A bison herd in Yellowstone's Lamar Valley.
As someone who has lived on the east coast of the country her entire life and very rarely travelled anywhere off it, and never to the Western part, I was in some ways unprepared for the differences in climate and scenery. Mid July. Temps soared to 105 back here in the Old Dominion, with humidity making it feel like a roasty 130, I'm sure. While in Montana, a day's high of 80 degrees was considered surprisingly warm, and even on those days sitting in the shade for any period of time required a light jacket. Without humidity, shade is actualy cool. Will wonders never cease.
Sure I woke up every morning with my nasal pasages crusted over and my hands nearly screaming for an entire bottle of moisturizer, but that was a small price to pay for being completely comfortable all day, even on our more strenuous trips. We did learn the hard way, though, that we did not carry nearly enough water and juices with us the first day. And some learned the hard way, despite my loud insistance about reading warnings before hand, that the sun is much stronger at higher altitudes due to thinner atmosphere, and therefore skin burns more quickly. Well, there's only so many times I can say "I told you so" without sounding like a jerk (okay, maybe one time is too many, but I DID tell them so), but my kids and I, at least, were not in the burned-party list.
I think what most surprised me, though, was the landscape istelf. And I'm not only talking about the wonders of Yellowstone, spectacular as they are. It was the wide expanses of flat valleys and sagebrush plains suddenly giving way to mountains jutting up with little to no foothills to ease the eye into them. Mountains so rugged that often times greenery stopped about half way up, and snow was still cradled in their sheltered jagged peaks. The sweeping abyss of vibrant blue sky and occasional puffy white clouds created the perfect backdrop to take my breath away with every glance out of the car window. Everywhere you looked, it seemed like a snapshot from a postcard was right there in front of you. Amazing and Incredible are words that still do not do the scenery justice.
I felt so free and at ease everywhere we went. The wide open spaces were not just limited to the flats and valleys. The lakes were open and sprawling. The rivers were shallow and usually with wide, gentle banks. Even the forests, which consisted mainly of lodgepole pines, seemed more open and airy than our thick Virginia lanscapes. The town of Big Sky, Montana certainly got their name right. The sky is huge, and the sence of the vastness of the world is like nothing I've ever experienced before. They say everything's bigger in Texas, but I'm inclined to think that Wyoming should have gotten that slogan first. From the ranches and fields of horses to the towering mountians to the biggest land animal in North America, I think Wyoming might give Texas a run for its money.
It was an eye opening experience for me. Even more so than my trip halfway across the globe to experience China on our honeymoon almost 10 years ago. Somehow being immersed in a completely different culture and history wasn't as life changing as seeing a 'foreign' part of my own country. I repeatedly told myself that I would look for a way to move and live out there, where heaven meets earth, but then I would suddenly be reminded of the 400 inches of snow they recieve each year, and how fleeting the Yellowstone Country summer actually is. Although I do love a good snow or two in Virginia, I don't know how someone can shovel snow off their car day after day and not have a mental breakdown. Or how a human can actully function in temperatures considered 'normal' even at 20 BELOW zero. At those temps I don't think the buffalo are roaming as much, and there's certainly no playing by the deer and the antelope, if they're even still around by then and the wolves haven't gotten them first. Hmmmm... Ah, well. Perhaps just a summer home is in order. Maybe even in Big Sky.