A Journey Through Yellowstone

The mountains are calling, and so I must go.
— John Muir

By: Nolan Thompson

I first saw Yellowstone when I was sixteen. It was the trip of a lifetime. A longtime dream fulfilled for my Dad. It was just the two of us, and college was right around the corner at the end of my junior year of high school. It meant the world to him to have this trip and it would come to mean the world to me. In a lot of ways, my Dad and I could not be more different and in some of the most stubborn ways we could not be more alike.

It's fair to say we butt heads, as I was an angsty teen, but we ceased for all but one weekend. All fell silent. Struck mute in the wake of absolute awestruck by the natural cathedral of the American frontier. In the valley of the Yellowstone, high in the snowcapped crown of the Rockies, Yellowstone National Park, in all its majesty, is a chapel of natural wonder. I'll never forget the moment my eyes first poured over the ridge down into Mammoth Springs. The red roof barracks of the old cavalry base, the rising steam from the hot springs billowing down the mountainside and the caravan of elk promptly parading themselves over the hill to welcome us to this Oz. 

I had never experienced this density of wildlife before in my life. I was in a wild place,  good place.

Almost a decade later I can feel my throat tighten and goosebumps raise at the memory of pure excitement in this moment. Bison and bears, waterfalls and tall lodge poles. The scorched earth of fires gone by and the meadows of forests just beginning anew. It was a wonderland where the entire splendid play of life rang out in the bugle call of elk under a sun which seemed to shine brighter, bathing the sage in gold. At over 8,000 feet above sea level, you felt closer to the sun. I felt closer to a lot of things. There are few moments more humbling than standing at the foot of a mountain or sharing the Earth with a grizzly bear.

Out of the car, open to pure power. You find your place in the world. Realize how small you are and how great the world is. You rejoin the food chain and there's a bit of comfort to this. The fear is real, the beauty is real. You're where you belong, where you're meant to be. Something I wouldn't feel again until I found myself in Africa but this is the magic of America's national parks.

Whether it be Yellowstone, Yosemite, Glacier, Arches, Zion ... all who have been to any of these parks, all have a story of this nature. The beautiful gift of perspective. An American invention, the national park, as Ken Burns so boldly declared, truly is America's best idea.

These final bastions of the frontier strive to preserve the very best of this planet from the often blind ambition of global development. Land put aside not for private or personal gain, no intention of profit or any other purpose beyond the simple fact it is the right thing to do. The preservation of the natural world is not so much some effort to be more green. Rather, it is an endeavor to simply be more human.

These wild places bring peace. They silence the petty in the presence of the immense face of natural, raw reality. The squabbles between father and son go quiet. Leaving only smiles of disbelief shared between them. This world is unbelievable and it's not very far away. It's right outside, right in our backyard. Leave the neighborhoods behind. Escape to a frontier and see for yourself. Witness it, you'll be left with memories for a lifetime. 

My father introduced me to the mountains and though he may not always be happy with what corners of the world it's inspired me to explore since, it's a gift I am forever grateful for. But before you go, let me ask of you, where to next?

Email me with questions to: Nolan@voyedgerx.com

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