This morning Brian, who hadn’t gotten more than a few hours of sleep on Sunday night, agreed to take it slow instead of rushing out the door. When we did hit the road we drove straight to West Yellowstone, passing good old Rexburg on our way. We’ve been to Rexburg once before with the kids, so we didn’t feel the need to tour the college town where Brian and I met this time around.
It’s been several years since we visited Yellowstone with the kids however, and I was surprised at how crowded it was. I guess this time of year is prime for tourists. We took the lower loop, keeping our eyes peeled for wildlife on either side of the road. The Bison that are usually loitering around every other meadow were elusive today. The park is so big, and you never know what you’ll see where. Before long we arrived at Firehole, one of Mother Nature’s best waterparks. I loved it not only because of the fun cliff jumping, the current that’s perfect for floating down, or the prime sunbathing spots, but because the water is actually warm(ish). Hence the name Firehole. I’m told there’s some kind of natural hot spring that pours into the river, taking the edge off the naturally frigid river water. We had so much fun playing in the river that it was easy to forget about the rest of Yellowstone we had come to see. Clara especially didn’t want to leave, so I stayed in the river with her as long as possible. We played tag and made up a swimming routine and chatted in the shallow water where the sand was soft. She said, “Mom, this is the most fun I’ve ever had with you swimming! You usually never get in the water!” That just goes to show how warm the river was, because I don’t swim in cold water. Ever.
When we finally coaxed Clara out of Firehole river, we continued to follow the lower loop toward Old Faithful. On the way, Brian pulled off at Sapphire Pool. Chase had fallen asleep in the car, wiped out after swimming hard at Firehole. Clara and I walked up the boardwalk slowly, studying the mysteriously beautiful colors that seemed too vivid to be natural. Mother nature was clearly showing off. I was thrilled.
Eventually we made it to Old Faithful, which graciously accommodated us by erupting within 10 minutes of our arrival. We were still behind schedule, but not having to wait 90 minutes to see the famous geyser was much appreciated. Again, the boardwalk was teeming with people but we managed to get a pretty good spot to watch.
The plan for tonight was to stay in Cody, WY, after going to a rodeo in town that started at 8:00 pm. I thought a small town rodeo would be the perfect way to end the western phase of our trip. Despite Old Faithful being cooperative, we still didn’t pull into Cody until 9:20, so we obviously missed the rodeo. In fact, we decided not to stay in Cody tonight at all. Instead we kept driving to Buffalo, WY, a few hours further east. Our logic: we’re approaching a phase of our trip that will likely be much less exciting than our travels thus far. The more hours of driving across vast, brown, dry land we can get under our belt while it’s dark and the kids are asleep, the better. It turns out the drive to Buffalo wasn’t quite what we expected. The two-lane highway was winding, narrow and steep. We’re talking hairpin turns on an 8% grade with deer and jackrabbits darting about. The moon was full and beautiful, and it was easy to tell even in the dark that we were driving through scenic pine-filled canyons. When Brian became tired I took over driving. Not long after, I spotted a large owl sitting in the middle of the road in front of me. I expected it to fly off, but it didn’t. Then in the back of my head I recalled driving lessons from my dad, instructing me not to swerve. I clutched the steering wheel tighter and willed myself to plow straight ahead, all the while thinking ‘it’s going to move, it’s going to move, it’s going to move, right?!’ Thud. The owl did not move. I am so glad the kids were asleep in the back because there would have definitely been some tears shed at that moment.
We were winging it (no pun intended) as far as a place to sleep when we got to Buffalo. I called the hotel we had reserved for tomorrow night and they were able to cancel my room for tomorrow but they did not have any vacancy tonight. After passing a few motels and as many ‘no vacancy’ signs we found a days inn that had a room available. Not really my first choice, but options were scarce and we were all tired. A girl walked by my car while Brian was checking us in at the office, and then she walked by again. She was staring at the front of the car. She walked by twice more, and then approached my window. “There’s a large bird stuck to the front of your car,” she said. Sure enough, the owl was still there, wings splayed across the bumper. I was horrified! It was traumatizing enough killing it, but did it really need to hang about? Brian was also shocked when he came out of the office and saw the carnage on the front of the car. I’m not keeping track of all the reasons I love being with Brian, but if I were, I’d add ‘cleans road-kill off bumper for me’ to the list. That’s true love.