Yellowstone Giveth & Yellowstone Taketh

By Mike Johnson

Our east gate to Yellowstone National Park opened for the season this weekend.

I first visited the park at age ten. I remember feeding black bears marshmallows through open station wagon windows.
And black bear cubs at a roadside pullout. We never worried about momma showing up to eat us.
It was a different era.

Today I live 30 miles from Yellowstone. I’ve been in this area for 27 years.

We’ve guided many first-timers throughout our park. Proximity makes one feel ownership.

Our closest town has the best advertising slogan. “Cody has a city park. It’s called Yellowstone.”

Like a mature relationship, goosebump excitement has grown into a rich tapestry of memory, experience, affection and allegiance.

I turned 40 at the Old Faithful Inn, the world’s largest log structure next to Old Faithful. We titled the experience, “The Geezer at the Geyser.”

I hunted for the Forrest Fenn treasure chest in the northeast area of the park. It was ultimately discovered in the park nine miles from West Yellowstone.

And I had a life and death experience seven miles closer to West Yellowstone.

We’d taken a new friend and neighbor to the park for her first two-day visit.

Day one was perfect, amplified by our guest’s obvious awe and wonder.

On day two, we departed our West Yellowstone hotel rooms early, driving east into a clear, crisp morning.

Two miles down the road we saw cars pulled over on both sides, the universal sign of a wildlife sighting. So we pulled over too.

We call these congested areas “bear jams.” In this case, it was a bald eagle perched in a tree along the river across the road.

Our guest hopped out of the front passenger seat. I was rooting around for the binoculars, Margie for her camera.

Due to cars pulled over on both sides of the road, there was now only one lane down the middle of this congested area.

You’d expect drivers to slow down in the tight space. A minivan roared through at 50 mph, the driver looking right to see what we were all looking at.

A woman fixated on the eagle stepped into the road from behind our truck.

I hope you never have to hear that sound.

I was spared the image of her body flying 100 feet, landing against the base of a tree.

Our guest wasn’t so lucky. She instinctively sprinted to the woman’s side.

Margie stopped all traffic while I called 911.

A doctor from the Netherlands was in the group watching the eagle. The situation was grim but he started CPR. He and our guest took turns for 25 minutes.

Margie & I directed traffic.

Paramedics finally arrived. No matter. The woman had been killed upon impact.

She was traveling with two girlfriends. Her husband was flying out to meet her in a couple days. Her name was Wendy.

The driver of the minivan had pulled over and was in shock.

One instant. Two people not paying attention. One life ended, one life destroyed. Our guest traumatized.

Tragedy in the midst of majesty.

Quite the contrast.

So yes, my deep, mature relationship with Yellowstone National Park has many facets.


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