Tourists Taking Pictures

As I saw yet another bus full of Japanese tourists take pictures in front of a steaming Yellowstone waterfall, I started to think about tourism. Yellowstone National Park has been attracting visitors for almost 150 years. The rangers tell stories and show photos of how people used to tour the park, riding around in a stage couch for $50 a head. People threw hankies in whirlpools and went fishing on top of geysers. Bison were hunted almost to extinction and invasive lake trout were brought in to entertain anglers. If you visited the park even 60 years ago, you would still be feeding garbage to bears. If it was only 20 years ago you’d see people fighting forest fires.

Kids Posing for PicturesMost importantly, 20 years ago very few people would have had cameras, and those that did would be using film. The advantage and disadvantage of digital is that the number of pictures is only limited by the memory card you bought, and most cards can easily hold several days worth of severe shutter bugging. I was surprised at how many people visiting Yellowstone had really big, expensive, fantastic looking cameras, though that might be skewed to the location. If you want to take advantage of a nice camera, Yellowstone’s the place to go. I’ve mentioned before that one of my travel hobbies is taking pictures of people taking pictures. It happened so often in Yellowstone that after a while I stopped taking advantage of the opportunities.

Large LensWere this 20 years ago, I would still see families and Japanese tourists. People would still be doing dumb things like getting too close to the bison. But I wouldn’t see cameras. More over, I wouldn’t see people experiencing the park through their camera. They look through the lens instead of looking with their eyes. I do it too, and I hate that I do it. But sometimes I just don’t know how else to “experience” something in a way that feels complete. If I just look at it I wonder, “Have I stared the right amount? Have I looked long enough to make a good memory?”

On what was going to be my last geyser stop before making the long drive back to my cabin, I ran into a couple I’d met on a ranger hike that morning. The woman stopped me and told me that I shouldn’t waste my time on this particular boardwalk, and instead should hike up the nearby hill at Fairy Falls for a bird’s eye view.

Selfie at Mammoth“This is just a long walk to see a lot of steam.” She lowered her voice, “plus there’s a lot of Japanese so it’s kinda loud.”

Her husband tried to argue that it wasn’t a complete waste to see this area as well, but she said it would be dark before long and I probably didn’t have time for both. She showed me the pictures on her camera comparing the view she just saw on the boardwalk to what she saw from the hilltop above. The hilltop photo looked amazing. They gave me directions on where to go, and warned me that I’d have to climb over logs to get to the top. I asked if they felt sure I could get to the top and back before nightfall, and the woman promised it would only take 20-30 minutes.

Photos of Mud“You’re young, you’ll be fine,” she assured me.

I parked my car at Fairy Falls and started down the wide gravel bike path towards the hill. Before long I was almost directly opposite the large geyser I had been heading towards when the couple stopped me. To my left I saw the makings of a trail, though it wasn’t marked. This wasn’t an official trail, but it was pretty well-worn. It was steep and dangerous looking, and I’m morally opposed to going off the official trails. However it occurred to me that this path was obviously popular, and the park hadn’t chosen to mark it off in any way. It was too tempting. I began to climb.

As promised, the hill was very steep. There were logs to climb over and around, and plenty of places where I couldn’t make my next step without grabbing onto something for support. It was about 50% steep hill hike, 50% dangerous wall climb. I was huffing and puffing and worried I might loosen a log and cause a landslide. I felt better once I started seeing other tourists above and below me. A group of Russians even had a 6 year old kid with them.

I stopped to rest, turning back to look down at the pool. I wondered if I had gone far enough to get the full view. I knew it wasn’t where the couple had gone, since there were still too many trees blocking the view and the photo she showed me was unobstructed. I’ve come this far, I thought. I might as well keep going.

When I reached the top of the hill I was immediately reassured that I’d made the right choice. Not only were the trees out of the way, but with every 10 feet in altitude the colors in the pool became more defined. I started to see the way in which they branched out from the pool, and the whole shape became more interesting. I took my pictures and sat down on a log. I stared for a long time. I was very tired and very hot, and I needed the break. But once I cooled down and got my breath back, I wondered if I should leave. It was so hard to get up there, I didn’t want to give it up unless I was definitely done enjoying the view.

But the view is there forever. There will never be a natural end to your experience. You can never look at a beautiful sight for long enough. I guess that’s why we take pictures.

