It was two decades ago when the cardboard-box-protected book arrived in the mail from the National Geographic Society. Inside, in collector's edition beauty, was a richly written and gorgeously photographed book on Yellowstone Country.
Written by Seymour L. Fishbein and photographed by Raymond Gehman, the book delved deeply not only into Yellowstone National Park and neighboring Grand Teton National Park, but also into the surrounding communities to take a good measure of both the beauties, and the controversies, of the landscape. Varying parts travel guide, historical text, geology course, and primer in wildlife biology, the book overall is a rich resource for national park junkies interested not only in learning more about these two parks, but in developing a feel for the surrounding lands and the issues that helped define them early on and which continue today.
The valley of the Yellowstone has provided a corridor to the park from its earliest years. The gateway road threads the valley to the park, then bears south to the hub of Mammoth Hot Springs. From the air we can see the steaming travertine terraces of "White Mountain" -- as Mammoth once was called. Nearby stand period-piece houses, in orderly array on tree-lined streets, an officers' row dating from the years between 1886 and 1918, when the U.S. Army patrolled the park, before the birth of the National Park Service.
Along the river corridor elk travel in fall and spring, to and from the winter feeding grounds known as the northern range. Lying mostly within the park, it is an area steeped in controversy, with scientists and graduate students taking vital signs year in and year out. Are there too many elk wintering over? Have they overgrazed the range? Short, direct questions produce complex and conflicting responses.
The book (MSRP $16, less on Amazon.com) indeed is a rich resource that continues to hold a space in my library. And now, no doubt driven by marketing aspirations, the National Geographic Society has re-released Yellowstone Country as part of its Park Profiles series.
If there's a short-coming of the book, it's that it was written before Yellowstone's wolf recovery program took hold, and so does not closely examine the struggles and successes of that effort. Another is that this edition is a softcover that might not hold up to page-turning as well as the original 1989 edition. But the stunning photography and the history make it a worthy addition for park junkies.
Fine print: NGS also has brought back to life its Grand Canyon Country and Treasures of Alaska books, which also are handy to have on hand.