Caught this over at the Brandt Standard WordPress blog. Great video, heartbreaking and inspiring.
Yellowstone National Park, established in 1872, is the oldest national park in the world. It has a complex, charismatic topography, which is varied enough to require an alphabetized guide.
I was fortunate to be able to work at Yellowstone for most of 1984. I have come to know and love it well.
Wyoming claims most of Yellowstone, but the park also extends into Montana and Idaho. This fall I took my parents – who never had visited Montana or Wyoming and who turned 75 this year – on a personalized tour of the place.
Arch – The Roosevelt Arch in Gardiner, Mont., is named after the godfather of the U.S. National Park System, Teddy Roosevelt. It marks the north – and oldest – entrance to the park.
Bears – The park has your blue-collar black bears and your marquee grizzly bears. Both are hard to find or see, and believe me when I tell you that’s a good thing.
When visitors commonly saw bears in the park, it was because humans had taught the carnivores to beg for food. Bears accustomed to human handouts are a thing of the distant past at Yellowstone, and they are healthier and longer-lived for it. Besides, G-bears and people don’t mix well.
When hiking in Yellowstone, it’s beary smart to talk loudly, sing or clap your hands occasionally. If the bears know you’re coming, they will make it a point to get out of the way.
When I worked in the park, I saw a total of three bears the entire year – and that was all in one day – from the road. There have been two grizzly attacks in Yellowstone this year alone, one from a sow bear with cubs.
When a bear attacks a visitor, it is usually for reasons that can be prevented: people hiking in closed or restricted areas, surprising animals on the trail, not storing food properly or traipsing trails alone or at night.
When a bear attacks a human, it’s park policy to exterminate it. It’s not good for visitors and not good for bears.
Canyon – Various scenic areas of Yellowstone are represented by named villages. Canyon is home to the Grand Canyon of Yellowstone – a photogenic crowd-pleaser and one of the park’s Big Three attractions; the other two are the geothermal features and the mammalian wildlife.
Canyon provides more than a half-dozen scenic overlooks and trails that offer varied views of both the Lower and Upper Falls.
Dipper – An American dipper is a bird most people have never heard of and will never see. It lives in fast-flowing mountain streams of the American West where it dives into the water and “flies” beneath the surface in pursuit of aquatic insects. These little, plump, slate gray birds habit just about every stream in the park. I got to show my parents one bathing in the Firehole River.
Entrance – There are five ways in and out of the park. In addition to the north entrance, there’s a south entrance (portal to Grand Teton National Park), a west entrance (fronted by touristy west Yellowstone), a dramatic high-mountainous northeast entrance and an east entrance that takes you to Cody, Wyo.
Fire – Yellowstone always has been a land shaped by fire. It’s the more recent fires that have made headlines.
The infamous fires of 1988 had various origins, natural and human. The largest burn, in the west part of the park, was ignited by a careless smoker’s cigarette. For all the firefighters’ work, it was heavy snowfall that finally extinguished the blazes.
Millions of lodgepole pines and more than a third of the entire park burned – although relatively few large wild animals perished in the blaze. Much of that habitat now has been reclaimed by 10-to 15-foot-tall trees, although fresher burns, especially near the east entrance, provide evidence that fire continues to be a major player in the park’s ecosystem.
Geyser – Yellowstone is home to more than half the world’s active geysers, which result when – this is basic – superheated water below the earth’s crust builds up enough pressure to explode into the air.
Riverside Geyser erupts at an angle right over the Firehole River. Beehive Geyser, which blows about twice a day, is like a fire hose aimed at the sky.
Plume Geyser erupts about once an hour in playful 20-foot gushes. I once saw Grand spout a rare triple eruption by moonlight.
The world’s tallest geyser – 300-foot-tall Steamboat – hasn’t erupted since May 2005.
Hot pots – Most of Yellowstone’s 10,000 geothermal features are not geysers, but fumaroles, vents, springs or pools.
Morning Glory Pool is one of the prettiest, and Grand Prismatic Spring is one of the largest. Different species of algae grow within the thermal areas. Each species of algae prefers a different water temperature and is a different color.
Inn – Old Faithful Inn is one of the most impressive log structures ever built, if not the biggest. It’s home to the world’s largest four-sided fireplace.
The only thing that saved the inn from burning to the ground in 1988 was a fire crew that wetted the roof and a parking lot the size of several football fields that served as a buffer.
A balcony on the second floor offers a view of Old Faithful. Climb to the third floor to get a feel for the building’s size and beauty. The crow’s-nest, which ascends all the way to the roof, is closed to the public but opened to employees as a special event at the end of the tourist season.
Jacuzzi – One of my favorite experiences at the park is the 45th parallel hot pots – known locally as the “Boiling River” – where a hot spring with water nearly 200 degrees meets the icy Gardner River (the Montanta town and the river are spelled differently). Pick your temperature and relax in this outdoor hot tub.
K Bar – An old favorite supper hangout of mine in Gardiner – owned and staffed by Wisconsinites.
Lake – Another of the park’s villages, it is short for Yellowstone Lake – the big body of lovely water at the park’s core. You’d never guess it by looking at the tranquil lake, but it sits atop an active volcano.
