There are dozens of places on this planet which stake claim to the coveted appellation ‘Heaven on Earth’. We even have one in the midst of all the so called squalor in India - Kashmir. But this is not a sonnet praising the beauty and serenity of Kashmir; it is a humble offering to the majestic Yellowstone National Park in the US which has all the qualities to secure a top notch spot in the aforementioned list of contenders. Truth be told, being a greenhorn at National Park adventures, I imagined disturbing images of a zoo-like edifice minus the cages, dangerous wild animals cavorting unattended in the open, creepy crawly creatures and mucky hike trails. But a beautiful condominium which was to be ours for the next few days placated such fears. Nestling in a valley surrounded by towering peaks, the place was a little piece of paradise in itself.
At first glance Paradise valley looked ethereal doused in a golden shimmer of tenuous sunshine. We drove past green and yellow meadows, catching our first glimpse of herds of bison chomping grass in languid contentment. As each one of us reached for the camera little did we know that this was going to be the most frequent sight during our five day long trip.
The first stop was the visitor center at Mammoth Hot Springs. This was also destined to be the setting for our next wild animal sighting. An elk lounged peacefully on the grass patch in front of the visitor center, seemingly unaware of the excitement that its presence had incited. Once in a while, not unlike a movie star, it would daintily turn its tiny head adorned by a massive tiara of horns towards the excited mob of tourists as if to oblige them by posing for their cameras. What completed the pretty picture was the play of colours. The red tiled roof of the visitor center stood in sharp contrast against a cloudless blue sky and the grass in varying shades of green and yellow complemented the brown hues of the surrounding mountains. It was as if mother nature had used every crayon she could find in her box.
Then we came upon Mammoth Hot Springs. The structure loomed in front of us like a giant tiered stage made of limestone. The steam rising from its belly brought memories of a colossal Hindi movie set ready for a Sridevi or a Madhuri Dixit to break into a dance sequence. The hike up the Mammoth Terrace Mountain was arduous but the view from up above was every bit worth the pain. From here we witnessed white puffy clouds casting shadows on neighboring peaks. It truly felt as if we had reached out and managed to caress the doors of heaven with our fingertips. On all four sides sharp peaks stood like strong sentinels guarding the flora and fauna ensconced in the valley’s womb.
Mammoth Hot Springs was simply the beginning, a gateway of sorts to an adventure of epic proportions which was beginning to unfold. Over the next few days we explored one geyser basin after the other, each a tad bit different from the previous. One of these was the Norris geyser basin which is a vast barren expanse of white limestone with blackened dead trees dotting it. This is perhaps how our planet would look if the sleeping giant of a volcano on which the beautiful Yellowstone Park sits finally decides to unleash its fury and erupt once again after nearly 60,000 years. Every now and then we would come across a bubbling puddle of scalding hot water and mineral deposits. A strong pungent smell of hydrogen sulphide combined with the white vapor rising from these puddles made the geyser basin look like nature’s very own chemistry laboratory.
Thankfully, next on our itinerary- the West Thumb geyser basin- did not paint a picture of doomsday. With the indigo blue water of the Yellowstone Lake as backdrop, the vivid hot water vents looked like a result of the endemic eccentricity of a painter. It was as if with bold strokes of his brush, the maestro had painted dazzling, iridescent pools in an attempt to add a certain mystical vibrancy to his painting. One vent amidst many caught both my eye and my imagination. It looked like it had been outlined by thick red paint which was in reality iron ore deposit. As my gaze roved from the periphery to the center of the pool, I saw its red outline dissolve into a bright yellow lent by sulphur deposits which further melted into emerald green and clear blue right in the middle. The sheer brilliance of the colours which are attributed to both the mineral deposits as well as microorganisms called thermophiles breeding in these puddles stirred poetic sentiments within.
I was wrong in believing that the upper limit of nature’s creativity had been exhibited at the West Thumb. The Grand Canyon of Yellowstone is art of another kind. It is a deep dent on the face of earth through which the Yellowstone River flows. With great panache the river drops down a steep face of the canyon and snakes its way through the carved volcanic red and white stone. By now a dark patina of dusk was slowly inching over the walls of the canyon as the waning sunlight faded into oblivion. It appeared as if God was spreading a warm blanket of love and lulling his brood to sleep. Heading back, we encountered a couple of fractious black bears who refused to obediently go to bed and much to the delight of camera toting tourists like us preferred gallivanting in the woods instead.
We had so far seen the beauty and ingenuity of nature but we were still to experience its punctuality. Our destination for the day was The Old Faithful geyser which is named so to honour the promptness that it has been demonstrating for many years. Like clockwork every 90 minutes the geyser explodes up to a height of 180 feet in the air. People crowd expectantly around the vent and are almost never disappointed. We watched agape as the natural fountain sent a burst of scorching water and steam high up right on schedule. It was abundantly clear to us what the river of hot magma flowing merely four miles below the surface of this great park is capable of doing.
Heaven is most certainly a place on earth and I have seen it.
Preeti Sharma is an MBA and dabbles with creative writing. She blogs at www.preetisharma84.blogspot.com