Last updated: November 30, 2015
Today’s picture (McCarthy (?) family photographs, ca. 1913, Trip to Yellowstone Collection (MSC 023)) is one of the sights that you will no longer see in Yellowstone National Park. In the 1970s, the newly implemented bear management program meant that feeding bears was prohibited and that all human food and garbage had to be kept in bear-proof storage containers. Comparing the 1960s (pre-bear management) to the 2000s show on average 1 instead of 45 injuries per year; property damage claims dropped from 219 to 14; and fewer bears have to be killed or relocated. Look at how close the people in this picture are standing to the bears. Today, the minimum distance from a bear is 100 yards, the distance of an American football field.
My dear Elsie:—
Another full day of sightseeing in this unique wonderland. Left Yellowstone Lake Camp this morning at 7:15, and, of course, in the company of my new friend, Mr. RuDell. Isn’t that an aristocratic name? so different from Smith and Jones! But the man himself is as uncommon as his name, for he is a natural-born optimist, always seeing the flowers amid the thorns, and always brimming over with that goodly virtue called cheerfulness. At our first acquaintance, I only thought that his expressive eyes made him handsome, but I find that beyond this, he has that natural gallantry, nobility, and affection which alone make the homeliest man a handsome fellow. You know, Elsie, that I have long since decided that a bird is not to be appreciated merely for its plumage but for its song, for it is its sweet melody that makes the song-bird beautiful. You would not call my newly found genius a handsome man, for you,
my little friend, are inclined to “look at the bird’s feathers.”
Our first point of greater interest, en route, this morning, was the Hayden Valley of spreading meadows, thru which runs the beautiful Yellowstone River, on whose bosom we saw great flocks of wild geese, duck, and even gulls, fish-hawks and pelicans. This valley of abundant grass slopes to high hills on each side—and is one of the chief feeding grounds of the elk, the antelope and the deer.
Next we came to the great Mud Geyser, only a few steps to the left of the road. I think that if the devil ever owned and controlled any thing [sic], this is his very own. They tell us that twenty years ago, the eruptions were so violent that the dark, thick, pasty mud was thrown more than a hundred feet from the crater, covering the near-by trees with a slime that completely coated and dried their branches. Now this ex-volcano, but present geyser, is a seething, restless, boiling, spouting, angry caldron of thick,
muddy water—constantly puffing and rising to a height of from two to ten feet, and falling back into the geyser’s yawning mouth, only to erupt and spew again and again. This awful scene might inspire some to poetry, but to me, it’s a black streak in my luck—for it was here where Mr. RuDell met a woman who, he said, in excusing himself “for a few moments,” was one of his lady friends at college. This lady was one of the party of tourists from the stage just in front of us, and who, stopping to see the geyser, were still enthralled by its awfulness when we arrived. When the stage started, and upon her invitation, Mr. RuDell was invited to fill a vacant seat in the coach which she rode. This invitation he accepted, and she has since quite monopolized his company. Of course I don’t care, for I am not in love with the man, but you know how I feel under such, naturally embarrassing circumstances. This woman and Mr. RuDell may be friends, but unlikely, “friends only,” for I think I can tell when a couple pass-
es beyond the stage of friendship to the deeper sentiment of love. But as the matter is quite immaterial to me, I will pass on, endeavoring to describe the scenes of the day. Next we (the tourists in the rear stage, minus “the Mr. RuDell,”) we passed Trout Creek which forms, by its natural winding and graceful curves, the trade-mark of the Northern Pacific R.R.
A landscape gardener could hardly channel the grassy curves of the creek more accurately.
Next we had the stage-driver take us about an hour’s side-trip across the hillside to the Sulphur Mountain, on the western slope of which are boiling sulphur springs and small geysers discharging the yellow sulphur in its crude state—and depositing layers of it sometimes to a thickness of six to twelve inches. While off the main road, en route to this point of interest, we saw a herd of elk numbering several hundred, and some deer. Next we came to the Upper Falls of the Yellowstone River, which has a perpendicular drop of 112 feet.
But these are tame scenes to the tourist, and minor attractions in comparison with “The Great Falls” of the Yellowstone (often called the Lower Falls) being a quarter of a mile below the Upper Falls.
