Your Better Nature February 2021 W/C 722
A Wonderland Tour
I have a favorite place. It is Yellowstone National Park. It was the first national park in the United States. Also the first national park in the world. It was set aside for all people on March 1, 1872 by then President Ulysses S.Grant.
The foresight of the President and Congress to set aside this wondrous place for all time is astounding. In a time when the West was still wild and being settled, this area will for all time and forever be ‘wild’. Or so we pray. Imagine private homes on the geyser areas, or overlooking the Yellowstone River at the canyon. Or what about a Sheraton or Walt Disney resort? Those who love Yellowstone the way it is shudder at those possibilities.
Yellowstone was initially managed by the U.S.Army. In fact, evidence of Fort Yellowstone can still be seen at Mammoth Hot Springs, five miles up a mountain road from Gardiner, MT. This was an outpost for the Army and many Army buildings still remain.
The Army was charged with enforcing rules in the new park. The calvary patrolled and dealt mainly with poachers. Eventually, the Army’s management ended, and the National Park Service was created. Today the NPS rangers manage Yellowstone.
My husband and I first came to Yellowstone in the early 2000s. We heard about jobs available there when working at a campground in Tennessee. So we applied, packed up the RV, and traveled toward Montana and Wyoming.
We worked in reservations for Xanterra, a concessioner for Yellowstone. It was our job to book hotel rooms, cabins, campgrounds, tours, and other fun things to do in Yellowstone. We worked 10 hour days on the phones. The plus was the ability to have days off in the park to hike or sightsee. A pass on our car and employee IDs meant no entrance fee. We ate in the employee dining room and for a time, lived in the employee dorm.
To this day, I can tell you where to go, what to do, what to see, what time is best to see animals, what geysers are best, what hikes are easy and which are difficult, and how long it takes to drive around. I will also tell you the best places to stay in the park, or outside the park. I can also tell you a little about the history. I can tell you the airports and how to get to the park without a GPS.
We hiked with friends, we hiked alone. We went to backcountry campsites for a few days, we went on covered wagon rides. I skied cross country down at the Old Faithful geyser basin in -10° weather. We waited with others to watch Old Faithful geyser erupt. We saw our first bear on a hike around Beaver Ponds trail. We took a boat ride on Lake Yellowstone with others.
A challenge one year that we met was to hike 100 miles. Did it. Another personal goal we had was to hike every night. When we lived in the dorms we hiked around the Beaver Ponds trail. 5 miles. We got to the point where we could do that in about an hour.
Today you can roam Yellowstone on a road system first envisioned by those early pioneers. That basic road system has never been changed. Modified a bit, but its basic idea still remains. It takes you to all areas of the park. And Yellowstone is more than just geysers. It is wolves and bears, otters and badgers, bison and marmots, swans and cutthroat trout, whooping cranes and big horned owls, waterfalls and grand canyons, elk and antelope, valleys with rivers, lakes and streams, mud pots and fumaroles, trout lilies and fairy slipper orchids, petrified wood forests and obsidian cliffs, backcountry campsites and modern RV parks, travertine terraces and basalt outcroppings, a post office with stone bears guarding the entrance, hikes up to 10,000 feet or boardwalks over hot springs. You can visit all this in the summer or go in the winter in a snow coach.
Millions visit the park annually, from all over the world. It used to have the nickname ‘Wonderland’. I still call it that. For me, it is truly the most wondrous place on earth.