Yellowstone National Park became the first National Park in the United States on March 1st, 1872. It was established as a public park to serve as a spot for excitement and adventure for the people. The establishment of the park sparked a worldwide national park movement and today many nations now have national parks or preserves. The park has become famous all over the world for its naturally breathtaking scenery and geothermal wonders.
America's first national park is named after the river that runs through it. Within the park's massive boundaries, visitors can find mountains, rivers, lakes, waterfalls, and some of the most concentrated geothermal activity in the world. The park has 60% of the world’s geysers, as well as hot springs and mud pots. At 3,472 square miles, the national park is larger than Delaware and Rhode Island combined. The park offers several recreational opportunities including camping, boating, hiking, fishing, and sightseeing.
The land area of the park spreads into parts of the three states of Wyoming, Montana, and Idaho, with 80 percent of the park comprising of forest and the rest, grassland, which is home to unique species of plants. The park is well known for its many lakes, wildlife, and geothermal features. One of its most popular thermal features is the Old Faithful geyser. The Old Faithful, capable of spewing water about 180 feet into the air, earned its name as a geyser when early explorers noted that it erupts once every 60 minutes. However, after decades of earthquakes which have altered its network of underground fissures, the eruptions have slowed down. Nowadays, the geyser often takes about 90-minute breaks in between eruptions. Yellowstone has the nation’s oldest herd of bison and largest free-range herd. It is also an iconic spot for the Lower Falls and Yellowstone Lake, which is one of the largest high elevation lakes in North America.
Yellowstone National Park is a host to millions of visitors every year. It covers a wide expanse of land, about 2, 219, 789 acres. The park is home to one of the largest calderas in the world, having over 10, 000 thermal features. It is also the world’s largest concentration of geysers. Over 7 species of hoofed mammals (moose, elk, bison, pronghorn), grizzly bears, several types of other mammals, birds, fish, and gray wolf, resides in the park. The park has one of the largest petrified forests in the world, with trees that have long been buried by soil and ash and transformed into mineral matter.
Lurking beneath Yellowstone National Park is a reservoir of hot magma five miles deep, fed by a gigantic plume of molten rock welling up from hundreds of miles below. The heat is responsible for many of the park's famous geysers and hot springs. As magma rises into the chamber and cools, the ground above the park periodically rises and falls.
Yellowstone caldera is the largest super volcano on the continent and is considered an active volcano. The caldera was formed after a massive explosion of magma which occurred nearly 600,000 years ago and has erupted with great force a number of times in the last 2 million years. This resulted from an immense heat formed below the earth’s mantle, pushing a large plume of magma towards the earth’s surface. The caldera was formed as a result of the volcanic depression that occurred when a magma reserve emptied and caved in. This was what led to the birth of what is known as the nearly 3,500-sq.-mile wilderness of Yellowstone today, a recreation area atop a volcanic hot spot.
Yellowstone is located almost entirely within the state of Wyoming, with northern boundaries into the state of Montana and eastern boundaries spilling into Montana and neighboring Idaho. It therefore has five (5) entrances paving way to the national park. The North Entrance is open all year round to wheeled vehicles, and is also the busiest route due to its easy access and plowed road. The West Entrance is open from April 20 - November 4 to wheeled vehicles and to tracked over-snow vehicles from December 17 – March 12. The Northeast Entrance leading to Cooke City, is open all year round to wheeled vehicles while the South & East Entrances are open from May 11 – November 4, to wheeled vehicles and to tracked over-snow vehicles from December 17 – March 12.
The best time to visit Yellowstone National Park depends on your interests, as the park is open all year round to visitors. Many visitors are attracted to the park’s dramatic canyons, alpine rivers, lush forests, hot springs, and gushing geysers, including its most famous attraction, Old Faithful. Each season offers visitors a distinct experience ranging from hiking to watching wildlife adventures and guided tours to fall-foliage tours. Springtime at the park is known for abundant wildlife, boisterous waterfalls, and feral weather. The spring season has the most crowds at the park, while winter time is for solitude. The park also offers lots of different and exciting ways to enjoy the winter season.
At Yellowstone, wintertime is synonymous with fewer crowds, freezing temperatures, and hot geyser basins. Every year in early November, most roads leading to the park close to regular traffic as the winter season approaches. Snowmobiles, snowshoes, skis, and snowcoaches, become the primary means of transportation as roads are closed, lakes and rivers freeze, and snowstorms transform the park into a winter wonderland. Limited services and restrictions to vehicle access makes a winter visit a challenging one. Most stores, restaurants, campgrounds, and lodges are closed during the winter season, which also contributes to this challenge.
The only exception to restricted vehicular movement is the road between Mammoth Hot Springs and the northeast entrance, which is open to regular traffic all year. Once enough snow accumulates (usually by mid-December), roads open to “over-snow” travel only. This means the only way to visit Old Faithful, the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone, and other popular destinations during winter is by guided snowmobile or snowcoach, or through the non-commercially guided snowmobile access program. Over-snow travel usually ends in mid-March, when the plowing crews begin clearing a winter’s worth of snow. Roads start re-opening to normal cars in mid-April. Visitors can also indulge in the ranger-led programs offered at Old Faithful and Mammoth Hot Springs. The park has a tour bus system, nine visitor centers, and over 2,000 campsites. Park partners and other businesses are also known to offer a variety of guided activities and trips during winter.
Yellowstone is also home to more than 199 species of exotic plants, 1,150 species of native plants and a countless number of fires including the biggest fires in America. Much of the Yellowstone's landscape has been shaped by the fires. In the large forest fires of 1988, nearly one third of the national park was burnt. After the fires of 1988, scientists learned that even though much was burned down, due to the minerals in the ashes and the sunlight that was able to reach the forest floors after decades, the soil was enriched, therefore allowing new plants to be born, which allowed more food for animals. Although the fires were reported as horrifying and life threatening to the park, the fires rejuvenated Yellowstone's wildlife and ecosystem.
Why Land Conservation Matters
Land conservation is aimed at protecting sensitive natural areas such as the Yellowstone National Park or areas rich in cultural or historic value to be enjoyed by people and biodiversity in the future. There is a growing need to protect areas of land from destruction. This is due to the increasing activity of development, urbanization, and industry, resulting in the loss of natural areas and wildlife habitats.
Land conservation helps to preserve ecological function through the maintenance of natural diversity. Yellowstone National Park helps to reduce the accelerated population decline of animals and endangered species. This is especially needed in the park where scientists have presumed that the volcano present therein was capable of burying states like Wyoming, Montana, Idaho, and Colorado in three feet of harmful volcanic ash — a mix of splintered rock and glass — and blanket the Midwest. The resulting ash could endanger the lives plants and animals, crush roofs, and destroy the beautiful landscape of Yellowstone. This therefore goes to show that land conversation cannot be overemphasized in the restoration of our ecosystem.
While Yellowstone started out as a single park, it quickly grew to become a part of a much larger National Parks System- and from there a symbol of land conservation. In a time where protected lands that are crucial to the health of our environment seem more in more danger, it is important to remember the importance of our parks. Happy Birthday Yellowstone, and here's to hundreds more!
Image source: Yellowstone National Park