You’ll need one part wild west, one part white knuckles and a whole lotta darkness.
I got a surprise late Christmas gift this year when I changed the memory card in my camera and found a few hundred more pictures from Yellowstone National Park. Talk about excited! But, it also reminded me that I hadn’t ever finished posting to Flickr or blogging about the rest of the trip. Life intervened. But, let’s see if I can sum up what’s left of the trip.
I could go back and gush about Glacier National Park some more but I’ll move on. I still pull out the photos from that part of the trip and flip through them about once a week, drooling and wishing I could just pack up and head back to Big Sky Country — for good this time. But that good thing came to an end and we started on the last leg of our trip: Wyoming and Yellowstone National Park. The drive was to be another long one — our last, thank goodness. So we got an early start, knowing we’d be racing against the Montana darkness again. I think this will be the third time I marvel at just how dark a place can be.
Thankfully, we had an uneventful day of driving. No blown out tires, no getting lost, no hitting wildfires. Just crossing Montana country heading to the state line was quickly as we could. The quiet gave me the chance to get some school work finished — because going back to school for a different degree seemed like a good idea at the time — and so Lacey gave me a break from driving until the sun set. And then the fun began.
Imagine darkness. I bet your imagination conjured something with faint outlines of objects, maybe a sliver of light under a door. Now, take that away. No more outlines, no more shadows. Now, as you adjust to that darkness, take it down another notch. You can’t even see the hand in front of your face. The darkness takes on a life of its own and you can feel it pressing in on all sides of you. It is terrifying and inescapable. That’s the kind of darkness I’m talking about.
Its a darkness I would welcome if I weren’t trying to cover almost 400 miles and knew what it felt like to be stranded on the side of the highway.
The beautiful thing about not having a big city or any other kind of suburban civilization nearby is you don’t get light pollution. When the sun sets you only have the light you carry with you. In this case, that’s my headlights. So, I can only see maybe 10 or 20 feet in front of the car at all times. I can’t tell if there’s a curve or an animal up ahead until I’m up on it and there’s nothing I can do about it. Fortunately, there were no animals. But there were some tight, winding curves. The kind of curves you would encounter when you are driving along the sides of mountains. But we couldn’t tell what kind of geology was around us, and that made it still more terrifying.
I’m here to tell you that that old saying that goes something like dim lights shine brighter in the darkest night just isn’t true. The darkness eats the light until there’s nothing left. So I did the only thing I could think of and drove with my brights on for about 200 miles.
Our only companions were your friendly, over-the-road truckers, whose headlights in my rear view, and then side view mirrors as they passed me, only contributed to the blindness. We discussed calling the hotel, letting them know we’d be a day late and staying somewhere on the road, but my stubborn streak kicked in and I wanted to keep pushing through. We’d already lost a day, I refused to give up any more of my vacation.
On we went, knuckles white and eyes open wide with adrenaline and No-Doz. And about the time we crossed the state line and reached Wyoming, Lacey started staring at the sky. She said something along the lines of, “If you can, you may want to pull over and get a look at the sky.” On the side of a county road leading to Cody, Wyoming I beheld the most beautiful night sky I’d ever seen. I’m sorry I don’t have any pictures of it. It was a swirling mess of galaxy and glittering stars with a violet-black backdrop. We stayed, me leaning on the side of June, until a car started out of a nearby driveway. Then we moseyed on down the road to the Big Bear Motel.
Featured image of the Orion Nebula courtesy of the Smithsonian Institution via Flickr Creative Commons.