Yellowstone is known as the Disneyland of National Parks—it is in fact, the first ever National Park—and with this moniker I wasn’t entirely sure what to expect. It, unlike some of the other places we have visited, is packed full of actual wild wildlife. There are bears—both of the black and grizzly persuasions—alongside bison, moose, elk, wolves and lots of other critters. Reading up on the park before coming out led to a conversation between myself and Melissa on how seriously to take the bear issue. On the park website, there’s plenty of information on how to handle bears should you encounter them as well as the stories of how every year a hiker or two will meet their demise at the paws of a pissed grizzly. We looked into buying bear spray before coming, but were put off by its steep price tag.
Upon arriving at the park, both aspects were immediately apparent: the wild nature of this super-volcano and the way it has been made palatable for the masses. Unless doing serious back country hiking or camping, the bear spray would have been overkill, it seems. We have not encountered a bear, and with the sheer mass of other tourists in the park, it is hard to imagine bears would get too close to any of the popular trails or attractions. There’s always a chance of a bear encounter, of course, and an even slimmer chance of it being a dangerous one, but the odds are definitely stacked in favor of not having to worry about it, as long as sensible precautions are taken, as advised by all the park literature.
We saw a moose on the way in to the park and a number of elk and buffalo within the park bounds. The sheer variety of landscape and terrain here is mind-boggling. There are the rugged mountains and alpine features which are classic America, but then there are all the weird geothermal features such as mud-pots, geysers and hot springs. Yellowstone is situated on a massive volcano that last erupted 640,000 years ago, and if it were to erupt now, well, things would not be good in this part of the world. There is also a vast lake and stretches of rivers and grasslands in other areas. There is a long, deep canyon (with yellow stone walls) which is punctuated with a series of jaw-dropping waterfalls, which for us, was definitely the most amazing spectacle of all in the park.
The park is immensely beautiful and wondrous, but it also a slog, contending with the hordes of tourists, struggling sometimes to find parking for something as simple as a picnic spot.