By Kathy Cretella

“I can’t believe you didn’t get off of
that bus, sit on your suitcase and just
cry,” my mother said when she arrived
in Gardiner for a visit shortly after
I moved there in 1991. My look of
disbelief puzzled her. A city girl, my
mother did not appreciate the adventure
that lay before me. I was a twentysomething
Ohio girl, burned and
bummed out on love, and had headed
to the romance of the West, specifically
Yellowstone Park for a summer
work stint.
My husband Mike and I met in Mammoth
Hot Springs in early February
1992. Both of us were Park employees:
He worked for the National Park
Service; I worked for the concessioner
of the Park. We met at a “singles”
gathering in a residence near Liberty
Cap, an old capped thermal feature. I
saw the twinkle
in his eye as
we drank cappuccinos.
We discovered that
we both were
from Ohio.
“Ohio is a good place to be from,” he
said. The courtship soon began. We’ve
been married 18 years.
Falling in love in the world’s first national
park happens more than anyone
can imagine. Yellowstone is a magical
place brimming from cupid’s quiver of
arrows. Or perhaps the Chinese were
correct in their assessment of the aphrodisiac
quality of crushed elk antlers.
Whatever it is, finding true love can
happen in Yellowstone Park.
Various people, old and young, work
in Yellowstone. Jobs, lifestyles and
nature draws the hearts of people from
all over the world to work in the 2.2
million acre land piece. Xanterra, the
largest employer in the Park, hires
seasonal workers to serve the public.
These employees live in an environment
of togetherness from the day
they check in for work. They work,
live and eat together throughout the
summer. But once they arrive, are they
destined to find love?
In 2008, a Gardiner High School
English teacher researched couples
from the area who met, fell in love and
married in the surrounding area of
Yellowstone Park. The statistics were
amazingly high. Many of the students
who conducted the interviews were
themselves products of a Yellowstone
romance. A sophomore, Shannon
Morey, interviewed her grandparents
Joseph and Margaret O’Loughlin. The
O’Loughlin’s were introduced by a
seasonal ranger in 1955 in front of the
Canyon General Store. According to
Joe, “It was love at first sight.” Margaret
waited tables at the Canyon Hotel
(now torn down), while Joe worked on
a crew to count pine trees. The couple
described a favorite date where they
drove to Lake Yellowstone at night to
watch the grizzlies feed on garbage in
an backcountry dump. They’ve now
been married for over 50 years.
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Every morning, I wake up next to the
man I met in Yellowstone Park 19
years ago. Wow,
pinch me, I
think to myself.
How can I be
so blessed? Our
short courtship
centered
around romantic Park activities like
hiking, camping and sight seeing.
Mike originally planned to propose
to me on 7 Mile Bridge, halfway
between Madison and West while we
were training for a triathlon. During a
training route, he arrived at the bridge
and I was nowhere to be found. I’d
left him in the dust. We finally found
each other after I hit the West gate and
headed back to Madison on my bike.Breathless from trying to catch me, he
gulped and popped the question on
the side of the road.
Breathless from trying to catch me, he
gulped and popped the question on
the side of the road.
Yellowstone still inspires our love and
romance, and our dates still consist of
dining, hiking and skiing in the Park. In
the spring, we watch the buses bring in
the new employees who have the same
expectancy of adventure and romance
in the world’s first national park.
Kathy Pagano Cretella, jack of all
trades, master of none, likes to venture
into the Park during her time off.
She has an Ebay store, and she caters,
cleans and substitute teaches on occasion.
She also works behind the counter
of the Gardiner Post Office.