8.2 Parking Lots in the Wilderness.

I settled into my campsite, which was surprisingly and pleasantly un-crowded, for it being one of over four hundred in this campground.  On earlier travels I had had the experience of being assigned a tiny fragment of a steep hillside with neighbors on both sides who were having the same problem I had: finding a patch of ground to pitch a tent so that its sleeping bag-clad occupants weren’t gravitationally pulled to the same downhill seam.  But either by the luck of the draw, or a changed policy in campsite density, my home for the night was nice enough.

Not that I intended to spend the night there.  I expected to find some dark place to do more deep sky photography.  One place that intrigued me was Isa Lake, a body of water at the top of Craig Pass between where I was in Grant Village, and the geyser basin containing Old Faithful.  The lake straddles the Continental Divide, with one end draining to the Atlantic, the other to the Pacific.  Having been trained long ago with the requisite courses in electric field theory, I wondered how the “hydraulic field” within the lake behaved.  Was there a drawing force from each end, such that a given water molecule’s fate was decided, depending on its position?  Does this force grow weaker as one approaches the actual dividing line of these two great drainage basins?  Could a molecule on the zero-force equipotential locus go either way, depending on random motion?    How was the surveyed line of the Continental Divide established anyway, when the surface of the lake is, almost by definition, level?    These conceptual and philosophical issues bothered me, as many such topics do even though the world gets along just fine without them being fully understood by everyone.

The mental image of water molecules being sucked by grand forces toward opposite fates kept me occupied as I drove the route to the top of the pass.  When I got there, the lake seemed remarkably calm, given the turmoil that I imagined to be happening beneath its surface, a surface covered largely with lily pads.  As attractive as it was, I did not see the photographic potential I was hoping for, or perhaps I convinced myself of this, seeking a reason not to remain here after dark.

I continued to Old Faithful, probably the most popular place in the park.  The scale of the civil engineering required to accommodate this popularity seems out of place in this otherwise natural setting.  Roads that previously wound quietly through forests and along streams suddenly become multilane freeways with exit and entrance ramps.  Parking places for the vehicles carrying the masses must be provided, and so they are, with multiple parking lots, complete with designated areas for busses and RVs, and special purpose lots for hotel guests, and delivery and service access.  Some “overflow” lots are carved out of the forest further away, shuttle bus service provided.

I managed to find my own parking slot in the midst of the asphalt field, easing into it as I watched with great un-ease as an RV behemoth plowed its way through the lot, looking for a landing strip long enough to accommodate it.  The owners of these vehicles must find themselves in a dilemma.  Once the length of the recreational vehicle exceeds a certain threshold, it becomes cumbersome to pilot, especially when off the interstate trucking routes.  To regain the nimbleness of driving the back roads, or even the city streets, the choice seems to be to abandon the megabus and operate a smaller RV, or to tow a second, smaller vehicle behind, thereby making the overall length and navigational challenge (and surely the operating expense) even greater!  Remarkably, it seems that the option of choice is often the latter, so a large segment of the Old Faithful parking lot was dedicated as the momentary resting place for these CVs (composite vehicles).

The vehicles are left in the lot and the people they contained stream toward the attractions of this geyser basin.  The attractions include hotels, stores, restaurants, and the Old Faithful visitor center.  They also include the geysers themselves, and the associated hot pools and boiling springs scattered across this crusted break in the vegetation of the surrounding forest.  The main focus is Old Faithful, a mound of precipitate carrying a wisp of vapor evaporating into the breeze.  Every 90 minutes or so, an eruption of water and steam is sent skyward to the delight of hundreds of spectators that line up on a specially constructed boardwalk, that surrounds it just out of harm’s way (harm to the geyser).

The ebb and flow of human traffic to the boardwalk mimics the water of the geyser, crowding in as the hot water expels, and wandering away as the spent steam and water trickles back to its source.  I follow the human flow, anticipating the next eruption, and start to make plans on how to take pictures of the event later.

I find the crowds wearing on my already sleep-deficient state, and I decide to try to nap in my car while waiting for my night schedule to start.  I can almost isolate myself: the sun shade/privacy screen for the front windshield, then road maps covering the driver and passenger sides, crimped into the rolled up windows.  The tint of the other windows provide a nearly one-way view, dark to outsiders, clear to me.  I tilt the seat way back and try to sleep.

Of course I’ve never been good at sleeping on command, and the heat of the day in a closed car makes the boisterous voice commands and demands of the two-way stream of tourists through the parking lot even more offensive.  Perhaps I dozed for a while; if so, the passing human traffic intruded into my dreams.

Nightscape Odyssey
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