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It's A Great Life: 14 - Old Faithful

...Below the ground on which we were standing boiling water was collecting. We were told we must stand well back, then suddenly steam appeared, followed quickly by the boiling water which in a matter of seconds built up and climbed to a height of 170 feet. In four minutes the performance was all over. But what a performance!...

Jack Merewood continues his account of a trip through America's western states.

The rodeo was over, we left Cheyenne and headed north. We were crossing the hundreds of miles of prairie land of Wyoming and it was getting dark. So somewhere out in the wilds we pitched our tent at the roadside. We slept well and next morning awoke to find there wasn't a soul in sight. We started to cook our breakfast and while we were doing so up rode a man on horseback, gave us a cheery 'Mawnin', nice day' and he was gone. Cooking breakfast wasn't a success frankly we didn't like it, and after just that one attempt we decided to abandon the idea and in future to buy our breakfasts. So for the rest of the trip, except when we were in Los Angeles, every morning after taking up the tent, we'd drive to the next town, find a small restaurant, go into their toilets where we'd wash and brush up, then have breakfast.

After breakfast we were on our way again across what seemed to be limitless prairie. We were heading for Yellowstone National Park and after a drive of 500 miles were near the small town of Cody. Cody was Buffalo Bill's surname, and in the centre of the town stands a statue of him. After spending an hour or so there we drove another fifty miles. I had kept a diary during the war years and continued to do so now. I had it with me and noted in it: 'Camped in a very nice place last night in a picnic area and by a river, just short of the east entrance to Yellowstone.'

Yellowstone National Park is situated in the north-west corner of Wyoming, with a little overlapping into Montana and Idaho, and covers an area of 3,500 square miles, almost two thirds the size of Wales. Roads enter the park at seven different points and we drove in at the eastern entrance. The whole of the park is a dying volcanic region and is believed to have more geysers than all the rest of the world put together - the most famous being Old Faithful. Many of the geysers are unpredictable and are so erratic that sometimes minutes, days, and even years elapse between eruptions, but Old Faithful, true to its name, erupts approximately once every hour. We had a long way to go, you could spend weeks in Yellowstone and not see all of it, but we wanted to see Old Faithful. There is a small clock face nearby which gives an indication when to expect the next eruption. As the time drew near we stood in a group as a Park Ranger explained what was happening.

Below the ground on which we were standing boiling water was collecting. We were told we must stand well back, then suddenly steam appeared, followed quickly by the boiling water which in a matter of seconds built up and climbed to a height of 170 feet. In four minutes the performance was all over. But what a performance!

The park is a sanctuary for wild animals: no hunting is allowed, and the animals are there in abundance. We saw moose, bison, deer and elk, but most exciting were the bears. They were everywhere. You are strongly advised not to feed them, but to us and many more the urge to do so was irresistible. We shouldn't have done it but we were out of the car, feeding them bread, and we were able to take some good photographs. In later years the bears were so numerous they were becoming a nuisance and the authorities were apprehensive that people were going to be seriously hurt. Anywhere there was food there were bears, raiding trash bins, sometimes breaking into parked cars, so they were all collected and taken miles away from the tourist areas. How this was accomplished I don't know, but it was true that suddenly all the bears disappeared. There were many more things to see and do in Yellowstone, and in later years I was to come back and spend more time there, but now we had to be on our way. We left the park by the west entrance and after driving fourteen miles in Montana we turned south into Idaho. We drove through the capital city, Idaho Falls, and as it came dark we pulled off the road and pitched our tent at the Idaho/Utah border. We found next morning that we were almost in someone's front garden.

Utah is the Mormon state and its capital is Salt Lake City. The religion was founded by Joseph Smith in the state of Illinois. He claimed he had seen a vision of the angel Moroni. There was a lot of anti-Mormon feeling in the area and a lot of trouble. In one incident Joseph Smith was killed. The man who took over at his death was Brigham Young and to escape from the persecution he led his followers out to the west.

