National Parks
The American Experience
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Chapter 2:
Monumentalism Reaffirmed: The Yellowstone

As an agricultural country, I was not favorably impressed with the great Yellowstone basin, but its brimstone resources are ample for all the matchmakers in the world. . . . When, . . . by means of the Northern Pacific Railroad, the falls of the Yellowstone and the geyser basin are rendered easy of access, probably no portion of America will be more popular as a watering-place or summer resort . . . .

Walter Trumbull, 1871

We pass with rapid transition from one remarkable vision to another, each unique of its kind and surpassing all others in the known world. The intelligent American will one day point on the map to this remarkable district with the conscious pride that it has not its parallel on the face of the globe.

Ferdinand Vandiveer Hayden, 1872

In 1872 the national park idea, shaped beneath the monumental grandeur of Yosemite Valley and the Sierra redwoods, was realized in name as well as in fact with the establishment of Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming. In subsequent years, however, what appeared to be differences between Yosemite and Yellowstone overshadowed the origins of the national park idea during the 1860s. In marked contrast to the Yosemite grant, Yellowstone Park was huge, more than 3,300 square miles in area. In addition, it was truly a national park, since the federal government retained exclusive jurisdiction over the area. Still, in no way was Yellowstone intended to break with the visions of 1864. Its spaciousness resulted from concern for the safety of yet undiscovered wonders, not because park advocates in 1872 were any more aware of the advantages of protecting an integral ecosystem. Nor was Yellowstone so large because it was meant to protect wilderness; Americans were still ambivalent about wild country. [1] Like Yosemite Park, Yellowstone owed its existence to more immediate concerns. Similar to the natural phenomena of the High Sierra, Wyoming's fabled wonderland of geysers, waterfalls, canyons, and other "curiosities" appealed to the nation as a cultural repository. Although it was much larger than its predecessor, therefore, and was first to be called a national park, Yellowstone merely reaffirmed the ideals and anxieties of 1864.

Thus if more had been known about Yellowstone [2] at the same time, perhaps the two parks would have been established simultaneously. Well into the 1860s, however, its steep mountains, deep canyons, and remoteness discouraged most explorers, let alone tourists whose cultural biases might have carried the sentiment for protection from California to Wyoming. Precisely who first explored the region still is not known. Sometime between 1806 and 1810 the mountain man John Colter may have traversed it, although his exact route—if in fact he ever crossed the heart of what is now Yellowstone National Park at all—has never been verified. Evidence that James Bridger saw the territory is far more reliable; his stories, at least, suggest that he had a substantial knowledge about the Yellowstone by the 1830s. [3] There are other accounts, but only a few; the trappers, after all, were not in the West to arouse publicity about its natural wonders. The enjoyment and description of the wilderness awaited adventurers of a far different persuasion.

The discovery of gold in neighboring Montana Territory during the 1860s foretold the opening of Yellowstone to permanent disclosure. The period of revelation began as the gold-seekers made inroads into the region via the Yellowstone River. And, occasionally, some deposits were unearthed. Yet more often "strikes" consisted of spectacular scenery and natural phenomena. In 1866 Jim Bridger added excitement to these reports with new renditions of his already fabled (though still widely disbelieved) adventures in the so-called mythical Yellowstone. Still, such publicity stirred several Montanans to entertain thoughts about an expedition of their own. During the summer of 1869 one was organized. As the date of departure drew near, however, most of the men dropped out, ostensibly because of unforeseen business engagements, but more likely because they now feared Indian reprisals. Their apprehension only grew on word from Fort Ellis that no military escort could be provided that year. With the season drawing to a close, only three of the men, Charles W. Cook, David E. Folsom, and William Peterson, dared risk the consequences and go it alone. On September 6 they left the settlements behind and headed south for the Yellowstone wilderness. [4]

No less than their counterparts in Yosemite Valley and beneath the Sierra redwoods, the adventurers returned with descriptions whose cultural overtones proved decisive in molding America's first impression of the region. When Cook, Folsom, and Peterson [5] reemerged from Yellowstone early in October, their list of discoveries included the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone River, Yellowstone Lake, and the thermal wonders of what has come to be known as the Lower Geyser Basin. For a second time exploration of the West had revealed a made-to-order wonderland where the handiwork of nature grandly compensated for the Old World associations and sense of the past so painfully absent in the United States. As Charles W. Cook was comforted to note, a limestone formation on the outskirts of the wilderness "bore a strong resemblance to an old castle," whose "rampart and bulwark were slowly yielding to the ravages of time." Still, "the stout old turret stood out in bold relief against the sky, with every embrasure as perfect in outline as though but a day ago it had been built by the hand of man." Indeed the explorers "could almost imagine," he concluded, "that it was the stronghold of some baron of feudal times, and that we were his retainers returning laden with the spoils of a successful foray." [6]

