To wake in a postcard on Fossil Lake.


It was breezy during last night’s dinner, but Fossil Lake calmed down as the sun disappeared. There was no wind, no rustling animals or sound off the water all night long. It was a magical, almost deafening silence (especially for a #VanLifer who sleeps in Walmart parking lots on occasion). Our family of six dreamt in perfect peace in three tents spread out across the tip of the peninsula we called home for the night.

I’ve always been an early riser and waking in a tent allows me to rise with the sun and watch the world come alive. Unzipping the forest green rainfly, I could see the lake surface mirroring the sky and reflecting back the pristine gold and light blue hues. The wind was calm and nothing created ripples on the surface. Time stood still just for me and I soaked up the magic that I knew would soon be interrupted.

Sitting at 9,700 feet, the chill in the air caught my breath and the mountains ringing the lake shielded the sun’s rays from warming up our camp that morning. There was nothing on the horizon behind the mountains that encircled Fossil Lake and it felt like we’d slept on top of the world.

The water’s surface only broke when Gabe, Terry or Randy caught a fish with his fly rod. This was our first annual family backpacking trip that included fishing breaks and—since I don’t fish—reading time for me while the others searched for the perfect fly cast.

This place was different from other camp spots on this trip: no trees were taller than me, no waterfalls, no neighbors. Fossil Lake, one of hundreds of lakes in the Beartooth Wilderness, is a series of “fingers” that fill in gaps between peninsulas of high-alpine terrain. it. No animals rustled in the bush behind my old Marmot tent, no deer or bighorn sheep along the cliffsides, not even a hawk or eagle in the cloudless sky.

This was day four of five and we weren’t in a hurry to leave our station on top of the world. Water boiled on its own time and we sipped through our morning slowly. The fishermen again casted for cutthroat. My sister-in-law and I took up our books and the mutts wandered back and forth between the five of us, ensuring their pack were all accounted for.

We took our time. So would you if you woke up in a postcard.

Holly Priestley is a writer who lives in her 1997 Ford van with her pup and travels the western U.S.