Yellowstone National Park

One of the world’s most magical places

March 1, 2022

The family at the northern entrance to the park in 2013

There are only a few places in the world I consider to be magical. This site – which became America’s first National Park – is such a place.

Long before that event, however, stories of this fantastical spot were dismissed as the ravings of madmen. Yet, as more and more intrepid explorers ventured into the American west, the stories of superheated water shooting hundreds of feet into the air, boiling mud lakes, and running water in winter, could no longer be dismissed as pure fantasy. Eventually, the stories proved to be true and, on March 1, 1872, Yellowstone National Park was established. Today marks the 150th anniversary of that event.

As always, the Infallible Wikipedia, shares some of that history:

“In 1806, John Colter, a member of the Lewis and Clark Expedition, left to join a group of fur trappers. After splitting up with the other trappers in 1807, Colter passed through a portion of what later became the park, during the winter of 1807–1808. He observed at least one geothermal area in the northeastern section of the park, near Tower Fall.  After surviving wounds he suffered in a battle with members of the Crow and Blackfoot tribes in 1809, Colter described a place of ‘fire and brimstone’ that most people dismissed as delirium; the supposedly mystical place was nicknamed ‘Colter’s Hell’. Over the next 40 years, numerous reports from mountain men and trappers told of boiling mud, steaming rivers, and petrified trees, yet most of these reports were believed at the time to be myth.

Honeymooner Hubby at Old Faithful September 2, 1980

After an 1856 exploration, mountain man Jim Bridger (also believed to be the first or second European American to have seen the Great Salt Lake) reported observing boiling springs, spouting water, and a mountain of glass and yellow rock. These reports were largely ignored because Bridger was a known ‘spinner of yarns.’ In 1859, a U.S. Army Surveyor named Captain William F. Raynolds embarked on a two-year survey of the northern Rockies. After wintering in Wyoming, in May 1860, Raynolds and his party—which included naturalist Ferdinand Vandeveer Hayden and guide Jim Bridger—attempted to cross the Continental Divide over Two Ocean Plateau from the Wind River drainage in northwest Wyoming. Heavy spring snows prevented their passage, but had they been able to traverse the divide, the party would have been the first organized survey to enter the Yellowstone region.”

The author at Liberty Cap in the Mammoth Hot Springs region July 1982

While today we take for granted our National Parks, in the early years the western lands were often auctioned off, with the thought that having private enterprise take over regions would be best for getting the vast western lands settled.

Thankfully, due primarily to the efforts of geologist Ferdinand Hayden, Congress was convinced to create Yellowstone NP, preserving the lands for future generations to enjoy in as natural a state as possible.

Now, to be fair, this article could go on for pages and pages. There have been books written about the park and its 150 year history. It truly is an amazing story and a good start is on the Infallible Wikipedia page or the official National Park Service site (links below).

Reading about Yellowstone – or even watching video – simply does not do it justice. It has to be seen, smelled, felt, to truly be embraced by the magic of the place.

The author on a hike 1982. The upper geyser basin in the background.

As a child, my family never strayed far from home when we went on vacations. Each summer was a week or two at the beach. As a teenager, we took one trip to California and Disneyland with a stop at Crater Lake in Oregon on the way home.

I was 23 years old the first time I laid eyes on Yellowstone. The hubby and I had been married two days earlier and our honeymoon trip was, in theory, to drive back to Tampico, Illinois to visit his sister and her family. It turned in to so much more.

It was late afternoon on September 1, 1980, when we drove into Yellowstone. From my accounting of that day:

“About 5 p.m. we were at the park entrance. We did stop briefly in West Yellowstone for gas and miscellaneous groceries. While in the park that evening we stopped to see the mud paint pots and smaller geysers. (The hubby) was amazed at me upon witnessing someone who was seeing Yellowstone for the first time.

At every new site, I’d get excited just like a kid at Christmas. The same words always flowed from my mouth: ‘Oh! Wow!’”

Riverside Geyser adorned with a rainbow. 1982

Actually, I think my reaction was more like ‘Oooh! Oooh! Oooh!’

It was not until the next day that I saw a few of the ‘big’ geysers, including Old Faithful. Once again, I was stunned by the amazing displays:

“Two of the more notable geysers we saw erupting were Grand and Riverside. Grand was by far the more spectacular of the two, shooting 200-250 feet into the air.”

That 24 hour visit to Yellowstone was a lot like speed dating. We crammed as much into the visit as our time allowed before continuing east to Illinois.

Yet the ‘date’ left me wanting more. Two summers later we planned and then set out on a two week western US trip which took us back to Yellowstone. Our goal for that trip was to drive on every road in the park, and stay at least one night in each distinctive region. On that trip we found ourselves, literally, walking in the middle of an elk herd! (It was dusky and we were on our way to a campfire program put on by the ranger) We counted 29 does and fawns.

Upright petrified trees can only be seen on an insane hike called ‘Climb Through Time.’
Son and daughter at Minerva Terrace 2013

We saw a moose, marmots, and bison. We climbed to the top of Mt. Washburn and enjoyed spectacular views. We shared our camping spot with an Italian couple who had inadvertently joined us when they didn’t understand how the system worked. We visited the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone and the Mammoth Hot Springs area. We did a ‘climb through time’ to see a standing petrified forest.

And we achieved our goal of driving every road in the park.

When we left Yellowstone on August 1st, I felt as if I had gotten my fill… at least for a few years.

The pair of us returned in 1989, and then brought the kids in 1998 when they were 8 and 5. Our last visit to the park was in 2013, the kids now 23 and 20, as part of a journey to move our daughter to Nashville.

Even writing about the trips creates a yearning to visit Yellowstone once again. Perhaps it is time to start planning for at least one more journey to this magical place.

The links:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Yellowstone_National_Park

https://www.nps.gov/yell/index.htm

The hubby and kids from our last Yellowstone visit in September 2013

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