Although most of our Montana Mountain Resort guests relish the opportunity to soak up the peace, quiet, and pure nature of our backwoods setting, it's hard to pass up the opportunity to visit Yellowstone National Park - especially when we are just to the west of Yellowstone!
Yellowstone National Park is just around the corner, so to speak, and many of our guests take advantage of its relatively close proximity to spend a day or two visiting. However, after a day fighting the crowds, it's always a treat to retreat to the peace, relaxation, and pure nature of Elk Lake Resort - 'a mile from heaven'. In spite of the crowds, Yellowstone National Park is well worth the visit. This brief introduction will help you get ready for your visit.
Yellowstone National Park 'Facts'
- World's First National Park
- Covers 3,472 square miles (larger than Rhode Island and Delaware)
- 96% of the Park lies in Wyoming - 3% in Montana - 1% in Idaho
- Highest Point: Eagle Peak (11,358 feet)
- Lowest Point: Reese Creek (5,282 feet)
- Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone: 1,200 feet deep
- Approximately 5% of the Park is covered by water, 15% is grassland, 80% is forested
- Precipitation ranges from 10 inches at the north boundary to 80 inches in the southwest corner
- Average temperature range: 9 degrees Fahrenheit in January to 80 degrees Fahrenheit in July
- Record High Temperature: 98 degrees in the Lamar Valley in 1936
- Record Low Temperature: Negative 66 degrees on the Madison in 1933
- Seven species of native ungulates (such as Elk, Deer, and Bison)
- Two species of bears (Black and Grizzly)
- Approximately 50 species of other mammals
- 311 recorded species of birds (148 nesting species)
- 18 species of fish (6 non-native)
- 6 species of reptiles
- 5 species of amphibians
- 5 species protected as 'threatened or endangered'
- Approximately 2,000 earthquakes annually
- More than 300 geysers - amidst 10,000 total thermal features
- One of the world's largest calderas - measuring 45 miles by 30 miles
- One of the world's largest petrified forests
- Approximately 290 waterfalls, 15 feet or higher, flowing year-round
- Tallest waterfall: Lower Falls of the Yellowstone (308 feet)
- Yellowstone Lake - 136 square miles / 110 miles of shoreline / Maximum depth: 400 feet
- 466 miles of roads
- 950 miles of backcountry trails from 97 trailheads
Yellowstone National Park History
Long before white men finally 'discovered' our nations first National Park, men were writing about it. In fact, the Lewis and Clark expedition could have been the first to document the wonders it contains, if in 1805-06 they had investigated the volcanic sounds they heard to the south of their location. And if they had, things might very well have been different for this fragile eco-system.
However, they did not, and so John Colter, a man who had traveled with Lewis and Clark, is probably the first white man to have viewed Yellowstone - in 1808. It wasn't until 19 years later that the first written accounts of the wonders of the area were printed in the Philadelphia newspaper. Too bizarre to be believed, the general public put no stock in the reports of people like trapper Daniel T. Potts and Mountain man Jim Bridger. They considered their stories of waterfalls spouting upwards and petrified 'birds and trees' outlandish.
In 1834 Warren Angus Ferris, a clerk for the American Fur Company, visited the Yellowstone area 'purely out of curiosity' - making him the first 'tourist'. He's also the fist to apply the word "geyser" (a term which had originated in Iceland) to the area's thermal features. Within the next thirty years Osbourne Russell, the famous trapper, was to venture into the area three times, and a group of prospectors were to venture into the southern regions of the Park in search of gold.
Henry Washburn, Montana's surveyor-general, put together a party in 1870. And, in spite of the known presence of all these earlier visitors, his group is credited with 'discovering' Yellowstone. His group drew further interest to the area when the oldest in his party, Truman C. Everts, became separated from the group and was hopelessly lost for thirty-seven days. It was during this expedition that Washburn named the most famous of the Park's geysers, Old Faithful.
As national interest in the area increased, Congress sent Civil War veteran, Ferdinand V. Hayden, the newly appointed head of the US government Geological Survey team, to make an official exploration of the area. Hayden's party was stunned by the wonders and beauty of the area. The groups' artists finally showed the early reports were not 'outlandish tales'. Thomas Moran's watercolors and William H. Jackson's photography proved the existence of the unique features.
It really isn't hard to understand why those who had never visited Yellowstone had such a hard time believing in upside-down waterfalls and petrified 'birds and trees'. After all, geo-thermal features like geysers (from the Norse term geysa which means to rush or gush forth) are rare geological features. There are few on the earth (approximately 1,000 active geysers as of December 2005 - more than 1/2 of which are located in Yellowstone National Park), and it is unlikely anyone living at this time in the U.S. had ever seen one.
Hayden returned to Washington in 1871 and presented Congress with a 500-page report lauding the wonderful features and incredible beauty of the Yellowstone area. In an effort to protect the area, he began lobbying to make Yellowstone a national 'park'. So successful were his efforts that only a year later, then president, Ulysses S. Grant, signed into existence the world's first national park. The ruling set aside 2.2 million acres of wilderness "as a public park or pleasure ground for the benefit and enjoyment of the people."
Fifty-five National Parks have been added to this list in the United States alone, in the last 136 years. Compare that to 359 national parks in Europe and 35 in Turkey. Obviously, setting aside Yellowstone started a positive trend toward protecting a nation's resources - in countries around the world.
Once the Yellowstone territory had been set aside, Grant chose Nathaniel Langford, one of the most outspoken proponents of the National Park idea, as the first superintendent of the Park. Langford's first task was to make 'a thorough exploration' of the Park. To do so he joined the Hayden Survey party which was returning to Yellowstone to conduct further research.
