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The 1988 picture at Yellowstone.

The 1988 picture at Yellowstone

The timeless beauty of Yellowstone National Park never changes, but some of its features do--naturally. Others might be altered by man as part of park management. Here are some of the most apparent changes in the 2.2 million-acre park; take them into consideration whether you're planning your first visit or the latest of many happy returns.

Grande dame hotels get facelifts

If you want to be assured of getting a room in the park, book well ahead--last year saw a near-record 2.6 million visitors. But surprisingly, some hotels often have rooms for summer walk-ins. Your best shot might be the Canyon Lodge and cabins near Yellowstone Falls.

If you plan to stay in either of the park's most popular lodgings, expect to see sprucing-up efforts nearly complete. The lobby of the famous Old Faithful Inn is being restored to its 1904 grandeur. Rooms with views of the geyser are booked months ahead, but you can often get a pleasant quiet room in the back wing. If you stay in the main (old) central section, prepare for a noisy night. Its 320 rooms run $31 to $58.

At the venerable Lake Yellowstone Hotel (oldest in the park), look for a renovated dining room and spiffed-up interiors in the 168 rooms now open (rates from $58 to $95). For lodging reservations throughout the park, call (307) 344-7311.

Steamy scenes--the latest news

The park's 200 geysers and thousands of other hot springs, mud pots, and fumaroles (small, steaming vents) constantly change. And a 1983 earthquake just outside the park caused further shifts in the geothermal picture. Some recent changes:

Mammoth Hot Springs. The Minerva and Opal terraces, with their ocher- and turquoise-hued formations of calcium carbonate, still warrant a visit. But because of a subtle, long-term slowdown in activity, the once-rushing stream and pools are now quiet. You might want to visit nearby Canary Springs Terraces, which have seen stepped-up activity in the past year.

Norris Geyser Basin. This area, with the highest concentration of geyser and fumaroles in Yellowstone, continues to be the hottest, most dynamic thermal region. Catch the best views in the cool morning hours: steam fills the basin, and the sputtering, hissing, and roaring pierces the quiet.

You'll also find dramatic changes at two geysers on the Back Basin Trail. Echinus Geyser, a fountain type like Old Faithful, now erupts more powerfully and more often (every 15 minutes). And throughout the basin, you can hear the roar of the now continuously steaming fumarole at Pork Chop Geyser.

More wildlife--where to see it

Bison now number about 2,500. You can often find them in any of three areas: Pelican Valley on the east side, Hayden Valley between Lake and Canyon junctions, and the Lamar Valley in the park's northeast end. Buffalo are fast, big (2,000 pounds), and unpredictable, so don't get too close: some visitors have been gored.

Now through June, you can usually find some of the park's burgeoning elk population (at a 50-year high, with 25,000 individuals) at daybreak and sunset in the Lamar Valley. In July and August, they retreat into more wooded areas, returning in fall. A resident herd is visible almost daily, lounging on the lawn near Mammoth Hot Springs.

Grizzly numbers are on the rise, too, according to Yellowstone officials. Bears are active in the Fishing Bridge area (near Lake Junction). This has resulted in a controversial proposal to remove the 310-site Park Service campground there; a decision is expected by early summer.

Another controversial program, wolf reintroduction, has been put on hold.

Detours now; less traffic later

If you're planning to travel between Upper Geyser Basin and Cody or Jackson Hole via the Craig Pass Road, be aware that road work will close that route (from Old Faithful to West Thumb) until May 23. After that, it will be open 9 A.M. to 9 P.M. (with delays), closed Sunday through Thursday nights. Weekend traffic will be uninterrupted.

This project, part of ongoing efforts to improve traffic flow, is only the second major road work in the park in more than a decade.

Photo: Bison herd grazes near fumaroles in Hayden Valley--numbers are up this year

Photo: Ionic-columned portico fronts newly repainted 1891 Lake Yellowstone Hotel
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Copyright 1988 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Title Annotation:Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming
Date:May 1, 1988
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