+ Yellowstone National Park

 About the Site
Yellowstone National Park  


Park History

Upper Geyser Basin

Old Faithful

Old Faithful Inn

Mammoth Hot Springs

West Thumb

Other Hydrothermals

Grand Canyon

Yellowstone River

Yellowstone & Other Lakes


Madison River




Hayden Valley





Among national parks Yellowstone is first in may ways. It is the first national park in the world, established on March 1, 1872, the example on which parks everywhere are modeled. It is the largest park in the lower 48 states, larger than the states of Delaware and Rhode Island combined, about 60 miles long and wide. It has some of the most famous features in any of America's national parks, Its diversity of attractions is a match for any location on the planet. It is located in 3 states--Wyoming, Montana, and Idaho--and encompasses 2,221,766 mostly undeveloped acres (3467 square miles), the size of the states of Rhode Island and Delaware combined.

Yellowstone is best known, and originally came to prominence, for its over 10,000 hydrothermal features, including hot springs and pools, mud pots, and spectacular geysers, such as Old Faithful. Fueled by sources of heat very close to the surface, Yellowstone provides views of features which are the most plentiful, spectacular, and interesting in the world. A feast for the tourist, many of the most famous and interesting features in the park are easily accessible from the park's 300 miles of roads.

Other geophysical features are also characteristic of Yellowstone National Park. In its mountainous setting, it sits astride the Continental Divide, and so the 20-40" of precipitation which falls annually within the confines of the park may end up in the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans.

For potential visitors, ParkVision recommends "Story Behind the Scenery" guides and "Trails Illustrated" maps.

Yellowstone includes several mountain ranges, an enormous body of water (Yellowstone Lake), and a number of rivers and streams. The Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone is one of the most magnificent canyons in the United States.

The park also includes several mountain ranges and a large number of high peaks, such as Bunsen Peak, the remains of a volcanic vent plugged with magma and exposed by erosion, which reaches an elevation of 8564 feet.

Especially memorable is the plethora of wildlife in the park. This includes freely roaming and easily visible herds of buffalo, herds of elk, grizzly and black bears, moose, and many other animals. It is one of the finest places to view wildlife in all of North America.

Most of Yellowstone National Park is undeveloped. There is a great deal of backcountry in the park, away from the famous features popular with tourists. There are more than 1000 miles of backcountry trails in the park.

Yellowstone is one of the most popular of the national parks, particularly in the western part of the country. Nearly three million people visit the park each year, and over 60 million have visited it since 1872. This is an especially large number given its relatively remote location, located far away from any major population centers. In addition to the natural wonders, the park provides the most elaborate set of museums and visitors centers available in any national park.

Among the legacies of Yellowstone National Park is the very idea of the national park, now vastly expanded in the United States and copied by many nations around the world. Yellowstone has been named a UNESCO World Heritage Site and is an U.N. Biosphere Reserve, the first such designated in the United States.

Park History

Geological History The Yellowstone area lies above one of the earth's "hot spots" where the crust is extraordinarily thin, which is the reason for the wide variety of hydrothermal features currently found there. This thin crust precipitated two great volcanic eruptions in ancient times--The Huckleberry Ridge Caldera Event 2 million years ago and the Mesa Falls Caldera Event 1.3 million years ago.

The most significant event in Yellowstone history was the massive eruption of the great volcano in Yellowstone some 600,000 years ago, deemed the Yellowstone Caldera Event. The central portion of the park exploded, and the resulting collapse of the volcano created a caldera 28 by 47 miles across, one of the largest in the world. This eruption ejected 600 cubic miles of material including ash, and hot gasses.The eruption ejected 10,000 times the volume of material ejected by the Mt. St. Helen's eruption, and the eruption was 140 times as powerful as the famous 1883 Krakatoa eruption. It was greater than any eruption in historic times, and in fact altered weather around the world.

The crater resulting from the great eruption is still a significant topographical feature of the park, although its existence is not obvious to all visitors. The crater is somewhat hidden because lava from the eruption filled some of the crater, and other portions were altered through erosion and glaciation. Yellowstone Lake also fills the southwestern portion of the crater.

Human History Evidence indicates that Stone Age hunters roamed the Yellowstone area as long ago as 10000 B.C. following big game. Native peoples used obsidian found in the park for tools 8800 years ago. The area was consistently used by native Americans through the ages. At the time Europeans became aware of the area, the park was used by several Indian peoples, although the only full time residents of the park were the Sheepeaters, a subgroup of the Shoshone people named because they hunted mountain sheep. Year round habitation of the park area was, and is, difficult, as the Yellowstone winter weather is quite challenging. Northern Shoshone and Bannock peoples entered the park in the autumn season for hunting purposes, mainly following buffalo, while the Crow could be found to the east of the park and Blackfeet to the north. Evidence indicates that neither prehistoric nor more modern native inhabitants of the area feared the hot springs and geysers, as might be suspected.

