Yellowstone Took My Breath Away (Literally!)

My oldest daughter lives just 90 minutes from Yellowstone, so every time we visit her, there is a strong temptation to visit the park. And…we often do.

Just yesterday my two oldest daughters and I headed up for an abbreviated trip, planning only a few stops while driving the entire north and south loop of the figure-8 Yellowstone road system.

simplified map of Yellowstone

a simplified map of Yellowstone from nps.gov

We stopped at Tower Fall – a fantastic spot with a larger parking lot (though it’s always full), gift store, snacks, bathrooms, and an easy walk to a platform to view the falls.

Tower Falls Yellowstone

a photo of Tower Fall, taken on a preview visit to Yellowstone

Beyond the platform was a 1-mile round trip hike down to what we thought would be a better viewpoint for the falls. What we didn’t know was that we would be heading down a steep, loose dirt trail that dropped 300 feet in just 1/2 mile. Or that it didn’t go to a better viewpoint at all, but just the Yellowstone River below.

We were disappointed (and tired from the trail!), but the girls continued on to the river and had a lot of fun dipping their toes in.

Yellowstone River from Tower Fall hike

Yellowstone River from the Tower Fall hike

While waiting for the girls, I took this selfie and sent it to my husband, joking that the girls had talked me in to a sweaty hike, but were having fun down at the water.

selfie at the Yellowstone River from Tower Fall hike

The girls came back shortly after this picture, and we started back up the trail. Only…I knew within a few minutes something was wrong.

My mouth became very dry, I couldn’t catch my breath, and was getting very dizzy. A very nice couple and their children saw me struggling, and gave me some good tips and lots of encouragement for continuing up the trail.

But just a few yards more, and I felt sick to my stomach, started becoming disoriented, and just wanted to crumble into a heap. It wasn’t just that I was “tired” – I felt incapable of continuing.

I did push on for a couple more switchbacks up the hill, and while stopped at one point, we met a dad and his son fairly running down the trail. The dad joked about photobombing our picture (I guess he thought that’s what we were stopping for?), and my girls whispered how handsome the son was as they passed.

I struggled on up the hill, but at one point absolutely felt like I was going to pass out. I could not breath, could not stand, and my body felt 10 times heavier. The world was getting very, very small – my vision was reducing to a tiny pinprick. I kept telling my girls that I needed to lie down – again, not because I was tired, necessarily, but because I just felt I was going to crumble. It was pretty bad at this point, and my daughters decided to have me stay still with one of them while the other ran for medical help.

A lot of time had passed by this point, and we soon saw the same dad and son hustling back up the trail. I was resting on a rock, and we were talking to another family, answering a few of their questions about the trail (and warning them it was steeper and farther than it seemed). The dad and son joined in the conversation. It was then, while I was nearly passed out, probably looking terrible, waiting for some help, when I got a really good look at the son while we all chatted: IT WAS DEREK HOUGH! As in…professional dancer Derek Hough, brother of Julianne Hough, winner of multiple seasons of Dancing with the Stars. Of all the moments for a celebrity encounter!

Derek Hough

The daughter who had stayed with me helped me inch farther along the trail until we saw a park ranger running towards us. My other daughter had found help – needed to call 911, in fact – and they sent a total of 3 first responders and an ambulance to the Tower Fall parking lot.

The responders checked me out and determined dehydration and hyperventilation had contributed to my feeling sick and nearly passing out. Though I had been drinking water, they explained that at the higher elevation in Yellowstone, a person needs to drink roughly 6 times more water than normal to stay properly hydrated. It was also warm, we had just eaten a big lunch, and frankly – I’m out of shape. All of this, combined with a generally strenuous trail, just led to very poor circumstances for me.

They had me rest and hydrate, and after a while, I felt well enough to get to our car. Meanwhile, Derek Hough continued walking around the waterfall platform, then the gift shop, clearly having fun with his dad, and leaving a low hum of incredulous whispers in his wake as everyone there realized who he was. (check out Derek Hough’s Instagram feed for his photos & video from Yellowstone)

As we continued through the park and I began to feel better and better, we marveled over what a strange experience we had at Tower Fall – between needing emergency assistance and briefly chatting with a celebrity. That will be a hard Yellowstone memory to beat!