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Obamas Visit Yellowstone, Watch Old Faithful Erupt

August 17, 2009 by   - () Leave a Comment

The Ziesemers were promising their kids something special Saturday (Aug. 15) after a long trip from Waconia, Minn., to Yellowstone National Park – a moose or maybe a bear.

Instead they got President Obama.

After coming up empty on the moose front, the Ziesemers were leaving a scenic pullout along the Madison River, when dad Lance Ziesemer spotted a patrol car quickly approaching. What followed was a train of black Suburbans and as it passed, Ziesemer decided to bring up the rear, according to the Billings (Mont.) Gazette.

“Ironically, we have a black Suburban,” the father said. The family of four followed the motorcade all the way to Old Faithful, where hours later the famous geyser took a backseat to an appearance by the first family.

“We got here so fast,” Jodi Ziesemer said, as the couple and their children watched the Secret Service clear the area for the Obamas’ arrival.

The Obamas didn’t make an appearance for another three hours, during which time Old Faithful erupted at least three times as tourists flocked to a log fence line for a chance to see the president, who Friday held a town hall meeting on health care at an airplane hangar in Belgrade.

The National Park Service estimates that at least 20,000 people see Old Faithful erupt daily during peak tourism season, perhaps more this weekend as the government waived the admission price of $25 per car. The third time the geyser erupted during the president’s absence, only a few visitors faced the blast. At least a thousand others trained their eyes on Old Faithful Inn, with marksmen and spotters positioned on the roof.

After hours of waiting, several bystanders along the fence started a stadium wave. Several large, black helicopters flew through the area, shaking the air with their rotors’ deep bass. Plainclothes agents passed through the crowd with bomb-searching mirrors looking up pants legs and underneath bags.

The first couple arrived discretely and toured nearby Geyser Hill and Grand Geyser with their daughters Sasha and Malia before approaching Old Faithful and waiving to the crowd from about 100 yards away. They then watched from a boardwalk, opposite the public throng, as the geyser erupted.

The crowd cheered when the Obamas came into view, save for one man who booed loudly until some annoyed tourists suggested he leave.

Several people said they knew nothing about President Obama’s visit before arriving in Yellowstone.

“Barack Obama?” said Wei Pang, with a gasp. Pang, a foreign doctoral student at an Ohio University, was touring the West with girlfriend Che Sun. The two Chinese citizens have been studying in the United States for a couple of years and were aware of the health care debate.

The president held a town hall meeting in Belgrade Friday as his wife and children went whitewater rafting under dark skies on the Gallatin River.

Obama had penciled in a fly-fishing trip for himself at trout-abundant O’Dell Creek northeast of Ennis, but bad weather ruined the plan and the president opted for the East Gallatin River, instead.

Donald and Donna Tyler of Weston, Fla., were en route to Grand Teton National Park when they heard from another couple in the airport that the Obamas would be in Yellowstone. Reasoning that the president couldn’t take his family to the park without stopping at Old Faithful, the Tylers changed plans and headed for the iconic geyser.

“My husband is a big Obama fan. So, I knew I we had to move this up,” Donna Tyler said.

The couple’s children, Joenah and Kallen, were ready for action, but Donna Tyler staked out a spot atop a geyser-viewing bench and watched through binoculars as the first family toured the Geyser Hill several hundred yards away. The crowd closed in as the Obamas approached and Tyler was almost pushed off her bench. Then tourists in front of her began perching children on their shoulders, making it difficult to see.

In the end, Donald Tyler snapped one clear photo of Obama standing off in the distance waiving. In the viewfinder of his digital camera, the image didn’t look like much until Tyler enlarged it. There was the president in the frame, waving.

“That’s him,” Donald Tyler said, proof positive of a park sight not witnessed since President Bill Clinton visited Old Faithful in 1995.

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