JOHN COULTER'S story of hot springs at the upper waters of the Yellowstone River was laughed at by the public of 1810. Jim Bridger's account of the geysers in the thirties made his national reputation as a liar. Warren Angus Ferris's description of the Upper Geyser Basin was received in 1842 in unbelieving silence. Later explorers who sought the Yellowstone to test the truth of these tales thought it wholesome to keep their findings to themselves, as magazines and newspapers refused to publish their accounts and lecturers were stoned in the streets as impostors. It required the authority of the semiofficial Washburn Langford expedition of 1869 to establish credence.

The original appeal of the Yellowstone, that to wonder, remains its most popular appeal to-day, though science has dissipated mystery these many years. Many visitors, I am persuaded, enjoy the wonder of it more even than the spectacle. I have heard people refuse to listen to the explanation of geyser action lest it lessen their pleasure in Old Faithful. I confess to moods in which I want to see the blue flames and smell the brimstone which Jim Bridger described so eloquently. There are places where it is not hard to imagine both.

For many years the uncanny wonders of a dying volcanic region absorbed the public mind to the exclusion of all else in the Yellowstone neighborhood, which Congress, principally in consequence of these wonders, made a national park in 1872. Yet all the time it possessed two other elements of distinction which a later period regards as equal to the volcanic phenomena elements, in fact, of such distinction that either one alone, without the geysers, would have warranted the reservation of so striking a region for a national park. One of these is the valley of the Yellowstone River with its spectacular waterfalls and its colorful canyon. The other is its population of wild animals which, in 1872, probably was as large and may have been larger than to-day's. Yet little was heard of the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone in those days, although Moran's celebrated painting, now in the Capitol at Washington, helped influence Congress to make it a national park; and so little did the wild animals figure in the calculations of the period that they were not even protected in the national park until 1894, when hunting had reduced the buffalo to twenty-five animals.

Even in these days of enlightenment and appreciation the great majority of people think of the Yellowstone only as an area enclosing geysers. There are tourists so possessed with this idea that they barely glance at the canyon in passing. I have heard tourists refuse to walk to Inspiration Point because they had already looked over the rim at a convenient and unimpressive place. Imagine coming two thousand miles to balk at two miles and a half to the only spectacle of its kind in the world and one of the world's great spectacles at that! As for the animals, few indeed see any but the occasional bears that feed at the hotel dumps in the evening.

The Yellowstone National Park lies in the recesses of the Rocky Mountains in northwestern Wyoming. It slightly overlaps Montana on the north and northwest, and Idaho on the southwest. It is rectangular, with an entrance about the middle of each side. It is the largest of the national parks, enclosing 3,348 square miles. It occupies a high plain girt with mountains. The Absarokas bound it on the east, their crest invading the park at Mount Chittenden. The Gallatin Range pushes into the northwestern corner from the north. The continental divide crosses the southwestern corner over the lofty Madison Plateau and the ridge south of Yellowstone Lake. Altitudes are generally high. The plains range from six to eight thousand feet; the mountains rise occasionally to ten thousand feet. South of the park the Pitchstone Plateau merges into the foot-hills of the Teton Mountains, which, thirty miles south of the southern boundary, rise precipitously seven thousand feet above the general level of the country.

Though occupying the heart of the Rocky Mountains, the region is not of them. In no sense is it typical. The Rockies are essentially granite which was forced molten from the depths when, at the creation of this vast central mountain system, lateral pressures lifted the earth's skin high above sea-level, folded it, and finally eroded it along the crest of the folds. In this granite system the Yellowstone is a volcanic interlude, and of much later date. It belongs in a general way to the impulse of volcanic agitation which lighted vast beacons over three hundred thousand square miles of our northwest. The Cascade Mountains belong in this grouping. Four national parks of to-day were then in the making, Mount Rainier in Washington, Crater Lake in Oregon, Lassen Volcanic in California, and the Yellowstone in Wyoming. Subterranean heat, remaining from those days of volcanic activity, to-day boils the water which the geysers hurl in air.

