Two weeks ago, Heather and I headed out west for a week of vacation in Yellowstone and Grand Tetons National Park. To say that these places were amazing is a dramatic understatement. Even after spending time in the Swiss Alps in May the landscapes of these two places are second to none.
I was looking for the immense beauty of Yellowstone and was rewarded with it. I was dramatically under-prepared for its scale. I have been spoiled by the proximity of the East Coast and Europe recently, forgetting the distance that the west covers.
We spend the first half of the week in Island Park, Idaho. The drive into the park each morning was serene. by the time we hit the entrance gate to Yellowstone, the light was just beginning to strike the sides of the cliffs, casting a beautiful warm glow in the valleys. I treasured most, the view of the golden tree on the hillside. It was perfectly placed when you drove into the park.
If you’ve been to Yellowstone, you understand the contrasts of its landscapes. For those who haven’t, I can only compare it to Iceland. The vast and varied environments, give you only a hint of the violence in the geologic past of this area. It seemed as though the earth is spewing the colors that make up the surrounding landscape. Pools of cyan given to the sky. The yellows, oranges and reds given to the rocks, the soils, and the grasses. The greens given to the trees. Even the natural cycles of the deaths of trees surrounding the thermal areas was beautiful. The trunks of old dead trees standing defiantly in the pools of superheated acidic water.
I was ready for the colors of grand prismatic spring but never prepared for the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone. I understand why artists the world over flock to this place to try and represent its beauty, somehow always falling short of its vastness and intimacy.
Walking along the canyon’s south rim, you witness the minerals and thermal features pushing the painted colors out of the rocks down to the canyon floor. The trail begs you to stop each time the trees open to take in the panoramic views of the sheer rock faces.
Stepping away to the more mundane features, the traffic jams caused by the Bison in the park were quite impressive. No one wanted to miss the opportunity to see the amazing creatures up close. After seeing several small herds on our last day in the park, I can only dream of what it must have been like to witness groups, thousands strong, of the animals thundering across the landscape.
We were lucky enough to walk up to Old Faithful just a few minutes before it began erupting. With the exception of the crowds surrounding this icon of the west, the landscape surrounding all of the geysers seems out of this world. The small streams of water flowing through the grasses emanating from the acidic sources of boiling water are a contradiction. The environment in which these plants thrive seems to be inhospitable, yet somehow the extremophiles have found a way.
There is not question why this place was the first national park on the planet. It reminds us why we have to protect the pristine environments left. We must keep these places in public hands, managed for the people in a way that lets the natural environment take its own course, unencumbered by commercial interests.