The day of days finally arrives. My first trip to Yellowstone since the world changed and the first time I've gone solo in winter. I get to the airport two hours early and find there is no line at all. Only one person ahead of me! I present my bag to be checked and I am informed that it has been chosen for random inspection. My ticket is withheld and I am ushered over to a big x-ray machine, like a cat scan for bags.
There are two people ahead of me and while I am here, two more are led over to wait behind me. It's weird but since I'm so ridiculously early it does not cause anxiety. There is a lady who watches the monitor and decides which bags get further searching. One guy does all the searching. He uses a stick with a white felt cover, which he replaces after each swipe. The felt cover is put into a machine that tests it for explosives residue. Each of us is asked to remove our shoes. The searcher guy notices the line and it seems to me that his main goal becomes getting the stuff cleared as quickly as possible, not on discovering what we are each trying to take on board. If the device picks up nothing, then that's it. No questions of any kind are asked of anyone.
My bag is opened and the guy takes out several items. He is very polite and tries not to break anything. I have a thermos with packets of coffee and tea stuffed inside. This gets swiped. Clear. I can go now. On with my shoes, I re-pack my items. Another guy carries my bag back to the Delta counter to be checked. I am finally handed my boarding pass. Now I am free to go through regular security. No line here either. I beep under the arch but it is my watch, my bracelet and my rings. No one asks me anything about my spotting scope or my camera items.
I'm now at the gate an hour and a half early!
My flight is problem free (thank goodness). The only bad part is the thick cloud cover on the short hop to Bozeman, preventing me from seeing the glorious Tetons.
I smile broadly as I arrive in Bozeman. It is cool and sunny and the air is so crisp it cheers my spirit. I am given keys to a silver Isuzu Rodeo and waste no time driving south. I feel some buffeting of wind at Livingston and wonder why I don't see more wind farms on the slopes around here. The road is clear but I can see ample evidence of harsher weather. I am so happy to see the Yellowstone River again. The area does seem parched, though, drier than last year.
In Paradise Valley I see lots of mulies on both sides of the road. I also see ravens, a bald eagle, and a cow with a calf. This last surprises me as I thought they calved in spring, just like the bison. Before I know it I'm past John's house! I turn around to go back. John has a large American flag flapping proudly in his front yard. This is the first of several poignant reminders of how 9/11 has touched us all.
I happily turn in the driveway and knock on their door. Oh it's just great to see John and Carlene again. We have big hugs and broad smiles. John has a fire going and the house feels so nice. We visit a bit and make loose plans to get together for dinner either tomorrow or Sunday. Carlene is quite willing to fix me dinner but I beg off, since I need to get to the Park in order to rent boots for tomorrow. John calls and finds out the rental hut closes at five. So it's more hugs and off I go.
I see more mule deer before I reach Gardiner. I notice less snow than last year and the river looks very low. I travel under the arch (tradition) and show my pass at the gate. The smile on my face is so broad I think the Ranger suspected I was nuts. Then again I guess he sees it all the time!
Unlike the highway, the road into the Park is solid snow with ample patches of ice. When my Dad taught me to drive at age 16 in Cincinnati, he included lessons on ice and snow. But it's been a VERY long time since then and I have had few chances to practice in the last 20 years of Manhattan living. So I am a bit apprehensive about this. Last year, Doug did all the driving in his 4WD Jeep. We had very little trouble, and I learned a lot from watching him. Right before I left I read Mark R & Carl's quickie trip report. They had a spinout on I-90 just outside Billings, and ended up in a ditch. Luckily they were uninjured and the rental survived too, but whoa, that sounded scary. I tell myself JUST GO SLOW.
And it's good advice because as I come around one of the curves along the river, a cow elk steps right into the road ahead of me. It's a good first warning. Luckily there is little traffic behind me to get annoyed with my slow pace.
I drive past the hotel and the wonderfully strange Lower Terraces and start up the scary switchbacks. I see a coyote cross the road ahead, jump the pile and run through the snow on the slope below. I take it as a good sign to see a coyote this early. There are many elk grazing in the woods very close to the road and I love seeing them with their thick winter coats.
I park at the Upper Terraces and walk down to the rental hut. I am so happy to be here that I don't mind the smell and noise of the snow-machines. The snow squeaks wonderfully under my shoes and it seems very warm. The very same lady who rented me boots last year is here again. She remembers me! We talk wolves a little, just as we did then.
As I pull in to the hotel I see a woman waving at me. It's Deb! And there's Lew. Perfect timing. They have had a great day in Lamar and we make plans to meet in an hour down at the Best Western in Gardiner. I check in, dump some gear and then drive on down for gas and some groceries. Soon I am sitting with Lew and Deb looking at fresh video of wolf #218 and some other Druids romping around Little America.
My first evening ends with a delicious dinner at the Yellowstone Mine and cheery conversation with my good Loony friends. Tomorrow we head for Lamar!
Today I saw: A coyote, a bald eagle, elk, mule deer and ravens