The first part of my plan that failed was to head out from Cody by 9:00. I usually get up really early (by 7:30 at the latest), but most mornings I have a hard time weaning myself off the computer before 11 or so. "Ah well," I reminded myself, "it's not like you have to be somewhere at a specific time. Just leave when you're ready, for crying out loud!" There it was - the first skirmish had quietly been waged in what would be a day long battle.
Next, I somehow missed the turn off for the road I had intended to take to Yellowstone and was pretty far along the road toward Belfry, Montana by the time I had discovered my mistake. Now there aren't many roads out in that corner of Wyoming/Montana, so once you're off on the wrong road, it's pretty durn hard to correct your mistake short of turning around. I consulted the map, and the route I had taken by mistake was one I had toyed with taking anyway - just much further out of the way. Still, it was reputed to be an extraordinary drive and well worth the detour and it was a lovely day. What the hell! I think I'm so damned spontaneous, let's see what happens when I put it to the test! It was amazing to me, as I sat and conversed with myself, how driven by guilt I was. I felt really bad for missing my turn and thwarting the Plan-with-a-capital-P. Even though the only person I could possibly be disappointing was myself, I found myself fretting over and over about not doing things right. Here I am with the complete freedom to do pretty much anything I want to, and what I choose to do is feel guilty because I didn't stick to a plan? Okay, that's crazy. It really helped me to see that.
And this is a picture of an inquisitive little fellow I met at another pullout that was absolutely swarming with chipmunks, many of whom were fat and sleek from being plied with tourist nibbles. Some of them were also quite bold. This one came right up to me while I was trying to snap his picture and seemed to be mostly interested in what I held in my hand which turned out to be inedible and poof, he was gone.
I eventually came down out of the mountains and was soon thereafter caught in rural highway repair hell in a tiny town named Cooke City that sits just outside the West gate to Yellowstone. This necessitated my sitting and waiting for around 10 minutes for a pilot vehicle to ferry the group of intrepid fun lovers that had been caught with me down a four mile stretch of active road resurfacing. As I sat waiting, I started fretting. It had taken me on the order of five and half hours to get from Cody to the other side of the Bear Tooth Mountains and I hadn't even reached the west gate of Yellowstone yet, much less made the drive to Mammoth Hot Springs! I got cranky and worried and petulant. Damn it, here I was locking horns with the Plan again, even though I had sworn to do without one! I fumed as I traversed the construction and the few additional miles to the Yellowstone gate, worrying about what the right course of action was. I asked the ranger (I love those damn hats!) how long the drive to Mammoth was and she informed me it was a good solid hour and forty-five minutes. Quick math: 4 hours of driving to see a travertine formation because that was the Plan? If I threw caution to the wind and went for it, I would miss seeing the Chief Joseph Scenic Byway (the road I had tried to find on my way out) on my way back to Cody. Arrrrrrrrggghhhh! What should I do? This struggle with choosing was fascinating, albeit a bit annoying.
Finally, I calmed down and decided that a lot more driving was NOT what I wanted, regardless of how gorgeous Mammoth might turn out to be. I opted to pull out of the entrance gate, turn right around and exit, before I had gone 10 feet into the park. A weight seemed to be lifted. The Plan had not succeeded in seducing me. I had finally triumphed.
I spotted a viewing area along the route that seemed to hold a good deal of promise and pulled over. It was where a nice sturdy steel bridge spanned a deep, deep gorge, with a wild river running below, churning with white water. The observation area sat high up on a cliff (see if you can spot my car in the photo on the left) and gave easy access to the bluffs around the span. A lone car had pulled into the parking area ahead of me (believe me, there wasn't a lot of traffic out there) and as I prepared to get out and walk over to the bridge, I noted with amusement that the car contained two young cowboys, both adorned with large brimmed gaucho hats, and REAL spurs. I'm not talking, I'm-going-to-the-Broken-Spoke-to-line-dance spurs, no, I'm talking I-ride-a-horse-for-a-living spurs! I was delighted to hear the classic jangling sound ringing as they walked ahead of me across the bridge. One fellow sported an enormous handlebar moustache to complete his outfit. The cowboys quickly crossed the bridge and veered off into a grassy area on the other side of the road, apparently on a mission of some sort. I puttered about, enjoying the view of the precipitous drop just below my feet when I noticed the pair returning from their mission. The first fella, the one with the whimsical moustache approached first, holding an enormous rock. "What on earth?" I asked myself. Was it some sort of valuable mineral sample? Was it for his garden? Was it to crush the skull of some unwary opponent? I remarked exhuberantly as he approached, "Lookee there! You got you a fine looking rock there! Good job!" His eyes sparkled as a smile played across his lips, "Yes ma'am, I got me a nice one!"
Soon after, his pal emerged from the screen of tawny grass with his own large rock, heavy enough to take concentration in handling. I continued on my path across the bridge, over into one of the overlook areas. I kept turning it over in my mind, what were they collecting those big rocks for? In retrospect, I can't believe I didn't figure it out right away. As I carefully picked my footing to descend a rocky outcropping overlooking the river, I heard the obvious sound of a large rock hitting water, far far below. Of course! Boys + rocks, on a bridge = splash! It tickled me to no end.
The cowboys dawdled a bit more, and then just ahead of me returned to their car and were off. As they pulled out of the parking area, I noticed a garment bag hanging in the back of the car, emblazoned with the name of a tuxedo rental service. Hmmmm. All sorts of intriguing story lines played through my mind. The plot thickened pleasingly when I turned a corner shortly after resuming my journey and saw a tell-tale plume of dust indicating the pair had turned off on a long dirt road and headed off into the hills, likely to a far distant ranch. I liked that development because it gave me the notion that these two had been sitting around killing time when one of them had likely remarked, "Hey! Let's go throw some rocks off the bridge!" It was the perfect expression of what I was struggling so hard to achieve myself that day.I continued on my journey, enjoying the play of light interacting with the rich colors of the rock. The smoke from the days fires had massed in the distance and created a lovely orange glow behind one of the prominent peaks as the sun set in the distance. It wasn't long before I found myself back in Cody, exhausted from a long day of driving, but filled with the staggering beauty of existence. I pulled into my wonderfully comfortable motel and sunk into a deep sleep. My struggle with the Plan had been victorious, but had left me tireder in addition to wiser. A good, good day.