Years from now Ed Kline will sit back in a comfortable chair, look at his grandchildren, and say he was there.
"There" is Yellowstone National Park, where this summer's rash of wildfires have claimed more than 400,000 acres of park land, forced the closure of much of the park and generated controversy on how fires in the nation's parks and forests should be handled."When I'm an old grandfather, I can say I remember the fire of '88 in Yellowstone," said Kline, who came with his wife, Sue, to Yellowstone to visit relatives and get in some fishing.
The Klines were staying at Fishing Bridge, a small resort on the north end of Yellowstone Lake that so far has avoided the flames that have closed the Grant Village and Canyon areas of the park.
"We've been just enjoying ourselves on this side of the park," said Kline, of Irvine, Calif. "We'll do some fishing, go on a couple of hikes and make the best of a difficult situation."
Bob Shaw, assistant manager of the general store at Fishing Bridge, simply shook his head at his almost-empty store, which had roughly a dozen people in it Friday morning.
"Normally, the first three weeks in August are peak season," said Shaw, who in his eight years hasn't seen anything quite like this slow season. "But it really starting dropping off before the first of August."
The lack of crowds was also noticeable at Mud Volcano, an area of boiling cauldrons several miles north of Fishing Bridge. On Wednesday the smell of smoke intermingled with the sulfur stench coming from the cauldrons.
Melanie and Lanny Simcoff and their children were alone in the sprawling parking lot. One other small group was working its way along the boardwalk through the area.
The family, from San Francisco, had planned to leave Lake on Wednesday and head south into Grand Teton National Park. Their plans were sidetracked by the fires.
"We're going to go back to Lake and rent a rowboat and row around by ourselves," said Mrs. Simcoff. "Actually, though, I kind of enjoy being alone in Yellowstone at the height of the tourist season."
Sandy Snell is a ranger-naturalist who has been turned into a media escort. Once the fires are gone she'll have a new lesson to impart on park visitors.
"We'll tell people about what happened this summer, about it being an unusually dry year and about Park Service policy on fires," she said. "And we'll talk a lot about fire ecology and hopefully give people walks through some of the fire areas and compare them with some of the unburned areas.
"It will be a real good opportunity to see the changes that take place," Snell added. "It's like a living laboratory. We'll learn a lot from it, I'm sure."