Fifty-Nine Gays and Lesbians Camp In Yellowstone

By Dan Nelson.

The two clubs are the largest G/L/B/T clubs in the US. Chiltern is Boston based and Great Outdoors, (GO) is LA based. Yellowstone has never recorded a gay function this large.

Both clubs were celebrating their silver anniversaries in 2003. Dan from Chiltern and Mark from GO had come up with the idea a year earlier when on a trip to Glacier national Park. After taking a short "scouting" trip to Yellowstone, plans were put in motion. Group campsites were reserved which could hold up to 70 people. A web site was designed and put online. Daily feature events were coordinated by both clubs. Volunteers to run feature events stepped forward.

Participants from both coasts started checking in on Sat. afternoon. People made their own arrangements for flights and for carpooling. A website bulletin board facilitated people meeting each other to car pool. Carpooling was encouraged. During check in everyone was again warned of the bear danger and the importance of not leaving anything out, (later in the week Rangers confiscated a few items that were left out. Bears will mistake water bottles for soda cans, so even they must be put away).

There was also a game that each person was asked to participate in. Everyone had to write down a unique item about themselves that would not be shared by anyone else in attendance. All 59 items were put in a hat. Everyone drew one from the hat and had to try to find the person who wrote the unique item down. It was a good "ice breaker" that helped the two coasts become acquainted with each other.

There was a participant from as far away as Paris, France. A couple joined us from Michigan and during the week we were visited by two Texans. The web site was the way we were found. After checking in, most folks set up their tents, transforming Group sites B, C, and D at Fishing Bridge into a vinyl shantytown. Some folks did go for a swim in the cool waters of Lake Yellowstone. Dinner for the nights we camped at Fishing Bridge were mostly at the Lake Lodge café where a decent meal was quick and less than $10.00. In the Lodge was a large fireplace as you enter into the Great Room. To the right of the Great Room is the small bar serving everything from Moose Drool, (the local beer), to fine wines and all mixed drinks.

The Lodge stands across Yellowstone Lake from the main fire in Yellowstone during our visit, (it was/is called the Grizzly Fire and, at last count, had burned more than 20,000 acres). The fire never posed a threat to us, although those that attempted an East entrance into or out of the park would get turned away and would have to drive the extra 200 miles or so to the Northeast entrance. After dinner, many folks hit the air mattresses in their tents to sleep. (The two hour time change did make a difference). Some folks took a late night walk to the lakeshore to watch the Grizzly fire burn in the distance.

Sunday was an early morning rise was needed for those that had signed up for the motorcoach tour. Our bus met us right in the campground. Ralf was our driver. He is a German native. Ralf has an amazing amount of knowledge to share as he drove us around the roads of Yellowstone. Ralf spoke with a German accent reminding the CA people of Arnold and the recall that awaited them when the returned. There was not a question asked that Ralf could not answer, and most times he answered questions before they were even asked thru his incessant ramblings. This was a fantastic overview of the park.

Of the fires, it was learned that the Park Service is living by a policy of "let it burn", if the fire was caused naturally, (by lightning) and is not bothering a community. We also learned that the Lodge Pole pine trees, the parks major forestation, only releases it's seeds from it's pine cones once the temp of the cone reaches 100 degrees. This is something Mother Nature has done to prevent overgrowth of the forests. So much could have been picked up from Ralf, it's really totally amazing to think brains can actually hold this much info...but Ralf's did! This was a full day of touring with stops for lunch and at various viewpoints After the full day of touring, most of us could not wait to get out of the bus. Tonight some of us went to the amphitheatre to listen to a guide discuss the Yellowstone caldera along with a host of subjects.

Monday was Mamouth Hot Springs Day. There were two hikes being led and another group that went to Mamouth directly to walk the boardwalk, investigate the history of Mamouth and possibly do some shopping. The biggest hike was over Bunsen Peak, (about 8 miles), while an easier version went around the base of the mountain.

After each group finished with the first part of the day, everyone headed for the "Boiling River" for a dip in this natural hot tub. It is called the boiling river because hot springs flow into the cooler Gardner River. The current is very strong, but if you get past that, you have the ability to sit in the cool part of the river or jump to the hot part. Most folks made the trip down the river's currents, over boulders and even other people at least once.

Tuesday was the "Grand Canyon of Yellowstone" day. To start the day, a hike left the camp at 9am hiking up Elephant Back. After these hikers returned and everyone had lunch, the carpool was made to Artist Point. Here we left cars and took the long climb down to the bottom of the falls. Then it was time for the even longer hike back up. There were two guys, one 61 years old, who actually ran up the 750 +/- steps! Once reaching the top, we walked along the north rim to another view point. This canyon is much smaller than the Grand Canyon, but the colors and beauty rival the Grand Canyon in every way.

After getting back to the cars, it was time to head to West Yellowstone. This was about a 1.25 hr long beautiful drive. In West Yellowstone there are non park restaurants of every variety. Everyone headed for the food type of their choosing. The reason for going to W. Yellowstone was the IMAX movie about Yellowstone. We had learned there was also a movie about Lewis & Clark's adventures, so many of us went to both. Others did some shopping or bar hopping while in town. The ride back to our camps took until about midnight.

