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Yellowstone National Park:

A True Geological Wonder

By Meeta Gajjar Parker

(Photography by Frank and Meeta Parker)

What captures the eye with beauty and wonder is also a potential danger to mankind.  Tim Cahill tells us in his book, Lost in my own Backyard, that “Yellowstone is the largest active super-volcano on earth.”  He goes on to tell us that “if it blows again the way it did at Huckleberry Ridge 640,000 years ago, it could possibly be the end of civilization as we know it.”  The bubbling cauldrons that you see throughout the park are escape valves from the volcano core.  Tim says “that we are due”, so apparently time is running out.

On the lighter side, we were greeted by four wild Bison grazing on the side of the road just before we entered West Yellowstone. Fascinated by them, we could feel our hearts pounding. My husband Frank spun the car around so I could take close-up pictures out my side window. I was filled with the sense of adventure by being only a few feet from a wild Bison, watching him as he ate from the small patch of grass below.  The Bison didn’t seem aggressive and by the end of the trip I watched Frank and others walk right up to them slowly in a non-threatening manner to take pictures. This was the beginning of a trip that would cover 1925 miles over the course of a week.

We were surprised to find the town of West Yellowstone in near desolation with hotels, restaurants and gas station buried to their rooftops in snow.  We were staying just thirty minutes from there in Island Park, Idaho. We were sadly disappointed when we learned that the West Yellowstone entrance would not be open until Friday, but we were fortunate to have two full days in the park before we left on the following Saturday.

Our first visit to the park was through the north entrance as we entered from Montana. It seemed to me that the name “Bison National Park,” may have been more appropriate for the park. We never saw so many wild roaming Bison anywhere in the world as were waiting for us when we entered Yellowstone. 

We drove past glorious snow capped mountains, spotting Elk and even newborn Bison still nursing.  The babies are red but when they become full grown they all turn different shades from light tan to black. Frank stopped the car abruptly.  “There’s an eagle!”

“Where is it?” I twisted my body around in my seat trying hard to get a glimpse of what he had seen.

“Oh my God!”  There it was and he flew down toward us. 

We clamored for our camera and we got some spectacular close-up photos. The Eagle we saw reminded Frank of a story about them. Eagles circle in the sky over the river the way they do because they are mentally drawing the fish to the surface of the water. If they grab a fish that is too heavy, it will weigh them down into the water and they will drown. Because of the way their claws lock into their prey, they can’t release them until they set it onto a solid surface.

We made our way to Boiling River and had a picnic lunch sitting on a log that was partly in the creek.  We had a four hour drive back and had to decide how to spend our time wisely. We chose not to check out the springs, even though we live for hot springs and this was one you could soak in. 

Mammoth Hot Springs is not for soaking, but it is very dramatic. Natural pots have formed from the boiling hot water coming up from the earth. Bright orange coats the top of much of the springs from mineral deposits. It adds to the visual contrast with the white pots and on a beautiful day it’s a photograph screaming to be taken. 

Early the next morning I sat next to the fireplace writing in my journal as Frank got dressed and started our breakfast. I saw something flutter by the window. Frank had opened it to see the sunrise.  I thought it was a cat but when I looked again I couldn’t believe my eyes. An orange fox was looking in at me through the sliding glass door. I dared not move, afraid I would scare him off and called Frank to come quickly. My frantic calls made Frank think I had found a spider. He came over to rescue me and actually saw the beautiful fox before he took off. The next morning, Frank woke up to find me in front of the fireplace armed with my camera at 6:35 am, curtains drawn. He came over and asked me if I was waiting for the animal. I told him I was waiting for the fox to come back. He was amused by my sentiment and laid down on the couch to wait with me. I told him I was waiting until 6:45, and right before the clock hit 6:45 a cat appeared in the window and did exactly what the fox had done the morning before. He turned to me and said, “You manifested the animal!” How about that, I most certainly had. 

When the West Yellowstone entrance opened we were among all the hundreds of people who hadn’t known the park wasn’t opened until Friday.  Low and behold, Old Faithful lived up to its reputation.  The geyser shot a hundred feet up in the air and right on time.  The guy who puts the Metamucil into Old Faithful in the morning before the people come into the park on the TV commercial looked like the park ranger that gave us our introductory speech. I couldn’t resist taking a picture of him. 

After lunch we wandered into the gift shop.  As we were checking out with all of our goodies, Frank asked the checkout girl if there were any bears around. She said, “There has been bear activity in the area. There is a carcass up near the entrance ramp to ‘Old Faithful.’ Bears have been known to be seen feasting on carcasses.” 

That was all Frank needed now that he was armed with some good information. He diligently drove us over to the top of the bridge where we promptly found the big black bear still gnawing on the carcass. Many cars followed suit. Then after about 30 minutes, the bear took off. Many of the other spectators thought the show was over and left, but not Frank. He figured out where the bear was going and we were the first ones there. 

Unfortunately there are always those who must follow the leader and several cars followed us. We got phenomenal photos and then followed the bear to where he crossed the road.  All the cars that had followed us lined up in such a manner that everyone could see the bear and ge great pictures until one guy pulled up.  There’s always one in every crowd, as we all know, who pulled up blocking everyone’s view. With his 3 foot by 10 inch wide lens, he parked his car directly in front of the bear.  He had the kind of lens where he could have gotten those close-up pictures of the bear from the next state. So that was it, the show was over, and we all drove on down the road.

Another interesting anomaly are the multi-colored Grand Prismatic Springs. Snow was still packed on the boardwalk around the springs, so we climbed up on top of it to get all the way around the various lakes. We could just imagine how hot those springs were, seeing the mystical looking steam radiating up toward us as we stood there looking out at the water.

Experiencing the beauty of the lakes was almost as interesting as watching three Buddhist monks from a distance. They had walked off the boardwalk, onto the temperamental ground, and over to what appeared to be a boiling hot spring and splashed it on their face. 

We yelled “No,” to them from the safety of our guardrail, to no avail. Either the water wasn’t that hot or they were incredibly spiritual and God had saved them. Or perhaps this was another example of ignorance is bliss. If I did the same thing, surely, I would have landed in the hospital with 3rd degree burns. They walked away unaffected, possibly a miracle of life, and we became two of its witnesses. 

My final impression of Yellowstone is that there certainly is good reason why it is considered one of the biggest attractions in America. The amount of geothermal activity is astounding to witness. It’s a spectacular place for kids and adults, nature and animal lovers of all sorts and ages. Yellowstone is full of animals and scenery to capture your heart and your photographer’s lens.

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