Glimpses of our National Parks
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Special Characteristics: Geysers and Hot Springs; Wonderfully Colored Canyon; Largest Wild Bird and Animal Refuge

THE Yellowstone National Park, which lies principally in Wyoming, is the most widely celebrated of all our national parks because it contains more and greater geysers than all the rest of the world together. The geyser fields next in size are in Iceland and New Zealand. The rest are inconspicuous.

To comprehend what we have in Yellowstone, we must begin with its making. The entire region is of volcanic origin. The mountains around it on both sides and the mountains within it are products or remainders of great volcanoes of the far past; and the great plateaus, from which spring its geysers and hot springs and through whose forests now roam so many wild animals, are composed of the ash and disintegrated lavas which were once ejected from these volcanoes.

One peculiarly fascinating glimpse of Yellowstone's tempestuous past is afforded in the petrified forest of the Specimen Ridge neighborhood, where many levels of upright petrified trunks may be found alternating, like the layers in a cake, with levels of lava; which plainly shows that after the first forest grew on the volcano's slope and was engulfed by a fresh run of lava, enough time elapsed for a second forest to grow upon that level, and that this in turn was engulfed with new lava to make the level for another forest, and so on. There is a cliff 2,000 feet high composed wholly of these alternate levels of engulfed forests and the lavas which engulfed them.


Geysers are, roughly speaking, water volcanoes. They occur only at places where the internal heat of the earth approaches close to the surface. Their action, for so many years unexplained and even now regarded with wonder by so many, is simple. Water from the surface trickling through cracks in the rocks, or water from subterranean springs collecting in the bottom of the geyser's crater, down among the strata of intense heat, becomes itself intensely heated and gives off steam, which expands and forces upward the cooler water that lies above it. This makes room for the more rapid formation of steam which immediately gathers under enormous pressure.

It is then that the water at the surface of the geyser begins to bubble and give off clouds of steam, the sign to the watchers above that the geyser is about to play.

At last the water in the bottom reaches so great an expansion under continued heat that the less heated water above can no longer weigh it down, so it bursts upward with great violence, rising many feet in the air and continuing to play until practically all the water in the crater has been expelled. Spring water, or the same water cooled and falling back to the ground, again seeps through the surface to gather as before in the crater's depth, and in a greater or less time, according to difficulties in the way of its return, becomes reheated to the bursting point, when the geyser spouts again.

One may make a geyser with a test tube and a Bunsen burner. The National Park Service has built a small model geyser mounted on a wooden table which, when heat is applied to the metal retort on the floor, plays at regular intervals of about a minute and a quarter. The same water returns again and again to the retort, becomes reheated, and is again spouted into the air. This model, by the way, has been named Young Faithful.


Nearly the entire Yellowstone region, covering an area of about 3,300 square miles, is remarkable for its hot-water phenomena. The geysers are confined to three basins lying near each other in the middle west side of the park, but other hot water manifestations occur at more widely separated points. Marvelously colored hot springs, mud volcanoes, and other strange phenomena are frequent. At Mammoth Hot Springs the hot water has brought to the surface quantities of white mineral deposits which build terraces of beautifully incrusted basins high up into the air, often engulfing trees of considerable size. Over the edges of these carved basins pours the hot water. Microscopic plants called algæ grow on the edges and sides of these basins, assisting the deposition of the mineral matter and painting them hues of red and pink and bluish gray, which in warm weather glow brilliantly, but in cold weather almost disappear. At many other points lesser hot springs occur. introducing strange, almost uncanny, elements into wooded and otherwise quite normal landscapes.

Photograph by J. E. Haynes, St. Paul

A tour of these hot-water formations and spouting geysers is an experience never to be forgotten. Some of the geysers play at quite regular intervals. For many years the celebrated Old Faithful played about every 70 minutes, but during the summer of 1915 the interval lengthened to about 85 minutes, due to the small snowfall and consequent lessened water supply of the preceding winter; the next year, with a return of normal snowfall, the geyser resumed its usual intervals. Some of the largest geysers play at irregular intervals of days, weeks, or months. Some very small ones play every few minutes. Many bubbling hot springs, which throw water 2 or 3 feet into the air once or twice a minute, are really small, imperfectly formed geysers.

The hot-spring terraces are also a rather awe-inspiring spectacle when seen for the first time. The visitor may climb upon them and pick his way around among the steaming pools. In certain lights the surface of these pools appears vividly colored. The deeper hot pools are often intensely green. The incrustations are often beautifully crystallized. Clumps of grass, and even flowers, which have been submerged in the charged waters become exquisitely plated, as if with frosted silver.

But the geysers and hot-water formations are by no means the only wonders in the Yellowstone. Indeed the entire park is a wonderland. The Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone affords a spectacle worthy of a national park were there no geysers. But you must not confuse your Grand Canyons, of which there are several in our wonderful western country. Of these, by far the largest and most impressive is the Grand Canyon of the Colorado River, in Arizona. That is the one always meant when people speak of visiting "the Grand Canyon," without designating a location. It is the giant of canyons.


The Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone is altogether different. Great though its size, it is much the smaller of the two. What makes it a scenic feature of the first order is its marvelously variegated coloring. It is the cameo of canyons.

Standing upon Inspiration Point, which pushes out almost to the center of the canyon, one seems to look almost vertically down upon the foaming Yellowstone River. To the south a waterfall nearly twice the height of Niagara rushes seemingly out of the pine-clad hills and pours downward to be lost again in green.