They travelled hundreds of miles across desert and prairie and through the Rocky Mountains suffering untold hardships. They came to a halt and saw a great lake and Brigham Young declared 'This is the place', for here they were to build the beautiful city of Salt Lake, and on top of the temple stands the golden image of the angel Moroni. The Mormons practised polygamy, but when the state of Utah petitioned to join the rest of the United States towards the end of the nineteenth century, one of the conditions was that it should denounce polygamy. The Mormons agreed to cooperate, but there are people who suspect that even today there are Mormons with more than one wife. We were there in 1947 when they were celebrating the iooth anniversary of the founding of Salt Lake City, and a special postage stamp was issued to commemorate this event. I used to collect stamps and some of these are in my collection. We stayed in Salt Lake City to take a tour of Temple Square, where there stands the seagull monument. When the crops planted by the first settlers began to ripen they were invaded by a huge army of grasshoppers, but then there appeared a host of seagulls to feed on them. The Mormons believed that this was an act of God, and in gratitude they built the seagull monument.

At the mouth of the canyon from which Brigham Young and his party emerged is the 'This is the Place' monument depicting the toiling and hardships of those early pioneers. Our impression of Salt Lake City was that it was a well-laid-out clean city, with wide roads where water was daily run in the gutters to keep them clean. Then we had to move on, now going west into the state of Nevada. As we left Salt Lake we saw the sign 'Fill up here, next filling station 180 miles'.

Nevada is a vast state with few towns and cities and only three of note, Reno, Las Vegas and Carson City, which is the capital. All three are situated in the western part of the state. It is a state where gambling is a way of life, and in fact every cafe, filling station and store has its one-armed bandits. It was the only state with no state tax.

We left Salt Lake City at 7.30 p.m., our objective being Reno about 370 miles away. After driving along the southern end of the Great Salt Lake we began to cross the salt flats stretching as far as we could see ahead of us. This is where attempts are regularly made on the land speed record. We decided not to stop but to drive all night. Dean and I drove alternately, each driving for four hours while the other slept. We were on Highway 40, and in all these miles were just two towns, Elko and Winnemucca. Jessie had an uncomfortable ride on her shelf in the back. It was getting light and miles from Reno we came to the garish signs advertising the gambling establishments; one that stood out above all the others was Harold's Club. Just short of the city we had a puncture, quite a blow because we had to buy a new tyre. Entering Reno an archway across the road greeted us with 'RENO, THE BIGGEST LITTLE CITY IN THE WORLD'. Besides gambling, Reno is the city for quick divorces. It was neither a big nor attractive place, but after a wash and brush up and breakfast we decided to try our luck on the slot machines in Harold's Club. We didn't have the money to gamble on a grand scale so played the nickel machines for a while. Suddenly there were lights flashing, bells ringing and before I realised what all this was about I found I had hit the jackpot. A cascade of nickels was pouring out of the machine into the metal tray set there to catch them. They amounted to eight dollars, not a fortune, but the clatter of 160 nickels was quite exciting. We left Harold's Club in pocket.

Reno is only a couple of miles from the border of California, so in a few minutes we were in the Sunshine State. It was a picturesque drive over the hills to San Francisco where there were some lovely houses and gardens, particularly in Roseville. A few miles further we were impressed with the beauty of Sacramento, the state capital. Then across the Golden Gate Bridge into San Francisco to spend about four hours in the big, bustling busy city. We watched the streetcars climbing up and
down the hills and spent some time exploring Fisherman's Wharf, an exciting place like a huge open-air market where you could buy almost anything.

It was getting dark as we left the city, so after a few miles, near San Jose, we pitched our tent. That night was a sleepless disaster as we soon realised we were between the road and the railroad. The traffic on one side and the horns of the railway engines almost loud enough to blow us out of bed gave us little peace. It was a pretty tired trio who crawled out of the tent next morning.

From San Francisco to Los Angeles our next destination was about 430 miles. We drove out to Monterey then picked up Highway 1 which offers the spectacular drive all along the coast.

To read Jack's vivid account of his wartime experiences To War With The Bays please click on http://www.openwriting.com/archives/to_war_with_the_bays/


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