(picture credit: UUSS)
Leah and I passed through the construction zone with time to spare, thus avoiding the road closure, and reducing our stress level. It was 7:00 pm, we were tired, and I needed a break from driving since 10:00 am. If we could make it through the next 28 miles without incident, we’d be out of the park and on our way to dinner. We continued toward Madison junction at a normal pace, until once again, traffic stalled to a stand-still.
Cars were pulling over left and right, creating a logjam. The Gibbon River to my left and the foothills of Mt. Holmes to my right offered scant shoulder room to negotiate a roadside pull-over, yet I managed to maneuver the truck clear of the solid white line to investigate for myself. Just then, a Park Ranger pulled his patrol car behind me with lights flashing.
“Finally,” exclaimed Leah, “there’s someone here to control this traffic mess!”
I dashed across the road to discover a family of elk dining on long grass on the other side of the river, while the ranger seemed powerless to control the many onlookers. Instead, he joined all us at the water’s edge to admire the scene.
I turned to ask Ranger Painter a question. “Is there any concern to the public about the earthquake swarm that’s been recorded since the weekend?”
Since June 12, the northwestern edge of the park (our location) had experienced over 464 events
, with the largest quake registering 4.4 magnitude on June 15.
“This is the highest number of earthquakes at Yellowstone within a single week in the past five years, but is fewer than weekly counts during similar earthquakes swarms in 2002, 2004, 2008 and 2010.”
The last major eruption of the Yellowstone supervolcano was a magnitude-7.5 event in 1959 at Hebgen Lake–the same vicinity experiencing the latest seismic activity–resulting in a landslide that killed twenty-eight people.
Painter responded, “Is that your red F-150 parked over there?”
“It is,” I answered, “but it’s not for sale,” I added.
“There’s been a report about unsafe driving–that you’ve been passing on a double yellow. Is that true?” asked Ranger Painter.
Incredulous, I asked, “Are you sure you have the right truck? There must be a hundred or more red trucks in the park.”
“But your’s is the only one from New Jersey,” he asserted. “Another ranger witnessed you unlawfully passing, and put in a general call to pull you over. That means I’m supposed to give you a ticket from him for the offense. So, I’m gonna need to see your license, registration and insurance card, please.”
“Are you kidding me? This is extortion! There’s no way I did what he said. And if it’s true, then why didn’t your buddy pull me over?” I insisted.
“Look, I understand your frustration, and I don’t think this is the best way of doing things either.” Painter shrugged, “Personally, I hate doing someone’s dirty work, but I’m just the messenger. This is gonna take a little time, so you’re welcome to continue taking pictures if you want.”
After twenty minutes, the elk returned to the forest, and the crowds diminished. Painter returned to the truck, with my citation. “First of all,” he started, “I want to thank you for not being a jerk.”
“Not my nature,” I declared.
“Good,” Painter responded, “because I didn’t cite you for careless driving like the other ranger advised, which would have been a $200 offense. Instead, I wrote you up for unsafe passing, which only carries a $60 fine… and a $30 processing fee.
“What? A $30 processing fee on top of the ticket. You guys give new meaning to highway robbery,” I alleged.
“What can I say? Everything’s going up,” Painter posited. “Just sign at the bottom,” he instructed, offering the violation notice. “I’m also giving you this flyer, ’cause if you think this is unfair, then call the number and maybe you’ll get the ticket dismissed if you fight it.
“You bet I will,” I pronounced.
“Drive safely,” Painter forewarned, “and you’re in no danger of being caught in an earthquake.”
We finished the ride home to our Airstream in West Yellowstone without words or further incident after completing the Upper Loop in 10 exhausting hours.
The next day, we planned to follow the Lower Loop around, but we were grounded the moment we passed through the West Entrance. Our intention was to leave for the park on the earlier side of 9:00 am, but arranging future reservations in Canada’s national parks had proved more elusive and time-consuming. Consequently, traffic into the park was such a snarl by 10:30 am that cyclists with loaded side bags were making better time. After three hours, we managed to travel thirty ebb-and-flow miles. We were so far behind the tie-up that we could never figure why things were moving so slowly, although we surmised that it was animal-related.
We ate our lunch at Fountain Paint Pot, and walked the boardwalk through a desolate field of fumaroles, geysers, and hot springs, glad to finally stretch our legs. I chose to photograph the landscape as “abstract in nature”, sometimes compressing depth with a longer focal length…
…or extending time by shooting at high speeds…
…before moving onto Black Sand Basin to capture and accentuate true color through a polarizing filter.
Leah and I agreed that it made little sense to continue the loop. It was already 4:30 pm. We called it quits before reaching Old Faithful, knowing full well that we would be driving into the eye of traffic turmoil, and realizing that the ride back to West Yellowstone could be unpredictable.
We originally planned to explore the park in five days, by pacing ourselves through the highlights, but allowing for a deeper connection by hiking some of the 1000 miles of available trails. But the Yellowstone crowds squashed our enthusiasm, and wore us out. Leah vowed that we would not return to the park in the foreseeable future, even through two more days were scheduled.
Part 3 reveals how we spent the remainder of our time.