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The Old Faithful Inn.

Yellowstone Park

If you have a couple of lifetimes at your disposal, go and check out Yellowstone National Park. There’s only three-and-a-half thousand square miles of it, packed with spectacular sights and scenery, so it shouldn’t take more than a hundred or so years to take it all in.

If, however, you’re like most of us and only have the standard four score years and ten, you may have to be a little more selective. Yellowstone is huge, and there’s so much to see that trying to cram it all in would be exhausting.

Old Faithful Geyser You might think it strange, then, that in a region of such phenomenal natural wonders this article is focusing on a building: the Old Faithful Inn. The Inn is just a short walk from the geyser of the same name – not the biggest in the park, but surely the most famous. The Inn was first built as a hideaway for wealthy park visitors in the earliest years of the twentieth century, and it’s been continuously extended and rebuilt ever since.

Old Faithful Geyser

As you walk into the huge lobby it almost feels as if you’re entering a space more wild and natural than the park outside. What strikes you as you walk through the huge doors is the sheer woodiness of the place. The entrance hall is two storey high, with balconies from upper floors running around the walls. And everything is supported not by poles, or columns, but by what look like whole tree trunks.

The wood theme continues throughout the Inn. One of the definitive Yellowstone experiences is to sit on the great wooden terrace balcony and drink your coffee looking out over the hills and forests of the Park.

Of course, great though the Inn is, you just have to get outside. As we’ve said, seeing everything Yellowstone has to offer would take years. So here are just three ‘must sees’, aside from Old Faithful and the Inn:

  • Yellowstone Lake The Yellowstone Lake is a truly awe-inspiring body of water, a dozen or so miles to the east of Old Faithful. It’s at its best in spring. Then you can stand in a stiff breeze on the lake shore and look northwards to the snow-capped hills and mountains beyond.
  • Further afield, in the remote north-eastern corner of the park, check out Lamar Valley, one of Yellowstone’s many great wildlife habitats. The valley is home to wild bison and bears. Two of the park’s most popular endangered species, the grizzly bear and lynx big cat, can be found here. Make sure you take advice from one of the park visitors’ centers about the best way to see wildlife. Explaining to an angry bear that actually you have only the best of intentions towards it rarely impresses. Every year people get killed or badly injured in wild animal attacks in the US – don’t be one of them.
  • Mammoth Hot Springs At the park’s north entrance – right by the main Visitors’ Center and Park Headquarters – you’ll find Mammoth Hot Springs. These pools and waterfalls of boiling, bubbling water have been heated by hot rocks deep in the earth’s crust, and then forced by the pressure of their own steam to the surface. The Hot Springs Drive is great if you have a car – and you’re going to struggle in Yellowstone without some kind of transport. At the nearby Visitor’s Center check out the wildlife museum, where you can find out all about the park’s fauna and conservation efforts to manage and protect the many thousands of different species that live in Yellowstone.

One thing you can just never get over is the sheer size of the park. It takes up a good proportion of Wyoming (as well as bits of Idaho and Montana) and, in itself, dwarfs several eastern states; Delaware and New Hampshire could pretty well hide in the deep forests and high mountain valleys of Yellowstone.

Upper Falls Maybe, of course, you’ve come to Yellowstone as an adventurer rather than a straight tourist. Real heroes – with proper equipment, training and experience – can climb Eagle Peak, at 3,462m Yellowstone’s highest mountain. For those who like a little adventure rather nearer sea-level, there are all kinds of canoeing and hiking opportunities. The Park has miles and miles of trail suitable for mountain biking, too.

Yellowstone Upper Falls

But for whatever reason you go to Yellowstone, visit the Old Faithful Inn. It’s a fantastic building, and a reminder of the age when gracious living really meant something – at least to those who could afford it. A visit is, in many ways, a trip back in time. Take it, someday.

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