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All posts in Janet Chapple’s Other Writing

Posts about non-Yellowstone issues, trips to Arizona and New Zealand, and Janet’s other Yellowstone projects, including Yellowstone, Land of Wonders.

Coming up next month are two events centered around the newly published translation of a really old and fascinating travelog about Yellowstone Park.

Belgian travel writer and judge Jules Leclercq visited the park when it was only eleven years old, arriving by train and horse-drawn carriage, and riding horseback in a loop around the park for ten days with a guide. In those early days, that was the only way to see these wonders that had just been set aside by an 1872 act of Congress, establishing Yellowstone as the first national park in the world.

land-of-wondersLeclercq’s book, La Terre des Merveilles, although published in French in 1886, has never before been fully translated and published in English. He was already an accomplished travel writer at age 35. As one reviewer wrote, he was “enthusiastic, energetic, observant, curious, and companionable.” In addition, he studied the existing literature about Yellowstone and included a great deal of the knowledge he gained in his book.

Leclercq describes camping near geysers, washing clothes in a bubbling hot spring, and meeting such diverse characters as local guides and tourists from the United States and Europe. He is aghast at the vandalism he sees around him and advocates for military protection of the incomparable features he describes so aptly.

With Suzanne Cane from Rhode Island, I spent about five years translating and annotating the book, which we call Yellowstone, Land of Wonders in English. Now it is available from the University of Nebraska Press and all online and brick-and-mortar bookstores.

Suzanne and I will be giving presentations, including showing some of the book’s engravings and related contemporary photos of Yellowstone. We’ll also read a number of our favorite excerpts from the book. Join us at Mammoth Hot Springs Hotel Map Room on Thursday, June 27, 8:30 pm or at the Old Faithful Inn third floor mezzanine on Saturday, June 29, at 8:00 pm. We’ll also be signing books in the Old Faithful Inn lobby on June 29 and 30 from 11:00 am to 6:00 pm. See you there!


Yellowstone, Land of Wonders: Newly translated Yellowstone Park travelogue

Categories: Janet Chapple's Other Writing, Thermal features, Yellowstone, Land of Wonders
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Yellowstone Land of Wonders book coverI have not been posting these two weeks [Dec.2012, Jan. 2013], since all I’ve been doing is going through page proofs and helping to create the index for the 1886 book that colleague Suzanne Cane and I have translated from French. It’s called Yellowstone, Land of Wonders: Promenade in North America’s National Park, written by Belgian Jules Leclercq. The author was there at a time when Yellowstone was just opening up to tourists; there were few people around and no limits to where they could go or what they could do. So, while climbing around the terraces at Mammoth Hot Springs, author Jules Leclercq decided it would be pleasant to bathe in a hot spring. He wrote:

I experienced supreme satisfaction plunging into a basin whose waters were an exquisite 30ºC [86ºF]. My bath was a meter deep. The siliceous efflorescence that lined the interior walls seemed like velvet cushions.
I remained perfectly still for a long time in this delightful bath, allowing my body to be pervaded by the invigorating influence of those waters, gentler to the skin than the softest comforter and as agreeable to the taste as to the touch.

While I was reveling in my bath, I became aware of the augmentation in water level following a sudden rise in level in a higher spring, and, to my great horror, I noticed a neighboring basin that had been completely dry was now flooded by the rise. Now, it was in that basin that I had put my clothes, my boots, my towels. One must have suffered a similar ordeal to understand what deep despair can arise from the smallest accidents. The proximity of the hotel consoled me in my misfortune.

A similar incident a few years earlier (1879) was described in “Through the Yellowstone Park to Fort Custer” by Dr. S. Weir Mitchell, who, with a physician friend, found “gleaming bathtubs full of water . . . so absolutely delicious that we sank for a few moments into motionless, silent enjoyment. Presently my friend uttered words which I may not repeat, and looking up, I saw that the springs above us had been seized with a fit of prodigality, and had suddenly and liberally overflowed the doctor’s dressing-tables. His visage as he got out of the bath with alacrity was something to remember.”

Our book will be available in May 2013 in hardcover and e-book versions from the University of Nebraska Press.

Guns in schools—can we “vaccinate” our way out of gun violence?

Categories: Janet Chapple's Other Writing, News
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This [in 2012] is the first and perhaps the only time I want to post something that has very little, if anything, to do with Yellowstone. Back in 2008 I did speak out when Congress stuck an amendment onto an irrelevant bill. That amendment stated: “Visitors will be able to carry a loaded gun into a park or wildlife refuge—but only if the person has a permit for a concealed weapon and if the state where the park or refuge is located also allows concealed firearms.”

At the time I commented: “With the history of gun-related crime that this country bears, this is an instance of a foolish policy that will add to the burden that law-enforcement rangers are already charged with. It will lessen the sense of tranquility and safety that all visitors are entitled to in a national park.” Fortunately, however, we have not seen an increase in gun-related crime against people in the national parks, although the incidence of animal killings with guns may have risen in these years.

