cool! Overall I'd say it was a good day :)

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