As I continued west, my handy dash-mounted altimeter started showing a steady increase in elevation from 5,000 feet at Cody to 7,100 in a little over 50 miles. I pulled off at a scenic overlook where it seemed like half the state was stretched out below me. The highway marker was now a triple-header, indicating U.S. Routes 16 and 20 had merged with U.S. 14. It seemed that all roads from the east led to Yellowstone. It was a beautiful drive up Shoshone Canyon along a river by the same name. I spotted a campground just before the park’s east entry, paid a $5 fee, and had a campfire going in no time to cook wieners on a wire and warm up a can of beans. It didn’t get any better than that.
I strolled over to a neighboring campsite, yelling out an advance notice “Yo!” from a safe distance. It was a rule of thumb among campers: never sneak up behind anyone at their campsite. I had a most pleasurable visit with a couple from Florida, of all places! It was their first trip out west, and all I could say was, “You’re in for the trip of your life.” I retired to Ol’ Blue where my outside-inside thermometer read 55 and 67 degrees, respectively. It was one great night under the covers, looking up at the stars.
The next morning, it was a pot of coffee warming up over a rekindled fire. I had the prescience to bring along some cold weather clothing, as I was attired in long denims and a sweater to brave the temperature in the upper 40s. I was loving it – a far cry from the sweltering heat of Dallas ten days ago. I packed up the cooking gear, doused the fire, and paid my tariff into the granddaddy of all the national parks.
To be honest, Yellowstone was just a means to the end on this trip – to get to Montana. Oh yeah, I did stop to see Old Faithful spout its top off, but being the height of the tourist season, the traffic congestion was too much to bear with RVs everywhere. I had visited Yellowstone back in November of 1981 under much more pleasurable conditions – hardly any traffic and lots of snow cover.
I finally exited Yellowstone on U.S. 287, which I had always believed to have been constructed (in the 1920s and 30s) not only as a major north-south artery, but as an escape route for Texans to enjoy their summer vacations in the cool and scenic Rocky Mountains, from Colorado to Montana (Glacier National Park). A few miles outside of West Yellowstone, I encountered a small problem – the transmission had slipped into neutral. I pulled the shift stick into low gear, which somehow kept me moving. I made a quick U-turn and crept along the shoulder back to town with the hazard lights blinking. I easily found an auto service garage on Main Street, and explained what had happened.
The mechanic made a simple diagnosis – the transmission’s governor had gone out. Fortunately, he had the part and said it would be about a three-hour wait. Geeez, the gods must have looking out for me. I pulled out the velocipede and pedaled around town for a scenic tour. I had a leisurely lunch and wrote a bunch of picture postcards. It was the Village of the Extremes – a super summer setting with an average annual snowfall of around 200 inches. They either loved it or hated it.
I got away with a very reasonable $26 bill and thanked my mechanic friend for a job well done. He told me, “Thanks for being so patient, and don’t worry. I’ve seen governors go out all the time up here, especially with new trucks not used to these heavy climbs. Your new governor should last a lifetime.” I felt reassured as I headed north on U.S. 191 through the Gallatin National Forest along a rushing river of the same name. I stopped for gas in the small town of Big Sky, appropriately named in the state with the same appellation.
Petrol prices had now ballooned to 96 cents a gallon. Big Sky was essentially a ski resort with a smattering of lodges and condos. Nothing resembled a town of the Old West. I was quick to get out of there. There were plenty of inviting places along the Gallatin River where I could pull off for the night. I eventually found my spot and settled in for the night. As I reposed in the van bed, gazing up at a cathedral of pine trees, I realized that this was my fourth riverside overnight spot on the trip so far. I felt blessed.