In the northeastern part of the Yellowstone a large central crater was surrounded by smaller volcanoes. You can easily trace the conformation from Mount Washburn which stood upon its southeastern rim, heaped there, doubtless, by some explosion of more than common violence. This volcanic period was of long duration, perhaps hundreds of thousands of years. In the northeastern part of the park the erosion of a hill has exposed the petrified remains of thirteen large forests in layers one on top of the other, the deep intervening spaces filled with thick deposits of ashes. Thirteen consecutive times were great forests here smothered in the products of eruption. Thirteen times did years enough elapse between eruptions for soil to make and forests to grow again, each perhaps of many generations of great trees.

Yellowstone's mountains, then, are decayed volcanoes, its rock is lava, its soil is ash and disintegrated lava. The resulting outline is soft and waving, with a tendency to levels. There are no pinnacled heights, no stratified, minareted walls, no precipiced cirques and glacier-shrouded peaks. Yet glaciers visited the region. The large granite boulder brought from afar and left near the west rim of the Grand Canyon with thousands of feet of rhyolite and other products of volcanism beneath it is alone sufficient proof of that.

Between the periods from volcano to glacier and from glacier to to-day, stream erosion has performed its miracles. The volcanoes have been rounded and flattened, the plateaus have been built up and levelled, and the canyons of the Yellowstone, Gibbon, and Madison Rivers have been dug. Vigorous as its landscape still remains, it has thus become the natural playground for a multitude of people unaccustomed to the rigors of a powerfully accented mountain country.

The fact is that, in spite of its poverty of peaks and precipices, the Yellowstone country is one of the most varied and beautiful wildernesses in the world. Among national parks it gains rather than loses by its difference. While easily penetrated, it is wild in the extreme, hinting of the prairies in its broad opens, pasture for thousands of wild ruminants, and of the loftier mountains in its distant ranges, its isolated peaks and its groups of rugged, rolling summits. In the number, magnitude, and variety of its waters it stands quite alone, It contains no less than three watersheds of importance, those of the Yellowstone, Madison, and Snake Rivers, flowing respectively north, west, and south. The waters of the Yellowstone and Madison make it an important source of the Missouri. There are minor rivers of importance in the park and innumerable lesser streams. It is a network of waterways. Its waterfalls are many, and two of them are large and important. Its lakes are many, and several are large. Yellowstone Lake is the largest of its altitude in the world.

As a wilderness, therefore, the Yellowstone is unequalled. Its innumerable waters insure the luxuriance of its growths. Its forested parts are densely forested; its flower-gardens are unexcelled in range, color, and variety, and its meadows grow deep in many kinds of rich grass. If it were only for the splendor of its wilderness, it still would be worth the while. Imagine this wilderness heavily populated with friendly wild animals, sprinkled with geysers, hot springs, mud volcanoes, painted terraces and petrified groves, sensational with breath-taking canyons and waterfalls, penetrable over hundreds of miles of well built road and several times the mileage of trails, and comfortable because of its large hotels and public camps located conveniently for its enjoyment, and you have a pleasure-ground of extraordinary quality. Remember that one may camp out almost anywhere, and that all waters are trout waters. Yellowstone offers the best fishing easily accessible in the continent.

Another advantage possessed by the Yellowstone is a position near the centre of the country among great railroad systems. The Northern Pacific reaches it on the north, the Burlington on the east, and the Union Pacific on the west. One can take it coming or going between oceans; it is possible to buy tickets in by any one railroad and out by either of the others. An elaborate system of automobile-coaches swings the passenger where he pleases, meeting all incoming trains and delivering at all outgoing trains. It is much easier now to see the Yellowstone than in the much-vaunted stage-coach times previous to 1915, times sorely lamented by the romantic because their passing meant the passing of the picturesque old horse-drawn stage-coach from its last stand in the United States; times when a tour of the Yellowstone meant six and a half days of slow, dusty travel, starting early and arriving late, with a few minutes or hours at each "sight" for the soiled and exhausted traveller to gape in ignorant wonder, watch in hand.

