Lush, rugged, and otherworldly—my last glimpse of the Northwest (for now.)
After a week exploring the calm rural beauty of northern Montana, I dropped my dad off at the Missoula airport and camped along the Clark River before meeting up with my mom in Bozeman the following day. Once settled into our next campsite near Livingston, MT, we talked over our plan for the week and routed our visit to Yellowstone and our second day of travel into the Grand Tetons.
The next morning, we leapt sleepily into the truck and started our drive to western Yellowstone, our nearest entrance after flooding closed down the northernmost route earlier in the summer. As we got closer, we took our place among a promenade of tourists oohing and ahhing at distant herds of bison and a landscape that never seemed to stop changing around each bend in the road.
Eventually, we got used to the cadence of cars slamming on brakes for every roadside geyser and animal sighting, and we too craned our necks to take in the scenery. We opted to drive the southern loop of Yellowstone, hitting the Grand Prismatic Spring, the Fountain Paint Pots, the Mud Volcano and Dragon’s Mouth Spring, and of course, Old Faithful, which erupts on a near-exact cycle every 90 minutes.
Unintentionally, our timing was perfect. We found seats around the trusty geyser’s amphitheater viewing area and watched a lonesome bison pass in front of Old Faithful as it sent thousands of gallons of scalding water 100 feet into the air. It seemed like the true Yellowstone experience, as if the park itself was putting on a show for its peak season audience. Suffice it to say, we were happy to be a part.
After a few brief hikes and a long drive through the park, we hit the road once more and ventured back to our base camp at sunset, a spectacular, drawn-out affair in Big Sky Country, turning miles of distant clouds into a wispy display of golds and pinks. We settled in for a night of much-needed rest and packed up the camper the next morning for another new phase of our journey.
This time, we were headed back through Yellowstone and into the Grand Tetons. From there, we planned to drive farther south into the depths of Wyoming’s no-man’s-land before starting the long, final leg back east. We entered into the familiar western gate of Yellowstone and continued south until the lush, evergreen forests and foothills of the northern Teton Range opened up into a wide grassland backdropped by the beastly mountains of the Middle Rockies.
We spent our day weaving through paths on the colorful Antelope Flats and framing postcard photos of the Tetons in their grandest state before settling on a quiet hike to Taggart Lake at the base of the mountain range. The final destination was a glimmering pool of crystal clear water shadowed by Middle Teton, Garnet Canyon, Grand Teton, Mt. Owen, and Teewinot Mountain. Our hike to Taggart Lake wrapped up my exploration of the great northwestern trifecta, the three neighboring national parks I had waited months to see. I was nearly crossing the finish line on my cross country road trip, and in truth, I wasn’t missing home at all.
At this point in my travels, the inconsistency of the daily coming and going, setting up and tearing down, and driving and resting no longer bothered me. Instead, it was a habit, a routine, a day in the life. I wasn’t thrown off by the unknown or the unfamiliar. I was used to foreign territory, every roadside stop not just a place to park, but a temporary home with its own strange beauty and comfort.
But even in the sadness of realizing that my trip was coming to a close, I stared out at the icy blue Taggart Lake and knew with absolute certainty that I would be back soon. I’m holding myself to it.
Now, eastern bound. On to South Dakota and the hot, arid Badlands. I can almost see the peaks of the Laurel Highlands and the westernmost Appalachians rising above the horizon, but from here in the Tetons I wonder, how will they ever stack up?