WEST YELLOWSTONE - Robin Rinearson knew she wasn't the only Washington-area resident bound Friday for Yellowstone National Park. President Barack Obama's trip was all over the news.
She hoped maybe she could land at tiny Gallatin Field in Belgrade before Air Force One touched down. Her airline was predicting flight delays of only 10 or 15 minutes.
Then her plane stopped in Chicago. Fifteen mostly plainclothed U.S. marshals boarded. The jet stalled on the runway to clear the sky for the first family. At least that's what Rinearson suspects. The airline had a different explanation.
"I knew we were in for a good scam job when they pulled the gas cap routine," Rinearson said.
Allegedly a jet had lost its gas cap on the runway and traffic had to be shut down for several minutes. Who's heard of such a thing? Rinearson said.
In Montana, the flight circled for roughly an hour. When Rinearson landed, Air Force One was on the ground, a throng of roughly 1,000 protesters was gathered to the east of the airport fence and Obama's town hall meeting was under way.
She did beat Obama to Yellowstone Park, however. As CNN Headline News reporters stood shivering before cameras announcing the president's arrival in 60-degree Big Sky, Rinearson admired elk along the Madison River in the park.
At least for one more day, the wildlife remained the park's biggest attraction.
"I'd really like to see Obama, but I'm sure I'm not going to" said Leona Coffin, of Nazareth, Penn., who Friday was checking out elk and hoping against hope to see a bear.
Coffin and her husband have been vacationing across the West by car for two weeks. They didn't know the Obamas were going to be in the nation's first national park until a clerk at their West Yellowstone hotel told them.
She said she's concerned about the government's efforts to reform health care. She sees problems with America's health care system as it is now, but what if the cure is worse than the ailment?
In West Yellowstone, there was a buzz about the first family's visit, officially scheduled for this morning. Marysue Costello, executive director of the West Yellowstone Chamber of Commerce, said locals were excited about the Obama's departing on Air Force One from low-profile Yellowstone Airport. It's a small airport tucked away in the forest that mostly goes unnoticed, but it does have an 8,000-foot runway. The strip was a hotbed of activity during the 1988 Yellowstone Park fires when giant C-130 cargo planes raced up and down the runway.
Costello said the town didn't expect a visit from the president, but she did expect Montana's Democratic Sens. Jon Tester or Max Baucus to invite the Obamas back for a winter visit to the park.
The town has been in a sometimes heated debate with the federal government to keep the park open for winter tourism in general and snowmobile traffic in particular.