ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED NOVEMBER 2012
Its nearly November and I’m driving North along Hwy 20 on my way to West Yellowstone. Tom and I just stopped off at the drugstore in Driggs and grab a couple of milkshakes. Tom’s is chocolate/peanut butter. Mine is blackberry and it really gets my tastebuds hopping. Rich handmade ice cream slides like thick honey-velvet down my throat. Sweet fat blackberries clog up my straw. Who needs a straw? I suck it down so fast I have to stop so I don’t get a headache. I know it’s about 35 degrees outside the truck but a fresh fruit milkshake is certainly one of life’s lovely little treasures…can’t pass those up. Turn up the heat!
Black storm clouds to our right erase any sign of the 12,000 foot perky peaks of the Tetons just a few miles over. The road is dry and the driving is easy. My old truck knows this stretch by heart. This is Idaho’s potato farming region. The “Spud Drive-In” provides clear evidence of how folks in this valley make a living. The land seems flat and rich to the east, right up to the unseen Teton’s that abruptly snap upward like a vast broken two by ten.
We’ve been over the Teton Pass and through this region of Idaho dozens of times. I much prefer the West Yellowstone entrance to the park. The South entrance means you travel through Jackson. Once a sweet little town where you could get a bed and a good climbing rope for about $15 with a hot meal thrown in. You could drink beer and listen to mountain stories at any crummy bar in town til well past closing time. I once saw a cowboy ride a horse into town, tie him up in front of a bar and then walk in, grab a six pack to go and then ride back out of town. I thought maybe I was in a John Wayne movie. But no, I was in Jackson and that’s how things were sometimes accomplished in Jackson back then.
Jackson used to be a place for ranchers and climbers…then they opened half a dozen ski resorts and folks with more good money than good sense bought up most of the ranch land and built a hot little town full of trendy shops, chic spas and endless galleries. The sidewalks are crowded with the sleek and tanned. You’ll still see cowboy hats propped up on lovely heads but for some reason I’ve never understood, those fancy hats now cost nearly as much as a brake job. No place for the wicked…unless you’re counting James Watt & Dick Cheney.
Tom is my step-son and wanderlust companion on this trip. We are headed up to the Yellowstone country to check on two spots where clues in Forrest’s poem lead us. Actually, that’s a lie. One of the spots is from Forrest’s poem. But the other is a mail-order spot. This interesting fellow from somewhere east has an idea but can’t get out here to check it out. Asked if I would look at it for him. I agreed. So we’re checking out two spots, one for us and one for this fellow back east.
Tom has traveled with me since he was 7 when I dragged him out of school to go on a CNN shoot with me. We did a story on the incinerators that the Army was planning to build near Hermiston, Oregon. The Army had a lot of poison munitions stored there and intended to destroy them in place by burning them. This all sounded reasonable to the Army. Not so reasonable to the citizens of Hermiston…and downwind of the incinerators. Tom was my sound man. He would hang wireless mics on folks while I set up lighting for the interview. At night we’d pull off some place quiet and pretty and walk the streams and sleep in the truck and then shoot more interviews in the morning. We’d usually take the “long way” back home. I suppose today I’d get arrested for “hindering his education”.
At about noon we pulled into the area near our poem-led spot, walked up the trail and commenced our search. The air was colder here and snowflakes the size of medium pizzas began to splat all around us. The air was so thick with them that I thought for awhile we might suffocate. We looked under rocks and around lots of natural markers but the unrelenting snow was covering things up faster than we could get to them. The cold was getting more-so and the mushy gray clouds were transforming to a shade of black that eviscerated my happy spirit. We consulted the sky and the air and decided this weather was going to get worse much before it would get better and the best thing we could do was head off this plateau and down to lower ground. So we did.
On the way out, we stopped in the road near our eastern friend’s mail order spot and took a picture through the windshield to let him know why we abandoned ship before we had looked in his spot. His spot required a trot uphill in a forested region that looked semi-hazardous on a warm and dry day and now looked about as appetizing as lima bean jello. We were done. I was once again skunked by weather in the Yellowstone country. At least this time I was not frozen like a fresh caught tuna. At least this time I could still move my fingers and toes. This time I was riding in my truck with the heater cranked up and headed to brighter skies and a friendly lunch counter with my good traveling buddy.
PS…you can read the first blog story about freezing weather in Yellowstone HERE