56 Interesting Facts about Yellowstone

By Karin Lehnardt, Senior Writer
Published December 14, 2016
  • Yellowstone’s present area is 3,472 square miles (2,221,766 acres), occupying the northwest corner of Wyoming and slivers of land in Montana and Idaho.[2]
  • Yellowstone National Park is also a designated World Heritage Site and designated Biosphere Reserve.[9]
  • Yellowstone covers 63 air miles (101 km) north to south and 54 air miles (84 km) east to west and is larger than Rhode Island and Delaware combined.[9]
  • Yellowstone experiences approximately 1,000 to 3,000 earthquakes annually.[9]
  • In 2010, Yellowstone had the highest visitation year on record with 3,640,184 visitors.[9]
  • Grant declared that the area would be preserved "for the benefit and enjoyment of the people"
  • President Ulysses S. Grant established Yellowstone as the world’s first National Park on March 1, 1872.[2]
  • At 28,000 square acres (44 square miles), Yellowstone is the largest intact temperate ecosystem in the world.[10]
  • Yellowstone Lake is the largest lake at high elevation (over 7,000 feet [2134 m]) in North America.[10]
  • The “rotten egg” smell at Yellowstone’s Mud Volcano comes from hydrogen sulfide gas. Sulfur, in the form of iron sulfide, gives the Yellowstone features their many shades of gray.[10]
  • For centuries, Native Americans came to Obsidian Cliff to quarry obsidian, which they traded for projectiles and other tools. Obsidian from this site in Yellowstone National Park has been found as far east as Ohio. Obsidian Cliff is a National Historic Monument.[10]
  • At 8,564 feet (2610 m), Yellowstone’s Bunsen Peak (south of Mammoth Hot Springs) is an intrusion of magma formed approximately 50 million years ago. Bunsen Peak and the “Bunsen Burner” were named for physicist Robert Wilhelm Bunsen, who was involved in pioneering geyser research in Iceland. His theory on geyser activity was published in the 1800s and is still considered accurate.[10]
  • Within Yellowstone, three endemic species occur: Ross’s bentgrass (Agrostis Rossiae), Yellowstone sand verbena (Abronia ammophila), and Yellowstone sulfur wild buckwheat (Eriogonum umbellatum var. Cladophorim).[10]
  • On August 13, 1886, Captain Moses Harris from Fort Custer in the Montana Territories marched into Yellowstone and assumed the title of park superintendent. He was the first of a dozen military officers to lead the park until the National Park Service took over in 1918.[8]
  • The U.S. Engineer’s Office, located kitty corner to the Visitors’ Center, was built in 1903 and was designed by the same architectural committee behind New York’s Grand Central Station. It is known locally as the Pagoda for its striking, green triangular roof and also as the Temple of Truth because it has long housed the park’s courthouse.[8]
  • On January 15, 1883, Henry Teller, then Secretary of the Interior, officially prohibited hunting within Yellowstone.[2]
  • Yellowstone, of all the national parks, is the wildest and most universal in its appeal

