“Mommy, how wong? How wong mommy!”
We knew what we were getting into, arriving on the amphitheater board walk that coursed the chalky landscape surrounding the Old Faithful geyser in Yellowstone National Park. We new what we had coming entereing the fourth most visited national park and heading straight to it’s premiere feature, a spectacle of nature with the dependability of clockwork. We knew.
“Thirty minutes Conner,” the mother said glancing at her cell phone.
“That’s the time of a TV show,” Conner said.
My wife and I turned and saw Conner, an eleven year old in PacSun gear with the enunciation of a six year old. Conner, impatient, had just been scolded by a fat midwestern family who contained a member in a wheelchair, their view of the anticipated eruption obstructed by Connor’s bored roaming.
The area beside the grand Old Faithful Inn was filling up quickly with cars badged with Oklahoma, Texas, Ohio, Illinois, etc, filled with redneck, republicans, plaid farmers, booshy families, summer vacationers who spent their winter holiday in Kissimmee/St. Cloud.
Connor was afflicted with impatience. When he’d waited twenty one minutes, the running time of an uniterupted Netflix program, he whined again., “Mommy, I’m bored.” A couple minutes later the channel diving into the earth began its preliminary spurts. Connor was enthused and again washed over with dullness.
Moments later the scalding fountain shot skyward, a column of white energy pluming and mixing with the sky and cirrus clouds overhead, raining an eggy mist over the dry summer ecosystem. The spout ceased and the crowds left.
The Old Faithful geyser is spectacular. It’s frequency can be taken for granted but to think, that a spring of water, heated by the enormous cauldron of magma just below the flaky crust can heat, pressurize and expel with such regularity is remarkable. This is true of even the most modest geysers in the park. Old Faithful’s formidable gush only adds to it’s magic. There is no wonder why native cultures viewed this place with reverent mysticism and why witnessing missionaries considered it a satanic region.
The Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem in general is a remarkable place. What, with it’s wolves, bison, and bear, it’s vast plains and high mountains, it’s springs and suphur seeps. Unfotunately when we left Old Faithful and went to get breakfast at the concessions lodge on Yellowstone Lake, scooping a buffet of hotel pan eggs and grease glazed sausage links onto lunchroom trays, flanked by the divided family, the out of touch parents, the young son and older sister with more makeup than an instagram demands, the awkward lurch of a family vacation, the wonder of geothermal thrill seemed contrived and dirty. It felt like an off brand Disney World.
We headed back to our site at Madison Campground. We had two backcountry permits reserved, deciding we’d choose to head to high country or low country depending on weather and bugs. Unfortunately, when we arrived, the Buckler zone, a low lying wonderland was inundated with swarming humidity of mosquitos. Our alpine zone, the Gallantin range to the northwest was still coated in deep snow. We were confined to the front country of Yellowstone, a park where 95% of visitors venture no further than a quarter mile from the Grand Loop Road.
In Madison we were surrounded, not by nature, wildlife and calm, but instead a population of RV’s and their entitled captains.
“I’ve almost got perfect satellite reception,” one RV owner said to his neighbor as they admired the exterior of his home away from home beside a Lodgepole Pine, named for its use cut down. “If it wasn’t for this tree I’d have everything. Think it might come down with a case of chainsaw disease.” The two chuckled with heavy bellies.
Throughout the park there is development; road widening, construction, bridging, installation of power, gas and water. One can wonder, is this protection?
What is the environmental cost of access? What is the effort of the National Parks System. This has been an evolving role, dictated by the directors of the time. Stephen Mather, who was in charge during the creation of King’s Canyon preffered a park without a single road in it. To this day, Kings Canyon remains one of the least developed and most naturally pure parks on the planet. Yellowstone lies in direct opposition to that. Accessibility was a “necessary” evil to encourage attendance and further the pursuit of a Nation Park System. If no one showed up, there would be no funding to continue. This is a double edged sword to the mission.
Totally the number of cars, trucks, and RV’s rolling through each day, each flush from the thousands of 1.0 gallon toilets, each generator or RV hook up humming through the night, each hotel operating 24/7, the emissions, use and waste is staggering. The Disneyification of parks is dangerous. Yes, the wonders of our parks should be available to all if not most, but there must be a threshold to behold these wonders. There must be a protections in place that consider the impacts of even the most unassuming visitors for in modernity, man walks around with a trail of waste, from the car he drives, the packaged food he eats, and the gadgets in his pocket.
Parks, in general deserve to be less accessible. True nature is walled off from man and only those who are able to drift away from the conveniences which separate us from our natural seats in the animal kingdom deserve to see them. There should be no front country and a visit to Madison Campground should show you why.