Sunday, March 2, 2014

Happy Anniversary Yellowstone!

On March 1st, 1872, with the signing of a bill by President Ulysses S. Grant, Yellowstone was made the world's first national park.  Yesterday was the anniversary of this remarkable day.  I agree with Ken Burns who pointed out in his magnificent PBS series, The National Parks, the creation of these parks was quite possibly America's best idea.  I am an enthusiastic national park fan, junkie, supporter, lover, explorer - whatever noun one can use to describe my adoration for these amazing places of natural wonder.  I called Yellowstone home for almost ten years, I once worked in Zion for a scant five weeks, and I have visited many other national parks over the years.  Yellowstone is undoubtedly my favorite, and there are many I have yet to visit.

The Grand Canyon of The Yellowstone - Lower Falls

I drove out to Montana in July of 1999 for my first summer in the park.  The farthest west I had been before then?  Buffalo, New York.  No kidding.  I took the advice of friends and family ("don't pick up hitchhikers" and "don't let your gas tank get below half full") and set out to cross the country mostly unsure of what I was doing and why.  I had lost my job due to a business closing, and on a whim went to meet a recruiter hiring for Yellowstone at a local hotel conference room.  Up until the day before I left, I wasn't all together sure it was the right decision to go thousands of miles away for a seasonal job in a place unfamiliar to me or anyone I knew.  Nevertheless, I decided to go.  Along the way I met kind people and saw more farmland than I ever guessed existed.  I listened to way too much country music and hog reports because in some states that was all I could get.  I swelled with pride at how beautiful America is, how diverse and huge.  I imagined what Montana and Wyoming would look like, basing it on old westerns and Robert Redford's movie A River Runs Through It.  My friend Andy and I saw that movie years before and left the theater in awe.  He summed it up best when he said, "I don't quite know yet why that movie was so wonderful, but I really, really liked it."  I guess it had planted the seed in my mind to one day see Montana.  In fact, I now live in the town where much of that movie was filmed. 

Electric Peak 

The last bit of driving to the north entrance of the park was stunning.  Huge mountains on either side of the highway, cattle ranches spread throughout the valley, the Yellowstone River winding its way north.  When I got into the park and eventually drove south to the Old Faithful area which was to be my home for the next several months, I was surely driving like those tourists who gawk at everything and seem incapable of maintaining a regular speed.  I had never seen a place so beautiful and wild.  And that was just the beginning.  

Bison cows and spring calves aka red dogs
Yellowstone changed me.  It changed my life immeasurably.  Living and working in a place with millions of acres to explore, lush with geyser basins, mega fauna, wildflowers, lakes, rivers and wide open expanses of preserved wilderness made me the happiest I had ever been in my life.  I made friends from all over the world.  I saw kids from Singapore who had never seen snow roll around in the white powder, squealing with delight like small children.  I met guests and fellow employees from countries I had never even heard of before.  I saw bubbling mud, boiling hot springs, geysers erupting day and night.  I have seen Old Faithful erupt more times than I can count, sometimes in the moonlight during winter when the water cools enough that it sounds like shattering glass when it comes down to land on the geyser's cone.  I witnessed a golden eagle steal a fish from the talons of a bald eagle while both were in flight.  It then proceeded to eat it in full view of the bird who had just been robbed.  I glimpsed wolves hunt elk, take care of their pups and chase after hungry coyotes approaching their kill.  I viewed cow elk harassed by bulls during the fall and then watched them give birth to calves in the spring, having to soon after encourage their new offspring's first wobbly steps.  I've caught sight of foxes hunting in the snow, porcupines removing bark from the branches of Lodgepole Pines, great grey owls keeping watch over their parcel of forest and river otters hunting in partially frozen waters.  I've spied ravens working in pairs to unzip backpacks of inattentive snowmobilers, pulling out everything from cameras and car keys to full loaves of bread and spare gloves.  I watched enamored as a grizzly sow lay on her back to feed her year old cubs, and I envied the climbing skills of a black bear as she treed her cubs to get away from curious humans.  Once, I even got to view an obstinacy of bison one-by-one try to help a large bull with a broken hind leg to stand.  They tried to raise him with sheer will and the help of their horns, bulls and cows alike, until they realized there was no hope and moved on.  Some of the cows repeatedly stopped and looked back at the suffering animal before finally moving along into the trees to join their herd.  All of these things and many more reasons are why I loved living in Yellowstone.  I will forever be grateful that men like Ferdinand Hayden, Thomas Moran, Nathaniel Pitt Langford, Lt. Gustuvas Doane and many others from those early expeditions became advocates for setting aside the land that is now Yellowstone National Park "For the Benefit and Enjoyment of the People."

Lone Star Geyser
If you have never been to Yellowstone or any other national park, I encourage you to seek them out and relish the protected splendor of these places.  Whether you visit one of them or all of them, enjoy knowing that they are set aside for our pleasure and quest for adventure.  Respect the wildlife and the resources please, and embrace nature in its abundance.  It just might change your life too.
DeLacey Creek Trail


  1. Boy, your description makes me smell the sulphur, and breathe the clean cold air again. And to see our special moose-trail ... makes me smile over and over again.

    1. One day we will hike there again together. I am sure of it! I can't say I miss the rotten egg smell, but I don't mind it when I'm there. Thanks for reading, by the way.