|M.M. Justus, author|
Wandering the geyser basins:
waiting for things to go off
by M.M. Justus
Yellowstone National Park is about as Old West as a person can get in this day and age. Bison thunder across the valleys; their babies, locally known as red dogs, bouncing like rubber balls in the spring. Wolves roam the way they did 150 years ago. Bull elk bugle in the fall -- although it becomes slightly less charming when they do it at three o'clock in the morning under your window, as happened to me one October at the Mammoth Hot Springs Hotel.
Horse corrals offer trail rides. Fort Yellowstone, built in the 1880s, waits to be explored. And at the Roosevelt Lodge, named after Teddy, a person can even go on a hayride to an old-fashioned chuckwagon dinner, set up out on the sagebrush flats where the antelope play. The world's first national park is a paradise for all things Western, and preserves them, especially the animals, for all of us to enjoy.
But in 1871, when the park was created, Wyoming and Montana territories still were the Old West. Critters were commonplace, and there was more than enough wide open space to go around. What fascinated people, what made them take notice and stand in awe, were the thousands of hot springs, fumaroles (steam vents), and mudpots. And, most especially, the geysers.
Everyone knows Old Faithful, of course, but Daisy and Riverside are at least as predictable, and Grand, Castle, Great Fountain, and Beehive are well worth the wait. (labeled .jpgs att). No two eruptions are alike. Geysers are said to play, and there is an exuberance about them that sometimes causes their audiences to applaud in sheer joy at a "performance."
The park's many geyser gazers, who spend entire vacations waiting for eruptions, volunteer with the park service with predictions and research (http://www.geyserstudy.org/). Geysers are geology on a human scale, and all of the park's thermal features can change visibly from year to year, and sometimes even from day to day.
While Yellowstone National Park has many admirers, for many reasons, for me it's the geysers. My favorite is Grand, but I love them all. I'm just glad our government had the sense to protect them when it did. So we not only have the geysers, but a chunk of the Old West, ours to visit anytime we want.
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What would you do if a geyser catapulted you back in time, into the middle of an Indian war? 20-year-old college dropout Chuck McManis gets to find out. The hard way. By the time he escapes to civilization, 1870s-style, he discovers his new life has changed him forever. But he has to risk everything to earn the chance to stay, or lose everything he has become and everyone he loves.