Charles Cook's attempt to ascribe human intervention to the formation was no less sincere than prior efforts by Samuel Bowles, Horace Greeley, Clarence King, and their contemporaries in the High Sierra. Nor were Cook, Folsom, and Peterson to be disappointed. Continuing on to the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone River, they further discovered that here, too, "it required no stretch of the imagination to picture," deep within the recesses of the chasm, "fortresses, castles, watch-towers, and other ancient structures, of every conceivable shape." Similarly, near Yellowstone Lake the men later sighted other "objects of interest and wonder," including "stone monuments," formed "by the slow process of precipitation, through the countless lapse of ages." [7] Wherever appropriate, such descriptions reaffirmed that the United States could salvage a past from the timelessness of natural forces, which, if suitably directed, themselves could be imagined to have resulted from human initiative.

The success of Charles W. Cook and his associates helped inspire an even more elaborate expedition the following summer. Meanwhile, back in Montana, Cook collaborated with David Folsom on a special diary of their descriptions, which eventually appeared in the July 1870 issue of Western Monthly Magazine. [8] By then the second expedition was making its final plans and preparations. To be composed of nineteen men in all, its leader would be Henry Dana Washburn. Following two terms as an Indiana representative to the United States Congress, Washburn in 1869 was appointed surveyor-general of Montana, where he soon joined in the discussions that led to the expedition. Its other participants included Nathaniel Pitt Langford, a native of New York State turned territorial politician, and Cornelius Hedges, a young lawyer with a degree from Yale University. Both men, as amateur correspondents, were authenticated by Walter Trumbull, formerly a reporter for the New York Sun; his father, Lyman, was the senior United States senator from Illinois. Lieutenant Gustavus C. Doane, another native of New York State, commanded the military escort of six men. [9] Again these brief biographies are instructive of the cultural baggage the men, as Eastern-bred professionals, carried with them into the Yellowstone wilderness. Here, no less than in Yosemite Valley, the combination of eastern perceptions and the wonders of the West fostered the earliest glimmerings of the national park idea.

With the Washburn-Langford-Doane Expedition, [10] the popularization of Yellowstone's cultural possibilities was assured. Indeed, the outpouring of publicity that followed completion of the venture soon overshadowed the prior exploits of Cook, Folsom, and Peterson. On August 22, 1870, Washburn and his associates left Fort Ellis, Montana Territory, and, four days later, approached what is now Yellowstone National Park. Their adventures over the next month aroused the imaginations of people nationwide. Like their predecessors, Washburn and his companions marveled at the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone River and its spectacular upper and lower falls, over 100 and 300 feet high respectively. "A grander scene than the lower cataract of the Yellowstone was never witnessed by mortal eyes," Langford stated. "It is a sheer, compact, solid, perpendicular sheet, faultless in all the elements of grandeur and picturesque beauties." [11] On September 1 the men resumed their march south toward Yellowstone Lake, but delayed enroute to examine the Mud Volcano. Following their sighting of the lake on the third, they exhausted themselves for several days in a trek around its southern shore through mile after mile of tumbled pines. The maze soon claimed a member of the party, Truman C. Everts, who became hopelessly separated from his companions. No one could be confident that he had survived; in fact he made his way out of Yellowstone several weeks later, although much weakened and emaciated. Still, if inadvertently, Evert's brush with death invited considerable comment and soon contributed as much publicity to the expedition as the popularization of Yellowstone's wonders. [12]

With the abandonment of their search for Everts, the explorers, understandably subdued, continued westward to the headwaters of the Firehole River. Here their spirits lifted with the sighting of the Upper Geyser Basin, which Cook and his party had missed the previous year. To the Washburn Expedition went the honor of locating and naming the basin's thermal attractions, including Old Faithful geyser, destined to become the enduring symbol of the national park idea. Yet whatever emotions the Upper Geyser Basin arouses among modern visitors, its first publicists welcomed the opportunity to draw comparisons between its wonders and the attractions of Europe. "To do justice to the subject would require a volume," Lieutenant Doane assured Congress. "The geysers of Iceland sink to insignificance beside them; they are above the reach of comparison." Similarly, Nathaniel P. Langford proclaimed the geyser the "new and, perhaps, most remarkable feature in our scenery and physical history." Again the wonder was touted all the more because its counterpart was not even present in Europe. "It is found in no other countries but Iceland and Tibet," Langford stated. "Taken as an aggregate, the officer added, "the Firehole Basin surpasses all other great wonders of the continent." [13] It followed that the scenery of the Old World, especially the Alps, had found its equal in the Rocky Mountains as well as the Sierra Nevada. For the geyser was America's alone—at least with respect to Europe—to the delight of every nationalist concerned.

