“There are so many ways to die here.”
The Idaho countryside changed dramatically as we found ourselves on a steep climb into Hell’s Canyon.
It wasn’t an alarming statement; the children spent our initial drive through Yellowstone making a list of all the ways we could meet our demise within the boundaries of the park. The possibilities included, but certainly were not limited to: microbes, scalding, buffalo goring, and poisoning from indigenous plants.
To my daughter’s delight, she discovered and purchased a book entitled Death at Yellowstone and makes it a point to share the most interesting cases with us in impromptu readings.
Prior to Yellowstone, we’d spent an afternoon flirting with mortality in the Badlands, so it was no shock to learn we were once again on the threshold of eternity.
What surprised me was the fact that the announcement came from my typically calm husband.
Secretly, I’d spent over an hour alarmed by the length of time that had passed since I’d last seen any type of infrastructure. The Yankees vs. Devil Rays game on XM was well into the sixth inning and I’d seen nary a wayside mart since the top of the first.
“My knuckles are white. That’s not good,” my husband says as the dusty road twists along steep, unguarded cliffs.
“It’s just a road, after all,” he reminds himself. “I don’t usually just fall off the side of a road,’ he says, turning the wheel to the left and his head to the right in an attempt to follow the road.
We nervously suggest that if it gets too dark, we might just inflate the air mattress and sleep on the hillside.
Immediately, we pass a sign:
DAY USE ONLY. NO OVERNIGHT CAMPING. My daughter insists the sign was riddled with bullet holes.
Crows swoop in front of the windshield.
“I guess they call it Hell’s Canyon for a reason,” my husband says.
We pass another sign:
“CAUTION. MACHINERY COULD BE ON EITHER SIDE OF THE ROAD AT ANY TIME.” Directly underneath was a sign with a silhouette of a big horn sheep, with the words BIG HORN SHEEP printed beneath the image.
“I want to see the Transformers,” my daughter says.
“What on earth does that have to do with anything?” I demanded.
“I agree with her,” my husband says. “If we can find a way out of here and a hotel next to a movie theatre, I might just be very happy.”
My husband spots a turnout with a phone booth and a map. He exits the car and studies the map.
“Here’s the choice,” he says. “We can go right and the road turns into a rock. Or we can go left and find our way out of this mess in Baker City.”
Heading toward Baker City like the proverbial bat out of, well, Hell’s Canyon, he says “We just may ask ourselves one day if we regret not going up there. I tend to think not.”