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Yellowstone National Park :: Overview

Yellowstone National Park, October 2000

Yellowstone National Park is probably my favorite place in the entire world. Yellowstone National Park has just about any geographical feature from across the world in one 60 x 40 mile park that covers approximately 2.2 million acres. Yellowstone National Park's flora and fauna are also magnificient. Go to Yellowstone to really experience America, to clear your head or just to know that you have accomplished one of the greatest things that any person can do in life.

Yellowstone National Park is best visited before the summer, but the park only opens around Labor Day weekend, as far as I remember. Alternatively, go after the summer like we did. In either case, the vast majority of the four million visitors per year are almost nowhere to be seen, and you can have most of the park to yourself unless you are at the Old Faithful Inn or the Mammoth Hot Springs area. And in either case you'll certainly feel like you have lots of room to yourself. In fact, coming from Atlanta, whose metro area is about the size of Yellowstone National Park, I am always struck by the fact that I have often driven for four hours within the park and not seen more than one car every 10 minutes or so.

I am always amazed that this most photogenic of all places has so few good photos posted on the web. This is just a quick portfolio of our visit to Yellowstone National Park.

In any case, for now, here are some of the photos of the trip....

Yellowstone National Park :: Getting There

Atlanta to Salt Lake City, September 29, 2000

It was 4:30. My parents arrived at our home exactly on time. We topped off the food and water for our three cats (Mirabelle, Katya and Sasha), packed our suitcases into the Town & Country, and hightailed it down to the airport. Check in was rapid thanks to curbside check-in access for e-ticket holders. We ended up going on a flight that left half an hour earlier than the one we were supposed to take to Salt Lake City. The highlight of that flight was watching - hold her ear up to the arm rest to hear the sound track to the movie. "Dinner" consisted of a little sandwich, a bag of chips, an apple the size of a new dollar coin, and a chocolate chip cookie that was even smaller. But we did have room to stretch across three rows in the center of the 767. We arrived on time in SLC only to find out once we got there that our connecting flight to Billings, Montana had been cancelled.

Delta, which had inflicted an absolutely horrible dinner on us on the first leg of the journey, made up for it a little bit by getting us in King sized beds at the Comfort Inn near the airport.

Salt Lake City to Yellowstone, Saturday, September 30, 2000

The next morning, after a wonderful continental breakfast and a humorous conversation accented by - showing Baba how to work the toaster, we took the shuttle back to the airport. Salt Lake City looked beautiful, but we were more excited about getting to Billings.

This flight took off on time, and we arrived in Billings at 12:15 pm. We picked up our luggage and some travel brochures from a cynical old man who said "I know that you're going to throw those away before you leave the airport". I told him that I don't waste the brochures. But then moments after I left him, I saw Baba come out of the bathroom and probably grab the same ones. The third thing we got at the airport was an amazingly ugly metallic gray Chevy "mini" van optimistically named the Astra, as if its brick like styling might somehow make it easier to reach for the stars. But it was comfortable on the inside, it did have four captains chairs, and it did have large mirrors that I like so much. And best of all was a feature that we hoped we wouldn't need: All Wheel Drive. That said, Baba found out later that the tires were under-inflated, that the oil pressure was low and that there were some other maintenance issues that weren't quite up to spec. However, one very important saving grace was the lack of Firestone tires, which are currently in the news for having helped cause 90 or so deaths when they shredded while being used by Ford Explorer drivers.

Yellowstone by air

Flying into Montana. This is the terrain that is typical of Yellowstone. Except for the fact that I don't think that commercial overflights are allowed of the park, I would guess that this is Yellowstone National Park.

Montana is always ruggedly beautiful, which was no doubt part of its great appeal to cowboys and is currently so appealing to tourists and militia groups. The countryside is absolutely endless, and so much can be taken it all at once. I am certain that just from the airport, we could see probably 20 miles off to the horizon.

The airport sits on a high bluff overlooking the city from the north. We descended leaving the airport and jumping on 27th street, the main thoroughfare that neatly bisects the city on its way to I-90, which forms the southern border. From I-90 west, we jumped on to US 212 which took us to Red Lodge, a quaint one road town with a mixture of tourist stores and stores which cater to the locals. And there we had lunch at the Wine Bar and Cafe. The lunch was very good, with all of us having southwestern style spicy pastas and sandwiches. Just outside of our little bistro was another beautifully named establishment, the City Bakery. The lady who manned the counter was jovial and very friendly. I took my time and ordered all kinds of cookies, two diet Cokes and two juices. The final tally was $11.42, but I found out that they don't accept credit cards. I dug deep into my pockets and came up empty. "Oh, I don't have any cash on me," I told her somewhat embarrassedly. "That's okay," she replied without hesitation, "just send me a check when you get back home." I was so touched by her gesture; I don't think that anyone has ever offered something like that to me or to anyone that I know of. But Ma, Baba and - were coming down the sidewalk, so I got some cash from Baba and paid her. I wished her a great day, and then we got back into the minivan.

