This account of our move from Seattle to Pittsburgh dates from a letter I wrote home in September, 2015. A few minor changes have been made.
The cascades were pretty rainy; just about the only rain we encountered on the whole trip. Before we left, K picked a crop of beans from the garden I’d be leaving behind, so we had a big tupperware container full of them, and we were munching on them on our way out of Dodge.
Crossing Eastern Washington was beautiful. We left Seattle around 2 PM, so these are all late afternoon photos. Can you tell I loved the fields? So many of them we so breathtakingly beautiful.
Throughout the west we’d see these gigantic stacks of hay bales sitting in the fields. About half the time they’d have patchworks of large tarpaulins stretched across them and tied down; the rest of the time they were simply stacked in long and relatively narrow piles in the fields, without any protection from the weather. It was an odd sight, and made me feel nostalgic.
We spent our first night at a campsite in Montana. The second night we spent at a campsite in Yellowstone, and the third night we spent at a campsite in Montana again. Montana is a big state.
Before we got to our campsite, more or less in the center of Yellowstone, we stopped at a few of the geological attractions along the way. They’re what interested me most about the place; animals are nice, but I came for the geysers and hot springs. Yellowstone rests atop a supervolcano – here, I’ll let wikipedia tell it:
Yellowstone Lake is one of the largest high-elevation lakes in North America and is centered over the Yellowstone Caldera, the largest supervolcano on the continent. The caldera is considered an active volcano. It has erupted with tremendous force several times in the last two million years. Half of the world’s geothermal features are in Yellowstone, fueled by this ongoing volcanism. Lava flows and rocks from volcanic eruptions cover most of the land area of Yellowstone. The park is the centerpiece of the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem, the largest remaining nearly-intact ecosystem in the Earth’s northern temperate zone.
Half the geothermal features! I was excited to see a few. Here’s K pretending to lay down on a bacteria mat, and me in front of a hot spring:
And here you can see some hot vents. They emitted kind of a low growl, along with the steam. Some features change throughout the season, depending on how wet it is: shifting from hot pools to mudpots (bubbling mud) to hot vents. Apparently some of the bacteria that thrive on the heat from these geothermal features get their nutrients by emitting an acid that breaks down volcanic rock into mud.
At all of these features, the signs were very very clear that visitors should stay on the boardwalks. We were told that the surface off the boardwalks may appear solid, but in fact it’s often a thin veneer covering boiling water or mud, and that many people have died by stepping off the boardwalks. Clearly, we didn’t step off. But the surface is so close, the temptation is there. I was on a boardwalk near a hot spring, where water from the hotspring flowed beneath the boardwalk. And I personally witnessed a tourist bend down to put his fingers in the water, which he quickly yanked back with a yelp.
In the foreground above, you can see a small geyser. The ones we saw would errupt intermittently and erratically, shooting water a few feet into the air.
And here we are posing in front of the Yellowstone River, which is beautiful in its own right. At several places along its length, warm, nutrient-rich water will flow into it from the hot pools and geothermal features we saw. Like here, for example:
I assume that the varying colors in some of these features come from different kinds of bacteria that grow at different temperatures. Above, you can see a large bacterial mat that has grown beneath the hot water that bubbles over and makes its way downhill.
We heard crickets in the grass just a few feet from boiling water. And the grass itself, I assume, grows in every place it possibly can, given the geologic features beneath and around it.
The pool below was called the Sapphire pool, and it’s one of the most beautiful things I’ve ever seen in my life. Photographs can’t truly capture it, because the real thing is far more detailed, and constantly changing. I felt like I could have looked into that pool, mesmerized, for the rest of my life – or if not, at least many hours. It was so beautiful that after we saw it in the afternoon, I said I wanted to come back the next morning too, so the second two photos you see of the pool are from the next day. The lighting for the photos was better in the morning, and it gives you a sense of how radiant and dream-like the thing is. It ripples and shimmers, and steam rises from it, and you stare into its depths transfixed by all the turmoil, and all those shifting shades of blue.
The pool below is called the emerald pool. It was pretty, but not as gorgeous as the sapphire pool.
Above and below, you can see some more of the downhill flows of hot water.
More or less, this is where that guy stuck his fingers in the water:
This pool is like a much larger version of the sapphire pool. The colors are just as gorgeous. You don’t get as close to it, but from the overlook, in addition to seeing the shimmer and ripples of the water, you can see the wind shape the steam coming off the water. It’s a bit like watching an artist work: you’re held in thrall by the beauty, and because you wonder what they’re going to do next. Again, I could have watched for hours.
I wish we could have spent more time in Yellowstone. We arrived late in the afternoon on one day and left less than 24 hours later. But we weren’t going to Yellowstone: we were going to Pittsburgh, and so just passing through. But I’m glad we did.
Here’s a pretty view on the way out of Yellowstone:
North Dakota, meanwhile, was breathtakingly beautiful. I like the Dakotas a lot.
Throughout the western part of the state we’d pass these oil wells in the middle of nowhere, with tanks that would store the oil they pumped up until the next tanker truck came.
We spent our next night in Minneapolis, which was nice. But we saw far less of it than we did of Yellowstone. We walked a bit along the banks of the Mississippi, and I admired a bridge across the river that was just for the use of pedestrians and bicyclists. And we saw a lot of construction, and a museum about mill flour, and a small farmer’s market. Then it was time to go again.
We spent the next night visiting relatives in the Chicago area, and that was really nice. And on the way to stay with family in Michigan, we stopped at Warren Dunes, which I remembered fondly from a family trip to Chicago in 1988. But again, we didn’t stay long. Just long enough to see the dunes and stick our toes in the water, but it was a nice rest stop on our drive.
And finally, Pittsburgh.