Hiking in Geyser Country

Dad stays inside to write, thinking it’s overcast, so I’ll venture outside to the Old Faithful Geyser Loop Trail for over half an hour taking in the soft growing sun, the trickling water, and the rising steam. I’ll return to find Dad still typing away but eager to go as he sees the sun coming in the window.

We’ll average a mile an hour on the Upper Geyser Basin Loop Trail and after overhearing families complain about being here (hurry up, I already saw that, I want to go back to the hotel) I tell Dad I understand why he was afraid to have kids. His response was, “I’m afraid to have adults.”

We saunter along the boardwalk, bending down to capture a variant of angles, colors and formations, paths of light, bubbles of hydrogen sulfide (a toxic gas if concentrated), and to follow the flow of water as temperature, seasons, and decades continue to make subtle changes to this taiga biome.

We take a break to rehydrate and energize before driving into the mess of parked cars or those waiting in line and the horde of people willing to get their selfie-of-proof versus the majority that can barely be bothered to stick their arm out the window or their head from the sunroof for a passing photo.

The car says it’s 76* but it feels like 96*. We’ll spend two more hours outside before making our way back to the Inn where Dad will write while I walk to Biscuit Basin. Humans are so far removed from nature and would rather photograph someone eating ice cream than look at the pigment patterns of the paint pots.

The smell of rotten eggs turns some away but for the two loud families with screaming kids following me I can’t get far enough from them to appreciate the sound of nature without running or turning to shush them. It’s much quieter for a moment with this couple as we watch parent Mountain bluebirds feed their five young.

Past Morning Glory Pool and I can really start to hear the park – a dragonfly, a squirrel, a caterpillar, a flock of geese with their wings moving in unison, and nine baby ducks run-swimming for their life as we startle each other. What could’ve been a two-hour hike turned into 3.5 hours, but that was to be expected given our pace of the day.

I told Caleb I’d be back by 9pm (MDT) and Dad heard by dark. Either way, apologies are in order as I’m 25 minutes late because summer in this region is short, vibrant, and powerful. Even if I had turned around sooner I would’ve had to close my eyes and I find that difficult to do even in bed as I dream about tomorrow.

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Through Antelope Country

I’ve almost forgotten what it’s like to wake up with the sun as living in San Diego feels like being in the bed of a giant who sleeps in till 10 or 11am each day and leaves its large gray blanket over the sky with just enough horizon showing to know it’s daytime.

There are a dozen deer taking advantage of the beautiful skies and empty roads as we make our way out of Craig and drive the 40 miles north to the Wyoming border. We’ll stop a few times for pictures of antelope, a rocky ridge, an unfinished road, and a construction zone.

I enjoy watching cows trot down a small decline on their morning walk. We see more antelope lying around, jumping, jogging, and definitely getting their picture taken. We stop on the 789 N before I-80 to watch a train, appearing two miles long, pass underneath us.

We were going to take Exit 211 to continue on the 287 N but are redirected by an officer around Rawlins to the bypass. We stop in Jeffrey City, where the population is down from 4,000+ in 1980 with the uranium boom to some 20 people left who appreciate the quiet.

The 135 N will take us to Brown Sugar Coffee Roastery in Riverton for my first sparkling espresso. After that writing break for Dad, we’ll stop at an abandoned hotel in Shoshone with a calendar on the desk from 2005, the year I met my future husband.

Living in the desert helps Dad appreciate water when he sees it so we’ll be stopping at the Boysen Reservoir on the Wind River for a short and steep walk down to see HCB (harmful Cyanobacteria blooms), wildflowers, and the earth-fill dam.

The 120 N delivers us to Meeteetse for a picture at the sign “Where Chiefs Meet” for my chief back home, but we won’t be stopping next to the politicized “Don’t California our Cody” sign on our way to Yellowstone National Park for an extra night.

We check into Old Faithful Inn just after sunset and I’ll go over to the most famous North American geyser for its 1040pm eruption. While I wait, I talk with a couple that drove through Salt Lake City from Los Angeles for their first visit.

If there’s not too many kids making a ruckus you can hear the water flow increase as earth works its melty and explosive science magic that shoots 3500 – 8000 gallons of water almost 200 feet in the air nearly every 90 minutes for up to five minutes.

I’m not the only one feeling the impressive energy surrounding this park but I will learn that I’m of the limited few to show a quiet appreciation for the masterpiece nature has created versus the heavy metal concert families or toddler animosity tantrums.

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A Mountain Road Detour

We work in shifts between loading the car, watching the sunrise, eating breakfast, and grabbing some food from the hotel lobby before stopping to air the tires on our way out of town towards Placerville.

The temperature has dropped to 55° F and we both appreciate the chance to enjoy the weather as we stop along our route for a chance to capture the fog among the dew-covered trees, some of the taller ones looking like q-tips as they reach for the sun.

There’s inspiration to be found in the mundane but there’s also an elegance in finding it in the unexplored. I want to take this feeling and bring it home again to find the excitement and knowledge in the ordinary.

Dad stops to write while I photograph ants and worms. He’ll stop again next to a trail for some tripod shots where he took Katarina, Caroline’s niece, on her visit to America to see backroads and horses.

We’ll stop about every 15 minutes on the 145 N for pictures until our eight-mile roundtrip detour into Telluride, to the trailhead of Bridal Veil Falls – 1.2 miles up with almost 1,000 ft elevation gain. The line of cars and people walking from downtown tell us this is a popular hike. We pass two eight-year-olds testing out their golf clubs on the roadside.

“I thought we’d make good time driving so we could hike,” says Dad, but driving 20mph under the speed limit isn’t helping us. Dad’s worried that I’ll get bored if I’m not out in crowds showing off my tights, duck lips, and headphones.

