Tuolumne Meadows in Yosemite remains my favorite place on earth, but Hayden Valley in Yellowstone definitely ranks a close second. Imagine Tuolumne cubed, and you’ll be able to visualize the scale of Hayden Valley. My one complaint about Hayden is I won’t be able to wander aimlessly (vigilantly, yes, aimlessly, no) through its soft green meadows and hillsides—not with grizzly bears around! Yet its peaceful, pastoral landscape literally brought tears to my eyes.
During my brief walk in Hayden, I observed a grizzly far off on a snow-covered hillside digging intently; a herd of bison munching on the spring grass; and, a white pelican paddling in the Yellowstone River.
According to Lee Whittlesey’s excellent book Yellowstone Place Names, the valley’s namesake, Ferdinand V. Hayden, was “as much as any other individual…responsible for the creation of Yellowstone.” A medical doctor who later became a geologist, Hayden conducted three government surveys of the Yellowstone area in the late 1870s and has “at least 44 genera and species of various organisms ‘from a living moth to a fossil dinosaur’ named for him.”