Thursday, 12 August 2010
A pink lady in Yellowstone
Sunday July 11th.
We woke up early this day, keen to see Yellowstone and check the fidelity of ‘Old Faithful’. The geyser was undoubtedly the star of the show, and resembled nothing so much as an ancient pagan ritual, its power drawing a silent and respectful horde, poised in photographic worship. On the moment a thousand cameras clicked, followed by a moment of silence.
No doubt people were contemplating that they were standing in the middle of a gigantic caldera, its last great volcanic eruption a mere 640,000 years ago. A woman in a pink dress stood nearby; she had an ice-cream and was taking long and contemplative licks, no doubt assessing the odds. Just five miles below us roiled a vast reservoir of magma thirty miles long, twenty miles wide, and six miles deep. Our eyes met in silent understanding. This baby could blow at any time…geologically speaking.
I tried to reassure her, to reassure myself, all without saying a word. Given its geological history the likelihood of a super-volcanic eruption occurring before she’d finished her ice-cream was 1 in 730,000 or 0.00014%
She riposted with a look. And what are the odds of winning the European lottery?
I walked away, the ground trembling beneath my feet. This woman was spooky. There was no European lottery but she knew one day I would play it. What else did she know? She watched me walk, barely hiding her contempt.
And you know what? Her face twisted into Munch-like scream, and she finished her ice-cream in a lick: catastrophic geologic events are neither regular nor predictable. They just happen.
Gloomy thoughts. Much of North America obliterated by a tourist attraction.
The problem is you never know what a geyser’s thinking. Was it brooding on past indignities? It has been used as a laundry, garments placed in the crater between eruptions - timing here being everything. With each eruption clothes shot up in the air, thoroughly washed and no doubt steam-cleaned. In an early experiment in temperature control it was found that linen and cotton fabrics were uninjured by the action of the water, but woolen clothes were torn to shreds
Me and Doug, an Australian, walked across the steaming mudflats. It was eerie - like a nature walk on the moon, unexpectedly alien. It was also frustrating because human nature being what it is, you wanted to wander where you were not allowed to – for your own safety.
Never mind Yellowstone, nor the need for some fresh steam-cleaned underwear of our own; the bus exploded in silliness on our way to Jackson Hole, our next port of call. Alcohol, boredom and shaving foam make a deadly combination. I was still thinking of the lady in the pink dress, wondering whether the fumes clouding the mud flats, were hallucinogenic, whether they could be bottled – when Veronique attacked with a can of foaming beer.
We arrived in Jackson Hole late, and set up our tents in the dark. After dinner we made our way across to a Trek-America campfire party. We’d been told about it but rumour was our only guide. The night was pitch-black and we had only one torch, which Veronique hi-jacked because she’d heard the party was near a river. Dutch logic.
The party was found.
My diary records how I talked to four Australians and drank their beer feeling immense guilt because I had none of my own. This is a cardinal sin but no doubt I consoled myself that the world as we knew it was due to end within 25,000 years. Perhaps sooner. The pink lady had spoken.