History and Nature in Yellowstone

Yellowstone National Park is the centerpiece of the 20 million acre Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem, a region that includes Grand Teton National Park, adjacent National Forests and expansive wilderness areas in those forests. The ecosystem is the largest remaining continuous stretch of mostly undeveloped pristine land in the continental United States, considered to be the world's largest intact ecosystem in the northern temperate zone. With the successful wolf reintroduction program, which began in the 1990s, virtually all the original faunal species known to inhabit the region when white explorers first entered the area can still be found there.

History: The human history of the Yellowstone region goes back more than 11,000 years. From about 11,000 years ago to the very recent past, many groups of Native Americans used the park as their homes, hunting grounds, and transportation routes. These traditional uses of Yellowstone lands continued until a little over 200 years ago when the first people of European descent found their way into the park. In 1872 a country that had not yet seen its first centennial established Yellowstone as the first national park in the world. A new concept was born and with it a new way for people to preserve and protect the best of what they had for the benefit and enjoyment of future generations.

Nature: Hundreds of species of mammals, birds, fish and reptiles have been documented, including several that are either endangered or threatened. The vast forests and grasslands also include unique species of plants. Grizzly Bears, wolves, and free-ranging herds of bison and elk live in the park. Forest fires occur in the park each year; in the large forest fires of 1988, nearly one third of the park burned.

Wildlife

Yellowstone's abundant and diverse wildlife are as famous as its geysers. Habitat preferences and seasonal cycles of movement determine, in a general sense, where a particular animal may be at a particular time. Early morning and evening hours are when animals tend to be feeding and thus are more easily seen. But remember that the numbers and variety of animals you see are largely a matter of luck and coincidence. Check at visitor centers for detailed information.

Geysers

The most famous geyser in the park, and perhaps the world, is Old Faithful Geyser, located in Upper Geyser Basin. Castle Geyser, Lion Geyser and Beehive Geyser are in the same basin. The park contains the largest active geyser in the world—Steamboat Geyser in the Norris Geyser Basin. There are 300 geysers in Yellowstone and a total of at least 10,000 geothermal features altogether. Half the geothermal features and two-thirds of the world's geysers are concentrated in Yellowstone.[54]

Plants

In looking for wildflowers, keep in mind that
elevation, relative temperatures, soil types, and
precipitation patterns all play a role in what
you find blooming in various areas at different
times of the year. In addition, far-reaching
events such as wildland fires can cause
spectacular blooms of species that thrive on
the conditions these events create.
All of these variables add up to one universal
fact—wildflowers are where you find them! The
list on reverse of this page will help you begin.
More detailed books and a listing of ranger-led
activities, some dealing with flower topics, are
available at visitor centers throughout the park.

Geography

Three deep canyons are located in the park, cut through the volcanic tuff of the Yellowstone Plateau by rivers over the last 640,000 years. The Lewis River flows through Lewis Canyon in the south, and the Yellowstone River has carved two colorful canyons, the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone and the Black Canyon of the Yellowstone in its journey north. Yellowstone National Park has one of the world's largest petrified forests, trees which were long ago buried by ash and soil and transformed from wood to mineral materials. This ash and other volcanic debris, are believed to have come from the park area itself. This is largely due to the fact that Yellowstone is actually a massive caldera of a supervolcano. There are 290 waterfalls of at least 15 feet (4.6 m) in the park, the highest being the Lower Falls of the Yellowstone River at 308 feet (94 m).[1]

The Caldera

Yellowstone, like Hawaii, is believed to lie on top of an area called a hotspot where light, hot, molten mantle rock rises towards the surface. While the Yellowstone hotspot is now under the Yellowstone Plateau, it previously helped create the eastern Snake River Plain (to the west of Yellowstone) through a series of huge volcanic eruptions. Although the hotspot's apparent motion is to the east-northeast, the North American Plate is really moving west-southwest over the stationary hotspot deep underneath.

Over the past 17 million years or so, this hotspot has generated a succession of violent eruptions and less violent floods of basaltic lava. Together these eruptions have helped create the eastern part of the Snake River Plain from a once-mountainous region. At least a dozen or so of these eruptions were so massive that they are classified as supereruptions. Volcanic eruptions sometimes empty their stores of magma so swiftly that they cause the overlying land to collapse into the emptied magma chamber, forming a geographic depression called a caldera. Calderas formed from explosive supereruptions can be as wide and deep as mid- to large-sized lakes and can be responsible for destroying broad swaths of mountain ranges.