A feature article in our local newspaper about the tourist cabins at Yellowstone National Park jarred a couple of memories loose the other day. A gentleman in Livingston is trying to save the cabins by buying them, fixing them up and selling them. According to the article the Park has a few left and he is hoping to continue his work.
In a much easier and gentler time, family vacations were a wonder and a delight. They were no places such as Disney World or even Disney Land (neither of which existed), nor were there Carnival cruises. Any opportunity to get in the car and go any place you hadn’t been before was a delight. Lots of people went camping. Our family did a little of that but not in a big way, but the folks did take us on some wonderful trips.
For most families in the early fifties, in our part of the country, one of the places to go was Yellowstone National Park. It was close and of course, it was a wonder of the world with its mud pots and geysers. We headed west to the Park about 1956. I remember we counted over 30 bears. If you saw a line of vehicles you could be sure there was a bear ahead and of course the problem was, the bears saw it as a great way to get a free lunch. Looking back in horror, now, I remember seeing a parent putting their child on the back of a bear and taking a picture. Our bear story included my brother, only six years old, tossing our breakfast rolls out the window to a nearby bear. Before the folks discovered him, the bear was trying to reach in the car for more. Windows were rolled up quickly. No harm done, but it did send the heart racing. Yellowstone Falls was a beautiful site. My brother and I enjoyed the souvenir shops. I still have a Native American doll, dressed in real leather from that trip.
But to get back to the cabins. There were no fancy lodges or hotels with swimming pools to stay in. We stayed in the rustic cabins provided for tourists. You brought your own bedding, food, and towels. The bathrooms were in a central location and because the bears were usually active at night, digging in the garbage cans, you walked at least in pairs.
The cabin we rented at Canyon was huge. It had a fire place, beds and a bunk bed. Of course the mattress on the bed was on springs and army-barracks-basic. The floor was bare wood. It was extremely cozy and of course the folks made a picnic out of it by fixing a lunch we ate in the cabin. The mornings were chilly and fresh. Throughout the area where the cabins were, early in the day, you could hear people speaking in subdued voices, car doors slamming, all very safe and comfortable to a nine-year old.
Our second cabin was at Old Faithful. It was much smaller and had a wood burning stove. The office for the campground had some type of log that burned longer than ordinary wood. After the folks got it going they were concerned because it burned hotter and they took turns staying awake all night to be sure nothing happened to burn the cabin down. In the morning when Dad went out to look around there was a bear rifling the garbage right next to our cabin. Excitement for my brother and me, not so much for the folks.
In August of 1959, we headed back to the Park in a swing that took us to Riverton, Wyoming, to visit Dad’s sister and then on to South Dakota to visit grandparents. We were going to spend the night at Old Faithful, but it was a hot day and the tourists were filling up the place so we headed south into the Grand Tetons, landing at Jackson Hole, Wyoming, in the days before the celebrities had discovered it. Again we stayed in a little cabin, basic, but this one at least had a bathroom in the cabin. In the morning Mom informed us there had been an ‘event’ of some kind the night before. My brother agreed with her. She had seen the light bulb, which was hanging from the ceiling, start to swing back and forth. My brother had felt the bed move. When Dad went out to check on things he learned about the Yellowstone Park earthquake. The road we had traveled the day before was closed to all travel until further notice. The epicenter had been close to Old Faithful which we had passed on, thanks to Mom’s sixth sense. Our first job was alerting friends and family (remember no cell phones) that we were o.k.
That particular trip there were less bears as the Park was moving them back into the mountains. It is interesting to hear the talk today about ecology and protecting the animals from all the people. The mud pots, geysers, animal life and scenery have made Yellowstone Park more than ever a destination park.