Yellowstone has always left me with the impression of a carnival midway. I haven’t been able to shake the resulting love-hate feeling no matter how often I come to the park and surrounding areas.

Over the past 20 years I have visited Yellowstone during every season and the feeling I leave with is always the same. The poorly maintained narrow roads with buses careening around curves—full of people with faces pressed to the windows—disgorge their herds of tourists at pullouts stops or any hint of wildlife. Cars full of families cause traffic jams along the side of the road when they stop for something out of the ordinary. This desperate atmosphere of “we don’t want to miss anything so hurry to the next wonder” is in large part why I have this sense of dread when I visit. I am reminded of the Bradbury novel Something Wicked This Way Comes or the HBO seriesCarnivale, where an overwhelming sense of anxiety to experience a wonder of life they only see on television emanates from the crowds.

Families who traveled many miles, people who have crossed the sea spending hours on a cramped bus, hikers who want to escape the cubicle where they spend the majority of their year, all converge in the open spaces and lodges. There is a sense of hurry and want, a desire to experience, to find something that isn’t a minor disappointment. What they find though isn’t quite what they saw in the advertisement or on the TV special. They will wait for hours to see a geyser and once over, wander to the souvenir shop to prove they were there. All the while thinking they’ve seen water go higher from a broken hydrant in Brooklyn. There is a puzzled disappointment in their movements and expressions but all make the best of it knowing the story will change by the time they get home.

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