Tuesday, August 12, 2008

This morning we woke up at four, a chilly and unusual start for a day of driving to Yellowstone. I'd heard that the Perseid meteor shower would be most vivid once the moon set before dawn. I figured Jenny would be game, but Vienna was willing to brave the cold as well. We packed up our stuff and drove about a mile down the road to rid ourselves of the lights at the KOA. Finally we found a perfect spot and exited the car. Almost immediately Jenny spotted one streaking light, produced by pieces of Swift-Tuttle comet bouncing off and through the atmosphere.

We'd forgotten our blankets and settled to lie down by the side of the road, a spot as peaceful and quiet as a Wyoming two-laner can be at four in the morning. Our eyes quickly adjusted to the blanket of stars, even catching the broader sweep of the Milky Way above. One by one, tiny bursts of shooting stars streaked overhead. Sometimes we'd spot longer ones that seemed to trail bits of flame. We ooh'd and ahh'd for a while before returning to our "kabin" to catch a few more hours of sleep.

Later on, we cleared out one last time and grabbed some breakfast. One of my most vivid memories of this trip consists of occasional moments at mealtime when Jenny, Vienna, and I would sit around a square table, our three laptops opened simultaneously, sometimes forming a u-shape with their touching screens. It's a strange commentary on how vacationing has changed in this age of ubiquitous computing, but I'll hold off on such musings for now. Suffice to say that we left for Yellowstone knowing just as much about the current war between Russia and Georgia as we would at home, no more relaxed on the subject either.

The trip to Yellowstone took about seven hours, composed in roughly two sections of interstate and rolling two-lane. The latter segment brought us near big-windowed houses built for the grand vistas of snowy winters and fields occasionally dotted with antelope. Stopping in Cody for a quick meal, I turned the wheel over to Vienna again, and she motored us through the last hour of striking landscape that led to the western entrance of Yellowstone. We were warned of fires scorching the mountains around us, and indeed we saw plumes of smoke. But the threat of jammed traffic never materialized, or at least it did not for the reason we feared. Only at one point did we slow for the depressing scene of an overturned SUV, its windshield shattered and tourist luggage strewn over the road. I didn’t have to say a word for Vienna to slow down even more than her already safe speed.

By late afternoon we passed through the gate, pleased with the chance to use our year-round national parks and monuments pass. Stopping at the visitor’s center, we asked about our priorities for this stop: bison, waterfalls, and bears. Bison we were promised right away. In fact, herds of them are known to frequently block traffic for an hour or more when crossing the road. And sure enough, we spotted a bunch of them within two minutes of our departure from the center. Waterfalls will have to wait; the best spot for them appears tomorrow on our itinerary. Bears? That’s a tough one. There are plenty in the park, but there’s no guarantee of when they’ll appear in a particular spot. We drove another twenty miles to Western Thumb of Yellowstone River where we hoped to see a couple of bears, but had to settle for a few mule deer. As the sun set, we returned to our campsite, pitched our tent, and cooked some delightful burgers. Only later did we notice, much to Jenny’s chagrin, that we were eating buffalo. That being said, Jenny had to agree: They were delicious. As the moon rose over Yellowstone Lake, we turned in, noting the pleasant briskness to the air.

All text copyright Andrew Wood.
Photos copyright Andrew and Jenny Wood.