Of Yellowstone and El Segundo

Within two miles of Yellowstone's west gate, traffic stops. Because of buffalo. Everyone stops to see the buffalo, but not on the side of the road. The side of the road is where you go when you're moving slowly, so others can pass. When you wish to come to a complete stop, you do that in the middle of the road. I'm told this whole "Look! A buffalo! Within a quarter mile of the road! Stop the car! No, don't pull over! Just stop the car! I'm certain my point-and-shoot camera with barely-perceptible zoom will render the distant buffalo recognizable when I never actually look at this picture after this trip!" thing is a Yellowstone endemic. I didn't know, because I'm not well-versed in baffoon. I am, however, well-versed in baboon. I'm actually quite brilliant for an ape, though I'm kind of dumb for a human.

Norris Geyser Basin
Now I'm looking for a campsite. I pull into a campground with a big fat "FULL" placard hanging below the entrance sign. But I think maybe this is like the roadsigns that indicate a sharp turn ahead and say you can only go 45 mph around the bend, but really you can go 70 mph as long as everyone leans into the turn and you're driving a Formula One car, so I check out the campground anyhow. There are lots of empty sites, but most have some object laying in the parking spot indicating that you can't camp there because the site's taken, like a cooler or a cooking stove or an IED. I look for the ranger, hoping she is also well-versed in baboon so we can communicate on equal footing.

I find her further around the loop, standing by the side of the road with a clipboard, observing some mulch near the road shoulder. She looks up as I roll down my window, but instead of focusing on my face as my mouth begins to formulate my question, her eyes sweep past me and focus on something across the road.

"A partridge..." she intones excitedly, soiling herself out of sheer joy. Note that we have exchanged no pleasantries. These are the first words spoken in our budding friendship. I follow her gaze and spot a large bird waddling across a campsite. "Yeah, wow, a partridge," I say, faking interest. It's a bird, lady. They got birds in El Segundo. I didn't drive all the way to Yellowstone to drool over a dumb bird. I drove all the way to Yellowstone to drool over a dumb hole full of hot water, take a picture of it with my cell phone camera, post it to Facebook so as to maintain the illusion of having a rich and meaningful life, and then drive home to my actual life that revolves mostly around raisin bran and baseball.

Ranger lady pulls herself away from the partridge long enough to suggest that maybe a walk-in site over on loop A is open, so I thank her and drive off, swerving to avoid hitting the partridge, which had waddled into the middle of the road. Ranger lady shakes her fist at me in my rearview as she scurries to the partridge to make sure it's okay. Man, what a fat old bird. And the partridge was abnormally large, too.

Colorful tourists, Upper Terraces, Mammoth Hot Springs
There's an open site over on loop A about ten feet from the sites on either side. As I'm erecting my tent on site 9, a mousy old guy wanders over from site 7. "Nice choice," he says cheerfully. "Thanks, (?)" I reply, looking around to make sure that I had indeed selected the only open campsite in northwestern Wyoming. He motions with his chin to a small blue tent a few feet away at site 10. "Cute single girl's camping right there. Nice choice." I think I know what he's thinking, and, even if I was single, and even if I was into fraternizing with unshowered grizzly chicks, there's no way two people could fit in that blue tent. Maybe two German Shepherds, but not two people. "Oh, I'm married," I tell Mousy Guy. "Me too!" he chirps. This guy's really happy about stuff. I like him, even though he did try to hook me up with Blue Tent Girl. After Mousy Guy leaves, a guy in red fleece and his girlfriend/wife person in black fleece walk past as I'm staking down my tent. I ask if they're looking for a site, and then I point out that the peeps at site 8 just left. I calculate that it's better to have Fleecy Couple at site 8 than to risk being sandwiched between Blue Tent Girl and Unknown Entity, which could end up being Guy Who Smells Like Asian Food or Quasimodo-esque Backpacker Girl or, worst-case scenario, Large Energetic Family with Child-Discipline Issues. Camping is so complicated.