The $27 million Old Faithful Visitor Center opened in Yellowstone National Park last week. If you’ve been to Yellowstone, you know that Old Faithful already suffers from the overly-decorated concrete, signs, boardwalks and chains. The geyser has an eerie feeling of being man made, but when, according to the NPS, 4 out 5 of the 3.3 million visitors that came to Yellowstone last year came to see Old Faithful, I guess the old boy’s show brings in the dough. The new visitor center boasts a bookstore, a gift shop, a theater for introductory films, a research area and a 4,500-square-foot exhibition space. It has touch screen televisions that provide an interactive (!) way to learn about that good ol’ geyser that’s right outside.

One of the reasons I get off on talking about national parks and the NPS is because of its primitive aesthetic. In a world of interactive museums and the Internet, it’s fitting that our public lands consist of park Rangers, old maps, dusty visitor centers with 30 year old wildlife pamphlets and WELCOME! signs from the 70s. I guess it’s rather inevitable that they’re going to “freshen up” the parks, but $27 million on a visitor center, specifically one dedicated to Old Faithful with exhibits that look like this, seems a little excessive. But what do I know, eh?

Read more at the NYT.


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  1. Bobby Marko August 31, 2010 at 9:40 am #

    I gotta agree with you on this one. I haven’t been to Yellowstone yet, but when I see pictures of roads and sidewalks around the geysers and other sights of wonder I feel less inclined to go.

    I went to Yosemite a few months back and the 3 lane road going through the Valley really made me sad. But then again, here I was driving on it. Next time I’ll take the shuttle to the backcountry to escape the tourists and find some peace.

  2. Geoffrey Holstad August 31, 2010 at 11:31 am #


  3. Smokey the Bear August 31, 2010 at 12:00 pm #

    As much as I love classic buildings with history and character, I have to play devils advocate here. The former Old Faithful Visitor Center was pretty much a POS that couldn’t accomodate for the increasing number of visitors to the park. The silver lining is this: at least they pursued LEED certification on the VC, at least the Old Faithful Inn is still standing (the largest log building in the world/prime example of the “Golden Age” of rustic resort architecture) and most importantly, at least you still count on Old Faithful erupting every 78 mins +/- 10.

  4. andrea September 1, 2010 at 8:51 am #

    To Smokey the Bear: I thought Chateau Montebello, in Quebec, built in the 1930s, was the largest log building in the world. It’s interesting to compare the two central lobbies; they look similar.

  5. jeffreythrope September 1, 2010 at 8:52 am #

    Also, FYI, it’s Smokey Bear. Not Smokey THE Bear. Unless you did on that purpose to distinguish yourself from the cartoon version.

  6. Phil Renaud September 1, 2010 at 8:54 am #

    I agree with Smokey. I went to Yellowstone for the first time a few weeks ago. The visitor center was in it’s final stage of construction and it’s actually not that bad, and I’m usually very critical of bad architecture.

    Yellowstone is an amazing place, one of my favorites. We saw lots of wildlife, including 2 grizzlies and a wolf. The thermal activity is just out of this world. Granted, the Upper Geyser Basin where Old Faithful is can be a zoo. We got there first thing in the morning and we were (almost) by ourselves for a while. We saw 3 different geysers go off within minutes of each other. Other areas in the park get barely any tourists, and are still very spectacular, including my highlight, the Lamar valley. Barely anyone ever goes in the backcountry.

    Don’t let anything put you off going to Yellowstone. It’s popular for a reason. I’d go back in a minute, but I would probably avoid going during the summer months.

  7. mickey September 1, 2010 at 10:19 am #

    I too am skeptical of any “improvements” to the parks, but given the enormous visitation at the Upper Geyser Basin I can imagine a new VC was long overdue. I scoffed at the amount of money spent on the new VC at GRTE (and still scoff at the heating and cooling bills for the place), but it vastly improves the visitor experience over the old, cramped and outmoded facility.

  8. micaela September 1, 2010 at 2:06 pm #

    I was just there last week, a day or two before the visitor center opened. we were so grossed out by the parking lot, rv’s, the wall of hotels encircling mr faithfull that we had to split, but on our way down the hill we stopped at the paint pots and it was heavenly, totally otherworldly and people were gingerly, respectfully and quietly walking around them on some neat boardwalks. It kinda reminded me of disneyland circa 1982 before it got gross.

  9. twoeightnine September 2, 2010 at 2:51 pm #

    If you’re worried about the cars, the visitors center and the people at Old Faithful then you’re missing out on what makes Yellowstone truly great. Old Faithful is a tiny fraction of a massive jewel in the park system. Also that “wall” of (2) hotels includes Old Faithful Inn which is one of the most amazing hotels in the world and instantly transports you back to the early 1900s.

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