We made it. We are back in Yellowstone for another season. Tata’s at work, baby is napping, and I am back at my keyboard. Life is as it should be.
We left Illinois on Sunday, May 1st as the dawn broke through the horizon. Our car was packed, our trailer was hitched, and we were in good spirits. We made our way to Interstate 80, and we would follow this mainline clear across the USA.
After a brief (but lovely) pause in Iowa City for some pourover coffee from the Java House, we made it to our first stop around 4:00pm: Omaha, Nebraska. We dined on Raising Cane’s chicken fingers and stayed in a decent little hotel room with a full kitchen. Lydia was so happy to be out of the car that she danced and climbed and played until she tuckered herself right out. We all slept well.
The next day we drove to Cheyenne, Wyoming. I’d been in kind of a funky mood, just feeling stressed and exhausted from being cramped in a car and trying to entertain a toddler for twenty hours (over two days). Then our hotel room wasn’t ready when we arrived. Then we got some bad Chinese food delivery. My funk was turning even more sour. So Rafal got the baby dressed and made me get dressed and dragged me out to have a look at Wyoming’s capital. We found an amazing little coffeehouse called The Paramount Café where we had bubble tea and hot chocolate and Lydia tried to tear posters off the wall. It was enough to turn everything around. Seeing the elk statues and the wagon wheels and the mountains in the distance reminded me that I was in the Wild West. It reminded me that I love the Wild West, that I live here, and that I was almost home.
On the third day we made it to Jackson, Wyoming. Jackson is 90 miles away from Grant Village, and it is where we do our grocery shopping. When somebody from Grant says they are “going to town,” Jackson is where they are headed. Even though I have technically never lived there, Jackson Hole feels like home.
We stayed at the Wyoming Inn, and it was lovely. It was gorgeous. It was the hotel we’d been waiting for. We had some BBQ for dinner, and Lydia was an angel at the restaurant. Then we walked around town for a bit. In the off-season, everything in Jackson closes at 6:00pm, so before long we decided to head back to our hotel and luxuriate in our 800 thread count sheets.
The next day we rose early and headed over to the Bunnery for breakfast, where Tata had eggs benedict and I had their famous oat, sunflower seed, and millet pancake (that Lydia loved) plus eggs. Then over to Persephone Bakery for coffee, where they brew a Jackson Hole blend of Intelligentsia made especially for them. Then we moved on to a marathon of shopping, as we acquired goods to hold us over in the woods. We bought groceries, books, more coffee (from Lotus Café), myriad thrift store treasures (such as a kid’s life jacket, a blender, and a nice wooden cutting board), and Thai food take-out for the road. We checked out of our fancy hotel, re-hitched the old trailer, and traversed the final leg of our journey, heading north through Grand Teton National Park and on into Yellowstone.
This particular stretch of road is one of my favorites in all these vast United States. It offers a spectacular view of the craggy, navy blue Tetons (which at this time of year, are covered with snow). The Teton are the mountains of my fantasies; the mountains I sketched with a crayon during my Midwestern childhood, having never laid eyes on such geography; they are mountains among mountains, the absolute real-deal.
Driving alongside these massive marvels makes the two-hour trek to the grocery store enjoyable. I grew teary-eyed as we approached them, not realizing the depth with which I’d missed their presence in my life.
I don’t know when I’ll have the time or money to afford it (I already have one tattoo in progress), but I decided that one day I will have an image of the snow-covered Tetons tattooed on my chest. Téton is actually French for breast (early French explorers termed this range les trois tétons, or the three breasts), so it is a perfect location for such body art.
The south gate of Yellowstone is still closed for the season. As we exited Grand Teton National Park and approached our own, we came upon several sets of marooned tourists trying to decipher a map. Why these travelers ignored the numerous “Road Closed Ahead” signs stretching backwards for thirty miles, I’ll never know. But our car filled with giddy excitement, only fueled by their jealous and confused stares, as Rafal punched in the right combination and manually removed the steel gate. We gained entry into a Wonderland, not yet open to the public, and it was awesome. Snow was stacked high on both sides of the street, waterfalls flowed with powerful grace, and lakes were frozen over. There were no other people around.
We pulled into Grant Village around 3:00pm mountain time, and got right to work. We filled up our little apartment with box after box, taking a short break to enjoy our over-priced (but none-the-less delicious) Thai food, and taking turns playing with Lydia. Rafal’s boss and our next-door neighbor, Willie popped in to welcome us back, and Rafal’s co-worker Matt stopped by to deliver some water plant gossip. Eventually the trailer was empty, a good chunk of our things were put away, and Lydia was ready for bed.
With the baby asleep, the only thing left to do was to take a hot bath is the nice, deep bathtub we’d both missed, and then crawl exhaustedly into bed ourselves. The next morning at 0700, Rafal would report for work, throwing himself into the breadwinner role once again. I would return to the life of sole caretaker; stay-at-home mama; and in the cracks, whenever possible, a writer.
It feels so good to be someplace quiet. Even better, to be someplace we call home.