Editors Note: Please see other great articles on our national parks in our special edition.
After I completed my undergraduate degree, I wanted to see our beautiful country so I headed off from the East Coast towards California with two friends. I remember thinking how HUGE and diverse it was, with pockets of cities densely populated and hundreds of miles of open land in between; you could see forever.
It was June in Wyoming and high mounds of snow enclosed both sides of the road as we entered the very first U.S. national park, Yellowstone National Park, named after the Yellowstone River.
Old Faithful and the other geysers, the deep colors of the steaming mineral springs, the roiling bubbling mud pots and waterfalls were undeterred by the accumulation of snow. We played in the snow in shirtsleeves and periodically watched bison and elk grazing the new, tender shoots of grass and leaves far away from the stockpile of snow by the road. Periodically, there were traffic snarls as tourists stopped to ogle the animals along with bears that seemed to gravitate toward the roadway. Yellowstone is magnificent, magical and mysterious all combined together.
Down the road south and lower elevation is Grand Teton National Park – a sight that will take your breath away. When you drive into the valley there are mountains to the west that are snow-covered and almost surreal because of their monumental size compared to the relative flatness of the terrain. The Snake River coils its path in front of the mountains and looks like flowing mercury in the sunlight. There are three main mountains that were called Trois Tetons (Three Breasts) by French fur trappers around 1820. The Grand Teton, logically, would be the Big Breast at 14,770 feet.
“Leave me here,” I told my companions, and began my love affair with Wyoming. I had no problem getting a job at Jackson Lake Lodge in the park and frankly, I would have done the most menial of tasks just to BE there looking at those mountains every day.
From the elevated dining room there is a panorama view of the Grand Tetons through floor to ceiling windows. We could watch the animals in the marshy areas, note the changing foliage, snow melting through the summer, new snow frosting the tops of the mountains and a whole new group of tourists arriving daily with some funny questions. Here’s a few:
“Is that a llama out there?” (No, it’s a moose.) “Is there an elevator to the top of the mountains?” (No.) “How about an escalator?” (Really?) “Is that a reindeer?” (No, it’s a moose.) “Can we walk down there and feed the animals?” (They’d hear you coming and leave, this isn’t a zoo.) “Who puts all those animals out there?” (They live here.) “Is that a buffalo?” (No, it’s a moose.)
Sharing information with visitors was fun because there is such joy in being or working in our national parks. My appreciation for our parks continues to grow with each new park exploration or repeat exploration. They are well maintained by people who care deeply about them. The beauty and diversity of each beckons us to explore, appreciate, learn and preserve them for future generations without exploiting them for monetary gain.
Jory Westberry has been a dedicated educator for over 40 years, the last 14 as Principal of Tommie Barfield Elementary, where she left her heart. Life is rich with things to learn, ponder and enjoy so let’s get on with the journey together!