THE OLD FAITHFUL AND OTHERS.
West Yellowstone is a tiny charming town in Montana, USA. Its population is about 1,200. It boasts several hotels, a museum, two large supermarkets, a number of souvenir shops and a shopping arcade, plus a surprising amount of very good cafes. If you stay there and walk along Main Street, be sure to say “Good morning” to everyone you meet. People are very friendly there. Be prepared to spend the time of day in any store, many clerks are middle-aged and inclined to talk. One is not supposed to hurry when choosing gifts, or simply browsing. I have seen some of the most beautiful turquoise jewelry there. The prices varied greatly, from circa $10 to several hundred dollars. I inquired why, and received a very nice explanation: “These are Brazilian-made, and those are handmade native”. Properly humbled, I admired “those”, then chose “these”, plus several amazing pieces made from shining copper. Apart from the museum, there is a sort of small nature preserve, or zoo, attached to it. The park wardens pick up abandoned bear cubs, bring them to the tiny zoo, to be cared for by biologists. There are also wolves and some other animals in this tiny enclave. Even at a small distance, the bears look uncannily like humans. We saw huge bears sitting around in the sun, eating something with one paw, while with the other paw, they shooed away ravens which tried to snap bits of food right from out of their teeth.
As the town is located next door to the world-famous YellowstonePark, the huge nature reserve founded in 1872, there are plenty of tourists at any time of the year. Regular excursion buses with a professional guide take groups and families into the park, along the winding mountainous roads, making strategic stops for the tourists to take pictures and gaze at the awesome views. The Old Faithful hotel is situated in the heart of the park; it is styled in the fashion of a bygone era, with openwork wooden beams and decorations. One can use the facilities there, visit the souvenir shop, before going on to sit or stand together with hundreds of people patiently waiting for the greatest show of the day. The eruptions of the Old Faithful, the geyser which got its name because it erupts at rather regular intervals, start as tiny wisps of smoke. Gradually they become bigger and bigger, then small plumes of boiling water shoot out, and finally the old geyser erupts in all its glory. We have never seen anything as awe-inspiring in our lives before. There are hundreds of geysers in the park, but the Old Faithful is justly considered to be the most famous of them all. According to legends, in the old times people used it to wash linen and clothes in.
In many places, there are bubbling lakes with sulphur fumes pervading the air. A thin flaky crust covers the immediate surroundings. There are specially laid paths made of wooden planks all around the lakes and people are warned not to leave them. One can get a nasty burn even from the ground, let alone the boiling water.
Mountain rivers and little waterfalls crop up everywhere. There are observation decks for visitors, and one can enjoy the giddy sensation of looking up sheer hills, or down steep ravines. Some of the trees are burned down or dried up; the wardens say it is a natural process by which Mother Nature herself eliminates the old vegetation and makes place for the new plants. We have seen several fishermen patiently standing in the middle of those very fast rivers, and also some bears swiping their huge paws through the water to catch fish. On grassy river banks in the valleys, one can see deer and bison. The park is huge, it is impossible to see everything in one day, but a good excursion gives one a general idea. The image of the Old Faithful’s glorious plunge into the incredibly blue sky remains with you forever