To-day one travels swiftly and comfortably in entire leisure, stopping at hotels or camps as he pleases, and staying at each as long as he likes. The runs between the lingering places are now a pleasure. If hurried, one can now accomplish the stage-coach trip of the past in two days, while the old six and a half days now means a leisurely and delightful visit.

With the new order of travel began a new conception of the Yellowstone's public usefulness. It ceased to be a museum of wonders and began to be a summer pleasureground. Instead of the fast automobile-stage decreasing the average length of visit, the new idea which it embodied has lengthened it. This new idea is a natural evolution which began with the automobile and spread rapidly. The railroads had been bringing tourists principally on transcontinental stop-overs. Automobiles brought people who came really to see the Yellowstone, who stayed weeks at public camps to see it, or who brought outfits and camped out among its spectacles. The first Ford which entered the park on the morning of August 1, 1915, the day when private cars were first admitted, so loaded with tenting and cooking utensils that the occupants scarcely could be seen, was the herald of the new and greater Yellowstone. Those who laughed and those who groaned at sight of it, and there were both, were no seers; for that minute Yellowstone entered upon her destiny.

The road scheme is simple and effective. From each entrance a road leads into an oblong loop road enclosing the centre of the park and touching the principal points of scenic interest. This loop is connected across the middle for convenience. From it several short roads push out to special spectacles, and a long road follows Lamar Creek through a northeastern entrance to a mining town which has no other means of communication with the world outside. This is the road to Specimen Ridge with its thirteen engulfed forests, to the buffalo range, and, outside the park boundaries, to the Grasshopper Glacier, in whose glassy embrace may be seen millions of grasshoppers which have lain in very cold storage indeed from an age before man. All are automobile roads.


The hot-water phenomena are scattered over a large area of the park. The Mammoth Hot Springs at the northern entrance are the only active examples of high terrace-building. The geysers are concentrated in three adjoining groups upon the middle-west side. But hot springs occur everywhere at widely separated points; a steam jet is seen emerging even from the depths of the Grand Canyon a thousand feet below the rim.

The traveller is never long allowed to forget, in the silent beauty of the supreme wilderness, the park's uncanny nature. Suddenly encountered columns of steam rising from innocent meadows; occasional half-acres of dead and discolored brush emerging from hot and yellow mud-holes within the glowing forest heart; an unexpected roaring hillside running with smoking water; irregular agitated pools of gray, pink, or yellow mud, spitting, like a pot of porridge, explosive puffs of steam; the warm vaporing of a shallow in a cold forest-bound lake; a continuous violent bellowing from the depths of a ragged roadside hole which at intervals vomits noisily quantities of thick brown and purple liquid; occasional groups of richly colored hot springs in an acre or more of dull yellows, the whole steaming vehemently and interchanging the pinks and blues of its hot waters as the passing traveller changes his angle of vision—these and other uncouth phenomena in wide variety and frequent repetition enliven the tourist's way. They are more numerous in geyser neighborhoods, but some of them are met singly, always with a little shock of surprise, in every part of the park.

The terrace-building springs in the north of the park engulf trees. The bulky growing mounds of white and gray deposit are edged with minutely carven basins mounted upon elaborately fluted supports of ornate design, over whose many-colored edges flows a shimmer of hot water. Basin rises upon basin, tier upon tier, each in turn destined to clog and dry and merge into the mass while new basins and new tiers form and grow and glow awhile upon their outer flank. The material, of course, is precipitated by the water when it emerges from the earth's hot interior. The vivid yellows and pinks and blues in which these terraces clothe themselves upon warm days result from minute vegetable algae which thrive in the hot saturated lime-water but quickly die and fade to gray and shining white on drying. The height of some of these shapeless masses of terrace-built structures is surprising. But more surprising yet is the vividness of color assumed by the limpid springs in certain lights and at certain angles.

Climbing the terraces at the expense of wet feet, one stands upon broad, white, and occasionally very damp plateaus which steam vigorously in spots. These spots are irregularly circular and very shallow pools of hot water, some of which bubble industriously with a low, pleasant hum. They are not boiling springs; the bubbling is caused by escaping gases; but their waters are extremely hot. The intense color of some of these pools varies or disappears with the changing angle of vision; the water itself is limpid.

