• Abdulrahman Alkhamees

The land of the burning ground


Lamar valley with a river running across the valley
Photo from my 2015 trip

The land of many names, known by the indigenous tribes as the “land of the burning ground”, “land of vapors”, “smoke from the ground,” and “the place of hot water.”

The first National Park in the United States, home to more than 500 active geysers, more than half the world’s geysers!

A land larger than Rhode Island and Delaware combined and home to the largest concentration of mammals in the lower 48 states (67 species!).

As many as ten Native American tribes lived around Yellowstone & Yellowstone lake, including Crow, Blackfeet, Flathead, Shoshone, Nez Perce, and Bannock. According to the archeological records of North America, human activity in the area can be traced back to 12,000 years ago. As a matter of fact, some of the trails frequented by visitors of the park today are believed to be ancient corridors built by indigenous tribes that passed through Yellowstone on a seasonal basis.

The establishment of Yellowstone National Park over 150 years ago by the new Euro-American settlers only tells us a fraction of the long history of the land of burning ground. In fact, this land was discovered and explored by many indigenous tribes over the Millenniums. The place of hot water was the epicenter of the ancient trans-American trade by tribes across the continent.

One of the land's only permanent residents was the Tukudika or Sheepeaters tribe. Their livelihood revolved around the Bighorn sheep, utilizing every last bit of the animal. They were known for using the hot springs to soak the horns of the Bighorn and shape them into bows. Sheepeaters also mined Obsidian (volcanic glass), turning them into arrowheads, and traded their bows & arrows with tribes from as far east as Ohio & Ontario.

Native Americans have roamed and lived in the area for over 12,000 years. They almost left no trace, as they believed they were the land, thus respecting it. Unfortunately, even though the U.S. government agreed that Yellowstone belonged to many local tribes, as inscribed in the 1851 & 1868 treaties of Fort Laramie, you could guess what ended up happening. The Park Superintendent Colonel P. W. Norris, was determined to remove Indigenous people from the newly-established Yellowstone park, believing them to be a deterrent to tourism efforts. Those who survived the brutal removal and smallpox moved to Wind River Reservation, southeast of the park.

Yellowstone’s full and storied history cannot be fully appreciated without acknowledging the presence of Indigenous people there.

Awknoladge the land.
hot spring in Yellowstone national park

This is my second time visiting Yellowstone National Park (YNP), and I fell in love all over again. In 2015, 2 of my friends and I went on a long summer road trip across the west, starting from Oregon. We have only seen YNP on Tv, such as Nat Geo and other channels focusing on wildlife and the planet. Some people are eager to visit famous spots they saw in movies or Tv shows, and rightfully so. However, I wanted to visit all the national parks I saw and read about growing up in the desert. The grass is truly greener on the other side, and I wanted to walk barefoot in it.

I had a strong urge to experience the natural wonders across the United States. It felt like I was missing something I never had or experienced, just as equally as missing my friends and family.

Captivated by the wonders that did so to many that came before me and will continue to do so way past when I leave this earth.

firehole river running across meadows in yellowstone national park

I didn't really have a major plan for YNP other than riding for a few hours here and there before hiking around the Great Divide on my way south to Jackson. Originally, I planned to ride a century from the parking lot a few miles down the road from the West Gate. However, sometimes I feel like I need to take a step back and try to divide my day in a way that maximizes it.

I was treating every place I visited on this trip as if I would never see it again. Because that was and still may be the case for me. I needed to experience every place in a way that left the best memories and stories to share.

Carpe diem.
Firehole falls in firehole canyon in yellowstone national park

Starting from the parking lot where I left my truck, I headed south, eventually making my way to Firehole Canyon and Firehole Falls. A short 2-mile loop through the canyon and a great way to avoid heavy traffic on the main Grand Loop Road. Firehole Canyon road cuts through an 800-foot lava flow showing the repeated eruptions over the years.

I continued riding upstream alongside the Firehole River on Fountain Lane drive, which cuts through Imperial meadows. An area where you can see Twin Buttes sit at the edge of the Yellowstone Caldera.

Firehole river in Yellowstone national park cutting through imperial meadow

Fountain Lane drive reached a dead-end point for cars, which is always a plus in my book. The lane turns into Fairy Falls Trail, a hike/bike trail that cuts through Imperial Meadows, passing through pure wilderness. I did see some Bison in the distance in their element way out deep in the meadows.

