Portable Park: Yellowstone
Welcome to Your Virtual Window to the Outdoors
Click the play button on the video below to transport yourself to America’s first National Park.
It sits in the northwest corner of Wyoming maps, a place so remote yet so familiar. A place that calls to our heart and spirit. A place that looms in our collective imagination.
I hear the mountains calling.
Give me a home where the buffalo roam.
Bigger than two states combined (Delaware and Rhode Island). So big it spills out of Wyoming into neighboring Idaho and Montana. Three thousand, four hundred and seventy-two square miles, to be precise. As if precision matters when it comes to a place like Yellowstone. The real measure is more than we can imagine.
Three thousand, four hundred and seventy-two square miles of majestic beauty that looks almost exactly as it did before humans showed up 11,000 years ago.
Quoth John Muir: “A thousand Yellowstone wonders are calling! Look up and down and round you!”
This, our first and most iconic National Park, embraces rich and diverse ecosystems set atop a rugged, rumbling, ever-changing piece of geologic handiwork. Give Mother Nature 150 million years to work with some of her incomprehensibly powerful tools and this is what you get.
Here you’ll find jagged mountain peaks, thrust 11,000 feet into the sky in a cataclysmic collision of tectonic plates. Cold clear lakes carved by retreating glaciers. Thundering rivers and creeks that have reshaped the landscape with deceptive power for eons while sparkling in the sunlight. Towering waterfalls fed by mountain snowmelt. Boiling mud pots, hissing steam vents, geysers – the geysers of our imagined Yellowstone – powered by the hellish heat of a supervolcano magma pool that runs 37 miles long and 18 miles wide beneath the heart of this fantastical place.
And Mother Earth’s not done with her work. Yellowstone’s geology is alive and ever-changing, with imperceptible morphing done by wind, rain, snow, and heat. Here the Earth shakes 2,000 times a year as pieces of the Earth’s crust jostle for position. The supervolcano rumbles and the seething magma pool shifts as Nature fusses over and tweaks her stunning creation.
Hot springs become mud pots. New steam vents open. Geysers erupt less often. Or more often. All as the result of endless shifts deep below the surface.
Yellowstone wears its flora like a glorious wardrobe that softens, warms, and enhances those rugged geologic lines. The snow-dappled mountains are draped in taiga – lush forests of lodgepole pine, spruce, and fir that revel in the bitter winters and add a deep green to every season’s vistas. Some of her valleys don simple green and golden grasses that loll in the breeze while others preen in vainglorious displays of a hundred different wildflowers. In the park’s northern range, yellow-tipped sagebrush is the must-have accessory across the grassy steppe-like Hayden, Pelican, and Madison Valleys.
The park’s crazy quilt of elevations and habitats nurtures a spectacular array of wildlife.
Across, over and under these shimmering landscapes an Eden-like collection of creatures flits, flys, swims, pads, and thunders. Yellowstone harbors the largest concentration of mammals in the lower 48 states – 67 species ranging from bears and bobcats to wolverines and weasels.
America’s oldest herd of bison roams in Yellowstone. This collection of majestic beasts has bellowed across the region’s summer grazing lands and chuffed through its winter snows for thousands of years. It’s hard to visit Yellowstone without seeing the bison. They are front and center in the Lamar, Hayden, and Pelican Valleys, just as they are in our dreams of the Wild West.
Gray wolves and grizzlies keep their distance, rewarding lucky visitors with an occasional brief glimpse – a flash of fur or moment of eye contact sufficient to keep the buzz going in the campgrounds and lodges. But simply knowing such awe-inspiring creatures are out there, somewhere, adds to the magic of this place.
The circle of life is embodied by the herds of elk that roam Yellowstone’s valleys. Regal in appearance and gait, elk keep the vegetation in check and provide sustenance for both alpha predators and scavenging mammals and birds.
Moose and beaver make their lives around Yellowstone’s 600 lakes and ponds, while river otters frolic alongside some of the park’s 1,000 trout-rich rivers and streams. Pronghorn and mule deer graze in the valleys. Bighorn sheep and mountain goats are seen in the higher, mountainous elevations.
The radiant blue skies above Yellowstone are full of birds both mundane and rare. Roughly 150 species nest in the park, which is also a popular stop-over for migratory birds. Songbirds fill both the forests and grasslands with their music. Trumpeter swans, loons, cranes, and pelicans can be spotted on the park’s lakes and rivers, especially in the Hayden Valley. Soaring above it all, looking for the right opportunity are the raptors – eagles, falcons, hawks, kestrels, and owls.
“If you ask us how to spend your one day in Yellowstone, we tell you to go find a nice spot to sit and cry.” – Park Ranger saying
Yellowstone. So big. So much.
How best to get your arms around it? Take a lesson from nature – go slow, and carve your own path. Make this real-life Magic Kingdom your destination, not a stop-over. Don’t let a checklist of supposed must-sees shape your days. Make time to wander and explore at your pace without an agenda. Hike the less-traveled trails and make unique memories. Stand still, close your eyes and listen to Yellowstone. Feel its splendor in all your senses. Take advantage of the silence and solitude that are only available when you are cosseted in three thousand, four hundred and seventy-two square miles of wilderness.
Answer Yellowstone’s call with your heart and the place will touch your spirit.
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