Yellowstone, to be sure, was soon the talk of the popular press. No sooner did the Washburn Expedition return to Montana than several of its participants, including Washburn, Langford, and Hedges, composed a series of descriptive articles for the Helena Daily Herald. [14] Within days the accounts also spread to the East. On October 14, for example, the New York Times carried a lengthy editorial praising Washburn's skill in reporting the discoveries. "Accounts of travel are often rather uninteresting," the editorial began, "partly because of the lack of interest in the places visited and partly through the defective way in which they are described." But Yellowstone as portrayed by the surveyor-general of Montana struck the reader "like the realization of a child's fairy tale." Everywhere the expedition had encountered formations "that constantly suggested some mighty effort at human architecture." For instance, one stream coursed "between a procession of sharp pinnacles, looking like some noble old castle, dismantled and shivered with years, but still erect and defiant." [15] And "beautiful" hardly seemed "the word for the Lower Falls of the Yellowstone. Here the height more than doubles Niagara." The revelation of this magnificent wonder, the Times concluded, in addition to "geysers of mud and steam that must exceed the size and power of those of Iceland," clearly explained why Washburn's writings were "so gilded with true romance." [16]

Such publicity soon provided additional opportunities for the explorers to market their achievement. During the winter of 1870-71, for example, Nathaniel P. Langford contracted with the Northern Pacific Railroad to deliver a series of lectures in Washington, D.C., New York, and Philadelphia. In Washington his audience included Dr. Ferdinand Vandiveer Hayden, a professor of geology at the University of Pennsylvania, and, of significance for Yellowstone's future, the director of the United States Geological and Geographical Survey of the Territories. Langford's speech—added to the growing list of reports and articles by Cornelius Hedges, Lieutenant Doane, General Washburn, [17] and others—convinced Hayden to drop his plans for operating in Dakota and Nebraska that summer. Instead he would take the survey into Yellowstone. [18]

Congress appropriated $40,000, a sum that enabled the men to accomplish far more than another description of Yellowstone's natural phenomena. In marked contrast to the Cook and Washburn forays, Hayden's team included entomologists, topographers, a zoologist, mineralogist, meteorologist, and physician. [19] Thomas Moran, the artist, and William Henry Jackson, a frontier photographer, were also invited to provide the all-important visual record of the expedition's discoveries. [20] Moran, today regarded with Albert Bierstadt as co-founder of the Rocky Mountain School of landscape painting, complemented Jackson's surprisingly detailed pictures with a series of sketches and watercolors. Of those translated onto canvas, the most famous and impressive is The Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone. In June 1872 Congress purchased the work for $10,000 and later hung it in the Senate lobby. A full 7 by 12 feet, the painting firmly established Thomas Moran as Bierstadt's rival. [21]

The Hayden Survey, which departed Fort Ellis on July 15, constituted the third major investigation of Yellowstone in as many years. Yet a fourth expedition, a military reconnaissance commanded by one Colonel John W. Barlow and Captain David P. Heap, accompanied the Hayden party off and on during its travels, but, for obvious reasons, never achieved the distinction of the latter. Hayden and his men were among the first to see Mammoth Hot Springs, [22] a phenomenon of limestone terraces and streaming fountains on the northern outskirts of the Yellowstone wilderness. In prior seasons Cook, Washburn, and their associates had missed the wonder because they chose a slightly different route. The Hayden party spent two days exploring the area, then resumed its march southward toward the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone River. Here the great falls and richly colored cliffs inspired Thomas Moran's great painting, which still is recognized as the most famous of his career. Its style, after all, was in keeping with the grandiose imagery of the West so popular during the period. In the middle of the picture, off in the distance, the Lower Fall leaps into the canyon, half-shrouded in mist. In the foreground and to the sides of the painting, the rocks, walls, and trees of the chasm grow progressively bolder and more angular in appearance, as if to suggest that the formations may in fact be thought of as castles, fortresses, or ruins. Indeed in real life, Ferdinand V. Hayden maintained, the pinnacles stood out like "Gothic columns . . . with greater variety and more striking colors than ever adorned a work of human art." [23] Only William Henry Jackson's photographs restricted the expedition to recording the scene without embellishment; still, nothing about the canyon's appearance deterred its publicists from declaring the formations superior to man-made art and architecture.

