Visiting Yellowstone National Park

By Henrylito D. Tacio

In 1870, explorers gathered around a campfire at the junction of two pristine rivers – Missouri and Columbia – overshadowed by the towering cliffs of the Madison Plateau.  They discussed what they had seen during their exploration and realized that this “land of fire and ice” and “wild animals” needed to be preserved.

It is a wonderful story – and a myth.  But those men were real, and so is this land they explored.  Thanks to their reports and the work of explorers and artists who followed, the United States Congress established Yellowstone National Park in 1872.

“For the Benefit and Enjoyment of the People.”  These words, as seen on the Roosevelt Arch located at the North Entrance to the park, were taken from the Act of Dedication, which established Yellowstone as the world’s first national park and was signed into law on March 1, 1872 by President Ulysses S. Grant.

On August 25, 1916, President Woodrow Wilson signed the National Park Service Act to “promote and regulate the use of” national parks in conformation “to the fundamental purpose to conserve the scenery and the natural and historic objects and the wild life therein.”

Sixty years later – on October 26, 1976 – the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) designated the park as a Biosphere Reserve and a World Heritage Site.  Yellowstone National Park is recognized as part of the international network of protected samples of the world’s major ecosystem types is devoted to conservation of nature and scientific research in the service of man.”

Two more years later – on September 8, 1978 – the park joined “a select list of protected areas around the world whose outstanding natural and cultural resources form the common inheritance of all mankind.”  Thus, declared the UNESCO when it designated the park as a World Heritage Site.

Americans often described the Yellowstone National Park as “a treasure that inspires awe.”  That was my observation, too, when I visited it recently.  Ditto for others  who were us during the visit, including those from Japan, Singapore, and India. 

The park is one of the country’s most often visited areas.  A record year was in 1992 when 3,144,405 people came to see the park.  Even during winter months, people still come.  From 2003 to 2004, 85,000 winter visitors were recorded.

While I was there, I was intrigued why it was called Yellowstone.  In fact, you won’t see much yellow out there – except for the rocks.  My research showed that it got its name from the river that runs through the park. 

When French-Canadian trappers reportedly encountered the Minnetaree tribe living along the river in what is today eastern Montana, they asked about the name of the river.  The Minnetaree responded “Mi tse a-da-zi,” which translates as “Rock Yellow River.” (Historians do not know why the Minnetaree gave this name to the river.)

The trappers translated into French – “Roche Jaune” or “Pierre Jaune.” In 1979, explorer-geographer David Thomson used the English version – “Yellow Stone.”  American explorers – Captain William Clark and Meriwether Lewis – called the Yellowstone River by the French and English forms.  Subsequent usage formalized the name as Yellowstone.

Yellowstone River is perhaps one of the come-ons of the park. It figured prominently in the Robert Redford flick, A River Runs Through It. “I won’t leave this river,” said the character played by Hollywood heartthrob Brad Pitt in the film.

“The current of this beautiful and great river is very great,” wrote Fur trader Antoine Larocque in an account of his trip up the Yellowstone. “These rapids, this river, they never rest,” Marty Stouffer pointed out.

The National Geographic described the Yellowstone River, which flows from the national park to the Missouri River at the Montana/North Dakota border, as “the last best river.” The free-flowing Yellowstone is marked by such natural wonders as Upper Falls, Lower Falls, Grand Canyon, Yankee Jim Canyon, and Paradise Valley. 

At the heart of Yellowstone’s past, present, and future lies volcanism.   Yellowstone’s volcanic geology provides a classic example of geyser.  In fact, it is home to five geysers – Old Faithful, Castle, Grand, Daisy, and Riverside – are predicted by the park’s “interpretive staff.”  

Old Faithful’s average interval between eruptions is about 88 minutes – varying from 45-120 minutes – and reaches a height of 106 to 184 feet.  When we arrived at the scene, hundreds of people – who were waiting for several minutes already – were getting ready of their cameras to shot the famous eruption.

Old Faithful is located in the Upper Geyser Basin, where most of the geysers in the world are concentrated.  Another favorite performer is the Beehive geyser, which erupts twice daily and its display lasts 4-5 minutes.

The Lion Group consists of four geysers: Little Cub, Lioness, Big Cub, and Lion.  Lion has the largest cone and erupts up to 50 feet for 1-7 minutes.  If you witness its eruption, you might hear how this geyser got its name: the eruption is often preceded by sudden gushes of steam and a deep roaring sound.

My two nephews – Erik and Phil – and I loved Doublet Pool for its series of ledges, elaborate border ornamentation, and deep blue waters.  Doublet produces vibrations, surface wave motion, and audible thumps – most likely caused by collapsing gas and steam bubbles.

You can see all of these geysers by walking in the boardwalks.  And don’t walk off the boardwalks.  “Geyser basins are constantly changing,” a staff of the visitor center reminded us.  “Boiling water surges just under the thin crust of most geyser basins, and many people have been severely injured when they have broken through the fragile surface.”

The park is a haven for wildlife.  Just bear this in mind, though: All wild animals are unpredictable and dangerous.  The Yellowstone is considered a bear country.  People have been seriously injured, maimed, and killed by bears.  My brother-in-law, Daniel Chase, shared this advice: Do not approach a bear under any circumstances.  Observe them at a safe distance; it is illegal to approach on foot within 100 yards of bears.  “Bears may appear tolerant of people but are known to attack.

How do you get there?  Commercial airlines serve the following airports near Yellowstone National Park all year: Cody and Jackson, both in Wyoming; Bozeman and Billings in Montana, and Idaho Falls, in Idaho. The West Yellowstone airport, also in Montana, is open from June to early September.

By the way, weather determines all opening/closing dates.  Opens mid-April and closes early November to vehicles except the North Entrance and the road between Gardiner through the Northeast Entrance to Cooke City, which is open to wheeled vehicles.

Bus service from Bozeman to West Yellowstone via Highway 191 is available all year.  Bus service directly from Idaho to West Yellowstone is limited to the summer months.  Commercial transportation from Bozeman to Gardiner is available during the winter and summer seasons.  Commercial transportation to the park from Cody and Jackson is available during the summer season. There is no public transportation within the park. — ***

Fast Facts About Yellowstone National Park:

  • Located in Wyoming (96%), Montana (3%), and Idaho (1%).

  • Approximately 5% of the park is covered by water; 15% is grassland; and 80% is forested.

  • Contains approximately half of the world’s hydrothermal features – more than 10,000 – including the world’s largest concentration of geysers.

  • Has 61 species of mammals, including 7 species of native ungulates, 2 species of bears; 319 recorded species of birds; 16 species of fish; 6 species of reptiles and 4 species amphibians.

  • Home to one of the largest concentrations of elk in the world.

  • Only place in the United States where bison have existed in the wild since primitive times.

  • The highest point is Eagle Peak (11,358 feet) and the lowest is Reese Creek (5,282 feet).

  • Site of the spectacular Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone River.

  • Location of the largest lake above 7,000 feet in North America – Yellowstone Lake (131.7 square miles of surface area).

  • Larger than the states of Rhode Island and Delaware combined.

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