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Road Trip Stories 3: Forbidden Pass

Updated: Apr 20, 2020

counselor Mike road trip

When I first moved to Colorado, at the top of my list of things to do was head up to Yellowstone, which isn't a bad drive if you enjoy road trips. Armed with podcasts and healthy-ish snacks, I made my way up through oceans of empty plains and passed through the Tetons, where I quickly realized I should have planned to spend some time.

A storm was rolling in as I drove into Yellowstone, and there was just enough daylight left to marvel at the multicolored clouds that swept the landscape, flashing with lightning.

therapist ensley colorado yellowstone
The storm over Yellowstone

mike ensley loveland therapist

The park was amazing. I was treated to the sight of diverse wildlife, most of whom had young with them. (Tip: best chance of seeing the most of Yellowstone's wildlife in Summer is to get up before dawn). The geological wonders alone are bucket-list-worthy.

But the real adventure was yet to come. I was also headed up to see my grandmother in Montana, and like a good member of the tech generation I trusted navigation to the smartphone. Following it dutifully through northwestern Wyoming and a corner of Idaho I was treated to some lovely out-of-the-way views.

And then the pavement ended. It seemed odd to me, but the phone said to keep on going. Plus I hadn't seen a turn-off in a good long time, so there didn't seem to be much else to do.

The track led me up into the Sapphire Mountains where it grew narrower, steeper, and rough with loose gravel. Now I knew something was wrong. The drop-off was a lethal plunge hundreds of feet tall, and there were no guardrails. For what seemed liked hours I steered my Subaru along the mountainside at a crawl, every muscle in my body tensed.

A bunch of disturbing thoughts began to occur to me: what if the road came to a dead end, or too steep or eroded to drive on? There would be no room to turn around.

But the phone said keep going.

You may think this is an exaggeration. And while heights aren't my favorite in the first place, the terror of my situation was validated when I eventually was plopped down right outside my grandma's town. I made note of a sign labeling the way I had come--"Skalkaho Pass"--so I could be sure not to return by that way.

When I told my grandmother the route I'd taken, she almost dropped her pan of apple crisp. "Skalkahoe Pass!?" she exclaimed. "It's not even open!"

photo by Mike Ensley, therapist
Boaters and Mt. Moran

Over the next few days, every relative and neighbor we met in was given the story, and each had the same reaction: jaw drop followed by "What were you thinking?"

What was I thinking?

To be fair to my phone, it did technically take me there. But I was assuming that, just because it knew a way to get to grandma's, it was telling me the best way.

Ensley Yellowstone geyser
Old Faithful

So it was a good reminder to maintain humility in the face of nature, and to do a little more of my own research when venturing into the unknown. But the big takeaway was still a renewed sense of awe at the world we live in, how much there is to enjoy and learn about and preserve.

It's truly life-giving to get outside.

loveland counselor mike's photos
Buffalo, Yellowstone

Mike Ensley, LPCC, is a professional counselor in Northern Colorado.

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