The first white man to visit the Yellowstone area was probably explorer John Coulter in the autumn of 1807 or the winter of 1808, who had accompanied the Lewis & Clark Expedition and returned back into the wilderness with some trappers near the end of the expedition. It is likely that Coulter visited the Yellowstone area, but his actual route is subject to conjecture. He may have seen boiling springs in the Cody, Wyoming area rather than within the contemporary borders of the park itself, but nobody knows for sure.

In the years after Coulter's visit, the Yellowstone area was further explored by fur trappers and mountain men for the next 60 years. These included men such as Jim Bridger, Osborne Russell, Joe Meek, Warren Angus Ferris, and Daniel Potts. The famous Jim Bridger told tales of mountains of glass, petrified forests, and rivers hot enough to cook fish. In the 1830's Joseph Meek was separated from this party and wandered through Yellowstone's thermal basins. The area was also visited in 1824 by Alexander Ross or the Hudson Bay Company. The first "hard evidence" of a white man entering the current park area was for Daniel Potts, who visited the shore of Yellowstone Lake in 1827. In all probability, trappers probably visited the Yellowstone Plateau every year from 1826 on. However, despite exploration by trappers, mountain men, and others, the Yellowstone area was not actually mapped until after the Civil War.

The early French trappers gave the name to the area, adopting Indian terms, which meant Yellow Rock or Yellow Stone.

In the second half of the 19th century exploration and visitation began to increase. In 1863 Walter W. DeLacey led 27 prospectors through the park area, discovering Shoshone Lake during their journey. In 1869 Jesuit priest Fr. Kuppens visited Yellowstone in the company of some Blackfeet Indians.

In 1869 the Charles W. Cook-David E. Folsom-William Peterson Expedition explored the park area. The three men were civilian citizens, although Folsom had some surveying experience. Among other accomplishments they measured the height of both the Upper and Lower Yellowstone Falls. The three men also supposedly discussed the idea of preserving the Yellowstone area, being among the first to discuss this idea. The experience was also publicized in Western Monthly Magazine in July of 1870, generating interested and awareness. The expedition also was responsible for an improvement in maps of the Yellowstone area.

In 1870 General Henry D. Washburn led an expedition of 19 persons which also included Nathaniel P. Longford, Cornelius Hedges and Truman Everts, with a military escort led by Lt. Gustavus C. Doane, to the park. This expedition was inspired in part by accounts of the previous year's Folsom expedition, and they followed the Folsom route through the park area. This party was responsible for naming o number of the features in what would become the park, including Tower Falls and the Mud Volcano. A sketch of Tower Falls by Private Charles Moore was the first ever pictorial representation of a Yellowstone feature. Following their journey, members of the expedition, including Longford, delivered lecture on their experiences and generated interest in the area. It is believed that while camped at the confluence of Gibbon and Firehole Rivers a member of the Washburne Expedition, Cornelius Hedges, voiced the idea of preserving the Yellowstone area as a national park, one of the first to advance the idea. Longford also claimed to have advanced the idea of preserving the area as a park.

Inspired by a lecture by Longford, Ferdinand Hayden led an expedition to the park by the U.S. Geological Survey in 1871. The expedition included various types of scientists, including botanists, geologists, and zoologists. The survey brought back incontrovertible evidence of hydrothermal features. Among the members of this part were the artist Thomas Moran and photographer William Henry Jackson. Following the expedition, publication of their works depicting the wonders of Yellowstone brought a great deal of fame and attention to the area. Hayden, in fact, provided copies of Jackson's photos to members of congress in hopes of influencing the legislators in approving the creation of the nation's first national park.

The spectacular nature of the park, and the uniqueness of many of its features such as the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone and the hydrothermal features, gave the idea to a number of people that these wonders might be preserved by retaining public ownership of the land through the creation of a "national" park. In 1865 Thomas Meagher, acting governor of the Montana Territory, made such as suggestion, as did David Folsom after exploring the park in 1869.

The idea gained enthusiasm rapidly, and the park was created on March 1, 1872, when President Ulysses S. Grant signed the park bill. It was set aside as a "pleasuring ground for the benefit and enjoyment of the people." The creation of Yellowstone gave birth to the idea of the "national park", and Yellowstone was America's first official "national park", although in 1864 the federal government had given land to California to preserve Yosemite Valley and it associated wonders.