The drive from Red Lodge to Yellowstone is, according to now deceased CBS correspondent Charles Kuralt, the most beautiful road in the country. Here US 212 is named the Bear Tooth Scenic Highway. He was absolutely right. Of all the roads that I have seen, it is probably the nicest, in spite of heavy competition from the Blue Ridge Parkway, the Colombia River highway, the Rocky Mountain NP Trail Road, etc. We started on the straight stretch of 212 at lower elevations amongst sage brush, golden pastures and gentle blue rivers, punctuated by trees on either side of the road.

The pastures fell away as we started climbing into the mountains that seemed so distant when we were on I-90. Soon we were climbing rapidly, approaching 8,000 feet. And later, with tremendous vistas on the right, and then on the left, and hairpin turns and switchbacks piling up relentlessly, we pushed 10,947 feet as we went through Bear Tooth Pass while still about 30 miles outside of the park. At one point, the valley that was visible off to the right appeared to be more impressive than all of Yosemite National Park in California. At the top again, there was a plateau with golden grass and boulders left in place by the last retreating glaciers from tens of thousands of years ago. Smatterings of snow accented various features in the terrain even though we were traveling under largely blue skies. But in the distance were overcast clouds which were right in the way of our trip to the Old Faithful Inn. I remembered driving through the pitch black night in a minor blizzard for an hour or more on my first trip to Yellowstone almost exactly six years ago (October 9 or so, 1994). And I didn't want to repeat that.

Yellowstone National Park is shaped like a slightly irregular rectangle with the vertical only slightly longer than the horizontal axis. In the center of the park is a two lane loop road that clockwise connects Canyon to Fishing Bridge to West Thumb to Madison to Norris and back to Canyon. Canyon is located on the north east rim of the circle with the others falling at regular intervals. Each of these hamlets has a road which extends out from the loop back to the outside of the park creating five spokes. Mammoth Hot Springs is at the far north end of the park on the end of the spoke radiating out from Norris. Tower Junction is also at the north end of the park and resides on the spoke radiating out from Canyon. So we finally entered the park's NE entrance and continued to Tower Junction, then to Mammoth and then south past Norris Junction, Madison Junction and finally to the Old Faithful Inn.

I lost my bet that I had made with Baba that we wouldn't get there before dark. But by the time we got into the lobby, it was. Our dinner was simple, consisting of soups and two glasses of champagne. And then we were so exhausted that we went off to bed. We had room 119, and they had 117 next door right on the corridor. Both were on the second floor and within hearing distance of the piano which seems to go on into the wee hours of the night. It must be the same guy every time: an elderly gentleman who plays well but seems to forget the notes half-way through each piece only to find his way again. But it is charming, and it gives the Inn the ambiance of an old-Western saloon without the gunplay.

Yellowstone National Park :: The Old Faithful Inn

Yellowstone National Park :: Old Faithful Inn

Yellowstone: Old Faithful Inn. This is billed as the world's largest log cabin and was built by 90 men almost 100 years ago.

The Old Faithful Inn

The Old Faithful Inn has rooms that start at about $60/night, but they are loud during high-season. You should be okay if you have ear plugs, a good sense of humor, and don't go when there are a lot kids.

If there had to be one building which had to be selected to represent the U.S. in some international contest, then my vote for the most American of all buildings would be The Old Faithful Inn. This isn't to say that other buildings aren't more spectacular, more impressive, larger, or more grandiose in some way or other. It's just that the Old Faithful Inn is so unique in many ways, even while it has peers in Canada and perhaps elsewhere.

It's known as "America's Largest Log Cabin". It has something on the order of 440 rooms which were built in 1903-1904, as well as added on in 1918 and 1928, I think. On the outside, it's dark and foreboding, almost like a castle, with all of its external surfaces painted a dark brown, almost tending toward purple, with a very thick paint which looks like it could be tinted mud. The roof is steeply pitched, like a that of a chalet, pointing toward the front and back. The forward slope is punctuated by three rows of dormer windows. The summit of the seven-story structure is crowned by a widow's walk, lending the impression of a Samurai's Castle or perhaps a Man-O-War from two hundred years ago. Five flags (the U.S national flag, the flags of Wyoming, Montana, and Idaho, and a green and white flag) frame the center and the four corners of the widow's walk and blow violently and endlessly in the wind. The building sits on a natural dias two stories above the parking lot facing a basin of geysers 500 yards in front and the breathtaking Old Faithful Geyser just about 100 yards to the right.

