“There are images that lie within my heart…images with the power to recall the warmth of a summer’s night, the stillness before a storm. Reminding me of the first time I ever saw him…there was nowhere else to go except towards love.” Meryl Streep as Francesa in The Bridges of Madison County.
When I hear these words spoken in the movie I just get chills. So incredibly romantic. It was filmed among the fertile farmlands and rolling hills of southern Iowa as a backdrop. One of the underlying themes of the film is that romance can flourish suddenly in everyday moments. If you have not seen the film, or read the novel, this is a timeless love story filmed in Winterset Iowa including the historic and iconic covered bridges located throughout…you guessed it: Madison County.
I am an Iowa girl, born and raised in Des Moines. After moving away from Iowa, I always come back to visit, but had never journeyed to Winterset (very close to Des Moines) to see the covered bridges until recently. I went on a delightful day trip there with my Mom, aunt and cousin. We discovered that there are six covered bridges in Madison County. That is the highest concentration of covered bridges, in one area, west of the Mississippi River. It’s interesting to note that the eastern state of Pennsylvania boasts the most covered bridges of any state with the a whooping total of 219 covered bridges. Now that’s an incredible amount of history preserved; if only those bridges could talk….imagine the tales they would reveal.
The practice of covering bridges developed out of a need to protect the interior wooden trusses and floor boards, which deteriorated quickly in the severe weather of the plains. It was easier, and more economical, to replace boards and roofing then the interior trusses. Many of the bridges were lost to floods, ice jams, fires and just the procession of progress. Starting in 1884, many of the older bridges were replaced with steel. In 1933, the Madison County Historical Society began a campaign to save the remaining bridges. Of the original 19 bridges than spanned across the county, six iconic bridges remain. The bridges have been lovingly restored, maintained and span across creeks and streams in the county. They dot the landscape as an architectural reminder of a by-gone era.
Our first stop was at the Madison County Welcome Center (Chamber of Commerce). It is easy to find: right across the street from the impressive and quite tall courthouse in the town square of Winterset, Iowa. The address of the center is 73 Jefferson Street. The folks are so helpful there and it is a terrific place to get your bearings and the complete back story about this interesting community. Come to find out, Winterset is also the birthplace of John Wayne. There is a museum with an impressive bronze statute of the famous cowboy and also a small home designated as his birthplace. When we were there, there were no true John Wayne fans in the car, so we drove on to see the bridges.
One of the easiest bridges to find is located right inside their city park: Cutler-Donahoe. The bridge was built in 1870 over the North River in Bevington, but was moved to the city park location in 1970. This was the very first bridge we saw and it does have a “wow” factor. Even though it is not very long, it is beautifully built and it easy to allow yourself the time to become immersed in admiring the craftsmanship.
The Holliwell Bridge spans across the Middle River and was featured in the movie. It is the longest of the bridges spanning 110 feet. It was exciting to see this particular bridge and then see it featured in the film. It’s so delightful to have one of those “Oo, Oo! I have been there!” moments. Out of the six bridges in Madison County only two were featured in the film, however the entire film was filmed locally, so many Winterset locations are recognizable. The town square, Northside Cafe and the Pheasant Run Tavern were all sites in the movie.
The oldest of the remaining bridges is the Imes Bridge. It was built in 1871. Like all of the Madison County bridges, it has been placed on the U.S. National Register of Historic Places. You can understand why this is the case, admiring the covered bridges brings a certain sense of nostalgia. As you walk thru the bridges the sturdy timbers under your feet are worn yet strong. The cross beams not only support the walls and roof , but create a unique, cross hatch design element characteristic of these timely structures. No wonder they were used for the back drop of a romantic love story. Sometimes it’s the simple beauty in everyday things that warms our hearts. If you are in the Des Moines area…I highly recommend a trip to Winterset. Put your traveling shoes on. Julie E. Smith
Throughout Wisconsin, there are approximately 260 supper clubs…give or take. The number is frequently changing because the clubs change hands and/or close and re-open again later. The restaurant business is fluid and subject to change. Our neighbor to the west, Minnesota, also has supper clubs….but not nearly as prevalent or pervasive on the landscape as Wisconsin.
