Surrounded by wilderness, I'm hearing sounds that I shouldn't be. Cars stopping and going, children loudly demanding their parents' attention, and planes whooshing by. I'm standing here with a forest in front of me and a grocery store behind me; to my right, a canyon with an incessant river forming it; to my left, The Canyon Village Lodge with Wi-Fi and Sky TV at your disposal.
Six years ago, I wouldn't have thought of wishing that this trip would be more "roughing it" than "need more clean towels". But it is what it is, and my parents aren't up for the latter kind of trip. And I suppose that I should be grateful that a national park like Yellowstone is so accessible, but am I too melancholic to think that its accessibility is fading away its magic?
Taking pictures of wild animals from the car doesn't ring "wilderness"; it screams "Disneyland", and the two are definitely mutually exclusive. I can't find a moment beside a waterfall alone to hear the relaxing sound of, well, water falling, because every two seconds there's a camera going off or a mother calming down her kid. This is clear evidence that Yellowstone isn't a place for sightseeing anymore, but an amusement park that has no roller-coasters.
Take Old Faithful: it is the most watched attraction in Yellowstone, not because of its size or extravagancy (it's not the biggest nor the most extravagant), but because it's the most predictable and its schedule is compatible with that of man. The visitor center provides a predicted hour it will go off and has a little sign that says "Remember: we don't schedule, we predict", an implicit confession of the many occurrences in which people have complained about Old's "misbehavior". A ranger actually had to tell a group of people, while we were waiting, that there wasn't a man-controlled pump below the surface that made it go off.
By the way, Old Faithful blows around every 40-80 minutes, so you can go have lunch at any of the three (yes, three) different cafeterias nearby if you just missed it.
We were lucky enough to be present while a much lesser known geyser, The Grand Geyser, blew it's 24 hour load (5 hours give or take). It's huge, freaking huge, and lasts almost 15 minutes (almost three times longer than Old). But it isn't practical for amusement-park minds; and no more than twenty people were there experiencing it. Compare that to the more than a hundred people that came in to see Old and left the geyser basin right after to go the gift shop 50 yards away.
Don't get me wrong: I loved that almost nobody was there to see Grand. It was solitary. I could hear it bubbling up and gushing sulphuric water up in the sky. For a moment, I could hear the Earth breathe. The people that were there are now forever connected. It was magical, like all Yellowstone should be.
There is no quiet place in your cities, no place to hear the leaves of spring or the rustle of insects' wings... The Indians prefer the soft sound of the wind darting over the face of the pond, the smell of the wind itself cleansed by a midday rain, or scented with pinon pine. The air is precious to the red man, for all things share the same breath - the animals, the trees, the man. Like a man who has been dying for many days, a man in your city is numb to the stench.
Leader of the Suquamish and Duwamish Tribes, Washington State
PS. If you laughed at any of the "load", "go off", or "freaking huge" double-entendres, you can be my friend.