Pool with a View

Crater Lake

Almost panaramaI can’t think of anything nuanced or witty to say about Crater Lake. It’s just beautiful. It’s like all those photos you’ve ever seen of fantastic mountain escapes. You look at it and it’s almost hard to believe. Every photo in this post is shown exactly as I took it on my point-and-shoot, without any changes on the computer. I didn’t even crop them. Be sure to mouse-over or click on the photos to get the true color.

The first turnout where I got to see the lake, I just stared at it. I laid upside down on the rampart just to get a different angle. I felt like I couldn’t leave, because how often do you get a chance like this? And I’m just going to keep driving?People Taking Pictures

I pulled over at every stop. I took photos of the lake and of the mountains and so, so many photos of people taking photos. I couldn’t help but become an absolute tourist. I wore my little touristy hat and carried around my camera and even forgot to put on sunscreen, which l wouldn’t notice until hours later at the motel.

Mountains and Trees

I found out near the end of the day that I lucked out. All this week at the park it’s been cold and foggy. But today the sun was shinning and the lake could have been a mirror. Originally I was a little bummed when I realized how far ahead of the season I would be at the park, which meant I would miss most of the activities like ranger walks and boat trips to the island. Not to mention many things would be closed. I went to the only ranger talk they had for the day, and the ranger told us it’s actually better that we were there in the spring, because in the summer the waves from the boat tours mean that the lake never keeps that perfect mirror reflection. Perhaps he just wanted us to feel good, but he said spring is his favorite time of year at the park. I can’t blame him. It looks exactly like all the photos.

Me at Crater Lake

Something to Do in Every Place

Lately I’ve been trying to think of something I can do everywhere I go. Some people do a funny dance. Some people get led around by their girlfriend.

If it makes you feel any better, they all fell off into the water right after this photo was taken.

Years ago while visiting Scotland I thought it might be fun to eat McDonald’s in every state of the US. Despite what you may think, McDonald’s is bound by culture and it doesn’t taste the same everywhere. I know for a fact that there are a couple menu items offered in Texas and Montana that aren’t available anywhere else. The problem is, I stopped eating fast food a few years ago as a way to save money, and after a while I stopped wanting it. I don’t think I’ve been to a McDonald’s or Burger King type establishment more than five times in the last three years. I’m already going to be engaging in some gastronomical challenges on this adventure whether I like it or not. The thought of eating McDonald’s every week for four months doesn’t sit well with me, or my stomach.

So I’ve been trying to think of other things I could do to boil down my trip into an easily accessible montage of experiences. One thought I had was to take a picture of the view from my bed every night. In theory I’ll be staying at a lot of different campsites and in a numbers of different homes, so I think that might be a cool collections of photos. I’m a bit worried about taking photos of private homes when couch surfing, but should my hosts object I think it would be acceptable to skip a night or two.

I suppose photos lend themselves to this kind of concept. The problem is, so many of the first things you think would make good photos have already been done, or overdone. One of the first strangers to take note of my blog was Toemail (I’m likely to contribute to them, but if I take too many feet photos it just feels like copying). I could have a little traveling stuffed animal pose in my photos, but that seems too common. The fact is, having something to do in every place you go is just a fun idea, and it’s no surprise so many people had the same thought before I decided to hit the road. But my trip will be different than theirs no matter what I do, so it shouldn’t bother me that we chose the same way to commemorate it.

But it does bother me.

Ever since I can remember, I’ve enjoyed taking pictures of people taking pictures. It happens whenever I visit any kind of tourist attraction. I arrive at the attraction, look at it with whatever mix of awe or curiosity or reverence is appropriate, and then I turn around. It has always fascinated me to see a bunch of strangers all crowding in next to each other to stare and some object or location that they traveled so far to see. I rarely bother to take photos of the attractions themselves, unless I see a particularly interesting angle. It just seems too expected, and therefore overdone. I’m not a professional photographer and I don’t have a professional camera and there’s no way I’m going to take a picture of the Trevi Fountain better than what I will find online. But I can take a decent photo of the hundreds of people standing around looking at it. I suppose I prefer to take that with me, since the crowd speaks more to my experience than the actual fountain ever will.

So I suppose technically I already have a thing, and this is it. I love taking pictures of other people as they enjoy their trips. I worry that it won’t be enough, since a big part of my plan is to visit lesser known attractions and roadside stops, where in theory there won’t be so many tourists. But I suppose it is America and it is the summer. I can’t be the only one out there on vacation.

I can’t wait to show you my Grand Canyon shots.

I had so many opportunities to photograph tourists at the Vatican, I almost forgot to look at the church.