The Obamas: Stopping Traffic in Yellowstone

The Obamas: Stopping Traffic in Yellowstone

For a brief, clattering moment on Saturday morning, Bald Eagles nesting along Yellowstone National Park’s Firehole River Saturday had to share their sky with three Marine helicopters ferrying the First Family down to Old Faithful. The Obamas had lunch and views of the famous geyser, most likely oblivious to the ripple effect caused by extensive security measures for their visit on the Park’s busy, fee-free weekend. On the narrow two-lane highway between Old Faithful and Midway Geyser Basin, however, motor traffic came to a standstill, eventually backing up vehicles for nearly two miles.

Some impatient motorists grumbled about the President, made U-turns and headed the opposite direction. Others were not as troubled by the inconvenience. In a white Mazda with an “Obama ’08” bumper sticker, Ricardo and Mary Zubiate decided to return home through Yellowstone to Salt Lake City, Utah, after a conference in Montana. “Just knowing he’s here and enjoying the same day in the Park as me is exciting,” said Ricardo. “I’m thrilled he’s here, and we’d love to see him. And, yes, I’m still 100% convinced that he’s the right person for the job.”

A few stranded tourists strolled off the roadway and into the lodgepole pine forest, now lush with colorful alpine wildflowers amid the new trees and burned logs from the great wildfires of 1988. Purple-petaled wild daisies sprang from flat, dried buffalo chips along the same route used by Chief Joseph’s Nez Perce Tribe at this time in 1877 as they made their 1,800-mile running battle with the U.S. Army trying to reach asylum in Canada. Now, the Commander-in-Chief was flying over the same ground, seeing some of the same natural wonders, but traveling rapidly above it all, not so worried about insurgent tribes here as much as in Afghanistan. This was, after all, a working vacation, with the President taking his wife and daughters to Yellowstone and the Grand Canyon, in between a couple of town-hall meetings to beat the drum for national medical reforms.

The First Family’s carbon footprint on this trip was hardly minimal, when you consider the big military cargo jets, Air Force One, the Marine choppers, Secret Service Suburbans, as well as dozens of rental cars and law-enforcement vehicles brought in from hundreds of miles around. The great mechanized force was on display Saturday afternoon at the West Yellowstone airport, as three helicopters preceded Obama’s own Marine One, to the tarmac where Air Force One was waiting. After the national traveling White House press corps embarked from one chopper and boarded Air Force One, the President and his family landed, and walked to their big jet, with Obama leading his youngest daughter by the hand.

The small press contingent on the ground felt the full force of executive power when Air Force One revved up its engines, taxied up the tarmac a couple of plane lengths, then turned onto the runway, jet-blasting wind, dust and grit onto the journalists and camera operators. Trailed by two black suburbans, the blue-and-white jet moved east, then turned west, into the prevailing winds, throttled to full power and lifted the Obama’s into the mountain sky and off to another working-vacation destination, the next town hall meeting in Grand Junction, Colorado.