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The International Writers Magazine: USA - West

Oscar Antonino
A road-trip into the heart of the Western U.S.


Four nights of sleeping high in the mountains, and a cold front that brought pouring rain had me on the verge of catching a serious cold. I was in need of a good night of sleep—so the decision to stay at the motel was just what the doctor ordered. I cranked up the heater and drank a healthy dose of my Kentucky bourbon. By morning I felt great, so I set out for Yellowstone National Park.

Driving north along the Jackson River, the Grand Teton mountain range is to my left. They are a rocky outcrop of jagged pinnacles, reaching out into the blue-bird sky, and footed by a river which nestles itself right between the alps and the road, and gently rolls northward. I pass miles upon miles of golden valleys, green meadows and forests, encased by rugged ridges to all sides. This is a cross-roads, where every few miles you pass streams or rivers that forge together to form more massive, raging torrents, intersecting like major freeways in the city.

I finally arrive in Yellowstone NP through the south entrance. There is immediately a great deal to take in. Each clearing through the trees reveals another canyon, river, lake or waterfall. Then the task of deciding in which direction to proceed within the Grand Loop road that runs throughout the park's many attractions. I head west to Old Faithful, the world-famous geyser.

Aside from her steaming caldron, there are also many others scattered throughout mostly western regions of the park. They can produce wondrous colors with hypnotic mosaic-like designs. From a distance the steam that billows out of the ground resembles ancient smoke signals.

Suddenly, you feel the ground rumble beneath you, then a once bubbling but calm spring will shoot out a great spurt of steam and fumes, recoil back, taking the water in it's pool down into the bowels of the earth with it—only to shoot out again more violently and with greater ferocity. Then, a few of the surrounding pools begin imitating it, each with their own powerful release of energy. It is a surprising, violent and spontaneous show.
Next, I head east through the middle road that cuts through the park, arriving back at the canyon that is carved by the Yellowstone River. The canyon, which is more affectionately than appropriately named the Grand Canyon of Yellowstone, has its share of steep waterfalls that bring out the photographer in all of us. I make my way up to the north-east area, where I know there are a few park-run campgrounds that would hopefully cost less and be less populated.

TowerFall After perusing the other locations, I finally settled for the night at Tower Fall Creek. This is a great area of the park, where a creek sharply cuts through the castle-like pillars, into the awaiting Yellowstone River, to create a majestic falls. In the early morning at sunrise, a quick hike down the trail to the river provided me with my most memorable view in the park that I would experience in the three nights I stayed there. The fog clouds that hovered above the river, snaking through the canyon and slowly burning off with the arrival of the sun over the eastern ridge captivated me for hours, I think...maybe days—it could have been an eternity.

The two following nights I camp at Indian Creek, on the north-west side of the park. I am advised that this is where the howl of the wolves can be heard at night—but unfortunately, I am not so lucky. All I heard was the cackle of a drunken cougar around a nearby campfire.

The area near my camp was full of merging rivers and creeks, big valleys and plateaus that lifted gradually out to the horizons and were flanked by mountains that arose and fell suddenly, thousands of feet. I hiked up to the summit of one of these; Mt. Bunson, rising to just over 9,000 feet. The trail continued down the back to the cliffs above the Gardner River. These are the "Sheepeater" cliffs, named for the Shoshone natives that inhabited the area, who referred to themselves as "Tuku-deka" or mountain-sheep eaters. The hike was about 7 miles in loop, and provided a panoramic and unique perspective of much of the park. The most impressionable aspect was that even this view only was able to reveal a small portion of this gigantic park that extends beyond horizons.

The previous day’s hike was also along a trail that looped around a mountain. It was eight-miles long, bordering the Yellowstone River, and then Elk Creek. I was a bit nervous, especially for the first hike, which would take me solo into the backcountry, after having been advised more than once not to go alone. I tried to sign up for Ranger-led hikes, but was either too late or they were already done for the season. A couple of times when hiking I thought about the Shoshone who lived many years ago and with the same wildlife. How ridiculous it would be, I thought, that one of their grown men would be afraid to walk by himself out there—as if they only walked in pairs, holding hands and chanting down the sun. “Ridiculous!” I spoke aloud, hoping to be heard by any nearby wildlife.

I was now determined that solitude was not going to keep me from my adventures. Scared, I was, but a "sissy", as John Muir once put it, I am not. So, I braved the wild, faced my fears, and was ultimately surprised at the lack of scary wildlife I did see. I couldn't believe how few large animals I encountered in both of my ventures.

Aside from a couple of buffalo, and a far-off herd of mountain goats, I encountered more humans than anything else—which was okay by me. Aside from the threat of both Grizzlies and Black Bears, it was Elk mating season and those bulls—that could easily run you down and leave you for the vultures—were said to be aggressive this time of year. Elk

The morning I leave the park I head north into Montana, and then west on the I-90. It rains off and on, and often very forcefully. For many hours I pass rolling hill upon rocky mountain, tumbling creek upon raging river, misty meadows upon sunny valleys, in no particular order, over and over again. It is beautiful terrain, and although it looks like a tough environment to live in, it seems to me like an ardent-individualist's dream.

The parks connect us to the land and every other living thing we share them with. For three nights, I shared Yellowstone with the wildlife that inhabits it year-round. In this sense, I was a guest, and they the hosts. I had come here to satisfy my life-long curiosities and conquer my fears of the wilderness—I had achieved both. I immediately felt a tremendous satisfaction. The journey that brought me here was an atavistic adventure; and like the park itself, it was an experiment—and a great success.
Oscar Antonino September 2010

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