I went to Montana…

River view at Yellowstone

…I did cool things and met really great people….

…and yet all I have from my big camera are these photos of some spectacular vistas….

Sprawling view at Yellowstone

…arresting landscapes and geothermal activity…

Geothermal activity at Yellowstone

…wild game…

buffalo speckled field

…big geysers….

Old Faithful, pre-eruption

Old Faithful, during eruption

…and of our friend unknowingly entering Danger Zone.

Park Signs

…that’s all.

Cable Cars

All guidebooks and park services referred to these gondolas as “cable cars”. Which, I suppose makes enough sense. They were labeled as an alternative for hiking up the mountain, but really, not taking these cable cars would have been a shame. The views were spectacular, and never have I been so thrilled and petrified and in such awe at the same time (although Space Mountain does come close).

Getting out of GZ

It happens in any city. Every city. We become so consumed in our daily lives and become so cynical about people, pollution, politics, whatever. But you know what? Recharging is easy. I learned this past weekend that all it takes is a train ride (and a bottle of Makers’ Mark mint julep) to get from this:

and this:

to this:

Boom. Instant recharge.

Zhangjiajie (张家界) is a small city in the Hunan province of China, an easy 14-hour night train ride from my GZ home. Our first destination off the train was a fun, “fantastic” (as described by the tour company who we contacted), rafting trip down the MaoYan river.

I don’t have the pictures to prove it, but our raft was two banana boats tied together. Yep, I rode that river straddling an over-inflated tube. Oh, and instead of paddling downriver as I had naturally assumed a rafting trip would require, we were provided with an old weathered Hunanese man who, upon review of Barrett’s photos, was wearing an old brown sport coat, and sat at the back of the double banana boat guiding us down with a motor strapped to the back.

Despite this comical outdoor adventure, and the constant, shrill roar of the motor, the scenery was indeed fantastic, and there were several tiny rapids that got us wet enough to call it an adventure.

After refueling with a late lunch, we tackled the mountain. We decided to conquer Huangshizhai (黄石寨; yellow stone mountain village), perhaps the main attraction of the oldest National Park in China- undoubtedly a must-see within our quick trip. A short but very steep gondola ride brought us to the top what seemed like a huge, densely forested rock plateau. A series of concrete trails provided us an easy DIY tour around countless scenic points.

Everywhere we turned were these magnificent limestone giants.

Each scenic point had its own unique (and very Chinese) names, like “Five Finger Peak”, or “Six Wonders Pavilion”, “Star Gathering Stage”,”Remaining Piers of the Heavenly Bridge”, “Clouds Drifting Cave”, or “Golden Turtle in the Clouds Sea”. I promise, they sound much more poetic and enchanting in Chinese. And these pictures don’t do them justice.

At the top, in the company of friends, there was no mention of other people, pollution, or politics. Something to keep in mind as I make myself back at home here in a city of 12 million.