Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Tripod People

You know you're on a different kind of vacation when alarm clocks are involved. President's Day didn't mean an extra day of sleeping in ~ not for us, not in Yellowstone. We woke to a snowy darkness on the streets, only the ravens were ahead of us. Today we were snowmobiling to the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone, a more than 100 mile round trip ride into the remote winter regions of the park. With Old Faithful, we booked a tour for only the two of us, but today we were traveling with 18 others. We figured it to be pretty interesting. The canyon would probably be pretty good too!

We arrived at the meeting place early that morning and were greeted with helmet cams, tripods, expensive lenses, expensive lens' hoods, and two people. We knew we were in trouble! Over the next 15 minutes or so, the rest of our group arrived excited for the day. Our guide provided us with the mandatory "here's how you start the thing, have fun!" training and off we all were to the most photographed area of the park except.... the "Tripod People" (a name they quickly earned from us). They were still strapping their tripods to their machines, adjusting their helmet cams in opposite directions (they were riding double), and generally lolly-gagging about as if the canyon had been there for 10,000 years and wasn't going anywhere.... oh, wait. Patience, Lisa, patience, I told myself. Little did I know, it was to be my mantra for the day!

Finally, they, or should I say, their tripods were strapped in, their helmet cams on, and their snow machine running. We were off. Whereas the day before was a stunning bluebird day, today was the kind of weather you imagine when you think of Yellowstone in the winter ~ gray, snowy, and cold. The kind of cold that bites at your neck and settles into your bones if you let it. The kind of gray that stretches across rivers and mountains erasing the existence of all other color. In a word, beautiful; the perfect Yellowstone day.

Our guide spotted a herd of elk along the river and quickly stopped our herd of snowmobiles for pictures. The elk were our first wildlife of the day, and they were quite majestic as they foraged along the river's bank for food. They paid us no mind and had no idea how they consumed our minds at the moment. The whole group was excited. We also knew we had many miles ahead of us and within 10 minutes, most of us were back on our snow machines ready to continue the tour. In fact, all of us were except the Tripod People. While the rest of us were securing our helmets and pulling on our last glove, they were still snapping pictures with their tripods. Helmets and gloves? 16 other people on their snow machines ready to go? They didn't give it a thought. The elk they photographed 13 times just moved a little to the right and they needed that picture too! Still, I was intrigued. Why the need for tripods? Here's a picture I took with my phone:

Were they going for extended exposure or something? At our next stop, they whipped them out again, and I had more than enough time to ask. Nope, they said, they just wanted really still pictures. What about their helmet cams? Did they post their videos on YouTube? Maybe I would look for them. Nope, they just took the videos to show their grandchildren. I thought about that for the next 15 minutes as we waited for them to load up.

I also thought about the landscape of Yellowstone. In the winter, it inspires a freedom long lost to most of us today. Time is measured by millennia in Yellowstone; a moment may last a lifetime. I envy the animals who call it home, the rivers that wind through it on their own time; the wind that blows secrets and ancient wisdom to those who listen. Incredibly, a scene from today may have been witnessed more than 10,000 years ago by early American Indian tribes.

We continued to ride north through the park into canyon country and higher elevations. As we climbed, the temperatures dropped. We still saw bison herds, but not as many and their numbers were smaller. Many of Yellowstone's animals prefer the thermal areas of the park kept warm by the geysers and hot springs, but not all. Soon, 10 snowmobiles humming and a-buzzing came upon a fox sleeping approximately eight feet from the road atop a small snowdrift. The fox wasn't bothered by the noise of the snowmobiles. In fact, it didn't wake up until after we turned them off. After checking out the scene for about 30 seconds, it decided a snowdrift a little further back in the woods made a better place to continue its nap. Luckily, I was toward the back of the line and managed to get a few shots of it running through the snow. The Tripod People, not to be dismayed by missing the fox, proceeded to take about 10 minutes worth of pictures of the snowy white field on the opposite side of the road. I'm sure their grandchildren will be thrilled! ;-)

Meanwhile, a woman on our tour was not having a very good time. She and her husband spent the previous day on their snowmobile riding the trails through the Gallatin Forest. Her husband said her body ached because he "bumped and banged her up pretty good" out there. She tried to hang in there on the tour, but at lunch, she turned yellow and began to experience significant pain in her abdomen. Not a good thing when you're 40 miles away from town on roads unfit for car or ambulance travel. Our guide decided to call the Ranger EMTs who arrived by snowmobile about 25 minutes later. The woman, her husband, the EMTs, and our guide were in the building; the rest of us, including the Tripod People, were on our machines wondering how things would proceed. Imagine our surprise when the guide came out with the husband and said we were continuing to the canyon and the falls. We'd swing around on the way back to check on the guy's wife. He was coming with us. As he passed by me, I told him I hoped his wife was all right and that it was nothing serious. He said the EMTs thought it was appendicitis or possibly, a gall stone. They may have to call an ambulance. An ambulance in Yellowstone, by the way, is essentially a big Ford Excursion kind of thing on a snowmobile. Something like this, only imagine an SUV instead of an ambulance:

And he's leaving her? I'm pretty sure I wasn't the only one who thought him a jackass at that moment. We started our engines, and all of us minus the woman in the cold visitor center receiving medical treatment, took off for the falls. The Canyon was awesome and amazing, but this post is getting long, and I didn't take any pictures of it with my phone anyway. The Tripod People loved it too, carrying their tripods to every possible vantage point shooting picture after picture. By now, I enjoyed them. I'm teasing them in this blog, but they never gave up. They took those tripods off their snowmobiles and used them at each and every stop, including the bathroom! I came out of the restroom only to find the guy out in the snow with his tripod taking a picture of the bathroom. And it wasn't even an outhouse!

Because of the Tripod People and all the time they took, and the medical emergency at lunch, we had to skip the north geyser basin. We were behind schedule and we still had to stop at the visitor center again to see about the guy's wife. When we got there, the ambulance-like thing was in the parking lot. Understandably, the guy barely turned off his snowmobile before jumping off and running inside. The guide was close behind him. About 15 minutes later, he came outside to tell us they were giving her oxygen and planned to take her to the hospital. Oh, he also mentioned that her husband would be out soon to continue the tour. His logic was that he could get back to town faster on the tour. The fact that his wife was yellow, on oxygen, and more than two hours away from the hospital didn't seem too concerning to him. He appeared to enjoy himself for the remainder of the tour, too, taking pictures and shooting video of the bison. As did the Tripod People. :)

Later that night, we took our snowmobiles to dinner and enjoyed a good meal and a good laugh ~ a great ending to a great day.

PS. The woman was brought to the hospital and treated for a bladder infection. She's fine. No word on her husband though!

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad


  1. First, I completely relate to the alarm-clock vacations. At this stage in my life, they're my favorite kind. (What's better than waking up for an adventure?)

    Second, stories like these you'll remember forever (I hope!). Great read, and the photos are beauts.

  2. LOL, it's true, isn't it? Fifteen years ago, vacation meant staying up late and sleeping in; these days, they mean early to bed, early to rise! Adventure trumps sleep!
    Thanks for reading.