Our last few days have been all over the place! (By the way, we're done with Yellowstone now and we're into Grand Teton)
Should I do this chronologically.. nah.
Okay, the following events happened in between Thursday and Sunday, inclusive.
Summits: There's a highway out of the northwest corner of Yellowstone called the Beartooth Highway, and it's amazing. It leaves the park at around 7000 ft and goes up to a summit at 10,947 ft, and from end to end it took us a couple of hours to cross and it is beautiful. If you ever come out to the park, you HAVE to try it.
When I went skydiving, we jumped out at around 10,000 ft, and it was a long way down.
Driving up to a summit is kinda lame, so the next day we hiked up to the top of Mount Washburn (which is a little less lame. I wanna hit a summit with legit mountain climbing one day) in Yellowstone. It's a 2.5 mile hike that rises 1400 ft, and the summit is at 10,243 ft, so it was a bit of a challenge.
I'm awesome so I took some stats:
heart rate at the end - 117 bpm
time to summit (including a few pictures!) - 1:10
aaand I did it in my vibrams! which are awesome! But my feets are still getting used to it. They were hurting by the end 'cause the trail was a pretty rocky.
Alright, on to Wildlife.
I realized a few days ago that most of my expectations for seeing animals on this trip were based on Animal Planet and Oregon Trail. On Animal Planet, they don't show you how much time they spend looking for animals, and they also have tracking collars and experts to make it easier. And on Oregon Trail, you can stop anywhere, wait a few seconds, and a bison will walk into view. It's not like that in Yellowstone.
After a few days of a mammalian drought, we got a torrential downpour. Since Wednesday, we've seen 3 black bear adults and 1 cub, 2 grizzly bear adults and 2 cubs, and a gray wolf, along with many close encounters with bison, and a bunch of elk. There are a couple of really cool stories here I must share and a bunch more ask-me-about-'em stories.
There was this one mommy grizzly with two cubs that we saw a few days ago, and they were our first grizzlies. Then we saw them two more times over the next 24 hours. The coolest was when they were probably 25 yards away from the street, and rangers were trying to keep the crowd safe, and then the mom started running towards the road, right where I was! She got to within 15 yards maybe until the ranger's clapping and yelling made her turn away and go back down the hill. The next morning, she crossed the street a couple of cars in front of us, but everyone was in their cars still so it was pretty safe.
The wolf, I don't have a picture of because it was really far away, probably close to half a mile or something. There are a bunch of wildlife spotters who have really awesome scopes and stuff, and they all gather at the common wolf-spotting areas at sunrise and sunset, so we socially loafed their resources and after waiting for an hour, a gray wolf turned up and we watched her walk across our field of view. They kept calling her a girl, but I don't know how they could tell from so far away.
But I do have these cool pictures of bison.
Bagpipes.. Oh yeah. There's construction all over the parks and apparently all over Idaho, so it usually involves waiting up to half an hour for a pilot car to lead a bunch of people down a one-lane road. On one of these occasions, there was a bagpiper in the car in front of us who treated the audience to a performance. That's cool already, right? There was also a small biker gang in the line, and one of the guys helped the bagpiper tune his bagpipe. I love surprises!
Lastly, the nuclear reactor.
So as you may know, there are no nuclear reactors in Yellowstone. Sandeep got a message that he could meet with a few guys at the Idaho National Laboratory and they let me tag along. That was pretty awesome for the engineer in me. We talked to one of the directors of research and to one of their star chemical engineers. One of the things they're working on is the practicality of a hybrid power plant. That is, one that uses different sources of energy (nuclear, solar, biofuel, etc) in a kind of symbiotic plant that uses the strengths of each to increase efficiency and reduce environmental damage. Fascinating stuff.
But it's in Idaho. So we had to do a ton of driving.
And after our meetings, they pointed us to one of their old nuclear plants, a breeder reactor, which was now a historical site. It's EBR I - Experimental Breeder Reactor I, and it was the first successful nuclear power plant (December 20, 1951). So we drove out there and took a tour, and this also excited my inner engineer. They had pretty much all of their old equipment, and had photos of people using it. I like when history exhibits really make you realize that there were people here, how many ever years ago, using the same stuff you're looking at.