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Historical events in Yellowstone National Park, Montana, and Wyoming.

We’ll soon be celebrating National Parks Week, April 20-28. But let’s get a head start. On this day in 1870, park writer Ray Stannard Baker was born in Lansing, Michigan. This Pulitzer Prize–winning journalist is best known for his biography of President Woodrow Wilson, for whom he had been the press secretary. Baker worked for McClure’s Magazine at the time he published his Yellowstone report, excerpted here.

On Hymen Terrace by Blumenschein

Engraving of Ernest L. Blumenschein’s 1903 drawing. Tourists on top of Hymen Terrace, Mammoth Hot Springs.

Beyond the Upper Basin one cannot escape a veritable succession of marvels. At the Fountain there are many strange forms of geysers and hot springs, often gorgeous in coloring, surrounded by water-formed rocks in many curious and beautiful designs, and veritable caldrons of bubbling mud, and bears in the garbage-piles, and I know not how many other wonders. At Norris there are growling, jagged holes in the earth, belching forth huge volumes of hot steam, which, having killed and bleached all the verdure of the near mountain-side, has given the whole valley an indescribable air of desolation, as if the forces of nature had gone wrong—the very work of the devil, after whom so many of the marvels are named. Farther along one shudders under the brow of Roaring Mountain, makes a wry face while sipping water from the Apollinaris spring, wonders at the Hoodoo rocks [at Silver Gate], or admires the gorgeous colored pulpits and terraces of the Mammoth Hot Springs.

And yet after all these things, amazing as they are, one turns again to the road and the mountains and the trees. Undue emphasis may have been laid upon the odd, spectacular, bizarre—those things, dear to the heart of the American, which are the “biggest,” the “grandest,” the “most wonderful,” the “most beautiful” of their kind in the world. But the Park is far more than a natural hippodrome. The geysers appeal to one’s sense of the mysterious: one treads on the hollow earth not without an agreeable sense of danger, thrills with the volcanic rumblings underneath, waits with tense interest for the geyser, now boiling and bubbling, to hurl its fountain of hot water into the air; one is awed by these strange evidences of a living earth, guesses and conjectures, as the scientists have been doing for centuries, and then, somehow, unaccountably weary of these exhibitions, turns to the solemn, majestic hills, to waterfall and marshy meadow, to the wonderful trail through the forest. For, after all, the charm of the Park is the charm of the deep, untouched wilderness, the joy of the open road.

Indeed, the very name Park, associated as it is with smooth lawns and formal, man-guarded tree-groups and stream-courses, seems out of place when applied to these splendid mountain-tops. Here is a space nearly sixty miles square—a third larger than the State of Delaware, and, with its adjoining forest reserves, which are really a part of the public wilderness, nearly as large as Massachusetts or New Jersey. Visitors see only a narrow road-strip of its wonders, though the best; upon vast reaches of mountain and forest, lakes, rivers, geysers, cañons, no man looks once a year; probably many areas have never been seen by human eyes. The United States regular soldiers who guard it keep mostly to the roads, the boundaries of the Park being for the most part so wild and rugged that even poaching hunters could not cross them if they would.

It was a carping German traveler who complained that this Park was no park. “Look at your dead trees and burned stumps in the woods,” he said, thinking perhaps of the well-groomed, man-made forests of his native land, “and your streams, full of driftwood. It is not cared for.”

And Heaven help that it may never be cared for in that way! Not a park, but a wilderness, full of wild beauty and natural disorder, may we keep the place as nature left it, disturbing no land-slide where it lies, no natural dam of logs and stones heaped here by mountain freshet, no havoc of wind-storm or avalanche. The windfall, with its shaggy spreading roots full of matted earth and stone, rapidly being covered with grass and moss, and the river-bed full of bleached driftwood, each has its own rare quality of picturesqueness, its own fitting place in this wild harmony. There is beauty even in the work of the forest fire, which has left whole mountain-sides of freshly scorched pine foliage, a deep golden red smoldering in the sunshine; and many a blackened bit of forest, longer burned, leaves an impression of somber shadows, of silence and death, which cannot be forgotten. One even comes to begrudge this wilderness its telephone poles, its roads, and the excellent stone embankments which keep them from slipping down the mountainsides into the swift streams below; for they detract from its wild perfection. We may behold nature in its softer and more comely aspects almost anywhere; but every year, with the spread of population in our country, it becomes more difficult to preserve genuine wilderness places where hill and forest and stream have been left exactly as nature made them. Already our indomitable pioneers have driven the wilderness into the very fastnesses of the mountains, so that only remnants now remain. And this great Yellowstone Park remnant has been fortunately set aside by the government for the enjoyment and inspiration of the people forever.

CREDIT: “A Place of Marvels: Yellowstone Park as It Now Is,” The Great Northwest Series, The Century Magazine 66, no. 4 (August 1903): 481–91. Reproduced in Chapple, Janet, ed. Through Early Yellowstone: Adventuring by Bicycle, Covered Wagon, Foot, Horseback, and Skis, pp. 215–17. Lake Forest Park, WA: Granite Peak Publications, 2016.

