I consider myself a well-seasoned traveler. I’ve logged many miles, for business and pleasure, both in the States and abroad. Except for ski club trips, I’ve always traveled on my own or with one or two people from my inner circle (BF, family, good friends). I frequently noticed these large groups of people get off big motor coaches and file through tourist sites listening to their guide using some kind of headset. They are kind of hard to miss. I scoffed at them, haughtily at times, thinking they looked like lemmings blindly following their leader. Then I took a 6-day Road Scholar trip to Yellowstone National Park and it totally changed my mind.
A good friend who had been on several other Road Scholar trips encouraged me to join her. The company (previously named Elderhostel) caters to the 55+ crowd (pause) but she advised that if we chose an active trip, we’d be with a fit and lively group. Yellowstone was on my bucket list, I enjoy her company, and —accepting the fact that I am a “senior”— I agreed to go. Net-net: it was WONDERFUL. Really.
OK, I have to give credit to the park itself. Yellowstone is an amazing geological and biological wonderland. It is much, much more than Old Faithful…you are actually walking on top of an active super-volcano! Its vast expanse (2 million acres) has such environmental variety that you often think you have somehow landed in another park altogether…or that you have time traveled to either a prehistoric or post-apocalyptic time. Volcanic fields of geysers; hot springs, mudpots and steam vents; limestone terraces; a large river canyon with cascading waterfalls; hillside woodlands; and open fields with creeks and streams! And wildlife. Who knew?
What added to my appreciation and wonder was having an expert scientist explain all the history, complicated natural processes, and unique events. Better yet was getting that information fed directly into my ear. Plus, you don’t have to huddle; you can walk ahead or linger behind and still stay involved. If you want less input or some quiet time, you just pull the ear piece out. But I didn’t. I was fascinated. I quickly stopped caring if I looked like a dork. With each visual feature there were details and context that made it come alive and (hopefully) stick in my mind.
Here’s a partial list of my revelations: calderas and how they are formed, controlled burns for forest management, serotinous pine cones that only release at high temperatures, tending as the bison’s way of dating, heat-loving organisms called thermophiles that are as colorful as an artist’s palette, and the surprising source of travertine marble.
Curious? Check these things out on the internet or book your own excursion to Yellowstone. And don’t dismiss group trips with audio-assisted guides. They are totally worth the nerd factor.