Yellowstone National Park

Yellowstone National Park is located in the United States. The majority of the park is located in Wyoming, but there are smaller areas of the park in Idaho and Montana. It is thought that this area was the first to be established as a national park in the entire world. The area was home to Native Americans for about 11,000 years, but was not well known to Americans until the 1860’s, when the first organized explorations were conducted there. The Lewis and Clark Expedition in the 19th century did not pass through the area, but mountain men were known to enter the area before it was studied.  Ferdinand V. Hayden, who conducted studies in the Yellowstone area, was largely responsible for the establishment of the park. He pushed for the area to become protected, although locals opposed the idea, and in 1872, after Congress passed The Act of Dedication law and President Ulysses S. Grant signed it, the area became Yellowstone National Park.

Yellowstone National Park covers 63 miles from north to south and 54 miles from east to west by plane. The park contains 2,219,789 acres of protected land and water, with the largest body of water known as Yellowstone Lake stretching over 87,040 acres. This lake is located at 7,733 feet above sea level, making it the largest lake at high altitude in North America. The park is located on the Yellowstone Plateau, with many areas resting at 8,000 feet above sea level. This plateau is surrounded by many mountain ranges including the Middle Rocky Mountains. There are many ranges within the park, with the highest peak, Eagle Peak, reaching 11,358 feet, although Mount Washburn, reaching 10,234 feet in height, is the most well known peak. Yellowstone National Park holds one of the largest petrified forests in the world. This forest was created when ash and other debris from a volcano turned the wood into mineral matter. It is thought that this occurred in the park itself, as it is located within a caldera that is part of the largest volcanic system in North America, which is also known as a supervolcano.

Yellowstone National Park is known for its geysers, which number 300 in the park. The most well-known of these geysers is Old Faithful Geyser, but the largest active geyser in the park is Steamboat Geyser, which is located in the Norris Geyser Basin. The geysers are just some of the 10,000 geothermal features within the park.

The climate within Yellowstone National Park varies slightly depending upon the elevation, but temperatures are typically warm at lower elevations. Temperatures during the summer months of June to September average between 70°F and 80 °F during the day, but can drop to below freezing during the night. Summer usually bring frequent thunderstorms while winter is cold and often brings snowfall. The amount of moisture varies depending upon the area of the park, with an average of 80 inches in southwestern area of the park and only 15 inches near Mammoth Hot Springs. Snowfall can occur throughout the year, especially near Yellowstone Lake and in other areas at high elevations.

Yellowstone National Park is just one area of the 20 million acre Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem that is also comprised of national forests and wilderness areas and Grand Teton National Park. The Yellowstone area holds over 1,700 native tree and plant species. The park also holds 170 species of exotic plants. Nearly 80 percent of the park’s total forested area is comprised of a conifer species known as the lodgepole pine.  Other species of tree that occur in the park include the Rocky Mountain Douglas-fir and the whitebark pine, which is threatened by a fungus in many areas known as white pine blister rust. Yellowstone is home to many species of flowering plants that typically bloom between the months of May to September, including the Yellowstone sand verbena, which can only be found within the park. This species is thought to be related to plants that occur in warmer areas, so their presence in the park is an anomaly. Invasive species tend to occur where humans are present, but some species have moved into areas that are more isolated.

Yellowstone National Park holds at least 60 mammal species, including grizzly bears, mountain lions, re-introduced gray wolves, lynxes, bison, elk, pronghorns, and mountain goats, among many other species. The bison herd that resides in the park is the largest public herd in America, numbering 3,000 individuals as of 2008. This population is thought to be one of four free roaming, genetically unaltered herds living on public lands. The park holds 311 bird species, including bald eagles, and 18 fish species, including the prized Yellowstone cutthroat trout.

Yellowstone National Park is one of the most popular national parks in America, receiving nearly two million visitors each year. The park holds 310 miles of well developed paved roads that lead to popular sights, but the majority of these roads are closed during the winter season. Visitors can hire tour companies to guide them through the park, but the park itself does not offer tours by vehicle. The park manages nine visitor centers and museums as well as guided walking tours and Campfire programs. Camping and hiking are permitted within the park and visitors can lodge in many surrounding communities including Red Lodge, Montana, Gardiner, Montana, and West Yellowstone.

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Image Caption: Lower Yellowstone Falls closeup. Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming, USA. Credit: Scott Catron/Wikipedia (CC BY-SA 3.0)