I had this really great idea to set my next book in Yellowstone. Have you ever read a book set in Yellowstone? I haven’t, though I’ve found a few since my quest began. I really thought I was on to something.
All those geysers, hot springs, soaring mountains? How cool would that be?
So, sure, I’m doing it. I’ve got this hero western artist and a rough and tough cowgirl who thinks he’s an idiot, sweet though, and gorgeous and for some reason she keeps turning to him…
Anyway, so I’m in love with the idea and I set out to write the book, as I often do, and began researching as I went along.
Well, I read and read and wrote and wrote and about a week ago, when my book hit the halfway point, I finally found the definitive book on Yellowstone.
The Yellowstone Story: A History of our First National Park. Volumes One and Two.
Yes, volumes one and two.
It goes through alllllllllllllllllll the details.
What was really fascinating, beyond just the details was how precise it all was.
I mean this guy followed every thread, hunted through every old newspaper archive, like back to the Lewis and Clark expedition, very intensive, exacting work.

Some interesting things I found. Lewis and Clark didn’t go into Yellowstone, they missed it by about one hundred miles. But a member of their party, John Colter, who went back east as far as the Mandan Village in North Dakota, turned around with another group and went back west. He must have liked it in the wild.
In mid-August 1806, Colter was granted an early discharge from the Corps to become a fur trapper. Lewis and Clark agreed to let Colter leave the party as long as the other Corps members agreed to continue to St. Louis to be discharged. The men agreed, and Colter respectfully parted from the Corps.
Colter is credited with being the first white man to enter what is now Yellowstone National Park. In describing the geysers and other geothermal phenomena, it became known as “Colter’s Hell.” He eventually became a heroic figure among the trappers, traders, and mountain men who settled the American West.
And here’s what’s REALLY interesting about his tales of geysers and boiling mud and steaming hot springs…no one believed him. True. People considered Yellowstone to be a fable for decades.

Another early traveler to Yellowstone is Jim Bridger. Jim Bridger came out of his western wandering with stories of about the geysers. Unfortunately he also talked about a “peetrified forest” in which there were “peetrified birds” singing “peetrified songs” He was so famous for his tall tales that guess what? When he talked about a geyser that shot off every hour on the hour…no one believed him.
There were several more explorations planned but the Civil War came along and stopped it. Try to imagine this. Colter came out of that place around the turn of the century. 1809 or so. Now it’s almost sixty years later and still no one has managed to get into this place. It was cold, people joked that there was one month of summer. The passes snow shut. They still do, even with Caterpiller snow plows. Yellowstone is closed most of the year, though I found snow mobile trips you can take. But back then, to be trapped inside Yellowstone in the winter…was to die.
It snowed up there, often even in August and the nights got dangerously cold many times in the summer.
Finally, with the Civil War over, there was a very well organized expedition to Yellowstone in 1869 called the Folsom/Cook expedition. Once he returned from his journey, Folsom refused to relate the experiences publically because he thought nobody would believe him. That’s right, he talked of it privately but not publicly, for fear he’d be labeled a liar.
However, those who knew Folsom well, believed him and credited him with the inspiration needed to organize the Washburn-Langford-Doane Expedition in 1870.
And finally a group went in and came out with enough proof to be believed. They took a photographer and a painter along. An interesting side note, the photographer lived in Chicago and he went home to get his pictures in order…and they all burned up in the Chicago fire, with a very few exceptions. So the photographic evidence was lost.
So, here’s where my story gets tricky. It’s part of a series, which means I’m pretty well bound by the dates my story can happen. It has to be around 1880.

So I’m 50,000 words into my 100,000 word story when I realize that in 1880 the Northern Pacific Railroad built a depot near the entrance to Yellowstone Park and guess what? My remote, treacherous, beautiful park…had five thousand visitors…and a tent city right next to Old Faithful.
So, fine. Now I’ve got an artist…what? Just hangin’ around in the mountains? If I put him in Yellowstone, I’m going to have to rewrite the whole thing to account for the crowd. If I move him out of Yellowstone I can still use most of what I’ve written but why would he be hanging around the mountains? Why would she just happen upon him?

