Disney claims that its theme parks are the “happiest place on earth.” Much as I love Disney, I would have to argue with them about that claim–at least as far as I’m concerned. As a kid growing up in Montana, I looked forward every year to my family’s annual visit to Yellowstone National Park, always on our way through the state to visit family in Utah.
My parents, who I think must have taught me to value variety, always drove through Yellowstone on one leg of our trip, but not the other. If we went to Utah through Wyoming, we’d come back home via Idaho. Idaho is a fine place, but I never looked forward to that part of the trip. My heart belonged then, and still does, to Yellowstone.
When I was trying out different ideas for the character of Katie Scarlett O’Malley, the protagonist in my newest book, Dead on Arrival, many things changed. She started out life in my imagination as a fire fighter, served a stint as bartender at the Happy Moose, and then ended up a police officer after the line of dialogue, “If you make me shoot you again, I’ll never forgive you,” popped into my head one day.
Different friends and family members came and went along the way, but one thing about Scarlett’s world remained constant. I knew from the beginning that she lived just outside Yellowstone National Park, and that never changed. Especially since moving half a world away to the Gulf Coast region, I miss the mountains of the West fiercely, and when I finally had a chance to finish writing Scarlett’s first adventure, I was thrilled for the excuse to go home again.
To me, Yellowstone is a magical place. I have memories around every curve of every road. One of my favorite parts of every Yellowstone visit was when my parents would rent a boat (which came with a guide) for a fishing trip on Yellowstone Lake. Not because I was an avid fisher-person, then or now, but because those guides were always young and cute! I mean, seriously cute! My sister and I would be ridiculously giddy over them the whole time we were on the lake. And although there’s not a finer meal on the planet than freshly caught trout, floured and seasoned and fried up on the camp stove, those trout were definitely of secondary importance.
So now, with Yellowstone and vicinity fresh on my mind, here are five things you may not know about Yellowstone National Park. I won’t list the fact that Yellowstone is the oldest National Park in the US or that it was the first National Park in the world because I assume we all know that by now.
Yellowstone is larger than the states of Delaware and Rhode Island combined. It is composed of 3,472 square miles and measures 63 miles north to south and 54 miles east to west.
Yellowstone has 1,000 to 3,000 earthquakes every year. I was a very young girl when the “big one” hit Yellowstone, but I still remember it. We lived in Billings, Montana at the time, and felt the quake strongly enough to wake us all up. I can still clearly remember feeling terrified, as my family stood together under the door frame and watched the quake put a large crack in the pavement of our street.
I think most people think of Yellowstone as being exclusively in Wyoming, but that’s not the case. The park is actually in three states: 96% in Wyoming, 3% in Montana, and 1% in Idaho. It’s also in close proximity to Grand Teton National Park, which you’ll drive through if you go between Yellowstone and Jackson.
Yellowstone contains more than 300 active geysers. When I was a very young girl, before the big earthquake, Old Faithful was really faithful. Park employees could predict to the minute when the geyser would erupt. After the quake, Old Faithful became somewhat less faithful, although it still erupts with enough predictability to qualify as “faithful.” It erupts every 92 minutes, on average, so you may have to wait around to see it in action, but your wait won’t be too long.
There are more than 290 waterfalls in Yellowstone National Park, although you probably have to get off-road to see most of them. My family used to hike the trail to see the Upper Falls just about every year and, in fact, the funniest home movie ever recorded of my older sister was taken on that trail. I can’t say more than that about it. You’ll just have to trust me on this.
When I was heading into my teen years, I used to dream about working at the Park for a summer. I would have been such a cool park employee, I just know it. Plus, the romantic in me fantasized about summer romances during my dream summer. Those fantasies were pretty tame, all things considered, but they sure seemed edgy to me at the time.
That, however, is one of those dreams that I never realized. In some small way, maybe, I’ll satisfy that dream as I continue writing books in the Scarlett O’Malley Mystery series. I hope you’ll come along for the ride.