Seventeen Views of Yellowstone

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We spent three days at Yellowstone, the first national park in the United States, the first national park in the world. I’ve been there several times before but this time there were no convoys of tour buses. What I did see were masks. Masks and no masks, and you could tell which was which not by looking but by listening. Does the family coming up behind you sound a little southern? A little rural? No mask. Do they sound like they would be comfortable in a Lexus? Mask. Hispanic? Mask. European tourist? No mask.

One family went all out and each of them, dad, mom, and two kids wore full-on industrial painting masks, black rubber face part with two large filter cartridges, looking like something from Word War I. They wore these as they walked the boardwalks around the geyser basins. You could only see their eyes and the parents’ eyes looked out wide open, terrified.

Even without the tour buses the park was busy. Busy but orderly. There wasn’t the usual bulge of tour bus customers pushing their way through in a tight group, the dancing sun umbrellas stabbing toward my eyes. But people were everywhere we stopped, with plenty of them, to the consternation of the park rangers, forgetting that the buffalo they were scooting by, posing with for the selfie, was over two thousand pounds in weight and could run and jump with ease. They get angry, too.

With the masks and the social distancing we were all traveling alone along the same paths, stepping aside for each other, looking over each others’ shoulders into the vague distance. The world seemed a little less real, somehow, the people annoying me by their presence.

I want to share with you twenty views of Yellowstone. On some I’ve left the sound in, on others I’ve dropped it out. Usually I deleted the sound because of the tourists around me, yammering away on my audio. One guy, seeing my fuzzy microphone attached to my camera, coming up behind me as I was shooting, started going on about how important sound was to a video and how most people didn’t realize that and I was smart to have a fancy microphone–and in mid-sentence realized he was being recorded and just stopped in mid-sentence with an “oh.” I didn’t even look at him.

This post is from a series of articles chronicling a 2020 cross-country trip with my wife and two daughters and a boyfriend, from California to Ohio (to visit family) and Pennsylvania (to drop off my oldest daughter at grad school), and then back. We spent over five weeks on the road during the pandemic.

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