The Great Falls of the Yellowstone, 360 feet in height—which is more than twice the height of Niagara—can be truly described as the greatest water-fall in the world (considering the size of the stream.) The river narrows down from a width of 250 feet to exactly 74 feet at the brink, where it suddenly leaps in awful swiftness and power to the depths of the great rock-bottom of the beginning of the most beautifully colored canyon in all the earth. To view the Great Falls from the canyon depth, while standing a few yards from out the mist, bankrupts one’s vocabulary and reduces to a beggarly list the whole stock of superlatives known to the English language, even stifling the most vivid imagination. From this depth, the brink of the Falls seems only a few feet beneath the blue sky, and, cir-
cling the mist below, is a perfect rainbow—unsurpassed by any that ever circled the bosom of the heavens.
But this awe-inspiring plunge of crystal water is only the beginning of its associate wonder—the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone, which is over 2,000 feet wide across the top, 1,500 to 1,700 feet deep, from 75 to 150 feet in width at the bottom, and about 25 miles long from the Falls north and east. Its steep, slanting, towering banks, streaked and spotted with sand in all the colors of the rainbow, and the permanency of its distinct colors, conspire to make this the greatest canyon (except in size) any where [sic] in the known world. Its indefinable beauty and grandeur will ever live in the tourist’s memory, for here are poems untold, pictures uncopied, and all the colors of the sea and the heavens spread out beyond the eye’s power of comprehension. In all, there are about a score of different colors of sand, found beautifully distributed in spots and streaks upon the
canyon walls. Between its great walls, skillfully built upon the summit of towering rock-steeples near the river-side, eagles build their nests, and can be seen both in their nests, and teaching the eaglets to fly. These, the kings of all birds, the birds that soar the highest, defying every storm, and whose image is stamped upon the hard money of the foremost of American nations, have sought the safest and most indescribable retreat between earth and heaven, for here they nest and hatch unharmed by their greatest enemy, man, and are protected by the great nation whose money they adorn.
It is a sight of no little interest to see the mother-eagle, when tired of the chirping or whistling of her young, push them out of the nest, thus teaching them to fly.
If the young eaglets flutter in an uncertain way, the great mother in her wisdom and mother-love, flies beneath them, catching them upon her back, and then darting from beneath them, till they learn to fly in safety and at will.
The “Castle Walls” of the canyon, comprising a thousand pinnacles, shaped by the elements thru the ages, richly tinted in many colors, with increasing beauty of tint and hue in the washing rains, and kissed dry by the golden sunshine—present a real nature-picture which cannot be described by the most eloquent tongue or pen. A more expert and facile word painter than I thus attempts a description:
“The Canyon and Falls of the Yellowstone beggar description. They are twin wonders in a Wonderland. Is there any other gorge as gorgeous as that Canyon? With such gaiety of coloring—with such delicate and lovely shades of yellows and reds, purples and pinks, greens and crimsons, all commingling in harmony from the green-fringed brink, down, down the craggy sides into sombre depths where the writhing, gleaming ribbon of river, thousands of feet below, plunges along on its winding way to the sea?
And the falls—the drapery of the canyon—the two silvery curtains that hang at its head—a great river pouring over a precipice and falling in glassy sheets hundreds of feet, then ruffling and flouncing and festooning until lost in the rainbow-hued mist at their feet.
See all this as thousands have and thousands will from “Inspiration Point”—a rocky balcony over the gorge, with the eagles’ nests below you—or from “Artist’s Point” on the other side, where Moran transferred the glories of canyon and falls to canvas; or see it from any of the other places where tourists love to linger and look, and you will see the most tremendous, stupendous, alluring and altogether splendid spectacle that Nature ever spread out for the wonder, amazement and delight of mortal eyes.”
Elsie, if my poor pen could describe, I would not cease writing till you saw in your own imagination, what I have seen. But these things must
be seen, even to be partially appreciated or understood.
This place, the Grand Canyon Camp, is the destination of my fourth day in the Park. After supper a company of us went to see the bears feed from the “garbage dump,” and we saw the black, brown, and the silver-tip—the latter being the most vicious in the Park.
Mr. RuDell, when last seen, was the escort of his so-called “college friend”—but, I ween—his sweetheart. With sleepy eyes, I am your loving friend,
Good night! and may your dreams be more pleasant than mine.
In a lead up to that most romantic day of the year, February 14th, we will be continuing William Popham’s 1911 book, “Yellowstone Park Romance.” If you do not see any new posts, you may need to refresh your browser page.
Images are taken from the Yellowstone Park Museum. They may not have been taken in 1911 but we hope that they help to illustrate the author’s wonderfully descriptive prose.
Please note that many of the practices the author writes about (including feeding the animals or tramping near certain features) are no longer allowed today.