Did you know Yellowstone was home to the army, stagecoach robbers, a president, and the largest free roaming herd of bison?
1800s Accounts From Out West
For decades, fur trappers and mountain men told stories of the lands out west. To folks living back east, all of the accounts must have seemed fantastical, yet today we know that some of the accounts were quite accurate (and some embellished works of fiction). How do you go about determining the truth of a story?
Here are some excerpts from people who explored the region now known as Yellowstone. Which do you find realistic? Which do you find fantastical?
“From the surface of a rocky plain or table, burst forth columns of water of various dimensions, projected high in the air, accompanied by loud explosions, and sulphurous vapors, which were highly disagreeable to the smell.”—Warren Angus Ferris, 1833
“Here we found a few Snake Indians comprising 6 men 7 women and 8 or 10 children who were the only Inhabitants of this lonely and secluded spot. They were all neatly clothed in dressed deer and Sheep skins of the best quality and seemed to be perfectly contented and happy.”—Osborne Russell, 1835
Intreged by stories coming from explorers and of two earlier expeditions, the US Geological Survey funded the first government-sponsored mission to the area in order to document the geological wonders and beauty it had to offer. They undertook this with the US Army Corps of Engineers.
The history of the science in Yellowstone began with this expedition. Dr. Ferdinand V. Hayden’s 1871 team included two botanists, a meteorologist, a zoologist, an ornithologist, a mineralogist, a topographer, an agricultural statistician/entomologist, artists, photographers, and support staff. The group of 35 men set out in July 1871 to bring back scientific evidence of earlier tales of thermal activity.
The expedition gave the world verified proof of Yellowstone’s features along visual proof through the photographs of William Henry Jackson and the art of Henry Wood Elliott and Thomas Moran. This aroused the scientific community and peaked national interest in Yellowstone, the wonders of the area caught the imagination of Congress.
Convinced of the value, Congress put forth a bill to establish Yellowstone National Park. On March 1, 1872, President Ulysses S. Grant signed the Yellowstone National Park Protection Act into law, creating the nation’s and world’s first national park.
“That the tract of land…lying near the headwaters of the Yellowstone river…is hereby reserved and withdrawn from settlement, occupancy, or sale…and dedicated and set apart as a public park or pleasuring-ground for the benefit and enjoyment of the people…”—The Yellowstone National Park Protection Act, March 1, 1872.
The park contains the largest active geyser in the world, Steamboat Geyser in Norris Geyser Basin. Considering that at least 1,283 geysers have erupted within it’s boundries and the park contains at least 10,000 geothermal features only about 465 are active in a given year. Half the geothermal features and two-thirds of the world’s geysers are concentrated in Yellowstone National Park. Although the most famous feature of the park, recognized around the world, is located in Upper Geyser Basin. Named Old Faithful Geyser, it’s regularity is quite astonishing as it can be predicted to within 10 minutes of eruptions that occur about every 45 – 125 minutes.
Arriving at Old Faithful Geyser about 11:00 we found parking at the furthest outlying area of the large parking lot. Our timing was excellent as the eruption was scheduled in 20 minutes. A large crowd was gathering so we stayed back to have an un-crowded, unobstructed view of the geyser over the heads of the spectators. Starting off slowly it gained momentum and then slowly receded.
Leaving our vantage point we walked over to the Old Faithful Inn for lunch. This national historic landmark is the most iconic lodging facility in the park. Considered to be the largest log structure in the world it was built between 1903-1904 influencing the National Park rustic style of architecture used throughout other parks at that time. The 4-story lobby features a stone fireplace and a hand-crafted clock.
We arrive at 11:45AM as the dining room was just opening so we waited in line for about 15 minutes until we reached the reception area and were seated in a half empty dining room that filled up quickly. Ordering lunch (lunch menu) in an old historic lodge was fantastic. I ordered the Bison Burger (why not I am in Yellowstone) and it was delicious.
After eating we headed over to the Visitors Education Center to have our passports canceled, get the Park stamps for the passport books, look for maps, goodies and to investigate what was around the park.
After our purchases and findings we walked to another boardwalk trail located just behind Old Faithful visiting Geyser Hill. It was just fantastic and surreal to walk along the wooden boardwalks among the steaming water, mist and mud pits with the iconic Old Faithful Inn for the backdrop. What kind of forces are present just under the surface of our feet? Sometimes scary.
Finishing the walk we stopped for ice cream in the small café of Old Faithful Lodge. After the snack and already being mid-afternoon my in-laws and our grandson went back to the cabin and my son, daughter-in-law and I continued counter-clockwise around the lower loop road stopping to see sites along the way.
Our first stop was Fishing Bridge Visitor Center and Museum where we stopped to use the facilities, my son had to see what other patches they had and we quickly look around the small museum showing the wildlife in the park. Both him and I are collecting patches to show the parks we have visited.
Leaving here we headed north to stop and visit The Mud Volcano, an active bubbling mud spring that has had decreasing activity since 1979 due to a slow shifting of the thermal mass underground. Defined by it’s pools of hot, muddy water, hillsides with trees cooked by steam, strange odors, and a bizarre landscape. It has been defined as surreal. The area is also called “Cooking Hillside” as the soil hits temperatures of 200 degrees. Some of the other features of the area include Mud Cauldron, Mud Geyser, Sizzling Spring, Churning Cauldron, Sour Lake, and Dragon’s Mouth Spring. one of the most interesting features is the Dragon’s Mouth, a cave that spews hot sulfuric gasses just like a dragon would spew out of its mouth. Water sloshes and belches in and out of the cave and has registered 170 degrees.
As we finish up our walk we hear car alarms going off and barking dogs from the parking lot. To our surprise a Bison is strolling through the cars and continues between cars to graze on a hillside next to the parking lot. Two rangers are watching the situation as we cut a wide path around him as our car is parked on the other side of where he decided to eat.
We continue on our adventure and later spot a heard of about 17 Bison in a meadow. Stopping at a turnout we watch them for about 15 minutes and continue on to Canyon Village Visitor and Education Center where it is time to stop to use the facilities once again.
It was getting late in the day and we were getting tired so it was decided to hightail it back to the cabin from Canyon Village. Arriving at around 7:30PM to rest, eat and get ready for tomorrow it was another long day but well worth the sites we were able to see.