Yellowstone National Park
the oldest U.S.
Park, attracts some three million visitors every year to experience
its many wonders. Located in the states of
covers 3,470 square miles, primarily in the northwest corner of Wyoming.
Famous for its geysers, hot springs, and free-ranging wild animals,
is a seasonal wonder, offering an abundance of activities for all ages and
Some 640,000 years ago Yellowstone
and its scenic views were formed when a colossal volcanic eruption ejected
an immense volume of ash that covered all of the western U.S., much of the
Midwest, northern Mexico and some areas of the eastern Pacific Coast.
Leaving an volcanic depression some 30 miles wide by 45 miles long, the
eruption created what the early American pioneers referred to as
"the place where hell bubbles up."
such as Old Faithful, are evidence of one of the
world's largest active volcanoes, which typically erupts about every
Though providing spectacular features that
bemused and befuddled the park's earliest
visitors, the volcano is known to have been been the largest to
have ever occurred on Earth, resulting in the worldwide population
falling to as little as 10,000 people.
Old Faithful, July, 2008, Kathy Weiser.
Image available for photo prints &
Did You Know?
There are more people hurt by bison than by bears each year in Yellowstone. Park regulations state that visitors must stay at least 25
yards away from bison or elk and 100 yards away from bears.
The park was named
for the yellow rocks seen in the rock cliffs along the northern
portion of the Yellowstone River. The iron in the rocks casts causes them to cast
a yellow tint that the
Native Americans first called "Mitzi-a-dazi," or the "River of
Yellow Rocks." Later French fur trappers translated this to
"Yellow Rock" or "Yellow Stone."
archeological evidence, Native American history here is
said to date back as far as 12,000 years. These earliest people
were known to have been primarily hunter-gathers who
utilized significant amounts of obsidian
to make cutting tools and weapons. They may also have practiced some
crude farming activities. Arrowheads made of Yellowstone obsidian have been found as far away as the
Mississippi Valley indicating that a regular obsidian trade existed
between Yellowstone Native Americans and tribes further east.
In 1806, when the
Clark Expedition moved through the area, a man named
John Colter left the expedition, joining a group of fur trappers.
Colter is credited as being the first non-Native American to visit the region and make contact with the
Indians. These Native Americans, referred to as
a band of Shoshone, who survived
by hunting for bighorn sheep and fishing the headwaters of the Snake,
Madison, and Yellowstone Rivers.
Colter spent the winter of 1807-08
traveling, trapping, and exploring Yellowstone, before moving down into what would be known as
Jackson Hole, and crossing the Grand Tetons into Idaho. However, his
adventure ended when in the fall of 1808, he was captured by Blackfoot
Indians. Stripped naked, Colter was somehow able to escape. When he returned to Missouri from his adventures, people mocked his
stories of steam rising from the earth and boiling mud as mad
hallucinations, earning Yellowstone its first name as "Colter's Hell".
In 1857, mountain man,
Jim Bridger led an expedition to
He also returned with stories of boiling springs and spouting water;
however, because he had already earned a reputation of one to tell "tall
tales," his accounts were largely ignored.
Tall tales or no, the
stories told by Colter and Bridger aroused the interest of explorer and geologist Dr. Ferdinand V. Hayden. In 1859,
Hayden began a survey of the upper Missouri River region, accompanied by
U.S. Army surveyor W.F. Raynolds and Jim Bridger acting as a guide.
Unfortunately, the party
was unable to reach Yellowstone
region due to heavy snows. Afterwards, the Civil War stopped all
attempts to further explore the region and Hayden would not be able to
fulfill his mission to explore the area for another eleven years.
Before Hayden could
return another expedition was organized by a group of
in 1870. Referred to as the Washburn-Langford-Doane Expedition, the
group was led by the surveyor-general of Montana
Henry Washburn. Also part of the group was a man named Nathaniel P.
Langford, who would later become known as "National
Park Langford" and the first superintendent of Yellowstone
Park. Spending about a month exploring the region, the
expedition named many of the sites of interest, that continue to be used
In the meantime Dr.
Hayden had been working with the government to sponsor a second expedition
Yellowstone and discussions were already in progress to make Yellowstone
a National Park. In early 1871, the U.S. Geological Survey sponsored Hayden's
second trip to the park. Along with Hayden were naturalists, geologists, a
landscape artist, and two photographers.
Closely following the Washburn-Langford-Doane Expedition, the group
compiled a comprehensive report on Yellowstone, including photographs and
paintings which helped to convince the U.S. Congress to create
Yellowstone National Park on March 1, 1872.
Nathaniel P. Langford,
who had been on the earlier 1870 expedition was appointed as the first
superintendent of Yellowstone. However, there was no money available for a salary, so he was forced to
make his living elsewhere. During his five year term, he entered the
park only two times, the first as a guest for yet another Hayden
Expedition in 1872, and the second to evict a man who claimed ownership of
Boiling River, a natural spring within the park.
The second superintendent was a man named
Philetus Norris, who volunteered for the position. Reporting on the
problems that he witnessed first hand, Congress finally provided funds for
a salary, as well as a minimal amount to operate the park.
superintendents followed, but without adequate help, Yellowstone's
natural resources were being destroyed as poachers killed animals,
souvenir hunters broke off pieces of geological formations, and developers
established numerous tourist camps.
Yellowstone is filled with color in the summer, as indicated by
these boiling mudpots, surrounded by flowers in front of Yellowstone Lake. July, 2008, Kathy Weiser.
Image available for photo prints &
Mounted Cavalry Drill on parade ground at Fort Yellowstone.
Image available for photo prints &
As a result, the park turned to the U.S. Army
for help. In August, 1886, the army arrived to begin what would be
more than 30 years of military presence at Yellowstone.
After living in temporary frame buildings at
Camp Sheridan and enduring five cold winters, the Army realized there was
no end in sight for the assignment and asked Congress for funds to
establish a permanent post.
Yellowstone was completed by late 1891 and as more troops were needed,
additional buildings were constructed including officers' quarters, a
guard house, headquarters, stables and barracks for the enlisted men.
height of the Army's presence in Yellowstone in 1910, there were 324
soldiers stationed at Fort Yellowstone. The Army continued to manage the park until 1918, when the newly
Park Service assumed the management.
is one of the most popular national parks in the United States due to its numerous natural wonders. Visitors to the park will experience the sights of hot springs, canyons,
geysers, lakes and abundant wildlife. Activities for visitors
include fishing, boating, hiking, camping, not to mention the opportunity
to view wildlife which includes
moose, bighorn sheep, elk and more.
A couple of notices to
potential visitors include:
Due to the geothermal
activities of the park, the odor of sulfur is common in some areas and
visitors with respiratory difficulties should consult their doctors
Though they may "look"
friendly, visitors should never approach wildlife.
Stay on safe trails, as
outside of these can be found boiling liquids and toxic gas.
Lodging, ranging from
hotel to cabin accommodations, exist at eleven locations within park
P.O. Box 168
Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming
of America, updated March, 2017.