We came through the northern entrance near Gardiner, Montana. At this point we had traveled 888 miles (not including the first leg) from our home to the entrance of one of our country’s best ideas: Yellowstone National Park. We had about 75 miles yet to go before we reached our campground in the southeastern section of the park. The wild expanse is hard to contemplate if you haven’t seen anything like it before.
Since we were going to be so far away from this area, I knew it wouldn’t be likely we would make the drive back up to see the famous Mammoth Hot Springs. Even if we did come back next year, or in a few years, it could very well be different. The product of an ever-changing landscape.
Mammoth was the site of the first park headquarters. The army was in charge of overseeing the park and evidence abounds from their time here in the late 19th century. The general store, administrative buildings, Fort Yellowstone, and Officer’s Row are still in use today, although they may have a slightly different purpose.
If you wanted to see lots and lots of elk, then Mammoth was the place to be when we arrived. We were walking along Officer’s Row when we heard the strangest sound. I was looking in the trees for what kind of bird must be making that noise when we saw a ranger anxiously herding people away. One baby went off exploring and what we were hearing was that mama looking for her little one. Never get in the way of a mama and her baby.
After navigating the various elk detours, we managed to catch up to a ranger talk about the history and formation of Mammoth Hot Springs. There are seven ingredients needed to form these hot springs: heat, water, limestone, and a way for the hot water to reach the surface. To create the fantastic travertine terracing, we need calcium carbonate. All must work together and when one piece is missing (or harmed in some way, usually through human intervention), the entire ecosystem changes.
We know that the wilderness is not a constant and many visitors to Yellowstone are disappointed when a feature they remember has disappeared, dried up, or otherwise changed. I suppose this is where we get a passion for saving the wild, when we really ought to leave it well enough alone. The wild must be saved from us in most cases. It takes care of itself just fine.
I am really excited that my children have now had the chance to see this wonder of the world, even if it really is just a tiny part of it. This is something we will always remember and I hope will continue to spur their curiosity for our natural world. I had a couple of proud moments when my eight-year-old asked a ranger a question or two that certainly took him aback. That is what I wanted from this Great Eco-friendly Summer Road Trip: a sense of adventure, a love of learning more, and finding new experiences together.
We found that all at Yellowstone. Come back next week when we talk wildlife!