The national parks have been described by Ken Burns as America’s best idea. I doubt that many visitors to the Grand Tetons and Yellowstone National Park would argue with that.
I journeyed there in late May before school was out (and thus before the rush of the high season). I felt a spiritual aura there, which is undoubtedly more easily perceived when there are fewer people.
While visiting such spectacular spots in the Tetons as the Snake River Overlook and the Jackson Point Overlook up Signal Mountain, I found myself the only person there. I felt a tremendous sense of privilege at the opportunity to experience these magnificent vistas in solitude.
As I entered Yellowstone from the south, the land was blanketed with snow and the lakes were frozen. This was surprising to me, but being from Southern California and having rarely experienced this, I found it wondrous.
As I made my way to the northern portion of the park, the snow had melted and the wildlife emerged. A buffalo trail interrupted the drive a few times, providing an up-close and personal encounter with a buffalo from inside the safety of my car. The only time I encountered a bit of a crowd was courtesy of the wildlife photographers.
At one point I noticed what seemed to be nearly a dozen photographers fixated on what appeared to me to be an open plain. I asked an onlooker what they were looking at, and was told that they were waiting for a badger to come out of a hole. So it seems that the wildlife have their own paparazzi!
There was a similar logjam of people on the two occasions a bear was spotted. The first time I was too late to see anything. The second time I took a quick photo of a brown bear from a distance from my car as there was nowhere to park. But for the most part, there were plenty of opportunities to experience the natural wonders of Yellowstone in solitude.
Yellowstone is truly a majestic location. I saw elk resting by a gentle river, coyotes slip behind some trees, and many open, unspoiled vistas that fill the heart and soul with a sense of reverence.
Having visited Yosemite years earlier, I felt it was unlikely that Yellowstone would match the stunning beauty of its California cousin. But now I feel that one is not better than the other. They’re opposite sides of the same coin – the wonder of America's natural scenery, some of the finest and most soul-enriching in the world.