Since the last time I blogged here, I’ve started writing the first book I’m doing for Tule Publishing. Not only is this book set in one of the most beautiful areas of the United States — the Paradise Valley of Montana — it’s also adjacent to Yellowstone National Park, which is our nation’s oldest national park. The park was established by Congress, and President Ulysses S. Grant signed it into law March 1, 1872. That was more than a decade before any of the three states in which the park currently sits — Montana, Wyoming and Idaho — even became states.
Yellowstone is not only very ecologically diverse, including being home to half of the world’s geothermal features, it also has a rich history. The area the park covers, more than 3,400 square miles, has been home to Native Americans for around 11,000 years. We know this because an obsidian projectile point was found during the 1950s excavation for the building of the post office in Gardiner, Montana, which is the gateway community where the northern entrance to the park is located. Arrowheads made from the same type of Yellowstone obsidian have been found as far east as the Mississippi Valley.
Though mountain men occasionally visited the area as far back as the late 1700s, it wasn’t until the late 1860s that organized exploration made it to this rugged and remote area. Prior to that, occasional tales from the area, such as those told by John Colter of a place made of “fire and brimstone,” were dismissed as a product of delirium or as pure myth. In fact, it became known as an imaginary place called “Colter’s Hell.” Though famous mountain man Jim Bridger also spoke of the area, he was also not believed because he was known to be a great teller of tall tales. It wasn’t until two different expeditions in 1869 and 1870 that the world began to believe that Yellowstone was real. Shortly thereafter, several voices spoke up for the protection of the area as a national park.
Initially under the purview of the Secretary of the Interior, the park subsequently was overseen by the U.S. Army for a period of 30 years from 1886 to 1916. You can still see the Army’s Fort Yellowstone structures, which serve as the park’s headquarters in Mammoth Hot Springs in the northwestern corner of the park. Throughout the park, you’ll find museums and roadside exhibits that detail various aspects of the park’s history, wildlife, geothermal features and ecology. The wildlife is interesting in that the herds of bison and elk and the free-roaming bears and wolves give modern-day visitors a small glimpse of what the great landscapes of the West were once like.
Since 1916, Yellowstone has been a part of the National Park Service. Its creation has led to the protection of more than 400 units of the NPS covering more than 84 million acres in every state as well as the territories of Guam, American Samoa, Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands. These park units collectively had more than 330 million visitors last year. Fifty-nine of the units are designated national parks, many of which are also World Heritage sites. Thirty-five of those 59 parks are located in the West and protect a variety of landscapes and history that embody the American West. That’s not counting a huge number of other NPS units that are designated as national monuments, battlefields, seashores, historic sites, national historic parks, preserves, lakeshores, wild and scenic rivers, recreation areas, military parks, parkways, cemeteries, historic and scenic trails, and heritage areas.
Have you ever visited Yellowstone? Other National Park Service units? What is your favorite?
To find out more about Yellowstone National Park and the rest of the units of the National Park Service, go to http://www.nps.gov.