Kansas Snapshots by Gloria Freeland - September 29, 2017

It wasn't crazy at all

When daughter Katie and then-fiancé Matt told husband Art and me they planned to get married in Grand Teton National Park, we thought they were a little crazy. Wyoming isn’t exactly an easy go from our home in northeast Kansas. But I had never been to the Tetons or to “next-door” Yellowstone. We could also head east to South Dakota’s Badlands National Park after the wedding. Three national parks in five days sounded like fun.

When we arrrived, the jagged Teton mountain peaks were silhouetted against the pink light of the setting sun. It nearly took my breath away. I felt like photographer and environmentalist Ansel Adams, who said, “No matter how sophisticated you may be, a large granite mountain cannot be denied - it speaks in silence to the very core of your being.”

Grand Teton National Park includes the Teton mountain range and the Jackson Hole valley. It has 310,000 acres of rocky alpine areas, dark-green forests, gray-green sagebrush flats, grassy meadows, and blue lakes, ponds and rivers.

According to the National Park Service brochure, the 2.7 billion-year-old rocks found in the core of the mountain range are some of the oldest in North America, but the mountains themselves are among the youngest in the world. Geological forces - including tectonic plate collisions, earthquakes and massive glaciers - formed the impressive landscape.

The most common explanation for the name is that either French-Canadian or Iroquois members of an early-day expedition named the largest mountain “Grand Teton,” which means “large teat” or “large nipple” in French. Others claim the range was named after the Teton Sioux tribe with Teton being a contraction of “Titonwan” - meaning “dwellers on the prairie.” Whatever the origin, the park provided a breathtaking backdrop for Katie and Matt’s marriage ceremony.

The following day, Art and I spent 13 hours in neighboring Yellowstone National Park. It is the world’s first national park, having been established in 1872. The May 2016 “National Geographic” magazine described Yellowstone as “... a gigantic pressure cooker, fueled by one of the most massive supervolcanoes on Earth... The superheated water filters upward, eventually finding release in the thousands of geysers, hot springs, and other hydrothermal wonders that have awed visitors since the first expeditions to Yellowstone in the late 19th century.”

Katie, having done her research, gave us a list of things we should see - Old Faithful, Grand Prismatic Spring, the Norris Geyser Basin and the Grand Canyon of Yellowstone. We followed her advice, driving north along the western side of the park.

We first stopped at “Old Faithful” - the most famous of the park’s features. We were two among probably thousands of other tourists there that day. But we immediately found a “front-row seat” on the boardwalk. The geyser erupts every 40 minutes to two hours, so we settled in to wait. The periodic puffs of steam coming from Old Faithful kept us entertained until the big event sent steamy water about 50 feet into the air. I took dozens of still shots and Art shot video on his cell phone.

After, as Art watched his video, a family from Georgia that had just arrived asked to watch it too. I wasn’t sure, but they seemed to be considering calling that their viewing!

We continued north, stopping at the Midway Geyser Basin, which included Excelsior Geyser Crater with its beautiful blue water and Grand Prismatic Spring, the park’s largest hot spring. I learned that the colors of the spring come from thermophiles - microbes that live in scalding water. We followed the boardwalk, conscious that a wrong step would land us in hot water - literally!

Then we were off to the Norris Geyser Basin, where we descended into Porcelain Basin, the park’s hottest exposed area. I could feel the warm steam rise up from the basin onto my face.

Our last stop was at the Grand Canyon of Yellowstone, a magnificent area of yellow sandstone bluffs and a spectacular waterfall along the Yellowstone River.

Some sort of traffic problem along the eastern side of the park loop caused us to return the way we came. We were tired - and tired of people. But somehow that faded away as we encountered the occasional solitary fly fisherman and a moose lazily munching the vegetation beside the road.

Four days after our Yellowstone visit and two days after the wedding ceremony, the two of us and daughter Mariya headed into Badlands National Park. Following the loop formed by Highway 240 south of Interstate 90, we spent more than two hours in an area that had been covered by a large sea 75 million years ago.

When the water receded, a subtropical forest developed and flourished for millions of years. It eventually gave way to savannah and then to the present landscape of grassland. The area is rich in fossilized animals - clams, crabs, ancient fish, marine lizards and horse-like, sheep-like, pig-like mammals, saber-tooth cats and many others.

Our tour took us within a few feet of bighorn sheep grazing alongside the road. In the other parks, we had seen pronghorn and a herd of bison. Katie and Matt had encountered a grizzly and a black bear with cubs.

The National Park Service is charged with making these national treasures accessible to the public while preserving their wildlife and natural beauty - a difficult balancing act. But because of their efforts, we had experienced several fascinating days of geologic wonders formed by the actions of glaciers, the movement of the earth’s crust, the earth’s hot core and the effects of water.

So while the amount of traveling had made the selected wedding site seem a bit crazy, it was well worth it. It wasn't crazy at all.

Wedding venue (top-left) in Grand Teton National Park. Yellowstone National Park sites are: Excelsior Geyser Crater (top-middle); Old Faithful Geyser (right) and Porcelain Basin (bottom-left). Mariya takes a selfie (bottom-middle) in Badlands National Park, while Gloria looks on and Art "mugs" for the camera.

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