Wyoming - Yellowstone National Park

by Kimp 4. November 2014 04:23

Photo Blog (click to view)

My History

There was about 100 acres of lightly forested and natural land across the street from the house I grew up in. It was small enough that my parents didn't worry about me getting lost in, yet large enough to provide lots of fun while growing up. I would spend countless hours in that area; exploring, imagining, constructing, and playing alone or with my friends.

I believe sometimes we do things when we are younger, that when older, we look back on and say, "What the hell was I thinking !!!". This next story falls along those lines.

One of the things a few of us would do, is find a sturdy tree that was next to a much younger flimsy tree. We would climb the sturdy tree to the top of the flimsy tree (Probably about 15-20 feet high). Then jump from the sturdy tree, grabbing the top of the flimsy tree and use it as an type of elevator, swinging gently to the ground.

I used to climb lots of trees and over the course of the years I've fallen from a few. Luckily the ones I fell out of had enough branches in them to break my falling speed and all I ended up with was several scraps, scratches and bruises. Somehow I also managed to maintain two intact eyes.

My grandparents house had very high trees (probably around 40 feet (13 m) or higher). One was a challenging climb, but it had good sturdy branches, so climbing it felt secure. When I was about 10 year old, I would climb that tree to a height of about 30 ft (10 m). High enough that the tree was flimsy up there. Then I would rock the tree back and force will all of my might, shaking the top of it. That never seemed to bother my mom, but it sure did bother my aunt (moms much younger sister). Now I look at that same tree, and say, "What the hell was I thinking? I'd never let my kids do that !!!". It has been said that every other generation is the opposite of their parents. People with strict parents are usually lenient parents and  people with lenient parents are usually strict parents. Since Mom usually raises the kids, it is usually the mother that determines the outcome of the off spring. 

My parents never minded having lots of kids around our house. About twice each month, in the summer, when there were light clouds, my brother or I would host a sleep over in our back yard. We would have a fire, sleep out under the stars, and have a blast with our friends.

My older and only brother Dean, was a trapper when he was young. He studied the laws, asked several people if he could trap on their land, studied the terrain and determined where to set his traps. He religiously got up hours before school started, to check his trap's. He caught muskrat, mink, and raccoon. Would skin them and take them to the someone who would pay him for the furs. He also hunted squirrels and birds, studied taxidermy, and stuffed a few of them. That was never in my blood, but I've always respected my brother for his skills.

Dean owns 60 acres of mostly wooden land, with a beautiful log cabin in the middle of it. His house is so well hidden that some hunters don't even realize it is there until they stumble upon it. Wear something bright and colorful when visiting Dean's during hunting season :)  Dean has been a very good big brother to me his whole life, I really enjoy visiting with him and his family, and I really enjoy his land as well.

I think that's why I really enjoy nature and the outdoors.

American Indians

The American Indians didn't mind the white man hunting buffalo in the west. The herds were so vast and plentiful, that they could never imagine not having Buffalo around to hunt.

National Parks

In many parts of the world, a beautiful place is preserved because a wealthy person, purchased it and out of the kindness of their heart, they allow the masses to enjoy it. Or they preserve and share it for personal financial gain. Done right, that can be a beautiful thing, but since someone owns it, and ownership is passed down, it's immortality is always in jeopardy.

National Parks are one of the great symbols of Democracy. It is something that is purchased by the people for the benefit of all of today's people and all people whom forever follow.

Yellowstone Discovery

The Lewis and Clark Expedition of 1806-1808 mapped the first route from the eastern part of the United States to the West Coast. During that expedition, one of the members, named John Colter proved himself as a valued explorer, who was able to go out in small groups and explore relentlessly. He was considered one of the best hunters in the expedition. 

When the expedition was headed back, the expedition came across two trappers in South Dakota, who, after listening to the expeditions stories, wanted to venture West into the newly mapped territory. William Clark arranged for John Colter to be honorably discharged two months early, so that he could lead the trappers to a good trapping area.

John lead them there, dropped them off, then one his own, he decided to take a different route back to Saint Louis, exploring new territory. He made his way to about 100 miles from St Louis, when he decided to head back out west and continue exploration. He became the worlds first mountain man, traveling on his own and living completely off of the land.

He traveled the entire winter of 1807-1808, in about -30F (-34C) weather exploring much of what is present day Wyoming, all by himself. In 1910 he returned to St Louis, met up with William Clark and added his details to Clark's exploration map. That map was the most comprehensive map of the west and was used for the next 75 years. 

