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Yellowstone and the Tetons On Assignment

Yellowstone and the Tetons On Assignment

Yellowstone and the Tetons
Step into the world of writers and photographers as they tell you about the best, worst, and quirkiest places and adventures they encountered in the field.

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Inhospitable Beauty

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Photograph by Tom Murphy    
By Alexandra Fuller

Crowning the National Parks system, this grand expanse of jutting mountains, steaming geysers, and manifold animals stirs the soul.

Read or print the full article.

From my cabin window in Teton Valley, Idaho, real life looks like this: There is a snow-covered meadow, and beyond that a stand of bare gray aspen trees, and beyond that a spill of sun-stunned white until the Earth rears back on itself and makes the Rocky Mountains. It is a landscape that has inspired an unprecedented act of Congress and a great many acts of poetry, but I measure it by its ordinary day-to-day gifts.

Today, for instance, in early March, it is far from warm—the slipping hold of winter is still evident—and my horses hunch their shoulders to the wind, their tails swinging under their bellies. But when I take hay out to the snow-buried meadow for them, a great blue heron (the first I have seen this season) startles at my approach, lumbers into the air, and careers into an icy headwind. It evokes a drunk pterodactyl. And that is gift number one.

At noon Wyoming Public Radio warns listeners that bears are coming out of hibernation and that we should beware of the hungry animals on the prowl for food. And flies, giddy with the promise of longer days, seep out of the logs of my cabin and fall in exhausted layers on the windowsills or buzz weakly over my cup before sinking to their death-by-tea. Life, in all its dangerous, complicated, annoying glory, has returned to this corner of the sun-tilted world. And that is gift number two.

Then at sundown the earth is starting to emit the sour breath of winter, which is six months' worth of accumulated manure and rotting grass, and the diminished carcass of the coyote that died under a willow bush four feet (one meter) from the frozen pond in a snowdrift in January and has been picked over by magpies ever since. There is the chaos of winter debris in my yard, and out across the horses' paddock as far as I can smell, there is the life-affirming stench of renewal. And that is gift without measure.

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Online Extra
Tap into travel tips for year-round adventure in these panoramic national parks.

E-greet a friend with an image of a herd of bison warming themselves in the roiling steam of Lower Geyser Basin.

Flashback to 1953 when the children of National Geographic author and photographer Ralph Gray got closer than the law allows—at least, today—to one of Yellowstone's bears.

Should snowmobiles be allowed in state and national parks?
Yes      No

More to Explore

In More to Explore the National Geographic magazine team shares some of its best sources and other information. Special thanks to the Research Division.

Did You Know?
Most people who are familiar with Yellowstone National Park have heard of Old Faithful, Mammoth Hot Springs, and Mud Volcano. These are just some of the more than 10,000 thermal features in the park. But did you know that Yellowstone National Park sits within the Yellowstone caldera, one of the world's largest active volcanoes? The extreme size of the caldera (approximately 28 by 47 miles [45 by 76 kilometers) is why most people are not aware of it. The caldera erupted in a series of massive explosions (some 2 million, 1.3 million, and 630,000 years ago) that dwarf any volcanic eruptions in recent history. In fact, the largest of the three eruptions (2 million years ago) was at least 2,500 times larger than the eruption of Mount St. Helens in 1980. The hot spot that was the force behind those eruptions is what powers the thermal features that make Yellowstone so well known today. And as evidence that all of this activity is still ongoing and ever changing, a portion of Yellowstone's Norris Geyser Basin was temporarily closed this summer due to increased thermal activity and high ground temperatures.

—Alice J. Dunn
Did You Know?

Related Links
Yellowstone National Park
Visit the National Park Service's official website for Yellowstone and get everything you need to know about the park's highlights and history, how and when to visit, and where to stay.

Grand Teton National Park
Cruise the official website of the Grand Tetons and learn about this wilderness wonderland, including the nature, wildlife, facilities, and activities it has to offer. Helpful information is also available for planning a visit.

Greater Yellowstone Coalition
Find out more about the organization that was founded "to protect and conserve the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem and its full range of life, now and for future generations," and learn what you can do to get involved.

Geyser Observation and Study Association 
Explore and learn about the geysers of Yellowstone with descriptions of selected geysers, activity logs, and a glossary of geothermal terminology.


Busch, Robert H. The Grizzly Almanac. The Lyons Press, 2000

Craighead, Frank C., Jr. For Everything There Is a Season: The Sequence of Natural Events in the Grand Teton-Yellowstone Area. Falcon Press Publishing Co., 1994.

Keiter, Robert B., and Mark S. Boyce, eds. The Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem: Redefining America's Wilderness Heritage. Yale University Press, 1991.

Mattes, Merrill J. Colter's Hell and Jackson's Hole: The Fur Trappers' Exploration of the Yellowstone and Grand Teton Park Region. Yellowstone Library and Museum Association, 1962.

Muir, John. My First Summer in the Sierra. Houghton Mifflin Company, 1916.

Murphy, Tom. Silence & Solitude: Yellowstone's Winter Wilderness. Riverbend Publishing, 2002.

Ross, Alexander. The Fur Hunters of the Far West. Ed. Kenneth A. Spaulding. University of Oklahoma Press, 1956.

Smith, Robert B., and Lee J. Siegel. Windows Into the Earth: The Geologic Story of Yellowstone and Grand Teton National Parks. Oxford University Press, 2000.

Vinton, Stallo. John Colter: Discoverer of Yellowstone Park. Edward Eberstadt, 1926.


NGS Resources
Ferguson, Gary. Hawks Rest: A Season in the Remote Heart of Yellowstone. National Geographic Books, 2003.
Cahill, Tim. "The Moonbow Chronicles," National Geographic Adventure (May 2002), 84-93, 99-100.
Harris, Nathan. "Yellowstone: 11 Experiences You Can't Miss," National Geographic Traveler (September 2001), 52-63.
Chadwick, Douglas. Yellowstone to Yukon. National Geographic Books, 2000.
Chapple, Steve. "The Yellowstone: The Last Best River," National Geographic (April 1997), 56-77. 
Brower, Kenneth. "Autumn in Yellowstone," National Geographic Traveler (September/October 1995), 38-55.


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