Thje building is immense! It looks like it is seven stories high and long enough to cover one and a half football fields, but it's all made of logs. It has been billed as "The World's Largest Log Cabin" which seems like a major undestatement for their marketing campaign. I wonder what Abraham Lincoln would have thought!

The green and white flag, I learn later, are to commemorate the favorite colors of a young female ranger who jumped into one of the thermal features along with two male rangers. The two males survived with severe burns. The female didn't. This happened in August of this year. Throughout the park there are numerous warnings admonishing people to not get off of the boardwalks, but the water is so beautiful that it is tempting to want to jump in, to take the ultimate hot bath. But the beautiful water can reach boiling temperature and is amazingly deadly to humans and other animals alike. The hottest temperature recorded in the water is something like 458 degrees Fahrenheit.

Every time that I enter the Old Faithful Inn, I just want to stand in the center and take it all in, to breathe in the air, and to just enjoy the ambiance which is at once calm and also noisy with the voices of so many people who must all be thinking the same thing as I. Of course, the voices of the people reverberate off of the smooth and reflective lodge pine wooden poles which have been used in every aspect: ceiling, floor, stairs, walls, framework, supporting braces, and more. And their footsteps add to the sounds since every board seems to give just enough to creak and to remind us that this is no modern, soulless, prefabricated structure.

I still don't know how Robert Reamer could have envisioned such a building; I still haven't stopped admiring him for having designed it when he was 25 or so. I'm always impressed by the 47 or so men who spent the grueling winter months of 1903-1904 building it in what must have been subzero temperatures. The lady who gave the tour said that the building nails would shatter like glass unless they were warmed up first.

Reamer had a sense of humor that European architects never seem to have had. His ideal was to seek naturalism, perhaps somewhat like his contemporary Frank Lloyd Wright. Reamer sought to make his building asymmetric even though the overall impression is that everything is harmoniously balanced. But staring a few moments at the fa├žade reveals that the middle dormer windows on the left hand side are paired with empty space and roofing tiles on the right. Inside the 3rd floor balcony doesn't go all the way around. And there is only one staircase which is on the left hand side. Instead of positioning the Inn to face Old Faithful, as I would have done, he positioned it so that the drop off which comes to the front of the Inn faces it. That way guests would see Old Faithful as they first arrived at the Inn as well as when they last left. Yellowstone, Sunday, October 1, 2000

While the Old Faithful Inn is my favorite of Reamer's work, he also designed the upsale Lake Yellowstone Hotel whose exact name i forget at the moment. And that was even earlier than the Old Faithful Inn.

We had the breakfast buffet downstairs at the restaurant. It was good too, with eggs, bacon, sausage, staek fries, pastries, juices, and more. But it wasn't as good as before when there were more types of sausage, waffles, French toast, etc. Baba and Ma just had eggs and toast. They weren't very hungry. That's a bad strategy for a buffet like this one!

The three of them left to go see Old Faithful, which was supposed to erupt at 9 am. I settled the bill and came outside just in time to see it die down. Next we walked through the Upper Geyser Basin that faces the Inn and were treated to three or four geyser shows, including the Beehive and the Rocket Geyser. Baba and - walked arm in arm, while Ma and I brought up the rear. The Grotto Geyser, which grows over the remnants of trees, must be the most interesting though.

- at Yellowstone National Park :: Old Faithful Inn Lobby

- in the interior of the Old Faithful Inn.

When I reminisce, my mind wanders toward the Old Faithful Inn. I smile... I can feel the wooden guardrails and handrails smoothed by a million hands. I can feel the uneven steps and boards that creak underfoot. I can feel the coldness that permeats the building except right around the fireplace. I can hear youngsters running down the corridors far too late at night. I can see from the back of the parking lot at the rear - it seems like it's so far from the building to the car and back.

We grabbed carrots, yogurt and Nacho Chex mix from the Hamilton Store next to OFI and headed out for the day.

Yellowstone National Park :: Morning Glory Pool
Yellowstone National Park :: Morning Glory Pool
Yellowstone National Park :: Steamboat Geyser

The above three photos are all from http://www.nps.gov/yell.


Yellowstone National Park :: Touring by Car

By the time we got to our first schedule stop, the Lower Geyser Basin, it was raining.

So then we drove through Firehole Canyon. Firehole Canyon looks like it was molten lava just yesterday instead of 600,000 years ago. The walls are a rich black color which is covered with blackened trees charred to death in the 1988 Yellowstone Fire which decimated 800,000 acres out of the 2.2 million acres in the park. They are scattered about pointing in all kinds of different directions like toothpicks scattered in the wind.

So we continued over to the Grand Canyon of Yellowstone. And there we meandered trying to find Artists Point before giving up and viewing the canyon and the Upper and Lower Falls from the north rim. The falls were spectacular. We could hear them thundering even as we got out of the car before we reached the trailheads. My favorite was view from directly above the Upper Falls. I don't know of any other place where one kind look straight down the entire length of a major waterfall like this one.

