Yellowstone National Park
Yellowstone is magic.
I wanted to pluck the bare tree trunks like they were uke strings and glide my fingertips across the feathered treeline.
I dug my toes into the obsidian sand and flowed with the waves; pose to pose, breath to breath.
I ran because the hills were alive with the sound of music and my inner child felt free to frolic. The playlist, electrified by howling wolves and sputtering geysers, synced with our souls. Everything was in tune.
I danced and sang and laughed and loved as my bare feet grounded me in the magic of Mother Earth and the moon above charged us like magnets.
We experienced her excellence at all hours...
At dawn, before the crowds rushed in and while the fog still clung to the earth’s surface. At dawn, we drove into her depths, cradled in her Valleys. Drawn in, at dawn, by the bison’s steady eye and undeterred by the sulfur stink of the Black Dragon’s Cauldron. At dawn, the chill was sharp. This world was just waking up, us along with it. As my fingers fumbled with the controls of a borrowed camera, I began to discover the balance between documentation and experience.
We ventured through the winding roads, the Swan as our chariot. Windows down. Music loud. Tree trunks just beyond my outstretched fingertips. Yellowstone in passing is like getting a glimpse of a glimpse of evolving eternity. A chance to see momentary magic before season’s change brings anew; before the next bend in the road puts it all in the rearview. Impermanence is inevitable.
Mammoth Hot Springs’ white limestone structure stood stark in contrast to mid-morning’s clear blue sky. It remained dry, merely trickling like someone had forgotten to turn on the tap. A reminder that Yellowstone - mother nature - owes you nothing. Yet, look at all she provides.
We explored the nearby Beaver Ponds* trail, taking our time to climb up trees and frolic through fields, searching for beavers and black bears and lost sunglasses. I ran through vast meadows of sage and wildflowers, crowded under low-hanging branches for a still moment, enchanted by Yellowstone’s breadth of life: an entire herd of elk, high-flying hawk, little Junebug lovers, a ladybug friend.
Mid-afternoon brought on the crowds and we returned, exhausted from the hike to West Yellowstone* for naps and bison burgers and huckleberry margaritas... which meant that, the next morning, the sun rose before we did.
Grand Prismatic - the “place where Hell bubbled up” - had me feeling like a space tourist. Thick steam swarmed our vision. Otherworldly terrain spidered out from the deep blue center of the hot spring, imprinted by thousands of years of post-supervolcanic activity and the occasional trespassing human footprint. Celestial-like archaea colonies clung to the edges as we humans mulled along the boardwalk, tranced by the cosmic colors. Careful though; a misstep could be astronomical, breaking through to large bodies of buried, boiling water.
Old Faithful remained true. Crowds gathered to witness the world’s most famous geyser tick off yet another eruption, amounting to more than a million recorded since the park was established. We waited, anticipating the inevitable. Clapped and cheered when nature fulfilled her promise, sputtering thousands of gallons of two-hundred-degreed water up some one-hundred-eighty feet in the air. We cleared out from the crowds once the water settled and sunk, back into the earth.
We sped along in the Swan, hoping to soon reach water but unsure of our exact destination. Windows rolled down, I hung out the window, trying to capture the vastness of Yellowstone Lake through a camera lens that refused to zoom. Kayaks and boats dotted the bays, fishermen lined the shores.
Somewhere along the one hundred-forty-one miles of shoreline, we pulled over to get closer, to get a stiller view. We stumbled down to the shore of Pumice Point, shoes removed once we reached the obsidian beach. Dips in the water froze our toes; the sand warmed our soles.
I’d been itching to stretch, to spin, to move since the start of the trip and so the beach posed as my yoga studio. My movements flowed with the world around me. Inhale, the waves crash on the shore; exhale, the water returns to its source. The wind wrings out tension and I relax, sinking into the sand to seek balance; grounded. Sand dug under my nails and clung to my clothes; grains still hiding in my hiking boots.
As I flowed, the world stilled. There was no resistance, no sense of something or somewhere else. Yellowstone in stillness is like embodied mindfulness. To breathe that air is to feel clear, clean, not bogged down by city smog and collective thought. We were refreshed on the obsidian beaches of Lake Yellowstone, renewed, revived, reminded that we’re alive.
"across the lake, an assembly of green giants guarded the snow-crowned mountains and drew my eyes up to a wide-open sky, a hazy gradient of clouded to clear."
Next, worlds collided as we ventured to the village of Lake Yellowstone to meet a friend of mine who was working in the park for the summer. A day, and we'd experienced the peace that Yellowstone grants. A month, my friend had been here, drawn in too by the park's radiance, and it shone. I sensed peace in him, like a piece of him found home among the bison and the huckleberry and the vast valleys. Among the people who seek to spend summertime immersed in Yellowstone. It was fun to know them for this moment, to adventure together.
Our friends, new and old, guided us to Storm Point. They gestured across the lake, spinning tales of uncharted territory and unforgiving terrain and cannibalism. I felt like Wendy, adventuring along with the Lost Boys, foregoing rules, clamoring up cliffs. Trekking beyond the ‘danger’ sign of thermal beaches. Treading too close to a bison. Trailing through forests, haunted by the victims of flimsy, flailing, fallen trees. Promising to stay young forever ~ crystalized, eternal.
Our last evening there was spent at a beach, next to a bonfire, underneath a spectacular sky. Like a living mosaic, the sky of brilliant blues and wispy whites shifted to cotton candy and sun-colored clouds. Our time in Yellowstone was setting and as the sunset dissolved into the deep, boundless navy of the night sky, and the full moon, shy behind a cloudy sky, soon greeted us.
Yellowstone in moonlight is mesmerizing. Shoes, once again, removed and we gathered, grounded, barefoot and barrierless, to celebrate both journey's end and renewal. Papers, scribbled with dreams and desire, were cast into the fire. Prayers, from the possibility of being futile or fulfilled, were whispered to the waves. Promises, that spoke to a lifetime of adventure, were planted and sowed.
On the drive back, the winding roads were illuminated by the fullness of the moon, now higher and bolder in the midnight sky, and I felt so lucky.
We experienced Yellowstone at all hours, even if it was just a glimpse.
No one ever told me that Yellowstone was magic. I’m glad they didn’t; I avoided the inevitability of expectation. All I’d heard was that Yellowstone was insanely beautiful. I had seen beautiful places before ~ but I don’t think I’ve ever experienced a place quite like Yellowstone. A place that so effortlessly elicits flowery prose and daydreamy moments. There’s a card I bought at a gift shop because of the truth it spoke to me. It read:
“My feet are tired
but my soul is wide awake.”
Thank you to my travel buddies Nick, Kevin, and Evan, with a special thanks to Stephen for being our Yellowstone guide. Love y’all. Thank you, Yellowstone for such a magical, soulful adventure. The only thing I’d change is the amount of time we stayed. Yellowstone left me wanting more than just a glimpse ~ I’ll be back.