Still, I am upset to learn that, in a country trying to understand the terrible news about the senseless December 14th Connecticut school massacre, the National Rifle Association would come up with their solution, as if adding more guns to the mix would relieve the problem.

Their suggestion for putting an armed guard in every American school sounds to me like they are equating this huge and complex problem with the relatively straightforward disease problems that have been nearly conquered by vaccination. In vaccinating children against smallpox or polio or adults against influenza, we are injecting them with a controlled amount of dead or less virulent germs that protects people, often for life, against that disease. If only the gun problem were that simple!

We cannot “vaccinate” children against the actions of unstable people with guns in their hands by adding more guns to schools. We can cut back drastically in the number of guns, starting with assault weapons, that are easily available to people in this country. Let us start with small, reasonable steps to find ways to protect innocent people from senseless violence.

The CNN commentary that just appeared has a thoughtful article about this:

Reading the news that eight national park lodges have recently [2012] joined the Historic Hotels of America program caused me to reminisce about my experiences with the ones I’ve stayed in—that is, all but three of them. And this made me think of a little notebook I still have, where at the age of eleven I began an alphabetical list of U.S. states and the places in them I’d like to visit.

I don’t know what inspired me to start that list or where I got my information, but over half a century later it’s fun to see what’s on the list and how many of the places I’ve seen. Not surprisingly, most of the ones I’ve visited are in the west, where I’ve traveled the most.

Old Faithful Inn in the snow

Old Faithful Inn (Winter 2006)

The historic national park lodges I have not stayed in are Bright Angel at Grand Canyon, Crater Lake, and Zion, although I’ve been to those parks. My memories of the others are strong and always positive, beginning with Yellowstone’s Old Faithful Inn (opened in 1904), which I think of as my second home.

Yellowstone and the Grand Canyon are the only parks that sport two and three historic lodges respectively. The other one at Yellowstone is Lake Hotel (1891), where I’ve enjoyed several stays. Sometime in the 1990s then-concessionaire TW Services seems to have decided that changing the name to Lake Yellowstone Hotel would draw more visitors or have more cachet, but I refuse to drop its historic name.

I’ve most recently added El Tovar (1905) at Grand Canyon to those I’ve visited. Last May I enjoyed two pleasant nights and spent the days viewing the canyon from its many color-rich overlooks. In the Grand Canyon I’ve also stayed at Phantom Ranch (1922)—unquestionably the most difficult to access; the steep descent to the bottom of the canyon on a hot summer’s day was a feat I won’t tackle again.

Furnace Creek Inn

Furnace Creek Inn

Next to Old Faithful Inn, the other favorite I would happily stay in for months at a time (but who could afford it?) is Furnace Creek Inn (1927) in Death Valley National Park. Their beautiful terraced garden descending along a trickling creek shaded by huge palm trees is almost unbelievable in such a desert. The rooms are not exceptional, but the garden and my favorite swimming pool anywhere are the greatest.

In recent years I’ve visited Crater Lake and Zion National Parks but missed out on their inns (opened in 1915 and the 1920s, respectively). I tried to book rooms in both but called too late to get a reservation.

For the National Parks Traveler’s interesting article on these inns, see

Arizona trip report, May 2012

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Just to let my readers know I’m still around, I’ll summarize the high points of the trip my husband Bruno and I took in the first half of May to Arizona. The impetus for the trip was the graduation of my grandson Zeno Dellby—in computer science from Arizona State, Tempe.

The day after the graduation, pilot Beth took me for a flight-seeing ride north of Scottsdale. It’s always a treat to fly in a Cessna 172 with her.

Leaving the Phoenix area we spent a couple of hours at their Desert Botanical Garden, a beautiful place on a not-too-hot day in May.

Three nights on the South Rim of the Grand Canyon took me back there for the first time in 29 years. The last time I was there, I hiked to the bottom, stayed at Phantom Ranch, and back up the next day. Never again! Bruno took some nice shots, but I was disappointed by the amount of haze we had in all our views of the canyon, dulling the colors of the billion-year-old and more geological formations. It’s largely caused, as the rangers and others explain, by industrial pollution from as far away as China. The night we heard a ranger lecture about the geology was when the full moon was at its perigee, or closest point to the earth. No picture, but what a gorgeous sight!

Onward to meet friends at the Museum of Northern Arizona, in the outskirts of Flagstaff—an excellent small museum about the geology, archeology, and art of the area. Then on to get a glimpse of Oak Creek Canyon and Sedona, where we took a Pink Jeep Tour to the Honanki ruins (12th-13th century cliff dwellings) and enjoyed staying in an outstanding B&B (the Creekside Inn), not to mention doing some great eating there and elsewhere on the trip!

All-in-all a fine respite from working on books about Yellowstone. More about those later.

