Hippo's vacation: through the states of American Northwest, section CA-NV-ID-WY.
Yellowstone, WY, follows.

 Idaho: potato heart of America 
Idaho: potato heart of America.
 Blackfoot Reservoir, Idaho 
Blackfoot Reservoir, Idaho.

For this vacation, I was ripe as an apricot that they forgot to harvest and which does not know, should it fall and smear tastelessly on the ground, or should it keep hanging on and slowly turn into something you are not supposed to ingest before and/or while you drive.
To my friends and colleagues I simply told that I would be going to Montana. "But there's nothing in Montana!" many objected. "See? That is exactly why I'm going there," was my answer. Truth is, I had no precise plan at the beginning of my trip, as where and which way to go. Just like I love it.

I could have theoretically drifted off on Friday night, after returning from work, yet my experience puts agility of the departure into heavy correlation with amount of things and deeds forgotten in the process of leaving. Thus, relatively at ease, having paid bills, having sent e-mails, and after returning (several times) for numerous small objects, I began the trip on Saturday afternoon, so I could relax later, finding only my wristwatch missing, truly a possession easily replaceable and actually unessential.
State of my mind can be well illustrated with the fact that I managed to ignore road signs in Oakland, resulting in $2 lost for crossing Bay Bridge to San Francisco, in a completely opposite direction, dammit! Though once atop Interstate 80, I allowed nothing more to lead me astray. After an altogether boring afternoon, I vanquished the passes of Sierra Nevada to Reno, NV, surging eastward, while I listened to Zimmerman's comedy CD Conquering the North Pole, which I took along to suppress melancholia.

 Jackson, WY: lifted to Snow King 
Jackson, WY: lifted to Snow King.
 Snow King, WY: a tame wild partridge 
Snow King, WY: a tame wild partridge.

Because I already wrote about Sierra Nevada and the Interstate 80 drags through totally uninteresting steppes and deserts, I made no pictures. Night has descended and my exhaustion with it -- I slept in a freeway rest area somewhere in the middle of boredom. In the morning, once I have turned to highway 93, I found myself in another time zone and Idaho state, the potato heart of America. Indeed, far fields of these, as well as huge barns to store it in, mighty railroad network to distribute potatoes.
There's 75 mph limit on freeways in Idaho, though, so I was happily zooming (I-86) east, watching the plains around Snake River swell up to hills and higher into Rocky Mountains and Teton Range. I crossed to Wyoming on highway 34 by then, rented a motel bed and bought a dinner and collapsed. So far, I have driven 1500 miles.

I bought my missing wristwatch in a famous winter sports center, Jackson, WY, surrounded by forever white mountain tops. A lift took me up to Snow King Mountain. Hiking for four hours over adjacent ridge brought me many pretty vistas, a meeting with a partridge who tried to lure me away from the chicks, and a persistent ache in my knee, which comes every time I head out for hills after months of sitting at a computer. It would fade away regardless whether I tried to hobble on through uneven terrain or whether I crouched back to a keyboard.

 Jackson, WY: town and Teton Range 
Jackson, WY: town and Teton Range.
 National Park Grand Teton 
National Park Grand Teton.

As I strongly liked the country, I was looking forward to finding some nice spot to overnight, out of the civilization. Several Jackson locals goggled their eyes a lot whenever I worded map. Eventually they would jabber something about Forest Service. A khaki woman at the FS building was negotiating with a character who was probably trying to apply for a moose shooting permit since they've been trampling over his strawberries. A map, just the right one, hung on the wall. The said official persona did not wink and chased me out saying tourist information center was 500 feet down the road, have a nice day. There, I had a chance to purchase many books on elk, richly illustrated, as well as caps and stones, and similar essentials; the same perfect map hung on the wall again, not for sale. I got a free xeroxed mess of lines depicting roads in the Park, and was offered a topographic chart encompassing in unnecessary detail but a quarter of the interesting area. Hikability and 4WD driveability not indicated. "You hike?" asked me an attendant, disbelieving. "They'll give you a tourist map at the park entrance," she went into defensive. She did not mention that the entrance was only at Yellowstone, a mere 150 miles north.

Looking at the wall, I memorized a few alternatives and went on. Good places to sleep have many common features. You must turn from a thoroughfare at least twice to gradually degrading roads. If the last mile happens to be dusty (muddy) and full of dips, you could avoid a pretty strong probability that by two in the morning, a motorhome would clatter close and its inhabitants would then keep building collapsible tables and chairs and rearrange food and level the vehicle driving it to and fro for better sleeping, till the dawn. The spot must also be best in a National Forest. On a private property you risk a visit by a shotgun-equipped owner who would then make clear you actually don't want to sleep; the National and State park rangers have a fixed idea that you must pay first to sleep (easily up to $20), and that only in an assigned place, where you'll find more motorhomes and latrines and big outdoors camping businesses and smells of all sorts.
 Snow King, WY: Gros Ventre Range 
Snow King, WY: Gros Ventre Range.
 A campfire -- a vain attempt to chase away mosquitos 
A campfire -- a vain attempt to chase away mosquitos.
Luckily for me and those like me, there are plenty National Forests, usually as a less attractive (read: unmarked) areas surrounding National Parks.

Following just my intuition, which helps me in my travels much better than maps, I soon found the right place. One had to drive 12 miles on madly broken, dusty and rocky forest road, but that's why I bought my rugged wagon after all. The reward was a wonderful outlook; the punishment was a cloud of mosquitos that immediately descended onto my unprotected skin and inflicted tenths of bites in no time. Words of Thor, a Norwegian farmer, flashed through my brain: "...sometimes they would drive a ton of cattle mad..."
Fire, make a fire. The smoke will hunt them away. But I carry no matches, no lighter with me, being non-smoker. Think, hippo, think, or else you'll go mad. Ha! The wagon has an electric cigarette lighter. I pull the cord of the power convertor, which whines like a mosquito in protest; I push the lighter in the hole. I tear newspaper to small shreds and urge them to the red hot spiral. It smells, it smothers, it blackens, yet there comes no flame. Topped by flakes of burnt paper, scratching on twenty different places at the same time, I hurry down the bumpy road back to a store for chemical weapons and a firemaker.

Thirty rough miles farther, yet on the same spot, I lit up a small campfire and sprayed myself with some insect-disgusting smell. The chemicals worked. Smoke from the fire crawled into my wagon and permanently imprinted a smokey flavor in the upholstering. There was nothing else to do than turn on another Zimmerman's CD, Rainstorm. The sun had set meanwhile, and I skipped all the photos for the mosquitos. Moon stepped out into a quiet night, towards the Tetons, stars blinking overhead, and in the distance over Jackson, in the moon's silvery light, from a cloud cluster, a rain showered down.

continuing (Yellowstone, WY) ...

You can contact the author by e-mail at sidparal@hroch.net.
Copyright © 1998 by Sid Paral. All rights reserved.