Paint Pots and Travertine

“Round ’em up and move ‘em out.” Although he didn’t use those words, we got the message loud and clear from Timothy, our tour guide. We had much to see and experience, and we all needed to be on the bus and ready to leave for Yellowstone early that Thursday morning.

This is where I need to say that unless you’re a Yellowstone aficionado with tons of experience, going with a tour group is the best way to travel. Yellowstone is a huge park, nearly 3,500 square miles, that sits atop a volcano. Somehow I missed that important nugget of information when we were planning our trip and became a bit uneasy when I first glimpsed the hot springs, paint pots, and geysers. And when I saw the signs everywhere warning travelers of scalding mud, fragile ground, unstable ground, and bacteria mats, I added anxiety and respect to my perceptions of beauty and splendor.

In Billings the evening before our Yellowstone experiences, we had dinner with my college roommate, Shirley Dyk, and her husband, and she said, “I love the pots, and you will, too.”

“The pots?” I asked.

“Uh huh, paint pots. Some people call them mudpots, but I like paint pots better. And really, some of them look like pots of colored paint, especially blue.”

I stared at her like the ignoramus I was, and Shirley shared more information. The smell, she said, was sulphurous, and added that while many people found it offensive, she liked it. Although I found the odor a bit unpleasant, I respected the conditions by which the pots and their oozing, bubbling actions came about. What else could a person expect from volcanic heat, minerals, acid, and gases rising through the earth’s crust?

In addition to Old Faithful and its surroundings, two areas were especially incredible (to us), an area with travertine terraces and another with hot springs and calderas. Everything we saw, smelled, and heard was awe-inspiring.

We filed off the bus at the location of the travertine (a type of limestone deposited by springs, especially hot springs) terraces. At this stop, there were assorted buildings, including a lodge and a few gift shops, but I was drawn like a magnet (seriously) to the terraces and walked over with hordes of other tourists. I was astounded at the uniqueness of the colors, shapes, and formations of travertine formations; some looked like stair steps, others like cones. Not satisfied with that first glance from behind the fence, I began walking up the boardwalk with other dazed looking people and soon found my way to the top. Every twist and turn was magnificent, a feast for the eyes and spirit.

Curiosity satisfied, I hustled down the boardwalk and joined my husband at a picnic table for lunch. That morning we had visited Livingston, Wyoming and purchased a turkey sandwich and chips at a Conoco store. Nestled in a depression (valley?) and surrounded by low mountains, we slugged our bottled water and munched our chips, taking in the awesomeness around us. We’ve picnicked in numerous sites, but that one with the travertine terraces behind us and mountains around us wins the blue ribbon for best outside dining experience.

I’m not exaggerating when I say that the next stop in Yellowstone was almost worth the cost of the whole trip. Whodda thunk such surreal and magical places existed? As we ventured to and from the bus, I noticed areas that looked almost post-apocalyptic. I say “almost” since I’ve never actually seen a bona fide post-apocalyptic scene. Has anyone? We saw hot springs, pots (mud and paint), calderas, and geysers.

Like most of the people surrounding us, we went around gaping at the sights and took dozens of photographs. Every step we took and every direction we turned brought yet another amazing scene. These views were real, not just embellished photographs in a magazine.

New stop: Old Faithful.

Roses and Thorns

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We sat in the breezeway between the Welcome Center and the gift shop at Brookgreen Gardens, Grandpa and I. While I don’t know for certain that Grandpa is what his grandchildren called him, that was clearly his role that spring afternoon.

I was holding a sleeping three-year-old, and Grandpa was watching the antics of his grandchildren as they scampered about in front of him. It was probably inevitable that we would strike up a conversation.

“Do you live in South Carolina?” I asked.

“No, Washington. But we have a place here, and we try to get together with our children and grandchildren as often as possible.”

After a moment, “Everyone’s so scattered about.”

“Tell me about it,” I replied. “Who would have imagined that little kids sitting around the dinner table would grow up so quickly and move so far away?”

“Yeah, imagine that,” he said, smiling wistfully.

We chatted about our former jobs, how we felt about retirement, our travel plans, and the joys of grandparenting. Like me, he saw his grandchildren in a condensed sort of way rather than a steady, everyday exposure. While sharing our experiences at the coast, I told him that I knew everyone was having a good time because of my oldest grandson’s request the night before.

“Hey, I’ve got a good idea,” he said. “Let’s go around the table and everyone tell what their most fun time was.”

After the sharing began, it soon became evident that choosing just one thing was well nigh impossible, so Braden changed the guidelines to one thing per day. Even that proved challenging because there had been so much seeing, doing, and sharing. They had searched for Easter eggs, flown kites, walked on a jetty over the sea, eaten specialty cupcakes, played with cousins, seen an otter, gone on a pontoon boat ride, and learned about the Gullah culture. And did I mention the Butterfly Exhibit?

Gramps listened politely and then shared his family’s version of sharing experiences, an ongoing tradition that began when his children were small. At day’s end, they sat around the dinner table and played a game called “Roses and Thorns.” Intrigued, I turned and gave him my full attention.

“The rules are simple. Everyone shares one highlight from the day and one “thorn,” something that didn’t go quite right. Like being scared of jelly fish or getting sunburned.”

I thought that was a splendid idea and made a mental note to incorporate the thorns aspect at some future date. As grownups, we all acknowledge that life is not all sunshine and roses, but it’s not something we discuss on vacation. But why not? It’s foolish to think that every single thing is going to turn out perfectly, especially when there are several people involved who have their own agenda. And the weather. Let’s don’t forget that.

Here are my roses from this past week: Easter dinner (lunch) with my extended family, including a six-week-old baby: cupcakes from Cocodots to celebrate several special occasions, including the opportunity to be together; walking a wide stretch of Huntington Beach with my daughters and grandchildren to get to the jetty; flying kites on the beach with my children, their father, and all eight grandchildren; seeing alligators, otters, foxes, and goats at Brookgreen Gardens; watching a feeding frenzy in the aviary at Brookgreen when the caretaker brought tiny fish for them to eat; and being with sweet baby Amelia on her first visit to the seashore.

My thorns? It ended all too soon.