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Yellowstone

Yellowstone National Park

The First National Park
Yellowstone was the first of America’s national park, and the first reserve in the Western world established to preserve an area of natural beauty in its pristine state. Every park and wildlife refuge and natural preservation area that has come later is the result of Yellowstone. To almost the same extent as the Statue of Liberty, the Old Faithful geyser in the park is a symbol of America and its natural wonders.

Yellowstone gave rise to the movement around the world to protect the environment, and at the level of popular culture there are few people in the world who have not laughed at the spectacle of Yogi Bear and his accomplice frustrating park rangers and stealing picnic baskets in the cartoon equivalent of Jellystone Park.

Significance of Name:
Yellowstone takes its name from the Yellowstone River, in whose headwaters the park is located; its name derives in part from the Indian “Yellow Rock River” and the French recognition of the copper-colored rocks downstream in the river. The area was settled by native Americans about 11,000 years ago, and the remnants of these settlements were found by the Lewis and Clark expedition and confirmed by later explorers before the Civil War. There were subsequent reports of boiling springs, steaming rivers, petrified trees, mountains of glass and yellow rock and spouts of water, but these were not fully investigated until the privately-funded Cook–Folsom–Peterson Expedition of 1869, followed by the Washburn-Langford-Doane Expedition in 1870. This was headed by the surveyor-general of Montana, Henry Washburn, and included Nathaniel P. Langford (who later became known as “National Park” Langford) and a U.S. Army detachment commanded by Lt. Gustavus Doane.

Early History:
The expedition spent about a month exploring the region, collecting specimens and naming sites of interest. Montana lawyer Cornelius Hedges, who had been a member of the Washburn expedition, proposed that the region should be set aside and protected as a national park; he wrote a number of detailed articles for the Helena Herald , and supported the position of territorial governor Thomas Francis Meagher that the region should be protected. Physician and geologist Ferdinand V. Hayden, founder of the U.S. Geological Survey, had attempted to survey Yellowstone in 1871 and became alarmed at the proposal to stabilize the financial position of the U.S. Government after the Civil War by selling off public lands, including the Yellowstone region.

Hayden persuaded New York financier Jay Cooke to become interested in Yellowstone and persuaded his friend Congressman William D. Kelley of Philadelphia, the powerful chairman of the Ways and Means Committee that approved all government expenditure, to introduce a bill reserving the geyser basin “as a public park forever”. The legislation was at last signed by President Ulysses S. Grant on March 1, 1872.

There was much opposition at the time to the creation of a national park at Yellowstone. Local residents feared that the park’s restrictions on hunting, fishing and development would hurt the local economy and fought the preservation efforts of the park’s first superintendent, “National Park” Langford, who in any case had no salary, staff or funding. Poachers and vandals were common in the park by the late 1870s and Langford was forced to resign from its management. Just when the outlook was darkest for the national park, first the Northern Pacific and then the Union Pacific built stations at the park and legions of visitors began to arrive from the East and West by train.

This increased the number of visitors but many of them turned out to be interested in hunting rather than wildlife preservation and there were frequent altercations between tourists and bands of Native Americans who still moved through the wilderness areas. At the end of the century the conservationist Boone and Crockett Club, one of whose leaders was Governor Theodore Roosevelt of New York, was able to convince Congress to provide some funding for the park and to entrust its protection to the U.S. Army. In time, Teddy Roosevelt became president, and spearheaded the creation of a system of national parks; the National Park Service was created by Congress in 1916, and took over the administration of Yellowstone and other parks in 1918.

Between the First and Second World War park visits increased rapidly, and visitors began to come by automobile rather than by train; with the onset of the Great Depression fewer people were able to make the trip, but the Civilian Conservation Corps, a government program intended to fight the Depression, built the first tourist facilities in the park and laid out the roads that are still used today. After World War II, during which few visitors came and facilities deteriorated, a marked increase in prosperity led to steady increases in visits and several extensive building programs to upgrade facilities.

