When I was 13 years old, I almost won the National Geographic Bee for the state of Ohio.

In other words–I lost.

I came mighty close though, and even now, I can remember all the questions I got right, as well as the one I got wrong.

Sometime during those nervous hours standing on that scuffed college stage, the panel asked me to name three of the world’s major geothermal “hot spots”–

“New Zealand!” I shot back. Then waited before adding, “Iceland!” The final one I knew for sure though, because I had just gone there on vacation the year before.

“Yellowstone National Park,” I finished, the judges all smiled and one of them said, “Correct.”

Since being that kid who lost the Geography Bee, I have traveled many times to Iceland–I have watched the original Geysir (from which we get the word); I have visited New Zealand and walked around the colorful hot pools and soaked in steaming rivers with brilliant parrots flying overhead.

But for all that exotic foreign travel, Yellowstone still rules above them all. Returning to America’s first national park more than twenty years after my first visit, I was reminded of the intense and powerful colors, as well as the incredible number of geothermal areas throughout Yellowstone. This is the largest collection of geysers on earth, and it’s in my country!

I’ve spent so much of this past year away from my homeland, perhaps I needed a bit of a reminder that America is beautiful. Yellowstone is just as strange, wonderful, and exotic as any of earth’s extreme destinations. This makes me very proud, and that emotion of pride followed throughout my exploration of this serene corner of Wyoming.

It made me glad to see thousands and thousands of Chinese, Japanese, Indian, and European tourists pouring through the park. I have traveled to each of their countries and marveled at their rare and historic splendors, but here in America, we have our splendors, too.

And the most splendid of all? For me right now, it’s Yellowstone.

. . . but my country is also very big, and I have a lot more exploring to do. ☺