I was born and bred a Wyomingite (yes, that is what we call ourselves). I grew up amongst the rolling hills of the Rocky Mountains.
Since leaving Wyoming when I was 18, I have lived in many different states and ecosystems. I spent my college years in the humid panhandle of northern Florida. While there, I swam in the gulf waters and stood on the highest point — a whopping 345 feet above sea level. After college, I spent time in the Appalachian Mountains of Georgia, the green fields of Connecticut, the temperate rainforests of Washington, the high desert of California and the arctic temperatures of Alaska. From ice caves to endless sunflower fields, every place I have lived has had its own unique splendor.
No matter how many fantastic places I visit, however, Wyoming is still home. This is why last week I headed back to the state that calls itself "like no place on earth."
Eastern Wyoming is actually quite similar to western Kansas. Both areas are part of America's Great Plains. This is where wild herds of bison once roamed, pronghorn still are plentiful, and the wind never seems to stop blowing. Unfortunately, many visitors to the plains see the barren landscape and miss the beauty of the open skies and limitless view.
Western Wyoming, on the other hand, is an entirely different story. A unique geothermal situation combined with an abundance of flora and fauna caused almost 3,500 square miles of this area to be dedicated as our nation's first national park — Yellowstone. It took an act of Congress to save this land from private use, but it was well worth the effort.
Yellowstone National Park is a hotbed of volcanic activity. Just below the surface of this extraordinary land is an enormous reservoir of magma. The above-ground evidence of this magma is one of the major draws for visitors to the area.
In some places, it creates hot springs. These colorful pools are the result of underground water being heated by the magma and bubbling to the surface. The rainbow of colors seen on the floor of these pools is the result of micro-organisms that find the warm temperatures to be the perfect place to call home.
The more dramatic expression of the turbulent underground activity is seen in the form of geysers. Geysers are periodic sprays of hot water that erupt above ground as the result of a build up of pressure underground. The most well known geyser is Old Faithful, which is named for its reliable schedule — erupting about once every 90 minutes.
For every person who comes to see the geothermal activity of the area, many more come to see the pristine wilderness and for the chance to catch a glimpse of some of the incredible animals that inhabit the park. Yellowstone is home to bison, wolves and grizzly bears, all animals that have faced the threat of extinction in other areas. While it is important to remember that these are wild animals and should be respected and given their distance, it is always exciting to see one grazing or hiding in the rugged wilderness.
The opportunities to see unique flora and fauna are limitless. If you are looking for a place to go for your next vacation, I highly recommend Wyoming. Whether you've been there before or it is your first visit, there is always something new to see. You can stay on the east side and enjoy the rolling hills and open landscape or head west to the Rocky Mountains and hot springs.
If you can't make it to Wyoming, stop by the zoo. Our North American Plains exhibit houses pronghorn, bison and elk, which may help make you feel like you are somewhere that is "like no place on earth."
Visit our award-winning Web site at www.garden-city.org/zoo.