By Robin Swanson
I’m not a camper. Though I do think s’mores are just about the most brilliant combination of food groups ever invented, I’m not sure why they have to be cooked over an open fire in the wilderness. Add to that the lack of indoor plumbing, (or indoor anything, really) and the potential for wild animals (or bugs) to devour me in my sleep, and I’m just not down with pitching a tent somewhere spectacular to be one with nature. So the fact that I’m about to dedicate a blog entry to the awe-inspiring 48 hours I spent with friends in Yellowstone National Park may seem odd to some.
In the interest of full-disclosure, we “camped” at the Days Inn – but part of Yellowstone’s appeal is that you can drive to see some of the most awesome sights that planet Earth has to offer, and then drive back to a hot, indoor shower and warm, cozy bed. There are also several nice government-run hotels in the park, as well – but we hadn’t planned far enough in advance to reserve them. And if you’re of the brave ilk that prefers to camp and hike, there’s plenty of that to be had, as well.
In truth, it never would’ve occurred to me to go to Yellowstone, (I’ve never even visited Yosemite here in the 9 years I’ve lived in California — I know, heresy, tisk, tisk) but I was determined to see a dear friend who moved from Sacramento to Montana in search of new adventures. So – for all of you die-hard Yosemite fans out there, this isn’t intended to be any sort of comparison piece – it’s an attempt to put into words the sense of wonder I felt at the magnificent splendors I saw in Yellowstone National Park. There’s just something about that park that makes you feel like a kid again, and it’s not just the images of cartoon Yogi Bear extolling “Jellystone’s” virtues.
First of all, with more than half of the world’s hot spring geysers (over 500) located in this one park, I can’t help but think of the Yellowstone’s spa-potential. Relax fellow conservationists, I have no intention of marketing this idea, (aside from the fact that Yellowstone’s been protected as a national park since 1872) but couldn’t help but wonder: if Calistoga can become a spa-destination with just a few measly geysers, imagine the possibilities…
Kidding aside, the fact that Yellowstone sits on top of a dormant super-volcano makes the earth just beneath the surface of the park extremely volatile. And the geysers of hot water shooting hundreds of feet into the sky are just the beginning of the many dazzling sights spurred on by this volatility. We witnessed bubbling, boiling pools of clay earth, scalding, steaming waterfalls and hot rivers in the midst of below-freezing temperatures.
And despite the sporty nature of the earth underneath them, America’s first national park is home to grizzly bears, wolves, bison and elk. In fact, just a few months before our visit, a man got eaten by one such grizzly bear, affirming my previous theories about camping. In fairness, the last time a grizzly bear attacked someone at Yellowstone was in 1984.
But I digress. We didn’t see any grizzlies at Yellowstone, (probably for the best) but we did see herds of bison – lots of them. I respect that these animals appear to be in no hurry to get anywhere – whether crossing a two-lane highway full of cars or just meandering down a hill – bison are giant animals, and they’ll get where they want to go when they damn well please. Silver lining for the toursist/observer is that the pokey bison are much easier to photograph than the skittish dear along the side of the roads.
Because there was so much to see in this park, I will confess that 48-hours probably didn’t do it justice. But I’m here to attest that it can be done, and it’s worth the trip, if you can only make it for a long weekend. For a less expensive flight, try flying into Salt Lake City, renting a car and driving the not-quite 5 hours to the park – it goes by much more quickly than you’d imagine, and it’s worth the drive!