We headed back, stopping to look at Buffalos (Bison) on the way.

Yellowstone National Park abstract

I have really gotten into taking abstract photos over the past several years. Yellowstone is the place where I first started doing so. From this photo, it's hard to understand how far away I am standing from this foreign landscape. Actually, I'm only a few inches away.

Yellowstone National Park abstract photo

Another "extra-terrestrial" landscape, also taken from perhaps one or two feet away at most... Different bacteria and natural chemicals such as sulfur cause these incredible colors. The colors have to be seen to believed because they are so surreal.

According to the National Park Service, "The first national park established anywhere in the world is Yellowstone National Park which was authorized in 1872 by the United States Congress. Its hot springs, ten?thousand (10,000) geysers and geyser basins, lava formations, lakes, waterfalls, rivers and river canyons make it a place of unrivalled beauty. It is also a place to study volcanic forces and heat flow within the earth. Yellowstone sits on top of a hot spot where a thermal plume or column of molten rock rises from deep within the earth and feeds into a large chamber 11,000 feet below the earth's surface. The 1,000F?degree heat from this molten rock in the chamber warms water from rain and snow that seeps down; the resulting steam and hot water rise again to the surface, forming hot springs and geysers such as Old Faithful. It is known that a similar chamber with molten rock burst forth in a volcanic eruption 600,000 years ago to form what is now Yellowstone. The question remains: When will Yellowstone erupt again? But, at present, it is a gentle and wondrous reminder of the volcanic forces that shape the earth. The park is a tribute to the foresight of those who created it and started a movement in conservation that has spanned the entire globe. (Inscribed in 1978).

Yellowstone National Park

Another abstract.

The Yellowstone National Park home page writes "By Act of Congress on March 1, 1872, Yellowstone National Park was "dedicated and set apart as a public park or pleasuring ground for the benefit and enjoyment of the people" and "for the preservation, from injury or spoilation, of all timber, mineral deposits, natural curiosities, or wonders. . . and their retention in their natural condition." Yellowstone is the first and oldest national park in the world.

The commanding features that initially attracted interest, and led to the preservation of Yellowstone as a national park, were geological: the geothermal phenomena (there are more geysers and hot springs here than in the rest of the world combined), the colorful Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone River, fossil forests, and the size and elevation of Yellowstone Lake.

The human history of the park is evidenced by cultural sites dating back 12,000 years. More recent history can be seen in the historic structures and sites that represent the various periods of park administration and visitor facilities development.

Ninety-nine percent of the park's 3,400 square miles (2.2 million acres) remains undeveloped, providing a wide range of habitat types that support one of the continent's largest and most varied large mammal populations. Yellowstone is a true wilderness, one of the few large, natural areas remaining in the lower 48 states of the United States."

Yellowstone National Park by the lake...

My own shadow in the mist...

Yellowstone National Park :: Other Thoughts...

Whenever I'm not at the great Yellowstone National Park, my thoughts turn to it. My fascination with the place borders on that of a long-lost love, of wondering, of reminiscing, and thinking back fondly on all of the good times. If I close my eyes and think hard, hundreds of tiny details and snapshots of scenic views come flashing into my mind's eye. I can see the gray recycled plastic boardwalk and benches that surround Old Faithful. I can feel the granularity and zig-zag cracks of the park roads under our car's tires. I can see the great bison herds (okay, only about 50 bison in a herd or so at most) in the distance, starting out like large brown boulders and coming sharply into focus in their majestic presence. I can smell the powerful stench of sulfur that emanates from each creek or paint pot. I can see the wispy smoke that comes off of any body of water including even parts of Lake Yellowstone. I can see majestic snow capped mountains and feel the sensuous curves of the roads that caress them and feel the crispness in the air of melting snow that comes at the higher altitudes.

Yellowstone National Park :: More Images

Yellowstone National Park

Lake Yellowstone

Lake Yellowstone and a Bison

A bison grazes next to Lake Yellowstone

Around the Old Faithful Inn

More of the Cloud Factory.

Fire damage of Yellowstone National Park

12 year old fire-damage that covers one third of the park's 2.2 million acres.

Buffalos at Yellowstone National Park

Buffalos at Yellowstone. We sat in awe as they surrounded our vehicle for 10 to 15 minutes. And then we continued, more than a bit disappointed that the "show" was over.

Oct. 2002 postscript: I can't wait to go back to Yellowstone National Park. It's been too long already. It's only been two years, but it's so long.


Visit the USA Overview
Yellowstone National Park
Monument Valley
Seattle
Bert's Pumpkin Patch
Canyon de Chelley
RV in Alaska
RV Tips
Chattanooga Ideas
Chattanooga Photos
Amicolola Falls, GA.




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