Sunday, January 18, 2009

The first national park

Yellowstone is a magical, surreal place. It’s the World’s First National Park, an absolutely astounding, visionary move if you consider it took place in 1872.

It occupies 8,987 square kilometers – larger than Rhode Island and Delaware combined - and only about 5% of it has paved roads and things like bathrooms or warming huts. The rest is wild. Let me tell you what I mean by wild: Luca and I were snowshoeing not that far from the lodge and saw, less than 50 feet away, a herd of bison galloping by.

Because we went in the winter, we saw a great variety of wildlife, from bald eagles to mule deer to coyotes to wolves. (While I was there, I read a book about the re-introduction of wolves into Yellowstone after their complete and utter extermination - I won’t break your heart with the details - so I know what a privilege seeing wolves was.)

Some aspects of the park are hard to believe even as they unfold before your eyes. Let me tell you about my most favorite: (at the risk of revealing I have the criteria of a 13 year old boy.)

A big area of Yellowstone (72 by 48 kilometers of it) is the caldera of an active supervolcano. The park has more than 10,000 thermal features and more than 300 geysers. This means that you can be walking around (we were) and all of a sudden see a sparkling pool of clear blue water shoot up into the sky (we did).

If you look into the horizon, the view is sweeping and vast and the skies are bigger than anywhere else – but interrupted by tall streams of steam as far as your eyes can see.

There are boiling pools of mud. You hear bubbling, gurgling, gushing sounds and see surfaces where the hot water has splashed and melted the snow and left behind blue and yellow and red marks on the surface of the Earth.

Consider Old Faithful, a geyser that erupts into a huge jet of hot water more or less every 94 minutes. 3,700 to 8,400 gallons of water are expelled each time, and just prior to the eruption, the water temperature at the vent is 204 degrees Fahrenheit (95.6 degrees centigrade.)

If you didn’t already know that all this was there, wouldn’t you think I was making it up? Isn’t it incredible that such a place actually exists? 

Photo by Luca, taken in Yellowstone National Park


David said...'ve made me want to go to Yellowstone all over again to see it in winter. Did Emma ever tell you that I chanted "Bison! Bison! Bison!" at every opportunity for about three months after the first trip? We'll have to pop over and get the commentary to go with the rest of the photos!

Dushka said...

Emma and I have already arranged that!