A major earthquake in 1959 did substantial damage to structures in the park, and the repairs and replacements were affected again by unprecedented wildfires in 1988, which at one time involved more than a third of the park. Yellowstone has surmounted these disasters, but was placed on the List of World Heritage in Danger from 1995 to 2003. The park was placed on the National Register of Historic Places when that was established in 1966, and was designated an International Biosphere Reserve in 1976 and a United Nations World Heritage Site in 1978. The U.S. Treasury, which issues “America the Beautiful “ quarters to honor national landmarks, celebrated the park with a Yellowstone coin in 2010.

Geography and Geology:
Yellowstone is located in the northwestern corner of Wyoming, with a small portion of the park in adjacent Montana and Idaho. It extends 63 miles (101 km) from north to south and 54 miles (87 km) east to west, which makes it bigger than the states of Delaware and Rhode Island. The park is surrounded by the Rocky Mountains and is on average 8000 feet (2400 meters) above sea level. Yellowstone Lake, which covers 136 square miles (35,200 hectares), is the largest high-altitude lake in the country and is in places 400 feet (120 m) deep. Major and turbulent rivers in the park are the Yellowstone and the Snake; as the Continental Divide runs through the park, the waters of the Snake River flow to the Pacific Ocean while those of the Yellowstone River drain eventually into the Gulf of Mexico and thence into the Atlantic Ocean.

The Yellowstone River has not one but two grand canyons, its own Grand Canyon and Black Canyon on the north side of the park, while the Lewis River to the south has cut the Lewis Canyon over the past 640,000 years. For those who like mountains, there is Mount Washburn at 10,000 feet (3,100 meters) and the Gallatin and Beartooth Mountains can be seen to the north, the Tetons and the Madison range to the south and west and the Absarokas to the east. There are nearly 300 waterfalls of significant size, the largest being the Lower Falls of the Yellowstone River at 308 feet (94 meters).

Beauty of Yellowstone:
Geysers are among the chief attractions of the park: there are about 1,300 of them, Old Faithful and Steamboat being the best known but also the Castle, Lion and Beehive Geysers. About half of the geysers in Yellowstone erupt in a given year, but Old Faithful has continued to spout heated water every 60 to 90 minutes since it was discovered. There are also frequent mild earthquakes, most of them undetectable and some of them occurring in clusters of 100 or 200 at a time, although a “swarm” of 3000 minor earthquakes occurred in 1985.

Now and then an earthquake of larger magnitude strikes the park, most recently 4.8 March, 2014, and earthquakes in 1959 and 1975 registered 7.5 and 6.1, respectively. There is evidence that the geological dome that underlies the park is continuing to rise, and it is the geological instability of the area that gives it many of its dramatic features, although the likelihood of a volcanic eruption or a major earthquake is very low.

Yellowstone’s Wildlife:
Wildlife is another major attraction, as the park is the center of the Yellowstone Ecosystem, which includes adjacent Grand Teton National Park. This is considered to be the largest ecosystem in the world preserved intact, and program to reintroduce wolves to the park in the 1990s has resulted in all of the original animal species to live there being back in the park. Sixty other kinds of mammals live there also, including the still-threatened lynx and the elk, mountain, bison or buffalo and several kinds of mountain sheep and goats. There are also 18 species of fish, including the Yellowstone cutthroat trout which is prized by sport fishermen, over 300 kinds of birds live there and half nest in the park. There are more nesting pairs of the nation’s symbol, the Bald Eagle, and the rare sightings of whooping cranes in the U.S. have been in Yellowstone.

How to Get There and What to Do:
Most visitors fly to the vicinity of the park, usually to Idaho Falls, Idaho, Billings and Bozeman, Montana, and Cody or Jackson, Wyoming. The West Yellowstone Airport in Montana is served during the summer by flights from Salt Lake City. Buses operate all year from Bozeman, Montana and during the summer from Cody and Jackson, Wyoming. There are five automobile entrances, but only the north and northeast entrances near Gardiner, Montana are open all year. The west entrance near West Yellowstone is open from April to November, and an east entrance in Wyoming is usually open from May until November. A south entrance is open in the summer for travel from the direction of Jackson, Wyoming. Entrance to the park is affected by weather, chiefly snow, and construction, and their status is posted on the National Park Service website.

