It's interesting the difference between looking forward to something and looking back on it.
I had ideas and expectations for Yellowstone, based in part on our previous visit there several years ago. I was hoping for moose and bear and bison sightings. I was expecting to be stirred to my core by the sights and wonders, the way I was with Old Faithful on that earlier visit.
We decided to start with the north part of the park this time, thinking in some hyper-optimistic part of our brains that we might see all of the park we missed in our first visit.
None of that happened. The only animals we saw were small herds of elk in the distance, one lonely bison bull grazing at the side of the road, and a couple of antelope. None of the incredible sights moved me like Old Faithful did - nothing could because I saw that wonder of the world through the eyes of my inner girls, not my adult. And of course we didn't even come close to doing the entire park.
What happened instead was a surprise symphony. Yellowstone's visual beauty amazed, but it was the aural extravaganza that will be forever linked in my mind and heart with this visit.
It started when we stepped out of our condo into a glorious sunny morning. I thought I heard a woodpecker pocking away somewhere nearby. Walt pointed out the raven sitting on the roof. As I approached him, this huge shaggy-maned trickster flew away clucking like a chicken. We last saw him perched on the bed of a pick-up truck gobbling like a turkey, giving us an exclusive solo performance as we sat with the car window rolled down offering him encouragement.
Once in the park, our first stop was Beryl Spring. It was early enough that there were few people with us, and steam all but obscured the brilliant blue water, so the rhythmic blowing, hissing and gurgling really stood out.
Artists Paint Pots was our next stop. Our walk through began with a few hissing holes and occasional pools of madly dancing water. At the top of the loop the sounds changed to thick bloops and blurps as viscous mud bubbled away. One hole sounded much like a coffee pot at the end of its brewing cycle. An unearthly clear spring at the bottom of the loop boiled furiously for a minute, then stilled completely for a couple of minutes, then repeated the whole thing over and over and over.
Norris Geyser Basin gave us Steamboat Geyser. Potentially much more powerful than Old Faithful, it's much less predictable. Instead of regular periodic shows of grandeur, it puffed and gurgled and blew in a very short cycle like its namesake. Our walk around the loop was accompanied by the rhythmic huffing of Steamboat in the background. Every other geyser we saw sang a slightly different song. Pitch, volume, rhythm - unique to each.
The Grand Canyon's Lower Falls provided us with music on an entirely different scale. Water falling over 300 feet onto solid rock creates a whooshing rumble with the power to hypnotize even the most anxious soul into a state of calm. The smaller thunders of Upper Falls and Tower Fall were ironically more invigorating.
Throughout the day, the gurgles, hisses and rumbles of earth, water and gas were softened by the chattering of swallows, the deep-throated conversations of ravens, and the occasional whisper of wind teasing quaking aspens into giggles. At every stop nature's music was muted and embellished with children's squeals of delight, a Babel of languages and accents, and my own repeated mantra, "Wow, oh wow!" Growling motorcycles, laboring RVs, impatiently tapped horns, tires crunching on gravel, car doors slamming - all provided a steady percussive beat the the day's symphony.
On the drive out, at the end of a very long and happy day, we passed Roaring Mountain. An entire hillside, at the edge of the road, with so much gas being pushed through the surface that it did indeed roar like a lion, or a fierce wild fire, or angry gods.
The very last thing we experienced in the park happened in awestruck silence. Traffic was backed up, creeping so slowly we knew the people ahead were seeing something interesting. We'd already been stopped twice while everyone watched elk graze in the near distance. I hoped for bison or moose - even deer would have been fine. What I saw was a sign: Eagle Management Area - Do Not Stop, Leave Your Car, Or Walk On The Road. And there it was, at the very top of a snag just off the road, a Bald Eagle nest, with one of the parents sitting in a branch of the next snag over.
From Raven's silly songs of imitation to the rhythms of Earth's inner music to the varied songs of Sky's water to the chorus of Human voices to Bald Eagle's majestic silence - no composed symphony could possibly be more musically perfect. Not what I expected. Much much more.
Pictures by Walt. The one of us shot by the guy taking pictures next to Walt.