Yellowstone – Empty Nest by Curt Swarm

EMPTY NEST- BY CURT SWARM

As we pulled out onto the highway for our week-long vacation at Yellowstone National Park, I saw something flash in the rear-view mirror.  It was our Road Atlas that I had left on the roof of the car as we were packing.  (You can tell we’re old people because we still like the old-fashioned maps.)  I pulled the car over to the shoulder and ran back to retrieve the Atlas.  Fortunately, no other car ran over it.  This was how our vacation started.  Not a good sign, but things were about to improve—except that at the first rest stop I found out my underwear was on backwards.  Grrrr.

            We overnighted in Laramie, Wyoming then headed for the Snowy Range on our way to Yellowstone and the Grand Tetons.  Crossing the Continental Divide twice, we kept wondering if first one mountain range then another were the Grand Tetons.  Then we rounded a hairpin turn and there they were.  There was no doubt now.  The Grand Tetons is perhaps the grandest mountain range I have ever seen.  Not that I’ve seen that many up close and personal, but the spires of the Grand Tetons, as the name implies, inspires grandeur. 

            Contrary to what many people think, Yellowstone National Park, the first National Park in the least populated state, is not suffering from the heat that the Southwestern United States is.  Temps at night are in the 40’s, even 30’s, and it might rise into the low 80’s in the day.  Perfect weather, actually.  Cell phone service is almost non-existent, and the highways are full of RV’s and camper-trailers with people itchy to get out and about after being cooped up during the pandemic.  This is sort of weird: there are businesses, also because of the pandemic, that won’t take cash.  It’s the reverse of a few years ago when some businesses wouldn’t take credit cards.  You have to go with the flow. 

            What’s Yellowstone without a trip to see Old Faithful?  (The geezers seeing the geysers?)  One of the newspapers I write for, the Stronghurst, IL, Quill, has a penchant for people taking the Quill to famous places and having their picture taken.  One person actually took the Quill to the North Pole for a picture.  Seriously.  Well, we did it, too.  Voila.  The Quill has been to Yellowstone National Park and Old Faithful.

            One particular oddity: I get up early, and I mean real early, like 1:00 a.m., to do my writing, reading and praying.  I keep this routine up even on vacation.  However, because of lack of cellphone service, I was forced to drive down by Jackson Lake early in the morning, where I could get a signal.  While sitting there in the dark, I kept hearing what I knew to be mouse noise in the trash sack in the back seat of our car.  It was quite annoying and serenity disturbing.  I figured it was an Iowa mouse that had traveled with us to Yellowstone.  When I got back to our cabin, I emptied the trash and set a mousetrap.  (Back in Iowa I’ve had quite a problem with mice in my car, so had a trap ready.)  When we came back out of the cabin later in the morning, sure enough, I had caught that mouse.  Only it wasn’t an Iowa mouse.  This one was tan with a white chest and tummy—100% Wyoming!  I don’t know why or how, but no matter what state I’m in, the mice seem to know how to get into my car.  Grrr again.

            But the mouse was soon forgotten when we visited Lewis Lake Falls and then Fishing Bridge to watch cutthroat trout spawn. 

            There was also horseback riding (last horse is bear bait!).  Ginnie rode Frankenstein and I rode Doc Holiday.  Doc liked to crowd to the head of the line, while Frankenstein was a middle of the pack kind-of-guy.  I asked our guide if he had a side arm in his saddlebags.  “Liberals don’t like it,” he said.  “They’d rather be eaten.”

            The wildlife tour was something else.  We had to meet-up at 3:30 a.m., which is real hard on Ginnie, but late for me.  We headed for the Lamar Valley Ranch east of Mammoth Springs.  Lamar Valley boasts the largest population of large wild animals in the United States.  On our tour we saw and photographed a bear with cubs, elk, bison, deer, moose, pronghorns, golden eagles, osprey, mountain goats, pikas and, are you ready for this?–wolves in the wild feeding on a bison carcass.  Yes!  I never once thought in my wildest dreams that I would have the opportunity to photograph wolves in the wild.  But there they were, about half a mile away.  With telescopes and zoom lenses we were able to see and get some pretty good pictures.

Not only that, but Rick McIntyre, a world famous Park Ranger, was there to give a personal history of the reintroduction of wolves to Yellowstone.  His soft spoken manner and laid back demeanor was refreshing.  Wow!  What a treat: wolves plus Rick McIntyre. 

            On our last day of vacation we drove into Grand Teton National Park.  My wife, since her name is Ginnie, wanted to see Jenny Lake.  While there we drove up to the top of Signal Mountain.  What a sight!  Then it was off to the Chapel of The Transfiguration, a memorial to when three Disciples witnessed Jesus conversing with Moses and Elijah, then Jesus turning a dazzling white.  I got down on my knees and thanked God for a great vacation and asked for a safe return home. 

            So, it all had to come to an end.  On our way home we stopped in Ft. Collins, Colorado to see an old friend of Ginnie’s, which was a pleasant way to wind up a vacation.  Stimulating conversation and good food (homemade hummus) made us want to stay there longer, also. 

            Yellowstone is a memory now, but we’ve already made cabin reservations for a return visit next year.  It takes a lifetime, I’m told, to see all of Yellowstone. 

Have a good story?  Call or text Curt Swarm in Mt. Pleasant at 319-217-0526, find him on Facebook, email him at curtswarm@yahoo.com, or visit his website at www.empty-nest-words-photos-and-frames.com.

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