Tom certainly survived the inspection session by no less than eight middle-aged, opinionated, intelligent, successful (except, of course, for the lowly blogger…), strong and undauntable women with aplomb (he reports that in the war of the sexes he’s a conscientious objector), but it was time to continue with our southern migration. Chico Hot Springs awaited us; perhaps impatiently, perhaps with trepidation, but the credit card had been charged, so on we went. It had no choice but to await our arrival.
Our first night was unremarkable, as was our first morning, except, perhaps for the mimosas. It was remarkable that we had all been up for over two hours before anyone popped a cork. And then it took several of the aforementioned to roust Pam and Brenda out of their fugue states enough to convince them to pile into the cars and flounce our way to Yellowstone. On the way we passed Devil’s Slide, which is surprisingly boring, since it’s on all sorts of maps and guidebooks and roadside historical markers: its just a really, really big rock slide with interesting colors. As we approached, we were staring pretty steadily to the right of the road, where we expected the feature to appear, so I happened to notice the sign that said “Wildlife Crossing”, which pleased me, since it indicated that they knew we were on our way. I mentioned this out loud, which inspired us to stop at the pull-out.
And of course – you really should have seen this coming – we hiked back to the sign, and photographed ourselves crossing the road on all fours. Which led to the stripper-pole-dancing shots of us tarting it up on the Devil’s Slide sign. And before the deluge of requests for pictures commences, let me remind you that A) I’m too stupid to upload sized photos to this site, and 2) it is still only March in Montana, so while we may have been pole-dancing, we were doing so in warm woolies. It was sort of girls-gone-wild-only-in-layers. Really, you’ll be more interested in the photos of actual wildlife that we got. There were so many elk and deer in the Paradise Valley it’s hard to imagine that the farmers there can raise any hay at all before it’s devoured. I was not driving, so I didn’t have to scour the sides of the roads for incipient ungulate leapers, but I’ll tell you what: the magic money maker in the Paradise Valley isn’t the plastics of The Graduate fame, but wrecker service. I can’t imagine that they don’t have to haul off at least three car-meets-elk calamities a day from that stretch of road. It may be Paradise, but…
That was one theme of our weekend, as it happens. One of us had one of those inspirational, half spiritual, half corporate boosterism books in which a pivotal concept was that we are never happy with what we have, but always want more: we might be in Paradise, but…. The other theme was a song; namely Amy Winehouse’s song de jour which goes “they say that I should go to rehab and I say noooo, no, noh!” which we sang in unison, in public, off key and often enough to get us all committed. Committed to what is, of course, open to interpretation, but I’m pretty sure we could all be committed. Probably not to rehab. Even when we stopped at the Devil’s Slide Bar – which we had patronized last year at this time – and the bar owner, having recognized us (a group like ours couldn’t be incognito in Gardiner, Montana if it was the only option for keeping us out of rehab, and no matter how much you paid us…) said, revealing his perspicacity; “you ladies seem to like to party” and like clockwork, we broke into song: “they say that we should go to rehab, and we say noooo, no, noh!” Some of us even did the little pointing-finger thing that is so ironically mimicking that 70s Staying Alive disco pointing routine that it is almost cool. Even for middle aged people.
Well, perhaps. At least we were just saying “no”. And the locals liked it enough to give us chotchkes. We got free tee shirts and beer-condoms (those insulated sleeves to put around your beer). But I’m getting ahead of myself. The migratory stop-over at the Devil’s Slide Bar didn’t occur until after our sojourn in the park. I don’t want you to get the impression that we were drinking in the morning. No, mimosas don’t count. Good grief. Quit pointing stuff like that out. Sheesh.
