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The Nation’s Park

Ever since I was a small kid, it has been engrained in me that of all our national parks, there is one that is our premier and most pristine park–Yellowstone. I visited it with my parents in my teens, we took our children there in the 1980s, and we just returned from visiting again in September. The place is unchanged. The wildlife, the geysers, hot springs and the Canyon and Falls of the Yellowstone River–remain, as they have always been, a place of monumental natural wonder.

Prior to going this time, I read some old histories including that of Hiram Chittenden, one of the early Superintendents of the Park. It was relatively late in our national life, after the Civil War, before a group of explorers, geologists and academics went into this untouched area and came back to Washington, D.C. recommending that it be preserved as a National Park. It was so established in 1872.

Think about that. Ulysses Grant was President, Wyoming was not yet a State, and there was no National Park Service! In an unprecedented move, Congress created an area larger than the States of Rhode Island and Delaware combined to be preserved in perpetuity for its natural wonder and beauty.

For decades, since there was little federal presence in this part of the West, the Park was administered by the Army Corps of Engineers. As soon as the railroads discovered what a magnet this gem of real estate would become, they made attempts at extending their tracks and presence into this wilderness. The answer was “No!” and it is still “No!” You can make your way into the park only by two-lane road and from just five entrances. There is no development allowed within the park, with the exception of some lodging facilities owned by the National Park Service.

It is inexpensive to visit the park, but not cheap if you stay overnight in a hotel. There are also no neon signs or blinking lights advertising the next fast-food restaurant or big-box store. If you do stay over-night, don’t expect a fancy restaurant–you are more likely to find a cafeteria with a limited menu. It is also difficult to get Wi-Fi or cell phone service.

By design, the park is a preserve. It opens in May and closes in October. Since most of the terrain is 7,000 or 8,000 feet above sea level, Yellowstone has a short summer. Its roads are officially closed during the winter with the exception of specially equipped snow vehicles that operate between Mammoth Hot Springs and the lodge at Old Faithful.

The geology is young. The explosive caldera that the Park sits on produced, over the last 2 million years, most of what you see. In geologic time that is like yesterday. The continental divide runs across this high plateau. Some of its waters run east to the Missouri River and on to New Orleans via the Mississippi. The Snake River drains south and then West to the Columbia River and then to the Pacific. Within the Park you will find incredible white water and dramatic waterfalls. Yet, there are also beautiful, clear trout streams meandering through scrub brush and grassy meadows.

Traffic moves slowly. Lines build up when a bison herd crosses a roadway. An elk or antelope siting brings out cameras and binoculars. Don’t expect to rush through Yellowstone National Park.

There are not a lot of flags flying except at major Park installations. Yet, you feel patriotic and glad to be an American as you travel though Yellowstone. It makes you realize that the foresight and vision of earlier generations have made possible what you can still see today.

Rolland Kidder is a Stow resident.

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