What Is Yellowstone?
Yellowstone National Park is among the most well-known and widely visited of all the National Parks in the United States. The park is known for its abundance of wildlife and natural beauty, and for its many geothermal features, including geysers like Old Faithful. These geothermal features are driven by the Yellowstone Caldera, one of the largest supervolcanoes in the world, and arguably the most famous.
The Yellowstone supervolcano has experienced three major known eruptions—the first one occurred 2.1 million years ago, followed by the second over 1.2 million years ago. The most recent eruption, which happened just 640,000 years ago, spewed some 240 cubic miles (1,000 cubic km) of volcanic material. For some context, the 1980 Mount St. Helens eruption released 0.1 cubic miles (0.42 cubic km) of debris.
Will the Yellowstone Caldera erupt again? Most likely. But we’re looking at thousands to millions of years, not necessarily anytime within the next hundred. That said, there have been at least 80 small eruptions since that last major event.
Take the quiz — Can you guess the Yellowstone states?
Where Is Yellowstone Located?
Yellowstone National Park is located in the states of Wyoming, Montana, and Idaho, spanning an area of 3,468.4 square miles (8,983 km2). This is larger than the states of Rhode Island and Delaware combined. 96% of the park is located in Wyoming, and Yellowstone is part of the South Central Rockies forest eco-region.
The park sits on the Yellowstone Plateau and has an average elevation of 8,000 feet (2,400 m) above sea level. Cutting diagonally across the southwestern part of Yellowstone in the North American Continental Divide. Many rivers and lakes can be found throughout Yellowstone, including Yellowstone Lake, the largest high elevation lake in North America.
Yellowstone is composed of about 80% forest, and most of the rest is grassland. Hundreds of different mammal, bird, fish, and reptile species call the park home, including many that are endangered or threatened. Among the more famous of Yellowstone’s residents are grizzly bears, wolves, and free-ranging herds of bison.
Yellowstone contains at least 10,000 geothermal features altogether. In fact, half of the world’s geysers and geothermal features are concentrated in the park.
All these interesting and unique features make Yellowstone National Park a haven for outdoor recreation, like hiking, camping, boating, and sightseeing.
How Was Yellowstone National Park Formed?
While Native Americans had lived and hunted in the Yellowstone region for at least 11,000 years, the territory was left relatively untouched by European settlers for much of the early 19th century–save for a few adventurous mountain men. Organized exploration of this region didn’t begin until the late 1860s, and would lead to almost immediate calls that the land should somehow be protected from development or those seeking to make a profit.
The wealth of information and photos being sent back to Washington, D.C. from Yellowstone explorers was enough to start convincing government authorities that the land should be left untouched. In March, 1872, President Ulysses S. Grant signed The Act of Dedication into law, which established Yellowstone as the world’s first National Park, and set aside the land to be used for the enjoyment and benefit of the people.
The Secretary of the Interior was initially responsible for establishing rules and regulations for the park, but the US Army would come to oversee Yellowstone from 1886 to 1916. Then in 1917, administration of the park was handed over to the newly created National Park Service.
Enjoying this post so far? You might also be interested in reading this short History of National Parks in the US.
Yellowstone National Park Today
If you’re planning on visiting Yellowstone, you can expect to see a wide variety of natural sights and breathtaking views. There is a spectacular assortment of springs, valleys, canyons, lakes, and basins. And of course there is an abundance of wildlife.
Looking for a challenge? Test your knowledge and see if you can name the mammals of Yellowstone National Park.
Make sure to take your time and do some research before visiting, however. With so much to see and do, it’s best to immerse yourself in what all the park has to offer before you head out. Of course, with so much natural beauty, it would be hard not to have an amazing experience no matter what you decide to do or see.
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