Sept. 7 started as a normal day.
I woke up early on my Labor Day holiday — 5:30 a.m., precisely — to meet one of my friends from college, Julian, in Yellowstone National Park. I …
Sept. 7 started as a normal day.
I woke up early on my Labor Day holiday — 5:30 a.m., precisely — to meet one of my friends from college, Julian, in Yellowstone National Park. I quickly prepared for the drive to the park and walked out the door.
As I walked to the car, something felt off. I couldn’t put my finger on it, but I had that gut feeling that something would go wrong.
It didn’t — for a while.
After reuniting at Old Faithful, I took Julian, who lives in Pocatello, Idaho, and had never visited Yellowstone, to various spots around the park. From Lamar Valley to Mammoth Hot Springs, we ventured across the northernmost areas of the park and had a great time doing so.
Later in the afternoon, as we drove back to our meeting spot, snow began to fall. We didn’t think much of it. Because temperatures were in the mid 30s — not particularly frigid for snow — we assumed it wouldn’t stick and returning to our respective homes wouldn’t be difficult.
It wasn’t ... for Julian. He made it back to Pocatello in under four hours with no real delays. His route, north to Madison, then southwest via U.S. Highway 20, never picked up snow accumulation.
We went our separate ways at around 5 p.m., and I started toward the East Entrance. As I drove toward Yellowstone Lake and neared the east side of the park, I noticed the snow packed thick in every tree and beginning to accumulate on the side of the road.
It was an admittedly picturesque setting, and I stopped several times to take pictures. From shots of elk grazing in a forest to photos of my car (white Ford Mustang) in the wintry landscape, I ended up with dozens of fascinating shots from the storm.
If only I hadn’t taken my sweet time.
As I passed the lake and approached Sylvan Pass, I faced my first real obstacle: snow on the road. It started with just a light dusting, but as I rose in elevation and the sun set, the snowfall steadily grew thicker.
My car began to struggle.
Though pretty, Mustangs aren’t built for blizzards. It began to skid as I made the climb, with my brakes causing me to swerve. I had a terrifyingly close call near a ledge, with my car skidding almost to the edge.
But, still, I attempted to truck on.
At the highest point yet, the Mustang got stuck. Drive didn’t get me anywhere, and neither did reverse. Seeing my troubles, the college-aged girls in the car behind me offered to help push with the vehicle in neutral.
With one of them in the driver’s seat, and the other with me pushing the car, we got out of the rut — just for me to get stuck fewer than 100 yards later. At that point, it hit me: my car wasn’t getting out of there.
When pushing my car to the shoulder (as best we could), I chatted with the girls, named Baylee and Kiah. It was then that I told them I was the sports reporter for the Tribune, and they revealed that they play volleyball for Northwest College.
Because we were going to the same place in a car better suited for severe weather, they offered to give me a ride back to Powell.
What are the odds that the people in the car behind you at one of the most popular vacation destinations live in the same 6,000-person town as you? Not likely.
While it was hard to leave my car up there in the blizzard with various hazards and risks, I had no other option. It took us a few hours because of the road conditions and traffic on the mountain, but we eventually made it back.
If not for the girls, I’m not sure what would’ve happened. I had no cell signal when stuck, and I’m not sure how many others on the mountain would have been as sympathetic as the girls.
Chances are I would have camped the night in my car in the freezing cold. All I had in my car was half a water bottle, a bag of almonds, a Swiss-army knife, my camera and a heavy jacket. That probably could have gotten me through, but it would not have been fun.
As someone who has lived in Texas and Arizona his entire life, I’ve never driven in snow and I’ve certainly never been trapped in a snow storm. Just a couple of minutes into being outdoors in the blizzard, I rushed to my trunk to put on mittens, while Baylee helped push my car in shorts, not complaining once.
And the kicker? All of this happened in September.
Back in my home states, the temperatures consistently linger in the 90s and 100s this time a year. Lord knows how I’ll hold up in a couple of months when the temperatures get real nasty.
Welcome to Wyoming!