There are 58 National Parks in the United States and through my years I have focused my eyes on the beauty of quite a few of them but the one that literally gets my heart beating faster and inspires my wanderlust the most is our very first one, Yellowstone National Park.
FUN FACTS: Did you know that nearly four million people visit Yellowstone each year. Yellowstone is nearly 3,472 sq. miles. Montana has 3% of this area (104.1 sq. miles) and Idaho has 1% (34.71 sq. miles). About 96% of the nearly four million people who visit Yellowstone each year have only seen 2% of the park. This means that most people who visit Yellowstone literally never leave the paved roadways.
Between 1869-1871 three different expeditions explored different regions of Yellowstone mapping routes and providing paintings, drawings and etchings that helped arouse interest of the public to save Yellowstone from development. In late 1871 a Bill was introduced to Congress to permanently prevent any settlements and the transferring of public lands to private ownership and thanks to the diaries of those early explorers and the art works provided, on March 1, 1872 President Ulysses S. Grant signed into law the Yellowstone National Park Protection Act, thus creating the Nations first National Park.
I have visited Yellowstone National Park twice in my life and a third attempt back in April 2013 didn’t happen because there was so much snow that only the north gate from Gardiner, Montana was open, and the weather was to bad to travel to that gate, so we returned home. Both of the trips I have taken have left several memorable moments that I have experience alone, and with my family.
Our first trip to Yellowstone happened in May 1997. We lived in Powell, Wyoming and Tom had the weekend off from the farming job he was working so we decided to pack the kids up, and my brother, and drive the 2.5 hours to the East Gate. For days before the trip I had been talking about this park, the geysers and pools and just literally educating my children on their beauty and frailty. My children at the time were 10,7,5 and 2. I didn’t expect the younger ones to full understand my enthusiasm but the oldest one, I did. I told them of Old Faithful and how the geyser got its name, the science of how the geysers and hot springs work and why the pools, especially Morning Glory Pool, are the colors they are. When the day came to load up, they were sufficiently excited for the trip ahead.
As we made the drive through the park there were amazed at the mountains to tall, shocked to see such huge bison leisurely strolling in the middle of the roads and were in awe at the waterfalls. We finally arrived at Old Faithful and parked the car. We were planning to make the three mile hike around the geyser basin, and to see Morning Glory Pool especially. We each took turns pushing my son in the stroller while we casually strolled along the path, each talking about the beauty, a small critter or the eruptions, thoroughly enjoying being there.
While on this hike, I once again went over with the kids about why the pools were losing their colors; because people were throwing things into them that disturb their chemical balance essentially destroying them. As soon as we reached the end of the trail we each step to the rail that overlooks Morning Glory Pool and I snap a few pictures. I stand there for a moment just mesmerized by this amazing spectacle before my eyes when all of the sudden I am jolted back to reality by the sound of a plop and a splash.
I look to my left to see my oldest child, the 10 year old, standing there looking shocked and I ask her, “What did you just do?” She tells me she threw a rock into the water. At this moment I lost it! I literally flipped my lid, Yelling, I asked her if she had heard me explain why the pools are being destroyed? She did. I asked her if she heard me when I explained the delicate balance of the ecosystem of Yellowstone? She did. Then I asked her why in the hell would she throw something into any of of the pools? To this she had no answer. Feeling like a complete ass because my adolescent child, not the young ones who I would have expected this from, but the older more responsible one, has contributed to the destruction of something to fragile and beautiful. I had to somehow make this right.
Being left with no real choices as punishment for her I did the only thing I could think of doing. I made her turn her back to the pool and walk to the end of the rail. I told her that if she didn’t respect this natural beauty then she has no right to look at it. Unfortunately to this day she will tell you that this moment is her only real memory of visiting Yellowstone.
Recently I returned to Yellowstone for five days. We stayed at the Old Faithful Inn and literally drive every single road in the park, hiked on many of the trails and spent countless hours just listening to the sounds of nature all around us. On this trip we took my five year old granddaughter. She was totally thrilled to see the bison, especially the babies, and all the other wildlife we could find. We made memories by just pulling off the main road and having a picnic next to the river and collecting rocks. We attended some of the Ranger led walks and talks to learn more about the park and the wildlife in it. And we took hundreds of photos that we will cherish forever.
Any trip to our first National Park is a great idea, just remember to stay far enough away from the wildlife and NEVER throw anything into the pools or geysers.
All of our National Parks offer and accept entrance passes to get into the park, and some offer discounts on camping or other lodging. We got the Access Pass back in 2011 that gives us FREE entrance to all National Parks, National Forests, National Monuments and Federal Recreational Lands for the rest of the cardholders life. The Access Pass is for US Citizens or permanent residents who are permanently disabled. Documentation is required to show disability and residency and you can request this pass via the mail or at the gate. Information about the passes can be found here.