North America, Stories from the Road, Words

January | West

West– that’s where my family and I went this summer. My sister Rhianna had taken a seasonal job working at Yellowstone, and the rest of us were all too happy for an excuse to venture her way for a visit. At the end of July, we threw our hiking boots into our suitcases and hopped on a plane destined for Salt Lake City.

Ours was an evening flight, the journey afflicted by that peculiar timeless sensation that occurs when you spend hours chasing the glow of a sun just barely set on the horizon. I watched from 30,000 feet as the sky slowly purpled, light fading, the colors of twilight painting the ground below me as the plains morphed into hills, and then the towering, craggy peaks of mountains reaching proudly towards the night.

When we touched down in Utah, it was late. We stepped off the plane and collected our bags, our tired feet echoing on the linoleum as we exited the terminal to find our rental car. Stepping outside, a breeze lifted the hair around my face.The air was different there; dry, crisp, and mellow, filled with the sounds and smells of an unfamiliar city. Even that small tickle of air on the back of my neck felt unlike the eastern wind I’d always known.

It was hot, even at that late hour, yet not one of us moved to roll up the windows as we sped down the freeway. The twinkling lights of Salt Lake City beckoned, and behind them the silhouettes of mountains guarded against the night.

Utah was just the first stop on our 11 day trip. In the morning, we loaded up our car and headed north to Idaho, and then further still to Montana. The views were extraordinary, practically overwhelming in both their novelty and scale. With each new town, and with every evolution of the landscape outside our car windows, I felt the same stirring in my heart that I felt when we first stepped off the plane. The west was beautiful. Infinite skies of the bluest blue framed by endless fields, cattle grazing, wild grasses dancing in the western wind. Then suddenly mountains: great, towering peaks, some still dotted with the vestiges of winter, all grander and vaster than anything I had ever imagined.

Every mile traveled through that magnificent landscape brought us closer to my sister, and we were all anxious to see her after so many months apart. We planned to pick her up from work after we dropped our bags at our rental house, a rustic little cabin nestled on the banks of the Gallatin river. The mountains that had loomed in the distance grew closer and closer as we made our way down the highway, until eventually the road cut a path between them. The mountains now surrounded us on either side, and we watched in amazement as the skies ahead of us, seemingly out of nowhere, began to darken and swell with a storm. We saw a few flashes of light in the violent mass of clouds overhead, and could see where sheets of rain were falling just a few miles in front of us. Suddenly, a perfect streak of lightning split the sky. The bolt arced from the clouds, and with a tremendous clap connected with the peak of the mountain just ahead.

In the time it took for my mom to fumble with her bag and pull out her camera in hopes of capturing the incredible scene unfolding before us, the storm had passed. Blue skies greeted us as we pulled up to our driveway, and as we drove across the rickety single-lane bridge to our cabin, it was hard to believe the storm we witnessed had really occurred just a few minutes prior.

We reunited with Rhianna later that day, after a long drive through four states. She met us in the parking lot the moment we arrived, and the five of us together hugged and laughed in front of the general store. She asked how our flight was, and then our drive. The four of us struggled to articulate everything we had seen in just 48 short hours, arms spread wide to depict the mountains and all four voices competing to be the first to accurately describe what we had experienced on our journey. With a wide and knowing smile, my sister asked a question that needed no answer: “Isn’t it amazing out here?”

Devinne Zadravec is the social media editor for Atlas Addict Quarterly.