Seeing them in real life brought back many memories of my first trip to YNP. In 2015, Mohamed, Aziz, and I were at a campsite by Yellowstone lake. The temperatures in July do drop to below freezing at night, and we didn't pack as much as we should've, but that was part of the fun, in hindsight...

I was having trouble falling asleep because of the constant growling I kept hearing around our campsite. So finally, I got up to see what was happening. It turned out all three of us were wide awake! Apparently, as we were asleep earlier in the night, a Bison must've found its way to our tent area and decided to hang out there for the night. I mean, we were guests, and that was its home!

Bison in Yellowstone National Park in a campsite
The Culprit

I thought they looked huge from 25 yards away, but take away the sunlight, add lack of sleep, and looking at the Bison from the ground level made it twice as big and twice as majestic. So I was concerned at first. I thought it was the massive Grizzly we saw across the road from the campsite, munching on what seemed like a young Bison.

Long story short, setting the alarm to wake up in YNP might not be necessary. The Bison will wake you up!

A meadow in Yellowstone National Park

Hopping off the chronological reminiscing trail and back onto the Fairy Trail. The trail was long enough to have a quiet spot since there was only one parking lot on each end, and most tourists turned around at some point. So I got to ride a long part of it solo, just the birds and me, and perhaps all the wildlife I couldn't see!

Throughout that trip, I came to love those quiet times of the day when I saw almost no one.

Pure Solitude.

The grand Prismatic Spring in Yellowstone from high above

As soon as I came across a group of hikers trekking from the opposite end, I knew I was close to the Grand Prismatic Spring Viewpoint. The viewpoint offers a chance to catch that deep and colorful rainbow-colored hot spring, which is somewhat surreal.

The Grand Prismatic Spring is so magical that it was once considered a "mythical" place by European Americans. The hot spring gets its colors from the heat-loving archaea bacteria that live on the edge of the spring, where the temperatures are just hot enough. And if that wasn't cool enough, the color of the rim changes every season depending on temperatures and the little guys that live on the rim.

grand prismatic spring in Yellowstone national park

After experiencing the grandness of the Grand Prismatic Spring, the next obvious stop is visiting Old Faithful, the busiest attraction in all of Yellowstone and my snack stop for the day.

Skipping a long section of the Grand Loop Road was not only worth it, I believe it should be the way you go about it. Skip sharing the road with drivers that have their eyes on everything but the road, and ride through the wilderness.

The Fairy trail ends at Fairy Falls trailhead parking lot, so I jumped back on the main road before linking up with Powerline Trail on the way to Old Faithful.

The more time I spent wandering around the trails and the park, the more I could understand and believe how a place like this might sound like someone had made things up. Especially over 150 years ago.

The land of vapors has truly mystified and inspired me to be even more curious than ever about what more could be out there during my lifetime and millions of years past that. You see, the volcanic activity that shaped YNP as we know it today was all the way in Nevada. With the current rate of tectonic movement, Yellowstone will make its way towards modern-day Billings, Montana, within the next few million years.

But in the meantime, Old Faithful remains here for many generations to come.

Experiencing Old Faithful erupting in front of me brought up a lot of emotions. It meant a lot to be standing there as volcanic thermal activities shoot up steam and boiling water as high as 180ft (averaging around 140ft). Almost in the same manner for thousands of years. Based on Euro-American recorded history, we know that Old Faithful Faithfulness has carried over the past 150 years due to seismic activities in the region.

However, I would've loved to know more about YNP from a Native American point of view and literature. Sadly, It seemed impossible to find such history online and at the park itself. Instead, everything I came across was purely from an Anglo point of view. As if the Native Americans never knew about most of the park. In fact, early Euro-American groups that "discovered" this land made many inaccurate claims about the land, such as that indigenous tribes feared the geysers, thus avoiding them. Even though the Sheepeater tribe has been living off of the hot springs and the geysers. Secondly, they claimed that YNP was an untamed wilderness waiting to be discovered.

Yellowstone National Park blew me away (no pun intended) for the second time. My inner child has achieved some of his dreams for over 20 years. Experiencing America's natural wonders on foot or two wheels will always become a special memory.

Bison standing in a field in Yellowstone National Park
A photo from My 2015 trip