On the evening of July 28 the men arrived at Yellowstone Lake. While some members of the party stayed behind to map the shoreline, on the thirty-first Hayden and four others, including W. H. Jackson, struck off for the Firehole River. Three days later they sighted the Lower Geyser Basin; on August 6 and 7 they further investigated the Upper Geyser Basin and its hourly sentinel, Old Faithful. Soon afterward Hayden and his contingent returned to their comrades at Yellowstone Lake. Following yet another week of separate forays to the west and south, Hayden regrouped the men for the march northward and home. Back in Montana, on August 27, the geologist officially closed all operations in the field. [24]

Like the discovery of Yosemite Valley and the Sierra redwoods, the revelation of Yellowstone to the world offered the United States still another opportunity to acquire a semblance of antiquity through landscape. The protection of Yellowstone as a further outgrowth of America's cultural nationalism has simply been overshadowed by the debate concerning when the national park idea evolved rather than why it evolved. Those who place greater emphasis on terminology rather than ideology, for example, contend that Yellowstone marks the true origins of both the idea and the institution. Yellowstone, after all, and not Yosemite, was first to be called a national park. [25] This line of reasoning begins with the diary of Nathaniel Pitt Langford, whose entry for September 20, 1870, opened as follows: "Last night, and also this morning in camp, the entire party had a rather unusual discussion. The proposition was made by some member that we utilize the result of our exploration by taking up quarter sections of land at the most prominent points of interest," specifically, those that "would eventually become a source of great profit to the owners." Following this suggestion, however, and others of a similar bent, Cornelius Hedges declared "that he did not approve of any of these plans—that there ought to be no private ownership of any portion of that region, but that the whole of it ought to be set aside as a great National Park, and that each one of us ought to make an effort to have this accomplished."

According to Langford, the proposal then "met with an instantaneous and favorable response from all—except one—of the members of our party, and each hour since the matter was first broached, our enthusiasm has increased." Indeed, Langford concluded, "I lay awake half of last night thinking about it;—and if my wakefulness deprived my bedfellow (Hedges) of any sleep, he has only himself and his disturbing National Park proposition to answer for it." [26]

A monument on the site of the discussion, at the junction of the Firehole and Gibbon rivers, testifies to the widespread acceptance of Langford's account. But that the explorers used the term national park at this time is more than open to question. Doubts have been cast on Langford's diary itself, which he edited and revised for publication in 1905, thirty-five years after the event. There is also no mention of the term "national park" in any of the numerous publications prepared by the members of the Washburn Expedition following their exploits; the omission is very surprising in light of the plan's supposed adoption by all but one of the explorers. Thus it seems reasonable to conclude that while Langford did not intentionally distort his recollections, they magnified over time in response to the growing popularity of the national park idea. In all probability, what the Washburn Expedition discussed the night of September 19, 1870, if in fact the men had resolved to campaign for a park at this early date, was something on the order of the Yosemite grant, which preserved the gorge and Mariposa Redwood Grove in two distinct sections. Similar small parcels might easily have been established to preserve only Yellowstone's major points of interest, including the canyon, falls, and geyser basins. In either case, only later, as the men clarified their own thoughts and determined to really push for protection of the region, did the term "national park" evolve. [27]

Even then it appeared nowhere in the enabling act itself; the title public park was consistently used. [28] The omission lends credence to the argument that Yellowstone was in fact modeled after the Yosemite grant and retained by the federal government only because Wyoming, unlike California, was a territory rather than a state. Nor should the comparative insignificance of Yosemite in terms of size hide the striking similarity between the intent of its advocates and those who supported a Yellowstone park. While Yellowstone's explorers admitted that the region as a whole was "picturesque," they, too, invariably sought out those wonders whose uniqueness suggested the human intervention found so wanting in the American scene. It followed that wilderness preservation was the least of their aims. Nathaniel P. Langford's visions for Yellowstone Lake, for example, might well have been inspired by Lake Como or the French Riviera. "How can I sum up its wonderful attraction!" he exclaimed. "It is dotted with islands of great beauty, as yet unvisited by man, but which at no remote period will be adorned with villas and the ornaments of civilized life." Even at the moment, he confided to his diary, Yellowstone Lake "possesses adaptabilities for the highest display of artificial culture, amid the greatest wonders of Nature that the world affords. . ." Not many years would elapse, he predicted, "before the march of civil improvements will reclaim this delightful solitude, and garnish it with all the attractions of cultivated taste and refinement." [29]

