When I hear the words National Park I think of Yellowstone. No wonder approximately three million people visit each year. With awe inspiring geysers, waterfalls, and hot springs it was by far my favorite vacation.
The thermal pools and geysers are some of the attractions that set Yellowstone apart from other parks. One thing I wish I had known before viewing any of the thermal areas is that the smell of sulfur (many think it smells like rotten eggs) is overpowering even if you are a distance from them. However, the smell did not distract much from the amazing colors in the thermal pools caused by microorganisms that thrive in hot water. Some of the pools were a rainbow of colors while others were majestic shades of blue. The hottest recorded temperature of the thermal areas is 459 degrees in Norris Geyser Basin. Definitely don’t touch the water! These pools were much larger than I expected. The largest hot spring in Yellowstone and the United States is Grand Prismatic Spring measuring about 370 feet wide!
The most surprising part of our trip was getting to swim in a river. Firehole Canyon River was freezing compared to most of the water in Yellowstone. Riding the currents and watching trout swim amongst the rocky banks was breathtaking.
Animals abound in Yellowstone. Bison and chipmunks were a fairly common occurrence. We also saw some coyote, pronghorn and elk as well. Mountain bluebirds were seen on the rocky hill sides and ravens were found sizing up the visitors. Seeing these beautiful animals and birds in such an amazing environment made me never want to leave. There were so many more animals to see and trails to hike!
The plant life was very different from back at home. There were wildflowers scattered about, making a colorful array. Most of the plants I had never heard of. To me the most amazing of all the plant life was the Ponderosa Pine, which was not only a remarkable tree but nice smelling too. It’s bark had a strong, pleasing scent of vanilla.
The highlight of the trip was seeing Upper Yellowstone Falls within the Grand Canyon of Yellowstone. It had more beauty than a picture could capture. There is a lookout point up high, a distance from the waterfall, where most pictures you see are taken. It didn’t take long to see why it was such a popular spot for photographers. From up high I could see nothing but untouched cliffs, trees and water as far as the eye could see.
Meeting and talking with park rangers is one aspect of our National Parks that can be very inspiring. Dedication is quite evident on their faces and in their voices. One ranger I met had worked in an extraordinary amount of parks over his lifetime. If you are planning on visiting Yellowstone, the park website has a schedule where you can find ranger programs including hikes and talks that will help you get to know the park.
While we were traveling I noticed hill tops covered in trees without leaves. I didn’t think much of it until I noticed hill after hill of dead trees. This was very concerning and I wasn’t exactly relieved when I found out it was from naturally occurring fires. Seeing how many hundreds, maybe thousands of trees were dying from a fire that was left free to burn seemed unnecessary and harsh. I eventually learned that this allowed for a new generation of trees to grow, even if it would take decades to return to the forests they once were. The most important fact I learned is that if fires are allowed to burn, old wood won't pile up and cause a humongous, dangerous fire.
Wanting to understand it better and know more about the history, I started extensive research of Yellowstone forest fires. This became my 4-H forestry project which helped me discover my passion for forestry.
No matter where I travel or what adventures I may experience ,Yellowstone will hold a dear place in my heart. I know that I’m not the only person impacted by this park. National Parks bring something special into the lives of those who visit them. It could be anything between a memorable family vacation or being inspired to become a park ranger.
If you love National Parks, the TV show “Rock the Park” may become your new favorite, as it has become mine. Two hosts, Jack Steward and Colton Smith, have put themselves up to a challenge of visiting every National Park in the United States. They explore some of the sites many know about as well as parks and attractions that are rarely visited. Funny, entertaining, and informational are just a few words that describe this adventure packed TV series. It’s a great way to explore our parks if you don’t plan on going to all of them yourself.