“I am back in my park.”
So starts my journal entry for the day. The park in question being Yellowstone. I think, with nine visits in the last not-quite-fourteen years and one book set there so far and another in the works, I am qualified to be possessive about it. My other park is Mt. Rainier, but that’s because I live within sight of it and, depending on where in the park I’m going, as close to it as a 45 minute drive (the northwest entrance, at Carbon River).
I was also back in the land of research and promotion, for the aforementioned book. My first stop of the day after I hit the road was in Livingston, a small town with a fascinating history. You see, Livingston was the original entry point to Yellowstone, back in the days when almost all long distance travel was accomplished by passenger train, and you had to be rich to do much traveling. Oh, for the days when a five day package tour of the park cost less than $60, all inclusive. Which was a lot of money back in the 1880s.
I visited the two main museums in Livingston to tell them about my book and to leave bookmarks as well as peruse the exhibits. First was the Livingston Depot Museum. The building itself is not the first depot on the site and only dates back to 1902, but it is a magnificent building, and they’ve done a terrific job with it. I think my favorite part was the 1920s film promoting travel to the park. The other museum I visited was the Yellowstone Gateway Museum, housed in the old Livingston school. It used to be one of those “everything including the kitchen sink” museums, but it has a new director and new exhibits these days. The redesign is well done, but it’s very different than it used to be. One set of artifacts that I am assured is only in storage, but that I missed seeing this time were souvenirs from the early days of the park that had been created by putting objects into the springs at Mammoth and letting the travertine coat them.
After an early lunch I drove down the spectacular Paradise Valley (where a number of movie stars own ranches) to the town of Gardiner, the northern entrance to Yellowstone and the home of the Yellowstone Heritage and Research Center, the official park library and archives. I spent most of the afternoon collecting material on the 1959 Hebgen Lake earthquake for my next book, and the rest of it at the Yellowstone Association headquarters bookstore getting contact information for their book buyer.
When the research center closed at four, I drove the five miles (across both the Wyoming state line and the 45th meridian marking the halfway point between the equator and the North Pole) south to Mammoth Hot Springs and Fort Yellowstone. I went to the campground there, paid for and was assigned a campsite, then went up to see how the Springs themselves have changed since the last time I’d visited, two years ago. They always do. New springs pop out and grow, old ones die, and sometimes, although not often, they encroach on existing roads, trails, and/or buildings, and then the park service has to figure out how to preserve, say, an historic building like this (click to page 3), designed by Robert Reamer in 1908 in the style of Frank Lloyd Wright, and a rapidly growing hot spring, all at the same time.
I was pleasantly astonished at the wildflowers that populate Mammoth at this time of year. The last time I was in the park in June was 27 years ago, in 1985. I had forgotten. A hillside of phlox, several meadows’ worth of larkspur, forgetmenots surrounding more balsamroot, and a few others.
When I got back to my campground, it was to find, to my bemusement, several cow elk browsing unconcernedly between campsites. Now in the past, when I’ve stayed at the Mammoth Hotel in autumn, I’ve been kept awake by bull elk bugling under my window all night, and I kept a wary eye out for calves this time, but all in all, the ladies turned out to be good neighbors. Quiet, thank goodness, and they kept to themselves.
If you like my travel writing, you might enjoy my fiction set in Yellowstone:
Repeating History, “A GRAND yarn you can’t put down.” Janet Chapple, author of Yellowstone Treasures