The name Yellowstone National Park conjures up visions of geysers, bears, and bison. But one pleasure for the senses that we can’t show you in pictures is the clear, dry air of Wyoming. And ever since summer 2004, overnight visitors to Old Faithful have been able to appreciate the fantastic night sky as they had not seen it for a century, because of new anti-glare light fixtures.
Nobody has written about the air there better than the author of the novel The Virginian. In 1891, Owen Wister wrote this about a summer night:
I have tested the power of the moon by consulting the second hand of my watch and reading a letter with rapid ease. But that’s a poor mathematical way to talk or think about such magic. And all through the still air, the clean sharp odor of the sage. Not dusty, as it smells at noon, but cool, like something a fairy would give you to make you suddenly well. Nobody, nobody who lives on the Atlantic strip, has a notion of what sunrise and sunset and moonlight can be in their native land till they have come here to see.
What about sensations for the ears?
Maybe my favorite is the quality silence I can find by taking a short walk away from a road or settled area in Yellowstone. No background roar of engines interrupts it. Just the song of a chickadee or the wind in the trees or water falling over rocks in a creek.
Geyser sounds can be a fascinating part of a visit. Grand Geyser, for one, begins its eruption with an underground roar and continues with the loud whoosh of powerfully ejected water. Or catch an eruption of Tilt Geyser, which ends with a suck and a gurgle as its water disappears back into the ground.
The sound of a coyote’s bark is common during Yellowstone’s evenings. Some fortunate visitors are also hearing wolves howl—a free and eerie sound unlike any other.
What smells does Yellowstone provide?
There’s the strong but pleasant “clean, sharp odor” when you crush a leaf of sagebrush. Or in the geyser basins—many people think the odor of hydrogen sulfide smells like rotten eggs; others of us enjoy it as another unique part of a Yellowstone experience, an ingredient in the feast for the senses.
IN THE GUIDEBOOK: Can you get close enough to the brink of the 308-foot (93 m) Lower Falls of the Yellowstone to feel its mist and experience its impressive power? See page 180 of the sixth edition for the answer and a great photo.
Revised August 30, 2023. Copyright Janet Chapple. All Rights Reserved.