Eventually his dream would be realized, at least partially, with construction of the grand hotels beside the lake, the canyon, and the geyser basins. Granted, today Yellowstone is highly valued because it also has wilderness. The park's first publicists, however, did not embrace its wild country with the same enthusiasm, at least not in 1870. Rather the charge of crudeness often leveled at the United States aroused precisely the opposite reaction. As with Langford, the Upper Falls of the Yellowstone River furnished Cornelius Hedges with a vision more appropriate for the future. "I fancied I could see in the dim distance of a few seasons an iron swing bridge," he declared in the pages of the Helena Daily Herald, "with bright, happy eyes gazing wondrously upon this beauty of nature in water colors." In the meantime a "convenient ledge, with a surface accommodation for 20 persons," provided access for those who preferred to view the cataract in a more genteel fashion. [30]

With that statement Hedges joined Langford in revealing his innermost yearnings about the possibility of refining the region. While the United States lived in the shadow of European art and architecture, the absence of villas, iron bridges, and other ornaments was as unsettling in Yellowstone as anywhere else. The appreciation of nature for its own sake was not yet widely accepted. Indeed, as late as 1905 Langford might have stricken his conviction that Yellowstone should be "civilized" from his diary; that he instead published the passage intact bears out the depth of his original commitment to popularize the region as a tourist resort rather than a wilderness preserve.

The decision was in keeping with the explorers' urge to lend their exploits cultural as well as historical significance. As vindicated provincials, they freely joined Langford in further dismissing European culture with their newly discovered "spires of protruding rocks," "pillars of basalt," and other forms of the "majestic display of natural architecture." Nor did Langford seem in the least embarrassed when he claimed to have located a geyser whose crater resembled "a miniature model of the Coliseum." [31] As long as the United States lacked comparable examples of the real thing, the New World masterpieces of the Yellowstone would also help ease the period of transition.

As in the case of Yosemite Valley and the Sierra redwoods therefore, to ignore the threatened confiscation of Yellowstone's wonders by private interests would again be the equivalent of admitting that the United States had no pride in its culture. No sooner had the explorers confirmed the existence of the natural phenomena than attempts to exploit them arose. Even as the Hayden Survey entered Yellowstone in the summer of 1871, two claimants were cutting poles in anticipation of fencing off the geyser basins along the Firehole River. [32] Supposedly the Washburn Expedition had discussed and rejected a similar scheme the previous year; whether or not the surveyor-general and his companions further considered the park idea at this time, however, did nothing to diminish the influence of cultural anxiety as a spur for its advancement.

The events of the park campaign itself, as distinct from the perceptions that inspired it, are still unclear. Langford's diary aside, the financier Jay Cooke and officials of the Northern Pacific Railroad may actually have suggested the park bill and motivated the interested parties. The interpretation does have considerable support. As early as January 1871 Nathaniel P. Langford lectured in the East under sponsorship of the line. Similarly, that summer Cooke extended financial aid to Thomas Moran so that the artist might accompany the Hayden Survey into Yellowstone. Finally, on October 27, 1871, Professor Hayden himself received an official request from an agent of the Northern Pacific project to lobby on behalf of the park proposal. "Let Congress pass a bill reserving the Great Geyser Basin as a public park forever," the letter suggested, "just as it has reserved that far inferior wonder the Yosemite Valley and big trees. If you approve this, would such a recommendation be appropriate in your official report?" [33] Cooke and his associates realized, of course, that if Yellowstone became a park, their railroad would be the sole beneficiary of the tourist traffic.

