Statistically Improbable

At 8 am next morning we left the hotel to drive north. We refueled the car in Jackson, where we also supplemented our water supply, and then drove to Grand Teton National Park, which was five or six miles north of town. Jackson is located in a valley known as Jackson Hole and the two are often confused. On one side of the valley is the Teton Range and on the other is the Gros Ventre Range. As we drove into the valley, we could really see how the mountain ranges around it actually made it look like a hole.

Teton RangeAround 8.30 we entered Grand Teton National Park, whose main attraction is the beautiful mountains of the Teton Range, not least the highest mountain Grand Teton, which is 13,770 feet high, but also the other peaks in the chain, all of which are between 11,000 and 13,000 feet high. However, there are also animals such as elk in the park, and between the national Park and Jackson is an Elk Refugee where approx. 8,000 elks from Grand Teton and Yellowstone spend the winter each year. The mountains ARE very beautiful, and we photographed them from several angles, and also went for a walk along a lake to see if we could get a "mirror-image". But unfortunately it was a little windy, so there were small waves on the lake. And the only animal life we saw, were the tails of some mule deer. We were probably not at the right time, because we've read that you can also see moose, bald eagles, beavers, river otters, pronghorn, badgers, coyotes, pelicans and many other species, especially small animals.

I should perhaps mention that when we left the hotel this morning, we meassured the lowest temperature on the trip, namely 50 degrees, and the temperature stayed low while we were in the park. The Danes, we had met in Salt Lake City had actually warned us that it was quite cold in Yellowstone (especially morning and evening), so we were not totally unprepared. But it didn't actually feel to cold, and even though we went for a walk along the lake, it was never necessary to put jackets over our shorts and T-shirts.

Around 10 am we had seen enough, and continued on through the park and left by its northern entrance. When we entered the park, we had bought a 7-day pass, which gave us free entrance to the park for a week (which is quite common in the national parks). The pass here, which consisted of a receipt stapled to a park brochure, gave access to Yellowstone National Park as well. And the price was $ 25. From the northern exit you head down John D. Rockefeller Parkway, and we stopped along the way to get a cup of coffee but otherwise continued directly to Yellowstone, approx. 20 miles north of Grand Teton National Park.

At the entrance we showed our tickets from Grand Teton, and then we were inside. Yellowstone National Park has 5 entrances, and we entered by the southern entrance. In addition there is an east entrance, a north-eastern, a northern and a western entrance. Inside the park, there are about 300 miles of road, so we would of course not be able to go everywhere, not least because there are so many places where you can spend a lot of time. We therefore had planned to follow the road up to Yellowstone Lake (there are actually no other options). Here the road splits at the southern point of and eight, called The Grand Loop. Our plan was to take the western branch. When the two parts met again in the middle of the eight, we would switch to the eastern part for the final part of the journey. We would then leave by the northern entrance/exit outside Gardiner, Montana, where we had booked out next hotel.  But as it turned out we completed only part of the plan.

The first part of the way there wasn't much to see except trees. Many of these were spruce and pine trees and a lot of them were dead, burned in the large wildfire in 1989, and still standing as gray piles like monuments of the powers of nature. The forest is a natural forest, so it is allowed to take care of itself so new small trees grew from the ashes. Wildfires are part of what make the forestLewis River renew itself as the ashes from the burned trees creates nutrient-rich soil that makes the ground fertile for new growth. Actually as it happens, without regular wildfires, the forest would proablbly die out in a matter of time.

But apart from these trees we only stopped at the 30 feet high Lewis Falls. Here we took pictures of the falls as well as the river. Later we passed the rim of the caldera. The caldera is about 40 miles long and 30 miles wide, and is actually the crater of a huge volcano that lies beneath Yellowstone area, as everybody probably knows today. The volcano fortunately doesn't erupt very often. The last big eruption was 640,000 years ago, so another one is due any day now ("any day" can mean within the next 10.000 years or so - which geologically spoken is rather soon). In fact, geologists are already observant of possible changes in the seismic and thermal patterns in the area. Ashes and residues from the last eruption have been found as far away as Seattle and Canada, so it's better to be prepared. Previously, the volcano erupted around 1,300,000 years ago and  also 2 million years ago. The eruption, which occurred 2 million years ago, and created the so-called Island Park Caldera is considered to be the largest volcanic eruption in the world's history. Three-quarters of the North American continent was apparently covered by an ash cloud. On the other hand, it is also this volcanic hotspot, which is responsible for the many geysers, hot springs and other phenomena in the park. As Dorte said about the area: "The inside of The Earth is a little too close to the surface."