    - Susan Rugh, Family Vacation

  • Yellowstone entrepreneurs George Henderson and Ole Anderson started and then perfected the one-of-a-kind curio business by using Mammoth Hot Springs to coat trinkets like pine cones and tin toys. These items were placed onto racks under the flowing water of Mammoth’s most active terraces and removed a few days later coated in travertine. Anderson coated a wide variety of items, including vases, statues, and decorative horseshoes and sold them in his store known as the Specimen House. Eventually, the curio business was banned.[8]
  • Liberty Cap is a 40-foot (12-meter) cone of a dormant hot spring thought to be 2,500 years old and named by the Hayden Expedition in 1871 after the peaked hats worn during the French Revolution.[8]
  • Truman C. Everts joined the Washburn Expedition, the second official exploratory party, to explore Yellowstone in 1870. Accidentally splitting off from his party, he got lost in a sudden snowstorm in thick forest and wandered lost in the park for 37 days. The expedition offered a $600 reward to find him, and two locals did find Everts nearly dead in the northern reaches of the park. Everts survived to father a son at age 75. Yellowstone’s Mt. Everts is named after him.[8]
  • The 47-mile (76-km) road east from Mammoth to Tower-Roosevelt junction and beyond to the northeast entrance to Yellowstone is the only highway in Yellowstone open through the winter.[8]
  • The first explorers to report on Yellowstone’s marquee attraction, Old Faithful, were members of the Washburn Expedition who tramped into the Upper Geyser Basin on September 18, 1870. Henry Dana Washburn, leader of the group, named the geyser himself.[8]
  • Yellowstone is the only place in the United States where bison have lived continuously since prehistoric times
  • Yellowstone has the largest, free-roaming herd of bison in the world.[10]
  • Geologist Bob Christiansen uncovered with NASA high-altitude photos the ancient, massive Yellowstone caldera (created by an earth-shattering “super volcano” eruption 640,000 years ago), which spreads out 45 miles (72 km) by 30 miles (48 km), over half of Yellowstone’s area.[8]
  • As detailed by park historian Lee H. Whittlesey in Death in Yellowstone, the Celestine Pool along Fountain Paint Pot Trail was the site of a tragic death on July 20, 1981. Two young men from California, David Kirwan and Ronald Ratliff, were touring the boardwalk when Ratliff’s dog escaped from their truck and dove into the pool. Kirwan dove head first into the pool to save his friend’s dog and he died a day later from burns suffered in the just over 200° F (93° C) water.[8]
  • Chinese Spring in Yellowstone National Park was originally named Chinaman Spring after the Asian attendant who used it to clean visitors’ laundry.[8]
  • The world’s largest log cabin building, Yellowstone’s Old Faithful Inn, was built during the bitter winter of 1903-1904 and was designed by architect Robert C. Reamer.[8]
  • Yellowstone’s Old Faithful did at one time erupt at an average of every 60 minutes. Due to earthquake damage to its “plumbing” over the years, the geyser now “performs” every 88 minutes (+/- 10 minutes on average), with a minimum gap of just under an hour and a maximum gap of three hours.[10]
  • The tallest predictable geyser at Yellowstone is the Grand Geyser, which blows on average twice a day, for 12–20 minutes in a series of powerful bursts climbing to 200 feet (61 m).[8]
  • The world’s tallest active geyser, Steamboat, can erupt to more than 300 feet (90 m), showering its Yellowstone viewers with mineral-rich water.[9]
  • The 51 separate fires of 1988 employed 25,000 people to battle the blazes and cost $120 million to combat. Miraculously, only one life was lost. However, 36% of Yellowstone National Park—some 800,000 acres (1,250 square miles)—burned in those fires.[8]
  • The Yellowstone River is the longest undammed river in the continental U.S. at 692 miles (1,114 km) long.[8]
  • Yellowstone has the world’s largest collection of geysers with approximately 10,000 thermal features and more than 300 geysers.[9]
  • There are only about 1,000 known active geysers worldwide
  • Lake Yellowstone Hotel, painted a distinctive buttercup yellow, is the oldest standing building in Yellowstone, dating back to 1889.[6]
  • John Colter, a member of the Lewis and Clark Expedition, was the first white man to see Yellowstone in 1807. He got permission to leave the group and, while looking for Indians to trade with, he passed through Yellowstone.[5]
  • In 1965, Microbiologist Thomas Brock identified a new organism, a microscopic bacterium that lived in the 160°+ waters of Mushroom Pool, a little-known thermal feature in the Lower Geyser Basin of Yellowstone. From Thermus aquaticus, or “Taq” for short, other biologists extracted an enzyme, which California biologist Kary Mullis used to develop a gene-replicating procedure known as polymerase chain reaction (PCR), or the “Swiss-army knife of molecular biology.” Mullis was awarded a Nobel Prize for his work.[6]
  • The Sheepeaters, a group of Shoshone/Bannock Indians in the region, were Yellowstone’s only permanent, year-round occupants when John Colter discovered Yellowstone in 1807.[6]
  • The river that Yellowstone would be named for appeared on a French explorer’s map in 1796 as R. des Roches Jaune (River of Yellow Stones), which came from the word Mi tse a-da-zi by the Minnetaree—a group of Siouan Hidatsas who lived along the lower river when the first whites arrived.[6]
  • Eagle Peak, with an elevation of 11,358 feet (3,462 m), is the highest point in Yellowstone.[4]
  • Three vessels commissioned by the U.S. Navy have carried the name Yellowstone. The first was a Naval Overseas Transportation Service vessel (cargo hauler), built in 1918. The second U.S.S. Yellowstone is a destroyer tender (AD-27) built in 1945. This vessel was named specifically after the American national park and was commissioned on January 16, 1946. The third was a Yellowstone Class destroyer named the U.S.S. Yellowstone (AD-41), commissioned in 1979 and decommissioned in January 1996.[3]
  • One of William Henry Jackson's early photographs of Old Faithful
  • William Henry Jackson took the earliest known photograph of Old Faithful in eruption during the Hayden expedition’s 1872 survey of Yellowstone.[6]
  • The Northern Pacific Railroad altered its sleeping car called Mandan and renamed it as Yellowstone. Called the Director’s Car, it frequently accommodated important guests, such as ex-President Ulysses S. Grant, who traveled to and from the Northern Pacific Railroad’s “Last Spike” gala in that car.[3]
  • The first visitors’ presence in the Yellowstone area at least 11,000 years ago was suggested by the discovery of an obsidian projectile point at Gardiner, MT, near the north entrance to the park in 1959.[3]
  • Gardner’s Hole is the second oldest place-name in Yellowstone, having been named after a brutal, illiterate trapper named Johnson Gardner, who discovered the valley either in the fall of 1831 or the spring of 1832.[7]
  • The earliest intact archaeological deposits in Yellowstone have been found on the shore of Yellowstone Lake. The site revealed evidence of 9,350-year-old camp where several families appear to have spent time seasonally at the lake.[10]
  • Harmless to humans, Thermophylic viruses have been found in Congress Pool at Yellowstone’s Norris Geyser Basin.[10]
  • The earliest evidence of humans in Yellowstone is an 11,000-year-old Clovis-type spear found at the park’s north entrance in Gardiner, MT; it is made of obsidian from Obsidian Cliff.[10]
  • After two decades of extinction, gray wolves were restored to Yellowstone National Park in 1995.[10]
  • Yellowstone’s Norris Geyser Basin is so colorful due to the combinations of minerals and life forms that thrive in extreme conditions. Here, silica or clay materials saturate some acidic waters, making them appear milky. Iron oxides, arsenic, and cyanobacteria create red-orange colors. Cyanidium glows bright green. Mats of Zygogonium are dark purple to black on the surface where they are exposed to the sun, and bright green underneath. Sulfur creates a pale yellow color.[10]
  • Norris Geyser Basin is the the hottest geyser basin in Yellowstone
  • The kiosk at Obsidian Cliff, constructed in 1931, was the first wayside exhibit in a U.S. National Park. It was listed on the National Register in 1982.[10]
  • On August 23, 1877, the remainder of a group of Nez Perce (Nimiipu) fled from the Pacific Northwest into Yellowstone when many of their group, including women and children, were killed in a battle with the U.S. Army. They camped along what was later named Nez Perce Creek, in the Lower Geyser Basin.[1]
  • Named after Henry Dana Washburn, surveyor-general of the Montana Territories and leader of the 1870 Washburn Expedition, Mount Washburn (10, 243 feet high) is the tallest peak in the Washburn Range and an extinct stratovolcano.[8]
  • The forefather of the modern-day park ranger, Harry Yount, Yellowstone’s first gamekeeper, was stationed at Tower-Roosevelt Junction through the Lamar Valley in 1880 to help stop the illegal slaughter of animals.[8]
  • In 1901, Buffalo Bill also founded the town of Cody, Wyoming, because of its proximity to Yellowstone
  • Pahaska Tepee, a small mountain resort five miles outside of Yellowstone, was built and owned by William F. “Buffalo Bill” Cody in 1904-05. It remains open today as a mountain resort, is open to public tours, and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.[2]
  • The huge Norris Geyser Basin is Yellowstone’s oldest, hottest, and most dynamic hydrothermal area. The geyser is named for buckskin-wearing Philetus W. Norris, the park’s second superintendent, from 1877 to 1882.[8]
  • Yellowstone Lake is the home to the largest population of cutthroat trout in North America.[10]
  • For years, anglers dipped their fresh-caught trout into the Fishing Cone hot spring in the West Thumb Geyser Basin, cooking a meal on the spot. Fishing in the Fishing Cone was banned after an angler was burnt by an eruption in the 1920s.[8]
  • On July 1, 1918, President Woodrow Wilson allocated funds sufficient to recruit a corps of forest rangers to replace the army in Yellowstone. These rangers were known as “spread-eagle men.”[2]
References

