In June/July of 2009 M and I did a great trip in Yellowstone. We hiked around, had breakfast at the Old Faithful Inn (the only meal to eat there, dinner is not so good), grilled at a great campground, and went for a backpack. The park was green and blue and vivid and teaming with life.

Why not use the arbitrary project, I thought, of visiting the park at least once a month for 12 in a row to structure my experience? And that is what I did.

Artificial as the idea was, it got the job done. Some of the trips, like the first one in June/July, the Thorofare trip this month, the family visit at Christmas, our backpack into the Bechler area in September, and three days over Thanksgiving, were deliberate and lengthy. They easily left me with a rich memory of that part of the park and that part of the season. The October trip, where we meant to spend three days in the park, got cut short when our timing belt snapped in Butte. But I still saw those otters on the morning we did spend in the park, one of the coolest wildlife sightings of the year. Quite a few of the visits ended up being rushed, school was not kind to this project. But if I hadn’t committed to the project the October bison trip and the February ski tour wouldn’t have happened at all, and those were two of the most memorable.

Looking over the pictures, video clips, and recollections leaves me with feeling of satisfaction and futility. Both are tied up in the same realization: Yellowstone is a big place, much bigger than most realize. The parks high altitude, combined with the geologic-scale snow funnel that is the Upper Snake River valley, shut the park down for so much of the year. Cold and snow are fundamentally hostile to humans, and I spent much of the winter consolidating skills and confidence that leave me no excuse; next winter I must do a big trip into the heart of the park in the heart of winter.

On the whole I’m excited that Yellowstone exists. It’s unique in the lower 48, for reasons that have of late become well troden. It’s size, geological singularity, and since 1995 the full compliment of indigenous charismatic megavertabretes create a unique hold on the human mind. I’m not ready to commit to another Yellowstone project just yet. But if I do a trip will have to spend at least 48 hours away from the frontcountry to count.