Wed. was "transition day". Fishing Bridge and Grant Village are two of three areas with group camping facilities within the park. Fishing Bridge, the northern most group camping area, was chosen for earlier in the week when most activities would be happening in Northern areas. During the second part of the week, most of our activities would be farther south, so being a Grant Village group Campsites, ½ hr south made a lot of sense. So on Wed. we had to pack and clean up the Fishing Bridge group sites before the 0:00 check out time.

The plan after packing and cleaning up was to do a 1 hr boat trip on Yellowstone Lake, but all the cruise boats were out of commission. After the boat trip, a hike to the Natural Bridge was planned. As the saying goes, "when life hands you lemons, make lemonade", so we just did the hike at a nice slow, relaxed pace. After the hike, some folks rented private boats and did the cruise themselves. Others found their way to Firehole Canyon, (a swimming hole that turned out to be a favorite of many), and others had lunch and made their way to the Grant Campsites. At the campsites, the Rangers were apparently having fun with our group site selections, site A,F, and G, (or F,A,G). The group, or "noisy area" was established and then everyone started grabbing spots for their tents. This night dinner was pretty spread out. Many folks found the Grant Village Pizzeria and Italian Rest which again had views across the lake of the Grizzly Fires. Four guys left this day for an overnight back pack to Sheridan Lake of about 25 miles.

The group spots at both campgrounds were established as far from the sleeping or quite area's as possible. The group areas were designated as areas for people to congregate after 10pm and before 8am. There were tarps covering this area and picnic tables with the group Coleman stoves for the heating of water or other cooking. Unfortunately the Park Service picked the day before our visit to shutdown all campfires in park due to the dryness. There were also group coolers and a bulletin board for postings in the group areas.

Thursday was finally the day to see the most famous geyser in the world, Old Faithful! We left camp at about 9 am for a hike into Mystic Falls. Those that wanted more did a hike up to a ridge line looking down on the Old Faithful Geyser Basin, home to over 75% of the worlds Geysers. Then we drove slightly father north to see the Grand Prismatic Hot Spring in all of it wonderful colors. Then we headed to the Old Faithful Basin for lunch and to catch Old Faithful going off. For those that were interested, there was an Old Faithful Inn tour in the afternoon.

At 4:30 started our celebration in the fantastic Old Faithful Recreation Hall. Showers & a spot to change were available. The hall is traditionally used for employees of the Park Service as a place to relax, play games like hoops or ping pong, but this night it was all ours! We started with a "happy hour" with a MA native bartender. An Italian buffet was served at 6pm. Phat D' Tyre DJ Service played from 7 - 10. During the evening, the missing blow up bison appeared causing much excitement. "It's Raining Men" was a big hit this night. One of the DJ's even came out on the dance floor to show us the Electric Slide. Although the Park Rangers would have liked us to quiet down earlier, the DJ's played until 10:00 when most folks headed back to camp.

On Friday, most of the group headed to Jackson Wyoming to join Jackson Hole Whitewater for rafting trips on the Snake River. There was a class 3 & 4 whitewater trip for those after exhilaration and a float trip that wanted to enjoy the scenic beauty of the area. Because the group was so large, the rafting company had to "sublet" some of our group to another rafting company. There was at least one soaking water fight while on the river. Some people even had the opportunity to float thru the rapids rather than ride on the raft thru.

Because many folks had flights out of Jackson on Sat., many people opted not to take the 2 hr ride back to the campground. Jackson is an old west tourist town and the home of Jackson Hole ski area. Some people did take the tram up to the top of Rendezvous Mtn, (the ski area). Others shopped in the shops of Jackson. Later most of us gathered for our last time at the Million Dollar Cowboy Bar.

For the few people that did go back to the camp, Sat. we packed up and cleaned up. We actually had reserved the campground thru Sat night, but because everyone was heading home, there was going to be no one left at the sites. Those that stayed at the camp overnight did our final pack up before heading off in our own direction. There was a small bunch that hiked into Fairy Falls and into two geysers, Squirt and the Imperial Geyser. On the way in, there was an optional hike up the side of a hill to get a glimpse down at the Grand Prismatic Hot Spring. From this view the colors really were outstanding.

A quick summary of personal highlights:

  • East meets West and the developing friendships
  • Yellowstones amazing geothermal features and all the wildlife
  • Watching the Grizzly fire from the West coast of Lake Yellowstone
  • Joey's look of surprise when he realized a front lineman for the New England Patriots was about to sit next to him during the 4 hr plane ride from Boston to Denver.
  • Bison stopping traffic
  • Our bus driver, Ralf, with a German accent, telling us about the "arrrreeeaaa" and the paths each river in Yellowstone runs to it final destination, the ocean.
  • My happiness that the Rec Hall for our dinner/dance was as nice as it was.
  • The standing ovation
  • The DJ's telling security that they will quite down AFTER 10 pm.
  • The number of people that were attending their first Chiltern or GO event, (7)
  • The star show by Mark & George with Arlene's help.
  • All the fun!

    This was truly a fantastic trip because it was truly a fantastic group of people that participated. There were many involved with helping with helping this trip be such a success.

    Discussions now turn to the next major trips, a ski trip to Utah this winter and possibly another jamboree style event to the Canadian Rockies in August 2004!

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