Monday, August 16, 2010

Yellowstone National Park - Amazing!

In case you don't know, Yellowstone was established by an act of Congress in 1872 and so became the first national park in the United States. It is named for the gold-hued cliffs lining the river canyon, known by the Minnetaree Indians as mi tsi a-da-zi (Yellow Rock River).  We packed in a lot of sightseeing in the past two days and now we're both completely taken with this wonderful place - there is so much more to see and do at Yellowstone than I ever imagined!

First of all, the geology is almost indescribable. While Old Faithful is certainly nothing to sneeze at, that geyser is just one of many geological points of interest in Yellowstone National Park. Yellowstone boasts the largest concentration of geothermal features in the world, including geysers, hot springs, mud pools and fumaroles.  The park is located on top of one of the largest active volcanoes on earth, a super volcano that most recently erupted about 640,000 years ago and left a caldera 28 miles wide and 53 miles long, and a vast subterranean magma chamber that heats Yellowstone Valley to this day.

We drove around Lake Yellowstone several times, took a guided tour of Old Faithful and surrounding geysers and springs, went to Artists Point, walked around the Travertine Terraces near Mammoth Hot Springs, and toured the Norris Geyser Basin with a ranger. We also took a guided hike around Storm Point and enjoyed learning more about the fauna and flora of Yellowstone.  It was all amazing!

As if these geological wonders aren't enough, Yellowstone National Park is also one of the most successful wildlife sanctuaries in the world. Although we (thankfully) did not see any Grizzly or Black bears, they are known to be within the park. And Yellowstone is also home to several varieties of ungulates, including bighorn sheep, and over 2000 bison.

As we drove around the park, we saw elk, mule deer, pronghorn antelopes and a lot of bison. Those bison are very impressive and quite intimidating - the bulls probably weigh more than the little rental car we were driving! I have to admit that I felt nervous whenever we encountered these big woolly beasts, which was every time we drove through Hayden Valley. We were there during rutting season, and the bison would roll out onto the road, grunting and lumbering along at whatever pace they chose. Bulls would charge out to chase each other, and half-grown calves were getting caught up in the brawls and bawling for their mothers. More than once, a bull became interested in our little car, stopping just inches away to glare at us... perhaps considering an attack or, even worse, an amorous advance. What amazing chaos it was!

We also went on a guided tour of historic Fort Yellowstone at the north end of the park, near Mammoth Hot Spring.  We learned that for the first decade after Yellowstone National Park was established, poachers, souvenir hunters, developers, and other speculators inflicted considerable harm to the park's formations and wildlife. After Congress refused to set aside funding to protect the park, Yellowstone National Park administration asked the US Army for help. And so began a 32-year period during which the US Army protected and essentially ran Yellowstone National Park.

The soldiers who first arrived in 1886 lived in tents and temporary frame buildings through five harsh cold winters. When the Army realized there was no end in sight for their protection of Yellowstone, they convinced Congress to appropriate $50,000 to construct a permanent post. By end of the Army's tenure in 1918, Fort Yellowstone consisted of Officers' Quarters, Bachelor Officers' quarters, the Headquarters building, the  Chapel, quarters for Non-Commissioned Officers, a two-troop barracks building that could house 200 men, a guard house, and stables for horses.   These buildings are now preserved and continue to serve the Park's staff and visitors.

Another landmark at Yellowstone National Park that we visited is the Old Faithful Inn. If I return to Yellowstone without my motor home, this is where I want to stay!  The Inn stands near to Old Faithful, and is a national historic landmark. It is one of the few remaining log hotels in the United States with a rustic log and wood-frame structure and a wood shingle exterior. The Inn is of gigantic proportions: nearly 700 feet in length and seven stories high. The original part, known as the "Old House" was completed in 1904 and includes an amazing lobby that features a 65-foot ceiling, a massive rhyolite fireplace, and railings made of contorted lodgepole pine. The East and West Wings were added in the teens and the twenties and blend in beautifully with the original building.  Not surprisingly, the Old Faithful Inn is the most requested lodging facility in the park!

And so ends our visit to Yellowstone National Park - click here to see some photos of our visit. Although we managed to see a great deal in the past two days, there's plenty more to do and so I hope to come back to Yellowstone to enjoy more of this fabulous park.

We will return the rental car tomorrow morning and then drive back through Yellowstone to visit the Grand Teton National Park, which is south of Yellowstone. Stay tuned!

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