The Wild West- A Call of Yellowstone National Park
By Caitlin Lee
As I stepped off the plane, I knew this trip was going to be something different, something life changing. The call of nature has always been a prominent feature in my life with a passion for hiking and outdoor sports. Therefore, I knew a trip that revolved solely around these activities would be a great adventure. I just didn't realize how powerful that experience would be.
Yellowstone National Park is a highlight on most people's bucket list and it had been top of mine for a while. Arriving out west, we stopped first at the Old Faithful Geyser. Waiting for it to erupt was almost a surreal experience. My friend, Rebecca and I had been driving for quite some time and arrived at sunset. Amidst our exhaustion, we were brought to life by the colors of pink and purple dancing in the background while steam and water shot from the ground. It's definitely a popular tourist attraction but for good reason. The excitement coursed through the crowd while we watched this marvelous, natural event that's been happening for at least 135 years. Observing this, I felt that I was transcending time- I could feel the joy that the generations before me experienced and that those after me would one day know.
A big influencer on our journey was where we chose to make our home. We stuck strictly with low maintenance cabins and Airbnbs and none of them disappointed us in western quirkiness and comfort. The most magical of all the accommodations was a camper on a ranch in Emigrant, Montana. It was so deep off the back roads that we had to drive 5 miles per hour over about 2 miles of gravel road just to get back to it but the seclusion was idyllic. Emigrant falls in a valley so everywhere a person looks there are mountains. It is what I like to call “post card perfection.” The first night we stayed in that small camper, it was a bit jarring because of how isolated it all was. The quiet was deafening and the darkness was endless. However, as dawn reached over the mountains, the true magic of the west was revealed to us. From the small windows of our camper, we could see the golden sun rise as a team of horses was corralled across the rolling hills right in front of us. Later, we ventured out onto the land and discovered friendly ranch dogs that were eager to play fetch. The horses from earlier roamed over to us and even joined us for part of our stroll. It was tough to start the trip on such a high note because that sets the bar high. However, the delight of the west is that there is always another surprise waiting around the bend.
Over the next few days Rebecca and I travelled through Montana and Wyoming taking in all that the park had to offer. We drove slowly in our rental car through the one-lane roads of the park taking tons of stops along the way. Each lookout offered a new viewpoint, a new perspective. Snow-peaked mountains stood proudly in the distance of every vista. Yellowstone Lake was as vast and endless as an ocean. Forests of pine trees and aspen trees were boundless and the marvelous smells of wild fires drifted through our windows. We were even once lucky to be at the start of a bison traffic jam. The herd decided to cross the road and we got front row seats to their passage. They were close enough that we worried they would hit into the car but we were too distracted by the thrill of nature in progress.
Driving was not enough, however. We needed to dive deeper into the wilderness so we trekked miles of the backcountry, zip-lined through the forests, and even went horseback riding like true cowboys. The hiking was the most satisfying way to really process the remarkable land. It was hard to turn around and head back when the sun started to get lower. We wanted to keep moving forward and to keep seeing what was around the next corner. There could be moose or elk or bison. There could be a hidden lake or a new viewpoint of the Rocky Mountains. There could be a patch of beautiful flowers or an open prairie with grass that blows in the wind like waves of gold. There could even just be the empty path offering all the promise of an open road. This made the turning back and the returning home ever the hardest part.
Even still, a few months later, I will look at a few pictures every week to bring back that magic of the west. While pictures aren’t quite the same as the real thing, it helps to elicit that feeling of joy and wonder. Humans all started as animals, which means that our souls are drawn to explore nature whether we realize it or not. Yellowstone can fulfill that wild craving. Well, at the very least, I can safely say that I am not the same having answered the call of the Wild West.