By Bill Sniffin, publisher emeritus
Today marks a big day in Wyoming history!
On March 1, 1872, Yellowstone became the world’s first national park. It is one of the best ideas ever hatched.
Fewer than 2,000 non-Indians had visited the place way back then, but the photos by William Henry Jackson and paintings by Thomas Moran had so impressed Congress that Yellowstone National Park came into being.
It is noteworthy that this occurred 18 years before Wyoming became a state. Another side note is that the Wind River Indian Reservation, which today is about the same size as Yellowstone, was also created by treaty in 1872. Both cover about 2 million acres.
The official celebration of the 150th will occur May 6 in the lobby of the historical Old Faithful Inn. There will also be a series of events all summer long in Yellowstone and in gateway communities. A big theme will be how the park area interacted with regional Indian tribes, including the Shoshone and Arapaho tribes from Wyoming.
We visited the big park for one very long day last September and here are some of my notes:
In Yellowstone, the voice of authority is a young gal with a bullhorn telling people to move along. We ran into them on three occasions during our 11-hour drive through the park.
The first two times, the gals had gotten the traffic moving by the time we got to the offending place. The third time, we stopped and rolled down our window, and asked: “What’s going on?”
“There’s nothing here. Get out of here!” said the seemingly pleasant looking but serious traffic mover. OK, OK. And away we went.
We have been going to Yellowstone for 51 years and it is my favorite place on earth. We love going in the fall as a way to avoid the summer tourist rush.
Alas, this year mid-September of 2021 felt like July 4. If you are going, you better be patient. And congratulations to the park service for installing those traffic-moving gals with the bullhorns as they were effective in moving traffic along.
Although some new highways in the park will finally be open after two years of construction, other construction projects will slow down traffic at different times and in different places inside the park in 2022. Travelers need to budget lots of time and also monitor construction bulletins.
Using Cody as a base, we left early and took the spectacular Chief Joseph Highway to connect with the Beartooth Highway and enter the Northeast gate. Traffic was moderate and the smoky haze was gone. It was a nice day that topped out at 66 degrees in the park.
At Tower Junction, the road south was closed for the season as it was getting a major repair. We headed on over to Mammoth hoping to see some elk roaming the streets.
Parking spaces were hard to find. It was a busy place. We had to wait in line and wear masks to get into the Horace Albright Information Center. The poor Park Service gal, who was in charge of enforcing the mask rule and maintaining proper social distancing, was not having a great day. One of the most unpleasant jobs in the park, I would assume. She was standing outside wearing her mask while everyone around her was not.
Xanterra is the outfit in charge of running just about everything in the park as its concessionaire. They are the best in the business. But 2021 year was tough. Like just about everyone in the hospitality business, they have had a struggle hiring staff.
Lately, they have even had trouble getting food into the park. One of their staff people strongly suggested that we pack in our own food, which we did. Thus, I have no idea about how service was, although there appeared to be lines everywhere.
I assumed a lot of the park’s staff are college students who had to quit and go back to school. It put them in to an impossible position.
Yellowstone set a new all-time record for visitation in 2021 with 4.86 million tourists. This is 1 million more than 2020, which shows the surge from across the world to visit this wonderful place.
Is it worth going? Are you kidding? I love the place. It is my favorite place. Just go prepared to be surprised at the large number of fellow tourists there with you this time of year.
We are hoping to attend the 150th festivities. We also attended the 100th anniversary party in 1972 in Cody. Did I say I have had a long relationship with this wonderful place? Yes, I have. But I digress.
“Like No Place on Earth” was the official slogan for Wyoming’s tourism division a few years ago. I liked the slogan but thought it referred more to Yellowstone National Park than anywhere else in the state.
We spent a lot of quality time at the most heavily-visited part of the park – the lower loop. We skipped Old Faithful because of time constraints but were looking forward to some hot water elsewhere.
Norris Geyser Basin is the greatest hot spot in earth. It covers a huge area and can be incredibly dangerous. Once a season you will hear about someone getting burned in Yellowstone and most often, it happens here.
During our trip we were anxious to get to Norris. We have made many trips to Yellowstone in September and October over the past 51 years and for most of that time, the tourists were “local” – from Wyoming, Montana, and Idaho. On this trip, I finally spotted cars with Montana and an Idaho license plates parked together. Finally, some locals. Then we noticed they were penned in between cars from Hawaii, California, and Florida. Oh well.
Norris did not disappoint. It was a windy day, which meant big blasts of sulfur every so often. If you like geysers like I do, the smell of rotten eggs warms your heart.
Traffic was light from Norris to Canyon as we headed for Artist’s Point. It was crowded but we found a parking space.
At the Point, two guys talking in a foreign language were beside us, so I asked them where they were from. They said Venezuela originally, but they had lived in Miami for many years now. They bemoaned what had happened to their country but were loving their first visit to YNP.
The road south through Hayden Valley was blocked by a big herd of buffalo. The big bulls were right in front of us and snorting at us. I took a photo through my windshield showing the big bull and the park gal in the distance with her bullhorn. I want to point that out because if you saw the photo, you might think I was being one of those idiots who walk right up to bison. Nope. Not now. Not ever.
Our favorite place is the Lake Hotel and specifically, the big sun room. On this day, it was packed with folks all enjoying drinks and watching whitecaps on the inland sea called Yellowstone Lake. Everybody was required to wear a mask to get in but they all had them off as they sat, drank their drinks, and enjoyed both the view and the company. The line to the bar was more than 12 people deep.
As we left the park headed back to Cody, we entered a surreal world called Wapiti Valley. This is such a strange place with huge mountains, deep valleys, and a beautiful river. The HooDoos were amazing, as was a giant rock formation, which I call the Bear’s Ears looming over the whole area.
Sleeping Giant Ski Area has expanded and looked impressive. The Buffalo Bill Reservoir was drawn down somewhat as we approached the famous Buffalo Bill Dam. When it was built in 1912, it was the tallest in the world.
The Smith Mansion is a six-story relic that looms over part of the valley as you head toward Cody.
When we passed the Cody Rodeo Grounds, we had been gone for 11 hours and had travelled over 300 miles.
Wow, what a day! Certainly, one of the best days ever.
Visiting Yellowstone was like seeing an old friend again. And my friend was in fine form.