The Roads Less Traveled

Enjoy the latest story from the blog,
“Wrong Turns Write Life”

Hmmm. I would have taken the long way around until a park ranger challenged my manhood back at Natural Bridges National Monument. I had asked her if the Moki Dugway posed any danger, you know, because of the kids and all.

She looked me straight in the eyes and actually said, “Take off the skirt.”

Wow! In today’s age. Really? …I laughed like hell.

Nuff said. We’re doing it.

As we sat in our stopped vehicle, pulled to the side of the road, and stared at an intimidating sign warning of what was ahead, I looked at my wife riding shotgun and the kids through the rear-view mirror. We still had a choice: drive the long way around a mountain or go over the top of it. The problem with going over it was that it was described as having a steep, narrow, dirt, switch-back road without guard rails and a maximum speed limit of five miles per hour.

I was still thinking about the death-defying cliff drive we experienced just a week earlier when we rolled up to the Yellowstone gate at dusk. On that day, we were alone except for one ranger in one booth. I got to flash my national parks pass for the second time that day. I couldn’t help but smile.

The Yellowstone ranger said we came at the perfect time. I asked why. He said this road had been closed all afternoon because of the snow but had just reopened 30 minutes ago. It was June. Then he made an offer we should have refused. From what he was hearing, he said the road could be closed again in as little as 15 minutes, so if we’re going, we’d better go now.

Somewhere inside of me, I was naïvely thinking if there were any real danger, a ranger would never …

Yellowstone’s East Entrance was along a cliff down on the left and up on the right. At least the right side of the road had a pitch to it, but the left side was a straight drop to a bottom, too far to see. The music was off. This road carved from a mountainous cliff was covered in snow and slightly pitched toward the can’t-look-at-it-drop! If I went too slow, the vehicle felt like it was losing traction and may drift over the edge—too fast, same thing. So, slow and steady was going to win this race. Nobody so much as whisper except for an occasional gasp. Then our bodies stiffened!

Yikes!

Snow drifted over our lane as high as our vehicle, leaving the slightest space in the opposing lane to maneuver around it. And let’s face it, these weren’t full-width lanes. We couldn’t have turned around if we wanted. As if that weren’t bad enough, there were no guard rails. When we thought it couldn’t get any worse, the road became icy. Driving in reverse was out of the question. I was afraid the vehicle would slide off the edge if we stopped. So we crept ever so slowly, careful not to look over the bare edge. My knuckles were as white as the landscape. My wife clutched the dashboard, and the kids closed their eyes, sensing imminent danger. These driving conditions continued for such a long time I wondered if we’d ever make it.

“STOP!”

In the middle of the road, there was a bison blanketed in snow. All I could think was, how in the heck did he get up here? Then, oh, great, now what do we do?

As I paused to gather my thoughts, everyone felt the car start to slide, and yelled, “Move, move, move!”

We thread the needle of the large animal on the side with the snow drift and the sheer death plunge on the other side.

“Please Mr. Buffalo; do NOT nudge us in any way.”

My wife snapped me back to the present situation and pulled off, contemplating another mountain adventure, “Are you going or not?”

I phoned a friend who had come this way in the past.

“Matt, did you go on this dirt road over Mount…?”

“If you don’t go over it, you will miss some of the most spectacular views,” he deadpanned.

Queuing up Pink Floyd’s Learning to Fly, we ascended into the sky. Though, I thought The Turning Away may have been the more appropriate song choice.

This was one speed limit I certainly would not break. Once we were clearly at breakneck heights, I felt my breathing quicken …just a little bit.

The kids loved it.

They also loved my fear. “Dad, how fast would we hit bottom if the road’s edge crumbles around this next turn?”

“QUIET! Let me concentrate!” I was serious.

Meanwhile, my wife was busy taking pictures and some out-of-focus videos. Her sound effects were in awe of the incredible views; she kept pointing as if I was supposed to look. I did, briefly, here and there.

Going up, I had to drive on the outer part of the 1 ½ lane road. Since no other vehicles were in sight, I could hug the rock wall on the inner part of the lane, still conscious of the slight dirt embankment separating us from a death fall.

There were times when I, too, got swept up in the amazing breadth of scenery the closer we got to the summit. It was like looking out of an airplane window (except when rock cliffs were in my peripheral vision) and seeing a ribbon of road stretching for what might have been a hundred miles.

It was a sight to behold.

“Car!” shouted my wife.

“Holy %&#@!*^&%!” I countered.

We passed within inches of each other. I was maxing out at five miles per hour, teetering along the outer edge to provide room for passing. I imagined stones beneath my tires crumbling over the edge.  The oncoming car, with the safety of the inner lane, whizzed by doing nearly 10 miles per hour. Some people are just crazy.

We caught our breath when we landed on the other side, looking back at what we had just conquered as our car entered The Valley of the Gods.

I smiled back to when we landed on the other side of the Yellowstone expedition and entered a valley of paradise. On queue, three pelicans flew overhead from the lake to the tune of Three Little Birds.

So I was reminded, “Don’t worry about a thing. ‘Cause every little thing is gonna be alright.”

By Frank Rocco Satullo, The OhioTraveler, Your Tour Guide to Fun! 

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“Wrong Turns Write Life”

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