Sat Sep 3, 2016
I just came back from my first visit to Yellowstone and was duly impressed. I had known Yellowstone was beautiful but had somehow failed to understand that everything in Yellowstone stems from its singular feature: it is the caldera of a massive exploded volcano and remains the largest geothermal field in the world. How did I miss that? Somehow the fact that the most well-known feature of the park is geyser that goes off every few hours didn’t register. In any event, driving around Yellowstone brings you through a variety of terrains and you would do yourself a favor to pick up a copy of the Roadside Geology of Yellowstone Country which gives an overview of the major geological forces that shape the region. I picked this up a few days in and found it very enlightening. It puts into perspective the Grand Canyon - geothermally weakened rocks plus massive glacial-derived waterflows; the hayden valley - glacial lake then alluvial plain; the massive boulders scattered around the Lamar valley; the geyser fields and thermal basins - as well as many, many more details of the local naturla history. Of course none of this is necessary to appreciate the beauty of the wide open spaces or the pungent mudpits, hissing fumaroles, and colorful thermal pools. But I was pleased to be able to make sense of some of these disparate features that provide the foundation for the rest of Yellowstone’s ecological awesomeness - for example being stopped by bison crossing the road, or seeing the home of Thermus Aquaticus, the bug that launched biotech (sort of).
My trip was a brief whirlwind tour of the park, mostly by car but with some small hikes and an awesome fly-fishing excursion out of Arricks in West Yellowstone. Fly fishing is fantastic and going with guides is fun because they line everything up for you - everyone in our group (9!) got bites on their line if not a fish or two. The guides excellently got us up to speed on the types of trout in the stream, chose and loaded the lures, added the “indicator” (a float) and the weight. They told us where and why the fish would be and taught us to cast before letting us do our thing. The time flew by. If I lived outside NYC I could see that being an attractive hobby. In our short trip we saw bison, elk, coyotes, many birds, small mammals and fish but no wolves or bears. We did get to watch a smoldering forest fire at night, though (from a distance).
At the Old Faithful bookstore I also picked up a copy of Mind of the Raven which I highly recommend. Billed as getting into the mind of a Raven, it is as much a recapitulation of the life of an experimental behaviorologist and I think anyone who reads this book will be as impressed at Bernd Heinrich’s stamina and willpower as by the intellectual versatility and emotional range of the birds he studies.
After only a few days of exploring Yellowstone I reached that feeling of satisfaction that only large open spaces and copious fresh air can bring; I anticipate returning, hopefully with more time to spend.
Flew in via Denver. Flat flat flat. Quite a contrast to landing in Jackson Hole and the rugged vertical Tetons.
This was the only really deep thermal pool that I saw. It had such a pleasing blue it made you want to jump in. Of course, periodically, some people do ……