Growing up, visits to the National Parks were not a regular event. I don’t remember more than few visits; almost all of them were within Washington.
I know Mount Rainier was a core part of my young life, including a stuffed bear that I still have today. But I’ve never been to Yellowstone before this trip.
Concerned I would crash during the long August days, I gave myself a day to arrive, three to visit, and another half day beyond that before I had any commitments. I used every moment of that time.
In a perfect world, I would have felt confident camping in the park and spent the nights where I had spent the days. I live in a world with bears, so instead I shied just outside the park, staying inside and crossing state lines twice a day.
Initially, I had planned to spend half a day in Grand Teton, but summer fires closed the road and the southern entrance, so I changed plans and drove directly to West Yellowstone instead. The town is about what I expected—expensive and touristy. However, I was now in Montana, not Utah. The beer was good and contained enough ethanol to be satisfying. The local playhouse was active and tickets were cheap, so I watched “Seven Brides for Seven Brothers.” The grocery store was well stocked and accessible. But once the sun set, the nights were quiet, and my bed, while firm, was comfortable.
After a long day of traveling from Salt Lake City, a quiet night in a comfortable bed was perfect.
The following morning, I woke early and headed east. “Aren’t you cold?” asked the Ranger as I handed over my pass that first morning, just after dawn. It was about 40 degrees, and I was dressed in layers, but even with the heat running, driving my car without a roof will evoke skepticism. “Nah,” I replied, “I’m layered. I’ve got a hat!”
“… OK . Have a nice day!”
“Thanks, ” I replied before putting the car into gear and driving on.
It is hard to write of new and grand experiences. It is not just “I saw this. I saw that. Then I saw this other thing too!” But I did see this, and that, and also this other thing. Forest Fires burning down to the road as you slip past, bison blocking the boardwalks you walk along, waterfalls, steam, geysers, colors. These are the anchors of experience.
Yellowstone was a nearly three day adventure, but the memories—myriad wildlife, sulfer, riding a bike down an abandoned road and running into a herd of Elk, soaking in the edge of the Boiling River, the many hours of solitude, they are difficult to express. The Worlds’ first National Park is a wonder, and attempting to describe it just seems to come up wanting.
Consider just my last day: I woke up at dawn just outside Gardiner, drove south and quickly gained elevation as I moved back into Wyoming. I continued past Mammoth and found a place to park along the Grand Loop, near the upper tier of the Mammoth geysers. Then it was time to ride. All good trails require a little bit of work for the reward, and my work was ahead of me now. I climbed from Mammoth to the top of the Silver Gate before I finally reached the trailhead I had found the day before in the map. Mountain Biking! In The Park! Sure, it was a smooth old jeep trail and not double track, but this is an opportunity I didn’t realize I would have, so I had to take it. Along the way up, I passed Elk grazing along the side of the road—elk that had no problems with cars, but quickly ran away when they saw me huffing along on a bike. On the way down, I would discovery that my noisemaking was inadequate, as I rode directly into a herd of about 20 Elk in the woods. At least I didn’t spook a bear.
I had just enough time after I finished to take a soak in a hot river (another unexpected surprise—I got to sit in a thermal feature in Yellowstone), and my park visit ended.