Don’t worry. I thought of a reason. Trust me. And after all this research they might just wander down to have a look around Yellowstone, too.

So has anyone been there? I haven’t, which made this all harder because I have zero personal information. What was it like?



I found out last week that my romantic comedy with cowboys, Calico Canyon is a finalist for a Christy Award, the premier (I promise that’s what they said) award for Christian Fiction. I’m pretty excited about it.

And, I’m going to be in Grand Rapids, Michigan doing a book signing at several area book stores. Details here. If you’re from the area come on by.


Click on the book cover to purchase

Mary Connealy

Website | + posts

Author of Romantic Comedy...with Cowboys including the bestselling Kincaid Brides Series

43 thoughts on “YELLOWSTONE OR BUST”

  1. I’ve been there, live near there, worked there, studied its history, and written about it – in essays, and a very rough start of an autobiography of my summers.

    I can say this; it’s pretty impossible to write a book about Yellowstone that’s any good without having experienced it. It’s not that all things to be written about require experience, but this is a unique sensory paradise and extremely complicated, and so analogizing it doesn’t do much good.

    The place, what it is – meaning also what happens to be in the place – has got to be a dominant theme. And, if it’s to involve artists falling in love, probably going to be with a simple worker, someone who came there from somewhere else, looking for something they know not what. Not a cowgirl – there just aren’t many, and where are the cows? In early Yellowstone, I guess up at Fort Yellowstone, which is how buffalo got a cattle disease, which is such an issue these days, but then you are talking soldiers.

    In any event, I’d recommend taking a trip before you finalize those last 50,000 words; you will be amazed at the romantic metaphors that never occurred to you; on some nights, I’ve lived them myself.

  2. Hi Mary! congrats on the Christy…also my daughter’s name. Well, with an i at the end 🙂

    Yellowstone is phenomenal and out of this world. I mean it really is kind of alien-esque. Shortly after my hubby and I started dating, his folks realized I was The One and hauled me north to Meet the Grandparents. It was a VERY Clark Griswoldian journey. As an example, we got to Yellowstone having just missed Old Faithful. No biggie. It explodes every hour or so. Nonetheless, my future FIL refused to wait 59 more minutes until the fam, including me, threatened mutiny.

    I had seen it before with my own family, also Griswoldian but not in a good way. So at least he believed me that that O.F. was worth the wait. Which in truth it was and is.

    The incredible pix of your post are even more stupendous in person. Dang, now I wanna go back. Fortunately I have a grandbaby now and can start hauling him places.

    Your book definitely intrigues me. An artist…yay!

    Thanks for a great post.


  3. everyone I talked to said I had to go see it to write about it. I was seriously trying to get a trip arranged before my book geysered up in my face. But now I want to go anyway.
    My husband went as a child but his memories are blurred.
    I still may do this…it seems strange that no one has done it much.
    Those pictures I found are amazing. Especiallyl the colored water. So fascinating and beautiful

  4. Griswoldian? That’s the family from the Vacation movies, right? With Chevy Chase?
    We had a pastor once named Grisman and my husband mistakenly (I hope) called him Pastor Griswold, my husband couldn’t quite remember the movies but Griswold rolled off his tongue.

  5. Hi, Mary! I saw that you finalled in the Christy. How exciting! Congratulations.

    I’ve only been to Yellowstone once, and I was probably about 10-12 years old at the time, so I remember the indian doll in the gift shop more than the scenary. Bummer. From your pictures it looks exactly like the kind of natural beauty to experience in person. Again.

    Thanks for sharing some of your research and historical tidbits. For being ignored or disbelieved for so long, once proof came about, it didn’t take long for the craze to hit did it?

    Best of luck to you as you recraft your story. I know your creative mind will lead you down another hilarious, crooked path to replace the first one you chose.

