Drip, drip, drip. For the third consecutive morning, it was raining off and on at Canyon Village, with the result being a morass of wet tents, wet chairs, wet towels, wet decorations. Four days ago at Colter Bay, under much drier circumstances, Elizabeth and I had gotten into a vicious first fight of our engagement. I was determined to not repeat that on August 20th, the one-week anniversary of my proposal to her. That meant cheerfully packing up waterlogged pieces of canvas without complaint, regardless of how well they fit back into boxes, and trying desperately to get everything back into Elizabeth’s Subaru. Not for the first time, I reflected that all three of us had overpacked. I love the Tetris game of trying to fit everything I can into a car while packing, but this one was extra high-stakes. It was touch and go for a while there in the grey early morning light, but as long as Pam wasn’t too worried about the stuff piled up in her lap over the course of the day, and as long as Elizabeth and I trusted our side view mirrors, it was going to be okay. Barely. Our hotel on the night of August 20 was in Denver, near DIA for Pam’s flight the next morning. It’s about a 10 hour drive between Canyon and Denver, with much of it coming through the barrens of the lower Wind River Canyon east of the Wind River Mountains. There wasn’t a whole lot of time to dawdle, but we could make one final stop in Yellowstone here on Friday morning if we wanted. There was one conveniently-located feature with a vantage point we hadn’t seen, either. A couple miles away, on the opposite rim of the Grand Canyon, Artist Point is considered one of *the* most beautiful spots in America. It was another misty morning, so I wasn’t going to get my shot of the canyon against the blue western sky, but I’d long since accepted that as the price of being here. Along the way, our overloaded car made a final stop at Canyon Village to go to the visitor’s center. The Canyon Visitor’s Center is pretty neat – it has an interactive exhibit that shows the path of the great supervolcano as it meanders northeastward over the millennia. And it has a nice, understated little gift shop where Pam was happy to buy me an autobiography from a former Yellowstone park ranger. Elizabeth had gotten her stamps from Moose Village, Colter Bay, the Rockefeller Parkway, Fishing Bridge, Mammoth, Norris, and Old Faithful. Now she added one last stamp from Canyon Village. And on we went.
The South Rim of the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone is accessed from the Canyon-Lake Road a few miles to the south, at the bottom outlet of the Hayden Valley. The road crosses the river in a narrow gorge and then heads northward through lodgepole forest to a rocky outcropping where the parking lot is. The whole time I found it to be so surreal – this was the end of our adventure, right here at the end of the parking lot! It was a quick little 30 seconds out on the outcropping to Artist Point, stepping carefully to avoid slipping on the wet rock and concrete. At Artist Point, the river runs straight at you just downstream of the Lower Falls before peeling off at the last second.
One last time: incredible. I didn’t want to leave, but I also didn’t want to get into Denver way after dark. Prudence won out, and after five minutes of slack-jawed viewing we headed back to the car. I drove one last time through the Hayden Valley in the rain, then turned off to the left at Fishing Bridge. Just like all of Yellowstone, the scale of the drive from there to the East Entrance surprised me. I didn’t imagine it could be much further than Avalanche Peak, but we drove past the trailhead and the road somehow kept getting more mountainous. If you’ll recall, it had been upper 30s and raining on Avalanche Peak the day before. Well, today was even cooler, and snow levels had come down the mountain range all the way to the pass that the East Entrance Road comes in on. It was August 20th, and I was driving on a slushy road where days before we had been seeing all-time record highs. Yellowstone, man.
Finally, the entrance station loomed in the distance. Elizabeth summed up the feeling for all of us when she said “I’m so sad!”. This park had been one of the wildest places I’d ever gotten to stay in for four days. The geysers, the mountains, the river, the canyon, the terrible food, the people, the weather – all of it had combined to make the world’s first national park my all-time favorite.