Elsewhere throughout the park the innumerable hot springs seem to be less charged with depositable matter; elsewhere they build no terraces, but bubble joyously up through bowls often many feet in depth and diameter. Often they are inspiringly beautiful. The blue Morning Glory Spring is jewel-like rather than flower-like in its color quality, but its bowl remarkably resembles the flower which gives it name. Most springs are gloriously green. Some are the sources of considerable streams. Some stir slightly with the feeling rather than the appearance of life; others are perpetually agitated, several small springs betraying their relationship to the geysers by a periodicity of activity.

When the air is dry and the temperature low, the springs shoot thick volumes of steam high in air. To the incomer by the north or west entrance who has yet to see a geyser, the first view of the Lower Geyser Basin brings a shock of astonishment no matter what his expectation. Let us hope it is a cool, bracing, breezy morning when the broad yellow plain emits hundreds of columns of heavy steam to unite in a wind-tossed cloud overlying and setting off the uncanny spectacle. Several geysers spout vehemently and one or more roaring vents bellow like angry bulls in a nightmare. This is appropriately the introduction to the greater geyser basins which lie near by upon the south.

Who shall describe the geysers? What pen, what brush, shall do justice to their ghostly glory, the eager vehemence of their assaults upon the sky, their joyful gush and roar, their insistence upon conscious personality and power, the white majesty of their fluted columns at the instant of fullest expansion, the supreme loveliness of their feathery florescence at the level of poise between rise and fall, their graciousness of form, their speedy airiness of action, their giant convolutions of sun-flecked steam rolling aloft in ever-expanding volume to rejoin the parent cloud?

Perhaps there have been greater geyser basins somewhere in the prehistoric past. There may be greater still to come; one or two promising possibilities are in Alaska. But for the lapse of geologic time in which man has so far lived, Yellowstone has cornered the world's geyser market. There are only two other places where one may enjoy the spectacle of large geysers. One of these is New Zealand and the other Iceland; but both displays combined cannot equal Yellowstone's either in the number or the size of the geysers.

Yellowstone has dozens of geysers of many kinds. They range in size from the little spring that spurts a few inches every minute to the monster that hurls hundreds of tons of water three hundred feet in air every six or eight weeks. Many spout at fairly regular intervals of minutes or hours or days. Others are notably irregular, and these include most of the largest. Old Faithful won its name and reputation by its regularity; it is the only one of the group of monsters which lives up to its time-table. Its period ranges from intervals of about fifty-five minutes in seasons following winters of heavy snow to eighty or eighty-five minutes in seasons following winters of light snow. Its eruptions are announced in the Old Faithful Inn a few minutes in advance of action and the population of the hotel walks out to see the spouting. At night a search light is thrown upon the gushing flood.

After all, Old Faithful is the most satisfactory of geysers. Several are more imposing. Sometimes enthusiasts remain in the neighborhood for weeks waiting for the Giant to play and dare not venture far away for fear of missing the spectacle; while Old Faithful, which is quite as beautiful and nearly as large, performs hourly for the pleasure of thousands. Even the most hurried visitor to the Upper Basin is sure, between stages, of seeing several geysers in addition to one or more performances of Old Faithful.

The greatest of known geysers ceased playing in 1888. I have found no authentic measurements or other stated records concerning the famous Excelsior. It hurled aloft an enormous volume of water, with a fury of action described as appalling. Posterity is fortunate in the existence of a striking photograph of this monster taken at the height of its play by F. Jay Haynes, then official photographer of the park.

"The first photographs I made were in the fall of 1881," Mr. Haynes writes me. "The eruptions continued during the winter at increasing intervals from two hours, when the series began, to four hours when it ceased operations before the tourist season of 1882. Not having the modern photographic plates for instantaneous work in 1881, it was impossible to secure instantaneous views then, but in the spring of 1888, I made the view which you write about. It was taken at the fulness of its eruption.

"The explosion was preceded by a rapid filling of the crater and a great overflow of water. The column was about fifty feet wide and came from the centre of the crater. Pieces of formation were torn loose and were thrown out during each eruption; large quantities eventually were removed from the crater, thus enlarging it to its present size.

