I’ll be honest, Yellowstone left me a little bewildered. As I sit down to write a post about this iconic figurehead of the National Parks, I have various feelings and it’s hard to sum up our experience in one little post. This was my (Sarah’s) first time visiting Yellowstone, but Marc had been here about 15 years ago with a college band trip (Jenga!). I really had no idea what the park was all about. I knew it was the first National Park, and that dedicated people fought for the idea of protected wilderness. I knew that a geyser named Old Faithful was there and that sometimes wildlife caused traffic jams on the roads.
I was completely taken by the sheer enormity of the park, by the mind-blowing hydrothermal things going on, and the glimpses it gives into the powerful forces at work just below our feet. In the 1800s, when early white explorers began to send word to the city dwellers back East of what they were seeing out here, their words were often met with disbelief. The easterners thought they were tall tales of boiling rivers and 100 foot geysers. I felt their disbelief even as I was standing in front of these things and seeing them with my own eyes!
There’s a reason this park has become a symbol of the American West, of preserved wildness. But for all that wildness, there sure are a lot of people here. Campsites fill up in the early morning; parking is tricky almost everywhere you go. There’s a sign I read once that said, “You are not stuck in traffic, you are traffic,” and I reminded us of that adage multiple times throughout our visit.
David Quammen does an excellent job in the May issue of National Geographic showing what a special place this is and the challenges it faces today. If you’re at all interested in Yellowstone, I would highly recommend the issue. He writes: “Yellowstone is more than just a park. It’s a place where, more than 140 years ago, people began to negotiate a peace treaty with the wild. That negotiation continues today, with growing urgency, at Yellowstone and all over the planet, as the human world expands and the natural world retreats. Can we come to terms?” The issue, of course, has some amazing photography, but for now, you’ll have to accept our photos of some of our favorite places and views of the park.
You can’t come to Yellowstone without the obligatory viewing of Old Faithful. We watched once from the mountain overlook (looks a little small from there) and once from the ground (a little more impressive).
There are so many hot spring pools with eye-catching colors and depths beyond the imagination.
Boiling hot pools of mud bubbling and making gurgling, belching noises are strangely entertaining. We could watch them for hours.
There are so many geologic forces at work here over millions of years and they continue to change today. This place makes you feel your smallness in the world.
And not least of all, the wildlife are stars of the show here.
The bison are abundant, with herds spread out in valleys and grassfields, and the lone bison making its way close to all the visitors. I think he was trying to show off with his recent promotion to National Mammal.
Here are my best tips for someone visiting Yellowstone for the first time:
- Take your time. You can’t see it all in a day. I would recommend a minimum of 3 days.
- You won’t see it all, and that’s okay. We didn’t see much of Yellowstone Lake. Sometimes you just have to let it go.
- Get out of the car and do some hiking. It helps the mood to get a little space between you and the tour bus crowds and appreciate the less traveled wilderness.
- Follow the damn rules. They’re there for a reason, usually to keep you from hurting yourself. Oh and they pertain to everyone and that happens to include you. Even after recent tragic events, we still saw people going off the trails in the geothermal areas or hiking trails closed for dangerous conditions.
- Bring an extra dose of patience and good manners to deal with your fellow humans. You will need it.
- Get ready to put some miles on your feet. Even the days that we drove around and were sight-seeing, we clocked about 7-9 miles of walking.
- Get ready to be impressed. You will constantly be washed in a mixture of awe, disbelief and sheer delight.
From here we plan on traveling further west through Idaho and working our way into Washington and Oregon. We know nothing about Idaho, so if anyone has great Idaho recommendations, we would love to hear them!