So herein begs the question that keeps on popping up: “So what is a Supper Club, anyway?…just another restaurant? Oh Nooooo! Don’t speak of such blasemphy. It is hard to explain, and I had this discussion with my son. We discussed the history of prohibition, the establishment of the speak- easy and how supper clubs, to some extent anyway fit in that part of history. I believe that you just have to experience supper club dining to appreciate them and to know the difference. My son and I did however come to the conclusion that: “A Supper club is a restaurant, but not every restaurant qualifies as a supper club.” Kind of simplistic in nature, but I think it helps to drive the point home: Supper Clubs are in a category of their own.
I was prompted to write about the uniqueness of Wisconsin supper clubs after attending a fund raiser dinner and presentation by our local historical society: The Polk County Historical Society. The event was entitled: Celebrate Wisconsin Supper Clubs and celebrate I did! I really enjoyed learning about the diversity and amazing history behind this fabric that makes up the Wisconsin landscapes and in many ways is the pride of many a Wisconsinite. The two presenters at the event helped to expand those definitions and help to explain what makes a supper club a supper club?…and not just another restaurant?
Mary Bergin, a Midwest features writer, discussed the inspirations that led her to publish a cookbook of over 60 recipes from 40 different supper clubs. Mary is the author of several books, many of which focus on adventures in Wisconsin. The cookbook she published is entitled: “Wisconsin Supper Club Cookbook”. The book includes not only tasty recipes, but also interesting tidbits of historical content about particular clubs and why loyal customers help to create each supper club as a local treasure. She explained that the popularity of the supper club has sustained because of their predictability; you know you can expect great service and food when you walk through the door. That predictability gives them lasting quality. Some may call it “stuck in a rut”, but others view it as the comfort of tradition. Her books are currently available on Amazon and you can follow Mary on some of her adventures at: www.roadstraveled.com
Holly L. DeRuyter, a documentary filmmaker, presented her video entitled: “Old Fashioned-The Story of the Wisconsin Supper Club”. The film took a delightful tour of several clubs at locations throughout the state and portrayed why these iconic clubs have remained popular and a staple in many Wisconsin communities. The video not only highlighted the supper club “culture”, but also helped the viewer to grapple with the continuing question of how a supper club differs from a restaurant. The supper club patron is welcomed to a slower pace where one can relax and connect with family and friends. One of the club owners summed it up well by stating: “ Dine Leisurely, Dine Well.” Most supper clubs are in rural places and usually open for dinner only. The supper club includes a bar and a separate dining room. Even after prohibition was repealed, many women felt uncomfortable going to a tavern for a drink. (Some taverns were considered “seedy” and not the place for a lady…) However, women felt more comfortable having drinks if the bar was located inside a supper club. This helped to make all the patrons feel comfortable for both eating and having cocktails together. For more information on Holly’s film, you can check out her web site at: http://OldFashionedTheMovie.com
Speaking of cocktails, the classic cocktail of the supper club is the Old Fashioned. The drink itself dates back to the 1700’s, but was revived during the Prohibition days. With the preponderance of “rot gut liquors” and “bathtub gin”, these tonics were made more palatable with the addition of fruit slices and/or cherries to garnish the drink. A taste for something sweet just evolved the Old Fashioned into a staple cocktail at many of the supper clubs.
Another staple of the supper club is the Friday Night Fish Fry. Wisconsin is the perfect place for the popularity and success of a Friday Night Fish Fry. First, the fact that Wisconsin has 15,074 lakes filled with delicious perch, walleye and trout to provide an abundance of fresh and local fare. Second, there are many religions that abstain from eating meat on Fridays, so the Friday Night Fish Fry quickly became a family tradition for many Wisconsin families.
When I first moved to Wisconsin, my realtor gave us a wonderful gift to welcome us to Wisconsin: a book about Wisconsin Supper Clubs. It is entitled: Wisconsin Supper Clubs, An Old Fashioned Experience by Ron Faiola. It became a great resource and also soon evolved into a journal for documenting my trips to the many supper clubs in the state. Since there are so many, I added my own entries and photos for the clubs that were not listed. It has been fun to document the memories of special meals, but also makes me feel a little like a restaurant critic. Yet, most of the things I document are good food and great experiences. I rarely have negative criticisms. Imagine my surprise when a copy of “my” book was there on the bar when I visited a supper club close to us. As you can imagine, that club had “made the cut” and was featured in the book. Good job guys.