Mechanics of Geysers: New Zealand versus Yellowstone

Categories: Geysers, Janet Chapple's Other Writing, Science
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An excellent explanation of why geysers erupt when “tickled” with soap or detergent appeared yesterday on the science blog of the USA Science Engineering Festival [March 12, 2012]. It is the clearest writing about geyser action I have seen in a long time.

You can read about my experience watching the soaping of Lady Knox Geyser on New Zealand’s North Island in 2003 in my nugget Rotorua Hydrothermal Areas of New Zealand. Here’s what happens when you soap (or really, add detergent to) a geyser, as it appears on that science blog:

At the appointed time, a detergent solution is poured down the channel from which the water erupts. This has the effect of reducing the surface tension of the water that deep within the shaft has been heating up to boiling temperatures due to underground volcanic activity. Surface tension refers to the attractive force between water molecules, and is in fact responsible for water being a liquid at ordinary temperatures. Liquids are characterized by the close proximity of their component molecules, while in gases the distance between molecules is much greater. If the surface tension of a liquid is decreased, the H2O molecules can separate from each other with greater ease, with the result that the liquid turns into a gas. Molecules of “surfactants,” a class of substances that encompasses soaps and detergents, wiggle their way in-between water molecules, allowing the boiling liquid to instantly turn into steam. The steam then forces the water that has collected in the channel to burst upwards, and we have an eruption.

Reading this led me to explore other posts on the blog, including one about integrating the arts into STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) education, another subject dear to my heart as a dabbler in scientific subjects. Here’s the link:

My best excuse for neglecting my blog this late fall [2011] is that I’ve been working non-stop with my colleague Suzanne Cane to send off our new Yellowstone manuscript to a publisher. We’ve translated into English a French book called La Terre des Merveilles. We’ve made the title into Yellowstone, Land of Wonders and brought it up to date with lots of explanatory notes.

Our author, Jules Leclercq, was a Belgian attorney and judge, who spent his time away from the bench in traveling and writing excellent books about far-flung places. He went all over the world between the 1870s and the early 1900s: China, South Africa, Mexico, Iceland, remote islands, etc. Of course, his twenty-four travel books were all in French, although he clearly knew a lot of English. As far as we can determine, none of his travel books has ever before been fully translated in English.

Suzanne and I loved his style: well-informed but often humorous, observant of details but never bogged down in them, respectful of his surroundings and his companions if sometimes gently mocking of himself or his situation. His Yellowstone visit was in 1883, but he showed great sensitivity to his environment and was appalled at the vandalism to park features he sometimes observed. We’ve tried to make the English version reflect Leclercq’s typical late-19th-century way of writing: using lots of similes and adjectives, flowery but always sticking to the subject.

I found the book while researching for my Yellowstone anthology of early writings, working title “Magnificent Playground,” which as of now remains unpublished—but that’s another subject. Yellowstone, Land of Wonders will be published by the University of Nebraska Press. Although our work on it is done except for the proofing, it is scheduled for publication in spring of 2013. We’ll just have to wait, but I think everyone with an interest in Yellowstone and western U.S. history will want to read it.

Here’s a sample of Leclercq’s genius for description that will make anyone who has ever seen this spring sigh with longing to go back:

Mute with amazement and astonishment, we gazed upon Grand Prismatic Spring, nature’s most gigantic hot spring. This expanse of steaming, sapphire-colored water is so surpassingly transparent that the thousand fantastical forms on the festooned walls could be distinguished under the crystal liquid. The aqueous layers take on a more and more intense blue color as the eye penetrates deeper into the abyss. Several meters from the edge one loses sight of the bottom of the basin, and the dark color of the water indicates unfathomable depths that are concealed from view. Toward the center of the basin, the water rises several inches high as it boils; agitated by an undulating motion, it regularly spills over from all sides above the reddish and curiously festooned siliceous ring that slightly protrudes around the basin.
An extensive mist of hot vapors rises continually from the bosom of this marvelous expanse of water. Nary a bird glides above it; no tree grows on its banks. Words fail to describe the country surrounding it, sublime in its desolation and nakedness. And yet I need only close my eyes to see it again, for it is unforgettable.

During recent weeks I’ve been concentrating all my efforts on two long-term writing projects.

One job I’ve given myself this fall [2011] is determining what changes I want to make in the upcoming reprint of Yellowstone Treasures. People do not always know that everything is constantly changing in the park, from realigned stretches of road to new geysers that pop up and old ones that change their behavior. My goal is to keep the guidebook as up-to-date as possible with almost-yearly reprints and new editions about every four years.

The other time-consumer is polishing all the parts of another project I’ve been working on for about three years with a colleague. This one is a translation from the French of the account of a visit to Yellowstone in 1883 made by the prolific Belgian travel writer, Jules Leclercq. Getting this fascinating account published requires a lot of small changes to our manuscript in order to comply with the university press’s guidelines, along with preparing information to be used in promoting the book. It will be called Yellowstone, Land of Wonders: Promenade in North America’s National Park. But don’t hold your breath—it won’t be available for more than a year.