The concept of national parks is an American idea which originated in the 19th
century. In 1870, the Washburn-Langford-Doane expedition was surveying the
Yellowstone region, following up the incredible rumors concerning the area's
wonders. As the group sat around a campfire planning how they would divide the
region up among themselves, as was their right under the laws of the day, a lawyer
named Cornelius Hedges eloquently proposed the then radical idea that the area should be
preserved by the government for all the people.
Hedges won over his friends, and their impressive presentation to the Congress
back in Washington resulted in the creation of Yellowstone National Park in 1872,
and eventually the National Park Service.
Certainly, few areas in the American West are as spectacular as Yellowstone, or as
diverse in their attractions. Here, you will find great gorges with giant waterfalls,
abundant and viewable wildlife, lakes, a vast mountain wilderness, and the world's
largest concentration of thermal hot-spring activity.
Shown left and right is the great Lower Falls of the Yellowstone River
dropping hundreds of feet into the "Grand Canyon" of the Yellowstone.
Above, two exquisitely colored hot springs. The coloration is caused by the
algae which grow in the warm runoff from the pools. In the photo right, note the
vertical lines near the front of the pool. These are actually percolating mud.
The aqua color of the water is due to mineralization.
The inner earth is thermally active in the park. Because the ground cover is
mainly loose volcanic soil, many small vents occur through which steam escapes.
The result is an assortment of thermal features including hot pools, geysers,
fumaroles, and boiling mud pots. In the thermal areas, the air has a constant smell of hydrogen sulfide
and bizarre hissing and bubbling noises.
Left, the Mammoth Hot Springs is the park's finest example of travertine decoration.
When a spring is located such that its water can freely flow, fantastic formations
can result. These deposits are leached out of the highly mineralized water.
Mammoth is not that active today. You will see only a small amount of running
water and a few wisps of steam. The active areas are especially beautiful as
the glazed travertine has the look of marble.
Yellowstone National Park's most famous feature is probably the Old Faithful geyser.
It is so named because of its regularity, having erupted about once an hour for centuries.
(The time interval is actually between about 30 and 90 minutes.) While not the biggest
or most spectacular geyser, Old Faithful erupts on a fairly regular schedule
and is readily accessible, making it a visitor favorite.
Geysers occur when there is a strong steam vent in an area of actively flowing
groundwater. Water flows into the vent blocking the release of steam. Pressure
builds up underground until it is sufficient to violently eject the water from
the vent. The water being ejected is the actual geyser.
Please check out our
Yellowstone National Park, Geyser Country page which features a closer look at geysers.
Another exciting feature of Yellowstone National Park is the presence of
spectacular waterfalls. Shown here is Tower Falls, spilling down a sheer walled
canyon (photo left and right) into the Yellowstone River.
The most well known falls is the Lower Falls of the Yellowstone River shown at
the top of the page. It flows into the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone, a very
colorful 1,000 foot gorge which runs for several miles.
Above the Lower Falls is another large waterfall, known fittingly as Upper Falls.
See photo lower right. All of the falls have readily accessible viewing points although
the trail to Tower Falls is sharply downhill with a steep return climb.
The Yellowstone River flows out of beautiful Yellowstone Lake which has
always been a favorite for boating and fishing. Fly fishing for brown trout
is also available in the area's rivers and streams. Fishing rules are quite
strict in the park especially in terms of keeping fish. However there are many
great fishing opportunities just outside the park for the serious fisherman.
No look at Yellowstone would be complete without some wildlife photos. Everyone
who visits the park will see herds of buffalo and elk. Pronghorns and deer are
also present as well as the occasional moose.
Bears are not as much in evidence now. Decades ago, bears were allowed to forage
garbage and take handouts from visitors. The results were bears that were no longer
wild, lots of property damage to vehicles, and lots of dangerous human-bear
encounters. Today, rangers try to keep the bears far in the backcountry.
Regulations are very strict concerning the securing of food and garbage. The
park is home to several hundred grizzly bears and a larger number of black bears
so there is always a chance of seeing one.
In recent years the park has taken the controversial step of reintroducing a
small number of wolves in the backcountry.
Below, a group of elk meander through a campground.
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