..A Brief Introduction

Yellowstone National Park
(From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia)

Yellowstone National Park Location: Wyoming, Montana and Idaho, USA Nearest city: Billings, Montana Coordinates: 44°40′0″N, 110°28′0″W Area: 2,219,799 acres (8,983 km²) Established: March 1, 1872 Visitation: 2,835,651 (in 2005).

Governing body: National Park Service Yellowstone National Park is a U.S. National Park located in the states of Wyoming, Montana, and Idaho. Yellowstone is the first and oldest national park in the world and covers 3,470 square miles (8,980 km²), mostly in the northwest corner of Wyoming.

The park is famous for its various geysers, hot springs, and other geothermal features and is home to grizzly bears, wolves, and free-ranging herds of bison and elk. It is the core of the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem, one of the largest intact temperate zone ecosystems remaining on the planet.

Long before any recorded human history in Yellowstone, a massive volcanic eruption spewed 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. The eruption dwarfed that of Mount St. Helens in 1980 and left a huge caldera 43 miles by 18 miles (70 km by 30 km) sitting over a huge magma chamber. Yellowstone has registered three major eruption events in the last 2.2 million years with the last event occurring 640,000 years ago. Its eruptions are the largest known to have occurred on Earth within that timeframe, producing drastic climate change in the aftermath.

The park received its name from its location at the headwaters of the Yellowstone River. French trappers gave this river the name “Roche Jaune,” probably a translation of the Hidatsa name “Mi tsi a-da-zi,” and the later American trappers rendered the French name into English as “Yellow Stone.” Although it is commonly, (and erronously,) believed that the river was named for the yellow rocks seen in the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone, the Native American source name more likely derived from the yellowish bluffs located near present-day Billings, Montana.

Human History

The human history of the park dates back about 11,000 years. The Native Americans that hunted and fished in the Yellowstone region also utilized the significant amounts of obsidian found in the park to make cutting tools and weapons. In fact, arrowheads made of Yellowstone obsidian have been found as far away as the Mississippi Valley, which strongly indicate that a regular obsidian trade existed between Yellowstone Native Americans and tribes farther east.

In 1806 a member of the Lewis and Clark Expedition named John Colter left the Expedition to join a group of fur trappers and was probably the first non-Native American to visit the region and make contact with the Native Americans there. After surviving wounds he suffered in a battle with Crow and Blackfoot tribes, he gave a description of a place of “fire and brimstone” that was dismissed by most people as delirium. The supposedly imaginary place was nicknamed “Colter’s Hell.”

Mountain man Jim Bridger later returned from an 1857 expedition to the park’s area and told tales of boiling springs, spouting water, and a mountain of glass and yellow rock. Because Bridger was known for being a “spinner of yarns” these reports were largely ignored. Nonetheless his stories did arouse the interest of explorer and geologist F.V. Hayden, who in 1859 started a two-year survey of the upper Missouri River region with United States Army surveyor W.F. Raynolds and Bridger as a guide.

The party neared the Yellowstone region, but heavy snows forced them to turn away. The intervening American Civil War prevented any further attempts to explore the region.

The first detailed expedition to the Yellowstone area was the Folsom expedition of 1869. Based on the information it reported, in 1870 a party of Montana residents organized the Washburn-Langford-Doane Expedition, headed by the surveyor-general of Montana Henry Washburn. Amongst the group was Nathaniel P. Langford, who would later become known as “National Park” Langford, and a US Army detachment commanded by Lt. Gustavus Doane. The expedition spent about a month exploring the region, collecting specimens, and naming sites of interest. It is during this expedition’s discussions just after seeing the geysers of Yellowstone that Cornelius Hedges, a Montana lawyer who was along, is credited with first broaching the idea that Yellowstone should become a National Park.

In 1871, eleven years after his failed first effort, F.V. Hayden was finally able to make another attempt at his exploration of the region. Now government sponsored, Hayden successfully returned to Yellowstone with a second, larger expedition. He compiled a comprehensive report on Yellowstone which included large-format photographs by William Henry Jackson and paintings by Thomas Moran.

This report helped to convince the U.S. Congress to withdraw this region from public auction and on March 1, 1872, President Ulysses S. Grant signed a bill into law that created Yellowstone National Park.

“National Park” Langford, a member of both the 1870 and 1871 expeditions, was appointed as the park’s first superintendent in 1872. He served for five years, but without salary, funding, or staff, he lacked the means to improve the lands or implement any kind of protection to the park. Without even any formal policy or regulations put into place, he lacked any legal method to enforce such protection were it available to him. This left Yellowstone vulnerable to attack from poachers, vandals, and others seeking to raid its resources. As a result Langford was forced to step down in 1877.

Having traveled through Yellowstone and witnessed these problems first hand, Philetus Norris volunteered for the position after Langford’s exit. Congress finally saw fit to implement a salary for the position as well as a minimal amount of funds to operate the park. Langford used these monies to expand access to the park, building over 30 new, albeit crude, roads, as well as further exploring Yellowstone. He also hired Harry Yount (nicknamed “Rocky Mountain Harry”) to control poaching and vandalism in the park. Today, Harry Yount is considered the first national park ranger.

These measures still proved to be insufficient in protecting the park though, as neither Norris, nor the three superintendents who followed proved effective in stopping the destruction of Yellowstone’s natural resources.

It was only in 1886, when the United States Army was given the task of managing the park, that control was able to be maintained. With the funding and manpower necessary to keep a diligent watch, the army successfully developed their own policies and regulations that maintained public access while protecting park wildlife and natural resources.

When the National Park Service was created in 1916, it would take its lead largely from the army’s successful example. The army turned control over to the National Park Service in 1918. Yellowstone was designated an International Biosphere Reserve on October 26, 1976, and a United Nations World Heritage Site on September 8, 1978.

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