WRITING SAMPLES

YELLOWSTONE NATIONAL PARK
Official Visitors Guide
by Anne Prowell

The exploration and establishment of Yellowstone marked a revolution in man's relationship with nature. For the first time, at the park's founding, eternal preservation of our most remarkable landscapes became a common national goal.

 

HISTORY

Incredible Yellowstone

Rumors of a fearsome, almost mythical valley where geology defied the laws of nature circled the continent for years. Situated off-trail in extreme climes, Yellowstone resisted verification but it was never an intentional secret. Natives, trappers, explorers and miners all grew wide-eyed and urgent in the telling, but with the same result. Such a landscape, strewn with adjectives, was just too strange to believe.

Our first written record of Yellowstone dates to a vague and superstitious warning in William Clark's journal nearly 200 years ago. "There is frequently heard a loud noise like thunder, which makes the earth tremble. [Native Americans] state that they seldom go there because children cannot sleep—and conceive it possessed of spirits, who were adverse that men should be near them."

Lewis and Clark did not investigate these stories in their eagerness to return to St. Louis. But John Colter, a member of their expedition, had not had his fill of the wilds and chose to explore the area more closely. He spent a full winter, probably that of 1807-08, trapping and trading his wares with the local Shosone tribe, the only people known to have made their year-round home in the region.

Three years later, he tried to relate his discoveries in St. Louis. Demonic fire pots? Monstrous blow holes that spewed scalding waters a hundred feet into the air? Scores of them? Madness! they scoffed. Lonely hallucinations.

Embellishing these doubtful tales of wonder quickly became a mountain man's favorite game and no one was better at it than the famous trapper Jim Bridger. Hired to guide a party of government mapmakers into the region, his ambition was stalled by impassably deep snow and all he could offer the frustrated men was campfire entertainment. "And a fellow can catch a fish in an icy river, pull it into a boiling pool and cook his fish without ever taking it off the hook!"

The elusive proof was still decades away, behind a new technology.

After the Civil War, men turned their attentions once again to the western frontier, where gold miners were just giving up their mostly futile search for gold in Yellowstone. The miners' tales fanned curiosity in the hometown saloons and it wasn't long before three adventurers—Folsom, Cook and Peterson—tired of speculation and determined to see these wonders for themselves. "We could not contain our enthusiasm; with one accord we all took off our hats and yelled with all our might," upon seeing first-hand the eruption of the Great Fountain Geyser. But they had no more proof than their predecessors. For fear of scorn, they only confided in their best friends.

Fortunately, one of those friends was a local rancher who would later become the park's first superintendent, Nathaniel P. Langford. He rallied a distinguished group of local leaders—including the surveyor general of Montana—and struck out the next year, in 1870, to sort fable from fact. On the spot, camping where the Firehole and Gibbon Rivers join to form the Madison, this stunned and excited delegation immediately plotted out the campaign that would save this incredible place from private ownership and exploitation.

At their urging, Dr. Ferdinand Hayden, director of the U.S. Geological Survey, mounted an official exploration. Knowing Congress would have to see it to believe it, Hayden had the foresight to take along Thomas Moran, a renowned artist, and William Jackson, the famous landscape photographer. Finally, indisputable photographs and a 500-page "official" survey of the land confirmed the rumors. Congress voted to set aside 2.2 million acres as Yellowstone National Park on March 1, 1872.

The exploration and establishment of Yellowstone marked a revolution in man's relationship with nature. For the first time, at the park's founding, eternal preservation of our most remarkable landscapes became a common national goal.