When I was three, my parents moved us from Iowa to Wyoming. Nothing against Iowa, but I consider the move one of the greatest gifts my parents gave me.
During my childhood, we spent many weekends in the world’s first national park. These road trips consisted of my sisters and me in the back seat, my parents in the front seat with a thermos of coffee, a cooler of cold cuts in the back, and a whole day to see as much as we could of the world’s first national park.
At the time we kids weren’t too enthusiastic about these trips. Now, at 39, I realize how significant those many Yellowstone trips were in shaping me.
In 1992, my husband, Jerry, and I spent part of our honeymoon in Yellowstone. We spent one night at our favorite hotel in Yellowstone, the historic Lake Yellowstone Hotel. Soon after we checked in, I was in our bathroom getting freshened up when I noticed all kinds of people looking through the bathroom window at me with cameras and binoculars. In disbelief, Jerry went outside to discover a bull moose right outside our bathroom window.
The historic Lake Yellowstone Hotel is the best place to stay in Yellowstone Park—especially if you’re looking for a romantic getaway. During summer evenings, there is often a string quartet or piano player performing in the elegant historic lobby that overlooks Yellowstone Lake. The ambiance is wonderful and it is a nostalgic experience to imagine the hotel bustling with Yellowstone’s early visitors.
In 1994, we moved to Gardiner, Montana, at the North Entrance of the park, to start our company, Yellowstone Journal Corporation.
I’ll never forget the first interview I scheduled for our newspaper, the Yellowstone Journal. A little nervous about my first assignment, I headed out of the house to get an early start for the 5-mile drive. But I wasn’t going anywhere that morning. A lazy bull bison lay directly behind our truck, making it impossible for me to go anywhere. That was the first lesson: Yellowstone is on its own schedule.
Gardiner is a great town—one we’ll always be fond of. It was a “Northern Exposure” experience for us. When we wanted to get our phone and fax hooked up, we tried to describe our rental house’s location to the phone company from a pay phone. “Are you the house that’s right up from a house that has two white dogs—and the next door house has a gray dog?” “Why yes, that’s exactly right,” we said, and soon we had phone and fax and were officially in business.
In 1995, we moved to Lander, Wyoming, where I was raised. Jerry started using his teaching degree and I focused on growing our business.
Jerry and I were married seven years before we had any children, so we spent much of those early years in our company’s history exploring Yellowstone, particularly its backcountry. Most people don’t realize it, but 98 percent of Yellowstone is backcountry. When you tour the park in your car, only getting out at occasional boardwalks, you’re only seeing 2 percent of the park. If given a lifetime to explore it, you couldn’t cover it all.
We especially enjoyed the Lamar Valley region—where the famous wolf reintroduction occurred—and the entire Northern Range region. We hiked as much as possible and explored the park extensively.
In two years, we traveled 50,000 miles in the park and surrounding states to sell ads and distribute our newspaper. We saw and took note of everything, inside and out of the park. Largely as a result of all of our travels and newfound knowledge about the greater Yellowstone region, we started this magazine. I’ve made it my livelihood to share and promote all the things there are to do on a Yellowstone vacation.
Today we have three sons, ages 8, 6 and 1. We still spend as much time in Yellowstone as possible.
Because we live so close to the world’s first, and most famous, national park, relatives from all over the globe visit us and look to us as the experts on Yellowstone. Over the years we have developed what we consider an “insider” itinerary for friends and family who are headed to Yellowstone and only have 2-3 days. See the following page for these tips.
-Shelli Johnson, Publisher