Our first longer stop was at Old Faithful. If anyone missed it, the Old Faithful is a geyser. And the name has been given because it erupts very regularly and with reasonably short intervals. The eruptions" can be predicted with great certainty. At Old Faithful is a hotel as well as several souvenir shops and a visitor center. Around the geyser itself benches are put up, where you can sit and enjoy the spectacle. When we had parked our car (at the huge parking lot, which held several hundred cars already) we went to the Visitor Center, located almost at the geyser. Here a sign told us that the next eruption was predicted to take place at 1.12 pm plus/minus 10 minutes. As it was only 12.15 we agreed to visit one of the shops and see if we could find a sandwich and a drink for lunch. On the way over to the shop one of the geysers at Geyser Hill beyond Old Faithful could be seen erupting in the distance. This eruption lasted for six or seven minutes. At the general store, we bought a sandwich for each of us, some water, a book about  Yellowstone and a T-shirt for me with a painting of a grizzly bear on it. It was bought to replace another T-shirt with a bear on that I bought" some years earlier in Great Smoky Mountains National Park and which was rather worn out at this time. After having bought food we went back to the geyser, where the benches were almost filled up with people. However, we found room, and while we waited anxiously, we ate our food and drank our water.

Old FaithfulFifteen minutes before the sceduled time the geyser began to stir and send small water columns about three feet up into the air. In between eruptions steam slowly emerges the geyser but now the steam became heavier alternating with the small eruptions, and exactly at 1.13  the big eruption started, and it sent water and steam up to 60 or 70 feet. It was a very impressive sight that lasted about 3-4 minutes, then died out again. After the show we had planned to take a walk in the area but for some long forgotten reason, abandoned the idea and returned to the parking lot, where in the meantime even more cars had arrived, but we managed, however, to find the right one. In the car we studied the brochure and map, we had been provided at the entrance to the park, and decided that we would go on to the so-called Midway Geyser Basin. There are three geyser basins in the neighborhood of Old Faithful; Upper Basin, which is the geysers, located just around Old Faithful. Just north of this lies as Midway, and most northerly of this group is Lower Geyser Basin. There are several other geyser areas in the park, and we were to visit some of them later. In fact, Yellowstone is home to the largest concentration of geothermal phenomena in the world, so there is plenty to look at.

The reason we would visit Midway Basin was that here you find Grand Prismatic Spring, which should be a hot spring with a lot of great colors, ans that sounded interesting. So we drove the next five or six miles to the parking lot at Midway and while there were some cars it was certainly nothing in comparison to Old Faithful. In the parking lot, we noticed that we could go for a walk along a landscaped path (at the hot springs you are only allowed to walk on the trails as the surface in some places is very thin, and there is boiling water just beneath). The path was about a mile long, and it would take us around to a number of geysers and springs.

Surprise of surprises of the Surprise Trip

The first geyser we passed was called Exelcior Geyser, and it did not erupt while we were there (it's eruptions are actually very rare), but the lake that geyser was in, was as blue as a swimming pool, so if steam had not rose up from the lake, even though the air temperature had now risen to about 91, someone may well have been tempted to take a swim. This can not be recommended though, as the temperature of the water is around 200 degrees.

When we got to Grand Prismatic Spring, it was just as blue as the first lake, we had passed, and had even more steam. Along the banks a variety of minerals are deposited, and it's these minerals along with different bachteria which creates the many, especially red and yellow colors that have given the spring it's name. While we admired this, we were talking about how hot the water was and so on. When we were just about to move on to the next spring along the path, a man asked us in Danish, if we were Danes, and we had to admit to that. We started chatting with him, and he told us that he and his wife and children Excelsior Geyser at Midway Geyser Basinhad been in the U.S. for three weeks, and we were the first Danes, they had met. We told him that we had met a lot. It turned out that he and his family (which we didn't meet as the wife and kids were down at the nearby river taking a swim - the kids didn't want to see any more hot springs), had swapped houses with a family from Boise, Idaho. Now they had to leave the house and continue to San Francisco, where they had swapped houses with another family, that were now going to replace the family from Boise in the Danish family's house in Denmark. All this house swapping took place via the Internet, and as it meant that the stay was free, it could make a holiday much cheaper. We told him about our tour, and we actually spoke for almost 20 minutes, standing there on a wooden path in the middle of one of America's largest national parks. Suddenly there was a voice that called out, "Hello Dorte!" It was Jens and Annette, Dortes brother and his wife! They lived at that time in Vienna, Virginia, but was between houses, so they had decided to take a vacation. They had been at Old Faithful and like us decided to see Grand Prismatic Spring. They knew we were vacationing in USA but thought we were in California, and we thought that they were back in Virginia.

It was of course a great reunion with a lot of hugging ect as we hadn't seen them since they were back in Denmark almost eight months earlier. Dorte tried to explain the poor man we had been speaking with and who were now looking rather strangely at us, that it was her brother and sister, and that the meeting was not planned - in fact did neither of us knew that the other would even be in Yellowstone. The man left and went down to his wife and children at the river. He has probably also had something to tell her. The four of us stood and talked for half an hour, and it turned out that the meeting was even more random than just as so, because Jens and Annette had planned to visit Yellowstone already the day before, but had postponed it because they wanted to spend one more day in Colorado, and had they not done so, and had we not fallen into conversation with the Danish guy, we would not have met as Dorte and I would have left Grand Prismatic Spring, well before Jens and Annette arrived.

