Friday, August 12, 2005


I’ll pick this up again on Monday, since I have professional obligations to take care of between now and then.

Late in the morning last Saturday we stopped to go swimming in the Firehole River, a tributary of the Yellowstone, by parallel parking along the narrow Firehole Canyon Drive nearby. From the drive, you go down some wooden stairs, and swim in a section of the river slowed — it’s very swift elsewhere — by a upstream narrows that empties into a deep pool, picturesquely surrounded by rocky cliffs on both sides. The current is also slowed by underwater rocks slightly downstream from the narrows. The water’s cold, the sun’s hot in August, and parts of the swimming area have a rocky bottom. But it was pleasant swimming all the same, especially after you discover spots with sandy bottoms. Lilly didn’t want to leave.

While parking the car, I noticed two guys behind us unloading scuba equipment out of a pickup truck. “Are you going diving?” I asked them as we headed for the wooden stairs.

“Yeah, the pool’s pretty deep,” one of them said. “We’re going to look around.”

Yellowstone offers a lot recreational opportunities, as the guide literature notes: hiking, cycling, camping, fishing, birding, swimming, cross-country skiing, and more. But scuba diving isn’t something I would have thought of. As we were swimming, I noticed several other divers going in and out of the deep pool, so there must be something to look at down there.

It wasn’t the only river we experienced firsthand at Yellowstone. Just south of the park’s north entrance, there’s a parking lot next to the Gardiner River. Just beyond the edge of the lot is a path that follows the edge of the river, under some shade trees. The river is very shallow at that point, with a cold current pushing over piles of very smooth stones. Like at Firehole, piles of rock moderated the current a little, so that you could sit in the river and let it wash over you. It wasn’t exactly swimming, but it was refreshing.

Along the road, just at the entrance to the parking lot, there were two signs: ENTERING WYOMING and 45TH PARALLEL of LATITUDE HALFWAY BETWEEN EQUATOR and NORTH POLE. I’d always thought it odd that Yellowstone National Park isn’t quite all in Wyoming, though most of it is — it’s as if the park couldn’t quite fit in Wyoming, so Montana and Idaho got slices. (In fact, Yellowstone became a national park in 1872, before any of those states entered the Union.)

I also hadn’t realized that most of the border between Montana and Wyoming is 45° N., but that’s only because I’d never studied the matter. There’s a large roadside sign in Michigan, along I-75, that tells travelers the same thing: you’re halfway between two spots on the globe that everyone learns about in school, but not that many people actually go to them, especially the North Pole.

Roadside signs of that kind probably aren’t all that precise, so most of the time it’s hard to know exactly where the line is. But I liked the idea, all the same, that we were luxuriating in a cold stream a few dozen yards — at most — within Montana. At some point on the path to the parking lot was Wyoming.

Then, when walking along the river by myself, at a small fork in the path only about 20 feet from the parking lot, I saw a US National Geodetic Survey marker, a little obscured by a nearby bush. But I knew that was it. The actual border, and the 45th parallel as well, precisely midway between the pole and the red line, as close as modern measuring devises can say. Other people were coming and going from the parking lot, and down the path, but no one but me stopped for the little round marker cemented into the ground. Considering that a border of this kind is completely artificial, I don’t know why I got satisfaction standing with one foot in each state, but I did. One of these days, I want to get a kick out of standing at Four Corners.

I stopped for a couple of other borders on this trip as well. On US 212, you enter Montana -- appropriately — in the middle of nowhere. I had Yuriko take my picture under the ENTERING MONTANA sign because I’d never done that before. Montana is my 46th state, and it would be hard to take one trip to visit the remainder: Alaska, Oregon, North Dakota and South Carolina.

In Yellowstone, east of Old Faithful and on the way to Lake Yellowstone, the park road crosses the Continental Divide twice, because that line loops a bit at that point in its bisection of North America. A sign marks the Divide each time, and we stopped at one — next to the small Isa Lake, which a nearby sign said ultimately drained into both the Pacific and the Gulf of Mexico. It was a lovely little lake, covered in this season by lotus pads.

Labels: , , ,


Post a Comment

<< Home