There are endless interesting facts about Yellowstone National Park! Here’s a handful to know and experience while in the Park. Some take more imagination than others, but all reveal the marvel and beauty of this incredible natural landscape and the human struggle to understand, enjoy and conserve it.
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1. America’s first national park
Let’s begin with the Park itself… Yellowstone is, in fact, America’s first National Park and the second oldest national park in the world after Bogd Khan Uul National Park in Mongolia. Several expeditions in the 1800’s revealed the wonder and uniqueness of the Yellowstone region’s wilderness. Commercial interests in the land spurred a government geological survey of the area, while at the same time the Northern Pacific Railroad Company planned to expand their line across Montana.
Seeing the area’s natural beauty as a drawcard for tourists to visit by train, the Railroad Company lobbied to have the Great Geyser Basin set aside as a public park. Results of the Geological Survey supported the need to protect the region and President Grant signed the bill creating Yellowstone Park on March 1, 1872.
Unfortunately, with no precedent, it would be decades before a National Park Service was set up, or further legislation put in place to properly protect the region and its wildlife. The U.S. Army managed the Park for 30 years before the Park Service was formed. However, the seed was sown for conservation.
Join a tour, talk or even art activity lead by the National Parks Service – their schedules are updated regularly here. Also visit Mammoth Hot Springs Historic District, formerly Fort Yellowstone, built by the army as a cavalry post and Park headquarters.
2. A supervolcano
All that bubbling mud, steaming geysers and regular earth tremors should provide you with a clue that Yellowstone is a volcanically active region. The Park lays cradled in one of the world’s largest known calderas, a giant crater formed from an explosive eruption of a supervolcano. Its last major eruption was about 640,000 years ago, spewing forth 2,500 times the volcanic material of Mount St Helens in 1980. That’s one BIG volcano! There are two magma chambers that sit under the Park, and when these fill up, she will blow her top again. Fortunately, this is expected to take a very long time. In the meantime, you can experience the result of all that hot magma just below the surface by viewing spectacular geysers, steaming springs and bubbling mud pots.
Visit Yellowstone’s hydrothermal areas such as Mammoth Hot Springs and Upper, Midway and Lower Geyser Basins, and you will be witnessing the heat, steam, boiling mud and smelly sulphurous gases that come from standing in the crater of a supervolcano.
3. 50 Million-year-old petrified tree
Actually, Yellowstone hasn’t just one petrified tree, but forests of them! There is one of easily accessed specimen of a ripe old 50-million-years that you should see. The former-Redwood, like those currently growing in California, tells scientists that back then Yellowstone was once a sub-tropical climate.
Violent volcanic eruptions buried trees like this one in ash, cutting off oxygen and preserving them the usual processes that break down the wood and foliage. Water absorbed by the buried trees deposits minerals such as silica, which gradually turn the organic material to stone in a process known as fossilization. The petrified tree retains the cell and fibre structure of the original tree.
Yellowstone’s petrified trees are unique because unlike many others around the world, a large portion of the Park’s fossilized relics stand upright, rather than being a scattering of fallen logs. Though their branches are generally missing, the proud trunks stand limbless but vertical.
Find the 50-million-year-old petrified tree at a turnoff between Mammoth Hot Springs and Tower Junction. If you’re using the Yellowstone GyPSy – GPS Tour Guide, it will alert you to the correct location. Up a short but steep-ish trail, the tree stands on a hillside fenced off to prevent souvenir collectors pinching a piece of the ancient attraction.
4. Continental divide
Imagine you are a raindrop falling on the Continental Divide, which is the ridgeline that determines which direction water flows in North America. That means, my little droplet, a millimetre here or there could determine whether you follow streams and rivers west to the Pacific Ocean or journey southeast into the Gulf of Mexico.
Isa Lake which sits in a small depression along the Continental Divide is the only known natural lake in the world that drains into two different oceans. The east side of Isa Lake drains into the Pacific Ocean via the Lewis River, while the west side of the Lake drains to Firehole River and the Atlantic Ocean.
Stand across the Continental Divide at one of two opportunities when travelling between Old Faithful and West Thumb, plus make a stop in at Isa Lake. There are wooden markers and turn-outs to make a safe stop.
5. World’s tallest active geyser
There are many geysers in the world that have historically shot water and steam higher into the air than Steamboat Geyser. However, when it comes to currently active geysers, Steamboat takes the record at approximately 91m (300ft). The problem is that Steamboat is the opposite of Old Faithful, deciding when to erupt seemingly on a whim. It’s unlikely you will be able to time your trip for one of Steamboat’s furious outbursts, you just have to be lucky!! There are plenty of more reliable geysers to give you a taste of what it’s like though.
Steamboat Geyser is located in Norris Geyser Basin on the western side of the Park, just north of the West Entrance. Norris is estimated to be Yellowstone’s hottest Geyser Basin so there is much to see there.
6. 45th Parallel
Another fact that may seem obscure but with a little imagination comes to life, is the 45th Parallel, or the line of latitude running around Earth halfway between the equator and the North Pole. For those stringing together some or all of the seven National Parks on Highway 89, this is a special milestone along the journey. If you’re anything like me, you will stand at this marker and wonder what other places in the world this imaginary line links you to? In addition to running across the northern US, the 45th parallel runs through France, Italy, Croatia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Serbia, Romania, Ukraine, Russia, Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, China, Japan and Canada.
There is a wooden marker on a turnout just north of Mammoth Hot Springs. If you’re staying in, stocking up or passing through Gardiner, Montana then you will pass this point travelling in/out of the Park.
7. Largest log hotel in the world and largest log structure (maybe)
Another of Yellowstone’s claims to fame is the Old Faithful Inn, regarded as the largest log hotel in the world and possibly the largest log structure in the world. Whether or not the record is official, the National Historic Landmark is impressive and worth a look inside. Old Faithful Inn was constructed during the winter of 1903-04 using mostly local materials. The Inn impressed guests with its modern-for-the-time electric lights and steam heat. One of the hotel’s features is the lobby fireplace, measuring 85-feet and constructed of 500-tons of stone.
Old Faithful Inn is located within view of its namesake Geyser, in the Upper Geyser Basin.
Explore these fascinating Yellowstone National Park facts with a summer road trip, and see the natural beauty America’s first National Park has to offer. I highly recommend downloading the Yellowstone GyPSy Tour Guide App to ensure you don’t miss any great Yellowstone National Park facts as you drive through the Park.
Peace, love & inspiring travel,