God Bless the USA
I wake up at 5am, as I am about to witness the sunrise over Yellowstone Lake. It is cold and a thick dew has fallen overnight. I make my way down to the lake, which is only a few metres away from my room in the lodge at Grant Village.
It is very quiet, no breeze and no animals are stirring yet. I want to find the best vantage point for viewing the sunrise. I can see the light on the horizon, and quickly walk to a small jetty. it is slippery underfoot, so I carefully pick my way to the end, where a family has already arrived and has taken prime position. I stay for a short time, before returning to the short beach, where I feel that I would have a better view. And I wait for the sun to rise from behind the trees on the horizon. The sun finally peeks out of the clouds and rises quickly at about 6am, so I have some time to finish packing up before the bus arrives. Although not a 'morning' person, I am glad I woke to watch the sun rise over the lake.
The bus arrives at 8:15, the remaining passengers are bleary-eyed, since they have also had an early morning. Within a few minutes, the bus stops at the other side of Yellowstone Lake to West Thumb Geyser Basin, which is on another bank of the same lake I witnessed the sunrise a couple of hours ago. Steam rises as I walk along the boardwalk, mud bubbles, and water percolates. I can hear water hissing and boiling like a kettle as I watch the water bubbling in the blue pools. The heat causes an algae to form a crust around the edge of some pools, whilst others are mere holes or vents in the ground from which steam rises.
As I return to the bus, several elk walk along the crusty surface, carefully avoiding the pools whilst warming their feet on the surface of the ground. It's nice to see some wildlife before we leave Yellowstone.
Adjoining Yellowstone at the southern entrance, is the Grand Teton National Park. In my opinion, this is a prettier park, and the road runs parallel with the magnificent 64 kilometre Teton Range. It basically connects Yellowstone with the town of Jackson Hole to the south. The peaks of the Teton Range are point toward the sky, and even now, in the middle of the summer are capped with snow. We stop briefly at the Teton Lodge and again on the side of the road for photos.
When scenery is this beautiful, I like to watch and absorb the view, but I am finding the rude behaviour of some of the people on my tour quite distressing. There is a long path on which 96 people can comfortably stand and basically see the same sights. Why then do they think it's OK to push people out of their way so that they can pose in what they consider is a prime position?
Our arrival in Jackson Hole comes during the lunch rush. On this public holiday in America, July 4, I want to walk around and familiarise myself with this pretty Western town. The antler arches on each corner of the central park is popular for photos, and I chat to an American couple who want me to take their photo. Since most of the people milling around and posing under the arch are from my bus, I turn the tables on them and clear them from the arch while the couple stands beneath for a photo. I pass cowboys on horses, and the Million Dollar Bar, around which the movie, Space Cowboys, was set. All too soon it is time to return to the bus. I have knocked back a double espresso to help me cope with this most gruelling of days. I have plans for the evening, and we are already behind schedule.
We drive along the river for many kilometres, before the bus turns onto secondary roads. it isn't possible for the bus to attempt the Teton Pass, and we must take these roads, which will bring us back into Idaho before arriving at Salt Lake City at around 7pm. The bus stops at the State Capitol, which is closed for the holiday, and it's pouring rain. We have made up about an hour because of this. I am very conscious of the time because Keith Urban will be on stage at 9 o'clock about 45 minutes away in Provo, Utah. Of course, the purchased-meal people have to eat before we leave Salt Lake City and we are taken to a restaurant in an industrial area of the city. I slip off to McDonald's down the road.
We are finally on the road. It's still raining, but it is subsiding as we leave Salt Lake City behind us. It is 8:45 when we arrive in Provo.
As I collect my room key, I ask the reception to call a cab for me to take me to the stadium. I am met with blank faces, and cannot believe it when I'm told there are no cabs in Provo.
I put my bags in the room and return to the reception. it is 8:55pm and Keith is on in just 5 minutes. I ask about alternate methods of transport, and was told to take a bus.
Slipping out the door, I quickly find the bus stop and miracle of miracles, one comes along at precisely that moment. The driver opens the window and asks me where I want to go.
As I enter the bus, it moves from the stop and down the road, halting at each stop along the way. The driver calls out that the next stop is the stadium. It is 9:05pm. She also shows me where the stop is for my return journey and points me in the direction of the stadium entrance.
'Enjoy the fireworks!' she says.
I miss the first two songs, but I'm in my seat at 9:15 and watch Keith Urban sing. I've enjoyed his songs in the past, and enjoy this concert very much. I am particularly impressed with the way he talks to the young people in the crowd, and before the end of his concert, signs his guitar and presents it to a young lady in the audience. The concert is excellent, but it almost pales in comparison to what comes next.
The blackened baseball pitch is filled with scurrying people placing large objects and four trampolines in the centre, whilst little children, in costume, hold large white balls and young adults are encased in silver coils. Within seconds of the end of the concert, the theme music to 2001, A Space Odyssey rings out whilst the video and sound footage of Neil Armstrong's first steps on the moon booms over the top. At the same time, young trampolinists and dancers grace the fields, and a fireworks display begins. The fireworks/sound/video tribute to the 50th anniversary of the moon landing lasts for fifteen minutes.
This is followed by a tribute to the 75th anniversary of Normandy Landing. By now the sky is filled with cordite and smoke, as song after song, and colour and noise exploded from the darkness. Then the reason we are here tonight, the celebration of the American National Day, July 4, completes the fanfare. I think I am witnessing one of the longest fireworks displays I've ever seen, and as I make my way down to the bus stop to catch the bus back to my accommodation, I feel sorry for the people on my tour. Due to restrictions on the their movements, they miss seeing a spectacular sight, which is part of America's history.
I won't get much sleep tonight, but I am glad I have taken this opportunity to mingle with the American people and to join in their celebrations.
TITLE QUOTE: Lee Greenwood
ACCOMMODATION: Provo Marriott and Conference Center 101 W 100 N, Provo UT USA