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The National Park Everyone Must See: Yellowstone

Posted On January 23, 2017 at 4:05 am by / Comments Off on The National Park Everyone Must See: Yellowstone

By Michael Lanza

When I think about Yellowstone National Park, I recall seeing a wolf pack suddenly appear on a skyline ridge high above me and begin howling at the vast, impervious sky; and another wolf pack, on a bitterly cold winter day, descend at full speed upon an elk herd, spurring the entire herd to dash off, moving in unison as if it were one organism. Thinking about Yellowstone conjures mental images of Lower Yellowstone Falls pouring thunderously into the colorful magnificence of the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone River, both in summer and half frozen in the depths of winter.

I remember smiling at the reactions of my kids to geysers erupting in the Upper Geyser Basin, or whistling fumaroles in the Lower Geyser Basin, or the kaleidoscopic surface of Grand Prismatic Spring. Watching a bear sow with cubs in tow shuffle across a meadow at dusk, and hundreds of bison quietly grazing a grassy valley. Hearing the nasal shriek of an elk bugling as I stood on a boardwalk amid the steam of Mammoth Hot Springs at dawn on a chilly autumn morning (lead photo, above).

Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone River.

Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone River.

America’s National Park System is arguably without peer in the world. And among that collection of some of the planet’s most inspiring and unique natural wonders, Yellowstone rightfully resides at the top of the list of 59 U.S. national parks. It’s the park to visit as soon as you can, and return to as many times as possible, in every season—and not just because it was the world’s first national park, although that’s a pretty good reason, too.

Yellowstone preserves the Lower 48’s most complete living history of the natural world that once covered much of North America, but today exists only in the most remote, sparsely populated, or best-protected corners of the continent. Wolves, extirpated from the park for six decades until reintroduced in the mid-1990s, now number in the hundreds in Greater Yellowstone. Grizzly bears, brought to the brink of disappearing from Yellowstone, have rebounded tremendously since being listed as threatened with extinction in 1975.

Today, those species, as well as hundreds of moose and thousands of bison and elk, roam the park’s 2.2 million acres and surrounding national forest lands almost as if Columbus had never reached America. Yellowstone hosts the largest concentration of mammals in the contiguous United States. Go there and you will likely see many of them.

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The very earth comes alive in Yellowstone, breathing and belching and erupting with energy originating deep within the Earth’s crust. The park—much of it a caldera measuring 45 miles by 30 miles, the remains of prehistoric volcanic eruptions—contains more than 10,000 hydrothermal features and more than 500 active geysers (over half the world’s total), and nearly 300 waterfalls. Between a thousand and 3,000 earthquakes rattle Yellowstone annually, most of them going unnoticed by the millions of visitors. Scientists consider Yellowstone an active volcano, capable of exploding with enough power to wreak serious havoc on civilization, if past devastations are a predictor of its potential.

To be sure, Yellowstone still faces daunting environmental threats, many caused or exacerbated by climate change (as I describe in my award-winning book, Before They’re Gone—A Family’s Year-Long Quest to Explore America’s Most Endangered National Parks).

 

Do you like The Big Outside? I’m Michael Lanza, the creator of The Big Outside, recognized as a top outdoors blog by USA Today, a Trip Advisor site, and others. Get email updates about new stories and free gear giveaways by entering your email address in the box at the bottom of this story, in the left sidebar, or on my About page, and follow my adventures on Facebook and Twitter.

 

Mammoth Hot Springs.
Mammoth Hot Springs, Yellowstone National Park.
Upper Yellowstone Falls.
Lower Yellowstone Falls, Yellowstone National Park.
Lower Yellowstone Falls.
Mammoth Hot Springs.
Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone River.
Mammoth Hot Springs.
Grand Prismatic Spring.
Old Faithful, Yellowstone.
Blacktail Deer Creek Trail.
Mammoth Hot Springs.
Grand Prismatic Spring.
Upper Geyser Basin in winter, Yellowstone.
An elk in Yellowstone.
Bison in the Lamar Valley, Yellowstone National Park.

But from the spectacle of Old Faithful erupting—touristy, yes, but also iconic and actually special to behold, especially if you have the pleasure of watching young children react to it—to the speechless awe of watching a herd of bison graze in the Lamar Valley, or a grizzly shamble through Hayden Valley, this magnificent place still inspires wonder in adults and children of all ages.

 

Be comfortable on your hikes. See my review of The 5 Best Rain Jackets For the Backcountry.

 

Yellowstone National Park represents much of what America represents—our wild heritage. Seeing it should be a requirement of U.S. citizenship.

Seeing it also requires planning months in advance; because of the park’s popularity, campsites and lodging in and around Yellowstone get booked that far out. When planning your trip, see all of my stories about Yellowstone National Park at The Big Outside, especially these stories:

The Ultimate Family Tour of Yellowstone
Ask Me: The 10 Best Short Hikes in Yellowstone
Video: A Yellowstone ‘Bison Jam’
Ask Me: Which Multi-Day Wilderness Trip Should We Take in Yellowstone?
Cross-Country Skiing Yellowstone

See also all of my stories about national park adventures and family adventures at The Big Outside.

This blog and website is my full-time job and I rely on the support of readers. If you like what you see here, please help me continue producing The Big Outside by making a donation using the Support button at the top of the left sidebar or below. Thank you for your support.


 

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