Yellowstone Park – interesting facts

September 21, 2010 | In: Geography Facts

Known to the Shoshone, Blackfeet, and Crow Indians for years, white men first reported viewing Yellowstone in 1869. Their awe-filled descriptions of a land full of steaming fountains, and subsequent official U.S. expeditions to the area, led to Congress’ conviction that such an incredible wilderness must be protected from development and settlements and preserved for the public’s benefit.

In 1872, Congress passed the Yellowstone Park Act, establishing the world’s first national park. The bulk of the park’s 2,213,207 acres lies in northwestern Wyoming, with a small amount of land resting in eastern Idaho and southern Montana.

It is fitting that the first national park should offer such an abundant display of nature’s wonders. Yellowstone is packed with sights: geysers, bubbling mud pools, a 1,200-foot waterfall (among others), obsidian cliffs, canyons, snowy peaks, the large Yellowstone lake, petrified trees, and fresh conifer forests.

While there are no active volcanoes or glaciers, they played a major role in shaping Yellowstone some 20 million years ago. Once a mountain-rimmed basin, volcanic eruptions filled the basin with ash and lava, turning it into a high plateau. A few vents left in the plateau’s surface never healed, due to the incredible heat and movement of gases and molten rock beneath the earth’s surface. It is through these vents that geysers, like Old Faithful, give us a view of the region’s past.

Old Faithful is one of more than 200 geysers in Yellowstone, but it is the biggest and most famous. Almost hourly, 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, Old Faithful erupts and hurls 15,000 gallons of hot water as high as 200 feet into the Wyoming sky for as long as five minutes.

How does this eruption happen? Cold water from melting winter snows seeps into the geysers and drops thousands of feet into the earth, where it is heated by hot rocks and gases. Once this water is heated to boiling, steam builds and forces the water upward.

After the volcanoes came the glaciers, which moved through the plateau carving out valleys, sharpening mountain peaks, and gouging holes that became lakes when the glaciers retreated and their meltwater ran south.

Into this land of peaks and meadows, came the abundant wildlife that is found in Yellowstone today. The mighty grizzly bear, elk, buffalo — the original American animal, moose, as well as smaller birds and insects, abound.

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