Summer getaways: Yellowstone attracts visitors with skin-melting pool

By By Natalie Dicou

By Natalie Dicou

Life can get pretty hectic here on campus. Why not spend your summer communing with nature? That’s what Yellowstone National Park is all about. With its bizarre yet fascinating collection of geysers and hot springs, it routinely leaves park visitors thinking, “Wow, this planet really is a living organism.”

OK, that first paragraph sounded a lot like a travel brochure, but Yellowstone really is pretty neat. If you’ve spent all your money on overpriced textbooks and Chartwells cuisine, it’s a good way to travel cheap. So, grab your knee-high moccasins, don your fringy leather coat, put on your coonskin cap and get ready to live the life of a real mountain man.

By night, stay in one of Yellowstone’s lodges or hotels. By day, visit some of nature’s oddest sites.

Old Faithful is a definite must-see, although it’s kind of boring to stand alongside about 50 other weary tourists for an estimated 45 to 125 minutes, waiting for it to erupt as some obnoxious kid pulls on his mom’s fanny pack and whines about how long it’s taking.

After a while, though, boiling water suddenly starts shooting out of a hole as high as 180 feet into the sky, and you’ll yell, “Yay!”

Then, after about three minutes, you’ll realize you’ve seen as much water spraying out of the ground as any normal person would care to see in a lifetime. At that point, you turn to the other members of your party and say, “Well, I guess that was it. Now what?”

With Old Faithful out of the way, it’s time to hike around and marvel at the hot springs. Be advised: some springs emit an unpleasant stench.

With a little luck, you’ll get a tour guide with a flare for the dramatic. I was there 10 years ago when a tour guide told us that a young couple had entered one of the pools, and — not knowing how hot it was — their skin fell off. The image of melted skin sloughing off that pair of youthful rule-breakers has been burned into my memory ever since.

After visiting the hot springs, I recommend checking out the park’s magnificent wildlife, which includes grizzly bears, wolves, bison and elk.

As for the visitors’ centers — where curious park patrons can watch filmstrips and learn about the history of the park — I’m normally not a fan. However, sometimes a short visit can quench the thirst for a little historical Americana. Usually, though, they leave you mind-numbingly bored and make you want to dive head-first into the skin-melting pool.

Enjoy your trip.

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