Yellowstone Deception(10)By: Peggy L Henderson
Dan grinned, and his eyes lit up like a little boy at Christmas time. Jana’s mouth suddenly went dry.
“Have you ever seen it go off from Observation Point?” he asked.
Jana emitted a short laugh. “I’ve probably been on almost every hiking trail here in the park, and more backpacking trails than I can count. Aimee was obsessed with this place.”
Dan’s eyebrows rose, and the gleam of admiration in his eyes sent a flutter through her chest. His lips curved in a lazy grin. He let his shoulders slump in a feigned defeated gesture.
“Well, there goes my surprise then. But since I don’t have a Plan B, could you please act impressed when we get to the top?”
His easy-going manner, and natural smile were infectious. Jana nodded. Dan reached for her hand, and pulled her along with him. Her palms began to sweat. She couldn’t extract her hand free from his firm grip. Some small part of her enjoyed the gesture as she noticed several women they passed flash appreciative looks at him. Get a hold of yourself, Jana. He’s not your boyfriend. He’s merely trying to hurry you along.
He walked briskly down the asphalt walk toward the boardwalks that led to the back geyser basin, and turned right toward the river. They crossed the wooden footbridge over the Firehole River, and instead of following the path to the left that led to the geyser basin, he turned right up a dirt path where a trail marker indicated that this was the Observation Point Trailhead.
The trail began up a gentle incline, heading up and into a lodgepole forest, and Dan slowed and motioned for her to walk ahead of him. He released her hand, and Jana rubbed her damp palms together. Her hand still tingled from his touch.
The trail switchbacked up the mountain, and became gradually steeper. Jana picked her way up the incline, determined not to slow him down. The high altitude air left her feeling dizzy and winded. She inhaled deep, steady breaths. The fragrant scent of pine, damp earth, and sweet grass overpowered the more acrid sulfurous odors the nearby geysers emitted. Every now and then when they hit a particular steep section, Dan’s hand on her lower back propelled her to greater effort to navigate the half-mile of switchbacks, simply to avoid him touching her. His light touches as he assisted her up the hill sent her mind spinning, and left her nerves on edge.
They reached the top of the hill in silence. Trying to take enough of the thin air into her demanding lungs, she breathed as hard as if she’d just completed a five-mile run at home. She took in the breathtaking view of the valley before her. It had been a while since she’d last stood in this spot, and certainly not at sunset. The entire geyser basin was visible from here through the tops of the pine trees, the bright orange sun on the horizon magnifying the brilliant colors of reds, oranges, and greens of many of the geyser run-offs. People walked the boardwalks, and several of the smaller geysers suffused the air with their steam and jetting water sprays, veiling parts of the valley far below in a misty white.
“At this time, there’s rarely anyone up here,” Dan said. “I figured this would be a better place to talk than in a crowded restaurant.” Jana turned, startled to find him standing directly behind her. His lips curved upward. “And you can’t beat the view.”
His eyes held hers, his last words spoken in a low tone. Jana’s heart rate sped up anew, having just recovered from her trek up the hill. She inhaled a lung full of air, drawing in his clean scent. She got the distinct impression he wasn’t referring to the scenery. Jana blinked, and merely nodded. A rustle in the nearby brush was a welcome distraction to the man standing before her. A marmot scurried off a large boulder, emitting a loud whistling sound in apparent protest of the human invasion to its territory.
Dan’s deep brown eyes lingered on her face. Jana found it difficult to breathe. Her throat constricted almost painfully, and she tried to swallow away the imaginary lump. Finally breaking eye contact, he headed for a downed log that had obviously served as a resting place for countless other visitors, and peeled his pack from his shoulder. He pulled out two cardboard boxes, and Jana’s stomach grumbled in answer to the delicious smell of burgers and fries. The odor of deep fried food seemed so out of place here, among the pine and sage.