Put your Traveling shoes on. Julie E. Smith
“Look at everything always as though you were seeing it either for the first or last time: Thus is your time on earth filled with glory.” These wise words, spoken by the author of “A Tree Grows in Brooklyn” ring true about the joy of taking in a view, and sometimes there is a bit of Deja Vu happening…especially if you have seen something in photographs or have done your preliminary searching. Before I travel just about anywhere, I like to do my research about the area. It’s like exploring before you actually go exploring. So wonderful to find out about the history, the terrain, and special “attractions” and features you may want to see when you are there. The beauty of this is not only learning new things, but also having the joy of seeing something with your own eyes after seeing a photo in a book or scrolling through sites on the internet. When you have already seen something as a reference point, if you have the opportunity of seeing something for the first time with your own eyes it brings a certain kind of exclamation of: “Oh, my Gosh…There it is!! That first initial Glimmer of Recognition, when the object or destination comes into view.
One of my most dramatic experiences with this phenomenon involves a lighthouse. Yes, a lighthouse. Not just any lighthouse, but my favorite lighthouse. I have a beautiful painting of it, and prior to moving near the north shores of Lake Superior…I had no idea it was so close to where I live. Venturing to visit there on a beautiful, sunny day we drove on the ribbon of highway around each bend and gradually approaching where we knew the lighthouse would be. Rounding a sharp curve, it was suddenly there up on the cliff. It almost seemed to jump at you from out of nowhere. I gasped and am a little embarrassed to say I actually teared up a little…it looked so small up there on that cliff over the turbulent waters of Lake Superior. Yet, I was so excited to see the actual lighthouse and tour it; hearing stories dating back to it’s construction in 1910. Nevertheless, I remembered why it’s my favorite lighthouse: small in stature, but a mighty fortress as it sits atop that jagged cliff. It was a joy to see it and take my own photographs of it, not to just see it in a brochure or web site. And of course climbing the steps up to the lighthouse and admiring the view was a memorable part of the trip. I have been a few times and hope to go again.
I have other travel experiences with this glimmer of recognition, but usually not quite as profound as my lighthouse moment. Any traveler can probably recall a time when they have exclaimed…Wow, Look….there it is! Some things don’t pop up suddenly, but instead gradually creep into view. Devil’s Tower in Wyoming is a perfect example of that. It has special status within the National Park Service system because it was named as the first National Monument by President Teddy Roosevelt in 1906. To accomplish this status, it also was the first act under the newly formed Antiquities Act. It truly is a unique feature on the landscape and can be seen for miles away as you approach the site. When we drove there it’s truly amazing that you can see it long before you arrive there and calls of “Are we there yet?” are bound to come from the back seat…. It just appears on the low horizon as the highest thing around for miles. Viewing it from a distance is almost as amazing as up close. It’s kind of amazing when you get closer, because you can see that several brave souls climb it. My son ventured to explore the rocks at the base, and I just explored with my telephoto lens. That was high enough for me.
Another glimmer of recognition came recently on a trip to Boston. I heard many tales, and saw photos of the infamous Quincy Market. It was built in 1826 as a marketplace to accommodate the growing needs of the city and the overcrowding at Faneuil Hall. It has stately Greek columns and still serves as a thriving marketplace today. So in my quest to find it, we were walking and walking….and starting to wonder if we were going the right direction. We rounded a corner and Voila! There it was, unmistakable. Doesn’t look like any other building in the area. Actually, when I first laid eyes on it, it seems bigger and perhaps more majestic than the photos portrayed. Interesting place to visit so I am glad I added it to our “to see” list while we were there.
There is such joy in seeing things with your own eyes, things that you have only heard or read about. Yet, that joy can be multiplied when as a traveler you take a little time to find out about your destination. The thrill of discovery will be yours! Put your traveling shoes on. Julie E. Smith
Boston is a city that stands as a shining example of the blending of old and new elements. Boston is steeped with history showcasing the birth of our nation and the events of the American Revolution. Yet, in the same token it is a modern bustling city with glimmering skyscrapers next to the shores of the Atlantic. There is so much to take in when visiting this east coast city and there is something to appeal to every taste: history, architecture, diverse cuisine, beautiful parks and of course the famous Freedom Trail.
