Yellowstone National Park is one of the most popular destinations in the United States. It has been on my travel list for quite some time. Finally, I decided to take a few days off of work and journey out on an epic solo road trip. The plan was to start in Wyoming, drive up through Idaho, into Montana, across to Washington, and down to Oregon.
Things didn’t exactly go as planned…
I ran into some trouble before my trip even began. Due to financial strain caused by Covid, many rental car companies had to sell several of their vehicles just to stay afloat. Now, with travel slowly picking back up, car companies are struggling to keep up with demand. As a result, it is nearly impossible to book a one way rental. Long story short, I had to change my plans. I did a one way loop through Wyoming, Idaho and Montana, booked an extra ticket to Portland, then did an Oregon and Washington road trip loop.
Problem solved! Or so I thought…
When I landed in Wyoming, it was slim pickings as far as rental cars were concerned. There were no SUVs available. They were having trouble offloading a brand new sporty Camaro because it didn’t leave much space for luggage. As a solo traveler with very little luggage, I was their ideal renter for that vehicle. I weighed the options — “as long as it doesn’t snow, or a bison doesn’t ram my car, it will be just fine,” I said. So I went on my way, zipping along with the top down in my fancy little Camaro.
I’m going to fast forward to Idaho, but stay tuned for a blog post on my adventures in Wyoming! I spent the night in Idaho and woke up to a beautiful morning. My final destination was West Yellowstone, but I took my time driving up the western edge of Idaho. I hiked from the Upper to the Lower Mesa Falls, and soaked in the sounds and views of the roaring waterfall.
Slippin’ and Slidin’
I hopped back into my car and continued on my way. The scenery was exactly what I had imagined it would be – mountains, hillsides, and lots of farmland. I was in a silly mood and asked Siri to play “Home on the Range,” as I continued happily on my way. Then my eyes focused on something in the near distance…
“…snow? Is that snow?!”
It couldn’t be! We were literally two months into the spring season. May 21st, to be exact. Before I knew it, my car was slippin’ and slidin’ all over the road. It was like something out of a movie. I was literally one of those crazy drivers – completely perpendicular, swerving left, right, and all over the road. I had lost all control. Thankfully, other cars were far enough to watch the drama unfold, and stopped safely in the distance. They let my car run its disastrous course without crashing into anyone or anything. Eventually, my car skid off of the road and into a shallow ditch.
<< Side note: I am now completely traumatized when I hear “Home on the Range!” >>
Shaken, But Not Stirred
My car was still running and completely without damage. I was lucky. It could have been a lot worse. Had I spun out about one mile earlier, I would have fallen to my death off of a cliff and into the trees below. I was definitely counting my blessings.
Once I got my bearings, I tried to drive up the embankment and back onto the road. No luck. The traction on those wheels were nonexistent. I was completely stuck in the spot I had landed. However, I had several things going for me: 1) I had a full tank of gas. 2) The car was running, so I had heat. 3) I had reception. Prior to this I had almost no reception all throughout Wyoming. 4) I had enough snacks and water to last me several days. 5) I had my zero degree sleeping bag in my car just in case things went from bad to worse.
Always be prepared! It can save you in an emergency situation.
Waiting for Godot
All things considered, things were looking good. I got on the phone and called AAA. My cell phone reached my local California office. I explained my situation to the woman on the other end, and she assured me she was transferring the call to the Idaho office. She said I would get an ETA text after we hung up.
One . Hour . Later << read to the narration of Spongebob Squarepants >>
One hour later, the snowstorm had progressed to complete whiteout conditions and I still hadn’t received a text from AAA. I called back and the woman let me know that “Cody” was on his way, and I would get an ETA text after we hung up. “Oh good, she gave me a name — that must mean that Cody is on his way!”
<< Spoiler alert: to this day, I never received a ETA text from AAA. They left me stranded in a ditch in the middle of a blizzard. Thanks, AAA. Glad I popped for that AAA Plus Membership. >>
Several people stopped to offer their help and make sure I was okay. One guy came out in a t-shirt and shorts – it was a nice day just hours before – and tried pushing my car to help it gain some traction. No luck. A few other people gave me their phone numbers, so I would have a warm place to stay in case AAA never made it (how did they know?!).
