Yellowstone National Park

Yellowstone National Park

Yellowstone National Park

July 27, 2009, 8:02 am

From afar, Yellowstone is not as dramatic because much of the parkland comprises heavily forested mountains, burn areas, and arid, high-country plateaus. However, at closer glance, Yellowstone's natural marvels are startling: hundreds of geysers, scores of inspiring waterfalls, and a gorge -- carved by time and water -- that rivals the Grand Canyon. This park commands the imagination and envelops the senses from the moment of arrival.

Creatures great and small thrive in Yellowstone National Park. In the wilderness of Yellowstone's southern corners, grizzlies feed on cutthroat trout during their annual spawning run to the Yellowstone headwaters. In the soft blue depths of Octopus Pond, microbes of enormous scientific value are incubated and born; in the mountain ridges, wolves make their dens and mountain lions hunt bighorn sheep.

When John Colter, a scout for Lewis and Clark, first wandered this way in 1807, his descriptions of geysers and sulfurous hot pools and towering waterfalls drew jeers and suspicion. No one doubts him now, but these are still places you should see for yourself. The explorers of today come in minivans and on bicycles, aboard snowmobiles and telemark skis, and in such numbers that the parks sometimes groan under the strain.

In the early days of Yellowstone, first established as a national park in 1872, visitors were so sparse that the things they did -- catching a string of 100 trout, washing their underwear in the hot pools -- left few noticeable scars. Now, with millions of people visiting the parks annually, the strain on everything from sewer systems to fish populations is immense.