Saturday, 1 August 2009

Yellowstone and the Rocky Mountains

Hello folks!

No update yesterday since we both went to bed absolutely shattered at 9pm. The night before, I had a spot of food poisoning and spent the better part of the night running between the bathroom and the bed. Of course, that kept Mattias awake and he slept even less than me, because when I finally fell asleep from exhaustion, he couldn't get back to sleep for another couple of hours :/

However, we were on a rather tight schedule, having booked the next three nights in inns with quite long drives between each. There was no way we could fit in an extra day, because it being weekend and close to national sites, all the cancellation dates had passed. We had a choice of going on or paying twice for every hotel.

So we bravely faced the huge Yellowstone National park tired and sick! It's a very large park and to even get close to watching a bit of everything, you need a full day, fully awake. Most of the sights are connected to the active geological area of Yellowstone. The most famous sight is of course the geyser Old Faithful which erupts every 90 minutes, give or take 5 minutes. Luckily for us, we had seen a lot of similar things on our trip to Iceland last year, so even though we skipped a lot of stuff, we were safe in the knowledge that we'd nearly seen it before! A lot of hot mud pots, mini geysers and hot springs, and all around, a lot of dead trees:

We settled for seeing the bubbling Fountain Paintpots (very cool white, boiling mud - doesn't really show well in pictures though) and Old Faithful. We also drove through a large part of the park simply by going from one side to the other.

Here's the crowd in anticipation of Old Faithful:

And there she blows!

We'd heard a lot about the nature in Yellowstone and how fantastically beautiful it was. What we found was a landscape slightly different from what we'd seen around the states, but... Strangely similar to Sweden. At an elevation of over 8000ft (2400m), the climate was considerably colder than most places, and the landscape looked a lot like the Dalarna area. As a result, we weren't too impressed with the surroundings. But we did see some things you don't see in Sweden! As we were heading for the park exit, we came up to a big congestion of cars. Everyone was getting out and taking pictures of this handsome guy:

We also saw bison and a moose. Now we've seen everything from flamingos to eagles. We probably missed the chance to see a bear, and we're not terribly upset about that :)

If Yellowstone was a bit of a letdown, what with the sickness, tiredness and the Swedish landscape, the next part was way, way above expectations. For a couple of hours yesterday, and several hours today, we've been crossing the Rocky Mountains, and let me tell you that no pictures will ever do them justice. It really felt like you were right in the backbone of the country, the exposed skeleton of a continent:

After a good night's sleep (11 and a half hours!), we couldn't have asked for anything better. As impressive as the Grand Canyon, for miles and miles absolutely free!

We set two records while driving today. As the car climbed higher and higher, the temperature sank dramatically. It dropped down to 4C as we drove through some rain. So while here, we've seen temperatures between 4C and 45C! At its highest point, the pass was at an elevation 9033ft (2753m). Mattias has been to the Alps, but this was the highest I've ever been. You won't be surprised to hear that we drove through an actual cloud around this height. Trust me, it's not fog, it's a cloud:

Luckily for me, that cloud hid the sheer drop on my right side. If you can't see it, it's nothing to worry about :)

Now we're in the small town of Custer in the Black Hills national park area. The town is of course named after General Custer of the battle of Little Bighorn. This is an important area, both to the native Americans and to the more-recently native ones. There are a lot of memorials and monuments around here, the most famous of which is Mt Rushmore (with the four presidents carved into rock). We're going there tomorrow.

We'd planned on seeing the Crazy Horse memorial tomorrow as well, being just four miles from here, in the Rushmore direction. However, while I was waiting for the tumble dryer to finish (more laundry, yay), I saw a poster about a nightly laser show at the memorial, so we took a trip there this evening instead.

The Crazy Horse memorial is another rock carving, and will be the largest sculpture in the world when finished. It's been slowly in the making for over 50 years, and since the original sculptor died in 1982, his family has taken over. The heads of several native American tribes came together and asked the sculptor to create this memorial over Crazy Horse because they "would like the white man to know that the red man has great heroes, too". It will be several times larger than Mt Rushmore when completed and has thousands of years of history behind it. To me, it felt like this memorial was perhaps the most important one I will see here.

So far, progress on the memorial has been very slow, mostly because it's not state funded. For a long time, it was just the sculptor (whose name escapes me - he was of Polish origin anyway) himself working on it, carrying all the tools and dynamite for hours every day just to get up and down the mountain.

Now, the face is complete and since it was unveiled, the memorial has attracted more people and thus generated more money. The progress is a bit faster now.

Here's a full shot of the work site:

And here's a close up of the face:

Here's the model that the sculptor made. We promised ourselves to come back to see it if it becomes finished in our lifetime :)

Crazy Horse is pointing towards his homeland. It's said that when the white man asked him "where is your land now?" he replied "my lands are where my dead lie buried". That would be pretty much all of North America. Crazy Horse famously never signed a treaty, and never bargained with the white man. He also didn't want his picture taken, and there is some controversy as to whether this sculpture is actually appropriate. There's apparently strife between different parts of the native American community. In any case, I think it will be a remarkable and fabulous thing if it's ever finished.

The light show was pretty good, according to Mattias (I forgot my glasses in the car and couldn't see much) but the history behind it was much more interesting. We also had the chance to see some real native American crafts in the museum and gift shop. The stuff we've seen before (in tourist shops) has unfortunately had "Made in China" stickers on them when you turn them over...

So, tomorrow it's further into South Dakota as we continue the last leg of our road trip!

Until then.


  1. Joker Gunnar (the uncle)1 August 2009 at 21:51

    Det var mycket häftiga vyer denna gång också, måste jag säga! Och apropå ansikten huggna i sten, så fanns det ju en gammal skådespelare som kallades "Mannen med stenansiktet" och som egentligen hette Buster Keaton, vilken egentligen var komiker fastän han aldrig log på film! Men nu gällde väl detta ansikte en legendarisk stor indianhövding, eller hur!?
    Apropå örnen i trädet, så vet ni väl att sådana gillar örn-gott (på "svengelska" heter det "eagle-candy" för övrigt!) Nog skojat - ha det bra, och keep smiling please!

  2. This is the second time I am really jealous. I even wanted to be one of them when i was a child. My grandpa had a lot of books about the red man and I, as always, read them over and over again, dreaming in the night I was living in a tent and was rideing around with feathers in my long black hair:)
    Soooo beautiful pictures.