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Trip to Yellowstone National Park

We just  got back from a week in Yellowstone.  We stayed in cabins in the Cinnabar Basin right outside of Gardiner, Montana along the Yellowstone River with my husband’s parents, sister and brother-in-law, their three kids, his aunt and uncle, their two kids and their families and one of his cousin’s husband’s parents.  For twenty-one separate wills vying for satisfaction and recognition, it was a remarkably pleasant week.  I saw antelope on my morning runs.  We saw numerousDSCN2202 impressively-sized elk in the park, herds of bison (Latin name: bison bison), multiple snakes both on the road and on the rocks down by the river in front of the cabin, mountain sheep and the guys saw a bear on the last morning they went out fishing on the Lamar River.

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Mammoth Basin

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Artists’ Paintpots

My dad grew up northwest of Great Falls, Montana, in Fort Benton, a small town called “the birthplace of Montana” and one of the prettiest towns in America by Forbes Magazine, but I’d never been to Yellowstone.  So the first day we were there, we drove into the park and toured the Mammoth Basin which is full of hotsprings, and then walked through the paintpots between Mammoth Basin and Norris.  I thought we were going to see actual artist paintpots, but the thermal features there (that’s what they call geysers, hotsprings, mudpots and fumeroles – see more at the National Park Services’ website) all produce various colors because of the reactions between the thermophiles and the water.  Driving through, we noticed a private residence in Mammoth Basin because apparently there are houses that people still own because their families were grandfathered in because they owned the land before the park was established in 1872, which I think was only a year after Montana itself became a state (the park is in Montana and Wyoming, mostly Wyoming).  I’m not sure I’d want to live in Yellowstone unless it was a little more removed from the tourist scene than this house was.

That same day we went all the way south to Old Faithful.  The literature put out by the park which we read later told us that the geyser erupts on average every 88 minutes, so we were lucky that it erupted about forty-five minutes after we got there (just enough time to get ice cream!).  Most people know that Yellowstone has more geysers than any other place on earth, but I didn’t realize that it is not the biggest or tallest geyser.  It is regular, but the interval between eruptions appears to be expanding over time.  Driving back up from Old Faithful, we saw a bison come barreling down the road– something must have spooked it because it was moving pretty fast.  It walked right by our car and I got a great picture of these really quite majestic creatures.

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Old Faithful

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Bison bison

One day, while the men were out fishing, the ladies and the kids went to the Lower and Upper Falls around Canyon Village to see waterfalls.  And another day that the guys were out fishing, we went ziplining.  While I wasn’t thrilled with the gender division of activity, from the ten minutes I stood casting in the Yellowstone, I think we got the better deal with the ziplining.  We went on the longest zipline in Montana (over 1200 feet), and our trusty guides, Garrett and Matt, were full of good humor and a reassuring spirit (much needed, since I think if I’d been given too much time to think about it I would not have hurdled myself off for the first–and longest–zip, but they didn’t let us wait).  And they gave us the inside tips about the area which made them almost as good general Yellowstone guides as zipline guides.  For example, we learned from Matt about an internship program in Grand Teton, but I think it is at all national parks, for 16-19 year olds to spend a summer helping build paths and learn about park rangering.  On top of all that, the view was amazing.

Another day we took the scenic rafting trip down the Yellowstone.  And another day, Jeff and I walked up to Mount WashbuDSCN2290rn (10243 feet above sea level).  From where we parked, we climbed about 1400 feet over three miles.  The view was amazing– we could see all the way to Grand Teton about 75 miles south.  And we walked about 10 feet away from two herds of mountain sheep.  In one group, the little mountain lambs were running and playing and jumping over each other, remarkably unimpressed by the passing hikers.

By the end of the week, Jeff was not having such great luck fishing, which was disappointing.  Friday afternoon he took me down to the Yellowstone behind the cabin to show me how to fly fish.  I’ve baitcast before when I was younger and caught plenty of fish, but I’ve never flycast.  And I think I’d get bored pretty quick.  I am not someone who is good at staying in one spot for very long.  So I tried for a bit.  Jeff said nice things about my form.  But I thought, do I want to do this for a half an hour if I’m not going to catch something?  I didn’t have a very optimistic outlook.  So Jeff took the rod back and immediately got a 14-inch brown trout.  Actually, I was thrilled to watch him catch a fish – playing him on the line and then slowly wearing it out.  Jeff’s mom had just come down to the water right then, too, so we both got to watch him reel it in.  I got some nice pictures and then he let it go, catch-and-release further confounding my appreciation of flyfishing.

DSCN2317DSCN2321Yellowstone is an amazing and beautiful place that made we want to go home and yell at my congressman to invest in our National Park Service.  I learned that for every dollar spent on the parks, the parks generate $10 in economic activity.  But even if they didn’t, it’s worth protecting these places for the joy of their beauty so that everyone can go visit.  I fear the day that national parks, like clean water, become a luxury for the privileged few.  It’s true, you still have to pay to get in now, but that is in part because the parks are so seriously underfunded by the national government.  You can learn more here.  And you can see more of my pictures from Yellowstone here.

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