Even if you have never been to Boston, the Freedom Trail is the most talked about and highlighted feature of the city. The red brick pathways throughout the city streets lead you to 16 of some of the most significant events in the history of the United States. And yes, they happened in Boston. Boston is frequently referred to as “The Cradle of Liberty”. The trail was originally conceived in 1951; the trail was completed and by 1953 40,000 people were walking the trail annually. The trail is easy to follow by the narrow red bricks marking the way. The entire trail is only 2 1/2 miles long, but to take it all in perhaps its easier to walk part of the trail and “trolley” part of it. There are two trolley companies within the city that provide “hop on, hop off” service. I would highly recommend this, it’s an easy way to get around and see the sights you want to without becoming completed exhausted. They both have web sites and information on their tours: Old Town Trolley Tours and City View Trolley Tours.
One of the best places to start learning about all the ins and outs of the Freedom Trail is with the National Park Service. The NPS provides an abundance of information detailed the significant events of the birth of our nation. The National Park Service has two Visitor’s Centers in Boston: one in Faneuil Hall in the heart of government center area and the other by the harbor and the USS Constitution. We went to both Centers and both facilities offer an abundance of information to gain a better understanding of the historical significance of all the sites along the Freedom Trail. For those of you who are NPS passport holders, like myself, I am thrilled to report there are 16 different stamps you can collect from all the historic sites. I didn’t get all of them, but added quite a few to expand my Passport collection.
In the heart of the city is a vibrant market place housed in both Faneil Hall and Quincy Market. Faneil Hall was built in 1742 to serve as a central market but town meetings were also held here from 1764 to 1774. Samuel Adams led meetings here with protests against the taxation of the colonies, when some of the first stirrings of a revolution began. Today Faneuil Hall contains shops and restaurants on the first floor, the NPS Visitor’s Centers on the second floor and a museum on the third floor. The museum contains a collection about the Ancient and Honorable Artillery Company of Massachusetts. The Company was founded in 1638 for defense of the colony. The display has occupied space in Faneuil Hall since 1746.
In the same courtyard as Faneil Hall stands the stately building with Greek columns: Quincy Market. It was named after the Mayor of that time period (1823) who pushed to have the marketplace built to accommodate the needs of the growing city and the overcrowding at Faneuil Hall. Quincy Market was completed in 1826. It is a fascinating place to visit with all the sights and sounds of a thriving marketplace. Fish, meat, cheeses and an abundance of produce are seen up and down each aisle displayed by a diversity of vendors. Not only is this harbor town known for their wonderful seafood, but Bostonians have a unique accent and are not shy about it. Just take a look at this sign at a seafood vendor I saw at Quincy Market, it really gave me a chuckle. The way to pronounce Lobster is to drop the R….Lobsta…that’s the Boston way. I love it. We enjoyed talking with the locals and their accent was very evident with the trolley drivers. Perhaps they ham it up a bit for the tourists. I know that our Mid-western accents sound quite odd to them. That is always a fun part of traveling about the country. It’s English, but there are just so many different ways to speak it. Additionally, in this same marketplace, there are two additional buildings: South Market and North Market. Wow….So much shopping, So little time.
One of the highlights on the Freedom Trail takes you to the Charlestown Navy Yard; where the Charles River meets Boston Harbor. Here sitting in the harbor, is the oldest commissioned U.S. Naval ship: the USS Constitution. She really is quite a sight to behold, and looking at all the rigging on her sails, it’s hard to imagine all the sailors operating them without tripping over each other. It would definitely have to be an orchestrated effort. The ship was built by Bostonians and launched in 1797. She sailed in 40 battles and never lost one. She was nicknamed “Old Ironsides” because of the way cannonballs would bounce off her tough oak planking. When visiting this sight, you are allowed to walk on the ship and explore it. However, security is tight because part of the facility is a working Navy base, it’s not all for tourism. The museum on the premises is also very interesting, it’s hard to take in all the information at one time, perhaps warrants multiple trips.
The oldest public park in America, the Boston Common, is in the heart of the city and provides lush green spaces, manicured walkways trimmed with flowers, a small “frog pond” and a larger lake. It was originally established by the Puritans in 1634. Within the park is a beautiful pond with the infamous Swan Boats floating gracefully across the pond. The boats are as quiet and gently moving as a real swan, because there are no motors; powered only by peddling of the swan boat “captain”. Even when filled with people, the whole park is serene and a lovely place to relax on a blanket on the grass.
