There ought to be a word for the feeling you get when you realize you’re in danger and it’s too late to turn back. It’s a word I could have used at about 8400 feet as I crossed over the East Entrance pass into Yellowstone National Park. The volunteer I’d met at Wild Bill Dam warned me that he saw a snow storm on the horizon, but the clouds he’d pointed at were long gone by the time I entered the park. I thought for sure he was wrong. After all, the weather in Wyoming is extreme and unpredictable. Anyone could make a mistake.
By the time I hit the top of the pass the snow was coming down hard. I’d slowed my car down below a reasonable speed and turned off the stereo. It makes sense to shut out distractions like the radio when conditions are bad, but the result is almost worse: an eerie, dangerous silence. It seems like you shouldn’t be able to hear snow as it falls on your windshield, but you can. It’s a dull hum on all sides, and the quiet makes you hear sounds from your engine you never noticed before. My body tensed up as the my little cave reminded me of every other time I’d been unprepared in the snow.
On my way down the pass I caught up with a car in front of me, and someone else caught up with me from behind. We’re in this together now, I thought. I had my pace cars, and if anything happened to any of us the others would be there to help. I kept my eye on the pavement in front of me. It was still safe. The snow wasn’t that thick yet. Every time I went around another bend in the road I felt sure I’d hit a gust that would flood the area and leave me stranded in the snow. It wouldn’t take much for it to become too much.
The pass dipped down several hundred feet and the snow began to let up. By the time I got to my accommodations at Lake Lodge, it was still coming down but only enough to make everything beautiful. I went to check into my cabin space. The lobby was packed with people stranded by the snow. Some had intended to leave but didn’t trust the conditions. Others were supposed to be camping and needed some relief from the cold. I was so grateful I had opted to reserve a room back in April, rather than take my chances with a camp site.
I grabbed my room key and headed out back to where the cabins were located. My cabin was fully furnished and simple, but cozier than a standard hotel room. A bed, a desk, a few cozy furnishings. It was the sort of space I could almost call home, if I didn’t have so many possessions already. Someday I’ll get rid of them all.
I woke up in the morning to the sun rising over the glimmer of snow on grass, and steam rising from Lake Yellowstone. It was gorgeous, and I stood out in front of the lodge staring at it with all the other tourists. We couldn’t take enough pictures.