John Colter wrote several articles in popular journal's of that day, about his exploration of Jackson Hole, the Grand Teton's and some place which always had hot water, smelled strange, had bubbling mud, steam and water spewing from the ground, strange landscapes and colors, and seemed overly eerie and spooky. 

He was the laughing stock of disbelieving civilized American's who gave the nickname "Colter's Hell", to the northwestern part of present day Wyoming .

Over the next 60 years, several fur trappers would enter that area and corroborate Colter's story, but trappers were known to tell tall stories and most people believed they were just perpetrating the myth.    

Founding of Yellowstone National Park

After the civil war, the government sent a Military survey team into that area. Their survey results were presented to President Ulysses S Grant, who dedicated the area which would later be known as the World's first National Park . Normally it would have been up to a State to dedicated an area, but since Wyoming was only a territory at that time, it was dedicated on the National level. It took a long time, but eventually worked out so well, that other areas, even inside of state boundaries would eventually be dedicated as national parks.

The reason the government rushed to do that, when few people inhabited that area, is because of the catastrophe that happened at Niagara Falls. At one time, Niagara Falls was a pristine and beautiful natural wonder. Then commercialization took over and quickly destroyed much of its beauty. To the point, that Europeans often poked fun at American's, citing Niagara Falls as a great American tragedy.

Being the first of its kind, not much thought was put into it and very little funding was allocated to it. In the beginning the national park rules were fairly vague. For the most part it stated that the government was to be in control park development and that the land was protected from hunting and trapping of wildlife, yet also open to the general public.

Yellowstone Mistakes

Many of the national park rules that are now in effect, are a result of the many mistakes that the US government made at Yellowstone.

In the early day's of the park, congress did not appropriate any funding, in fact the appointed park superintendent was not even given a salary. 

In those days everyone carried rifles out west and it was common to hunt for food. The only park rule was that if a person were caught hunting in the park, they were evicted from the park. That didn't stop anyone from hunting. In fact, when Buffalo's were nearly extinct, except for Yellowstone, hunters would go to Yellowstone just to hunt the only remaining Buffalo, not caring if they got caught, because there wasn't any real penalty.

In 1877, Naturalist George Bird Grinnell performed an expedition of the park and reported many issues, the biggest of which was illegal poaching. He also studied and published the natural migration paths of the wildlife.

After the Grinnell report was published, the first park superintendent resigned. Congress appropriated a new park superintendent and funding for some park development and protection. Soon a game warden and much stiffer penalties were added and park boundaries were expanded to include the wildlife's natural migration areas. 

Everything was under control until the early 1880's when a rail line was run to the Northern Park Entrance. Within a short time, park visitation increased by 20 fold. Without any additional funding to support park development, the park superintendent decided to leased out parts of the park for private development. Within 5 years, development and park destruction started to get out of hand. 

In 1887, the park was salvaged by US Army general Philip Sheridan. A firm believer in conservation and preservation, he took it upon himself to make sure that Yellowstone would be brought under control and maintained. He dispatched a company of Calvary to Yellowstone and kept them there for 22 years to enforce strict control of the park.

In addition to forcing out the poachers, and maintaining crowd control, they built trails and bridges to the parts of the park that most visitor's were interested in visiting. They built foot paths and wooden platforms to protect both the park and visitors. In the 1880's it was common for American's to scratch their name and address in a landmark. The Army would write down the name and address, then go to the hotel, find the person who defaced it, and escort them back to clean it off. Or send a fine letter to their house and clean it themselves.

Another problem they had, was shepherds driving their flocks inside of the park boundaries for grazing. To stop that, they would evict the sheep off to one side of the park and the shepherds to the other side of the park. Months later, the shepherds would work their way back around the park and reunite with their flocks, in the mean time learning that they should not graze within the park. 

Theodore Roosevelt

Theodore (Teddy) Roosevelt was a very passionate and outspoken President of the United States from 1901-1909. He was also an avid hunter and outdoorsman. In his youth, he had hurried out west to hunt Buffalo, while there were still a few outside of the park, worrying that they would be extinct outside of the park, before he could hunt one. He was successful and brought back a trophy that was mounted next to his mantle. 

Being a hunter, he knew that all unprotected species eventually become extinct. The top of the food chain shows no mercy.