Another charming aspect of the park is the adorable “Make Way for Ducklings” statue that pays homage to the classic children’s story by Robert McCloskey. The tale of the wayward ducklings was inspired by the busy streets of Boston and a Mama Mallard trying to protect her brood. It was originally published in 1941, but it’s continued popularity has held the test of time as a classic children’s story.
Crossing the bridge on the Charles River, from Boston to Cambridge, takes you to two of the most prestigious institutions of higher learning in America: Harvard University and MIT. Harvard holds the title of the oldest college in America, it was founded in 1636. Today Harvard also is known as a leading research facility. The Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) was founded in 1861 and has become one of the world’s leading technical institutions.
Boston is indeed a city of many “firsts” in our county. The first printing press was in Boston in 1638. The first subway was in Boston, 1898. The first World Series was held in Boston, 1903. The last “first” I will mention is near and dear to my heart: The Boston Light was the country’s first lighthouse in 1716. How could I have missed that when I was there….sounds like I need to head back to Boston for my OWN photo of that iconic lighthouse. Put your traveling shoes on. Julie E. Smith
The scenic Mackinac Island is located in Lake Huron nestled in between the upper and lower peninsulas of Michigan. It is sometimes considered the “crowning jewel” of the state of Michigan. A visit to Mackinac Island today carries on a long held tradition of pursuing rest and respite on this lovely island retreat. Tourism became the dominant industry on the Island in the years following the Civil War and today during the spring and summer months, the ferry boats bring flocks of tourists seeking to capture the beauty of the island. Access to Mackinac Island is through two “point of entries” via either St. Ignace, Michigan from the northwest or from Mackinaw City to the south, or “lower peninsula” of Michigan. Traveling from northern Wisconsin, we made a bee line across the state on Highway 8 and into St. Ignace. Ferry services operate to the island from both St. Ignace and Mackinaw City. The ferry ride itself is great to get an overall view of the island and of course a view of the Infamous Mackinac Bridge! That famous bridge is a whole topic in and of itself: check out my June 8 blog: Facing My Fears: Mackinac Bridge
Part of the nostalgic charm of the island is the fact that automobiles were banned from the island in 1898. No smelly exhaust, traffic jams or car crashes. Getting around the island is done on foot, bicycles or by horse-drawn carriages. Both bicycles and carriage ride tours are available for rental, making easy accessibility to the entire island; the perimeter is relatively small: only eight miles. While there, my husband and I enjoyed one of the Carriage Ride tours; which not only gave us a great view of the Island, but was also very educational. The drivers give you terrific history lessons as well as many comic insights. Also available are horse drawn taxis and horseback riding for the more seasoned equestrian. I was glad that we choose the carriage ride, otherwise it might have been just a bit too much walking and/or biking. I was amazed to find out that on this island, where “the horse is king”, the general population of horses working on the island is around 400. During the peak of the tourist season the group of working horses on the island is expanded to about 600. That’s a massive amount of horsepower!
Most of the horses are draft horses and capable of pulling quite a bit of weight. Alot of horsepower and frankly alot of horse poop. When the wind is just right , you do smell it in the air, but it is not too overpowering. The folks that work on the island try very hard to keep the streets clean of any ahhh….er…”residue” from that large population of horses. Frankly I was impressed at how well they kept up with the old boys. Also, it’s probably important to note that although these horses are accustomed to being around people, they are NOT pets. Also they are working, not socializing. As tempted as I was to reach out and pet them, as tourists and travelers, it is wise to refrain from that. You could talk to the driver first if you really wanted to pet them, but every horse has different temperaments. I will say, however, I am sure they don’t mind a bit having their picture taken. Probably happens several times a day. (Stupid Tourists….) “Say cheese!”
A culinary delight that the island has become synonymous with is the famous Mackinac Island Fudge. What traveler doesn’t like to treat themselves to a melt in your mouth delight! The merchants on the island have known this for decades and began enticing tourists to the island with their treats, some starting back as early as 1887. The early, early days of Mackinac Island (1820’s) the island become a very important market for the fur trade industry and then became important for commercial fishing. After the Civil War the tourism boom to the island began and with it the need of treats for the tourists. Of course, I could not leave the island without a purchase of several different types of fudge. Good thing I shared it with family and cousins, because I think I bought way too much. There are just so many choices! (Is there really such a thing as too much fudge? I think not.) I think it is interesting to note that the locals have developed a term of endearment for the tourists coming to the Island: “Fudgies” Well, I think that fits. There are worse things one could be called.
