Tired of the rat race? Want to get away from city life for a while? How about a camping trip?

You can start with Yellowstone National Park, the world’s first national park. It offers a terrific way to experience nature first-hand.

Designation of the area as a U.S. National Park was approved by Congress in 1872 and signed into law by President Ulysses S. Grant. Just one good reason for his picture to be on the $50 bill.

I should mention that Yellowstone is huge — nearly 3,500 square miles — mostly in Wyoming, but with small areas extending into Idaho and Montana.

You’ll probably want to go during the spring, summer or early fall because snow forces closures of many sections during the winter. The weather is actually somewhat unpredictable all year and snowfall has even been reported in July.

What can you see in Yellowstone?

The biggest attraction, of course, is the Old Faithful Geyser. It is truly spectacular.

Intervals between eruptions range from 45 to 125 minutes, with spouts shooting up an average of 150 feet each time, to the repeated appreciation of park visitors.

The length of an eruption helps to predict when the next eruption will occur — and with great accuracy too. In fact, timing is so reliable, park rangers post the anticipated timing of the next event.

Watch it here: http://www.nps.gov/features/yell/webcam/oldFaithfulStreaming.html.

As you tour around the park, you’ll see plenty of other geysers in this protected geothermal area, and each has its own story. You can get closer to some than others, and some are a part of geothermal systems quite different from Old Faithful. A few looked like big “mud holes” to me — until they erupted, of course.

Another big attraction at Yellowstone is the wildlife. It’s not uncommon to see big game right next to, or even on, the roads that wind through the park. Bison, deer, elk, moose, big horn sheep, bears, coyotes and now — thanks to a ten-year restoration program — wolves all are commonly seen.

All of these animals are part of a complex ecosystem that has been preserved for us to enjoy under the protection of the National Park System. National parks are wonderful places to introduce city kids to outdoor life.

Unfortunately, some people think they are watching the animals on television. I saw families pull over to the side of the road to view the animals, and jump out of their cars. This is very risky.

One of the films in the Visitor Center shows clips of animals attacking cars — and even the occupants. If the film was shown in a theater, it would probably be “R” rated for violence, but the Rangers’ motive is to show us the dangers.

Are you a birdwatcher?

There are about 150 types of birds that nest in the park and documented sightings of almost twice that many species. The list of raptors even includes our national symbol — the bald eagle.

Are you into plants?

There are more than 1,000 native plant species in Yellowstone, all supporting one of the world’s largest intact ecosystems.

Due to Yellowstone’s immense size, there are several small villages throughout the park where you can stay or camp. Amenities vary by village but almost all of them have a connection to organized tours.

Take the tours!

Do it in one of their classic yellow tour buses. You probably won’t learn as much on your own as you will from listening to a very competent, professional tour guide. Tour first, then explore.

Trust me, you will be a happy camper!

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