It is hard to comprehend a world untouched by human existence, the raw natural beauty unseen by civilization. To look upon a land unnoted in the history of the world would be overwhelming to the point of disbelief. Standing above Jenny Lake looking out across the vast expanse of snow covered mountains and calm blue waters; I felt as though John Colter may have felt when he viewed Yellowstone and the Grand Tetons for the first time.
My family and I enjoyed hiking to see waterfalls, rafting down the Snake River, driving through breath-taking scenery, and experiencing a Mountain Man Rendezvous. Walking along boardwalks I took pictures of shooting geysers, boiling mud pots, and steaming water sources. The buffalo, deer, moose, and bear all seemed to roam wild and free, yet I knew the road I traveled upon had not always been there. This was the time before John Colter broke away from the Lewis and Clark expedition and explored this region. He reported back to Capt. Clark who recorded it on a map. But his stories about a fantastic land of firepots and blowholes seemed too strange to be real; “Colter’s Hell” seemed a mountain man’s tall tale. No one could grasp the image of water blasting twenty meters into the air, or steam and water cascading over smooth rock formations of orange and white. I knew that if I captured these wonders before me on film, I could reassure myself later. This is exactly what America needed back then, photographs for proof that such places really did exist. And they got them. William H. Jackson’s photographs helped portray a spectacular land worth preserving for eternity.
As my family and I drove along the winding, twisting roads of Yellowstone National Park we were captivated not only by the view, but by the line of Model T cars in front and behind us, an antique auto club, re-enacting a turn-of-the century auto tour. Every couple miles they would have to stop to put water in the engine, or make some other adjustment. The ladies wore scarves around their heads, and the men wore goggles with leather helmets. We were reminded of those who traveled to Yellowstone for the first time, full of amazed disbelief, and of the hardships they would have faced with the inconsistent weather and early automobiles. Through-out the day I would go from wearing a sweatshirt to begging to stop at a store and buy a pair of shorts as the weather changed quickly from passing thundershowers and stiff mountain breezes to brilliant sunshine. Imagine those people in the early 1900’s bouncing in stagecoaches, or their open-air autos over rocky roads to see the strange wonders I so easily viewed from my cozy car.
Throughout our tour of Yellowstone National Park and the Grand Tetons, I was filled with a new respect for early explorers of America and the conservation of land into national parklands. Historians tend to make the quest for land in the west sound like a greedy ambush. But as I gazed upon all the beautiful landmarks and rare nature I began to disagree. This land was saved so that the astonishment early explorers experienced could be passed on through all the generations. No one tried to take Yellowstone as their own; instead they chose to share it with the whole world, making it the first national park in 1872.
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