Yellowstone National Park.
Untouched land, sitting just four miles over a volcanic hot spot. Geysers spew. The bigs roam freely – elk, bison, moose, wolves and the great grizzly bear. The only shots fired are with a click of a shutter speed. Winters are brutal. Summers don’t exist.
The family decided we would take a break from our family vacation in the Florida Keys. We would head north to a place we have never been. The land of the free. America. Old Faithful. Red, white and blue.
Red, white and blue flashing in my rearview mirror somewhere near hour 12 on our road trip to Yellowstone.
South Dakota Highway Patrol Officer: Ma’am, the reason I stopped you today is did you know you drove past me on the highway and didn’t move over? Did you even see me?
I glared at our friends’ car driving by, honking, with a camera phone out the window.
Me: Uhhhh…Yes. I saw you. I don’t know. I guess I wasn’t paying attention?
Officer: You do know if you see flashing lights on the side of the highway, you need to move over.
Me: Yeah, yeah I knew that. My mother-in-law got a ticket for that once.
I dug through my wallet for my driver’s license.
Officer: Do you have registration and insurance papers?
Me: Um, this is a rental. I don’t really know…
Scott handed me our rental paperwork.
Officer: That will do. Ma’am, I’m going to have to ask you to step out of your vehicle.
Me: Wait, what?
Officer: Can you follow me to my car? I want to explain the law in detail with you. It’s loud on this highway and I want to talk to you.
Me: Huh? You want me to get out of my car, walk along the side of the highway and sit in your car?
Officer: Yes, ma’am.
I glanced at Scott. He looked confused.
Me: Uh, ok.
I walked in front of the officer.
Officer: Just sit in the front seat there. That will be fine.
I looked over his car to make sure it was a highway patrol car. I looked back at Scott. I opened the passenger door and sat. The driver’s door slammed shut.
Officer: So where are you headed?
Officer: You have quite a drive from Kansas.
Me: It’s taking longer now.
Officer: Let’s see Julie. Burton. Are you related to the Burton Snowboards?
Officer: And who is that man up there? Your husband, I assume?
Me: Yeah, his name is Scott.
Officer: And those are your kids?
Me: Yes, two little girls.
Officer: I see. And what does your husband do?
Me: He’s a VP at a medical software company.
Officer: And what do you do, Julie?
Me: I’m a writer.
The officer stopped punching numbers in his computer.
Officer: Oh. Uh, so does this mean I’m going to end up in the papers or something?
Officer: So back to the law you broke. I want to explain to you that whenever you see flashing lights on the side of the road, you need to move over a lane. Especially on a highway. This is a four lane highway. You need to move to the next lane. If this was a two lane highway, you would slow down to twenty miles under the speed limit. The goal is not to injure anyone along the side of the road here.
Me: I believe I was more concerned about my speed at the time.
Officer: I clocked you at 81 in an 80. Do you understand the law you broke, Julie?
Me: Yep. I understood it when you were at my window too.
Officer: So where are you staying at in Yellowstone?
Me: Montana. My in-laws rented a house.
Officer: Oh, no camping then?
Me: Not this time.
Officer: I took my wife and kids out there to camp. Watch out for the bison. They’re everywhere. And they’re dangerous too.
Me: That’s what I heard.
Officer: It’s crazy how many animals you will see.
Officer: And the bears. Oh man. I won’t camp there again. They get a little too close. You have to keep your food far from your tent. It’s not my thing.
Officer: So what are you guys going to do if you’re not camping?
Me: Oh, I don’t know. I definitely want to white water raft. I love the thrill of danger and going REALLY fassst uhhhh… I’ve never done it before.
Officer: Yeah, that’s pretty fun.
Me: Oh! And I really want to try fly fishing.
Officer: Really? Fly fish? Not many women do that. Man, I could never get my wife to fish.
Me: Yeah, fishing is our husband/wife thing, I guess. We just got back from the Bahamas last week. And we got an invite to fish in Costa Rica with some friends, probably in January. We went to Dominican Republic last year. I caught my first white marlin. So this fly fishing will be interesting.
Officer: REALLY?! Yeah, I want to fly fish. But I decided that will take up too much of my time. I’ll just wait for retirement.
Me: Well, at least you have some pretty views here in South Dakota. Is that where I am at?
Officer: Yes. Ok, world traveler. I printed out your citation here.
Officer: You can mail the fine to this address in South Dakota. It’s not due until mid-August. That should give you enough time to enjoy your vacation and get back to Kansas. If you would like to plead not-guilty, you must appear at this courthouse at this time.
Me: I’m not coming back to South Dakota.
Officer: If you would sign here for me, saying you understand you broke the law.
Officer: Here is your driver’s license back. And you’re free to go.
I opened the door and slid a foot out.
Officer: Have fun in Yellowstone!
Me: Thank you.
I slammed the door. I opened my driver’s car door. Then slammed the door again.
Scott: What the hell took so long?
Me: I said thank you, Scott.
Me: He gave me a ticket and I said thank you.
Scott: You got a ticket? How much? You were in there for 20 minutes! Did he do anything to you? I was about to get out and see what was going on!
Me: I don’t want to talk about it. He just talked my ear off. Thank you. Jesus. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you.
Have you ever been to Yellowstone? Is it on the bucket list? And more importantly – have you ever been asked to sit in a cop car and not be arrested? Has a cop ever asked you to walk along the side of a highway, explain to you how dangerous this is, then give you a ticket for not moving over a lane? I can’t make these stories up.
Or these pictures.