We’ve just finished day two in Yellowstone, which is spectacular and immense what with its 2.2 million acres. My favorites sights were the Yellowstone River Upper and Lower Falls, Old Faithful and the animals. And I was fascinated by its rich history on many levels.
The Yellowstone River roars through an abyss dubbed the Grand Canyon of Yellowstone. That’s no exaggeration – geologically- painted canyon walls soar 500-600 feet while two powerful Falls gush immense volumes of fast-moving blue green water to the rocks below. This was all accentuated by brilliant sunshine reflecting off the water and mild temps when it could just as easily be snowing.
Old Faithful is not as powerful, but is still impressive. I mean what was more famous growing up than Old Faithful. She blows a 130-foot high geyser about every 90 minutes or so. We watched it twice, the second time longer (two minutes) and higher and no, it was not the bottle of wine we were splitting atop the deck of the venerable Old Faithful Inn.
The Inn was built in 1903-04 and has hosted luminaries and many presidents although the last one was FDR. The towering lobby made up of lodgepole pine beams and braces is its trademark. We stayed one night in the most expensive and smallest room of the trip. It still was fun.
I should mention there’s geothermal activity all over the park. Clouds of steam rise from mud volancos and geysers, giving off a baritone hiss akin to a steam locomotive in the station. Standing next to one was like being downstream from a paper mill- they give off a sulfury rotten egg smell. The genesis of all this heat is roiling magma in the ground which technically qualifies as an active volcano.
Now to the animals. We’ve seen otters, elk, bison-a-plenty, coyotes, Pronghorn, mule deer and wolves, which were frolicking in the Lamar River in the Northeast section of the Park. Only cameras with huge telephoto lenses could capture the wolves, rendering my trusty Canon PowerShot useless. But the thrill of watching them through the binoculars will endure.
We’ve taken in so much in five days starting in the Badlands of South Dakota that we’re beginning to OD on sightseeing. The country and more specifically the West is one magnificent natural wonder or stirring historical site (usually violent) after another. But we’re looking forward to the Tetons tomorrow, then off to see friends in Denver.
A word about the Park history before I turn into a pumpkin: Yellowstone, which pioneered the idea of combining preservation and tourism, was founded in 1872 to combat poachers, developers and all manner of bad actors. It had initially had a superintendent but no budget to speak of…so the U.S. Calvary came in to help. This was nearly 40 years before President Woodrow Wilson put his signature on the law that created the Natural Park System (some people hated the idea just as some today think Healthcare Reform embraces Bolshevism).
The earthquake of 1959 and forest fire of 1988 which scorched nearly 800,000 acres in the Park are cataclysmic and relatively recent disasters that Yellowstone has survived. The miles of dead dried-out but still standing Lodgepole Pine we saw attest to that although fire in moderation is a natural part of park’s biosystem. There were two “managed fires” burning in the park today. Those fires were started by lightening, but it’s easier to manage them rather than extinguish them entirely.
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