Summer exploration: discovering national parks

  • Published
  • By Lan Kim
  • 90th Missile Wing Public Affairs
Editor's note: This feature is part of an ongoing series to highlight various activities Airmen can explore in the local area.

At 7 a.m. on July 3, a group of 13 Airmen and civilians gathered on Warren, loaded onto a small bus with their equipment, and embarked on an outdoor trip hosted by the Outdoor Recreation office here to discover natural wonders and wildlife at Grand Teton and Yellowstone National Park from July 3 to 6.

The first time participants waited in anticipation while they drove the eight hours to visit the parks.

"It was worth it, every minute of it. Just the beauty and everything about it was amazing," said Airman 1st Class Riley Mausbach, 90th Missile Maintenance Squadron.

"I can't get over how spectacular the parks were," said Lt. Col. Joey Dible, 30th Airlift Squadron commander. "My ultimate thoughts are just how well everything was planned and how all the parts and pieces came together for such a successful event."

The first leg of the trip was driving to Grand Teton National Park for an evening hike. As the group neared the park, they were met by the majestic views of the Teton Range off into the distance. Unobstructed views of the range seemed to make the jagged peaks of the mountains abruptly rise above the valley. Although there was a slight overcast haze over the mountains that evening, the view was still dominating. 

Their first destination was Jenny Lake, a serene lake abutting Cascade Canyon and popular recreational point for visitors according to the National Park Service. The hike was a moderate 5-mile loop with sloping hills, filled with plenty of alpine scenery and lush mountainous landscape to keep the mind wondering. The group was also rewarded with a view of a pristine waterfall called Hidden Falls.

Afterwards, the group headed to Headwaters Campground at Flagg Ranch near the southern edge of Yellowstone National Park to settle in for the rest of the weekend. When not spending time exploring the parks, everyone unwound, relaxed, and got to know one another at the campground.

"There's a lot of camaraderie," said Dible. "We talk about the park and all the great things [it has]. It's great to experience that as a group, meet new people and make new friends."

For the next two days, the group explored Yellowstone National Park, the nation's first national park established in 1872. It has since been the prime example of natural conservation to the world.

"The wildlife, the outstanding landscape, the pictures that we captured, some of the panoramas and breathtaking views, those were the best parts," said Dible.

Hiking and camping are among the usual activities that outdoor enthusiasts can enjoy in the park, but this vast natural ecosystem plays host to a variety of attractions and sightseeing opportunities as well. Encounters with wildlife in their natural habitats are abundant as it is quite common for vehicles to pull over to view bison or elk.

At one point during the trip, the group got the rare chance to see a grizzly bear just 140 yards away.

"That was a highlight," said Dible. "To be able to get that close, to be able to get that kind of photo...we were able to just watch his normal routine and capture that."

Natural features of the park such as water falls, hot springs, mud pots, and geysers attract millions of visitors to Yellowstone every year. By far, the best-known geyser is Old Faithful Geyser, which erupts at varying times from 40 to 126 minutes.

Senior Airman Marina Martinez, 90th Force Support Squadron, expressed her excitement in seeing the geyser and watching it erupt.

"When we went and saw [Old Faithful Geyser] erupt from start to finish -- to see it rise like that!" said Martinez. "I'd never seen a geyser in my life before."

The scenic drive through the park seems to turn up a waterfall or hot spring in every corner.

"I didn't expect to see as many [waterfalls] as we did," said Martinez. "There's also a Dragon's Mouth [Springs], and it was a cave with smoke coming out of it, I thought that was really awesome."

During the day, the outdoor rec group was able to take in the many natural wonders that Yellowstone and Grand Teton had to offer. By night, they were able to settle into the campground and bond by the campfire.

"We all bonded over this trip," said Martinez. "We sat around the campfire and told stories, it was great."