Here we have a witness's description of the process which clouds the career of the Excelsior Geyser. The enlargement of the vent eventually gave unrestrained passage to the imprisoned steam. The geyser ceased to play. To-day the Excelsior Spring is one of the largest hot springs in the Yellowstone and the world; its output of steaming water is constant and voluminous. Thus again we find relationship between the hot spring and the geyser; it is apparent that the same vent, except perhaps for differences of internal shaping, might serve for both. It was the removal of restraining walls which changed the Excelsior Geyser to the Excelsior Spring.

From a photograph by Haynes

From a photograph by Haynes

For many years geyser action remained a mystery balanced among conflicting theories, of which at last Bunsen's won general acceptance. Spring waters, or surface waters seeping through porous lavas, gather thousands of feet below the surface in some pocket located in strata which internal pressures still keep hot. Boiling as they gather, the waters rise till they fill the long vent-hole to the surface. Still the steam keeps making in the deep pocket, where it is held down by the weight of the water in the vent above. As it accumulates this steam compresses more and more. The result is inevitable. There comes a moment when the expansive power of the compressed steam overcomes the weight above. Explosion follows. The steam, expanding now with violence, drives the water up the vent and out; nor is it satisfied until the vent is emptied.

Upon the surface, as the geyser lapses and dies, the people turn away to the Inn and luncheon. Under the surface, again the waters gather and boil in preparation for the next eruption. The interval till then will depend upon the amount of water which reaches the deep pocket, the size of the pocket, and the length and shape of the vent-hole. If conditions permit the upward escape of steam as fast as it makes in the pocket, we have a hot spring. If the steam makes faster than it can escape, we have a geyser.


So interesting are the geysers and their kin that, with their splendid wilderness setting, other glories seem superfluous. I have had my moments of impatience with the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone for being in the Yellowstone. Together, the canyon and the geysers are almost too much for one place, even perhaps for one visit. One can only hold so much, even of beauty, at once. Spectacles of this quality and quantity need assimilation, and assimilation requires time. Nevertheless, once enter into sympathetic relations with the canyon, once find its heart and penetrate its secret, and the tables are quickly turned. Strangely, it now becomes quite easy to view with comparative coolness the claims of mere hot-water wonders.

The canyon cannot be considered apart from its river any more than a geyser apart from its environment of hot spring and basin, and any consideration of the Yellowstone River begins with its lake. As compared with others of scenic celebrity, Yellowstone Lake is unremarkable. Its shores are so low and the mountains of its southern border so flat and unsuggestive that it curiously gives the impression of surface altitude—curiously because it actually has the altitude; its surface is more than seven thousand seven hundred feet above tide. If I have the advertisement right, it is the highest water in the world that floats a line of steamboats.

The lake is large, twenty miles north and south by fifteen miles east and west; it is irregular with deep indentations. It is heavily wooded to the water's edge. All its entering streams are small except the Yellowstone River, which, from its source in the Absarokas just south of the park boundary, enters the Southeast Arm through the lowland wilderness home of the moose and the wild buffalo. The lake is the popular resort of thousands of large white pelicans, its most picturesque feature.

That part of the Yellowstone River which interests us emerges from the lake at its most northerly point. It is here a broad swift stream of some depth and great clarity, so swarming with trout that a half-dozen or more usually may be seen upon its bottom at any glance from boat or bridge. A number of boats usually are anchored above the bridge from which anglers are successfully trailing artificial flies and spinners in the fast current; and the bridge is usually lined with anglers who, in spite of crude outfits, frequently hook good trout which they pull up by main strength much as the phlegmatic patrons of excursion-steamers to the Banks yank flopping cod from brine to basket on the top deck.

The last time I crossed the Fishing Bridge and paused to see the fun, a woman whose face beamed with happiness held up a twenty-inch trout and said:

"Just look! My husband caught this and he is seventy-six years old—last month. It's the first fish he ever caught, for he was brought up in Kansas, you know, where there isn't any fishing. My! but he's a proud man! We're going to get the camp to cook it for us. He's gone now to look for a board to draw its measurements to show the folks at home."

