The National Parks – Yellowstone
With its establishment in 1872, Yellowstone National Park became the world’s first national park. Although Hot Springs National Park in Arkansas and Yosemite National Park were both technically established sooner, the former was as a national reservation, and the later was as a state park. It was not until much later dates these two parks received the “national park” designation.
Yellowstone may have become a state park as well, if it wasn’t for the fact that its geography places it in three states – Wyoming, Montana, and Idaho. Disputes between Wyoming and Montana made the federalization of Yellowstone the most logical course of action, even though most of the almost 3,500 square miles that up this massive park are found in Wyoming.
The natural and human histories of this park are rich, and have left legacies that are preserved within its boundaries. The area is at the convergence of the great plains, the great basin, and the American plateau, and has natural resources that were utilized by many different native American tribes. Today, these same resources are what make the park such a great place to visit. Highlights of going to Yellowstone include geysers, hot springs, waterfalls, seemingly endless wilderness, the opportunity for wildlife viewing, and clear night skies.
The Old Faithful Area
Yellowstone is most famous for its geysers. A subterranean super volcano causes intense geothermal activity below the park, and has given rise to the largest collection of geysers on Earth, primarily in the Old Faithful Area. The massive and reliable geyser of the same name can be found here. Old Faithful is one of a few geysers that follow a schedule. Currently it goes off every one to two hours. It can be viewed from a series of boardwalks, and on average spews water 130 feet into the air.
Old Faithful is found in the Upper Geyser Basin, where there are four more geysers with eruption schedules that are predictable. The other geysers are named Castle, Grand, Daisy, and Riverside. The Upper Geyser Basin is also home to many more geysers than these. Although only about one mile in radius, 150 geysers can be found here, a quarter of all that can be found in the entire park.
In the Lower Geyser Basin there is a sixth geyser that erupts on a predicable schedule. The Great Fountain geyser sends water hundreds of feet into the air two times per day. Exploring in the Lower Geyser Basin can either be done on foot, along the Fountain Paint Pots boardwalk, or by car, on three-mile-long Firehole Lake Drive
The Midway Geyser Basin is also worth a visit. Here you will find the Excelsior Geyser, which comes out from a crater 200 by 300 feet wide, as well as the Grand Prismatic Spring. With a diameter of 370 feet and a depth of 121 feet, this is the largest hot spring in Yellowstone.
The Mammoth Hot Springs Area
The hot springs in Yellowstone National Park are for viewing, not swimming. The water temperatures in many exceed the boiling point, making them dangerous to swim in. The other reason that these springs must remain untouched are the thermophiles, microorganisms that thrive within the searing temperatures of these pools. Thermophiles are also what cause the incredible rings of color found in so many of Yellowstone’s hot springs.
Take a walk along the Mammoth Hot Springs Trails to view the beautiful colors of the thermophiles up close. These trails, which are really a collection of elevated boardwalks, will take you past Canary Spring, Dryad Spring, Grassy Spring, Cupid Spring, New Blue Spring, and Palette Spring among others. Here you will also get the chance to see travertine terraces, which are limestone deposits that form around the hot springs. The travertine terraces give these water features an eerie appearance that looks like a cross between a frozen waterfall and the inside of a cave.
Although the hot springs are off limits for swimming, you may soak in the Gardner River where water from the Boiling River hot spring warms it. This swimming area is located just over the Montana border and is simply referred to as the Boiling River. It is closed periodically due to dangerously high water levels, so make sure to double check the status of this swimming area before heading there.
The Fishing Bridge, Lake Village, and Bridge Bay Area
This area of the park is centered around the massive Yellowstone Lake, which is the largest high elevation lake in North America. The lake can be explored from a variety of vantage points, including the Fishing Bridge and its expansive shoreline. Also found in this section of Yellowstone are the unique thermal features at Mud Volcano and Sulphur Caldron.
Yellowstone is world famous as a destination for backcountry exploration. With hundreds of miles of trails and 300 backcountry campsites, this comes as no surprise. Another draw to this park’s backcountry is the abundance of wildlife that can be found here. The largest concentration of mammals within the lower 48 can be found in this park. Cougars, black and brown bears, wolves, bobcats, bison, bighorn sheep, and pronghorns are among the unique animals that call this area home. Thirteen species of bats also live within Yellowstone.
The diversity of wildlife in this park also brings danger, especially for those heading into the backcountry. Extra caution needs to be taken given that this is grizzly bear country. A bear proof canister for your food is required, and bear spray is highly recommended. Knowing what to do in the case of a bear encounter is also critical to your safety.
The Danger of Hot Springs and Geysers
Viewing of the hot springs and geysers within Yellowstone National Park should always be done from the designated pedestrian walkways and trails. This is in partly to prevent damage to the delicate ecosystem, but is also for your safety. Over the years, many people have died falling into the boiling thermal pools, so make sure to be cautious and aware of your surroundings while navigating in this park.