"Yellowstone is, most definitely, one of the most exceptionally unique destinations on earth."
When I first meet people from distant lands and tell them I’m from Idaho, I am usually met with a blank stare. So, to save both myself and said person hailing from afar an awkward moment, I begin to ramble on about how my hometown is just a couple hours Southwest from Yellowstone National Park. Usually (unless they’re really out of the loop) their response is a mesmerized “ooh” or a captivated “aah.” And they definitely have reason for being so enamored. Yellowstone conjures up images of shimmering rivers meandering through endless emerald forests, graceful wildlife roving about golden meadows, and technicolor geysers spewing smoldering hot steam from Earth’s abyssal core. To me, though, Yellowstone was simply a place that stuffed up my nose with allergies. In fact, it took nearly 20 years to finally catch on to what all the hype really is about.
Growing up with Yellowstone just down the road (relatively speaking) from my own house sort of desensitized me to the sheer wonder of the world’s first national park. I was oblivious to the concept of people from all over the planet crusading across thousands of miles just to see Mother Nature at work. My views on the park were apathetic, at best. However, a recent occurrence awoke me to the reality that Yellowstone is, most definitely, one of the most exceptionally unique destinations on earth.
Some time ago, a friend of mine informed me she was going to be visiting Idaho for a couple days and wanted to see the surrounding sights. I fretted a bit. I had met this friend a couple years prior whilst we were both living abroad in a fantastically exotic country. She, herself, was born and raised in New Zealand, a land widely regarded as breathtakingly picturesque. She was well-traveled and had seen many of the world’s most astounding wonders. And now here I was, expected to showcase to her all the glories and splendors of…Idaho. My heart sank and my mind began to brew, somewhat cynically. Where was I supposed to take such an intrepid traveler? A potato cellar? A field of sagebrush? Was there anything remotely interesting within a couple hours of my house?
I took an ample chunk of time haphazardly speculating what may or may not appeal to my Kiwi friend. Eventually I began to recollect the fleets of tour buses I had seen whooshing down the highway en route to Yellowstone. I further recalled how each time I had been there I was more intrigued by the hoards of visor-donning tourists engulfing the park than the actual flora and fauna itself. And with that, an epiphany swiftly engulfed me: maybe there actually was something worthwhile about this Yellowstone place.
"I never realized just how peculiar a buffalo looked until I witnessed somebody else spotting one for the first time."
So the next day, in a somewhat slapdash manner, I printed off a map of the park and made a tentative, but complex, itinerary for a day at Yellowstone. After meeting up with a few friends (including the New Zealander herself), we sped off towards the mountainous regions Northward, even Yellowstone itself.
As we drove, I mused about how I was going to finagle this trip so that Yellowstone wouldn’t be a total letdown. Thus, I was sorely disappointed when, just as we were driving through the park gate, an ominously sinister thundercloud unleashed its baleful deluge of rain on us. By now, even the perky park ranger who greeted us with her spry demeanor and magenta-colored lipstick couldn’t loosen the melancholy pessimism that had taken hold upon my mood.
Our car began to creep along the snaking road. We all wistfully gazed out the drenched windows. After nearly an hour of inching down the water-logged thoroughfare, we started discussing the looming probability that the day was shot. We somewhat hesitantly made the decision to leave the park.
But, in true “happily ever after” fashion, just as we started driving back towards town so we could drown our sorrows in a huckleberry milkshake, the menacing clouds broke and triumphant streams of radiant sunlight flowed through.
From there on out, everybody’s moods seemed to improve—most notably my own. It suddenly seemed that every time my New Zealander friend found something amusing, breathtaking, or just plain strange; I did too. I never realized just how peculiar a buffalo looked until I witnessed somebody else spotting one for the first time.
"This park is a gasp-worthy site filled with a dizzying abundance of wildlife."
I slammed on the brakes, cranked the steering wheel, and pulled off to the side of the road to get an ideal view of the docile, grazing beast. We slinked out of the car and over to a rotting log where we precariously crouched and gazed at the colossal, yet graceful, creature unflappably gnawing on tufts of mud-spattered grass.
I never appreciated the accuracy of Old Faithful until watching somebody else gaze in awe at the inevitable hourly eruption of this dependable geyser. In fact, I found out Old Faithful has rarely missed an eruption during the past 120 years of recorded history.
Not until my friend insisted that the disgorging fumaroles and mud pots were reminiscent of some quirky fantasy movie did I suddenly find enthrallment in them.
As we sauntered along the rickety wooden walkways and through the steamy clouds of sulfury discharge, my paradigm shift became complete. I finally understood the appeal of this naturalized pressure-cooker of a destination.
Yellowstone National Park is like nowhere else on this planet. From its majestic amber mountain peaks to its magma-filled center, this park is a gasp-worthy site filled with a dizzying abundance of wildlife, serene beauty, and volatile topography.
Places to Stay
Old Faithful Inn
Old Faithful Inn
Yellowstone National Park, WY 82190
A person doesn’t stay at this 100-year-old bucolic lodge to be pampered. Rather, the Old Faithful Inn is appealing due to its prime location in the very heart of the grandiose park. While the rooms are quaint and dimly lit (and most have “shared” bathroom facilities), the history of this place is charming. Even if you aren’t planning on shelling out $240 to stay the night here, at least check out the impressive lobby of this massive wooden edifice. It boasts an 85 foot, 500 ton chimney and is reminiscent of the “golden age” of rustic timber architecture.
West Yellowstone, MT 59758
Located outside the park itself, the Three Bear Lodge still maintains that “Old West” vibe for which Yellowstone is renowned. The lodge, and adjoining motel, offers guests a swimming pool, hot tub, business center, restaurant, lounge, and history exhibit to explore at their leisure. The obliging staff is helpful in directing guests to places of interest in Yellowstone Park and throughout the rustic resort town of West Yellowstone, where the Three Bear Lodge is located. Rooms range in price—an average room during peak season is about $125.
Rough it in the Woods
If you’re really looking to experience nature at its grittiest (and save a couple bucks in the process), follow in the footsteps of audacious explorers by spending a night or two in one of many campgrounds within the park. Getting in touch with Mother Nature won’t set you back a dime (except for the entrance fee to the park). Backcountry Use Permits are required, but free of charge. They must be picked up in person and can be obtained no sooner than 48 hours before your excursion.
Things to Do
Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone
This gargantuan feat of topographical artistry is aptly named. It’s an astonishing piece of geographical artwork that astounds viewers from all angles. The 1000 foot amber-hued rock walls are solely responsible for the origins of the park’s name, Yellowstone. Two massive, and ostentatiously impressive, waterfalls interrupt the flow of the otherwise serene Yellowstone River through this impressive canyon.
Well…not literally. Ensuring that you have the proper provisions (a map, sturdy shoes, food, water, and a compass), consider trekking across a portion of Yellowstone’s 1,300 miles of trails. These routes afford visitors some of the most astonishing views of the park’s vista and wildlife; plus, it’s a great source of exercise.