Traveling with three friends, my wife and I just had the great good fortune to spend five days in Yellowstone National Park. The nation’s and, most likely, the world’s first park dedicated to the enjoyment of unspoiled wilderness and free-roaming wildlife, Yellowstone is simply remarkable. The mountains, the lakes, the waterfalls, the otherworldly geothermal pools and, of course, the animals transport you to a haven of tranquility that is difficult to leave.
On a tour boat in the middle of Lake Yellowstone, our skipper steered the craft in a lazy circle while the guide pointed out something that was only obvious once he pointed it out. “What don’t you see?” he asked his guests. As the boat continued its slow turn, you realized that, from this vantage point, you see no buildings, no cars, no power lines, no structures of any kind. It is exactly the vista that the area’s earliest explorers would have seen. And of how many places in our cluttered landscape can that be said?
According to the National Parks Conservation Association, the annual spending on our national parks system accounts for one-fourteenth of one percent of the Federal budget, but generates some $31 billion in revenue. Nevertheless, the parks system was forced to endure its share of the irresponsible, indiscriminate budget cuts called the sequester.
During our stay, we saw a grizzly bear, pronghorn antelope, a bald eagle in flight, a moose, and of course, lots of bison, whose lumbering journeys across the park roads provide drivers with the world’s most joyful traffic jams. We also saw young, seasonal employees from countries as disparate as Macedonia, Taiwan and Ecuador. Hearing conversations and glimpsing the faces of families transfixed by Yellowstone’s sweeping vistas, we were joined by tourists from France, Italy, Germany and The Netherlands. The park was also host to an extraordinary number of tourists from Asian countries, whose dialects were less familiar than those of the Europeans, but clearly belonged to Japanese, Chinese, Malaysians, Indonesians and Vietnamese. Our national treasures may belong to us as U.S. citizens, but they are borrowed, if only for a week or so, by grateful citizens of the entire world.
As our stay came to a close, and we prepared to drive back to Jackson, Wyoming, for our flight home, our little group reviewed what we had seen, tucking away the memories that would be as sharp and clear as the photos we had taken.
But I was also struck by what we had not seen. Though the park was predictably crowded for the third week of August, we saw not one instance of impatience, antagonism or hostility. Among all of these visitors from every corner of the globe, not a cross word was spoken—at least not that we heard. This was a place for people to be at peace, both with nature and with their fellow man.
There was something else missing, too. While many of the park’s vehicles were obviously rentals, there were also thousands of family cars, trucks, vans and RVs with license plates from Massachusetts to Oregon, California to Florida. And on those vehicles we saw exactly one bumper sticker with an angry, venomous political message. We saw no stickers praising the virtues of one political candidate or another. We saw those ubiquitous “our family” decals and tributes to various youth athletic teams, but not a single “Impeach Obama” or “Still support Obama? How stupid are you?” sign. Nor did we see any stickers from the left side of the spectrum.
Lettered T-shirts were everywhere, with proud messages from Yellowstone and other parks, in addition to the usual sports teams and colleges and universities. What we did not see were T-shirts proclaiming “The 2nd Amendment is my gun permit” or “Heavily Armed, Easily Pissed.” Were there hunters and gun aficionados in the park last week? Undoubtedly, but in this peaceful global village they clearly did not feel the need to alert others to their anger and paranoia.
Standing shoulder-to-shoulder with children of immigrants from many lands, and alongside those whose greatest hope is to become a U.S. citizen and claim ownership of a small piece of this wondrous landscape, it is impossible to fathom anyone declaring “Take Back America.” Whatever their political persuasion, the visitors who surrounded us last week, in quiet, awestruck enjoyment of this national treasure, knew that this was indeed the very best of America.
Steve Robinson moved to Flagler County after a 30-year career in New York and Atlanta in print, TV and the Web. Reach him by email here.
Wonderful article. Thanks Pierre for bringing Steve on board.
Pierre Tristam says
Will, the credit goes to Steve. I just cashed in the lottery ticket.
Rick Belhumeur says
Right after high school I went on an eleven thousand mile trip around the country and visited many of our nation’s treasures including a huge Meteor Crater, the Petrified Forest, the Grand Canyon, the Redwoods, Glacier National Park, the Great Salt Lake, Pikes Peak, Mount Rushmore and of course Yellowstone. Although Glacier National Park was the most beautiful place I went, Yellowstone was by far, the most amazing place I’ve ever been. It was also the place that I feared for my life more than any other when a bull moose chased me through the woods when he felt I got too close to take a photo of him. It had it’s own Petrified Forest and Grand Canyon within it’s borders and of course all of the animals, geysers and bubbling mud! Everyone should visit Yellowstone…
My car was the one with the bumper sticker that read : Don’t go to Palm Coast, Florida
After working and living inside this magical place for two years – I can attest to what was just said . . .
But words and pictures cannot possibly say what needs to be said.
This place is a world of its own. Unique. Wonderous. A geological playground. A laboratory. A discovery beyond expectation.
I worked with people who were born and raised in this place. The only time they left for any period of time was to attend college in nearby (110 miles away) Bozeman, MT. They can’t and won’t leave!
Every American must see and spend time here. Do not go for a quick look see – go there and explore. Inhale all there is. It’s everything you want to see and so much more in the great outdoors.
Honestly, there is no place like this on Earth.
How Fortunate we are! says
I’d LOVED to be able to go there. I have friends that live not far and have the pleasure of seeing the beauty whenever they feel. How lucky are they? I say VERY lucky.
Now the fires are trying to destroy that beautiful area and I hope you all send a wishful prayer to those in the effected area.
The current fires threaten Yosemite, not Yellowstone, but your concern is valid.
Just a thought says
Fire doesn’t destroy nature. It destroys man-made objects. Nature needs fire to for re-birth and re-growth. It’s a good thing.
Not only man made, but Old Growth forests are surprisingly sterile environments. The high canopy blocks out the sun and allows little undergrowth, which is where the food is. My Dad was the ultimate hunter who was not an Indian (I know this because I was told this by Indian guides in Canada). He always said that The Match was the greatest benefit ever given to the animals. After the fires, the sunlight would hit the forest floor for the first time in ages and the ash from the burnt vegetation would fertilize the new growth Berry bushes, brambles and graze would explode as well as the game population and the hunting was good. It wasn’t something that was pretty to look at for twenty years or so, but the animals thrived on it.
I remember coming out of one these burn patches or tornado blowdowns once when I was about thirteen and seeing a group of tweed jacketed, leather elbowed pipe-smoking over/under carrying dweebs and their Brittany Spaniels watching us as we emerged from the undergrowth. Bleeding and torn up from the berry thorns and brambles, our mixed breed pointers dancing around happy and both my Dad and the Pipes shaking their heads at the stupidity of the others hunting style. But we and our dogs were happy, because our game bags were full and theirs were empty. They were still hunting. We were going home and eating.
The animals will be just fine after the fires. However, the Motel owners and tourist traps are fucked.