Prior to all the tourism coming to the island, Fort Mackinac was established as a military outpost for British soldiers and later, American soldiers from 1780 to 1895. Every building on the premises is original and was built by soldiers more than 100 years ago. The fort has been maintained and preserved to recreate life at the fort. Tours are available, with some of the historic events recreated by costumed guides. In addition to the historic Fort Mackinac, there are nine other museums on the island highlighting a variety of topics from art history to horse carriages.
Another intriguing part of history about Mackinac Island history that many don’t realize is that it held the title of a national park for twenty years. Yellowstone was named our first National Park (1872), then in 1875 Mackinac National Park was established. It operated as a national park from 1875 to 1895. By 1894, Fort Mackinac was not an active military post. Several US government officials decided to revise the fort and the park and turn it over to the state of Michigan. Then in 1895, the state of Michigan established their first state park: Mackinac Island State Park. With all the beautiful state Parks established subsequently in the state of Michigan, it’s compelling that Mackinac Island State Park is Michigan’s first.
During the time period of its tenure as a national park, one of the most recognizable and historic buildings was built: the Grand Hotel. It was opened in 1887 and helped to meet the needs of the growing tourism industry on the island with 393 rooms. It has been named a National Historical Landmark and boasts the title of the world’s longest porch. It really is an amazing and grand site to behold. I did not stay there, but it is a very beautiful building with an impressive history. It faces the water welcoming incoming travelers to the adventures and beauty at Mackinac Island.
For more information on planning a trip there, a good place to start is with their Tourism board: https://www.mackinacisland.org/ Put your traveling shoes on. JES
This incredibly beautiful, albeit slightly terrifying bridge, spans 5 miles across the chilly waters of the Straits of Mackinac. It connects the upper peninsula of Michigan to the lower portion of the state. Many of the locals refer to it as the “Mighty Mac”, very fitting: the two towers of the bridge rise an impressive 550 feet high making them easily visible from many sites in the vicinity. Quite impressive yet to many folks, myself included, it’s an intimidating and scary bridge to cross. Maybe I have “Gephyrophobia” (pronounced Jeff-ee-ro-pho-bia), the fear of crossing bridges or going through tunnels. For me it is not a debilitating phobia, but definitely an anxiety that causes a tense muscled trip across big bridges and white knuckles on the steering wheel. A recent trip to Mackinac Island required us to go across this stunning bridge. I also found out from the helpful ladies at our hotel desk that many people, mostly tourists, are so intimidated by this bridge that the Port Authority offers a service to drive your car across for you if needed. I guess I am not alone in feeling this way. My husband became my knight in shining armor when he agreed to drive across. You would think I could relax and enjoy the view. Unfortunately that was not really the case. I tried….I remembered to breathe…then snapped a few photos along the way. You can tell by the photo below, not a great one, that I was just thinking eyes forward and lets get to the other side. Nevertheless, I am very glad he was driving. And I live to tell the tale…amazing.
Another interesting feature about the bridge is that below one of the towers is the shipwreck Minneapolis, a combination steam and sail vessel that went down during an ice storm in 1894. This is not the only shipwreck in this area, the Straits of Mackinac are legendary for their severe storms and 25 known shipwrecks have been recorded in the area. I would imagine that if you went diving in the area there would be lots of intriguing discoveries. Our ferry boat trip to the island provided great views of both the Mackinac Bridge and several quaint lighthouses in the area, but no shipwreck sightings. Perhaps part of the reason that wrecks are not readily visible is the fact that at its deepest part the water in the Straits is 295 feet deep. That’s WAY far down for a ship to lay in its watery grave. Maybe that’s another reason big bridges like this one give me the heebie geebies. Nevertheless, we survived and had a wonderful day at Mackinac Island: the topic of my next post….Put your traveling shoes on. JES
Established in 1872 as the first National Park in America, Yellowstone is the Grand Daddy of our national parks. It is interesting to note that not only is it the first in America, it is the first National Park in the world. It is good to be known as a trendsetter for something like this….setting aside land for conservation, recreation and preservation for future generations. It is an amazing place to visit not only for the historical significance, but the diversity in the features of the park. Yellowstone is quite a popular destination: it hosted 4.12 million visitors in 2018. That sounds like alot…but it is a huge park, plus it is not all summertime attendance. Some folks visit for winter adventures, but the most popular times are July and August. A visit to Yellowstone provides a variety of experiences to make it well worth the trip. Included in that list of things to see at the park include: erupting geysers, bubbling hot springs, prismatic reflecting pools, waterfalls and an abundance of readily visible wildlife. All these amazing features are found within this large park of 3,472 square miles. For some perspective, that’s more than three times the size of Rhode Island.
