Yellowstone National Park

Yellowstone National Park

Elk, crowds and the wild West in Yellowstone National Park and Cody, Wyoming

July 26, 2010, 7:23 am

• Your daughter spies three mule deer in a Yellowstone meadow. Then a moose mid-river. Then bison, fox and marmot, trumpeter swans, a wayward seagull and a grizzly family — mama bear and two cubs, romping across the high slopes, safely distant but still riveting.

• You hear the word "rodeo" used as a verb. Then you attend one in Cody, about 50 miles east of Yellowstone, and see not only bucking broncs, bull-riding, barrel-racing and calf-roping but also a stunt rider who circles the ring while standing astride two galloping horses.

• You look up from lunch at Buffalo Bill's old hotel and find that Miss Rodeo Wyoming is seated at the counter, right between Miss Cody Stampede and Miss Rodeo America, all chowing down in their spangled blouses and sashes.

• Old Faithful, which generally rests for 90 minutes between eruptions, starts spouting the moment you step up.

• The Old Faithful Inn, whose dinner tables are often booked months in advance, has space for you the moment you step up. (It helps to step up at 10 minutes before 5 p.m.)

• On a foray into Yellowstone's Mammoth Hot Springs area, you discover an appalling array of tasteless lawn ornaments at the home reserved for the Yellowstone concessionaire's top executive. Then they move, and you realize the elk are real. All 10 of them. They can't resist the grass and shade, the camera-happy tourists can't resist the elk and the rangers are forever struggling to keep the beasts with antlers separated from the beasts without.

OK, so by now, you've realized this isn't a multiple-choice test. It's more a reminder: Even when fully besieged by the summering masses, Yellowstone National Park remains a wildlife parade, a geothermal freak show, an essential rite of North American tourism, a lot of fun. And a side trip to Cody can fit about as nicely as cornbread alongside a slab of ribs.