Yellowstone National Park welcomes millions of visitors every year.
I worked at the park’s East Entrance for five summer seasons, greeting people who drove into that gate. I found some people who come to Yellowstone are making their last trip on Earth.
Yellowstone is not just the nation’s first national park. It’s the world’s first national park. Millions of people from around the world come to see it every year.
They may come to see the wildlife, which comprise one of the world’s most intact ecosystems of its kind, with bison, bears, wolves, elk, moose, raptors, and cutthroat trout.
The park’s more than 10,000 thermals are the greatest concentration of geysers, hot springs, and fumeroles in the world. And Yellowstone’s waterfalls, lake, and mountain vistas bring people who just want to embrace the beauty.
I was a fee-collecting ranger at the park’s East Entrance for five summers, and I found some people were coming for more than just the view.
Some were coming for their last trip on earth. One woman told me she had been diagnosed with brain cancer, and her doctor told her if she was going to take that trip to Yellowstone with her husband,
“Now is the time.”
Fellow ranger Emmet McCormick has similar memories.
“When I had the privilege of working at the East Entrance, a family of three generations pulled up to my gate. The driver explained that the grandfather in the passenger’s seat had terminal cancer, and returning to Yellowstone was one of his last wishes. They said that this would be the last trip of his life. The grandfather was extremely emotional. I can remember feeling deeply moved by this experience. And the interaction helped me to understand just how meaningful places like Yellowstone National Park are to so many people," he said.
Since I could sign to the deaf, I was asked to help a deaf man and his family who had camped nearby He told her he had stomach cancer and was bending over in pain as he smiled and talked about a float trip in Grand Teton. He wanted his family to enjoy the parks, too.
But the most inspiring of the unusual visits was not a last trip on earth. I reached to take the visitor's entry fee, and he handed it over with his foot, not his hand. He had no hands or arms. He was driving with his feet.
He joked with the teenagers in the back of his car. They were part of a church group coming into Yellowstone to volunteer by picking up trash. The man with no hands was going to help pick up trash in his national park— and was excited about it.