Sunday, June 08, 2008


The oldest national park in the world. The most over stimulated geothermal region of the world. Bison and Elk and Bears. And the birthplace of the National Park Rustic style. of architecture, Old Faithful Inn.

The wildlife part, well, we are so used to seeing buffalo in the Black Hills, and we saw elk at Dinosaur NP, running through the clouds. I must confess, I don't want to see a bear, they scare me. And we didn't.

Visiting a place that has had 125 years of promotion applied to it is sometimes a peculiar experience. The geysers, the deep blue bubbling springs, the plopping mud pots, and the colorful mineral and bacterial outflows are all pretty wonderful and strange. We walked on boardwalks around a lot of them, and dutifully sat and waited for Old Faithful. Plop plop fizz fizz, a dangerous and alien landscape. I actually heard someone say “ Is that all there is ?” after Old Faithful finished its act. I wonder what the Native Americans thought of this place, was it full of ghosts and avoided or did they come near for the heat? It didn’t take us palefaces long to figure out that it should become a tourist destination. Oddly, making hot spring pools and soaking facilities was never a big deal. There were some early tent cities around the pools and one large indoor pool in the 1920’s.

We are seriously warned against stepping off the boardwalks, as the crust may open up and dump us into scalding steam. It is hot, you can feel the heat from the holes. But there is buffalo poop everywhere and buffalo foot prints and smooth places where the buffalo have cosied up to the heat during the winter. Hot tubs for buffalo. Most of the buffalo have moved down into the valleys where the snow has melted and grass is coming up lush and green. We did find two grazing by one geyser area, we had to pass much closer than the 25 yards we are to keep between us and the big brown beasts. They look disarmingly tranquil, but are grumpy and dangerous.

The thing I came to see is Old Faithful Inn. Designed by Robert Reamer in 1903, the large central building is a rustic palace, using huge lodge pole pines and local stone.
The lobby is 7 stories high, all logs, with balconies upon balconies of peeled, knurly pine logs. It is an astonishing space. People, including me, come in under a low, massive, dark covered entry and stop and stare up at the sight. It is twilight dark, and has the sort of coziness that you associate with rustic log interiors, but it is so huge and sort of delicate that it is mesmerizing. I couldn’t stop looking up at it, moving 30 feet and looking up again. Architecture as sculpture. We took an architectural tour, and got to see inside a tiny bedroom, double bed, pegs on the wall and a sink replacing the original pitcher and bowl. Bathroom down the hall. will tell you what we learned.

Not only is it a wonder, but it started the Architectural style known as National Park Rustic or Parkitecture. When the National Park Service was formed in 1916, one of its directives was to fit into the landscape, not dominate it (per Olmsted of Central Park fame and others) so a committee of architects and landscape architects was formed to develop the standards. Briefly this meant using local materials, rustic, as in whole logs rather than sawn, low profile, and in keeping with the park’s natural and historical features. These standards gave the national parks their unique look, log guardrails, huge stone and log buildings and entrances.

The Northern Pacific RR was the major funding source for the inn, as the rush of tourist train passengers meant a “modern” and comfortable hotel at Yellowstone was necessary. This included electric light, full plumbing, steam heat and a big wooden door to lock out the wild at night.

So is this the wildness that is the preservation of the world? Not hardly, unless you count the damage the bears and buffalo do to tourists. Certainly the backcountry is pretty wild, and the park is proud of its successful introduction of wolves. We were in constant traffic on the main roads and in gridlock if an animal was visible, and this is very early in the season. The next day the park got buried in snow, by then we had fled to Bozeman MT, where it is 43 and raining endlessly.


Post a Comment

<< Home