Our night at the Best Western Inn was a long one. The Gort slept on the floor. I huddled on the bed with Percy and the Hen while the professor vacillated between the chair, the foot of the bed and the floor.
It was one of those nights when morning couldn’t come fast enough.
We had talked, loosely, of taking four days to drive back instead of our usual three, since we were going to be ‘in the vicinity’ of Yellowstone National Park. But when I got in the car that morning in Sheridan, I was anything but interested in seeing the splendor of Yellowstone.
‘I don’t want to go to Yellowstone,’ I announced when the professor suggested we stop to stock up on snacks for the drive. I just couldn’t fathom spending an extra day in the car just to see trees and water and a geyser. He looked at me with wide eyes. ‘You don’t want to go?’ ‘No.’
He swallowed his counter-argument and opted for a diplomatic ‘okay, we won’t go.’
Which was a smart move on his part. If he’d dug in his heels, insisted we go, I would have dug in my heels and refused. Instead he chose to be reasonable. And then I felt guilty.
We stopped at the Wal-Mart and I tore through the store with a cart and thirty minutes on the clock. I bought bags of Terra Chips (many bags of Terra Chips) and popcorn and rolls and turkey and cheese and cereal. And fruit. We hadn’t had fruit for days.
We stopped at Starbucks for (more) iced coffee and free wireless and by the time we got in the car, it was close to noon. It was two and a half hours to Cody, Wyoming, which the professor believed was close to the Yellowstone entrance.
He was wrong.
We arrived at the Park Entrance close to 4.30pm. A sweet braces-wearing McLovin lookalike greeted as from his perch in the booth. ‘Hello and welcome to Yellowstone,’ he chirped. We were not feeling friendly, not any of us. But we offered insincere smiles and pretended to be excited. The professor paid the $25 admission and before McLovin could send us on our way, I leaned in his direction with a desperate look on my face.
‘How long does it take to get to the geyser?’
I had my eye on the clock. And I’d taken a look at the park map. Things did not look good for the Johnson’s Yellowstone experience.
‘Old Faithful?’ the teenaged ranger asked. And I felt all kinds of embarassment for having asked where THE geyser was. Because there’s more than one geyser in Yellowstone, isn’t there?
‘Yes,’ I humbly replied.
‘It takes about an hour and a half,’ he chirped. And flashed a silver smile and sent us on our way.
An hour and a half would have us at ‘the geyser’ close to 6pm. And the sky was overcast. I was darned if I was going to sit in a car for five and a half hours and miss ‘the geyser’.
So we drove. And we drove. And we stopped briefly at ‘the lake’ so the boys could throw rocks and the professor could stick logs in the sand for one of his infamous installations. And we stopped for a bison. And we stopped for ‘other’ geysers. And we got gas and bought the boys more cheap trinkets to keep them happy. And we drove.
And then we got to Old Faithful.
Estimated time of next eruption: 8.12pm.
Is it bad to drive all the way to Yellowstone and not see ‘the geyser’ erupt?
We walked around on the wooden walkways, doing our best to keep Percy from touching that which was not to be touched, for fear he would burn himself. After an hour or so, we headed back to the car, so we could begin the drive to Bozeman, Montana.
It was 7.30ish. The predicted eruption was less than 45 minutes away. ‘Well, let’s get the boys ready and then we’ll drive to the end of the parking lot and if it erupts we’ll see it,’ the professor suggested, because we had no idea how accurate their predictions were. 8.12 could mean 7.45….or 8.45. And did we really want to hang around for a lazy geyser? Apparently we did. We doled out snacks. Changed Percy’s diaper. Put in the ten thousandth movie of the journey. Ate cereal and cherries. Because no one among us could stomach the thought of a sandwich or a hamburger or a nugget. We drove to the edge of the parking lot. At 8.08, as we walked towards Old Faithful, it erupted.
I ran towards the geyser, snapping pictures along the way. Thoroughly pleased that I’d been there to witness the cloud of steam and water (or whatever it is). And then another McLovin-esque teenaged worker rode by on a bike. ‘There she blows……..AGAIN’ he called out as one who’d seen the cloud of steam and water one-hundred-too-many-times.
And then I thought about it. Was Old Faithful lame? Was this geyser a smarter, classier version….of a tourist trap?
As we drove the three hours to the Bozeman Comfort Inn, munching on a half-baked Subway pizza in the dark van, narrowly missing a large deer on the highway, I decided ‘yes’.