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Washington Voices

Yellowstone visit was an eye-opener

Sat., Sept. 15, 2012

It was an amazing vacation even though this was our fifth visit to Yellowstone National Park.

As we approached Roosevelt Arch and read the inscription “For the benefit and enjoyment of the people,” the same sense that I was home stirred my soul just like it did 25 years ago when we first motored beneath that arch and each visit since.

Yellowstone and I have a connection. It appears in my dreams, compels me to explore its boundaries, dares me to discover its wildlife and beckons me to return. This connection is perplexing but, for whatever reason, Yellowstone insists I never forget it’s there.

We entered the park through the North Entrance, marveled at elk herds wandering around Mammoth Hot Springs; watched bison graze in meadows and shuffle across the roadway, their gait slow and methodical. Clearly the masses forgot how to read the warning signs of “Do not approach wildlife” – people consistently got up close and personal with these majestic creatures, ignoring danger to themselves and the animals.

The park’s two-lane roads meander through sagebrush and grassy meadows, towering mountains, pristine streams and dense forest. Viewing turnouts are abundant and a prime location for wildlife junkies to set up spotting scopes. The speed limit is 35 to 45 mph and with congested traffic when wildlife is spotted, it took almost three hours to drive a mere 60 miles before arriving at Fishing Bridge.

The Grand Canyon of Yellowstone’s Upper and Lower Falls rival Arizona’s landmark. Although a blue blob on the park map, Yellowstone Lake is the largest high-elevation lake in North America, with 141 miles of shoreline and depths of 400 feet. I was in awe of its size.

We hiked trails with bear bell attached to walking sticks, looked at tracks and pointed at scat. We wiped sweat from brow while hiking the two-mile West Thumb Overlook Trail that ascended 400 feet where a picturesque view of Yellowstone Lake awaited.

Only hard-sided RVs can camp at Fishing Bridge because it’s bear country. We were desperate to see bears in the wild. The bears, however, had other plans, as did the wolves.

But that didn’t stop Yellowstone from enhancing the senses with the smell of fresh pine, taste of rain, touch of wind, sight of wildlife, meadows and forest, and sounds of elk bugling in the crisp autumn twilight.

There’s also the history that solidifies this park into the hearts of Americans. This is, after all, America’s first national park, where volcanic eruptions continue to spit and spew beneath the surface, where American Indians, trappers, explorers, photographers and artists roamed and bison, elk, bear, sheep, coyotes, wolves, moose and much more play. This park is the epitome of America.

So you can imagine our surprise when we browsed the stores that are dotted throughout the park and discovered most of the merchandise is made in China. We scoured shirt racks, turned over pieces of pottery, glassware, hats, jackets – with each turn “Made in China” stared back at us.

There is some “Made in USA” merchandise, including items from Pendleton Woolen Mills and a wide assortment of books. We found and purchased “Made in USA” coffee mugs and walking stick but the majority of the memorabilia sold in America’s first national park is produced by a foreign country.

This realization tore a small hole in my heart where Yellowstone resides. I question why the stores in America’s iconic Yellowstone National Park, that has more than 3 million visitors a year, aren’t stocked to the ceiling with “Made in USA” products for the buying public.

It’s a question that deserves an answer.

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