Thursday, August 11, 2005

Manmade Yellowstone

I suspect that the deeper eco-fringes have no use for a place like Yellowstone. After all, the hand of man is all too evident—roads, buildings, signs, picnic tables, just to name the things you can see from the road, though in fact the vastness of the park swallows them all.

Not only the hand of man, but also men, women and children, in great numbers, at least in August. Yellowstone is a popular place. More than 3 million visits a year, according to the NPS.

At Mammoth Hot Springs, the first major collection of buildings inside the north entrance of the park, we were caught in brief traffic jams and couldn’t find parking on one occasion. It was irritating at the time, but it would be churlish to complain about it: what do those other people think they’re doing, taking up space in my national park?

I did wonder if the Park Service is scheming to disallow private cars in Yellowstone, as it has done in Zion NP and Bryce NP, but those parks’ road networks are relatively simple compared with Yellowstone, which is sprawling. But it might happen. Maybe an older Lilly will return to the park someday, and marvel that she can remember a time when her parents were allowed to drive through the park.

Naturally we visited Old Faithful. Gotta go see Old Faithful, and wait for it to fulfill its impressive duty, which it did for us at about 6:45 pm on August 5, 2005, pretty much as the rangers predicted — at the information booth, they wrote an estimated time of eruption on a little whiteboard. I also saw it on chalkboards at other places around the geyser.

There was plenty else at the site besides the geyser itself. In fact, that unnaturally regular bit of nature supports an enormous tourist infrastructure, more than I expected. Immediately ringing Old Faithful was a large semicircle of observation benches; beyond that was a complex of sidewalks and shade trees, and beyond them were the Old Faithful Lodge and the Old Faithful Inn, both stalwarts of Yellowstone, the latter recently celebrating its centennial; and beyond that, even more facilities, such as gift stores, a gas station and a clinic, with massive parking lots to hold all the cars and buses.

According to, Old Faithful Inn was “built during the winter of 1903-04… [and] designed by Robert C. Reamer, who wanted the asymmetry of the building to reflect the chaos of nature. The lobby of the hotel features a 65-foot ceiling, a massive rhyolite fireplace, and railings made of contorted lodgepole pine. Wings were added to the hotel in 1915 and 1927 (by Reamer), and today there are 327 rooms available to guests in this National Historic Landmark.”

This year the building’s being restored, so the vaulting ceiling of the lobby was partly obscured by scaffolding and tarps. Still, the place was the model of a giant lodge in the woods — the brown woods, the massive gnarled logs holding things up, the fireplace (empty in summer) almost big enough to be a garage. Reamer went on to build other lodgings in the park, but this is his masterpiece, and I could see why.

Sure, come to Yellowstone to see marvels of nature. But the park also contains a few human marvels.



Post a Comment

<< Home