National parks should be treasured | Val Torrens

Starting Sunday, PBS will air Ken Burns’ series on our national parks. Having just visited several of them on our recent vacation, it will be interesting to see how he portrays these jewels of our country.

On our way to Colorado we went to the Yellowstone and Grand Teton National Parks. Going this way reminded me why I was glad I took geology and even happier that I can remember enough of it to appreciate the changes in the landscapes we were seeing.

The Mammoth Hot Springs in Yellowstone were amazing. The erosion in the travertine by the springs looked sculpted and gorgeous. The flat surfaces seemed as if they would past muster with a level. They would look appropriate in any fancy home anywhere.

Old Faithful is precisely that. It is one of two geysers in the park that rangers are willing to predict their eruptions. They consistently point out that they can only predict, they do not schedule. The Old Faithful eruption we waited to see was about six minutes past the estimated time but definitely within the range given.

But what was most impressive was to find out that the vast majority of the land of Yellowstone is contained within a caldera. This is what is left when a volcano literally blows its top. It also explains why the park has a plethora of hot springs, fumaroles, mud pots and geysers. All these provide various degrees of pressure release for the superheated air and water that is below the surface. It was fascinating to see how the flora and fauna have adapted their living cycles to deal with the high temperatures and mineral contents that are prevalent throughout the park.

We then went south to Grand Teton National Park where we saw the mountains in all their glory. Sadly, they were virtually bereft of snow. It made one person comment that they were next headed to Glacier National Park to see what’s left of the glaciers before they disappear. Knowing how little snow is in the Olympics compared to when we came here 30 years ago, we could only imagine how much used to be in the Grand Tetons.

In addition to the landscape, there was wildlife to enjoy. Bison were all over Yellowstone. One could almost imagine what it must have looked like when the herds covered the land to the point where you could hear them coming long before they were seen.

The moose were difficult to find, the bears and wolves were virtually invisible. We were very fortunate that people with better eyes would find them. We just got in the habit of stopping whenever a car was on the side of the road to see what they were seeing.

The elk and the pronghorns were not so hard to find. Of course, the night we went back to Rocky Mountain National Park to see the rutting and hear the bugling of the elk, we struck out. Despite all the noise in the mountains, very few elk actually ventured into the valley to mix it up.

In general, we saw as much wildlife outside the parks as in which made us feel good. At least in some parts of the country, the fauna are surviving despite the encroachment of people into their habitat.

But, the biggest feeling that I came away with was a sense of awe and pride for what we have in this country. We have diversity not only in our people, beliefs, and background but also in the land. We live in all parts of America and generally coexist well amongst ourselves, our fellow creatures and our environment. We truly are America, the beautiful.

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