I have wanted to visit Yellowstone National Park ever since I was a kid, eagerly clustered around the TV every Sunday night with the rest of the family to watch Mutual of Omaha's Wild Kingdom. (I didn't know who Mutual of Omaha was, or why he had such a weird name ... I thought it was kind of like the Wizard of Oz, maybe ... but I sure did appreciate his TV show. Also, I think maybe I believed Marlin Perkins WAS Mutual of Omaha).
While visiting Bozeman for Romeo & Juliette, I finally got my wish. On a day off, my pal Joey Mechavich and I headed out in his convertible (WINNING) for the Wyoming side of Yellowstone, with the intention of breathing some mountain air and seeing everything we could see in one day. We were not disappointed. Even the drive was gorgeous.
And right off the bat, we saw bison. We saw lots of bison. Usually (and oddly) in groups of three, but we did see a small herd that had just come up out of the creek, and two of them proceeded to have an argument involving a lot of snorting and head-butting right before our eyes. Sadly, we did not see any babies, even though it's the season.
Everywhere you looked, lofty views of snow-capped mountains, towering pines, and raging torrents offered a visual and spiritual feast. Soon we entered the caldera, a gigantic hotspot where geysers and other features bubble up from just under the surface. Joey told me that his host's father had always categorically refused to set foot in Yellowstone, convinced that it is only a matter of time until the whole thing blows. That may be, but it was worth the risk.
As we crossed a wide, flat plain (with plenty of buffalo grazing off in the distance!), we sighted our first collection of geysers. There's a lovely boardwalk area where you can walk among them and get a good, close look. The buffalo are unfazed by the superheated tempertatures, and you can see their hoofprints where they --- like the many Japanese tourists, who were also unfazed by signs directing visitors not to do so --- stepped off the boardwalk. The Japanese tourists were a source of quiet amusement to my companion and me. On the boardwalks, which are wide enough for two or three people to walk at a time, they stopped every three steps to take photos, sometimes even sitting or lying down on the only walkway to get a good shot, and they got REALLY annoyed if you stepped around them and got in the background of pic. Personally, I'm kind of relieved to know that Americans are not the only obnoxious tourists in existence. Perhaps it's just a feature of being a tourist. Note to self: if I ever get to visit Japan, walk at least six steps before obstructing right of way for picture taking purposes. On the up side, if you waited for them to snap their shot, they were very polite, always nodding and thanking you sincerely in English.
One of the first things we sighted was a brilliant, large blue bird, trilling its heart out. And then there were all geysers, fumeroles (I love that word --- sounds like an Italian appetizer involving smoked mozzerella) and my favorite, the paintpots. This was the Fountain Paint Pot Nature Trail. My two favorite parts were the beautiful Celestine Pool, with crystal clear waters reflecting the sky, and the mud pot for which the trail was named. The mud pots are, well, bubbling pools of mud, and they can be colorful ... thus the "paint pot" nickname.
The most beautiful feature we saw, among so many beautiful and unusual things, was the Prismatic Spring. It's this amazing rainbow-colored hot spring, the largest in the US and the third largest in the world. Even the steam rising off it is colored.
The color comes from pigmented bacteria growing in something called microbial mats which surround the spring.
It was fascinating to me that you could see many animal prints in this mat. Clearly, the hot water doesn't bother them as much as it does people!
Of course, we made the obligatory stop by Old Faithful, which was marvelous. The best part was when three VERY large bison than ambled across the field, right in front of the feature presentation, only moments before it started its show.
Alas, we had not the time, equipment, or in my case, stamina to do any hiking. I would dearly, dearly love to do some hiking here. My as-of-then unrepaired knee would not have been up to the strain of the inclines, and as it was, just getting out and walking around every boardwalk feature we came to was quite enough. Even if there wasn't any special geographical feature to note, the scenery is just spectacular everywhere you look.
Even as we headed out of the park on the Montana side, where the landscape became more high desert, the views were spectacular. And as we left the park, we spotted a pair of elk, a sort of lagniappe to a day of amazing sightseeing.
As we passed through the Roosevelt Arch at the north entrance to the park, I craned my neck to read the inscription: "For the Benefit and Enjoyment of the People." We spent the entire day driving around this two-million acre treasure and probably saw less than 10% of it, but we certainly benefitted and enjoyed. And Yellowstone is high on my list of places to return (as is Bozeman, MT, which turned out to be a wonderful place to spend some time). Traveling is definitely one of my job benefits. It's not always spectacular or even fun, but when it turns out to include something like a quick visit to Yellowstone ... it's all worth it!