When Katie took off for a long weekend at camp, the Locavaux crew was delighted to welcome Ellie Schmidt to the bus in style, with a trip to the Yellowstone Club in Big Sky, Montana. Chase, Pat and I were lucky enough to have visited this past winter, and our good friend Will Daniel and his family invited us (and the bus!) back. After hiding the bus at a service entrance, the four of us joined the Daniel family at Warren Miller Lodge for some more local beers-- Madison Brewing Co’s Salmon Fly Honey Rye being a group favorite. We indulged in games of horseshoes and volleyball in the yard before heading up to the Daniel’s newly-built and gloriously woodsy home for stone fired pizza and fresh fruit. What a relaxing day! Yellowstone National Park was our next destination, and after one moose sighting at the Yellowstone Club, we were eager for more wild animal sightings. Our hopes were finally fulfilled on the last stretch of scenic byway before we exited the park, when the bus was stopped abruptly by a heard of bison, munching grass at the side of the road and lumbering across. Moving in slow motion, their strategic road-crossing pattern didn’t allow for a large enough gap to let a bus pass between, and kept us trapped and looking on in awe. Pat snapped some selfies with the beasts, too! Yellowstone awed us with more than just wildlife (we also saw some elk and big horn sheep, and Chase spotted a black bear!). A hike around the geysers and hot springs transported us with an other-worldly aura. Mars? The Moon? The only thing recognizable was a very potent, sulfuric scent that permeated the air with every hiss of steam from the crusty holes in in the ground. We learned that these geothermal features are called “fumaroles” and are the hottest in the park--up to 280 degrees Fahrenheit! Rainbow hued rock and opaque, neon blue pools were scattered between the fumaroles, and we gazed out at this expanse, which was so utterly different from the lush looming pines and red rock we’d traversed in the park so far. Returning to the bus with sulfur lingering in our hair, we soon spotted something exciting at the side of the road--hitchhikers! Our ongoing bucket list included a hitchhiker pickup, but we had been cautious to pick a worthy soul. These two, a girl and boy our age from Israel who had been working at a JCC Camp in Colorado, simply wanted a lift back to their car. Harmless and friendly--the best kind of hitchhikers!
We popped out of Yellowstone into Cooke City, stopping in a 100 year-old general store before heading to our destination in the Sunlight Basin. 7D Ranch, where great friend and fellow Colgate-alum Ross Mower had been sharing his wealth of fly-fishing knowledge with lucky guests all summer, was situated on the Sunlight River in northern Wyoming. We entered the Shoshone National Forest on a 9-mile dirt road (nice and bumpy on the bus!) and as our cell phones went from “Searching…” to “No Service” we relished in the idea of being in the middle of nowhere. We lay on the rooftop deck that night, snuggled in blankets and wool socks. Above us, stars coated the deep black sky, bright and close together. That night was the peak of the Persied meteor shower, and we sleepily counted fireballs shooting overhead before crawling off the rooftop deck and into bed. (Ross braved the cold and christened the deck as an overnight crash pad.)
The next day was an adventure, to say the least. We headed out with Ross to explore a segment of the Sunlight Creek - trekking through rapids and rocks and ducking under mossy walls of water. Standing atop a smooth white boulder, Ross flung his fly fishing line over the river, the thin thread glinting in the sunlight. A peak into his box of flies amazed Ellie and me, who knew little about the sport, and Ross delineated some basic tactics: “Match the hatch!” The prickly, bright bug-like bundles of thread and rubber imitated whichever current fish-food was buzzing near the water. (note: Ellie caught her first EVER fish!) A few hours into our adventure the weather flip-turned on us; grey clouds rolled in with a light but steady drizzle. We munched on the sandwiches we’d packed over a small wood fire Chase had created on a cleared ledge, looking down on the rocky rushing river below.
Rise and shine! The next day we took off at the crack of dawn. Our first sunrise drive of the trip was, fittingly, our exit out of Sunlight Basin. The sun’s warm glow illuminated white birch trees and red clay crevices as we headed up numerous switchbacks to Dead Indian Pass. We arrived mid-day to a campground in the Big Horn Mountains, where we would stay that night. An afternoon of hammock reading, wildflower picking, moose watching and enjoying the last hours of cell-phone free life culminated with a weather phenomenon turned classy. Pea-sized hail ricocheted off the metal roof and we donned dresses and collared shirts to celebrate in style. Our propane stove emitted plenty of heat to warm the bus, and Chase braved the weather to collect snow and properly chill some wine.
Unfortunately, the bus didn’t appear to enjoy the temperature drop and refused to start the next morning. Uh, oh. Visions of thousand dollar tow-truck expeditions to the nearest town (not near) and other trip-ending scenarios played through our minds, as Chase tried to trouble-shoot sans internet or phone connection. We decided to wait around ‘til afternoon and give the engine a chance to warm up, even though Katie’s plane had already landed 250 miles away that morning. She got really familiar with the Rapid City airport, while we hung out with the moose, intermittently dumping boiling water on the engine and lighting the grill underneath. In a stroke of luck, a campground host appeared and let us use his landline--Chase kept his bubbling anxiety to himself and handled the situation smoothly. The first good news of the day came in the form of a local mechanic, the second was watching good ‘ole Georgia come around a bend to pick Ellie and me up from a nearby dining lodge! What a relief. We headed out of the Big Horn Mountains about 12 hours later than planned and drove through the night to Rapid City where Katie was waiting in a Motel, Manhattan in hand. We spent our first and only night in a Walmart parking lot (highway honking and hot asphalt didn’t hold a candle to the mountains sounds we’d spent the last week waking to), rescued Katie and headed east for the final leg of the trip!