Almost 3 hours later, still no ETA text. A police officer stopped to check on me, and let me know there was a tow truck pulling someone else out a few feet behind me. He radioed for the tow truck to assist me. I was only 13 miles from my hotel, so I asked the tow truck driver if he could tow me there. By now, there was a good 4-5 inches of snow on the ground, and that Camaro was not going to make it! “Not today!” was the tow truck driver’s response. I *slowly* followed him to the gas station up the street, paid him, and thought about my next move.
My plan was to ask the gas station attendant if I could wait in the store until AAA showed up. At this point, I couldn’t even get through to AAA. No one was answering the phone. I stood in line behind another girl that was about my age. She was driving a small SUV, but popped in to ask about road conditions. The snow was coming down harder by the minute, and her GPS went from an estimated 15 minutes to 2 hours. She was debating whether she should wait out the storm, and asked if she could wait inside the store. I chimed in and mentioned that I was hoping to wait in the store as well. Unfortunately, it was 5:30pm and the store was set to close at 6:00pm. The gas station attendant reluctantly said that we might be sleeping in our cars for the night.
The girl’s name was Megan. She happened to be another solo female traveler. We started chatting about our situation, and my ears perked up when she mentioned that her hotel was only 13 miles away.
“Oh my gosh, mine tooooooo!”
Faith in Humanity
Without missing a beat, this kind stranger offered to drive me to my hotel, which was in the same area as hers. Trust your gut. Pay attention to the vibes that people are sending out. If your instincts tell you that someone is harmless, don’t be afraid to accept help from strangers. It was a no-brainer for me. So I ditched my car, threw all of my luggage into her SUV, and we set out on our little adventure. We had no idea what we were getting ourselves into. But we were going to find out, together.
The road was closed. What was supposed to be a 13 mile drive turned into a 44 mile adventure through a full-on, whiteout blizzard! It took us two and a half hours to reach our hotels. However, the drive was absolutely fantastic. It felt like 15 minutes. Megan and I chatted the entire time, about everything. Life, goals, men, health, spirituality, philosophy, and of course travel. We both share an incredible passion for solo travel, and our values aligned perfectly on so many different levels. Who would have ever thought that this complete stranger would end up being my soul sister?
Just Go With It
After a dicey white-knuckled drive, we finally made it to our hotels. It turns out we were just down the street from one another. Megan and I settled in and decided to meet up for dinner. We kept that great conversation going. The flow was smooth and effortless. As we started discussing our game plan for the following day, we elicited the help of those around us. We spent the night chatting it up with the locals, and got great advice on the best way to go about exploring Yellowstone.
Despite our love for solo travel, we hashed out a plan to explore Yellowstone together. As two very productive women, we came to the conclusion that it was the smartest and most efficient way to make the most out of our day. So we parted ways for the evening and planned for an early start. We crossed our fingers, hoping the park would be open.
Rather than waiting for the storm to pass, get comfortable dancing through the rain (or snow)!
We woke up early in the morning to start our day. Megan and I had both been checking the Yellowstone website for updates and did not see any notices of closure, so we were hopeful that the park was open. It snowed a total of 8 inches, and the roads were still unplowed in the morning. As we made our way to the entrance, cars were escorted through dangerous patches of ice by a park ranger’s lead vehicle. Snow-covered trees lined both sides of the road. It looked like we were visiting during the dead of winter. The ground was blanketed in white, and the scene was truly a winter wonderland.
Bison Versus Buffalo
One of the things I was most looking forward to was seeing herds of bison in Yellowstone National Park. We were not disappointed. Within minutes of arriving in the park, we came to a halt due to a large herd of bison in the road. Yes! Not only did I get to see bison, but I saw them with an amazing, snowy backdrop. Megan and I had a very deep and intellectual conversation about the difference between bison and buffalo. “Is ‘buffalo’ the genus, and ‘bison’ the species?” Fun fact: they are actually completely different animals and the name is not interchangeable, as most people often assume.
<< You’re welcome! >>
Who Brought the Fog Machine?
After several amazing encounters with the bison, we continued on our way through the park. All of a sudden, out of nowhere, a heavy mass of fog blanketed the area. Have you ever seen a movie called The Mist? It is a 2007 science fiction horror film based on a Stephen King novel. Well, it felt like we scored a cameo in that movie. The thick, dense fog billowed all around us. Carefully, we made our way to the first two stops on our itinerary: Old Faithful and the Grand Prismatic Springs.