That anxiety is there because it’s been years since we last saw each other in person and had a chance to contemplate the beauty and natural silence that comes in spare moments gained on the roadside away from civilization, traffic, and internet.

We stop in Ridgway so that Dad can fill out a reference for a former employee while I walk around their farmer’s market full of ceramics, jams, rugs, veggies, beads, bags, spicy cheese that makes me think of Caleb and summer teas for Caroline, but I buy neither.

We stop at the Looney Bean in Montrose for sweets, caffeine, a video call for me, and writing for Dad. He’ll call Caroline before we get on the 65 N, a more winding route towards Craig, with more time for sightings of Yellow-pine chipmunks, an Alpine pika, and a dying fawn.

Sign posted on 13 N: ‘Wildlife zone. Fine doubled 5p-7a Oct 1 – Jun 1.’ There’s some heavy rain as we arrive into Craig, Colorado at 630pm. The hotel we check into has rooms with two doors so that in case of fire you can jump into the pool or out of the window.

A sad dinner will be had at Fiesta Jalisco, a family run place, on recommendation over The Sizzling Pickle across the street. At least that disappointment would’ve come with a cool name.

Out for a walk in the neighborhood and notice the odd distribution of wealth. There are houses with RVs next to trailer homes with new trucks and Thule cargo cases but no sidewalk except an old section behind a shopping center that says no trespassing.

We’re rewarded with a sunset for dessert versus the rain cloud we saw looming that might’ve given us an early soapless shower. Dad tries talking to me in German before remembering that I’m not his usual bilingual travel companion, but I get the gist.

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Just a Piece

We get to see horses on our morning walk and Caleb video calls to show us the electrodes he’s worn since last night that will stay on his head until his last nap (mandatory 15-minute sessions of lying down in a dark room every two hours) this afternoon.

Caroline will take their car to work while we wait at the rental car office for an hour for a car to be available. The seats are moist enough to wet my pants with Clorox and Febreze and the driver’s seat adjustor has to be screwed back in properly before we drive away and get a tire pressure sensor warning and listen to the steering wheel make a weird toy-like sound.

Back to the house to load the car and Dad leaves notes all over the house for Caroline – something as simple as HUGS on the shower door to make her feel loved and let her know he’s thinking about her – at all times.

I will try my first chocolate almond milk shaken espresso from Starbucks and am not disappointed. Our first photo stop of the day will be along Superstition Freeway to capture the green bushes protruding in layers from reddish-brown rock surrounded by a menagerie of clouds, cactus, and charred remains from the recent wildfire in June.

We stop in Globe an hour later but it’s not long before we’re back on the road admiring the blue submarines of clouds held safely within their white fluffy carrier clouds. We’ll continue on the 60 E to Quemado, NM through a day of contrasts – sunny, cloudy, and rainy weather; mountains, cactus, and forest landscapes; and parental, descriptive, and helpful topics of discussion or lecture.

Dad recalls our trip on this same road from ten years ago and though so much has happened in the interim it could almost be yesterday, but we weren’t snacking on dried mangoes and salted cashews then. We are ready for the treasures and memories the road has to share.

Crossing the border causes us to lose an hour of day but Dad already has planned out mileage that we will cover regardless of what distractions or detours we encounter. We drive the 36 N through Zuni Pueblo and see wet dogs roaming the shade, a kid’s Jeep car deep in the muddy water, and a ten-year-old either digging into a future oven or exploring the remains of an old one.

I notice the multiple signs asking that no pictures be taken during religious ceremonies while Dad looks at the dash for a speed limit reminder to find none and has to remember that the key fob doesn’t auto unlock the car so it has to come out of his pocket.

The 602 N will take us to Gallup for our second coffee and when the caffeine doesn’t seem to be kicking in fast enough for Dad, I suggest we listen to his playlist: Sleaford Mods, an English post-punk duo; Kollektiv Turmstrasse, a German minimal-techno duo; and Petite Meller, a French-Israeli pop-jazz singer.

As we approach Shiprock on the 491, there are groups of houses without delineation between the properties, the roads are wide without markings, and there are some nice murals on crumbling buildings. This space feels open, honest, and neighborly.

We cross into Colorado for heavier rain and more lightning than earlier. We check-in to a hotel in Cortez before the storm arrives and chases the kids from the pool. The outside door opens to a short hallway containing four more doors inside. I’ll be impressed with the sheet sandwich (thin blanket between sheets) which is easier and faster to clean and assemble.

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Prepping in Phoenix

sunrise in Phoenix

I’m up before twilight to join the desert-dwelling couple on their sunrise walk to include: picking up pennies; saying good morning to people, pups, and Lucy the donkey; and seeing a rabbit, two lizards, and a harem of cats. 

Caroline reads about how brilliant octopuses are as Dad drives us to breakfast at First Watch where her and I order the same thing, the tri-athlete plate. 

driving around Phoenix

We’ll drop Caroline to work before going to Dad’s appointment early so we can watch the ground squirrels play in the shade while the sweat drips down our backs. 

While I’m waiting on Dad, I’ll hear a woman tell her friend about offering to have her brother’s baby because his husband can’t get pregnant. I was hesitant to have kids of my own but some women are just made for carrying children inside them; I’m not one of them.

trying on Dad’s socks

Lunch at Oregano’s with Dad. I’ll get to try some giardiniera peppers, which Chicagoans love to put on their pizza versus the Italian style that uses pickled vegetables as a relish. 

Back to the house for more talking, packing, reading, and prepping food for the road trip that starts tomorrow. We’ll pick up Caroline, prescriptions, and bread. 

Dinner at Spinato’s before buying more snacks for the car that will save us time and money when we get hungry and there’s not a place in sight. Dad gets his camera bag ready and packs his wife-made socks before our evening walk. 

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