By Bill Sniffin, Publisher, Cowboy State Daily
After a quick visit this past week, I can honestly say my Yellowstone National Park is a different place than from any other time I have seen it in the last half century.
Yellowstone is my favorite place on earth. Our family has never missed going to the park each of the last 50 years.
Over the last 30 years, one of the biggest changes in Yellowstone has been the huge influx of foreign tourists. I was even involved in that by co-founding an international tourism company back in 1991.
This year it seemed like I did not hear those European accents that were so common over the last three decades. Perhaps they were there, but with people wearing masks, conversation might have been muted.
The biggest group missing was the Asians. In July 2019, when I last visited, it seemed like one-third to one-half of everyone there was an Asian family. And that is just fine. But this year, I saw just one Asian family in my visits to Old Faithful, Norris Geyser Basin, Yellowstone Canyon and Yellowstone Lake.
At Old Faithful there was a big crowd, but considerably smaller than normal for this time of year. The Xanterra staff was doing a magnificent job of making sure people maintained social distancing. They all had their masks on and occasionally we had to shout at each other to make ourselves understood. It took three tries for me to communicate to the poor gal shoveling out pulled pork sandwiches, that no, I did not need anything else. We both laughed and I gathered up our grub and moved on.
The inside of the big Old Faithful Lodge cafeteria was almost empty while outside, the line to get in stretched out. Only small groups of people were being allowed inside. Social distancing was being enforced. The restroom experience was crazy. The big restrooms were limited to a capacity of four or six people.
There were some crowds, but not the overwhelming masses normally seen in early July. Traffic was steady on all the roads. A great many people were wearing masks. And social distancing played a big part in everything about visiting this wonderful place.
This time of year, at the world’s first national park, normally the traffic is bumper-to-bumper and the crowds are wall-to-wall. It is the closest thing Wyoming will ever see to Disneyland-type crowds and lines.
During this visit, the traffic was fine. The lines were manageable. Most Wyomingites have learned their lesson and avoid the park during the mid-summer months because of the crush of all those out-of-state tourists.
This year, it is different. Go to Yellowstone. It is an international treasure, and it is OUR treasure, right here in the Cowboy State.
It had been hot in Lander with temperatures in the 90s. We were going to wear T-shirts and shorts on this trip to Yellowstone but a check with Weather Guru Don Day from Cowboy State Daily showed we might need to reconsider. The high was going to be just 65, and the weather was clear.
We were glad we packed some jackets and hoodies. The elevation in the park is over 7,500 feet in most places and the air is crisp. A cool breeze can make you really appreciate that jacket most of the day.
The purpose of our trip (besides my annual “fix”) was to introduce Taylor Benevides of Dallas, who is the boyfriend of our granddaughter Daylia Hollins, to the park. As a pair, they are known as Tay and Day. On this day, they were our guinea pigs and I wanted to show off my favorite place on the planet. Taylor had never been to Yellowstone and had never heard of the Teton Mountain Range.
On our way to the park, we were hoping to see that big old grizzly bear that hangs out along the Togwotee Pass highway. Not on this day. But the view of the Teton Mountain Range was breathtaking. Taylor was blown away by that billion-dollar view.
Last year, I went through the park on July 3 and had to wait a half-hour as a quarter-mile long line of cars waited to get into the park. This year, it took five minutes and we had four cars ahead of us. So far so good.
My friend Bob Tipton had remarked earlier this summer how he had left Lander at 7 a.m., viewed the park and got home at 7 p.m. That was the trip I was trying to duplicate.
We had a lot more traffic than he did a month ago and our passengers wanted to take some extra hikes, like to the bottom of Yellowstone Canyon, which is magnificent. The only problem is that you have to go back up to the overlook, which is uphill all the way!
Going and returning on our trip, we passed through one of my favorite mountain towns, Dubois. The new National Museum of Military Vehicles is almost ready to open. What a treat that will be. Thanks to Dan Starks and his family for building it.
We finally got home at 9:15 p.m., tired but totally content with our annual Yellowstone visit.
Now my plan is to go again later this year and spend a few days up there – this trip was entirely too quick. Luckily, our group this time had an experienced tour guide.