Road Trip: Postcards From Along the Way

Tonight I’m in Gardiner, Montana, just outside the north entrance of Yellowstone National Park, about 800 miles from home. At this time of year, the elk wander right into town–no matter traffic and people–to graze on Gardiner’s well-watered lawns. I spotted these two cows and a calf-of-the-year a few minutes ago as I walked to the grocery store.

After two long days on the road and teaching an intense work, I’m tired. But I wanted to share some snapshots and thought from along the way, a digital version of postcards from my trip.

I left Salida last Thursday afternoon, aimed for Lafayette on the congested Front Range, a three-hour drive, to stay with friends there. They took me out to dinner at 95a Bistro to celebrate my birthday a week early–thanks Nan and Dave, and Cathy for joining us!

Friday morning, I hit the road promptly at eight-thirty, headed north to Fort Collins to pick up Lauren Springer Ogden, plantswoman and garden designer extraordinare. We were bound for Cody, Wyoming, to teach “Wildscaping 101” at Thomas the Apostle Retreat Center on Saturday. 

For the whole eight-hour drive between Fort Collins and Cody, Lauren and I were so engaged in talking about habitat gardening, horticulture, geology, kids, families, the trials of freelancing, and life in general that I completely forgot to take any photos until we drove into the Bighorn Basin, about an hour and a half south of Cody. That’s the Chugwater formation, a gorgeous ridge of rust-red sandstone rising out of the high-desert shrublands in the photo above. 

When we reached the retreat center that evening, we were welcomed warmly by Connie and Jay, the center directors, and ate a lovely dinner outside in the shade with the two of them, plus Habitat Hero gardener Stephanie, and her son Gabriel. Dragonflies zipped around the six of us in the dusk, and owls hooted in the distance. 

I woke before dawn the next morning–yesterday, though it seems longer ago–and watched sunrise color Heart Mountain, my favorite of the peaks around Cody. (It’s the twin-humped peak in the distance through the window screen in the photo above.) 

And then came breakfast, and teaching, followed by lunch with the excited and inspired workshop participants, who continued to pepper us with questions. Late in the afternoon, I drove into town and visited with friends.

That evening, a very generous friend–thanks, Anne!–treated us to dinner at The Local, an outstanding new Cody restaurant. We ate fabulous freshly prepared seafood and lingered over wine and dessert.  

The sun was setting when Lauren and I drove back to the retreat center. (The photo above is the view from the guest house.) 

This morning, we hit the road again, aimed for Chico Hot Springs to meet Dan and Andra, friends and also publishers of Rocky Mountain Gardening magazine, for lunch. We headed west through Wapiti Valley with its brooding volcanic cliffs and hoodoo-like spires, into Yellowstone National Park through the East Entrance, over Sylvan Pass and then around Yellowstone Lake, past Fishing Bridge, through Hayden Valley, past Canyon, over the divide by Bunsen Peak, down through Tower Falls, Blacktail Ponds, and into Mammoth Hot Springs before exiting the park at Gardiner, where I am tonight, and driving north along the Yellowstone River through Paradise Valley to Pray and Chico Hot Springs. 

I was so busy driving that familiar route, reminiscing about the days when I worked at mapping pants and habitat in these wild and gorgeous landscapes, and pointing out familiar sights that I completely forgot to shoot any photos until we stopped for the first bison jam in Hayden Valley, where the herd in the photo above (about 50 adult bison, plus calves) was assiduously ignoring the roadside lined with gawkers. 

We reached Chico Hot Springs in time to stroll the grounds of the historic lodge/hot springs/spa complex, including a really lovely (and well-fenced to keep out the elk) kitchen garden, with luscious heritage tomatoes ripening in the greenhouses. Then Lauren treated us all to lunch by the hot springs, where we ate and talked until it was time for her to head north to Bozeman with Dan and Andra, and me to drive south to Gardiner for the night. 

Paradise Valley near Chico Hot Springs this afternoon…

After a summer of intense activity, I have absolutely nothing on my schedule for the next few days. I need to be home by Friday–my 59th birthday–but between now and then I have the rare luxury of time to wander these beloved landscapes, let my mind empty of deadlines and schedules and destinations, and think about the next book. 

I’ll also be thinking about Bless the Birds, which my agent submitted to what she calls “the first round of lucky editors” last week. Please wish me and that story of my heart whole boatloads of good luck in finding a great publisher! 

Blessings to you all, and thanks for walking this journey with me.