On our last night at the Old Faithful Inn in Yellowstone Bill and I took our nightly star-gazing stroll. We started out on the access road that ran parallel to the geysers, mud pots and hot springs, passed Castle Geyser and cut in at Grotto Geyser where we picked up the boardwalk that snakes in and out of geyser city. It got dark fairly quickly; I snapped on my borrowed headlamp and Bill turned his handheld light on too. It was only about 9:30 but without any city lights the nights are dark.
night shot of Grotto Geyser
As we ambled up to one of the Geysers (I can’t remember if it was Grand or Giant) I noticed the sign stating that it was expected to erupt that evening between 9:35 pm and 12:35 am. “What luck!” I thought, “we might get to see it go.” Three or four rows of benches were positioned in a half-moon around the geyser; a lone man sat front row to the far right, head down playing on his phone, the illumination from it cutting through the darkness. As Bill pointed out to me the three-hour window, mentioning that we could have a long wait, a man rushed up to us. He was older, overweight, out of breath and a tiny bit unsteady on his feet. My immediate reaction, I hate to admit, was suspicion; my body tensed ready to fight or flee.
The poor man was out of breath and agitated because he was scared. He was lost, told us he had been walking in circles on the boardwalk and was just about ready to yell for help. He had a hearing impairment which caused a speech impediment. It took effort on his part to hear us and on our part to understand him. The guy with the phone promptly pulled up a map of the boardwalk and tried giving the man directions.
“Are you going back?” he asked us. We weren’t planning on heading back just then, repeated the directions to him in loud voices.
“I’ll go with you,” he said. We told him to stay on the boardwalk and keep bearing right.
“I’ll go with you,” he said.
The three of us started back to the lodge, my headlamp lighting up the path in front of us. We tried talking to the man now and then but we all mostly kept silent. His breath came out in short, fast bursts. I had a fleeting thought that he might have a heart attack. We really weren’t too far from the road but I put myself in his shoes, imagined being out in the middle of what looks like a waste land with plumes of steam rising from every direction and occasional jets spewing left and right and knew I would have been freaked out. If this happened to me, I thought, I would hope someone would help me.
Day shots of springs and geysers
When we got back to the lodge the man seemed to have forgotten where his car was parked. He started pressing the unlock button on his car keys, asked us if we heard his car horn. We didn’t. Bill told him to come into the lodge to get help finding his car but he shook our hands, said “Thanks! I would have had to sleep out there,” and walked out into the parking lot. I worried about him for a few minutes, hoping he was okay.
Bill and I walked back to Old Faithful Geyser where I reclined on a bench to look up at the stars. We sat there for a little while, tried taking some pictures, walked back to our room and got ready for our last day of hiking.