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Saturday, July 21, 2018


    We’re crossing the country willy nilly.  Without campground reservations we rarely know where we’ll end up each day. This gives us flexibility, a serendipitous chance for surprise, the opportunity to figure it out as we go.
    We peer at maps and ask questions every time we cross a state line. The welcome center’s experts have most of the answers. 

     When we entered Wyoming we asked "Rosie",  “Can you suggest unique a place to camp  between here and  Grand Tetons National Park?”  She was quick to suggest Sink River State Park,  “You can camp next to a tumbling mountain stream that disappears into a cavern”.  We were sold and six hours later we were being amazed by it.

      The turbulent water really does veer into a cave then, two hours later, gurgles up under a trout pond nearby.
      We met Art there. When he’s not teaching theology on the south side of Chicago, he is living inside this tear-drop wooden mini-home that he crafted himself. It’s great meeting fellow travelers and hearing their stories.

     My wife, Francesca, isn’t all that comfortable with this no-plans plan. Still, it has worked out so far.  We’ve found terrific places to park our camper van for about twenty bucks a night. In the Grand Tetons we got the worst spot but still, from our plot dusty plot, we could see distant buffalo and the magnificent peaks beyond.
       Thirty miles to the north, where the Tetons end, Yellowstone National Park begins…and so do the traffic jams that come with it. 
     Popular parks are teeming with people this time of year. I think its because the President intends to turn them into fracking farms, golf courses, and shopping malls. To hell with the elk. 

         Yellowstone, with more thermal activity than any other place on earth, has about thirty super sites to see.  There are psychedelic thermal pools and mud volcanos but Old Faithful, by far, gets most attention.  Every 90 minutes  thousands of tourists converge to watch it spouts up 80 feet.  After  a few minutes of bubbling, steamy drama it takes an eighty-five minute rest.  When thousands of  people try to leave they cause a one-hour traffic jam. Ten minutes later a new incoming traffic jam begins.
 Pi is not crazy about the cool weather.  It dipped into the 30's one Yellowstone night.

   We met Jake there who enjoys and posing with visitors as a Tyrannosaurus Rex.  He told us it is very hot inside his inflatable costume.
   The next day, we saw him waving to visitors 80 miles away at the park’s north entrance.  It’s what Jake does for fun.
   If you plan it right, you can have a perfect Yellowstone experience.  Old Faithful performs 24/7 and with so much open space, you can get far from people and closer to spectacular vistas.

    While this place is fantastic it can also be dangerous.  Silly swimmers die ignoring “Danger: Waterfall!” signs.  We watched a mother advise her son to pose closer to the edge of a 1000-foot gorge and a teenage girl walking much too close  to a boiling thermal pool. 

    The beautiful blue water can kill you in seconds.
Each time I thought, “Am I going to see this person die?”  I suppose  stupidity is just another form population control. 
    The last time we visited Wyoming’s great park we asked a ranger, “Do the bears here really bother people?”. He replied, “Oh yes, a tourist was killed just yesterday”.

      We’ve carried bear spray ever since.  The $50 cans shoot condensed pepper thirty feet. When Ranger Richard told us they can disarm a bear 95% of the time and mimes even more than that, we were sold. He added that two weeks ago, a chaperone on a school field trip accidentally set one off sending sending the whole crew to the hospital.  We are very careful with our red bottle.

      We have seen bears from our van but they seemed more interested in blueberries than us.  A local told us about a man who, years ago, was tossing marshmallows to a hungry bear at her campground. When he jammed the pack into his back pocket to leave, the bear ran after him and clawed open both the pack and his posterior.  
Ouch. I bet he never does that again.


    We took a break from the bears to drive three hours north to Butte, Montana.  We’d been looking forward to their annual folk festival for months.  We attended in 2014.

    There was free camping in a city park for this fantastic, 3-day event.  Every hour you have a choice of enjoying music on any one of five stages, each set a block apart in the center of town.  It is really a world music event.
On the first night we heard great groups playing klezmer, bluegrass, cowboy, French jazz, and Chicago blues.  On following days there were musicians performing from Africa, Colombia, Siberia, and, a nearby Indian reservation.
   On Friday night we danced to thumping Zydeco.
The ever-smiling C.J. Chenier and his New Orleans band wore us out! 

     The festival is free, paid for by local businesses and donations collected by large men in kilts.  You’re so glad to be dancing, drinking beer, and hearing great music that throwing money into their buckets comes easy.

    When the music ended we headed north to Glacier National Park.  

Perched on our country'snorthern border, this place with it’s rugged peaks, mountain lakes, and fast-disappearing chunks of ice, is “America’s Alps”.  

        Many people take mountain tours in 
these 1936 buses, They are very accommodating with comfy seats and canvas roll-back roofs. 

     We had our own touring bus and rode it across the park’s famous “Road to the Sun”.  It takes ’til July for the snow to melt enough to allow passage over the Glacier's’s tallest peaks.  At one stop I tried meditating  beneath a snow cave.  Later I saw a sign telling me this was as stupid as tossing marshmallows to bears.
    Oh well, what do I know, a Florida boy who’s rarely seen snow?

   Outside Whitefish, Montana, a man was selling fresh-picked huckleberries.  I always wondered about "Finn's" first name.  Now they were here, fifteen bucks a pint.  We had them on ice cream.


    It’s hard living in a country led by a raving idiot but now we had a chance to escape.  From the highest mountains we had seen Canada.  

   Heading north, an hour later, we crossed the  Canadian border sporting huge smiles. What a a relief being in a Trump-less country, one that seems to have as motto, “Be nice”. 
  Yesterday we hiked up to a glacier and came down to soak in a hot spring. 

   Where we’ll end up tomorrow. who knows? We have no reservations.


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