I wasn’t much of an enthusiastic camper until last year. Even after I realized that Yellowstone was too damn far away from even Jackson (an hour and a half from town to the park entrance? Oy!) to take in much in a day, I still used camping as a means to an end more than a spiritual, reconnecting-with-nature experience. Sure, we made s’mores, commented on the beauty of the stars, and even kept campfires going with some degree of success, but to say that my boyfriend and I were camping for any other reason than to be closer to our proposed hiking trail, especially when we had cushy and free accommodations at my dad’s place in Jackson, would be folly.
It was an experience in June that cemented that my boyfriend and I are not nearly as hardcore as we think we are. We were a wee bit suspicious when we crossed into the park and found that the surrounding peaks were still covered with snow. Granted, this was not unusual in the high Rockies–as I’ve mentioned in an earlier post, there are parts of the mountains that are skiable year-round–but the peaks in Yellowstone are a tad too low to still be sparkling white that close to the Summer Solstice. Which either meant that it had been snowing a shit ton, or that it still got damn cold at night.
The second sign that maybe we were in over our heads was when were able to find a campground pretty deep into Yellowstone well after the 11 a.m. cutoff, the time after which all the campsites have usually been scooped up in summertime. At the time, we blessed our good fortune as we set up our tent. A site well-placed between two of the trails we wanted to do–we could actually get them both in one trip!
So we set up our tent and went on our merry way. It was a bit nippy when we were hiking, to be sure, but we were exercising and had proper hiking gear. No sweat–literally.
We bought wood from the ranger station at our campsite when we returned. I shivered a bit and decided to change into my long underwear even though the sun hadn’t set yet. Ethan did the same, then set to work getting the fire going.
I huddled next to the stove as I waited for the water to boil so we could get some hot, if disgusting, camp rations into our guts. Ethan got the fire up to a good roar with the starter kit and some newspaper, but as soon as he added a proper piece of wood, it faltered. Seeing that the water had been going for fifteen minutes and wasn’t liable to boil any time soon, I jumped over to help. We huffed and we puffed with enough intensity to either blow a house down or to bogart a really big bong. Finally, the fire warily crackled up to something passable just as the rain started.
“And you said I don’t give good blow jobs,” I crowed to Ethan. He shook his head and laughed.
“You think you can hold down the fort? I really need to pee.”
The water was finally coming close to boiling. I went to the back of the car to grab our backpackers’ rations. A group of twenty-somethings, two rugged-looking guys and a girl who looked like she’d wandered off from her volunteer library position, walked into our campsite.
“Hello!” the girl exclaimed.
“Uh, hi,” I said, dumping my goods and frowning at the fire.
“We’re with the Yellowstone Ranger Council. We just wanted to let everyone know that there’s going to be a presentation on bears of Yellowstone tonight at 8:30 in the amphitheater, and tomorrow there will be interdenominational faith services there at 8 a.m.”
I wanted to retort that for the faith services to be truly inclusive of Jewish campers, they would have been held this morning, not merely on Sunday. Instead I smiled, cast a weary eye at the fire, and said, “Great. Thanks.”
The girl nodded pleasantly, and I smiled to let her know that she’d done her duty and she could go interrupt other campers who were making serious attempts not to freeze their asses off or starve to death. Instead, she glanced off to the side.
“Oh! Are you from Colorado?” she asked.
I followed her gaze. She was looking at the back of my car.
“However did you guess?” I replied.
“I used to live in Granby,” she continued. “I kind of miss it sometimes.”
“Oh, yeah, the Icebox of North America!” I said. Then I shivered, throwing an anxious glance at the happily suicidal fire.
“Well, you’re welcome to come to either of the events. Just come find us or one of the rangers if you have questions!” she said, taking her silent guardians with her.
“Thanks!” I hastily replied as I went back to blowing the fire back to life with everything I had in me.
Ethan came back once they were gone. The water finally boiled, and we finally ate. We would have to eat in shifts, one person shoveling in something that might once have resembled chili with beans, the other blowing like mad on the fire and gagging once the wind blew smoke directly into their face.
The sun set. It started to rain. Still we attempted to keep the fire going. We’d brought up s’more materials, and damned if we weren’t gonna eat them.
We finally judged the fire passable enough to lower our marshmallow sticks into. Just as the marshmallows were getting close to the idealized golden brown, there was a fierce howling that sounded like it was just outside our campsite. Then another howl. Then another, and another, and soon the whole pack had chimed in. Ethan and I froze.
“That’s a game trail just south of our campsite, isn’t it?” Ethan asked.
“Uhhh…wolves are afraid of fire, aren’t they?”
“Don’t think so. Well, good night!” I said, shoving my marshmallow into its graham-cracker and Hershey bar coating, taking the whole thing down in one bite. At least the wolves might keep the bears at bay, I thought as I watched huge crumbs escape my mouth.
I actually did stay out with Ethan for another s’more, then until the fire died down (not too long after we gave up on it). The wolves must’ve found something else to keep them satiated, because we crawled into bed and made it through the night without, even when we both discovered we had to pee like mofos at 1:30 a.m.
In the morning, we packed up, determined to make it back to Jackson that night to regain something like feeling in our fingers. Even the guys in the site next to us who hailed from Minnesota agreed that it had been kind of a chilly evening.
The hiking trail, however, made the previous night’s stay in the park worthwhile. As was the fascinating fresh wolf kill–a bison calf–that we found near the trailhead.