From here to the river's emergence from the park the fishing is not crude. In fact, it taxes the most skilful angler's art to steer his fighting trout through boiling rapids to the net. For very soon the Yellowstone narrows and pitches down sharper slants to the climax of the falls and the mighty canyon.

This intermediate stretch of river is beautiful in its quietude. The forests often touch the water's edge. And ever it narrows and deepens and splashes higher against the rocks which stem its current; forever it is steepening to the plunge. Above the Upper Fall it pinches almost to a mill-race, roars over low sills, swings eastward at right angles, and plunges a hundred and nine feet. I know of no cataract which expresses might in action so eloquently as the Upper Fall of the Yellowstone. Pressed as it is within narrow bounds, it seems to gush with other motive power than merely gravity. Seen from above looking down, seen sideways from below, or looked at straight on from the camp site on the opposite rim, the water appears hurled from the brink.

Less than a mile south of the Upper Fall, the river again falls, this time into the Grand Canyon.

Imposing as the Great Fall is, it must chiefly be considered as a part of the Grand Canyon picture. The only separate view of it looks up from the river's edge in front, a view which few get because of the difficult climb; every other view poses it merely as an element in the canyon composition. Compared with the Upper Fall, its more than double height gives it the great superiority of majesty without detracting from the Upper Fall's gushing personality. In fact, it is the King of Falls. Comparison with Yosemite's falls is impossible, so different are the elements and conditions. The Great Fall of the Yellowstone carries in one body, perhaps, a greater bulk of water than all the Yosemite Valley's falls combined.

From a photograph copyright by Gifford

From a photograph copyright by Gifford

And so we come to the canyon. In figures it is roughly a thousand feet deep and twice as wide, more or less, at the rim. The supremely scenic part reaches perhaps three miles below the Great Fall. Several rock points extend far into the canyon, from which the gorgeous spectacle may be viewed as from an aeroplane. Artists' Point, which is reached from the east side, displays the Great Fall as the centre of a noble composition. It was Moran's choice. Inspiration Point, which juts far in from the west side, shows a deeper and more comprehensive view of the canyon and only a glimpse of the Great Fall. Both views are essential to any adequate conception. From Artists' Point the eye loses detail in the overmastering glory of the whole. From Inspiration Point the canyon reveals itself in all the intimacy of its sublime form and color. Both views dazzle and astonish. Neither can be looked at very long at one time.

It will help comprehension of the picture quality of this remarkable canyon to recall that it is carved out of the products of volcanism; its promontories and pinnacles are the knobbed and gnarled decomposition products of lava rocks left following erosion; its sides are gashed and fluted lava cliffs flanked by long straight slopes of coarse volcanic sand-like grains; its colors have the distinctness and occasional luridness which seem natural to fused and oxidized disintegrations. Geologically speaking, it is a young canyon. It is digging deeper all the time.

Yellow, of course, is the prevailing color. Moran was right. His was the general point of view, his message the dramatic ensemble. But, even from Artists' Point, closer looking reveals great masses of reds and grays, while Inspiration Point discloses a gorgeous palette daubed with most of the colors and intermediate tints that imagination can suggest. I doubt whether there is another such kaleidoscope in nature. There is apparently every gray from purest white to dull black, every yellow from lemon to deep orange, every red, pink, and brown. These tints dye the rocks and sands in splashes and long transverse streaks which merge into a single joyous exclamation in vivid color whose red and yellow accents have something of the Oriental. Greens and blues are missing from the dyes, but are otherwise supplied. The canyon is edged with lodge-pole forests, and growths of lighter greens invade the sandy slants, at times nearly to the frothing river; and the river is a chain of emeralds and pearls. Blue completes the color gamut from the inverted bowl of sky.

No sketch of the canyon is complete without the story of the great robbery. I am not referring to the several hold-ups of the old stage-coach days, but to a robbery which occurred long before the coming of man—the theft of the waters of Yellowstone Lake; for this splendid river, these noble falls, this incomparable canyon, are the ill-gotten products of the first of Yellowstone's hold-ups.

