It began on the great American family road trip; my love of the pure and wild beauty of Yellowstone National Park. Within its two million acres 10,000 geothermal features (geysers, bubbling mudpots, boiling hot springs, and fumaroles) cook day and night and still mystify me. Its snow-capped mountains, 67 mammal species (and their newborn), and enormous blue skies still dazzle. Founded in 1872 after the Hayden expedition verified tales of its other-worldy wonders this great-grandaddy of all national parks (first in America and in the world) is still a heart-stopper today. Its man-made features hold magic too; the recently renovated Old Faithful Inn (built 1904), emanates a palpable electricity in its cathedral high seven-story lobby as visitors embark on their own expeditions.
Yellowstone Park was created as a “pleasuring ground for the people of the world” and to preserve its wild nature. Founded after Native American inhabitants were moved to reservations, it’s been, “inadvertently portrayed as a vacant wilderness,” said park cultural anthropologist, Rosemary Sucec. Prior to European contact at least 26 American Indian tribes lived here if only seasonally. Notably, three believed their people originated in this land. Today the National Park Service’s stewardship helps facilitate tribal members reclaim some of their heritage. As one elder said, “You are helping us to re-visit our sites, retell our history and events. You are perpetuating Crow ways and identities.”
Visiting this dynamic virtually unspoiled land, which I believe is inherently sacred, I am recharged. According to Richard Louv, author of Last Child in the Woods, National Parks Special Edition, we all-especially children-need connection with nature to remain healthy. Data links a lack of nature to obesity, depression, and attention disorders in children. He wrote, “The children and nature movement is fueled by this fundamental idea: the child in nature is an endangered species, and the health of children and the health of the Earth are inseparable.” This edition includes 100 Actions We Can Take.
The Exploration Begins
Cruising the park in a jaunty 1937 refurbished yellow convertible top bus with park guide, Leslie Quinn, our first stop is Storm Point trail at Yellowstone Lake. (Partial, all-day, evening, and custom bus tours available). Vistas here inspired a photographing frenzy. The 141square-mile lake, fed by 121 streams, has great cutthroat trout fishing (three-day permit $15), seven islands (six with evidence of aboriginal presence 9,000 years ago), is 460 feet deep, and is believed to have more geothermal features below its surface than the entire park. Not your average lake. Regularly scheduled and custom boat tours are available.
At West Thumb Geyser Basin elk grazed 30 feet away, jewel-toned hotspring pools steamed, and a marmot watched us. Watching Old Faithful’s powerful blast, I can imagine it housing spirits as Native Americans believed. Awesome anytime, Old Faithful’s prettiest in dawn or dusk’s light. Other free activities: geyser gazing (Upper Geyser Basin has the most geysers), Yellowstone’s Grand Canyon viewing, the Old Faithful Inn tour, ranger-led tours, bird watching, cycling, stargazing,and picnicking. For cost activities: Yellow Association classes, Muench Photo Workshops, kayaking, and horseback riding. The park’s a wonderful spot for family reunions and weddings.
Where the Wild Things Are
Keep your camera ready. Twelve elk calves gamboled in the sage 30 feet from where I dined at Mammoth Lodge. Two bears dined waterside, elk grazed, a lone swan swam, and a coyote watched us as we cruised Hayden Valley and the full moon rose. In Lamar Valley (the American Serengeti) black bear cubs, a moose and mooselet, a pregnant Bighorn Sheep, wolves, rabbits, deer and antelope roamed. This fall animals will be increasingly active; bison and elk in their mating rituals known as “ruts” and bears fattening up for hibernation.
Lodging and Food
The Lake Hotel, Old Faithful Inn, and Mammoth Lodge are all handsome and comfortable with Mammoth being the most simply furnished. The stately Lake Hotel has a sun room with bar and the park’s most upscale menu. Two favorite items: grilled Montana beef with rosemary cabernet sauce and the tangy lemon sorbet. The smoked salmon Eggs Benedict at Snow Lodge and Mammoth Lodge’s Chicken in mustard sauce were also hits. Lodging in Autumn is more available since there are fewer tourists. There are cabins, RV sites, and camp sites too.
Gateway Town: Cody, Wyoming
I’m one degree of separation from William Frederick Cody aka “Buffalo Bill Cody”. My grandfather proudly told me he met America’s first superstar in 1898 outside Cody’s Wild West Show tent and held his horse’s reins. Visiting Cody gave me a greater appreciation of my grampa’s pride. In 1896, Buffalo Bill founded Cody, the eastern gateway town to Yellowstone. Today, the town’s 9,000 inhabitants, great attractions, and “big attitude” make it the hottest little small town in Wyoming. Its world class Buffalo Bill Historic Center has five wings: Plains Indian, Buffalo Bill, Cody Firearms, Draper Natural History, and the Whitney Gallery of Western Art. Cody has a dozen art galleries, wild mustang tours, white water rafting, and great (aw shucks, mam) original cowboy music by Dan Miller’s Cowboy Music Review. Plus there’s lake kayaking, fishing, windsurfing, rock climbing, and rodeo all summer. Tip: Take the trolley tour first for a good overview.
History buffs love Cody. The ornately carved bar in Buffalo Bill’s Hotel Irma was a gift from Queen Victoria and later Ernest Hemingway drank and swapped stories there. Hemingway wrote several short stories while staying at the lovely Chamberlin Inn, where his room can be reserved. The Tecumseh Trading Post Museum is curated by Jerry Fick, Eagle Speaker and has dioramas beginning with pre-washichu (white man) history and thousands of Native and Euro-American items. Eagle Speaker also makes hide jackets to order. Crow, Northern Cheyenne, Shoshone, and Arapahoe Reservations are nearby. One of Butch Cassidy and Sundance Kid’s cabins is in Historic Old Town where Jeremiah Johnson was reburied in a ceremony that Robert Redford attended.
The brand new Cody Hotel is a green hotel with a pool, jacuzzi, exercise room, laundry, and an organic breakfast included. Luxurious rooms have sleek, dark furniture and every amenity (including bathroom phone). Enjoy dessert at the outdoor fireplace. The elegant Chamberlin Inn property included the original Cody Circuit Judge Court House, has 24 units, and a lovely garden for weddings.
Cody is the heart of beef country and protein portions (even the finned) will be generous and tasty. I enjoyed fabulous grilled halibut at Irma’s and Cassie’s restaurants.