From that point 2 or 3 miles to where you stand and beneath you widens out the most glorious kaleidoscope of color you will ever see in nature. The steep slopes dropping on either side a thousand feet and more from the pine-topped levels above are inconceivably carved and fretted by the frost and the erosion of the ages. Sometimes they lie in straight lines at easy angles, from which jut high rocky prominences. Sometimes they lie in huge hollows carved from the side walls. Here and there jagged rocky needles rise perpendicularly for hundreds of feet like groups of gothic spires.

Showing the Great Falls of the Yellowstone, 308 feet high.
Photograph by J. E. Haynes, St. Paul

And the whole is colored as brokenly and vividly as the field of a kaleidoscope. The whole is streaked and spotted and stratified in every shade from the deepest orange to the faintest lemon, from deep crimson through all the brick shades to the softest pink, from black through all the grays and pearls to glistening white. The greens are furnished by the dark pines above, the lighter shades of growth caught here and there in soft masses on the gentler slopes and the foaming green of the plunging river so far below. The blues, ever changing, are found in the dome of the sky overhead.

It is a spectacle which one looks upon in silence.

There are several spots from which fine partial views may be had, but no person can say he has seen the canyon who has not stood upon Inspiration Point. Remember this when you visit the Yellowstone.


Another interesting feature of the Yellowstone National Park is its wild-animal life. It is the largest and most successful preserve in the world. Its 3,300 square miles of mountains and valleys remain nearly as nature made them, for the 200 miles of roads and the four hotels and five camps are as nothing in this immense wilderness. No tree has been cut except when absolutely necessary for road or trail or camp. No herds invade its valleys. No rifle has been fired at a wild animal since 1894, except by occasional poachers along the border and by the official destroyers of predatory beasts.

Visitors for the most part keep to the beaten road, and the wild animals have learned in the years that they mean them no harm. To be sure, they are seldom seen from automobiles, the noise and odor of which tend to keep them back from the roads; or by the people filling the long trains of stages which travel from point to point daily during the season; but the quiet watcher on the trails may see deer and bear and elk and antelope to his heart's content, and he may even see mountain sheep, moose, and bison by journeying on foot or by horseback into their distant retreats. In the fall and spring, when the crowds are absent, wild deer gather in great numbers at the hotel clearings to crop the grass, and the rangers' children feed them flowers. One of the diversions at the road builders' camps in the wilderness is cultivating the acquaintance of the animals. There are photographs of men feeding sugar to bear cubs while mother bear looks idly on.

Thus one of the most interesting lessons from the Yellowstone is that wild animals are fearful and dangerous only when men treat them as game or as enemies.


The grizzly bear, for instance, is one of the shyest of wild animals, and may be seen only with difficulty. It lives principally on roots, berries, nuts, and honey—when honey may be had. It can not climb trees like the brown bears. Its little ones are born in caves where bears hibernate through the winters and are little larger than squirrels when they first come into the world.

Photograph by G. Swanson

The brown, cinnamon, and black bears, which, by the way, are the same species only differently colored—the blondes and brunettes, so to speak, of the same bear family—are quite different. They are playful, comparatively fearless, sometimes even friendly. They are greedy fellows and steal camp supplies whenever they can. The large meat wagons which carry supplies to the distant hotels and camps overnight are equipped with iron covers, because the bears used to rip off the wooden tops during the resting times and run off with sides of beef and mutton. One night several years ago teamsters drove three bears from the top of a single one of these big wagons.

This wild animal paradise contains 30,000 elk, several thousand moose, innumerable deer, many antelope, and a large and increasing herd of wild bison.

It is an excellent bird preserve also; more than 150 species live natural, undisturbed lives. Eagles abound among the crags. Wild geese and ducks are plentiful. Many thousands of large white pelicans add to the picturesqueness of Yellowstone Lake.


In magnificent contrast with the volcanic plateau and its border of volcanic mountains there rises from the plains, 30 miles to the south, one of the most abrupt and stupendous outcroppings of granite in the Western Hemisphere. From the western shore of Jackson Lake the Teton Mountains lift their spired peaks 7,000 feet in apparent perpendicular. Many glaciers rest upon their shoulders. Their climax is the Grand Teton, whose altitude is 13,747 feet.

Thus does the Yellowstone run the scenic gamut.

Once Jackson's Hole, as this region is still popularly called, was the refuge for the hunted desperado of mountain, plain, and city. In the recesses of these granite monsters he was safe from pursuit, and the elk herds of the plains provided him food. But that picturesque period of American life has passed with the warring Indians who also here found temporary safe retreat.


The first recorded visit, to the Yellowstone was made by John Colter in 1810. He was returning home alone from the Lewis and Clark expedition and took refuge there from hostile Indians. His story of its wonders was discredited.

The next recorded visit was by a trapper named Joseph Meek in 1829, who described it as "a country smoking with vapor from boiling springs and burning with gases issuing from small craters." From some of these craters, he said, "issued blue flame and molten brimstone," which, of course, was not true, though doubtless Meek fully believed it to be the truth.

Between 1830 and 1840 Warren Angus Ferris, a clerk in the American Fur Co., wrote the first description of the Firehole Geyser Basin, but it was not until 1852 that the geyser district was actually defined and the geysers precisely located. This was done by Father De Smet, the famous Jesuit missionary.

It remained for a Government expedition, sent out in 1859 under command of Capt. W. F. Raynolds, to first really explore and chart the region. Several private explorers followed, but so great was public incredulity as to the marvels they described that they did not dare tell their experiences before any general audiences, for several lecturers had been stoned in the streets as impostors. The large exploring expedition under Henry D. Washburn and N. P. Langford, in 1870, finally established the facts to the public belief and led to the creation of the Yellowstone National Park.

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Last Updated: 30-Oct-2009