Originally Yellowstone Lake was a hundred and sixty feet higher and very much larger than it is to-day. It extended from the headwaters of the present Yellowstone River, far in the south, northward past the present Great Fall and Inspiration Point. It included a large part of what is now known as the Hayden Valley. At that time the Continental Divide, which now cuts the southwest corner of the park, encircled the lake on its north, and just across the low divide was a small flat-lying stream which drained and still drains the volcanic slopes leading down from Dunraven Peak and Mount Washburn.

This small stream, known as Sulphur Creek, has the honor, or the dishonor if you choose, of being the first desperado of the Yellowstone, but one so much greater than its two petty imitators of human times that there is no comparison of misdeeds. Sulphur Creek stole the lake from the Snake River and used it to create the Yellowstone River, which in turn created the wonderful canyon. Here at last is a crime in which all will agree that the end justified the means.

How this piracy was accomplished is written on the rocks; even the former lake outlet into the Snake River is plainly discernible to-day. At the lake's north end, where the seeping waters of Sulphur Creek and the edge of the lake nearly met on opposite sides of what was then the low flat divide, it only required some slight disturbance indirectly volcanic, some unaccustomed rising of lake levels, perhaps merely some special stress of flood or storm to make the connection. Perhaps the creek itself sapping back in the soft lava soils, unaided found the lake. Connection once made, the mighty body of lake water speedily deepened a channel northward and Sulphur Creek became sure of its posterity.

At that time, hidden under the lake's surface, two rhyolite dikes, or upright walls of harder rock, extended crosswise through the lake more than half a mile apart. As the lake-level fell, the nearer of these dikes emerged and divided the waters into two lakes, the upper of which emptied over the dike into the lower. This was the beginning of the Great Fall. And presently, as the Great Fall cut its breach deeper and deeper into the restraining dike, it lowered the upper-lake level until presently the other rhyolite dike emerged from the surface carrying another cataract. And thus began the Upper Fall.

Meantime the stream below kept digging deeper the canyon of Sulphur Creek, and there came a time when the lower lake drained wholly away. In its place was left a bottom-land which is now a part of the Hayden Valley, and, running through it, a river. Forthwith this river began scooping, from the Great Fall to Inspiration Point, the scenic ditch which is world-celebrated to-day as the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone.


Now imagine this whole superlative wilderness heavily populated with wild animals in a state of normal living. Imagine thirty thousand elk, for instance, roaming about in bands of half a dozen to half a thousand. Imagine them not friendly, perhaps, but fearless, with that entire indifference which most animals show to creatures which neither help nor harm them—as indifferent, say, as the rabbits in your pasture or the squirrels in your oak woods. Imagine all the wild animals, except the sneaking, predatory kind, proportionally plentiful and similarly fearless—bear, antelope, mountain-sheep, deer, bison, even moose in the fastnesses, to say nothing of the innumerable smaller beasts. There has been no hunting of harmless animals in the Yellowstone since 1894, and this is one result.

It is true that comparatively few visitors see many animals, but that is the fault of their haste or their temperament or their inexperience of nature. One must seek in sympathy to find. Tearing over the wilderness roads in noisy motors smelling of gasolene is not the best way to find them, although the elk and deer became indifferent to automobiles as soon as they discovered them harmless. One may see them not infrequently from automobiles and often from horse-drawn wagons; and one may see them often and intimately who walks or rides horseback on the trails.

The admission of the automobile to Yellowstone roads changed seeing conditions materially. In five days of quiet driving in 1914 with Colonel L. M. Brett, then superintendent of the park, in a direction opposite to the stages, I saw more animals from my wagon-seat than I had expected to see wild in all my life. We saw bear half a dozen times, elk in numbers, black-tailed and white-tailed deer so frequently that count was lost the second morning, four bands of antelope, buffalo, foxes, coyotes, and even a bull moose. Once we stopped so as not to hurry a large bear and two cubs which were leisurely crossing the road. Deer watched us pass within a hundred yards. Elk grazed at close quarters, and our one bull moose obligingly ambled ahead of us along the road. There was never fear, never excitement (except my own), not even haste. Even the accustomed horses no more than cocked an ear or two while waiting for three wild bears to get out of the middle of the road.

