Saturday, September 17 (continued)
We left the park from its northwest exit and arrived in a small town called Silver Gate, which featured a short strip with a few small motels offering rooms and cabins, some shops, and a couple of bars. It was a much more sensible and worthy place to support visitors at the edge of the park. We ate a lunch in the diner. While working on our food, our waitress (and co-owner of the place) ran outside with a small radio in hand. She was talking back to someone else about a helicopter in the air and saying, “Well, the rangers didn’t call us.” She explained to her patrons that she is an EMS provider and member of the local search and rescue group. She was anxious at the possibility of being deployed, but mused that the rangers in the helicopter may have just been looking for some hunters who wandered into the park. “If you’re hunting at the edge of the Yellowstone, you need to know where the boundaries are,” she said with more than a hint of sly.
Our next destination was the town of Red Lodge. Here I should provide some background. About forty years ago, my father hitchhiked across… well I don’t even know how far he went. But he made his last visit to Yellowstone on that trip. He left the park in a hearse (that had been converted into a camper van) and arrived in Red Lodge, Montana. He was so taken by the town that he returned to Massachusetts to bring my mother there, but it never happened. And so they remained in New England. I liked the idea of a sort of alternative homecoming, so our next destination was pinned on the map.
Friday, Septermber 16
We woke up in this wonderful valley, finding it in yet another wardrobe of light. We packed our things and continued south along the highway. The two mountain ranges on either side of us slowly withdrew from each other’s distant company. At one point, a truck’s tire burst, sending a cloud of rubber into the air and the truck swerving across its lane in front of us. The driver skillfully recovered and settled into a slower pace, allowing us to pass. At some point, we entered the territory of Idaho National Laboratories, though there was little to distinguish it from anything else except an access road rolling off toward an industrial park in the distance and aggressive, dire warnings against trespassing.
When the mountains had become nearly forgotten humps on the horizon, we encountered a fork in the highway with a little farming town built in front of it. A little circle of community coaxed an island of green crops out of sea of rough sagebrush. We turned east, bringing ourselves into the direction of Yellowstone and stopped in Rexburg, Idaho for a late breakfast of pancakes. We left town as the local police began the chore of closing down the main road on the strip for reasons we never learned. A parade maybe?
It was my turn to drive and my dad napped in the passenger seat while I took the car across farming plains outside of Rexburg. Our approach to the mountains was met with yet another forest distinguished by its own particular flavor of color palette. Sometime afternoon we reached West Yellowstone. West Yellowstone is a town at the edge of the park founded sometime around the turn of the century. Initially it had another name I’ve since forgotten, was later renamed “Yellowstone,” and after that was given the name “West Yellowstone.”
I hate West Yellowstone.
A water re-supply stop along Vermont’s section of the Appalachian Trail and the Long Trail.
Wednesday, September 14
During the routine of breaking camp, I was assigned to find our morning coffee. I went back to the Missoula strip and found a Starbucks in a Target. Such a departure this trip has been from our wilderness ventures into Canada!
At a gas station in Lolo, we decided to step into the neighboring state of Idaho and vaguely set a town called Elk City as our destination. We liked the name. While setting our course beside the pumps, a stranger told my father he was the spitting image of a Forest Service doctor who died ten years ago. I began calling him “Doc.” As we broke west and entered the Bitterroot National Forest, the hilly plains became sparse pine forest upon the hills and mountains again. We saw ranches and small farms on either side of the road, but also evidence of wildfire in the previous season. Each of these little farms is marked by a ranch gate: two vertical pieces support a third horizontal beam that protrudes from each end, like serifs in text. Sadly, there was not actually a home behind each gate, likely taken in the fires.
White Baneberries, also aptly called “dolls eyes,” are a toxic perennial that grow in woodlands throughout the eastern US and Canada. This example was found in the Green Mountain National Forest on the Appalachian Trail.