The statistical probability of meeting somebody by chance in one of the many places, where tourist stop in Yellowstone National Park is not high. And the fact that only random changes in plans led to it, makes it even more improbable. Jens and Annette knew that we were vacationing in the US, but thought that we were in California, and we though that they were happily at home in Virginia. But now that we had met, we agreed that as we were going roughly the same way, we would join parties - of course in two cars. We therefore changed our plan, so we followed Jens and Annette along the north-western part of the Grand Loop, instead of taking the north-eastern part of the loop, as we had initially planned.

Being followed

The next stop we did was at Norris Geyser Basin, where all four of us went for a walk and looked at different geysers, including Steamboat Geyser, which is known for its very long eruptions, lasting between 35 and 45 minutes, where water is sprayed nearly 300 feet into the air, making it the highest spewing geyser in the world. Unfortunately, there is no regularity in the eruptions. There have been between four days and 50 years between two etuptions (eg, there wasn't a single eruption between 1911 and 1961. On the other hand, there had been seven eruptions since 2000, with three in 2003 alone. We also saw Minute Geyser, which previously erupted every minute until coins and rock pieces, thrown into the geyser by tourists, made it stop completely, so now water only seeps from it. Finally we visited Porcelain Basin, where white and orange deposits dominate. Norris Geyser Basin is approx. 7,500 feet above sea leavel, so the air is somewhat thinner than we were used to, and as the temperature was above 95, we decided to go back to the cars.

When we got back to the parking lot  we stood outside the cars and kept on exchanging news and so on, and we agreed that Jens and Annette, who had not booked a hotel room for the evening, should accompany us to our hotel and see if they could get a room there. Thus we could have dinner together and celebrate the fact that it was the day of Dorte's and mine 29th wedding anniversary. Also Jens and Annette had celebrated their 22nd wedding anniversary the day before. While we were busy chatting, suddenly three bisons walked across the parking lot between the cars. Believe me, a bison bull is big when it is only ten feet from you, and not behind a fence. A park ranger drove into the parking lot in her car and shouted "Be aware! Bison passing thru", but we were already aware of that. I stood by the trunk of our car, pointing to the parking lot, but decided to get between our car and the next one to get up on the sidewalk. Unfortunately, the bull found this a swell idea, so it followed me into the space between the two cars. But instead of pursuing me further, it continued, however, into the woods, where the two cows waited.


From Norris Geyser Basin, we continued to Mammoth Hot Spring, where we stopped for approx. 30 minutes. But as we were not overly impressed by the deposits for which the area is known (although almost everybody else swoon over them), and we were tired and hot, we soon continued out of the park and on to Gardiner and our hotel, where it turned out that Jens and Annette was able to get a room at the hotel, albeit in a different building than us.

Celebration af the Yellowstone Mine Restaurant. From left: Me, Jens, Dorte, AnnetteWe carried our luggage to our respective rooms, and shined ourself up a bit - and then met around half past six at the front desk. Here we asked for a restaurant. We were told that the closest would be a steak house, which was right next to the hotel so we decided to go there. At the Yellowstone Mine Restaurant as it was called, we had really good food, including a whole fried garlic as a starter and filet mignon for the main course. In addition, we got a pretty good wine, and the four of us drank three bottles before the meal was over. There were also two waitresses, one who served food, and another that served drinks. The latter was a very young girl, maybe in her early twenties, and we had a good chat with her. Jens made her blush when he said that she could just call him "uncle" - a lot of other young girls already did back home. We talked about her job, where she came from (she actually was born in Gardiner) and that she would like to move to to Washington DC to live, but first she had to work for a year in Texas, etc. She was going to Europe the next year on vacation, so Dorte gave her her business card in case she should come to Denmark, but as suspected, we never heard from her :-).

After dinner we went over to Jens' and Annette's room and drank some more wine. That is, Jens, Dorte and I had wine. Annette would rather have shots. We shared four more bottles of red wine, so we got in an exceptionally happy mood. At 11 pm we agreed that as it was now 7.00 am in Denmark, we could call home and tell Dorte's and Jens' parents (Carl and Else) that we had met. So we did. That is, Annette phoned home, and giggled a lot when she found out that she had woken Else. She giggled even more when she said that she really just phoned to ask Else would like to say "Hello" to Dorte? She would like to, though she was somewhat surprised, and so it was Dorte's turn to giggle. After Dorte, Jens  also took a turn speaking with his mother, but he didn't giggle as much as the girls. On the other hand I don't think that he remembers much of what he said. I did not participate in the conversation, as far as I remember. After the phone call, we had no more wine in the room, though some bottles in the car, and then we could just as well call it a night and go our separate ways. After all we had to continue our trips the next morning, so a good nights sleep would come in handy.

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