This place, this Yellowstone, comes in through the nostrils, swims into the blood, to alter your very constitution, leaving the familiar skin a sage-scented facade for the wildness running beneath.
~Liz Hinman, a teacher that participated in a Yellowstone Educators of Excellence Institute
It usually takes me awhile to readjust after returning from Yellowstone. As I sat out by the garden this morning, sipping coffee and watching birds, I thought about that magic that is always with me in Yellowstone. A feeling of freedom and peace. But what makes it so special? And why do I keep returning?
Lamar Valley, Little America, the Northern Range – these are the places I think of when I think of Yellowstone. That is where my experiences in the wilds of this incredible national park first began some 30+ years ago. It is also the area I associate most with the large numbers of wildlife – the herds of Bison and Elk, the bears, the packs of wolves – and the wide open spaces and vibrant skies, that epitomize the West to me.
But Yellowstone is so much more. It was set side as the world’s first national park, not for its expansive views and wildlife, but for its unique geology – the world’s greatest concentration of geysers and other thermal features that seem born of another planet. And they still enthrall people from all over this planet today, with over 3 million visitors coming to the park each year.
It is also home to the largest high elevation (greater than 7000 feet) lake in North America – Yellowstone Lake. And on this last trip, the lake went from winter to spring in just a few days time, creating a vast sculpture of patterns and colors along the way.
From the lake flows the longest free-flowing (no dams) river in the continental U.S., the mighty Yellowstone River. It flows through the park and beyond for almost 700 miles before joining the Missouri River in North Dakota. Along the way, it plunges over two spectacular waterfalls in the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone, one of the parks’ most visited tourist attractions.
Yellowstone is home to more than 1350 species of flowering plants. A walk through the forest or sage flats in spring and summer offers a kaleidoscope of colors.
The abundant wildlife is now one of the main attractions for visitors. Yellowstone probably has the greatest concentration of large mammals of any place in the continental United States. Because of the diversity and abundance of animals, it is a place where you can witness behaviors that most people generally only read about or see on television. And seeing it first hand helps us to begin to comprehend the notion that all things are connected, a critical component to fostering a land conservation ethic.
Yellowstone is, indeed, many things to many people. It gives me a feeling of awe and wonder better than any place else I have traveled. And it stirs something in my soul, something I do feel in many other wild places, but something that is so close to the surface in Yellowstone that it is palpable…I breathe it in, I taste it. It is that feeling of oneness with the world around me, a feeling of belonging. A feeling of peace and freedom. This is why I keep going back, and why I keep sharing it with others. And I think there is one other reason it is so special. It is protected, and should remain as it is, as long as we as a nation continue to value our parks. And that is critically important.
Looking back at the hundreds of images from this last trip brings back a flood of special memories. I believe it is the gradual accumulation of moments like these that helps create who we are, defines what we believe in, and gives us purpose. It has helped me value time spent outside learning about nature and sharing that passion with others. And while I am over 2000 miles away as I sip my morning brew, I know Yellowstone has helped shape my view of the world, and for that I am grateful.
Time and space – time to be alone, space to move about – these may well become the great scarcities of tomorrow.
~Edwin Way Teale