By 1883 concerns that opportunists were already exploiting the Park, and the need to control public abuse yet provide public access had come to the attention of the leaders at the National level. Therefore, the first 'public friendly' structure was built. The National Hotel at Mammoth Hot Springs, a massive structure of 414' long, only existed for a short period of time.
In 1886 a concentrated effort to protect the area's resources came into being when the US Interior Department placed Yellowstone under military jurisdiction. And, in 1894 the Lacey Act was paced by Congress giving full protection to the wildlife in Yellowstone Park (with the exception of wolves and coyotes).
In spite of the failure of the National Hotel at Mammoth Hot Springs, tourist accommodations began to spring up elsewhere. In 1890, the Lake Hotel near Yellowstone Lake and the Fountain Hotel near Old Faithful were built. Although the Lake Hotel lasted only a short period of time, the Fountain Hotel set the stage for more to follow.
One of the most interesting 'developments' during this time, was the 'Winter Expedition of 1894'. A party of eight proceeded to explore the Park on Norwegian skies. Their gear consisted of sleeping bags, provisions, and cameras. Leaving Norris they headed first to the Hayden Valley and the Grand Canyon. They found less than 100 Bison but numerous groups of Elk. They also found (and apprehended) a poacher who had killed twelve Bison. The unprincipled man was taken to the Lake Hotel and from there to the guard house at Fort Yellowstone.
As the party continued their exploration they saw Elk in great numbers in the foothills of Mount Washburn, along the east fork of the Yellowstone, and along Slough Creek and the Yellowstone River. On Mount Everts they found small bands of Mountain Sheep, Deer, and Antelope.
The open water of Yellowstone Lake they found to be alive with Ducks and Swans. Red Fox and Coyotes were numerous in the area with an occasional Black Fox being spotted. They also ran across the footprints of Mountain Lions and Bears. All in all the party traveled over 300 miles in about 30 days.
The fame of Yellowstone was spreading and people were flocking to the area in ever increasing numbers. The first official count, in 1895, recorded 5,438 visitors that year. By 1903 the railroads were delivering carloads of visitors to the Park. It was also in 1903 that the great proponent of National Parks, (and the then President) Theodore Roosevelt, visited the Park. He is said to have been awed at the beauty and wildness of the area.
As the visitors increased, facilities to handle them also increased. In the winter of 1903 - 1904, Yellowstone's most famous structure, the Old Faithful Inn was built. Constructed of native logs, this building is now being faithfully restored - much to the delight of its visitors. Ten years later the Canyon Hotel was built on the rim of the Grand Canyon - however, it burned down a few years later.
The press finally got involved and in 1912, National Geographic Magazine did a feature story on the Park. They recommended visitors plan to spend at least 5 1/2 days exploring the area. And then, in 1915, the first automobile, a Model T Ford, arrived in Yellowstone and changed forever the future of the Park.
In an effort to keep a handle on the increased interest in the Yellowstone National Park, President Woodrow Wilson signed into existence a new government agency, the National Park Service - making a major change in the administration of our National Parks. This agency made protecting the wildlife and preserving the Park's fragile features a little easier.
The Park stretched its boundaries in 1929, enlarging its eastern and northwestern boundaries. This was one of the two times the Park has been enlarged. To allow area visitors to enjoy more of the beauty which surrounds the Park, the Beartooth Highway was built in the 1930's. This highway, heralded as the "most beautiful in America" by Charles Kuralt, is also the longest stretch of road running through alpine tundra in the world. It allowed early visitors (and current ones too) to travel from Red Lodge, Montana into the Park via Cookie City and the Silver Gate.
The 1950's brought a few more changes to the area. To keep up with the rising tide of visitors, Canyon Village was constructed. In the area of wildlife, the Park quit stocking its waters - and a concentrated effort was made to reduce the growing Elk herds. During this time the Park instituted 'natural management' in handling the Park's wildlife.
The decade ended with a big bang. A 7.5 magnitude earthquake (the largest ever recorded in the intermountain west and Rockies) occurred on August 18, 1959. It killed 28 people in a massive slide which dammed the Madison River, created "Quake Lake", and set off unprecedented geyser activity in the Park.
In more recent years, awareness of Yellowstone as an ecological treasure has grown. More and more efforts were implemented in the 70's and 80's to protect the fragile nature of the Park's resources and to restore the area's ecological balance. The challenge, then as now, is to protect the Park from any negative impacts of human interaction while not discouraging visitors.
Three noteworthy changes have occurred in the Park in the last three decades. The first is the 1988 fire - the worst in Yellowstone's history - which burned 1.4 million areas from June to October. This fire changed some aspects of the eco-system dramatically, and greatly altered the visual aspects of the Park.
The reintroduction of wolves in 1995 stirred up a huge pot of controversy. Heralded as a huge leap toward restoring the Park's natural balance by some and a huge step backward in progress by others, the total effect of the introduction of this 'top of the chain' predator will probably not be known for many more years.
Since 2000, 'geysers' (and things thus related) and snowmobiles have made the biggest news. In 2000, Steamboat Geyser erupted for the first time in a number of years. And, in 2004, Old Faithful Inn celebrated its 100th anniversary. As far as snowmobiles go, in 2000 Park officials announced their intentions to ban or restrict snowmobiles from the Park. Over the next four years the controversy has stabilized to a point - and snow machines are once again allowed in the Park, but in greatly reduced numbers, with cleaner-running machines, and in guide-led groups only.
Hundreds of thousands of visitors visit Yellowstone National Park each year. Most see the 'main attractions' and little else. Would you like to do more? Let us show you how.