Travel Journals

July 5, 2012
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TUESDAY, MAY 22, 2012
Driving from South Dakota to Yellowstone National Park in Wyoming was a long car ride, but thanks to the Big Horn, I wasn’t bored.
My family’s van ran along the straight road, passing endless green fields for hours. My brother and I were napping under the warm tickle of the afternoon sun that came through the car window. Awakened by the rumble of the car, I opened my eyes slowly, trying to see through the blinding, bright sunlight.

I pressed my face to the window. The farms and crops were all gone. To the left of the gray asphalt road, bright red and brown rocks piled up against each other, forming tall cliffs that soared through the air to touch the milky, cloudy sky. To the right of the road, the ground suddenly sank as if there had been an earthquake a few hours ago. Looking down into it make me dizzy.

Across the sunken ground, tall mountains towered over everything. Brown and red lines inscribed on the mountains looked as though a giant had dipped a paintbrush into paint, then scribbled over the mountains.

Signs at the overlook explained that dirt and sand had piled on each other for millions of years to create this magnificent view. Many generations from now, the mountains will look different than they do today because of new layers being added. Driving along the twisting road, I couldn’t stop gazing in awe at how nature can create such a remarkable view.

As our van drove along the main road to Yellowstone, I couldn’t believe the snow piled right beside the road. The high mountain peaks were stained with pure white, just like photos I had seen of mountains capped with permanent snow. We parked and walked the trails. Even though the small dots of snow melted only a few seconds after landing on my shoulders, more white dots appeared. A few minutes later, when I looked at my purple jacket an almost transparent white layer of snow was draped on it like a fragile curtain. Tiny white dots on my black hair looked like delicate flowers, disappearing with just a light touch from my fingertips. At first, I was amused by snow in May, but as the snow kept coming, my enthusiasm retreated to a corner of my mind. The snow tried to steal every bit of warmth from my body, leaving me shivering and chattering my teeth. I shook off the snow like a wet dog before snuggling into the cozy, heated car.

My family was ready to crawl out of the car and enjoy the hot springs of Yellowstone. Red magma boils only five kilometers under the park, raising the water temperature incredibly high. Right beside the wooden trains, while the boiling water in all sizes of ponds sent bubbles to the surface where they popped, warm mist from the springs whirled around in the cold air. Thin, fat rocks were layered together like pastries, forming a wide, long staircase. Water trickled down the staircase of rocks like a warm, shallow river.

The bacteria living in the hot water turned the water into shimmering shades of blue and green, sometimes painting the ground beside the water into glowing red and orange as if someone had spilled paint pots. Some of the deeper hot springs were like little oceans, the shallow part green then darkening into blue, then into indigo. The glimmering colors and warmth of the hot springs almost tempted me to jump in. The only thing that stopped me was the stench of sulfur in the water, filling my nose with the smell of rotten egg. Even though sulfur resulted in the name “Yellowstone” by staining the rocks yellow, it didn’t make my nose very happy.

The geysers shooting up here and there also tempted me to jump in. Geysers are also created by boiling magma; the steaming water is trapped underground until there is enough pressure to shoot it up into the sky. My favorite geyser was Old Faithful, the most famous one. The eruption of Old Faithful is easier to predict that the others. The predicted time was 11:01 a.m., and the geyser shot its water straight up at that exact time! We were far from the actual geyser due to safety, so all we could see was a white plume coming out of the ground like clouds. I held the camera in my hands; eyes open wide for any sign of eruption. Suddenly, a man shouted, “It’s starting!” At first, I thought someone was setting off fireworks or oil was sizzling, because of the sound. As I watched the steaming ground, water started to shoot out, pushing through the massive plumes until it reached the light blue-tinted sky and fell to the ground with a thunderous splash. Someone might say that 30 seconds is too short a show after waiting so long in the freezing weather, but I love the memory that Old Faithful carved in my mind.

Unfortunately, Old Faithful is the exception for the eruption of geysers. Almost all geysers at the park are unpredictable, disappointing my expectations. However, here and there boiling water splattered out of the ponds as if it couldn’t wait to soar high into the air. Those eruptions filled the disappointed part of my heart with surprise.

Hot water is not the only feature of Yellowstone National Park. Thick pine forests, long rivers, deep lakes, and a variety of wildlife forms ecosystems in the park. The main road passes through fields and forests with plenty of wild animals wandering around, unaware of humans. Big herds of buffalo with thick, dark brown fur coats and massive horns grazed slowly while amazed tourists crawled out of their cars and flashed their cameras. Among the pine trees, deer, elk and moose walked gracefully on their long legs, keeping their big ears sharp for any sign of danger. If you got too close, they ran away a few dozen yards, and then stared at you with those clear, black eyes.

Bears are also part of the ecosystem of Yellowstone. The only time my family saw one, it was fairly close to the road. It was a grizzly with a thick coat covering its body, too big to be a cub with a mother and a little bit small to be full-grown. A few people were there, too, cameras in all their hands. The bear just stumbled around the field, and then a few minutes later it disappeared into the woods. It was the first time I had seen a wild bear, and I almost couldn’t resist running after it.

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