I can’t think of any place on Earth that I would rather visit than Yellowstone National Park. There are thousands of places all over the world that I’ve never been to but given the choice between returning to Yellowstone or visiting any of those thousands of places I think I would always choose Yellowstone.
Yellowstone is a place of childhood memories, a young adult’s regret and a parent’s neglect. When I was a child our family made three visits to Yellowstone. Among my most unforgettable memories was a riverside picnic area; dad and I fishing and mom setting up a picnic lunch. Suddenly a bear approached and we all rushed back to the safety of our car while the bear had its way with the lunch that we couldn’t gather in time. When the bear had been satisfied we collected our fishing gear and the rest of our belongings and moved on; a lunch spoiled and a remembrance made.
As a young adult I could have/should have visited Yellowstone to take advantage of my youth, to hike the back trails and seek out hidden waterfalls, magnificent views, and discover the grandeur of that wondrous place unseen from the busy park roads; to camp and hear the night sounds and to look up into the vault of the nighttime sky holding the lights of a million stars.
And the neglect? I had years available to me to bring my children to Yellowstone and I never did. Parents often wish they had a do over for something that they did or failed to do. Not bringing my children to Yellowstone is one of mine. I’ve been to Disneyland and I’ve been to Yellowstone and the memories of Yellowstone are fresher and dearer than any trip to “the magic kingdom.” Yellowstone has a magic all its own. I’ve encouraged my children to not make the same mistake as I did and to take their children to see this extraordinary place.
A few years ago I took my wife to Yellowstone and what follows in this and the next post is a remembrance of that trip.
We entered Yellowstone from the south, driving up from Grand Teton National Park and along the route of the Lewis River. During the drive I decided to stop to relax a bit and to view the river. What I found was the the bluest sky dotted with cotton ball clouds, all reflected in the river.
I went back to the car to fetch my camera to capture the scene. When I returned to the car I found my can of bear spray safely stashed in the trunk – where it didn’t belong. It should have been on my hip. If you go to Yellowstone, you take your bear spray everywhere. Unless of course you want to take the chance of reenacting some scenes from the movie The Revenant.
Continuing north along the path of the Lewis River you eventually come to the Hayden Valley named after Dr. Ferdinand Hayden who in 1871 led 34 men on a scientific survey of the Yellowstone area.
Standing at its edge you see the Hayden Valley in its grand vastness, stretching 7 miles in each direction. The valley is cleaved by the Yellowstone River and the cool waters and lush grasses attract herds of bison and elk.
It was in the Hayden Valley that Cora and I caught glimpse of a grizzly bear. When you drive the park roads you’re sure to come upon a Yellowstone traffic jam caused either by a herd of bison ambling along the road itself or cars stopped on the side or literally in the middle of the road to watch nearby wildlife. It was one of those snarls that caused me to pull over to see what the commotion was all about and there in the tall grasses was the bear.
It’s a rare day when you don’t see bison in Yellowstone. We saw the big wooly animals each of the 6 days we spent in the park. Yellowstone is home to approximately 5000 bison and according to the National Park Service, is the only place in the lower 48 states to have a continuously free-ranging bison population since prehistoric times. That status was severely endangered by man’s greed when the population was hunted to near extinction and the population reduced to a mere 24 individuals by 1902.
While bison may appear to be a combination of cute and cumbersome they can be aggressive and are indeed more agile than they look (they can travel at 35 miles per hour). Like all of the Yellowstone wildlife they are not to be taken lightly. At one bison traffic jam we saw tourists pour out of a bus to see the bison up close and personal; much too close (too close is within the prescribed 25 yards). I saw one man stand at arms length from a bison to take a photo with his tablet. Before we left for our trip I read about a woman who ambled up to a bison to take a selfie with the beast. When she turned her back on the animal it gored her, launching her skyward. She survived the incident and hopefully came away with a new found respect for wild animals.
Cora and I visited Yellowstone during the autumn in early October. While many of the facilities were closed it was a time when the crowds were minimal. My suggestion is to take your trip within that window just before facilities and guides close up shop for the season yet after the summer tourist rush.
Being early October the weather for us was hit and miss. We did experience some rain and most of the days were cloudy. Late one afternoon we were headed back to our cabin in Gardiner, Montana when I saw clouds forming over a distant mountain range and I took advantage of the opportunity to photograph the clouds forming over the mountains and rolling hills.
Above and below: Dark clouds above cast black shadows on the rolling hills.
Anyone planning on visiting Yellowstone should appreciate the enormity of the park itself – 3500 square miles touching 3 states, Wyoming, Montana and Idaho. We spent 6 days but could easily have spent two weeks, particularly if we had visited when more of the facilities and activities were open.
More Yellowstone facts
A number of nomadic Native American tribes passed through Yellowstone during their hunting excursions.
One Shoshone tribe, the Tukudika was the only tribe to call the Yellowstone high country home. The tribe was removed to a reservation by the U.S. Federal Government in 1870.
It is believed that the first white men glimpsed Yellowstone in or about 1797.
The Lewis and Clark party touched the area of Yellowstone during its vast expedition of the west.
In March of 1872, Congress passed the Yellowstone National Park Act making it the world’s first national park.
Yellowstone is larger than the states of Delaware and Rhode Island combined.
Within the park there are approximately 290 waterfalls
The tallest waterfall near a road (easy to get to) is the Lower Falls of the Yosemite at 308 feet high.
Sources of information:
National Park Service Website, Park Facts: https://www.nps.gov/yell/planyourvisit/parkfacts.htm
The National Wildlife Federation, Yellowstone: https://www.nwf.org/Educational-Resources/Wildlife-Guide/Wild-Places/Yellowstone
Kevin, Brian; (2012); Yellowstone and Grand Teton National Parks; Fodor’s Compass American Guide.