While president, Teddy was known for going to scenic places and staging an elaborate party were many people would attend hoping to see him. But instead, he would ditch the party, and take of into the wilderness with just a conversationalist, sleeping under the stars and returning a few days later.

In 1903 while campaigning, he visited Yellowstone and gave the following speech at the dedication of an Arch that was being built at the North Entrance Gate of the park. It happened by accident, that he was there during the construction of the arch, but like a good politician he seized the opportunity:

" ... Nowhere else in any civilized country is there to be found such a tract of veritable wonderland made accessible to all visitors, where at the same time not only the scenery of the wilderness, but the wild creatures of the Park are scrupulously preserved; the only change being that these same wild creatures have been so carefully protected as to show a literally astounding tameness. The creation and preservation of such a great natural playground in the interest of our people as a whole is a credit to the nation; but above all a credit to Montana, Wyoming and Idaho. It has been preserved with wise foresight. The scheme of its preservation is noteworthy in its essential democracy. Private game preserves, though they may be handled in such a way as to be not only good things for themselves, but good things for the surrounding community, can yet never be more than poor substitutes, from the standpoint of the public, for great national playgrounds such as this Yellowstone Park. This Park was created, and is now administered, for the benefit and enjoyment of the people. ..." 

That arch would forever after be known as the Roosevelt Arch bearing the inscription, "For the Benefit and Enjoyment of the People". To be fair, he borrowed that exact phrase from Ulysses S. Grant. They were first sighted in Grant's original dedication of the park in 1872.

In those days, the park roads were dirt and most visitors rented a stage coach tour to take them around. Teddy, ditched his whole security staff (to their objection) and rode around it on horseback with just the park superintendent.

After Roosevelt left Yellowstone, he visited the Grand Canyon in Arizona and he gave another great conservation speech.

"... I want you to ask you to do one thing in connection with it in your own interest and in the interest of the country--to keep this great wonder of nature as it now is.  ...  I hope you will not have a building of any kind, not a summer cottage, a hotel or anything else to mar the wonderful grandeur, the sublimity, the loneliness and beauty of the canyon.  Leave it as it is.  Man cannot improve on it; not a bit.  The ages have been at work on it and man can only mar it.  What you can do is to keep it for your children and your children's children and for all who come after you, as one of the great sights which every American, if he can travel at all, should see. ,,,"

During Roosevelt's presidency, he would champion the effort for the creation of several national parks, prompting congress to think about the preservation of items that were uniquely American in heritage, as well as unique natural resources.

National Park Service

In 1916 Congress created the National Park Service to enforce park rules. After that, the US Army was no longer needed in US national parks.

Description of Yellowstone National Park

Yellowstone gets its name from the yellow canyon that is in it. Geyser's have weakened the mountain stone and carried yellow minerals there. The water flowing through Yellowstone river cut right through the stone, revealing a beautiful and deep yellow canyon.

Yellowstone Park is about 60 miles (100 km) high and 60 miles wide (100 km). The states of Rhode Island and Delaware, both would fit within it's boundaries, with space left over. Parts of it are still uncharted and most of the 3,000,000 visitors each year, only see parts that are near the access roads, which is relatively little of the park. 

The park is open year around and I believe that the best time to go would be in the middle of winter. Most of the roads are not plowed, but snowmobiles are allowed on the roads and cross country skies are allowed on the trails.  Snowmobiles can be brought or rented, but if you bring your own, study up on the requirements. Visit Non-commercially Guided Snowmobile Access Program for more information on snowmobiling in small private groups in Yellowstone. There are also commercially guided programs available to the general public. In winter it will be much less crowded and you will see a part of wildlife that most people never get to see in a lifetime.

There are 4 main easily accessible sections of Yellowstone National Park:
1)  Thermal sites; geysers, hot springs, colorful areas where minerals have concentrated.

2)  A mountainous area; Yellow stone's grand canyon and waterfalls.

3)  Yellowstone Lake - 110 miles of shoreline, frozen half of the year and full of native Yellowstone cutthroat trout. A few non-native trout are also in the lake. We are allowed to fish via angling, but if the catch is Yellowstone cutthroat trout then it is catch and release. We are not allowed to kill and eat Yellowstone cutthroat trout. 
However, any non-native trout is catch, always kill, and hopefully eat, as there is an eradication program that supports that. 
With a Yellowstone boating permit, powerboats, sailboats, canoes and kayaks are allowed on the lake.
In the early 1900's many other species of fish were stocked in the lake, but all of those died off. 