  6. You could have an amazing book – Avalanche Peak by moonlight so bright that you don’t need a flashlight, hearing owls in the distance, forever singing loudly because you are wondering if bears are coming. You reach the peak – it’s August, you’re at over 10,000 feet, and it’s about 20 degrees outside, but you can’t do anything but look at the spooky landscape, the rocks, Yellowstone lake darkly silhouetted in the distance, Absaroka Mountains in most other directions, the moon with a rainbow around it. Snow beneath you, shimmering and moving in a display I can only liken to a river of flowing glitter. You hold her close; you know, and she knows that no one will understand, ever understand – even those who live and love Yellowstone.

    You hike down joyous and louder than before; when you get to the road, you lay down, and you gaze at shooting stars.

    There is no interruption but the sense that the moment will and must end, but there are so many more to be had, like when you held her tight on the boardwalks of that geyser basin, the steam sizzling beneath you, elk bugling nearby. And, even then … fear; is that a bison on the boardwalk? Will you make it out alive? As you drove home, she sleeps as the fog envelopes the valley. A buffalo might be anywhere, you’re tired, you have to get work, but you have to make it, you have to make sure that this moment lives on.

    And, it has.

    And, writing that off the top of my head is only the beginning; it gets far wilder than that, and you would have to smell that sulfur air to believe it and really get it.

  7. Congrats on the Christy! I visited once, but it was hard to get overly excited about the geysers, when people are jostling you to get closer. I hate crowds! I would have preferred to have been one of the first people to have found it and enjoyed the scene alone.

    Good luck on the book.

  8. Wow, Jim, that is beautiful. YOU need to write that book.
    Love that short bit you wrote, entrancing.
    yes, I have to go there.

    Paty, I’ve heard the crowds are crazy, but then obviously there are crowds because, because, because….it’s so spectacularly beautiful!

  9. My husband and I have been to Yellowstone a few times. The first time he was in the service and we were on our way home for leave. Old Faithful was scheduled to go off in 40 minutes but we couldn’t wait that long. So we didn’t see it. The next trip, several years later, we finally saw it. What a site. It was really something. But actually there are small geysers going off all around the park. The lodge you are talking about is very beautiful. So much history there. I remember walking around the little town there and got a Montana fence post candale holder. Some young college student was putting himself through college cutting down old fence posts and making candle holders out of them. Very unique and different.

  10. Hi Mary, yes it was the Vacation movies. At Yellowstone, there are smaller geyers like Judy A. said, and also steamy, and yes, stinky.
    Thanks for the good memories.

    Have a good day evebybody!

  11. Mary, what a fascinating subject. Makes me want to go all the more. Loved what Jim said. He’s definitely got a way of drawing pictures with words. Wow! I felt like I was right there.

    Congratulations on the Christy Award nomination! That’s quite a feather in your cap. You’ve really earned the recognition though. You’re an amazing writer. When I read your stories I catch myself laughing out loud. It’s like having a party. 🙂

  12. I know you are going to get everything worked out
    and have a wonderful book!

    Oh my gosh! Jim has quite a way with words, doesn’t he? I would definitely pay good money to read both your and his books!

    And “Congratulations” on the nomination!!

    Pat Cochran

  13. Judy, you couldn’t wait FORTY MINUTES to see Old Faithful blow? now THAT is a tight schedule.

    One cool thing I read was during that Cook/Folsom expedition a geyser they named Excelsior blew (they named it I think)
    This huge geyser discharges 4,000 to 4,500 gallons of 199 degree water per MINUTE often to a height of 300 feet. But in about 1890 they theorize the powerful explosions underground wrecked something and it quit blowing. Now it’s just a bubbling hot spring. Though it did blow again in 1985 for two days at about odd, close intervals.

  14. It was easy to write because that was a compilation of real stories I’ve lived or witnessed firsthand (it wasn’t me with my partner on Avalanche Peak; it was me sizzling at the Norris Geyser Basin, but I was there for both). For me, Yellowstone is and will be a lifelong love story.

