Cabin fever (Vacation saga 3)

Peering through a wiper-swept windshield, David and I drove out of Yellowstone National Park one dim evening of our honeymoon 40 years ago. Tenting was out for that night. We drove what seemed a very long way until, in the gleam from our headlights, we saw a sign with an arrow pointing west and the word: CABINS.

The winding unpaved road led through stands of tall lodgepole pines until we eventually arrived at a log office with a VACANCY sign shining like a beacon in the night. Our cabin was small, but we immediately fell in love with its rustic wood furniture made from logs and bent branches.

When we woke in the morning and walked out on the porch, we were astounded. We faced a majestic mountain, towering above a placid lake, its flanks wreathed in a gray cloud. We watched the rising sun touch the mountain’s tip with golden fire that descended to dispel the cloud. We were amazed by God’s grace.

Over the next 40 years, we tried to find that cabin whenever we vacationed in the area. I searched on maps to try to pinpoint the location. All without success.

When David and I left Yellowstone this year, we checked into a camping cabin just a few miles south of the Park. We’d opted for the overpriced cabin instead of using our tent because when we made our reservations, our website research indicated a bear alert for that area.

Sure enough, the woman who registered us said, “Now be sure to obey the food rules because we do have an 800-lb. grizzly who comes through the campground.” Forty extra dollars for four wooden walls instead of a sheer nylon shell suddenly seemed reasonable.

After unloading some camping gear from the van into the cabin, we headed out on our quest. We wanted to see the Tetons. And we hoped to find that elusive honeymoon cabin.

We drove into every road that went west, but no view seemed quite right. When we arrived at Colter Bay, we knew from the mountain view that we were close…very, very close. We walked into the visitor’s center. The Park Ranger behind the desk, in contrast to the usual young whippersnapper, was an older gentleman…about our age actually. We told him our story.

“Well, I’ve been working here thirty years,” he said, “and the only place I can think of would be here.” He pointed to a spot on the desk map in front of him. “There used to be a place called Leek’s Lodge right here.” Immediately I recalled a wooden sign under a yellow light-bulb, swinging in the rain and wind, its grooved words proclaiming, “Leek’s Lodge.”

“The cabins are gone,” the Ranger continued. “The only thing left is the stone fireplace from the owner’s home. There’s a marina and pizzeria there now. And there’s a road that runs beside the restaurant that goes to a research station. You can drive up there if you like. It’s open to the public.”

When we drove up to the research station and looked at the mountain, we knew we were a little too far north. But when we went back down to the hill behind the pizzeria we knew we’d found the spot. We also found the fireplace. We took pictures of the fireplace and the mountain. We went inside the pizzeria and ordered garlic bread, telling our story to the person behind us in line and to the clerk. The restaurant had tables inside, but also picnic tables outside on a deck that wrapped around two sides of the building, facing the mountain. Of course, we wanted to eat outside and enjoy the view. But all the tables were occupied. I noticed that one family appeared to be almost finished, so David and I huddled at the corner and tried to decide if we should just stand there and wait for them to leave.

A couple sitting at a table in front of us caught our attention. “You can share our table, if you like.” The woman gestured to the empty bench across from them. “We’re about finished.”

We had a wonderful conversation with this kind couple from Caspar. I believe they were only a little younger than us. She had grown up in Caspar, often visiting Yellowstone with her family, especially during the years her sister worked there as a teen. He was from Ohio and now worked in the oil industry. Every August they stay in a cabin on Colter Bay and visit Yellowstone. They have a tradition of eating at the pizzeria one evening during their vacation. We were fortunate enough to enjoy their company on that one evening.

After we ate, David and I walked up the slope behind the building. It was clear to us that this was where our honeymoon cabin had once stood. Then we walked along the rock beach and took about a hundred pictures while the sun set behind the mountains. It was a great ending to a wonderful day filled with blessings.


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