"A beautiful enchantment held me spellbound. Beneath and around me was arranged a mighty amphitheatre, studded with castles, domes and towers; and places of sculptured ruby ... "
Thus did an 1873 visitor try to describe the wonders of Yellowstone, designated as the country's first national park in 1872. Writers ever since have been trying to convey pictures of what they saw and felt to their readers. It has never been an easy task.
Authors Lee Whittlesey and Elizabeth Watry have taken 19 accounts, dating from 1873 through 1914, of visitors' impressions of this natural wonderland. Both editors are highly qualified, as they have written before about Yellowstone National Park and are skilled at ferreting out and identifying obscure references and people.
Each article's author is introduced by the editors and identified as much as possible, although sometimes little is known about them. Then, the rest of the chapters relate their experiences in and reactions to the wonders of Yellowstone. As almost all readily admit, they can't do it justice.
Every chapter is well footnoted, carefully identifying people and places as well as explaining the obscure or classical phrases and words of the era. The reader should not overlook these footnotes as they add immeasurably to the overall understanding of the quoted writings and experiences.
Obviously, readers will find some chapters more interesting than others. For this reviewer, chapter 10 about an 1896 bicycling trip proved one of the most fascinating. The author, Lyman Grover, describes his experiences this way: "The cycler loves a comparatively level road. Short hills are a luxury, but the mountains - aye, there's the rub! The mountain roads ... plowed into impassable furrows by the wheels of the stagecoach and of the hunter's outfit, is a proposition calculated to make the stoutest heart quail!"
Grover hoped Congress would, "with more appropriations," remedy "the evil. Until then, cyclists who love a scramble and can endure hard work should undertake an entire circuit of the park."
Ho! For Wonderland is a book for a nice winter's evening read or an enjoyable trip into the past. A couple of chapters will put one in the mood to visit Yellowstone. The authors (and the editors) could ask for no more.
Duane Smith is a professor of history and Southwest Studies at Fort Lewis College. Reach him at 247-2589.