Crown journeys is a series of fourteen books that match well known writers with places they know a little something about. The authors have to do their sightseeing on foot, but I presume they can do their writing any way they please. Cahill is a successful travel writer who lives in a small town just north of Yellowstone National Park.
The personal appeal here was that I had just returned from a first visit to Yellowstone and was eager to compare notes. It is always fun to see in print references to locations you know, whether they are familiar sights or streets in places one has lived or places one might have visited. (Even more so for sights on film, but for GR we stick with books). Did the author see what we saw, feel what we felt, spot something we missed? I expect this is a manifestation of some underlying communal need to compare notes on common experiences. Oh, you saw such and such? Me too! The more common use for such a book is as a resource for people planning a visit. Around 3 million people a year visit the park and most would benefit from a quick tour through Cahill’s book.
Cahill divides the book into three parts. First, he focuses on day hikes. He makes liberal use of road pull-outs. We are not talking survivalist back-country trekking here, but the sort of short hikes even a motionally challenged sort like me can manage. He looks at some of the commonly viewed destinations, such as the Norris Basin, Old Faithful, Artist Paint Pots, the Monument Geyser Basin, and the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone, among others, offering a sometimes scatological appreciation for places that demand that sort of perspective, and an appreciation for the more sublime natural wonders.
He offers some history. It is true that initial descriptions of the place were met with skepticism. Yeah, sure, thousands
of geysers. I believe that. Having taken some photos in the park of formations that look more like Star Trek sets than Terran locations, I can understand how disbelief might have seemed a reasonable reaction. And Cahill provides information that was news to me. I did not know that Yellowstone has the largest petrified forest in the world
Part two tells of some well-led back-country hikes. There was very intriguing material in here. I was most taken with tales of seeing a moonbow, that is, a rainbow seen at night with moonlight instead of sunlight, causing a remarkable arch. Also, he communicates well what it might be like to see places that remain largely unseen by people, in areas where one can get a visceral sense of what the place must have been like before the stampede of humanity. He makes frequent note of the presence of bears, grizzlies in particular, and reminds his readers that Yellowstone is still a very wild place, where unpleasant things can happen to the careless. He offers some history and the usual Darwin Award tales and cautions about ways not to deal with the local megafauna.
Part three is Cahill’s list of recommended readings for anyone planning a visit. I almost wish I had not already been, so I could head out to my local bookstore and add to the family Yellowstone collection.
I have only small gripes with this small book. Specifying when he was in each of the area he visited would have helped. An exception, in talking about the Lamar Valley, Cahill specifies that winter is the time to see it. (I had just seen it in late summer/early autumn and his description made me envious). But the book needed some more specificity on when he was where.
This short book is purely a supplemental item. Get some real guides if you are planning a visit. But Lost in My Own Backyard
will prove a useful addition to your planning materials. It does not hurt that Cahill will make you laugh out loud on occasion or that he has captured some essence of the Yellowstone experience.