Montana, Day 3: Yellowstone

Subtle notes of her fragrance drift toward me on the breeze.  Intoxicating. My head swims with longing. I imagine her shadowed eyes sparkle with whimsy…a touch of the demure. Draped in opaque, pearl lightness she conceals her breathtaking beauty, teasing my imagination, revealing only a little at a time in her sensuous dance.  Seduction is her art and she is a master. We’d traveled thousands of miles, driven for hours and arrived in Yellowstone to discover that the spectacular mountains we’d come so far to experience were draped in mist.  The sun and wind would occasionally work together to expose some far-away summit radiant white or a snow-covered grassy slope low on the mountainside. It was most certainly a strip-tease.

2 hours earlier…

Awaking early and finding the sun already up (Had we taken a wrong turn and ended up in Alaska?), I stood in the living room, pointed my camera at the bedroom door and waited like a hunter for Dana to rise from her slumber. She opened the door, laid eyes on the winter wonderland on display through the huge windows before her, gasped and squealed like a little girl. I grinned like I’d planned it that way.  Even though we’d been greeted with snowy precipitation, this was late May!  We figured there was no chance there’d be any accumulation.  Boy, were we wrong. This kind of snow at home would keep us hunkered down, subsisting off of bread and milk.  That’s just how we do it in the South.  But we weren’t in the South.  This is Mon-freakin’-tana. We’re going to Yellowstone!  First stop?  Breakfast. We returned to our little bakery and enjoyed Montana’s answer to the McMuffin: Scrambled egg with pepper-jack and canadian bacon on toasted Ciabatta and freshly brewed black, dark roast coffee to wash it down with. A hearty, wholesome, tasty start for our first foray into Yellowstone.

As the Subaru took us into Gardiner, the mostly veiled landscape began to change before our eyes.  Even the few feet visible beneath the fog stood in stark, geologic relief against the snow covered mountains and meadows. Enormous jagged rock formations came into view just beyond the Yellowstone River paralleling Highway 89.

Main Street in Gardiner boasted a wide array of little shops and businesses.  Spotting an outfitter with the compelling name of Flying Pig Adventures  (www.flyingpigrafting.com) we parked down the street, blinking at the falling snow as we took the sidewalk back to the entrance.  We found a very similar inventory to the other store.  We also found the same friendly, courteous staff…if not more-so.  We took turns alternately chatting with the owner and playing with her sweet white lab. She listened intently and compassionately as Dana told her of our recent loss of Scooby. I picked up a small container of gas for my stove and our newfound friend threw in a really cool lightweight cordura shopping bag emblazoned with the Flying Pig logo. Her part to help assuage our grief. I responded with, “So if I tell you that Dana’s Dad just had extensive scalp surgery to remove melanoma and my mom just had a stroke…what do we get?”  She answered, “Chocolate?”  We all laughed and said goodbye.

This, our first excursion into Yellowstone, didn’t provide much in the way of scenery but plenty in the way of wildlife.  We were in awe at our first few close-up encounters with these giant, otherworldly creatures called bison. (Apparently, North America has never had a buffalo…only bison.  Who knew?) After a while, though it became nearly routine.  They were everywhere! Our exclamations of wonder were replaced by, “bison,” or “Another roadblock.”  “Bison?”  “Yup.”  Deer and mule-deer were everywhere, evidenced (even around the geyser vents) by their abundant scat. Every so often we’d come across a traffic jam caused not by bison but by a bear-sighting.  Of course, everyone (us included) wanted to spot a bear, especially a grizzly. Sightseers in rented RV’s would often stop in the middle of the road because they caught a glimpse of a black bear.  We’d all put it in park, jump out of our vehicles and run to the side of the road, camera’s flashing until a ranger showed up to break up the party.  This “start-stop-take-a-pic” mode of travel would become our way of life. Fun for a while but not a very efficient way to get from point A to point B.  It took us all day to get from Mammoth Hot Springs to Tower Falls and back and left us exhausted. It was well after dark by the time we made if back to the cabin. That’s saying something around here.  (Until this moment I wasn’t convinced it ever got dark.) We looked forward to a long soak in the hot tub (this was a 25th anniversary celebration 2 years late, for goodness’ sake).  Unfortunately it was not to be. T’was broken and would stay that way for quite a while.

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