*7 Years by Lukas Graham playing in the background*
It’s been seven years.
Seven years since I branched out and headed west of my state of Missouri.
Seven years of living the dream.
Almost seven years of being with the love of my life.
Looking back at how social media and the explosion of van life content I could have created content for six months and worked as a park ranger seasonally for 4-5 months to off set costs. It would have been epic.
Unfortunately, I wouldn’t have my sweet library I have now… Choices.
As I mentioned before, I missed out on a lot of opportunities in influencing. *Thinks about being in front of a camera for any length of time– cringes in self doubt.* Yet, I’m not too upset about it– had I done any of the things I mentioned, I don’t know if I would have ended up here.
I’m also still surprised I wound up in Nebraska- but I digress.
My first summer in Nebraska set me up for a plethora of adventures. I’m only two hours from Badlands, four from the Black Hills, six hours to Rocky Mountains NP in Colorado, almost ten hours to Yellowstone– and lots more. There are also some cool places in Nebraska I explored as well.
Long story short, I came to Valentine, Nebraska as a seasonal interpretive ranger in 2014. My duty station would be the Niobrara National Scenic River. I arrived in May and spent my free time either working out, playing ultimate frisbee (which is how I met my husband), or going on adventures to the Black Hills, Badlands, Grand Teton, and Yellowstone.
*Stares at close locations and wondering why I don’t take more time to go hike– then remember at the moment taking leave is insanely problematic when you only have three full time employees at a place that normally has seven…*
Originally, I wasn’t sure I would make it to the latter two in Wyoming but I was asked if I could extend my season into late November. I asked if I could take an extra couple of days to take a road trip to Yellowstone. They agreed, I said yes to hanging around and training my future boss on the area. She wound up inviting me back as a rehire the next year, Wade (who had played it cool) had dropped he would like me to come back as well, and the rest is history.
I had a three day weekend in September (Labor Day), none of which were the actual Labor Day. I also got an additional day off. I packed up my car on my “Friday” night, I think it was actually a Monday, and started west!
One of the perks of being a park ranger is that you normally have weekdays off. The downside is you don’t get weekends with your non-NPS friends/spouses. I was going by myself which wasn’t a problem and frankly I wanted some solitude. After dealing with several thousand people a week over the course of the summer burnout becomes common.
Now, the perk of going on a weekday meant I would be able to find camping in Yellowstone. Plus, less people. However, I wasn’t going to make it that far so I planned on a room in Dubois, Wyoming.
One of the reasons I picked Dubois was because I wanted better memories of a trip I took in 2008 with my then boyfriend– it was the worst trip ever.*
It was beautiful though, riding horses in the Absaroka Mountains and the Wind River Range.
This was my replacing bad memories with good, trip. Even though I wasn’t going to the same place, I still wanted to replace some of my bad memories of Dubois– where we had stopped and shopped before heading home.
Dubois had changed but it still had some charm. However, I didn’t stick around long– I only had four days to explore Grand Teton and Yellowstone and then drive back.
I actually only had three days. Can’t forget drive time…
For anyone planning a trip to either park– that is not enough time! I wish I had negotiated a full week for one park alone.
I still had fun.
I planned it so I would drive through Grand Teton, thru the John D. Rockefeller Parkway, and spend the majority of my time at Yellowstone. I realized how much I was going to miss as soon as I glazed at the lake with the Tetons in the back ground.
I should have planned for more time.
But I made the most of it!
I stopped for photos at the entrance of Grand Teton, Colton Bay Visitor Center and one of the pull offs at Jackson Lake. I really wish I could have made it to Jenny Lake but it gave me an excuse to come back… seven years later and I still haven’t made it back… need to remedy that.
The the John D. Rockefeller Parkway– all I can say was it a nice drive… my memory is failing me.
Yellowstone– America’s (and the world’s) first national park.
It’s on my big ten list– ten parks I want to work at either as a seasonal, on a detail, or a permanent assignment. Now, I just want to do a detail there. I love small parks because you can wear many different hats and aren’t regulated to just “your” division. Now, that I have caught the unicorn (permanent job) I’ll probably stick with small or “medium” size parks. I haven’t ruled working at one of the “big” parks. To preface, I’m talking about visitation size by small, medium, and big– to me all parks are national parks not just the 63 National Parks that get the most visitation.
Anyways, the history of Yellowstone– the good and the bad– along with the natural majesty speaks to me.
I got my campsite at Grant Village Campground that was going to be my operating base for the next couple of days and got settled in. As a seasonal ranger I was already living pretty light and my camping set up was minimal at best. However, other than eating breakfast, dinner, and sleeping I wasn’t going to spend a lot of time there– I had too much to do!
I didn’t roll in until late that evening, after spending time in Grand Teton and driving on the parkway. It took some time to register and get my firewood. However, my tent was an easy one to set up– single person tent. Doing it in the dark was no biggie.
I was tired so I crawled in pretty quick after scarfing down some chow.
I was reading on my Kindle (had I tried van life I guess I would still have the library) when I started hearing elk bulge.
It took me a second to place it since growing up I didn’t have elk in my backyard. However, I went to sleep with a grin on my face. I woke up needing coffee.
Normally, I rise “early” camping– around 7 and then I do my standard I don’t want to leave the warmth dance especially if I’m camping with Wade. Since, I was packing Yellowstone into one day I needed to get moving. I drove the loop around to the Madison Visitor Center and then back down to Old Faithful– capping out the day at the geyser. I also got to see the aftermath of Steamboat going off… darn it.
I spent a lot of time checking out the visitor centers that day and falling in love with the Firehole River. And dealing with a flat tire– luckily there was still concessionaires in the park that ran the service station and they helped me out.
My next day I was planning on heading up the Hayden Valley then onto Lamar Valley, exiting at the Northeast side and driving back to Valentine. Then going to work after about four hours of sleep.
It was a long drive and I wound up pulling off and sleeping at a rest area for most of the night before finishing the drive– I made it to work, showered and ready, on time.
I got pictures of wolves, ravens, and one grizzly. But I can’t show anyone, plus some of the epic shots of the landscapes I got. My memory card reformatted somewhere between the Northeast Entrance and Valentine. I was heartbroken. Luckily, I took some photos with my phone but all the “good” shots are lost to the ether.
I don’t know if I accidentally hit the button or when I packed it up I jostled something. Or if it was just a fluke and it did it itself.
Learning experience. Now, I suck up the weight and space and bring my laptop so that I can download them ASAP the day they are taken.
I’m working on Wade to do a summer trip but not going to lie a winter trip would be awesome. That’s coming from someone that doesn’t like cold. The wildlife are in there element and I can be in a snowcat…
I also want to redo that road trip– but spread it out over a week maybe two. Actually do some long hikes and maybe camp in the backcountry. The only thing stopping me is procastration, the job, and wintertime…
I really do this shot a lot…
*We had been dated for almost a year and things had been serious (or so I thought). He was planning to break up with me–after this trip. His reasoning for going ahead with this trip was he didn’t want to ruin my excitement. Note for anyone questioning your relationship and thinking a “fun” trip before breaking up will help– it doesn’t. I would have much rather been heart broken, eating ice cream, and making money for the two weeks at home than go and experience what happened.