It’s summer again and everybody’s vacationing. Most are going to the beach and/or the mountains, but many are taking off to a park somewhere. Our national parks are treasures that we all are blessed to be able to enjoy. Thank goodness, our forefathers were wise enough to preserve special areas of our nation and give us the opportunity to see and appreciate some of the natural wonders of the earth. Developers were hungry to use those lands to benefit a small group. They fought hard to be users not sharers, but ultimately Roosevelt won.
I have been blessed to travel to many of our national parks in my lifetime. The first one I remember was Yellowstone. My aunt, who was like my grandmother, took me when I was about 14. I think she couldn’t get my uncle to go with her, so it was to my benefit. We flew (my first time) to Salt Lake (down into that white bowl) and then on to West Yellowstone. The plane to West was a propeller plane cruising low just over the mountains and then bumping along like the air was a washboard. This being in the early 60s, we didn’t rent a car, but took a bus to Old Faithful Inn. I remember as we pulled into the parking area there were black bears at the dumpsters. (Not the first black bears I’d seen. They were also all along the roads in the Blue Ridge waiting for cars to stop to provide their next meal.) Now feeding the bears is against the law of course. Not healthy.
We checked in to the famous inn and our luggage was carted to the room. The day had been very long and as tired travelers often do, we decided to rest before dinner. Entering the room in that great log cabin we were instantly accosted by ……… a mockingbird! The poor bird was flying about looking for a way out and pooping all along the way. Never knew what happened to our desperate visitor after that, but we were led to another room. The first thing we wanted to see of course was Old Faithful, the geyser. A flipchart stood at the side door exit near the geyser field and a park ranger stood there trying to explain that they didn’t know when the next eruption would be. So, we went to watch and wait. With all the other tourists, of course. We waited and waited and stood and stood until it finally did its thing.
We moved to the lovely accommodations at Lake staying several days. I remember no other animals. But the young college students who served us told stories of walking into hot springs and scalding their feet just to go from their dorms to work. Or of thumbing their way to Jackson or backpacking out into the wilds.
Back to the animals. In the 60s the bison were all but extinct all over the west. The elk and other ruminants were extremely shy and hunted too. What we saw was hot springs and geysers. I remember walking and walking but without a vehicle we saw little. We played solitaire.
I’ve been back again in 1991, and 1995 with my husband. After 30 years, much had changed. There were bison everywhere. Innumerable. Same with elk. Wolves were reintroduced too. The fire had scarred the south west section. And the crowds at Old Faithful had exploded. And the roads were always bumper to bumper. It was either the lines to get to the geysers or the lines to photograph the main attractions.
We drove this time, and Cody had become a destination just about 2 hours out to the east. Cody is the Buffalo Bill Cody town of show fame and his museum. The museum was fairly small but very interesting with exhibits on plains Indians, guns, and Annie Oakley and Buffalo Bill. It was basically one street with one 1940s motel that we tried and a saloon to partake of cowboy food.
I remember dressing for the Cody temperature in shorts, but by the time we got to Lake in the park, it was snowing. Always went prepared after that.
Returning in about 2000 with friends, we found similar situations throughout the park, but Cody had grown some. There were signs now that threatened arrest for molesting the animals. But animals are now the biggest draw. We saw some of the rare ones this year – wolves, and grizzlies. Even saw a wolf and a black bear in a struggle over food. Old Faithful Inn and the geyser had not changed much.
This summer my family and I flew out, rented a house from VRBO near Cody, and drove into the park. The early trip during June gave us opportunity to enjoy snow and chilly climes. The animals were plentiful, and we saw some unique mammals, like wolverines and red foxes. The bison and elk were exciting to my
granddaughter, and we spent a lot of time photographing. The black bears were active and cubs prolific.
The fire area had almost healed itself. There were many flowery meadows and lots of beautiful green grass along the Yellowstone River. Some of the geysers are producing less and less water flow, which is disappointing. But Old Faithful is still showing off now surrounded by high bleachers for seating the hoards. Predicting the next eruption time is a game, but science has made it almost exact taking into account the volume of water in the previous flow and the average of the times between eruptions. Also surrounding the great geyser are now a visitor center, restaurants, gift shops, a small infirmary, a grocery, and extensive parking lots. I found that the less affected population center was the northern most geyser zone. And of course, the Roosevelt Lodge is still simple and lovely.
Cody has grown to a small metropolis with numerous motels and restaurants. The museum has grown and the displays improved over time. A nature wing winds down through eco-systems to educate about the plants and animals of the high plains. Live bird shows and active education areas are attractive to children and adults alike. The town has many shops now and one Legendary bookstore.
I am so lucky to have seen Yellowstone at various times over the past 50 years. I can hardly believe it. 50 years. I doubt I’ll ever return, but what a blessing.
I pray that we, the people, will find a way to save this and other special places and still allow we, the people, to enjoy them freely. We must support the park system.
Enjoy our parks now.♦