We had set the alarm for 6:30 am. We could’ve woken at 5:30 and been gone before the girls woke up, but then we would’ve missed another morning routine with Jessi getting ready for work, talking with Robert, and watching Sammi run around while Lyra sleeps. It worked out for us too that Jessi showered last night. This gives us time and opportunity to bathe before our day planned on the road with sleep destination Fromberg – 340 miles away – without the detour into Yellowstone National Park.
This morning’s breakfast will be cold cereal for the girls, but we will leave before that happens. Caleb and I played a two-minute card game with Sammi. I waited inside, where it was cozy, while Caleb packed the car. We were getting ready to put the dogs in next when Sparky got bitch-slapped in the face by Harry (the curious orange cat). I think he was fine with the one-on-one him and Sparky had established, but Piggy was too prone to smile when she got near and Harry was having none of it.
I had picked Sparky up and set him down thinking he was fine. It was Caleb that noticed the swollen lump on his face, the cut on his nose, and the blood that had already stained his shoulder and leg – WTF had I been looking at?! I wanted to panic, but I knew as soon as the bleeding stopped we should be good to go. I was able to get another ‘Caleb with family’ photo, Sammi signed Grandma Terri’s card, and with that in hand we took Jessi to work on our way out-of-town around 8:15 am.
I had Caleb look up cat scratch fever. I know some people think it’s just a silly song, but it can actually cause vomiting, fatigue, and inflamed lymph nodes. I wanted to know what to look for incase we had to take him to the vet, but Caleb assured me that as long as he didn’t have HIV his immune system would be able to handle it. With that settled, I could concentrate on the beauty of this morning’s drive. We make it to Butte, the fifth largest city in Montana, before I feel the need for a dose of caffeine.
We are driving under a blanket of ashen sky with a promise of bright sunshine on the horizon, but also stimulating is the mass of colors accumulating between gray-blue-white-golden clouds and snowy-flaxen-dirty-Brunswick shades of mountains rising to meet them. Driving in a white winter has its perks – snowplows on the streets, salt and shovels in driveways, icicles on cars, rabbits hidden in the trail-side fluff, road closures, vehicles sliding and parking in the lane, and sharp debris flying into windshields.
The roads were clear, the driveways forgotten, there had been no rabbit sightings, and few cars on the highway – but the two that we did pass happened to give us a parting gift of a crack each in our windshield which is already highly reflective due to all the minor dust-size pits in it. The splits in our glass would both fit under a nickel, but cold causes everything to contract except for water, so I figured either way, warm or frozen, we would be getting a new see-through bug shield soon.
We stopped in Bozeman at a Safelite AutoGlass repair shop to see whether they had the tools to fix or replace our windshield. A guy came out from the shop and let us know they had three cars ahead of us today and that he could get us in on Friday – today is Tuesday. had he been able to do the work it would’ve cost us $125 to fix or $319 to replace. We took a card from the counter that had two large circle stickers on it – made just for our problem, thanked him anyways, and went to put the bandage on our car in hopes that we could make it home before the cold made it in.
Next stop: crossing something off my bucket list – go snowshoeing in Yellowstone. Traffic picked up on the only road, the 89, that leads into the park during the winter and cars seemed to be using the slick spots on the pavement to their passing advantage – which shouldn’t be the case since you chose to drive in the first place – to enjoy the path as much as the destination, but I suppose if you flew, rented a car, booked one night, and have some other place to fly to the next day then your schedule would be a bit rushed.
Lucky for us, we have the day to stare at cows, mountains, clouds, electric lines and poles, guard rails and fences, trees, fields, and road signs covered in snow warning of bison on road – which is another reason we are here. We pass through the small town of Gardiner, with a population less than my hometown in Texas, to the ‘ol familiar Roosevelt Arch with a sign above it – “For the benefit and enjoyment of the people” – that’s us and we are excited to experience this place in a different season – and we aren’t the only ones.
There are kids sledding by the arch and cars parked around the gate, the entrance, and the first parking spot available. I show our park pass and am handed a brochure, winter edition newspaper, and a warning sign to hang on my rearview mirror – letting me know the dangers that fast and aggressive elk can cause to me and my car; and to stay off the think crust of the thermal areas so my skin doesn’t get boiled. Well, either those signs are effective – for us and the animals – or I have more respect for others’ property and my life.
I reminisce about our first time here and how it seemed we had forever, so I took hours getting to North Geyser Basin which is a 45 minute drive for other visitors. This visit gave us only until dark so I forced myself to drive past every snow-covered rock, every bit of white-water (for a mouse), and every tree playing in the clouds until we reached the Albright Visitor Center where I got my stamp and let the dogs go pee under the wooden walkway where there was dirt to be seen, not just piles of possible frozen lemonade.
We drive through the small village area and to the first parking lot. The boardwalk has been cleared of snow, for the most part, but it could’ve been covered in black widows or diamondbacks and I wouldn’t have noticed. I was so enamored with the contrast of frozen versus boiling water and the white formations looking bleached versus the colorful areas standing out to their pale surroundings – parts of which were covered in steam. This is a place that I could find religion, a spot to worship the great Earth’s evolution and power to create such beauty using wind, earth, fire, and water.
A short thank you prayer (or however you talk to the dead) goes out to Dr. Hayden and President Grant – the man who fought the most for this park’s creation and the man who signed it into being, respectively. I take about a hundred photos, and then one of us, to commemorate all the life and history that has been and will be a part of this place. I could die happy here, but voice that we could go home. This trip has been satisfying. Caleb is ready to change careers (as soon as his enlistment is up) and become a master of geology, biology, algology, edaphology, and any other ology that will let him live here.