Yellowstone: Re-Awakening the Wild in Me
The minivan was loaded: grandparents, two kids, my husband, and myself. Every remaining square inch was crammed with suitcases, road-worthy entertainment, snacks, and drinks. The day started with an impressive drive across the Bighorn Mountains (another must-see) and a supremely satisfying lunch in Cody, Wyoming. After playing twenty questions with our locally-raised waitress, we prodded her for the must-do activities once we entered the park. She insisted we stop at the last fueling station just outside the park entrance to enjoy the owner’s homemade ice cream.
We hit construction just outside of Cody. I suspected it was repair work on what remained of the road, post-snow melt. We laughed about the pot-holed gravel road that guided us into this national treasure and followed a hand-painted sign to famous ice cream. We pulled in and were immediately greeted by two tail-wagging black labs who, we assumed, were politicking for handouts. The ice cream, we discovered, was not homemade: it dripped out of the heavily worn soft serve mixer behind the counter. The germaphobe mother in me crept out and I managed to convince the family that we could wait on the ice cream. Back in the car my husband informed me of the owner’s boast: world-travelers returned year after year to enjoy her frozen treat. First lesson learned? Let go a little and trust the local advice.
It was rainy and cold as we entered the park. At our first glimpse of Yellowstone Lake the teacher mother in me took the platform and we discussed how the lake was formed. Upon hearing the word “volcano,” my daughter hit instant panic mode. While everyone else marveled at the hydrothermal activity at water’s edge, I held my daughter and reassured her of her safety. We prayed together, which apparently moved some onlookers who insisted on photographing the tender moment. As we obliged, we felt a connection, one which expanded to include many other people we encountered during our time there. Maybe it’s because we were all mystified by the greatness and power of this place. Maybe it’s because we were all a little more open to the world around us when the cell service dropped off. Whatever the reason, it was a welcomed change from the isolated, individual worlds we construct in our fast-paced society.
From the hissing mud pots to the roaring waterfalls, our exploding curiosity carried us through rain and hail, from one impressive site to another. The crowds of umbrellas and poncho-dressed tourists created camaraderie: we weren’t the only ones who cared little about the weather. Nothing could hold us back from experiencing all there was to see. At the end of our first day we were quiet as we retreated to our accommodations in West Yellowstone. Our minds were full. Our hearts were full, but we knew we would hunger for more.
The rain beat on the roof as we awoke to begin another day’s adventure. We unanimously agreed on our first must-see: the Grand Canyon of Yellowstone. As we parked, the clouds parted, giving way to brilliant blue skies speckled with cotton ball clouds. Each step towards Inspiration Point was more impressive than the last. The gold and amber of the canyon walls gleamed in the warming sun. Suddenly the falls came into view and most of the hushed conversations overheard were filled with awe-struck superlatives.
From Inspiration Point we laced up our hiking boots to adventure down a 500 foot descent named Uncle Tom’s Trail which led to an up-close view of the breathtaking Lower Falls. The further we descended, the more we realized how physically challenging this hike would be. Red-faced hikers returning from the bottom gasped out the words, “It’s worth it,” as they struggled to ascend. Facing the stairs proved physically and mentally strenuous: 328 metal-meshed stairs clung to the side of the mountain giving way below us. Our knees trembled as we viewed the nothingness below us. Once we hit the platform we certainly agreed: it was indeed worth it! We reminded ourselves of this point as we began our own ascent.
Each remaining day of our time inside of Yellowstone held its own bragging rights. While Old Faithful was indeed worth seeing, equally impressive Castle Geyser deserves its own attention. Every stream that meandered through the park glistened regardless of sunshine or clouds; they were pure and clean.
The National Park Service has been successful for the last 100 years for many reasons. At Yellowstone it was evident in every aspect of our experience that every park employee carried the highest respect for the land and its wild inhabitants. The ample parking and well-marked trails made viewing the park’s main features easy and accessible for all. However, this is still a very wild place. The hydrothermal activity was everywhere, as were the bison herds. Fuzzy golden-colored calves rested in the prairie grasses while their nearby mothers grazed; unscathed by the tourists that gathered in droves, it was clear this was their land.
This wildness left us hungry for more and planning our next return. Somewhere between the dripping ice cream machine, majestic mountains, and spouting geyers I lost the germaphobic mother in me and re-awakened the adventurous woman that was dying to get out. In Yellowstone I rediscovered what it meant to get a little wild.
Born with a severe case of wanderlust, I'm always searching for new adventures and sharing those stories here.