Mammoth – The park’s most northerly village, home to Mammoth Hot Springs and the venerable Mammoth Hot Springs Hotel – my favorite place to stay in the park.
The “air conditioning” consists of opening or closing the windows, and the shared bathrooms and showers are down the hall, but the beds are soft and the rooms are easier to book than at Old Faithful.
Native – Blackfeet and Shoshone people lived and explored the area long before white settlers had heard of Colter’s Hell, the territory now known as Yellowstone National Park. The Shoshone hunted bighorn sheep there, but most native people avoided the fuming, trembling ground.
Old Faithful – The celebrated superstar of Yellowstone, this geothermal feature formerly erupted about once an hour – thus the name. Since the 1960s, however, earthquakes have changed things. “OF” now erupts about every 92 minutes. OF’s full eruption lasts about five minutes.
People – About 3.5 million of them visit the park annually, many of them in the last week of July or early August. Few will take the time to walk the forest or ridges.
Having hiked several of these trails and peaks, I recommend Bunsen Peak and Mount Washburn. If you’re hard-core, you need to spend some time in Yellowstone’s Black Canyon or hang out with Dunanda Falls in the Bechler region.
Quiet – The best time to visit the park is in September, after the summer crowds have thinned, the bugs have quit biting, and the elk are starting to bugle.
Restaurants – The restaurant at Old Faithful is overpriced and only one in the park that requires a reservation. The restaurant at Canyon is more user-friendly, and the fare at the lovely Mammoth Hot Springs dining room offers creative choices and lacks the wait.
Supersize – At more than two million acres, Yellowstone is bigger than Rhode Island and Delaware combined.
Time management – If you have only a day to spend in the park, God help you. Given two, I’d say, “Hello, Badlands National Park.”
It’s advisable to spend a complete day in the Mammoth/Gardiner area, and a second hanging out in the Lamar or Hayden valleys and Canyon. If you plan on hiking, four days isn’t enough.
Plan on spending at least one day exploring the Upper Geyser Basin where Old Faithful reigns. The visitor center lists the predicted times of the Upper Geyser Basin’s major geysers, including OF.
Ungulate – An ungulate (UNG-oo-lit) has hooves and is a member of the deer family.
Most of Yellowstone’s major animal attractants are members: mule deer, rare moose, the pronghorn that like to hang out by the Roosevelt Arch, the elk that browse the grass at the Mammoth hotel and must be shooed away by park rangers, the bighorn sheep that like to patrol Mount Washburn or the Gardner River canyon, and the bison that roam Lamar Valley by the hundreds.
On any visit to the park, you’d be extremely lucky to see all of the big game. One of the highlights of our visit was the shaggy bull bison that leisurely crossed the road in front of our car in Lamar Valley and then blew husky raspberries at my dad.
Volcano – When the volcano that shaped Yellowstone erupted 640,000 years ago, it was a blast a thousand times greater than Mount St. Helens. It’s speculated that the blast contributed significantly to species extinction in North America at the time.
Molten rock still lies close beneath the earth’s crust here and helps stoke the many geysers. Yellowstone Lake sits in the volcano’s “active” caldera. Earthquakes – typically too slight to be detected by visitors – still occur regularly in the park.
Wolves – When I worked in the park, there were no wolves. They were reintroduced in 1995. Having never seen or heard a wild wolf, it was a major objective of mine to encounter one.
Like dozens of other folks, we staked out a spot along the road at the far end of Lamar Valley where wolves – and a grizzly – had been feeding on a bison carcass. Within a half-hour of our arrival a mangy lone wolf not associated with a pack trotted past. Soon after we were able to spot three members of the Lamar Canyon pack – one black, one brown and one gray.
According to Colby Anton, a wolf researcher in the park, the Lamar pack – one of 11 recognized packs concentrated mainly in the north of the park where the greatest concentration of prey is – now totals 12 animals.
Yellowstone’s wolf population has peaked as high as 174 animals but is currently below 100 – mainly because of decreases in the elk population, their favorite prey, and augmented by persistent canine distemper and mange. All of the park’s wolves eventually are tagged and monitored.
X – Cross each of these highlights off your list as you savor them. Take none for granted.
Yellowstone – The park – named for its biggest river, which is named for its yellow sandstone bluffs – is a national treasure, good as gold. It celebrates its 140th birthday next year.
Don’t wait until you’re 75 to visit.
Betchkal is a freelance writer based in Eau Claire.
Wyoming’s culture is unique, but are we leveraging this culture to help build prosperous communities?
The Convergence Conference brings together Wyoming’s Creative, Cultural and Historical Resources to take a look at Wyoming’s cultural heritage for the visitor, increase cooperative planning across communities and unite under common goals. Interactive sessions and cultural tours will allow attendees to share resources, learn from successful cultural projects and generate partnerships that will improve statewide cultural outreach. Register today and join with other representatives from the arts, humanities, libraries, historic preservation, education and business sectors to strengthen and leverage Wyoming’s unique cultural heritage and creative economy.
Early registration is now open for the Convergence Conference in Cody, WY! Go to the website for information, schedule, and hotel accommodations. The Wyoming Arts Council is also offering travel stipends for arts and cultural groups and for individual artists. For more information, contact the arts council at 307.777.7742.