    My partner is always nagging me to write the book that will make she and I some money; started years ago to write some of it on my Web site (some of the stories I wrote are there in more detail, though in very rough form) – linked to my name – – but my interests in Yellowstone are so diverse. It’s been hard to write something that I felt was worthy of the place.

    Maybe, I will try to write something; I’m feeling a little more inspired.

    Interestingly, just today, I was alerted to a new Web site coming soon on Yellowstone stories, that a former park worker is creating. I’m not sure if it’s a business or a blog, but I hope people will share their stories.

    And, Yellowstone is crowded … yes … but it’s very easy to get away from the crowds. And, actually, if you get to know those who work in the gift stores both old and young, domestic and foreign, you will truly get to know another wonder of the park – that almost everyone misses. There are some beautifully interesting people there; if you or anyone ever visit again, stop and talk with them and hear their stories.

  15. There’s another whole cool story about a man who got separated from the Washburn Expedition. This one, the Washburn trip, is the big one, the one that finally got the world’s attention.
    Although a railroad looking to make money is probably at the root of the whole national park idea and isn’t that what’s great about America???

    Anyway, this one man got separated from the others and they never did find him. He finally managed, near death, to crawl out where someone could find him. He’d been badly burned by a hot spring and lost and his horse and supplies ran off and all these experienced western men on that expedition searched for him for three days until they finally gave up and went on without him.

    It’s quite a tale of suffering and survival.

  16. No I have never been there but would love to go. I don’t think I have ever read a book set there either. I think it would be very interesting to read a book with that setting.

  17. It was easy to write because that was a compilation of real stories I’ve lived or witnessed firsthand (it wasn’t me with my partner on Avalanche Peak; it was me sizzling at the Norris Geyser Basin, but I was there for both). For me, Yellowstone is and will be a lifelong love story.

    My partner is always nagging me to write the book that will make she and I some money; started years ago to write some of it on my Web site (some of the stories I wrote are there in more detail, though in very rough form) – linked to my name – but my interests in Yellowstone are so diverse. It’s been hard to write something that I felt was worthy of the place.

    Maybe, I will try to write something; I’m feeling a little more inspired.

    Interestingly, just today, I was alerted to a new Web site coming soon on Yellowstone stories, that a former park worker is creating. I’m not sure if it’s a business or a blog, but I hope people will share their stories.

    And, Yellowstone is crowded … yes … but it’s very easy to get away from the crowds. And, actually, if you get to know those who work in the gift stores both old and young, domestic and foreign, you will truly get to know another wonder of the park – that almost everyone misses. There are some beautifully interesting people there; if you or anyone ever visit again, stop and talk with them and hear their stories.

  18. Hi Mary, I just love all this information on Yellowstone. I’ve never been but would love to go. Your story sounds fascinating. Have a great day.

  19. Hi Mary, Congratulations on the Christy nomination! That’s fabulous and well earned.

    I haven’t been to Yellowstone, but I’ve been to Yosemite a few times. Winter or summer, it’s an amazing place. National Parks are a real treasure. I hear you on writing about an area you haven’t visited. Books and blogs help, but it’s so much more fun to go in person. I hope you get the chance!

  20. Quilt Lady, I think I’ll still do it.

    And the more I talk with you all today the more I want to try and capture that beuatiful place.

    I could make it work if it wasn’t that this was a series, I’ve got a very narrow window to work in, when Yellowstone was ‘discovered’ but not really populated. And my heroine wouldn’t have been old enough to make the window. (sounds like an eloping metaphor)

  21. Thanks Colleen and Victoria. I’m pretty excited about it. I understand my publisher will send me to Denver in July for the ceremony. I’m not worried about winning though. I’m totally claiming the finalist as the win. I mean sure if I win, I’ll upgrade but if not I will forever be
    Mary Connealy
    Christy Finalist

    Right? 😀

  22. Jim, all your posts are really inspiring. I guess that sense of wonder is what I hoped to capture in a book. I definitely have to go there. Put it on my bucket list.

