Just northeast of Idaho Falls--just a four hour drive from Boise-- is one of America’s national treasures: Yellowstone. Many have ventured up to that legendary park and have been touched by it’s beauty, but what makes it so special? Where did it all come from? How did it all start?
Yellowstone is, if put simply, mountains and lakes. However, these mountains and lakes are not normal because underneath the earth at Yellowstone is a massive geothermal pocket. This pocket is the hottest pocket of underground heat in the continental United States, if not the world. The unique properties of the geothermal heat of Yellowstone makes the ground far more fertile than your garden variety patch of land, and, as such, produces healthier and more plentiful plant life. With the plant life so plentiful, animal life is also increased. The park is literally crawling with some of earths most rare and dangerous creatures. There are all sorts of bears, birds, insects, and other beasts, including bison.
The geothermal activity of Yellowstone also produces some spectacular geysers. You have probably seen or heard about Old Faithful. It is a geyser. The heat from the ground makes the water that's underground so hot that it can get to almost two hundred degrees fahrenheit. The heat is so great that the water has to escape, and the only way is up. It does so in grand fashion by shooting shooting up hundreds of feet in the air. These geysers are tourist attractions, but can also be very dangerous. Some of the hot water pockets find a calm way out and turn into things like hot springs and mud pots. Unless expressly posted, do not enter a hot spring or touch any of the water in Yellowstone-- if it is too hot, you could be seriously hurt or even killed.
The area of present day Idaho, Wyoming, and Montana, that we call Yellowstone, was for many years a treasured area for native inhabitants. They used the area for hunting lodging. When later explorers saw Yellowstone, they too realized its value. There were pictures and samples taken to validate their discovery. Tt wasn’t much longer before the nation had a shared respect for the land.
In the 1870’s, Ferdinand V. Hayden proposed to Congress that two million acres of the land near the Yellowstone River be preserved as a national park. After reviewing maps, photos, and more, the proposal was granted; Yellowstone National Park came to be the first national park in 1872. However, no one was sure what to do with it and it took some time for the nation to know how to cultivate and enjoy the new park.
The park went through a few rough patches in it’s early history and was soon overrun by people looking to take advantage of the park and it’s resources. It got so bad that congress decided to send in the cavalry from nearby Fort Custer. These troops stayed to control the park for some time, bringing relative order, but they still had a major problem with poachers. Poachers had nearly killed all the bison in the area. Actually, thanks to a valiant New York reporter, the story of the bison’s genocide was brought to the attention of the public. This brought about a change that would give the troops power to truly protect the park.
While the cavalry was in charge of the park, they began to build forts and bunkers and began to make some real advancements to the park. However, in the year 1913 the United States Congress created a National Park Committee that was charged with taking care of the nation’s, now many, national parks. From then on the cavalry left Yellowstone and the forts and bases they created still serve as administrative buildings today.
Nowadays, Yellowstone is fully staffed and renovated. The nature is still preserved, but it is much easier now to explore and learn about the park without causing harm to the wildlife. Parkgoers have to be careful not to get too close to wild animals like grizzly bears, though. It's tempting for many to try to get that perfect picture.
With all the new things and new attractions of the park, it is hard to imagine what it would be like to walk through the park when it was still wild and untamed. But this account from a frontier scout as he traversed Yellowstone is fun to read and try to picture:
"In the chill mist of early morning, we passed like ghosts along a rude road into the geyser basin . . .the trail had disappeared and we were treading a crust that sounded hollow and was hot to touch. I dismounted and led my horse carefully around the thin places for fear he would break through and scald his legs."
Much can be gained and learned from Yellowstone. It is a true national treasure that should be preserved and appreciated.