When I first landed in Cody, a small Wyoming town with a strip-mall-like airport, I had unthinkingly assumed – based on my standard East Coast experience – that our 80-minute drive to Yellowstone National Park would feature a generic landscape of burger joints, outlet malls, and bland suburban exits for some time, before leading to The Great Wild.
I was mistaken.
Route 16 from Cody to Yellowstone is essentially a highway through a colossal painting: green, yellow, and magenta mountains, turquoise lakes, and lush green foliage, followed by barren, hauntingly desolate mountains with rock formations shaped like the ruins of ancient castles and fortress-cities, shimmering in the midmorning gold. (Returning a few days later, I would discover that these mountains were even more majestic when the waning afternoon sun turned them a solemn red). If ever there was an explanation for why spiritual ascetics take to mountains, this was it.
In my travel planning, I had learned that we would be “passing by” a lesser known nature preserve called Buffalo Bill State Park on our way to the more famous Yellowstone National Park. I had planned to “stop by” on the way back if there was time. What I didn’t realize was that our route went through it. It was the first of many delightful surprises on this trip.
My camera was snapping constantly. I would certainly run out of data cards before we even reached Yellowstone, or soon after. They had a shop in the lodge where we would be staying…. hopefully I could get some there. I briefly regretted leaving my laptop home…. an act of defiance against my overworked life. Any writing I did would be in a notebook with a pen … I’d been quite resolute on this point. Ok, so I’d have to figure out the photo storage thing. (This was some years ago, cloud access was not ubiquitous and certainly not the first option that came into your head when thinking “where should I store my pictures?” You thought of physical objects like CDs and hard drives and data disks. And yes, I was using a “real” camera. While the iPhones of the time took better pictures than we ever imagined a phone could, it was still, you know, a “phone camera” resolution).
(The two galleries below show some more of that day’s crop of images. Click on any image to see it in full size.)
But… I had no time for regrets. Life was too grand, too precious to ever be fully recorded anyway. I couldn’t stop sticking my head out the car window drinking in this world. Breathing it. I felt that whatever I really needed, the earth would provide. If it didn’t… then I didn’t really need it. This really is my native planet! How lucky could one woman be?
And I didn’t even know, at this point, how profound an impact the same stretch of road would have on me on my way back, just a few days later…
All photos by Koli Mitra