Probably one of the most fondly known features of the part is Old Faithful geyser. Like clockwork, it erupts about every 90 minutes. Old Faithful and the many geysers and hot springs serve as a reminder of the unstable nature and changing geology of our planet: especially near Yellowstone. Also near Old Faithful is a terrific Visitor Information center with all kinds of nifty information about the geyser basin region.
Just north of Old Faithful are the beautiful prismatic springs and waterfalls. A boardwalk stroll through the various springs gives you a nice view and it’s beneficial to try several different viewpoints. One of the most amazing and colorful is the Grand Prismatic Spring. It is the largest in the Park: at 370 feet wide, and stunning to view. The bright colors are caused by different types of bacteria and algae that thrive with the different water temperatures. One has to try several different angles before viewing, and photographing, all the spectacular colors. If you have a drone for aerial views…this would be an awesome place to try it out.
The wildlife are so accustomed to park visitors; frequently they wander close enough so you can get some awesome photos. Of course that has been known to cause problems, if you don’t respect their space and use common sense. They are wild animals after all. When we were near one of the visitor’s centers, there was a very large heard of Elk that decided to hang out and take an afternoon siesta under the shade of a spreading Oak. They are beautiful graceful creatures and several were mothers with young ones to protect. Photos could easily be taken from a safe distance. Several rangers had carefully arranged some barricades by the sidewalk directly across from the Elk….to keep both the tourists and the Elks safe. As you can image, “there’s one in every crowd” : some idiot walked over the barricade with camera in hand trying to get much closer for a “great shot.” Luckily he did not get too far before the ranger called out to him. Apparently, he felt he was exempt from following the guidelines put in place by the Park…he just ignored the ranger and kept walking closer. He waved off the ranger who then, justifiably so, got angry. Nevertheless, the ranger’s professionalism and manner in handling this incident was incredible. He “hit” him (the inconsiderate tourist) where it hurts: his wallet. The ranger firmly said that if he did not step away he would fine the man $500 for not adhering to Park regulations and disobeying the instructions of a Park Ranger. The Elk photographer did back down and I am sure the ranger was relieved that no further action was necessary. The rangers are there just to protect the beauty and sanctity of the Park, the Park wildlife and to assist visitors in the Park to have a wonderful Park experience. I give all those rangers so much credit; they do incredible work. I have never met a ranger I didn’t like: they are all so incredibly helpful and they have a wealth of information about the Parks they serve. Never be afraid to ask questions, they are happy to help!
On a lighter note about wildlife viewing is a critter you are almost destined to see: the Bison. Yellowstone is famous for its roaming herds of bison. Like many visitors to Yellowstone we were wondering: “What’s the difference between a buffalo and a bison?” We wanted to make sure we used the right verbage for theses amazing, massive creatures that you see frequently all around the Park. Actually bison are the creatures found roaming the American west, not buffalo. Varieties of buffalo are found in South Asia and Africa. A major difference is the presence of a hump. Bison have one at the shoulders while buffalo don’t. Buffalo’s horns tend to be quite long, bison’s horn are shorter. Even with all these differences, it’s easy to get mixed up and call them buffalo. Common usage I guess from all those old cowboy Western movies. In Yellowstone, a frequent occurrence on the road ways is the Bison Jam. Bison, of course, have the right of way and when they want to cross the road, you better let them….at their own pace. We had the excitement of seeing this first hand and you can get some great photos…safe photos…if you use caution and obviously stay in your vehicle.
Heading out west? Be sure to stop at the Grand Daddy of them all:Yellowstone National Park. Put your traveling shoes on. JES