Old Faithful draws its name from its predictability. It is the most famous geyser in Yellowstone National Park. It erupts frequently and on a pretty regular schedule. You can check the current geyser activity online to make the most efficient use of your time. The fog dampened our expectations. We didn’t high hopes for the best views, but we happened to arrive 10 minutes before its scheduled eruption. Perfect timing. We decided to stick around and see what we could see. Needless to say, we didn’t see much of anything at either of our first two locations. We hoped the fog would burn off, and planned to double back as we exited the park. Keep reading for side-by-side photos and video comparisons further down in the blog.
There are a lot of people that may have been discouraged by the weather. Maybe some people would have turned around and given up on exploring the park. Thankfully, I was with the right like-minded girl. Megan and I were determined to explore Yellowstone to the fullest! We laughed at the irony of the situation and kept forging ahead, hoping for the best. We were rewarded for our persistence.
The road through Yellowstone National Park follows a figure 8 loop. Only one pass was closed for the season, and we were intent on exploring everything else that was open. We set our sights on the Mammoth Hot Springs, located at the very north end of the park. The weather was starting to clear up, and we enjoyed all of the beautiful sights along the way.
There were several waterfalls dotted along the road to our destination. Megan and I are both avid hikers, and were determined to conquer one of Yellowstone’s waterfall hikes. We were up for the challenge. In fact, the more strenuous, the better. Bring it on! On a whim, we chose the waterfall named after the park and set out on our hike. We are used to doing longer, 10-15 mile hikes. This one ended up being a whopping 0.7 miles! Needless to say, we were exhausted. Ha! So did we hike in Yellowstone? Technically, yes. Check that one off of the bucket list!
We continued on our way and made it to the Mammoth Hot Springs. Every year, rain and melted snow seeps down into the ground and is warmed by heat from molten magma. The water rises back up through cracks in the ground, and hot springs are born. At this point in our day, the fog had lifted, the sun had risen, and the sky was a beautiful shade of blue. Our day started at 27 degrees, and warmed up to a comfortable 70 degrees in just a few hours.
Excited about the drastic change in temperature, Megan and I made our way back down the loop to continue our adventure. We were surprised to see that the snow had completely melted. The icy road that we drove up now revealed pristine pavement. There was no evidence that it had even snowed, let alone eight inches! We passed by Hayden Valley. On the way up, it was an amazing winter wonderland scene. Our mouths now stood agape as we saw what was once hidden under mounds of snow. The blanket of white melted to reveal gorgeous green pastures! What?! Just six hours ago, the bison were out and about playing in the snow. Now they were relaxing on a beautiful spring day. It was a completely surreal experience.
The weather pulled a full 180 degree turn in the right direction. Because of this, Megan and I were more excited than ever. Not only did we get to see so much of the park, but we also had time to double back to our starting point. The fog had completely lifted to reveal crisp blue skies. We were determined to get a better view of Old Faithful and the Prismatic Springs. This time, we waited a good forty minutes for the eruption, but time went by quickly and the wait was worth it. The difference was literally like night and day!
The same was true of the Grand Prismatic Springs. On our first go-around, we could barely see a glimpse of color. The entire area was surrounded by dense fog. On take two, we had a better view of the stunning colors. The rainbow is formed as a result of active bacteria that thrive in boiling water. They cluster together to form an impressive mat of colors. Although we had a clear view the second time around, the wind was unreal. The hot steam coming off of the springs gave us a free facial. Megan and I laughed uncontrollably as we ended our day continuously bathed in strong gusts of dirty bacteria water!
Was It A Dream?
After a fun and memorable day, we made our way out of the park. The drive out was just as surreal as the drive in. With all the snow on the trees and road melted, it was as if we had imagined the entire thing. This was the exact same stretch of road, separated by only ten hours:
Of course when we got to the park sign, we had to take a farewell photo. All the snow had melted into a perfectly situated puddle that resulted in a stunning reflection of the sign!
Life is unpredictable. Sometimes we face challenges that stretch our minds and bodies to their limit. Embrace them and, in doing so, learn how to gracefully navigate your way through the situation. When we are forced to step out of our comfort zone, it is often in this moment that we learn the most about ourselves. I truly feel that the events over the past 24 hours were meant to happen. Fate and adversity brought two solo female travelers together, and we both came out stronger and wiser on the other end. Sometimes you are going to feel out of your element. Lean into the twists and turns that happen along the way, and you may just experience the most EPIC ride of your life!
If you enjoyed reading this blog, you might also enjoy reading about the time I Escaped Death on the Raging Rivers of Norway!
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