So anyway, we went into the park and wandered around on the boardwalks at Mammoth hot springs, snapping pictures all around just like regular tourists. It being the tail end of winter, the stairs leading up to the many terraces of calcified geyser water were all snow-packed and icy, which, we found out, is perfect for sliding down on. Erin did the best, since she had on slippery snow pants, and has natural talent for the sport of wadding yourself up into a ball and barreling down snow-packed steps like a slow-motion luge. I tried, but only wound up with a shirt full of snow. On the way out of Mammoth we stopped at the aptly named Mammoth Restroom, which, I’m guessing, is not named for the frequency with which people take Mammoth, restful naps, if you know what I mean. I’d really like to know which Forest Service Functionary missed the connotations here. They do their jobs, and we do ours: move on. We did the obligatory out-of-the-sun-roof snaps of bison meandering around on the roads with their enormous heads and humps towering over the top of the cars and we got the close ups of impressively antlered, (thankfully) drowsy elk, but missed the shot of the bald eagle swooping down into the Gardiner river to snag a fish. The darn thing just circled, and wouldn’t swoop, so we just pointed at it a lot.
The Gardiner River is joined, at a popular spot for tourists and locals alike, by the Boiling River. That emerges from whatever geology winds up making geysers at about 150 degrees Fahrenheit (look it up: I was too busy to read the sign.), and steams away for a few hundred meters before joining the chilly Gardiner. At the confluence of the two can be found, most days, a wide variety of half-naked, parboiled people. That Saturday, the crowd included us. We ensconced ourselves into the least-crowded pool, alongside a few people from Livingston, who, I’m sure, regretted having chosen this particular day and this particular pool in which to partake of their rest and relaxation. It wasn’t long at all before I noticed a bead of elk poop floating along, heading for Alisa, and being the least conniving of us, I just gamely went “oooh, look! Elk poop!” which was a beacon of opportunity – if you think about it – for the more savvy of our group, like, for example, Pam, who picked it up and threw it at me. I am ever learning in this life; I swear, it’s a never-ending stream of opportunity to gain new knowledge and experience. I can’t imagine why anyone would see having elk poop thrown at one as anything less than a learning experience.
And that’s why I scooped up a handful of river-bottom slime and smeared it over Pam, causing the Livingston people to move away slowly, never turning their backs to us. Girl Fight! Well, it might not have been that little row that impressed them, but the fact that Pam chose to take the smearing incident and run with it by adding her own fistfuls of slime, and smearing it all over herself to a stripping song. Oh, no, wait…that was me singing the stripping song. But she did bare herself later, when she thought only we were within eyesight. I still haven’t told her about the guys with the telephoto lenses on tripods. Don’t tell her; it will only ruin that precious spontaneity of hers. Precious.
Actually, what is precious is the delicacy with which some went about changing out of their suits when it was time to go. This being the confluence of rivers in a national park, there wasn’t much in the way of cabanas about in which to change clothes. The landscape was pretty much wide open. And the walk back to the parking lot was a five or ten minute affair, so in March temps it really isn’t an option to walk back in your bathing suit, or even to throw your clothes on over it. Most of us just quietly and surreptitiously do a little facing-away from as many people as possible and do the dance of seven sodden towels draped hither and thither whilst removing and adding articles to the never perfectly naked body (oh, gawd, let’s just catch up with the Europeans on this one thing, shall we? I’ll forego universal health care, affordable and reliable public transportation, multilingualism, and even actual Champagne, from Champagne, for the ability to bare one or two body parts briefly without inciting a congressional inquiry. Really, I would.), and we get changed. But not all of us. Some of us required attendants to hold up oversized towels like a little portable changing room in which to perform the operation in privacy which backfired, naturally. No one saw any naughty bits for sure, but the banter and hilarity from her supposed friends as well as from passing strangers was enough to negate the whole premise of privacy. Ah, well, live and learn.
We managed to get through the rest of the weekend with only minor leering from the “security” at Chico, which was an improvement over last year. That time there was a security guy whose interest in Brenda’s beauty was such that we felt compelled to take photos for the evidence room. They have a new cook at Chico, and the food was mildly edible, for the first time I’ve ever eaten there. I lost my brand new green wool beret at the bar while listening to the lousy band, and had the (questionable) opportunity to stand in the bar the next morning in my bathing suit, dripping from my early swim and asking if they had any green berets. Thankfully, they did not hand me an exceptionally brave soldier.
They did give me my hat back, though, which made me happy. My friends, however, did not really see the fashion sense in this, since I walked around the place all weekend in an oversized, fire-engine-red ,terry bathrobe designed for comfort and not for style topped with a green hat. It’s a spa, after all, and who has a gown and heels? Apparantly the people who stand in judgement of me. Well. Really.