In my home office on an August afternoon, a window beside my desk frames the leafy green of a tulip poplar tree against a clear blue sky. Around my neighborhood and throughout my hometown, crepe myrtles in hues of rose and lavender bloom. Days are sunny, hot, and sticky with southern humidity. Yet, the cool freshness of Yellowstone lingers in my mind. A year ago, we had jobs four days a week in a West Yellowstone retail store. On the remaining week days, we explored the natural wonders of our nation’s first national park.
The windshield of our Jeep framed a different scene as we drove through the west entrance of Yellowstone National Park. Skinny lodge pole pines lined the roadway. Acres of fresh fir trees, re-growth following devastating forest fires of summers past, opened into green meadows that banked the meandering Madison River. In early summer, clumps of sunny yellow flowers peeked from the natural grasses. A resident bison herd wandered back and forth across the roadway, causing traffic jams. Finally, they lumbered into the valley to continue ripping grass to fill their huge bellies. Young reddish calves romped beside their mothers, who were still shaggy with brown winter coats half hanging off their bulky bodies. Once, we observed one of the bulls scraping back and forth against a pine tree trunk to loosen the extra layer of hair that had insulated him from winter’s snowfall.
Granite gray mountains rose from slopes of evergreens to jagged peaks along the boundary of the valley—a grazing ground for buffalo, elk, and pronghorn. As we turned at Madison Junction toward Old Faithful, ribbons of white steam ascended from barren thermal basins. Hot water loaded with minerals spilling from the numerous boiling pools, hissing steam vents, spewing geysers, and bubbling mudpots turned the bare ground rust, yellow, and orange. We often stopped to walk on the wooden boardwalks that wander through the geyser basins. Numerous historic photos show ladies in long dresses and picture-brimmed hats walking around the thermal features, even removing shoes and stockings to stick their feet into a pool. Today, visitors are warned to never walk on the unstable ground—and to never put feet or hands into the steaming water. However, around the boardwalks, we spotted bison hoof prints. Rules do not apply to the wandering herds. I wondered how many had fallen through the fragile crust.
Yellowstone National Park is vast, encompassing 2.2 million acres that include forests, grasslands, thermal features, rivers, and lakes. The Grand Loop Road, covering 152 miles in a figure eight pattern, gets one to the most famous sites of the park such as Old Faithful, Mammoth Terraces, Yellowstone Falls, and the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone. Twelve campgrounds, some more primitive than others, service guests. Madison Campground has the longest season, except for Mammoth, which is open year round. Fishing Bridge is the only campground that provides full RV hookups to travelers.
The park features seven unique locations scattered around the Grand Loop Road. Considered villages, each has at least one hotel or lodge, restaurants, and a gift shop. Some have cabins. Most locations have a general store, post office, Ranger Station, a National Park Service Visitor Center, and a gas station in the surrounding area. Cell service and Wi-Fi are “iffy,” except in the villages at Mammoth, Canyon, Grant, Old Faithful, and Lake. These are pods of civilization—places crowded on summer days with visitors from many nations. Different languages and dialects float in the air. The Visitor Centers provide valuable and interesting information concerning the park’s history, wildlife, and geology. The restaurants and general stores afford necessary food and supplies to visitors—a rest stop while exploring the park. But the real Yellowstone is beyond the boundaries of the villages—on trails in the forests, in the thermal basins, knee-deep in the rivers while fly fishing, and in the wide valleys where buffalo, elk, deer, and bears forage for their food.
Features in Yellowstone are large—magnificent—grand. Yet, equally awesome are small things—a wild flower, a butterfly, a chipmunk skittering across a path. One day at a pull-out along the Loop Road, we saw an elk lying in a grassy spot above a clear rushing stream. Naturally, we focused on getting photographs of the resting bull. And then we noticed river otters playing on the bank of the cold-water stream below the elk’s bed. Yellowstone’s wonders—large and small—in one place.
Yellowstone is definitely a location—situated mostly in Wyoming, but spilling over into corners of Montana and Idaho. But more than a designated square on a map, Yellowstone is a state of mind—a place shaped by forces of nature. A park set aside for the citizens of the United States; a National Heritage Site that attracts thousands of foreign visitors. Yellowstone is a place to take in and imagine a time long ago when men did not travel roads and animals lived in nature’s cycles. Yellowstone is place to linger, to allow nature’s grandeur to permeate one’s soul. I did that for an entire summer—and now on a hot August day in Arkansas, Yellowstone is on my mind.
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Traveling in their motorhome several months each year, Arline and her photographer husband, Lee Smith, make their permanent home in Heber Springs, Arkansas. She currently is a presenter for Workamper Rendezvous, sponsored by Workamper News. Arline has dozens of magazine articles published, as well as five books: “Road Work: The Ultimate RVing Adventure” (now available on Kindle); “Road Work II: The RVer’s Ultimate Income Resource Guide”; “Truly Zula; When Heads & Hearts Collide”; and “The Heart of Branson”, a history of the families who started the entertainment town and those who sustain it today. Visit Arline’s personal blog at ArlineChandler.Blogspot.com