Risk – Ante Up For the Ultimate Reward

My train rolled into Salt Lake City close to midnight on Sunday. I was pretty exhausted after a restless night’s sleep in my jouncing roomette. Fortunately, a taxi was readily available. I got to my hotel quickly and fell into bed fast, knowing I had an early wake-up and a long bus ride ahead. My ultimate destination? Yellowstone National Park. My route west was circuitous and tiring but at this point in time, I felt like I’d made the right choice, traveling in uncertain times. I needed to wake up early in the morning, grab some breakfast and call some driving service to get me to my truly odd pickup spot – the street corner in front of the Church of Latter Day Saints in downtown Salt Lake. I snapped a photo of the flowers outside my hotel before heading out early Monday.

The morning air was chilly, somewhat brisk, but the cold water feeling that washed over me happened when the shuttle bus driver climbed out of his vehicle, maskless. After loading suitcases, he urged us aboard and announced that despite federal mask mandates, he was only going to inform us of them as they were unenforceable. Wearing them was optional and he chose not to wear his. So there I was, one of a few people masked, goggled and settled in for a full day with a lot of people in close quarters who paid no heed to the concept of pandemic, Delta variant or anything Covid-related. I’d been worried about traveling but supposed that some attempt at following rules on public transportation would be followed. I was wrong. I had to rely on my waning vaccinations, my positive antibody test and good luck to get me through this longed-for trip to a dream destination.

On that seemingly endless road trip which made multiple stops, I spent a lot of time counting every cough and sneeze I heard as we rolled through Utah, Idaho and Montana. Despite my best efforts, I couldn’t stop thinking about the current status of each state regarding vaccinations, masks and hospitals loaded with unvaccinated Covid patients. Try as I may, I’ll never understand the people whose personal choices have caused so much death. And I know they’ll never understand me. I made some verbal protests to the driver but I’m willing to admit I was nervous that someone might become physically violent toward me. Lots of miserable stories like that have been going around since mandates were instituted. To distract myself from my anxiety, I photographed the scenery through the bus window while rolling through Utah, Idaho and Montana, eventually observing the snowy peaks of the Grand Tetons coming into view.

After an 8 and a half hour drive, which included a swap from a full sized city bus to a smaller van, I arrived at West Yellowstone, Montana, a small town at the west gateway into Yellowstone just across the state line from Wyoming. I was drained and eager to check into my hotel, eat a quick dinner and collapse into my bed to rest before a 9 hour day focused on the north loop of the park. I dumped my suitcase and my backpack into my comfortable room and headed to the restaurant attached to the hotel. As it was packed with unmasked diners, I wasn’t thrilled to eat there but desperate fatigue propelled me to the bar for a fast meal. I ate quickly, with an excellent old school music playlist in the background which provided a small level of comfort, as I tried to stop imagining those little spiky Covid molecules floating through the air. After dinner I headed to bed to prepare myself for the long days ahead. I intended to hit the highlights of this miraculous park which had been on my wish list for so long. The next morning, I hopped on a shuttle for the journey through the north side of Yellowstone which included Mammoth Springs – magnificent travertine terraces, Roaring Mountain, the Lamar Valley, Canary Hot Springs, Obsidian Mountain and old Fort Yellowstone. I saw countless fumaroles, or steam vents, reminders of how living on earth is basically like riding a fireball, along with notable and impressive waterfalls and rivers. Getting accustomed to bison, elk, coyotes, pronghorns and black bears wandering freely never happened as each animal or herd sighted was always a thrill. I loved all the lodge pole pines, soaring straight up to the sky, periodically punctuated by aspens going golden in the last September chill. I hope you enjoy the photos of my first day in this priceless treasure.

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