There are 9 visitor centers which have travel services, and most of them also have stores and facilities for lodging and eating. There are 9 lodges with more than 2,000 rooms, ranging from the 1891 Lake Yellowstone Hotel and 1904 Old Faithful Inn, which are themselves National Historical landmarks, to Grant Village and the Snow Lodge, dating from 1984 and 1999. These offer hotel accommodation and cabins of various kinds and size.

There are also 1,700 campgrounds, and a range of restaurants at the visitor centers, 11 restaurants and cafeterias and 9 stores and fast-food establishments in the summer and 4 restaurants open through the winter. Reservations are needed for hotel accommodations and are a good idea for campgrounds, as these usually fill up during the morning in summer. It is a good idea, too, to check weather conditions and facility opening with the National Park Service before going.

Costs and Fees
A 7-day visitors pass for a private vehicle costs $30 and $50 for both Yellowstone and Grand Teton parks. Entrance fees are waived on January 19 (Martin Luther King Day), February 14-16 (Washington’s Birthday and Presidents’ Weekend), April 18-19 (opening weekend for national parks), August 25 (99th anniversary of the National Park Service), September 26 (National Public Lands day) and November 11 (Veterans Day). Military members are free, and an annual pass costs $60 for Yellowstone and $80 for all national parks. Most visitors find this a good deal, because in Yellowstone they are seeing perhaps the last intact natural ecosystem in the world’s temperate zone.

one Ecosystem, which includes adjacent Grand Teton National Park. This is considered to be the largest ecosystem in the world preserved intact, and program to reintroduce wolves to the park in the 1990s has resulted in all of the original animal species to live there being back in the park. Sixty other kinds of mammals live there also, including the still-threatened lynx and the elk, mountain, bison or buffalo and several kinds of mountain sheep and goats. There are also 18 species of fish, including the Yellowstone cutthroat trout which is prized by sport fishermen, over 300 kinds of birds live there and half nest in the park. There are more nesting pairs of the nation’s symbol, the Bald Eagle, and the rare sightings of whooping cranes in the U.S. have been in Yellowstone.

How to Get There and What to Do:
Most visitors fly to the vicinity of the park, usually to Idaho Falls, Idaho, Billings and Bozeman, Montana, and Cody or Jackson, Wyoming. The West Yellowstone Airport in Montana is served during the summer by flights from Salt Lake City. Buses operate all year from Bozeman, Montana and during the summer from Cody and Jackson, Wyoming. There are five automobile entrances, but only the north and northeast entrances near Gardiner, Montana are open all year. The west entrance near West Yellowstone is open from April to November, and an east entrance in Wyoming is usually open from May until November. A south entrance is open in the summer for travel from the direction of Jackson, Wyoming. Entrance to the park is affected by weather, chiefly snow, and construction, and their status is posted on the National Park Service website.

There are 9 visitor centers which have travel services, and most of them also have stores and facilities for lodging and eating. There are 9 lodges with more than 2,000 rooms, ranging from the 1891 Lake Yellowstone Hotel and 1904 Old Faithful Inn, which are themselves National Historical landmarks, to Grant Village and the Snow Lodge, dating from 1984 and 1999. These offer hotel accommodation and cabins of various kinds and size.

There are also 1,700 campgrounds, and a range of restaurants at the visitor centers, 11 restaurants and cafeterias and 9 stores and fast-food establishments in the summer and 4 restaurants open through the winter. Reservations are needed for hotel accommodations and are a good idea for campgrounds, as these usually fill up during the morning in summer. It is a good idea, too, to check weather conditions and facility opening with the National Park Service before going.

Costs and Fees:
A 7-day visitors pass for a private vehicle costs $30 and $50 for both Yellowstone and Grand Teton parks. Entrance fees are waived on January 19 (Martin Luther King Day), February 14-16 (Washington’s Birthday and Presidents’ Weekend), April 18-19 (opening weekend for national parks), August 25 (99th anniversary of the National Park Service), September 26 (National Public Lands day) and November 11 (Veterans Day). Military members are free, and an annual pass costs $60 for Yellowstone and $80 for all national parks. Most visitors find this a good deal, because in Yellowstone they are seeing perhaps the last intact natural ecosystem in the world’s temperate zone.