Friday, May 8
Today is another short driving day, from the Walmart parking lot in Billings, MT to the Conoco/Town Pump tuck stop in Livingston about two hours west. A good chunk of the day is spent at a rest stop midway between the two on I90. Why? Because it’s bad form to stay too late or arrive too early at a place you’re going to spend the night for free, it’s like loitering. A lot of locations actually have a rule about the number of hours you’re allowed to park.
The best thing I’ve found to do in this kind of situation is spend the majority of the day somewhere you’re not staying the night. Day parks, museums, libraries, and more can all be viable places and are admittedly more fun, so long as there is enough room to park your rig there. I use Google Earth, which gives a satellite view to scope out what the parking lots of various locations look like to determine if Cas and Bertha will fit. As I’m focusing on saving money and there isn’t much between Billings and Livingston, a rest area will do. It’s another overcast day with intermittent rain showers.
Livingston is pretty exciting, because for the first time on this trip, I see mountains!
I had an image in my mind that Montana was all forest and mountains, so I’ve been surprised by all of the grassland and rolling hills. It’s made for an easier than expected drive not having all the ups and downs to tow over, but seeing new terrain always excites me. The mountain tops are shrouded in cloud, and where the clouds thin snow is visible! Not a bad backdrop for my parking spot tonight.
My weather app says the low is suppose to stay above freezing, but around 8 pm it’s already a good five degrees colder than predicted and a few snow flakes dance through the air on a stiff breeze. Cold sleeping weather. To make up for my lack of propane heat, I throw a sleeping bag underneath my usual bed covers. The sleeping bag is rated to 40 degrees (it’s quite compatible and normally lives in a storage bin in the back of Bertha), but with blankets overtop and multiple layers on, I stay plenty warm.
Saturday, May 9
This is it, arrival day! Old Faithful lies 110 miles south of Livingston, only the small town of Gardiner lies between. I fill up on gas at the truck stop where it’s still cheap (gas in national parks and tourist towns is always more expensive, do yourself a favor and top up before entering one).
Mountain ranges stand to the east and west, with highway 87 meandering through the valley between. It’s beautiful to drive through in the spring, and probably would be in the fall too. New leaves are coming out on the cottonwood trees in the valley while ample snow still decorates the higher elevations. Today the clouds are fewer, and it’s easier to see the peaks.
The climb is gradual up the narrowing valley and into Gardiner where a lot of road work is in progress. After driving over a mile or so of dirt road littered with pot holes, I pull over at the first available pullout after the pavement starts back up to make sure Cas is okay. What’s this? Oh, apparently I’ve arrived at Yellowstone! I rarely ever make it into the pullout to catch a photo of the entrance sign, it was completely accidental this time.
After entering the park, the climb becomes more dramatic. Cue the obligatory rig-in-scenic-pullout pictures!
Other than these brief stops for rig pictures, my focus is on getting to Old Faithful in a timely manner. I made a phone call when I entered the park and so my employer is expecting me to arrive before long and I can’t stop to sightsee. That’s okay, I’d rather go back and see the park without Cas attached, it’s just easier.
I’m doing pretty good, until I pass Golden Gate where a long, long long long stretch of the road is dirt only all the way to Norris. I creep along at about 10 mph on the uneven road, and then have to wait nearly 30 minutes for my turn to go where the road becomes one lane. Well, the view could be worse.
At last the construction ends and the rest of the route to Old Faithful is pretty painless. Maybe it’s different coming into the park from other directions, but coming from the north entrance the road grades really aren’t bad at all for towing, not as dramatic as in Zion, and definitely not as dramatic as Death Valley.
My new home base is located right across the road from Old Faithful, in a big employee complex of dorms, small houses, mobile homes, and RV sites – I think everyone who works at Old Faithful from NPS employees to concessionaire employees probably lives here. I meet up with my contact from the Yellowstone Association, a friendly guy who leads me through the maze of parking lots and little roads to my assigned site.
It’s a mixed bag. Being on the beginning of the last row, it has more space and privacy than most of the other RV sites that are quite crowded together, but a new dorm building is under construction next to it, so the view looking that way isn’t very pretty – I also expect it’ll be loud on weekdays when crews are working on it. There’s also a lot of trash to pick up from cinder blocks to bits of foam insulation… even a rotten wooden pallet and canvas. I spend a good hour or so with a plastic bag collecting small trash and hauling the big stuff out.
There’s only one other RV in the row I’m on, located right next door. Our two sites share a communal firepit and picnic table, as seems to be common for all of the RV/mobile home sites. The rest of the row is small houses (seemingly unoccupied right now) and storage buildings.
While I’m picking up trash I meet the neighbors, a retirement age couple from California with their two dogs. They’ll also be working with the Yellowstone Association (YA) inside the visitor center, same as me, and are also new this year. They seem like good people, I get a peek inside their 5th wheel and sent home with fresh garlic cheesy biscuits, mmm.
The other thing I do today is walk to work! There’s a paved walkway from the employee complex across the road to Old Faithful. I forgot to time it, but I think from my site it’s about 15 minutes.
I’ll write more about the Yellowstone Association and what my job entails once I get started, but for now I’ll just say I’m working as a sales associate at the bookstore inside the visitor’s center. I discover while taking my look around that Old Faithful is predicted to erupt in about 20 minutes….heck, why not?
It’s a cold day and the weather is in flux with peeks of sunlight and light snow showers, often at the same time. Despite this, there are still a fair number of people out with me sitting on the benches watching steam issue from a hole in the ground. About three minutes after the appointed time (it can be plus or minus ten minutes according to signs), a gurgling sound starts, and water splutters from the hole. The eruption isn’t immediate, but builds higher and higher, holds steady for a time, then slowly declines. I imagine once I start work I’ll learn everything I wanted to know and then some about this geyser… and I’m looking forward to it! What a unique force of nature. What an amazing place. I think it’s going to be a great summer!
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