Days, weeks, and months pass as swiftly as water in a raging torrent from the melting snowpack in the Rocky Mountains. Just yesterday, or so it seems, our topics revolved around the uncertainty of football, an approaching autumn, the peak of the rut, and a fall migration. Most of these subjects, and many others, have made their debut in print. Sadly, at least for me, what I consider the “good stuff” is slipping away as quickly as it arrived.
Each writing season, I do my best to forewarn you not to miss it and capture each memory making moment as they are born. Have you heeded my encouraged advice? If not, maybe there is still time to take advantage of what is left here in our beloved deep south but for this article, let’s once again, head west.
An obsidian point dating back almost 11,000 years ago is our first indication of human history in the region of today’s discussion. Probably of the Clovis culture, Paleo-Indians may be credited as the first to inhabit, explore, and occupy this wilderness. The Native American name for this region is unclear, though I have my own opinion. Centuries from our first documented piece of history, the Hidatsa name “Mi tsi a-da-zi”, offers our first official name of what French trappers called “Roche Jaune” meaning “Yellow Rock River.” Later, American trappers rendered the French name in English as “Yellowstone.” I would wager you’re now on track to where I am headed.
Yellowstone National Park, our first national park in the U.S., was established by the U.S. Congress and signed into law by President Ulysses S. Grant on March 1, 1872. This historic ecosystem spans an area of 3,468 square miles made up of mountains, canyons, lakes, and rivers. Home for thousands of species of plants, animals, fish, and other organisms, the establishment of this park helps to ensure these species will not be threatened or endangered. Finally, a bit of good news that Congress has a record of doing something constructive for the benefit of the environment and mankind.
John Colter, a member of the Lewis and Clark Expedition, may be credited as the first “civilized” man to observe this region. He left the expedition in 1806 to join a group of trappers. In 1807, Colter passed through what is now part of the park and created a journal of his findings. He described an infinite wilderness with beauty beyond comprehension, almost sacred to the beholder. His findings of boiling mud, steaming rivers, active geysers, and volcanos created a “fire and brimstone” picture that most people dismissed as mythical as he was accused of becoming delirious. Oh, if only this mystical place were today as it was then.
In 1856, mountain man Jim Bridger explored this region and reported many of the same findings as Colter did. Known as a “spinner of yarns” Bridger’s observations were largely ignored as well. It wasn’t until 1869 that a detailed exploration was conducted by a privately funded party and the prior “myths” of the region were finally documented as factual. Sometime between 1870 and 1871, Cornelius Hedges, a Montana writer and lawyer, began paving the way for the proposal that this region should be set aside and protected as a national park. The rest is history.
Yellowstone is the epicenter for geysers and a hydrothermal system. Half of the world’s geysers and hydrothermal features are concentrated in the park. It is believed Yellowstone contains at least 10,000 thermal features and over 1250 geysers have erupted. Of course, the most famous is “Old Faithful” which erupts around 20 times a day. Can you begin to imagine what it was like for Native Americans to be the first to observe this? How could one ever doubt a superior “spirit” and a happy hunting ground at the end of life?
Over 1700 species of flora and 60 species of mammals, flourish in the 20-million- acre park. Lodgepole Pine covers approximately 80 % of the forested area. Hundreds of species of annuals flower between the months of May and September. Grizzly, Bighorn Sheep, Wapiti, Bison, and the Rocky Mountain Wolf, along with many other species, exist in this vast wilderness.
In recent times, re-introduction of the wolf has created quite a controversy due to heavy predation on game species. There is merit on both sides of the argument where some cite a renewed establishment of a multitude of flora due to a decrease in grazing from the elk. Others cite a significant reduction in elk, deer, and sheep, due to predation from an unchecked wolf population. There are several documentaries available that tell the stories on both sides. They are quite interesting. Watch them and then you will have a better understanding of both. There are other conflicts between species other than the wolf/prey dilemma as well.
Yellowstone is the home for the largest herd of American Bison in the United States. There is concern for local ranchers that the bison may expose cattle to brucellosis, a bacterial disease that can cause cattle to miscarry. Though there are no documented cases that I am aware of, transmission from wild bison to domestic livestock, the USDA has stated that bison are the “likely source” for the spread of the disease in some western states.
Cutthroat trout flourish in the pristine, fast flowing tributaries within Yellowstone. This highly sought after fish by anglers has faced several threats. One of which is the suspected illegal introduction of lake trout into Yellowstone Lake. The larger lake trout, an invasive species, prey voraciously on the smaller cutthroat trout. Additionally, the cutthroat also faces drought in some years and a parasite which causes “whirling disease”, a terminal nervous system compromise in younger fish. Since 2001, all native sport fish caught in Yellowstone waterways are subject to a catch and release law.
Yellowstone ranks as one of the most popular national parks in the United States. Each year, more than 3.5 million tourists visit this destination to absorb part of a last, true wilderness. Only Alaska remains more remote and “undisturbed” than this epic attraction. It is mind-boggling to think of the number of people that “invade” Yellowstone compared to when only the Nez Perce, Crow, and Shoshone knew of this land. Can you envision what it was like then and now there are over 2000 hotel rooms within the park?
The park employs over 4000 workers during “peak” season to accommodate visitors. Do you think we may have done an injustice to this wild place because of our intervention? Think about our own population explosion that is out of control. How many more footprints will we leave in what little vastness is left? I could go on and on and our impact is just not limited to Yellowstone, as I’m sure you are aware.
I have said many times, I wish I could see this land as it once was. Maybe an arrow would find me, or I could be the victim of a vicious grizzly attack, but perhaps it would be worth it to know and experience what once was. Does that sound preposterous? Look at what we face in today’s times. Cancers abound and pandemics spread like wildfire. Though we are not able to make these choices, maybe the possibility is there to visit the happy hunting ground and be blessed by the eternal spirit above. I know many of you will relate to what I am speaking of. I invite you to read about this unique part of our country and to possibly find yourself with the first inhabitants of this wild America. You’ll be glad you did.
Until next time enjoy our woods and waters and remember, let’s leave it better than we found it.