Of course scenic completeness is enough in itself to justify the existence of these animals in the marvellous wilderness of the Yellowstone. Their presence in normal abundance and their calm at-homeness perfects nature's spectacle. In this respect, also, Yellowstone's unique place among the national parks is secure.

The lessons of the Yellowstone are plain. It is now too late to restore elsewhere the great natural possession which the thoughtless savagery of a former generation destroyed in careless ruth, but, thanks to this early impulse of conservation, a fine example still remains in the Yellowstone. But it is not too late to obliterate wholly certain misconceptions by which that savagery was then justified. It is not too late to look upon wild animals as fellow heritors of the earth, possessing certain natural rights which men are glad rather than bound to respect. It is not too late to consider them, with birds and forests, lakes, rivers, seas, and skies, a part of nature's glorious gift for man's manifold satisfaction, a gift to carefully conserve for the study and enjoyment of to-day, and to develop for the uses of larger and more appreciative generations to come.

Of course if this be brought to universal accomplishment (and the impulse has been advancing fast of late), it must be Yellowstone's part to furnish the exhibit, for we have no other.

To many the most surprising part of Yellowstone's wild-animal message is man's immunity from hatred and harm by predatory beasts. To know that wild bears if kindly treated are not only harmless but friendly, that grizzlies will not attack except in self-defense, and that wolves, wild cats, and mountain-lions fly with that instinctive dread which is man's dependable protection, may destroy certain romantic illusions of youth and discredit the observation if not the conscious verity of many an honest hunter; but it imparts a modern scientific fact which sets the whole wild-animal question in a new light. In every case of assault by bears where complete evidence has been obtainable, the United States Biological Survey, after fullest investigation, has exonerated the bear; he has always been attacked or has had reason to believe himself attacked. In more than thirty summers of field-work Vernon Bailey, Chief Field-Naturalist of the Biological Survey, has slept on the ground without fires or other protection, and frequently in the morning found tracks of investigating predatory beasts. There are reports but no records of human beings killed by wolves or mountain-lions in America. Yet, for years, all reports susceptible of proof have been officially investigated.

One of Yellowstone's several manifest destinies is to become the well-patronized American school of wild-life study. Already, from its abundance, it is supplying wild animals to help in the long and difficult task of restoring here and there, to national parks and other favorable localities, stocks which existed before the great slaughter.


Thirty miles south of this rolling volcanic interlude the pristine Rockies, as if in shame of their moment of gorgeous softness, rear in contrast their sharpest and most heroic monument of bristling granite. Scarcely over the park's southern boundary, the foot-hills of the Teton Mountains swell gently toward their Gothic climax. The country opens and roughens. The excellent road, which makes Jackson's Hole a practical part of the Yellowstone pleasure-ground, winds through a rolling, partly wooded grazing-ground of elk and deer. The time was when these wild herds made living possible for the nation's hunted desperadoes, for Jackson's Hole was the last refuge to yield to law and order.

At the climax of this sudden granite protest, the Grand Teton rises 7,014 feet in seeming sheerness from Jackson Lake to its total altitude of 13,747 feet. To its right is Mount Moran, a monster only less. The others, clustering around them, have no names.

From a photograph by Charles D. Walcott

From a photograph by Haynes

All together, they are few and grouped like the units of some fabulous barbaric stronghold. Fitted by size and majesty to be the climax of a mighty range, the Tetons concentrate their all in this one giant group. Quickly, north and south, they subside and pass. They are a granite island in a sea of plain.

Seen across the lake a dozen miles which seem but three, these clustered steepled temples rise sheer from the water. Their flanks are snow-streaked still in August, their shoulders hung with glaciers, their spires bare and shining. A greater contrast to the land from which we came and to which we presently return cannot be imagined. Geologically, the two have nothing in common. Scenically, the Tetons set off and complete the spectacle of the Yellowstone.

<<< Previous <<< Contents>>> Next >>>

Last Updated: 30-Oct-2009