Bagging all four, FIVE Yellowstone National Park entrances, PROLOGUE
Seven years ago I’d only fantasized about the West. From its debut in 1993 my favorite movie has been Tombstone. What we love and what we know are sometimes worlds apart. For a gal born in Texas and raised in Oklahoma my lack of knowledge of anything Western was just short of embarrassing. A career opportunity in 2001 changed that. While my Texas/Oklahoma roots were coming up by the handful, my new cowboy boots were rubbing blisters before I crossed the Kansas state line. I found myself living in a small Wyoming town South of Yellowstone National Park by late summer 2001.
Knowing nothing of the area became a source of unexplained courage that far too easily morphed into bouts of ignorance. I quickly learned that bears are to be revered and sliding behind the wheel of my beloved 1995 Mazda MX-6 didn’t make us a conjoined Superman. The front wheel drive had limits despite my imaginations’ lack thereof. Notwithstanding the artesian well of bad judgment and a steep somewhat painful learning curve, I quickly became familiar with the area.
My first experience with Yellowstone National Park was early winter 2001. I set off the first weekend in November only to discover the South entrance closed on November 1. The map revealed the West entrance in West Yellowstone, Montana too far a drive for the time I had (new job, precious little free time). I didn’t enter the Park until January 2002 upon a new friend’s recommendation to take a course through the Yellowstone Institute www.yellowstoneassociation.org/institute. I’d looked through the brochure he’d given me and chose the class I had negative knowledge of (that’s less than NONE ) — an animal tracking course. (Animal Tracking Story)
Full of myself for knowing the South entrance was closed I blasted towards the West entrance at West Yellowstone, Montana. It closed also during the winter. Finally breaking down over my plight (I’m in the Mazda, which had only enough clearance to not be a turtle killer), a phone call confirmed the North Entrance was the ONLY entrance open during the winter into the Park. Have I mentioned I learn things the hard way? Gathering myself I checked the map; didn’t appear too terribly far. In actuality, getting to the Institute meant driving around through Idaho and then up and back down into Montana. It meant hair-raising amounts of snow and ice on roads with signs that frequently read CAUTION “12% grade ahead”. It was another bout of courage-morphing-into-ignorance and a pronounced one. Pulling into the Institute’s parking lot at 3:00 a.m., I was 9 hours late for the meet-n-greet. The Ranger’s brows lifted so high I could only see the whites of his wonder and amazement. He kept glancing at the Mazda; I wasn’t certain if he was more shocked at the lateness of my arrival or the transport that had gotten me there.
Over the course of the next 3 years I explored most of the Park, entering several times from the South gate near Moran Junction, Wyoming and the West gate from West Yellowstone, Montana. Even though I drove to Mammoth Hot Springs (the North gate) several times from within the Park, I never entered the Park through the North entrance at Gardiner save the one time.
I married and moved back to Oklahoma in 2004 and my life while non-stop in new directions still had one direction that pulled strong. Almost six years from the date of my first Yellowstone entry, I decided it was time to complete the goal I’d set for myself in 2001 to enter Yellowstone Park through all its entrances. The East Entrance via Cody, Wyoming had to be conquered. On October 20, 2007 my encouraging spouse packed me on my way in his Onstar-heated seats-equipped-4-wheel-drive Yukon , THREE times the courage-morphing power of the Mazda, I laughed to myself as I pulled away.