Our final morning in Yellowstone was the coldest by far. We made sure the kids had a good breakfast via the continental breakfast provided by the hotel.
With full bellies we made our way back into the park, but with the sun just coming up it was still in the single digits so we opted for a short repeat hike that we’d done one other day which we knew would keep us out of any possible wind and wouldn’t take us far from the car. We revisited the trail along the icy, fast-moving Gardiner River that takes you right up to the confluence with the Boiling River. The aptly named Boiling River is fed by Mammoth Hot Springs and while it isn’t literally boiling, it’s very, very hot. Where the two meet, many choose to brave the extreme temps for a soak. We just hiked and reflected on our trip and waited for the sun to make its way over the mountains.
As we walked back to the car, the kids paired up & walked ahead and I was left to my own thoughts…
Interrupted only by the American Dippers antagonizing each other and a Belted Kingfisher that flew past, searching the river for food. It was right near this spot that a couple days earlier we saw an snowy-white ermine with his little black-tipped tail run across the road plain as day. It was unbelievable for us because last year in Minnesota we’d tried so hard in vain to catch a glimpse of this little member of the weasel family. And here, in the weird and mysterious and magical world that is Yellowstone, he just scampered across the road in front of us as if it was nothing.
And I think that’s the thing about Yellowstone, what I’ve taken away from this adventure. Yellowstone is this place that turns ‘normal’ on its head. It’s a super-volcano in a seemingly random spot. It’s a place where rivers boil and organisms thrive in places you would never expect to find life. It’s a place where huge bison shrink and disappear in mountain forests in the blink of an eye and where wolves bound up steep ridges and have conversations across miles of open valleys. It’s a place where song birds hunt in icy rivers and ermine lope across the road, where our cars share the roads and bridges with bison and coyotes. It’s a place that on the surface is so stable and yet you can feel that deep down, there’s a constant churning within.
What struck me most, however, was watching all the animals move across the immense wilderness, this landscape that just goes on forever. It was hard for me to really grasp how these animals know how to survive in such a huge, sometimes harsh place. And as I reflect on these thoughts, I keep coming back to that first view of the wolves as they ambled along their trail traversing that ridge — some walking, some trotting, some playing and frolicking — distinct personalities clear from miles away. It struck me that as long as they were together, this pack of wolves had everything it needed just in having each other. And in that moment I felt a real connection to them because they were not unlike my little family on our little adventure across those 3043.8 miles. Packed with the essentials in our little car, we had our warm coats and the car’s heater for warmth, we had a way to get food, and we had each other. For all the weird, mysterious beauty, for all the churning deep beneath our feet, like the wolves we wake up each day fortunate to have and to be able to rely on each other. It isn’t always easy or simple, but all the rest the world throws at us we can handle as long as we’re together.
We left Gardiner well before dawn, bidding farewell to Yellowstone in the darkness with Orion looking down on us. We saw and experienced so much there, but there is so much left in this place to explore and learn that it seemed almost fitting that we should leave it shrouded in darkness, still holding some secrets for us to uncover.
The ride home was slightly intimidating with white-out conditions on and off through much of Montana and then deeply subzero temps across North Dakota and Minnesota. Of course I occupied my mind, suppressed my nerves, and passed some of the time with some knitting…
Finishing this Timber Bay hat shortly after arriving home.
After so many miles, finally arriving back in Wisconsin and returning to our little house, as with all vacations that come to an end, it was bittersweet. We were happy to be snug & cozy with our familiar creature comforts. I was relieved that despite a week of very cold temps while we were away, the furnace was still working and the other car still started. In fact, everything was just as we left it. It felt a little strange at first, but I think that’s only because Yellowstone changed me. I feel a little braver. Maybe a little stronger. Most of all, though, my heart grew even more to recognize how incredible my little pack is — my husband for his planning, adaptability, unyielding search for adventure, and positive attitude, our children for their patience and ability to find fun in every darn place they are (including 20+hr car rides), and, of course, Moose for his unflappable calm and unrelenting zest for napping. It isn’t always easy or simple, but as long as we’re together we have everything that we need.