If you are traveling in an RV, there is an expectation that you will visit national parks. And Yellowstone is the nation’s first designated park, so it makes sense to make the pilgrimage there, which I did! It was created as federal lands in the 1870s and of course was settled long before that by native americans. It is humongous in size and unexpectedly diverse in terms of natural qualities. I loved being in this park, mostly, well…truth be told there was a moment in the day when I said, “GET ME OUT OF THIS PARK!” Heresy, I know.
I arrived before 9am and there was not much traffic. The park lulls you into a false sense of serenity. I came in on the west side and it was beautiful meandering rivers, fragrant pine trees, and gorgeous meadows. I was feasting on the beauty, stopping at each picturesque location. I also came across the geo-thermal features – hot springs, acid pools with vibrant colors, volcanic ash that left beautiful relief features as cliffs and of course the iconic Yellowstone mountain.
The park starts about 6200 ft in elevation. There are turnouts and pullouts constantly – so you can pause for a Zen moment, just sit and marvel at the beauty, and of course take zillions of photos. I saw several waterfalls from perches high above and walked to several springs to see the steam and water coming literally from crevices in the ground. It was amazing. I was having a grand morning.
I decided to take a loop road that goes around the northern half (roughly) of the park. The loop road has a couple of junctions where you could turn off for Old Faithful or go to campgrounds. But pretty much, the loop is a closed loop. You either keep going or you turn around and go back the way you came. By the time I hit the northernmost point, I was at Mammoth Springs – lots of thermal activity and lots of tourists. It even has its own little “town” with a restaurant, general store, visitor center. I got to the Tower Falls spot after that and did not want to get out in the record heat to hike to the falls after being in the park for 3 hours already. So I kept going. Up. And up. I had a bad feeling about this. I’m a hard-headed woman, as Cat Stevens sang, so I forged ahead.
At some point, even though I am brave, strong, and so forth, I began to lose it. I don’t really like heights. I had to cross this very long bridge that was very high and I realized, this might not end well. I stopped at a pullout and distracted myself with a beautiful river and canyon below me. Wow. Just beautiful. Then I turned around and looked up. It was literally a 50 story wall of rock – smooth and slightly bowed over the road. A couple of tiny trees sat on top.
Looking up at this sheer face was like a funhouse mirror. I was sure that wall of rock would fall on me.
I drove on.
The two lane road seemed to narrow (it didn’t, but it seemed like it). There were hairpin curves for the switchbacks to keep going up. There were S-curves to keep going up. I said to myself – at least I’m on the inside face and not like those poor suckers on the outside going in the other direction! Of course, my turn came next and suddenly my lane was on the outside. There was no guard rail, a sheer drop off from the tiny shoulder, and a cavernous bottom below. I’m sure the scenery was breathtaking, but I only saw fear. I felt like I willed the truck forward and into a turnout where people were parked to take in the exquisite view. I was frozen in terror. I didn’t think I could go on, but to go backwards meant being on the outside where those other poor suckers were and going back across that bridge. I couldn’t. I looked ahead and saw cars meandering still upwards. It was like a bad movie where the audience screams out – don’t go there! And yet I did.
I finally collected my wits – most of which were hiding under the seat, and pushed onward. I told myself out loud, “only look at the road. Do not look beyond. Stay in the lines.” I knew that no one else was falling off the road, and still the feeling of falling seemed real. Needless to say I made it around the last upward bend and then into the 8% grade decline. Oh, that was fun. But there were a few guardrails, so I was less panicked. Finally, I hit a marker that said, 6900 ft elevation and I felt safe. The top height I had reached was 9200 ft.
I stopped next to a river in the shade to rest and reflect and decompress.
I did it.
I didn’t like it.
I don’t want to do it again.
And I was reminded, yet again, that the journey is what I came for. Fears seem real, but they are only thoughts and body sensations. While I got taken out for a while today, I did manage to overcome those fears and not be dominated by their effect.
Yellowstone is gorgeous. The experience was grand and I learned again that I am resilient, courageous, and I am having FUN (despite my protests). I hope my photos give some sense of the grandeur of this national jewel, its diversity, and why millions of people go there every year. I would go back to the park, though I will stay low.
Travel articles ask, “are you a beach person or a mountain person?” Where’s my beach towel?