Although creation of the park was a spectacular victory for preservation, many problems remained. Little money was provided for maintenance of the park, and an organizational structure was ill defined. Problems with vandalism and destruction of wildlife proved difficult to control.

The first superintendent was Nathanial P. Langford. Generally considered a poor supervisor, and one who entered the park only twice during his tenure as superintendent, he gave way to Philetus Norris in 1877, who is well known for his pioneering approach to building roads to the park's famous features and attractions. Roads were first built in 1878. During his superintendency, despite having very little money to work with, the number of built roads increased from 32 miles to 153 miles, and he also increased the trail mileage from 108 miles to 204 miles. From 1883 Lt. Dan C. Kingman began building what later became the Grand Loop Road, part of the modern Yellowstone "Figure 8" road system.

Knowledge of the wonders of Yellowstone continued to increase. Great Britain's Lord Dunraven wrote a book about his visit to Yellowstone in 1874, which was instrumental in publicizing the wonders of the park to his countrymen and Europeans in general.

Because of the problems which arose in managing the park, and the general lack of funds and other resources available to accomplish these tasks, in 1886 administration and supervision of the park was turned over to the US Army. Captain Moses Harris was the first military superintendent of the park. The major goals of the military administration was to protect the fauna of the park absolutely, for the forests to be protected absolutely, and that the unique thermal features of the park were also to be protected absolutely. In general, for 30 years the military provided very creditable supervision of the natural wonders of the park while figuring out the difficulties of managing such a unique resource with no pat model to consult.

In 1916, the federal government created the National Park Service to administer America's national parks. In 1916-1917, civilian administration of the park was resumed, although it was not until 1918 that the military formally abandoned the park. The initial NPS presence in the park included, among other personnel, 5 rangers. The first park superintendent in the NPS era was Horace M. Albright, among whose accomplishments was reorganization of the park to accommodate the automobile.

Transportation to and in the park was problematic given the remote location of the park, and the wilderness that it encompasses. In 1883, the transcontinental railroad was completed, providing a relatively easy way for tourists to get to the park, or at least close to the park. Livingston, Montana, to the north of the park, served as the key transfer point from the Northern Pacific rail system. Concurrently, in 1883, a hotel to lodge visitors was built in the Mammoth Hot Springs area. The first park road system within was finally completed in 1891.

The visit of President Theodore Roosevelt to the park in 1903 was a significant occurrence in the history of the park. Roosevelt, a conservationist president, loved the park, and he dedicated the large entrance arch at the north entrance to the park during his visit.

Many early visitors to the park were relatively prosperous, given the trouble and expense involved in traveling to and staying at the park. But a huge factor in the democratization of visitation to the park was the arrival of the automobile, which allowed the "common man" to see the wonders of Yellowstone with relative ease. The first car arrived in Yellowstone in 1897, but the noise and chaos automobiles were perceived to bring caused them to be banned in 1902. In 1915 cars were again officially permitted in the park. The modern Yellowstone road system, which includes 370 miles of paved roads, provides easy access to most of the park's most famous features and the automobile conveys most visitors to the park in modern time.

Enhancements in park facilities continued during the first half of the twentieth century. In 1930 the first museums in Yellowstone were built and opened at Norris, Old Faithful, and Madison. Additional enhancements were completed in the park from 1933 to 1942 by the Civilian Conservation Corps, similar to what was done in a number of other national parks.

Visitation to the park increased considerably over time In 1872 300 visitors entered the park. No more than 500 visited in any year prior to 1877. However, by 1948, visitation to the park topped 1 million for the first time, by 1965 it reached 2 million, and 3 million was attained in 1992.

The practices related to the preservation of the natural wonders in Yellowstone have changed somewhat over the years. Some lakes and rivers were stocked with fish in early years, but this practice was ended completely in 1958. Bears were allowed to feed at hotel garbage dumps for the amusement of visitors for many years, but this practice was ended with the closing of the last of these garbage dumps in 1970. Wolves, which had been exterminated from the park early in its history, were reintroduced from Canada in 1995. Modern policies are concerned with preserving the natural ecosystem to any degree possible.

Yellowstone continues to be one of the United State's, and the world's, most famous places, with natural phenomena which are unique to the area. It also continues to be one of the national park system's 5 most popular park, despite its remote location. In fact, to many people Yellowstone is the national park, and the one to visit above all others.

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