  23. Mary, if you want an underpopulated area in the time just after “discovery” – of course Yellowstone had been known about by indigenous people for thousands of years – set it in Jackson Hole, the valley south of Yellowstone in what’s now Grand Teton National Park. It was extremely sparsely populated, but it was not protected at first – and small plots of land were set up in the Tetons with views of the mountains.

    One historical note, one of the Tetons, Mount Moran, was named for the most famous Yellowstone artist, Thomas Moran. However, he never saw the mountains from the view that inspired people to name it after him.

    Artists have always flocked to the Tetons, and the number of art galleries in the town of Jackson south of the Tetons is staggering. When you couple that with the small livestock operations that have always existed in the area – cowboys, though fewer all the time – you’ve got the proper setting for your story. And, Yellowstone, the imposing wilderness just to the north would still be dominating. It’s all really part of Yellowstone so much so that originally those who envisioned protecting the Tetons and Jackson Hole wanted it just to be added on to Yellowstone, but local interests in Jackson opposed it.

    When I go to the Tetons, I don’t consider it distinct from Yellowstone, and most locals don’t either. If you set your story there, it’s not a major adjustment.

    So no tourists, some artists, a forgotten frontier (the railroads didn’t go there), and a few cowgirls here and there. Your story would have to probably involve a fair amount of skiing, though, for a good chunk of the year – and how hard it was to raise livestock in such a forbidding environment.

  24. Thanks for the ideas, Jim.
    All the reading I’ve done has been so interesting. Did you know there’s a huge controversay about the myth of ‘who thought of making Yellowstone a park first’?
    And there were fights over naming things. People kept trying to name this or that mountain peak or look out or creek or geyser after themselves or their wives.
    Ambitious people looking for immortality even back then.

    I’ve done quite a bit of research on Thomas Moran and am using him, Frederick Remington, Charlie Russell and a few others as compilations for my hero.

  25. Yes, I know all about the creation myths. I wrote a set of essays riling against some of the myths, not because I hate myths (I love them), but hate these myths. I believe so strongly we need new Yellowstone myths, which is why I have looked at your project with a little bit of skepticism – I’m perhaps overly protective of my own sense of the mythology of the West and where it needs to go.

    The books you are reading by Aubrey Haines were especially important in the history of the myth because they were the first to take them on in a very serious way. Nathaniel Pitt Langford was a beautiful writer but quite the scoundrel, and you can sense something of a loathing toward him in the history.

    Some things in Yellowstone are still being discovered; there’s a recent book on discovering waterfalls in the park, the vast majority never noted in literature, some probably only recently found. One of the discoverers is the current Yellowstone historian Lee Whittlesey, who has spent so much time looking at the myths and the place names in Yellowstone. They were careful not to name things after themselves and their friends and come up with some naming standards, and yet I don’t know if I feel completely comfortable with the idea of seeking out all the waterfalls like a modern day Washburn Expedition and then naming them left and right. One of the things I enjoy is reading accounts of tourists who don’t know the name of a feature and giving it a name. Last year, one named Rustic Falls (near Mammoth), Wedding Veil Falls, I think – what a great name! But, it will never be … we’ve left the naming to the “discoverers” and the mythologizing to the few who got their first.

    Good luck on your story and glad you are doing such good research!

  26. Jim. Thank you so much for talking with me today.

    One of the reasons I have abandoned Yellowstone is my fear of getting it wrong. So much is known and beloved about the park and to do it justice is clearly daunting.

    But I do intend to travel there and spend some real time looking around and experiencing it. And maybe, when I really know what I’m talking about, another book might come along featuring Yellowstone.

  27. I love the Firehole River. Isn’t that just perfect? And the names of the geysers are wonderful.
    Of course Old Faithful
    Imperial Geyser
    Pink Cone Geyser
    Grotto Geyser
    Beehive Geyser
    Castle Geyser
    Giant Geyser
    Giantess Geyser
    (yes, both)

  28. Congratulations on being a Christy Award finalist!
    Great info about Yellowstone. I have never been there, but hope someday to visit.

