Friday, September 10, 2010

Day three


Last night I almost gave up. It wasn't a bad day coming through Idaho. Oh, I got turned around briefly in Boise while trying to find my way to the highway going east, but I was surprised. My previous experience of Idaho with with the northwest corner around Sandpoint which is green and mountainous, covered with coniferous forests, and I thought the rest of it would be pretty much the same. But going south from Lewiston, it became broad, flat meadows separated by mountain spurs. The meadows were planted in crops or given over to cattle, all quite beautiful. To connect one to the next, the road winds through narrow gorges with rushing streams at the bottom.
Then around Boise the hills dry out and begin to resemble the ones in eastern Washington. I took the Interstate out of Boise- eventually- to Mountain Home and found a nice quiet route which would get me to Idaho Falls and then to Grand Teton and Yellowstone. It rained off and on but it was pretty nice anyway. I've been through places like that in the heat of summer, and cool and overcast is my preference.
The side route took me from the Boise plain into the hills where it crossed a track used during the Oregon Trail days. The biggest surprise was the area called the Craters of the Moon. When you first come up to it you can't quite figure out what you are looking at. It is a landscape consisting of heaps of black slag, the remnants of a volcanic event that took place long ago. The earth opened up and poured forth its bowels and they all turned to cinders. It goes for miles and miles, black and desolate. What feeble creatures we humans are compared to that power. Our vaunted modern mastery of nature would vanish like a silly illusion.
This is the West. It's different than the east, different than Europe, different than anywhere. It's no wonder Westerns were so popular. The landscape of the west was always the uncredited star of every great Western movie.
I can't help think of the native peoples who foraged in these areas before Europeans came. This is not meant as an insult to say that they didn't live much differently than human ancestors going back to the old stone age. They weren't able to impose their will on the landscape, they took what they could find, moving from place to place, from season to season according to the whims of nature. Only so much to eat, so populations remained small. Things were changing. One culture on the prairies farmed and built fortress towns. And then the horse came along, and the mythical image of the noble hunter was born. They were just as wild as the prairie wolves, and just as bloodthirsty. They had no use for the pale wasichu who began to show up.
But once the Old World impinged on them the game was up. If it hadn't been the Europeans, sooner or later it would have been Chinese or Arabs. Or if not, then the Aztecs or their successors would eventually have ended the bison hunt.
I meant to stop for the night on the other side of Idaho Falls on the way to Grand Teton, but this time I ended up on the road going to West Yellowstone. Oh, well, I sighed. Might as well take what comes. It was getting late. And then the skies opened up. It poured all night. I couldn't find a campground in the dark and so I parked next to a paint store in Ashton and spent a miserable night. This morning the rain had stopped but I very nearly turned tail and went home. I'm getting too old for this.
But here I am in Cody, and Yellowstone was awesome.

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