As a child, the name Yellowstone signified a far away, magical location, full of mysteries and wonders.
It was that way-out-west location my grandma talked about with faraway eyes. It was part of my dad’s history, existing in that time before he became my dad, and, therefore, hidden in shadows and snippets of stories for me.
Before my dad met my mom, before my brother and I were even dreamed of, my dad was a summer ranger at Yellowstone. He used to tell us stories that seemed like exploits and adventures. He’d talk about the wonders, and I’d picture them in my mind’s eye, hazy reproductions of what I imagined the mountains or Old Faithful to look like. We always talked about going as a family, but a road trip of that magnitude with two kids (and probably a dog) didn’t ever really become feasible.
But last year, my dad said he and my mom were going. And I said I wanted to go to. So, we hatched a plan and actually carried through. My parents drove from Missouri, up into Iowa, through the Badlands (and lack of places to eat) in South Dakota. They picked me up at the airport in Rapid City. We shared the road with all the motorcyclists at Sturgiss, saw Mount Rushmore, and Custer State Park, and began our adventure.
All those years of imagining Yellowstone and what it would be like paled in comparison to the reality. I had no concept of how huge Yellowstone was, how many different kinds of landscapes there were in the park (mountains, geysers, valleys, rivers), and what it would be like to go with my dad on his first trip back since the late 70s.
I loved every minute of the trip. I loved every shared experience and story with my dad. And I loved Yellowstone and finally understood the longing my dad had always had for it. In the Little House on the Prairie books, Laura Ingalls Wilder often talked about the desire she and Pa shared to see as much as they could, to experience the world. Wonderlust, she called it. In the months since our trip, my dad and I have been a little like Pa and Laura, talking about how we have to go back; we have to see it one more time.
And I want it to be with him. Truth be told, much of why the trip was so special was that it was shared with my dad. I got to see the places he had lived and worked long before I came along. I got to hear the excitement in his voice and stories I’d never heard before (or hadn’t paid attention to). I saw Yellowstone through the lens of my tour guide. And I was bound to love the place he loved so much.
We have to go back.