adventure. america

A Guy, A Car, and A Camera: Stars, Bears, and Buffalo

Wednesday, September 11, 2013 Kenny Muzzey

Slowly, I opened my eyes, as I could hear the sound of many buzzing bees. Tired, discombobulated, and still in dreamland, I quickly came to and realized that the buzzing sound was, in reality, my phone vibrating wildly on the nightstand. I rubbed my weary eyes, which were still adjusting to the warm sunlight gently gleaming into the room through the window. I awkwardly grabbed at the phone and quickly tried to turn off my alarm like a thief attempting to crack a safe. I glanced at the unnatural red digits on the clock radio trying to determine the time, eight o’ clock, time to continue on with my journey.

I changed my clothes and headed down to the lobby to see what was for breakfast. Unimpressed with the menu, I gleefully grabbed my lifeblood, a cup of coffee, and watched the other guests as I sipped it slowly. Given the fact that I was not entirely sure where I was, I casually sauntered up to the girl at the front desk and inquired about the area. She told me I was in Big Sky Montana and suggested I visit a very beautiful waterfall which was within walking distance from the lodge. I thanked her, gathered my things and set off to start my day.

Following my hike to the falls I hopped into my car and drove down the 191, also known as Gallatin Canyon Highway. ‘The 191’ I thought to myself, the road that was shrouded in darkness and mystery the night before was now basking in the morning sun. As I continued down the highway through the majestic pine forest, something caught my eye. What drew my attention was something that did not fit in with the rolling green hills and towering trees. No, it was something else, something different. I refocused on my driving and waited for the object to approach, as it was on the side of the road up ahead. Closer and closer I raced until I was able to piece together exactly what I was gazing at.

Surely enough, the thing that drew my gaze was black and hunched over. I could feel my excitement growing as I rapidly approached it; soon, I was able to determine that the thing, the object, the distraction, was not a thing, object, nor an it, she was a bear, a black bear. And she was running along side the highway. My first thoughts were to grab my camera buried in my backpack resting in my backseat. This thought was fleeting and overcome by the feeling of joy as I rode up alongside her as she continued running down the gravel shoulder. I couldn’t wait until I arrived at my destination, West Yellowstone Montana, where I surely would text my friends what I'd just witnessed. 

Still awestruck from my breathtaking eleven hour day spent sightseeing, I heard my stomach rumble. I pulled into a nationwide fast food chain in West Yellowstone, noticing how crowded the place was from within my car, I abandoned the notion of a dinner.  I pulled into the first open spot I could find and as darkness settled upon the unfamiliar, but strangely quaint and comfortable town, I took a second to gathered my thoughts and reflect upon my day.  I reached into my glove box and grabbed out the primitive GPS unit that a friend was kind enough to lend me and plugged in my next destination, Badlands National Park, South Dakota.

The robotic voice on the GPS advised me to head East on 191/20/287, ‘Great, the exact opposite of the way I JUST came!’ I exclaimed out loud in frustration. I thought to myself, I have to get some driving in if I want to see as much as I possibly can, so reluctantly I approached the west entrance of the park. The guard informed me any entry to the park was closed off at ten o’ clock sharp and asked what my intent was. I followed up by stating that I was east bound and would definitely be out of the park by ten. He told me to exercise caution due to the large amounts of wildlife in the area. I nodded in appreciation and continued on my way.

Like the tortoise from a well known childhood story, I crept along slowly and steadily very much on edge.  For this wasn't just any national park, but Yellowstone National Park. The trees, trails, and streams grew opaque and mysterious under the blanket of night. My white car cut through the black of the night like a knife though butter.  I had flashbacks to the night before, driving up the 191, a mile long line of cars behinds me.

’65 SPEED LIMIT’ the sign read as I cautiously passed it at mere 45 miles an hour. ‘This lodge better be worth it, but what choice do I have?’ I thought to myself as I drove down the seemingly endless winding road. My speed fluctuating drastically, every time I started to feel a sense of relief I would pass another deer or moose carcass sitting on either side of the highway. ’65?!? Really?!? No thank you!’ I said aloud, as I looked with eager eyes for my saving grace, the Moonlight Lodge.  After well over an hour of driving I rolled into the parking lot of the resort, relieved by the fact that I arrived safely and had not encountered any wildlife on my journey.

However, this night, the night after the last, it was just me, myself, and I driving through Yellowstone, alone, no mile long line of cars behind me, no one in front of me. Occasionally I would peer out my windows and look for any signs of life.  Nothing. I pulled off the road for a few minutes, rolling my window all the way down and sticking my head out to look up at the stars. ‘No moon!’ The stars, the stars, no lights for miles upon miles, hundreds of thousands of stars twinkling in the sky like glitter spilled upon a black canvas. ‘This is like nothing I have even seen before!’ I told myself as I took another few minutes to ponder the seemingly infinite abyss that was the night’s sky.  My thoughts interrupted by the changing of tracks on the radio, I checked the time, took one last awe-inspiring look and decided to move along.

I was lulled into a false sense of security by the beauty of the stars above and the serenity of the surroundings below. Shocked by the lack of wildlife I continued through the park driving slowly and fully aware of my surroundings. I chuckled to myself, ‘Hitting a deer? That would be nothing compared to hitting a buffalo!’


Ironically, shortly after I completed this thought I had to come to an abrupt stop. Something was in the road. It was big and moving toward my car! I sat there patiently as the creature approached. I rolled down my driver’s side window, and again, thought about grabbing my camera. A few seconds later, a mother buffalo and her calf lazily walked past my window. Both of them were no more than an arm’s length away. Stammering sounds of the clippity clop of hooves on pavement gave the impression that they were in no big hurry. Both of them passed my car listlessly going about their business.

Sitting in my car in awe, I took a few minutes to contemplate what had just happened. A giant grin resting upon my face as my eyes closed and a feeling of happiness rose up inside of me. ‘What an amazing day’ was the final thought that crossed my mind as I put my car in first gear and faded into the darkness.

~Kenny Muzzey~

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