With the introduction of the park bill in Congress, however, officials of the Northern Pacific apparently stayed out of the limelight. At least in public, the House and Senate placed their trust in the writings of the explorers themselves. The arguments of Dr. Hayden were especially influential. At the request of the House Committee on the Public Lands, he prepared a detailed summary of Yellowstone's qualifications for park status. When the geologist presented the statement, the committee released it verbatim as its own report in favor of the bill. [34] No document does more to reveal the explorers' reliance on promoting the region as another cultural oasis. After decrying the callousness of those laying claim to Yellowstone's wonders, Hayden objected that they intended "to fence in these rare wonders so as to charge visitors a fee, as is now done at Niagara Falls, for the sight of that which ought to be as free as the air or water." The failure of Congress to intervene decisively, he concluded, would doom "decorations more beautiful than human art ever conceived" to be, "in a single season," despoiled "beyond recovery." [35]

Hayden's outspoken reminder about the nation's failure to prevent the disfigurement of Niagara Falls was highly effective, especially in providing park backers a fitting analogy for their case. Similarly, his exposure of the superiority of Yellowstone's "decorations" over "human art" challenged Congress either to approve the park or risk further national embarrassment. Although the formations of the West invited obvious comparisons to castles, ruins, and other storybook structures, nationalists were not so nebulous in their analogies, but rather debunked specific examples of Old World art and architecture. The geologist, by again specifying where the nation had failed to match its rhetoric with a commitment to action, thus helped revive the formula for protection found successful in 1864.

Congress further asked Professor Hayden to suggest suitable boundaries for the park, although again, they were drawn large to insure the preservation of Yellowstone's wonders, not its wilderness per se. [36] Meanwhile, he, Langford, Walter Trumbull, and others worked long and hard to effect a favorable vote. For example, they placed 400 copies of Langford's article in the May and June, 1871, issues of Scribner's Monthly on the desk of each senator and representative prior to the debates in both houses. Similarly, William H. Jackson's photographs and Thomas Moran's watercolors and sketches were displayed prominently in the halls of the Capitol. News that Moran was nearing completion of his great canvas of the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone River also evoked widespread publicity. Finally, Hayden and his associates tried to meet personally with as many members of the Congress as possible. In retrospect, it was a very thorough campaign, one that paid off on March 1, 1872, when President Ulysses S. Grant signed the Yellowstone Park Act into law. [37]

Precisely who authored the bill still is not known. The leading candidate for the honor, however, would be Representative Henry L. Dawes of Massachusetts. Not only did he support the Hayden Survey with great enthusiasm, but also his list of acquaintances, including Frederick Law Olmsted and Samuel Bowles, indicates that he must have been favorably disposed to the idea of preservation from an early date. [38] In either case, similar to Yosemite and the Mariposa Redwood Grove, Yellowstone was "dedicated and set apart as a public park or pleasuring ground for the benefit and enjoyment of the people." Like Yosemite, of course, it would be decades before Yellowstone enjoyed any appreciable visitation; the Northern Pacific Railroad itself was not completed, nor would it link up with the park until 1883. An immediate justification for the reserve was its symbolic importance. As soon as possible, the secretary of the interior was to prepare regulations providing "for the preservation from injury or spoliation, of all timber, mineral deposits, natural curiosities, or wonders within said park," which must be retained "in their natural condition." [39] The striking similarity between the intent of these stipulations, and those of the Yosemite Park bill, lends credence to the claim that the national park idea was first realized in 1864. To be sure, only because Yosemite was not called a national park has its identical role as a wonderland set aside in the national interest occasionally been discounted.

Comparisons between the area of the two parks undoubtedly contributed to any confusion about their parallel intent. In 1864 Yosemite was a very small affair, barely forty square miles surrounding the valley and redwoods. As a result, not only was Yellowstone the first national park, but, by virtue of its size, it was the first to anticipate the "ideal" national park as the idea came to evolve. But again, whatever resemblance Yellowstone bore in 1872 to the modern standard was purely unintentional. Had more been known about the region, namely, that the best of its natural phenomena had in fact been located, in all probability Yellowstone, like Yosemite, would have been established as a fragmented series of parcels encompassing little more than its major attractions.

Rarely would national parks of the future be as large or inclusive. Indeed, this was to become the great paradox of the national park idea. Granted, the United States sought out and protected the "earth monuments" of the West as replacements for the landmarks of human achievement still absent in the New World. Yet in few instances did the credibility of preservation for cultural ends require more than protection of a wonder by itself. In the meantime the nation had another reputation to encourage and protect, one more in keeping with its pioneer origins and expansionist ideals. Fortunately for preservation, the time when the United States would have to decide between parks and profits was not yet quite at hand.


National Parks: The American Experience
©1997, University of Nebraska Press
runte1/chap2.htm — 17-Mar-2004