Friday, September 11, 2009

Close Encounter of The Buffalo Kind

For the first time on the trip, I wake up before the girls. We have a long drive today since Grandma suggests adding on Jackson Hole, and that means traveling through the Grand Tetons to get to our big destination for the day -- Yellowstone.

We get the car all packed up and on the road. Our first stop is Craters of the Moon National Monument. We pass signs for two roadside attractions -- one an ice cave, the other --mammoth caves. In the middle of a plain. Not a hill anywhere in the general vicinity. I'm not sure how caves work here, but they're usually under some kind of hill-like structure in my world. See for yourself:

When we arrive at Craters of the Moon, we discover the reasoning behind the naming convention. It's the strangest thing I've ever seen. Suddenly, in the middle of sweet little potato-loving Idaho, the flat grassy plains give way to fields of porous black volcanic rock. Lava tubes, spatter and cinder cones contrast against brilliant yellow flowers. Frilly-looking white lichen dot the stark landscape. It's really something.

And it sounds like walking on corn flakes when you step on it.

There are little teeny tiny chipmunks whizzing across the road. It reminds Grandma of a story from when her and my Grandfather lived in Northern Michigan. Grandpa (who I called Grumpy) had a chipmunk friend nicknamed "Chippy."

Grandma says little chippy would crawl up his pant leg to get at the nuts.

Ok, I know that sounds alarming, but that's how she tells the story. Turns out it wasn't so nefarious. Chippy crawled up the OUTSIDE of the pant leg ... for the nuts in his SHIRT POCKET.

Rolling out of Idaho, we spot the second best billboard I've ever seen in my life (as compared to the vasectomy billboard in Vegas.) Take a look:

I'm behind the wheel all day, but several stops for retail therapy keep us sane until we roll into Jackson -- while listening to the Johnny Cash song of the same title. Love it, love it, love it here. Such a cute little town. I now have three places on my list of those I'd like to return to: Austin, Sedona ... and Jackson Hole. The Grand Tetons are also fabulous, though the view of them obscured a bit by wildfire smoke. The caps of the mountains are just barely dusted with snow, and I am somewhat surprised -- I thought the range line would be longer.

I will admit that getting through to Yellowstone takes some time. Maybe it's the construction where the road is unpaved and the girls knuckles are white. But when we arrive, I decide almost immediately that Yellowstone is awesome. I think it's my favorite park yet. There's a little bit of everything -- wildlife, winding rivers, breathtaking scenery -- and of course, the geysers. I am saddened by the visible evidence of wildfire devastation, but at the same time hopeful in seeing new growth struggling skyward. It's a good metaphor for life and the changes it brings. This trip is about learning from these women I travel with, learning from their mistakes -- and my own -- to burn out old ways of being and bring forth something new. Having faith that things keep replenishing in the face loss is a big part of that process.

Since it's too dark to see Old Faithful tonight and we've barely missed hitting two huge elk one with a rack big enough that I could sit in it -- crossing the road. It scrambles up the embankment too quickly for me to get a picture, but we hear him bugling at the top of the hill. It's so cool, but also a little scary as far as continuing the drive is concerned. We decide to try and stay in the park, but are in trouble ... there's no room at the inn, or at dinner. We hike up our reserves and head for the West entrance to the park.

I'm driving carefully, but this guy behind me is totally riding my butt, making it hard to see with his headlights in my eyes. I finally stop in the middle of the road. He flies by me, AND the huge shadowy figure lurking on the side of the road just a few hundred yards ahead of us. As we pass, I hear my Mom gasp ... then in a high pitched, but eerily calm voice, repeat over and over:

Buffalo ... buffalo ... buffalo.

Mother of God -- this thing is as big as the car. I drive past and whip the car around. I've never seen a buffalo before. Well, in person. We drive past it really slowly and I roll the window down to get a better look. I ask Grandma for my camera. Mom is terrified. She thinks the flash will make the buffalo charge the car. I'll admit he's snorting quite a bit. I can't get the camera to take the picture, and with Mom just about crying, "We're going to die ... we're going to die," we drive past.

I turn around again so we can keep heading out of the park. When we re-orientate, the buffalo is walking down the middle of the damn road. Ironically, Mom tells me to pass him, but now I'm a little freaked out. So we just crawl along behind the thing.

I'm driving behind a buffalo.

When I see another car approaching, I put the flashers on and wave my hands wildly out the window. These crazy people don't slow down, and now are trying to pass me. I hang out the window pointing furiously. They roll theirs down and I say, "Do you see it? Do you see it? I'm trying to keep you from hitting that buffalo!" They look ahead and their eyes get wide. They stop. The big guy wanders off the road.

That was so amazingl.

Once again on our trip something that appears to be bad luck turns out to be a gift in disguise. EVERYTHING happens for a reason. We got to see a buffalo, up close and personal. We may have saved it from being hit. And although I didn't think we'd make Montana, we end up spending the night in the state at this really cool place called Three Bear Lodge.

The best part is, despite it being the most expensive place we've stayed, we all have our own bed. And I get a door to close to shut out Grandma's snoring.

Thank you, God.

1 comment:

  1. Welcome to West Yellowstone. I met you today Sunday the 13th spoke briefly and you gave me your card. 8000th mile and two generations, a trip in time for you three while moving down lifes road. Iam a fultime RV. Ater retiring and selling the house I brought a RV and have not stopped traveling for three years and making my memories. I will follow ya'lls travels. Luck have a great life Jim