4) Wildlife - Bears, Bison, Elk, Pronghorns, Wolves, and smaller creatures all inhabit various sections of the park. At one time, Lion's were in the park, but they were eradicated in the late 1800's for the protection of the people. Wolves were also eradicated at one time, but were reintroduced a few years ago, to much success. 

There are many horse trails in Yellowstone. I believe most people rent and join a guided excursion, but I believe you can also bring your own. Check with the park for the rules.

Yellowstone has lots of hiking trails. I believe that a person could probably hike there for a week, every year, and still not see all of the trails.

Food

There are only a few places in the park where food can be purchased. These are around the lodging areas. I would suggest bringing your own food, but please take all trash back out with you. There are only a few designated trash reception areas. Those areas have special containers that bears cannot get into.

Expenses

Entrance fees to the park are steep for a park, in my opinion, but well worth it. Maintaining a place that large with the amount of traffic is gets, must be very costly. There are park passes of various durations.

There are expensive places to stay within the park, but inexpensive Craig found an awesome deal, in a small village just outside of the North Entrance of the park. Staying outside the park, takes a few extra hours to get to some of the places within the park, unless we get up early and beat the crowd. Which I would want to do, even if I stayed within the park.

In my opinion, the best approach to Yellowstone is via Bear Tooth highway. That's the scenic drive that most bikers take and it is very beautiful. It will bring us into the park through the summer grazing grounds where wildlife will be plentiful.

Traffic

Beware of long traffic jams. The park speed limit is 45 mph (70 kph), but with the sight seeing traffic we will be lucky to average half of that. It is stop, go, and slow for the most part. When we are at a dead stop, it means there is some awesome wildlife viewing up ahead. There are not any turnoff's or side brims for traffic. It is two lanes and people should stay on the road, unless you are an inconsiderate person in a motor home and decide you are allowed to pull your 10 ton vehicle off into the grass, destroying it, because you said that's allowed back home in Kentucky. 

Super Volcano

The geyser basin area is inside the huge caldera of Yellowstone. Yellowstone is a super volcano with a caldera that is 34 miles in one direction, 45 miles in the other, and 7 miles deep. If it erupted, the eruption is expected to be 2,000 times stronger then the Mount St Helen's eruption. In the upper geyser basin, sometimes the ground vibrates. That's probably a very small earthquake, no need to be alarmed. While we were in yellowstone, Sam was asking me if I thought it was going to erupt. I told him, if it erupts, it isn't going to matter if you are here or in Ohio, you are going to see the effects of that eruption. It might even be better to be consumed by it. While standing in the middle geyser basin, we can look far off in the distance and see some of the edges of the caldera that we are standing in.

Animal Knowledge

More people are hurt by Bison (Buffalo) in the park, then by Bears. Bison are wild, their eyesight isn't that good, and they can feel threatened by humans who are only a few feet away. A Bison's personal space is much larger then a humans. There are a few Bison strikes on YouTube. For the most part, it looks like they pick us up with their head and throw us high into the air.

Black bears are usually scared of people. Make lots of noise and usually they will stay or run away.  

Map

I included a simplified map of Yellowstone in my photo blog. For the most part,  easy park access consists of a figure 8 road in the middle, along with a single access road near the upper right.

The upper right road from Tower Junction to Cooke City Montana is where most of the wild life is located. Most of it is prey, like Buffalo, Elk, Pronghorns, and smaller cute animals. But where their is prey, there are also going to be small predators, like wolf's.

The yellow road through Dunraven Pass is where the Bears hang out. For the most part, the park does not want people to stop there, but inconsiderate people ignore common courteously and stop anyway. Expect a huge traffic jam in this area.

Near Tower Fall is Yellowstone's grand canyon.

The bottom left from Madison to Old Faithful contains all of the Geyser basins.

The bottom right is Yellowstone lake.

Dunraven pass is the high hiking area.

Indian creek is the low hiking area and horse riding area.

If you really want to see the best of Yellowstone, get a permit and hike inside of the two circle roads where few people go.

Enjoy the pictures.


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Comments (1) -

Jim Patrick
11/23/2014 9:55:27 PM #

I can personally vouch that Craig's boyhood freedom developed his wide curiosity and adventurous spirit.  Thanks for the great post, I will go out there one day.

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