President Lyndon B. Johnson, the 36th president of the United States, referred to the preservation of American wilderness when he said, “If future generations are to remember us with gratitude rather than contempt, we must leave them something more than the miracles of technology. We must leave them a glimpse of the world as it was in the beginning, not just after we got through it.”
He said that in 1964 before the invention of cell phones and long before smartphones. I imagine he would be quite shocked to see how dependent on technology younger generations have become over time.
Regardless, the truth remains that our heritage and our future are both tied to preserving the unique landscapes and animals found in our national parks.
After our first stop at a national park, Badlands National Park, we were able to visit two more on our trek across the country. We visited Yellowstone National Park near Alta, Wyoming, and then later Glacier National Park in West Glacier, Montana.
We learned from experience that the best time to visit national parks is early in the morning or evening. There is much less traffic which makes the trip more enjoyable.
After many Covid-19 restrictions were lifted in the early spring of 2021, most national parks have experienced an increase in the number of visitors. Yellowstone National Park has had a summer of record-setting attendance.
I had always wanted to visit Yellowstone National Park, the crown jewel of the park system. It was America’s first national park, established in 1872. I just never realized the massive size of the park. It is 3,472 square miles, which translates to 2,221,766 acres!
To see it all it would require an extreme amount of hours in the car. We definitely had to limit our destinations within the park.
Yellowstone is made famous by its geyser field which is the largest in the world. Yellowstone is home to 60% of the world’s geysers. For a family from rural Ohio, it was certainly strange to drive through the wilderness spotting steam vents and smelling something like rotten eggs.
We drove a very short distance along the 141 miles of shoreline that outlines Yellowstone Lake. Located at 7,733 feet above sea level, it is the largest high elevation lake in North America.
My kids desperately wanted to swim in the clear blue water, but Yellowstone Lake is not suited for swimming. The pristine lake usually doesn’t thaw until May or June and has an average water temperature of 41°F.
Grand Prismatic Spring
One of our favorite stops was at the Midway Geyser Basin to see the Grand Prismatic Spring. It is the largest hot spring in the United States and the third-largest in the world.
It is aptly named prismatic due to the colors within the thermal waters. The edges of the pool are rings of orange, yellow and green. At the center where the water is the deepest, the color transitions from aquamarine to a dark blue.
I issued many warnings for my kids to stay in the center of the boardwalk. Over the years, many park visitors who slipped or ignored warnings were severely burned by scalding hot water.
We couldn’t drive to Wyoming and not see Old Faithful. We arrived close to sunset. At first, I didn’t realize the benefits of being there so late. We were visiting during a heatwave, and the viewing area was in direct sunlight. The late evening hours saved us from the blazing heat and sun.
The real show began as the sunset in the sky turned first to red and then dark purple with occasional lightning in the distance. Old Faithful did not disappoint.
Close to the predicted eruption time, we started to notice sporadic changes in steam height. Then the water shot up an estimated 130-140 feet in the air for about two minutes.
I enjoyed it when my children were silent for once, watching the eruption in awe.
While the geothermal activity steals the show, the animals in the park bask in the glory of stardom as well. The over 5,000 bison in the park are the largest and oldest free-range herd in the country. Large and burly, the animals are kings of the park.
We have decided that the only way we will ever see the whole park is to keep coming back for more. Each time we visit we take a small nibble out of a large and delicious feast.
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