“You should probably go through the States if you want to drive to Toronto”.
This was the advice I got from . . . lots of people when telling them of my trip from Vancouver.
“There’s just more to see” they would follow up with.
I will be driving back to Vancouver via Canada, so I’ve not yet seen it to qualify what ‘more’ means but this doesn’t matter so much as it certainly was a great decision to go through the Northern US States. This is because I got to see Yellowstone. Even if it was for less than 24 hours, it was one hell of a place
Yellowstone had always been on the bucket list for my stay in North America. It goes in same cluster as The Canadian Rockies and The Redwoods – a must. However it wasn’t a top priority. This is certainly not out of interest, but more out of likelihood of happening. With the Rockies already planned and pretty close, and the Redwood forest part of my cycle itinerary (Keep your eyes open in my Vancouver to San Francisco posts) I wasn’t sure when I was going to get the opportunity to do this.
Besides it being an automatic bucket list inclusion I had read a recent Yellowstone edition of National Geographic (May 2016 – HERE). It was part of the parks celebration, Yellowstone being a focus due as the first national park of it’s kind, paving the way for the world.
The magazine covered the origins of the park, its troubled history and the new initiatives from reintroduction of Canadian wolves to help with the ecosystem, plus it’s relationship with humans and modern day tourism.
This sparked a deeper interest, just because I knew more. So with the wise advice from friends it was an opportunity not to be missed to take a slight detour and head south from Montana into northern Wyoming, to a place which is gob-smackingly beautiful and alive.
It was day 2 into my drive across the country so I was still relatively fresh even if by the end of it I had driven maybe 14/16 hours.
The previous day I managed to cross Washington State with ease, Crossing the Columbia River, driving through some pretty arid areas and catching some glimpses of the Wild Horse Monument. It was just a pretty sweaty, hot first day. This is important because it creates a contrast with Yellowstone.
I had stopped just west of Yellowstone for gas in a place called Ellis. There certainly was a Nip in the air, one that wasn’t quite felt the day before. I continued down Highway 287 and I could see the small mountains creeping up in front of me. I was feeling pretty excited.
As I got closer I had to do a Hollywood style eye-rub to check if my eyes were working properly. The tops of these small mountains hills were dusted with snow. It looked like I had a monochrome filter on the top half of my windscreen. Was I seeing this right? This surprise may be of ignorance of the micro-climate and the previous day’s shorts and t-shirt weather. Either way, it set a boyish anticipation of Snow. OK, a British boys anticipation of snow.
Specs of moisture appear on the windscreen which evolves into a light sleet. This is a new driving experience for me (I passed my test in London in a Sunny May this year ). It was OK as the roads were slow (40 MPH), and there were a few other cars on the winding, narrow roads so nothing too much to worry about.
The sleet eventually turned into snow. I get to the park gates (West Entrance) and pay my fees and check out the Camping Board. This tells me which sites are open, closed and full. The one I was looking at was full, but there were plenty there. As I climb deeper into the mountains, the snow has settled around me.It must have been snowing over the last few days. I turn the car temperature from Blue to Red – it must have been below freezing.
The snow falling was now maybe 2 CM in diameter so the windscreen wipers were flustering to keep them away. You can tell that you’re in the park now. There are fewer random buildings along the road, fewer clearings and you get an overall sense you are now in a park.
I found my campsite at Madison. To my disappointment, it had ‘full’ sign hanging up, with snow resting on top. I pull in anyway, park up and go to the front desk. There are a lot of people milling around, registering their site, or looking for a spare space. Funnily enough the park employee I spoke to was an English guy, of retiree age, who had been here for the last 3 years (unfortunately I didn’t catch his name, but I liked him a lot). What a life eh? Anyway, he said he had a spot for me. I was elated. Then it hit me …
I am camping in Yellowstone. . . in the snow. I didn’t quite expect this.
I set-up camp with pretty numb hands, and take a look at my handwork. It would be dark soon, there wasn’t much time to do much else so I went for a little walk around camp. Snow was still falling around me, although it was lighter now. I am walking along the small paths between the trees and I conjure up images of … Medal of Honor (Allied Assault) or the Bastogne episodes of Band of Brothers. I can’t help but walk quietly but alert through the woods and crunching snow, watching out for people coming out of some random log buildings.
I stop at a break in the woods, looking up a hill face. I couldn’t help but smile. My breath drifting up in front of my eyes, my nostrils burning a little on the inside and my lips feeling the cold air around (trying not to lick them!). I just felt alive.
I crawl into bed. I’m wearing my buff, a toque (wooly hat!), fleece and socks. I read a little (Into the Wild by Jon Krakauer), write in my journal and then try to sleep. It’s pretty cosy in this sleeping bag – my nose is the only thing outside.