In lieu of a knuckle-popping, no good finger injury, we decided to shift gears a bit, steering Vincent through tiny Wyoming towns and highway traffic toward a familiar and favorite place: Yellowstone National Park. Without a doubt, however, we will one day return to Wild Iris and send more rock routes on the fingery, ‘bone-white dolomite’, that attracts hundreds of climbers to this high desert climbing mecca each year. Although slightly sad to cut our Wild Iris stay short, Ethan’s finger injury has given us a healthy excuse to rest our minds, bodies, and psych-something that is undisputedly really good for transient climbers like ourselves.

Alas, our visit to the world’s first ever National Park came to fruition.

Entering Yellowstone from Cody, WY.

The Grand Canyon of Yellowstone. Way cool!

Yellowstone is a magical place. Even the great Houdini would’ve thought so. Until three days ago, I had never set sight on such magic and I am not alone. Millions of travelers, backpackers, car campers and families visit the park every year to gawk over the beauty and wild landscape that is Yellowstone. Geyser after geyser, gurgling mud pots and grassy meadows, and boiling sulfur baths-the smell of rotten eggs tickling their senses-brings people near and far. Even the pungent smell of sulfur, though initially disturbing, is intoxicating and without it, the Yellowstone experience would not be the same.

Upper Yellowstone Falls

OMG Billy got burned.

Chugging along, Vincent’s methodical pace took us up and over hillsides, across open meadows sprinkled with rainbow colored wildflowers, and to every geyser basin we could enthusiastically visit without feeling like the quintessential park tourist. We scoped scenery, fumaroles, and scorching baths from each quadrant of the park, spending several hours loitering in bumper to bumper traffic with several other sight-seeing, picture-taking peeps.

People were everywhere, thick like Mosquitos near stagnant pond water. It was exhausting and almost painful to be a part of. We were tired of park tours and craved a bit of solitude (or something…. anything away from the crowds).

Thankfully, a quick phone call and some tentative plans later, we were hightailing Vincent out of the park – heading north to visit the one and only, Mary Uravich. Mary has been living in Big Sky, Montana, for a year or two now and if you ask me, she has it all figured out. Working as a Horseback Guide in the summer and Snowboard/Ski Instructor in the winter allows Mary to live in the heart of beautiful Montana country and participate in outdoor adventures everyday. With Mary’s help and some spontaneous planning, our time in Big Sky evolved wonderfully. The first afternoon, we saddled up  for a two hour horseback ride. My horse, a blonde, dainty lady named Marilyn (as in Monroe), trotted comfortably through an open river and grassy meadow, sneaking in mouthfuls of wild grass as we went. Much like riding a bike, a horseback ride provides the finest seating for nature viewings and very sore inner thighs. It was totally worth it.

This was mega-fun. Mary took us on a ride around the valley, A $56 value!!!

Robyn’s horse Marilyn.

Robyn and Marilyn getting acquainted.

The river crossing only kinda scared the shit out of me.

Headed back to the ranch.

How can you go wrong with kitten shots?

Later that evening, we attended our first softball game of the trip. Beer in hand and spewing witty banter toward the opposing team, Ethan’s heckling proved to be successful, as one team member got flustered and had to slide in the comment, ‘Settle down there, Fuzzy’. Climbing at a new crag, a zesty BBQ, a game of disc golf, and cozy camping near Quake Lake also made it in to the Montana mix; a mix much more pleasant than following hundreds of tourists through Yellowstone.

Attack swallows, +1 number grade.

Mr Leo looking for shade as I toprope at Red Cliff.

Yellowstone National Park is magical and like the rotten egg smell, without all of the eager travelers and tourists, the Yellowstone experience would not be the same. However wonderful and dreamy it is,  it doesn’t compete with friend time – spending priceless moments with the people you love.

Mary and Indie