This year, “like generations of families before us,” my crew made a summer pilgrimage to Yellowstone, said Christopher Reynolds in the Los Angeles Times. In 2009, the country’s original national park set a record for attendance—3.3 million visitors made the trek to western Wyoming. “But with so many Americans reconsidering foreign travel” and instead “packing up cars and heading for the parks,” that number may be even higher this year. If you’ve never been to Yellowstone, actually seeing a site so familiar from TV and movies can seem surreal. But it’s “an essential rite of North American tourism,” one well worth the long lines and heavily trafficked roads. Yellowstone retains the power to amaze, even when “fully besieged by the summering masses.”
My family was fully prepared for the crowds that form every 90 minutes to experience the “spectacle and sulfurous scent” of Old Faithful, the most famous geyser on the planet. What we didn’t realize, though, was that the park actually features more than 300 other geysers—and just as many waterfalls. “Until you get here, it may be impossible to appreciate all the ways that water rises, falls, rushes,” and is generally flung around in Yellowstone.
“It might be perverse to think too hard about man-made objects in such a place,” but I found myself enthralled by some of the century-old architecture. A single architect, Robert Reamer, designed several of the park’s most picturesque buildings, including the rustic and charming Old Faithful Inn and parts of the Mammoth Hot Springs Hotel, where we stayed. True, the hotel’s rooms have “no TVs and no air conditioning”—ours didn’t even have a closet. But there are some features that no other accommodation can match. “In summer, the elk are everywhere,” fearlessly mingling with the tourists: My 8-year-old daughter and I spotted them on patches of grass near the road, outside the general store, “and around the otherworldly terraced calcium carbonate formations for which the area is named.”