1Bartlett, Richard A. Yellowstone: A Wilderness Besieged. Tucson, AZ: University of Arizona Press, 1985.

2Biddulph, Stephen G. Five Old Men of Yellowstone: The Rise of Interpretation in the First National Park. Salt Lake City, UT: University of Utah Press, 2013.

3Haines, Aubrey L. The Yellowstone Story: A History of Our First National Park, Vol. 1. Boulder, CO: University of Colorado Press, 1996.

4Haines, Aubrey L. Yellowstone: Its Exploration and Establishment. Washington, D.C.: U.S. Department of the Interior, 1974.

5Miller, M. Mark. Adventures in Yellowstone: Early Travelers Tell Their Tales. Guilford, CT: Two Dot Press, 2009.

6Schullery, Paul. Searching for Yellowstone: Ecology and Wonder in the Last Wilderness. New York, NY: Houghton Mifflin, 1997.

7----. The Yellowstone Story: A History of Our First National Park, Vol. 2. Boulder, CO: University of Colorado Press, 1996.

8Timblin, Stephen. The Rough Guide to Yellowstone & Grand Teton. New York, NY: Rough Guides, 1997.

9Yellowstone Fact Sheet.” National Park Service. 2014, Accessed February 10, 2014.

10Yellowstone National Park Issues and Resources Handbook 2013. National Park Service. Accessed February 11, 2014.

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