  29. Congrats again on your nominations, Mary!
    I’m sure you’ll wing your way out of the research and it’ll all work out great. 🙂

    I’ve never been to Yellowstone but would love to see it. Sorta like seeing the Grand Canyon, pictures and descriptions don’t do it justice. You can’t wrap your mind around the scope of the landscape with the pictures. You need to see for yourself.

  30. Mary, I live in a most beautiful valley right over the Absarokas next to Yellowstone. Many people say this valley IS part of Yellowstone, and it should be. The first wolf pack came in to Sunlight Basin out of the park. The native americans came through Sunlight through the park using ancient trails in order to hunt Buffalo. There are endless stories here that could be put together as a novel. You should visit Cody–the Buffalo Bill Museum and Trail Town. In fact, I would advise you just to google Trail town and read the fabulous story about its creator. Many here say that Coulter’s Hell was not Yellowstone he was describing, but right outside of Cody, now under the Buffalo Bill Reservoir, was a series of Hot springs used extensively by Native Americans. My friend showed me a place at the mouth of the Clarks Fork where people think Coulter stayed the winter with only his dog.
    I have been coming here for 10 years and bought this place 3 years ago as I was ‘in love’, in love with the Land and what it does to me, inside. You can check out some of the stories on my blog that I recently started. (

    You don’t have to stop writing the piece, just come out here. And, anyone who can’t stay 45 minutes longer to see the geyser has not fallen into what this place is about. Come and leave behind your life as you know it and let the magic of Yellowstone and the West inspire you. I don’t know where you live, but I’d recommend that you drive and leave a month for exploring.

    Best, Leslie

  31. My husband and I finally made it to Yellowstone a couple of years ago. Was in September, so some things were closed for the season. Was lovely, but we need to go back and explore some more. Was crowded, can’t imagine how bad it must be in the summer. There were forest fires in the area and we had limited, smokey views. It is so frustrating to see how careless and selfcentered people are. In all our National Parks, they ignore the rules, go where they aren’t supposed to and damage the area. They endanger themselves near thermal areas and foolishly go near wildlife. They get injured and killed and endanger others by their actions. If my husband hadn’t been drafted during the Vietnam war, we both would have been working for the Park Service. I don’t honestly think we could have taken it for long. The stupidity and inconsiderate behavior of so many is hard to take even if you are just a visitor. Areas like Yellowstone are so special. I hope they can be preserved for many more generations in their pristine state. Unfortunately, the behavior and absolute number of visitors make it very unlikely.

  32. Wow, Leslie, it’s like the post has inspired the poet in several of you. See, that’s what I mean, that inspiration, that’s what I want to capture. Thank you so much for the links and info. I’ll definitely come and check out your blog. I love that you’re doing them.

    here’s a live link for anyone who wants to go look at Leslie’s site. I already read the first post. Fantastic idea for a blog.

  33. Patricia it’s so mind boggling that it’s already closing up in September.

    Yes, damage has been done to it and it’s a shame but think of how much has been preserved. Think of how much of the original Yellowstone still exists because they set it aside so early on. It’s inspiring to thing someone had this foresight. Now if it can just stay natural, yet the only way to truly preserve it is to not let people in there and then what’s the point of it existing if not to let us see the wonders?

  34. Congrats, Mary, I have now read all of your books and they are wonderful and deserve awards.
    I loved the information about Yellowstone. It is a beautiful place but I really knew very little of the history when I was there. Now I would like to return.

  35. Great post Mary! We spent a few weeks in Yellowstone, and all I can say is that it wasn’t nearly long enough!!! If you haven’t been, it is soooo worth the trip. Talk about mind-bending, precarious and unbelieveably BEAUTIFUL landscape. The clear steaming pools with stone channels in every color of the rainbow appear so gentle and inviting…yet that still water could boil the skin right off you–they are positively hyptmotizing! The smell of sulfer I could do without *lol* but it sure doesn’t take away from that feral beauty. I hope to take my boys back this summer!

  36. Looks as though you have some great resources for info now, Mary! Sorry you had to rethink the whole book–what a bummer.

    Cher 🙂

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