It was bison, American buffalo. There were hundreds of them, beside the road, crossing the road, scattered across the grassy hillside to our left, the broad plain below and to our right. Traffic was moving, slowly, one or two vehicles going on every time the bison left an opening in the road.
Friends of mine had been to Yellowstone National Park when I was a boy.
They’d come home with movies of the wonders of Yellowstone, movies they’d taken. I don’t remember them having pictures of bison but I do remember a black bear standing upright by the side of a car, their car, elk, Old Faithful, mountains with snow among the peaks. I was fascinated. How I wished that I could visit Yellowstone.
It was many years before that wish came true. I was grown. I had a family of my own. I told my family about those movies of my friends’ but I wondered, after so many years, would the park live up to my memories from those movies and to my imagination? It did. My wife and I were there recently and it still does.
Yellowstone was the first national park in the United States and in the world. Some of the men who explored the area, who discovered its wonders, proposed that this be made a “pleasuring ground for the people,” a place where the natural wonders would be preserved and the wildlife protected.
In 1872 Congress passed a bill creating this, the first National Park and on March 1st President Grant signed it.
For me, the bear standing by a car that my friends had a movie of was a wonder to me. Any bear, particularly a bear living in the wild, is a wonder to me. Yellowstone has black bears and grizzly bears. They aren’t as easily or frequently seen, apparently, as when my friends were there many years ago. Then people fed the bears and bears collected where there were people. Now people are cautioned to stay away from bears and feeding them or putting out food for them is illegal. Feed a bear, have the bear attack you, and you could be injured and get a ticket.
Old Faithful, the geyser that my friends had a movie of is another famous wonder of the park. But Old Faithful is just one of the geysers in Yellowstone. There are more geysers in Yellowstone than any place else in the world. There are also hot springs, fumeroles which are vents of steam coming out of the ground, mud pots which look like giant bubbles in a pan of boiling gravy, and mud volcanoes which start like mud pots then erupt shooting a spout of muddy water and steam into the air.
Yellowstone has the yellow rocks, golden rocks, that give the place its name. There’s Yellowstone River and Yellowstone Falls. There is Sulphur Cauldron, Firehole River which is fed by hot springs and flows with hot water, Roaring Mountain and Mammoth Hot Springs.
It has wildlife, of course, bison, bears, elk, moose, deer, beaver, river otters, coyotes and now Yellowstone has wolves. There are many birds, too including bald eagles, trumpeter swans, white pelicans, Clark’s nutcrackers, gray jays and red-naped sapsuckers. Yellowstone is a place of wonders, even more than I dreamed about and longed to see after I’d seen the movies of my boyhood friends who were there so many years before I was.