Believe us, the engravings of Blumenschein’s illustrations for Baker’s article come out far better in the print version of the book.

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park superintendent Norris

Superintendent Norris, as reproduced on page 205 of Yellowstone Treasures

After an August when I deserted not just Yellowstone but left the country for a trip to Germany, France, and Switzerland, I am back picking up my research project where I left off. This project will, with luck, turn into a new biography of Philetus W. Norris, Yellowstone’s second and most dynamic superintendent, who served from 1877 to 1882.

There is much to learn about Norris, including reading his several reports as superintendent. His only other extensive published work, unless you include the letters he sent to the Norris Suburban newspaper, is a book of annotated poems called Calumet of the Coteau. The book’s title refers to a peace pipe and the French word for hill or hillside.

I have quoted two of his poems in my historical anthology, Through Early Yellowstone: “Rustic Bridge and Crystal Falls” and “The Wonder-Land.” Norris’s unfailing use of iambic tetrameter or pentameter can get monotonous, but the sentiments are nice.

I can relate to “The Cloud-Circled Mountains,” especially to the second of its six stanzas:

My heart’s ’mid the mirage, the lakes, and the plains,
The buttes and the coteaus, where wild nature reigns;
My heart’s ’mid the coulees and cañons so grand,
And bright-spouting geysers of lone Wonder-Land.
Oh, my heart’s ’mid those fountains and streamlets below
Those cloud-circled mountains, white-crested with snow!

Read more about my trip to Europe in the nuggets Savoring France, Part I and Part II.

Photo credit: Record Group 79, National Archives and Records Administration, Yellowstone National Park.

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P.S. to my tribute to Lee Whittlesey

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Sorry to say, I *did* leave out at least one of Lee’s books about Yellowstone in my tribute to him. In 2007 he published Storytelling in Yellowstone: Horse and Buggy Tour Guides, a great contribution to lovers of the park. The book contributes a lot to our knowledge of the men who spread their expertise—usually gained from long experience and exploration—to visitors they led around the geyser basins or escorted around the park.

Reviewing just now the “Bibliographic Essay” of this book, I am proud to come across these sentences: “Yellowstone guidebooks (the first one appeared in 1873) are legion. Janet Chapple’s Yellowstone Treasures (Providence: Granite Peak Publications, 2002) is my recent favorite in this category.

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A Tribute to Yellowstone’s Historian

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I’d like to follow up on the delightful biography of Park Historian Lee H. Whittlesey, posted by Liz Kearney on May 30th on the Yellowstone Insider website. Lee retired a month ago from his long-held position and gave up his office in the Yellowstone Heritage and Research Center building.

Every time I’ve been in the park since 1995, I’ve asked Lee for a visit, which he has kindly granted. Lee has been essential to every bit of the research and writing I’ve done there. I remember the first time I timidly asked to interview him with one of the endless lists of questions I generate between my yearly (or sometimes more frequent) visits to the park. From our first visit on, he put me at ease and directed me to all the sources I’ve needed.

I find it hard to think of continuing my Yellowstone research without the rock-solid assistance of Yellowstone’s fabulous historian. Here is a list of his books and National Park Service publications that I own. I may be missing some—but I hope not.
Death in Yellowstone: Accidents and Foolhardiness in the First National
Park
(1st ed., 1995; 2nd ed., 2014)
Gateway to Yellowstone: The Raucous Town of Cinnabar on the Montana Frontier
History of Mammoth Hot Springs (2010 draft)
A History of the Old Faithful Area
Yellowstone Place Names (1st ed., 1988; 2nd ed. 2006); Yellowstone Nomenclature (2012 disc)
Article in “Annals of Wyoming,” Vol. 88, No. 3, Summer, 2016: “G. L. Henderson: From New York Free-Thinker to Yellowstone Gentleman of Science”
—And with Elizabeth A. Watry:
Ho! For Wonderland: Travelers’ Accounts of Yellowstone, 1872–1914 (2009)
Yellowstone National Park, Images of America series: largely, historic photos with detailed captions (2008).

I will remain in contact with Lee for as long as possible. He has planned a “retirement” full of the writing projects he has not yet had time to complete.

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Why is Yellowstone National Park important?

Categories: History, Janet Chapple's Other Writing, On the Web
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This question came up on Quora today, and I decided to answer it. Here’s what I submitted:

The superficial answer might be simply: It is important because it was the first place called a national park ever set aside by any country.

In answering this question one would have to ask two others: Important to whom? and Important in what way or ways?

Important to whom? Well, to anyone who cares about preserving remarkable landscapes from commercialism or from being despoiled. In 1872, when Congress passed the act setting aside the park and President Ulysses S. Grant signed it, the Yellowstone area was compared to Niagara Falls, because that phenomenon had not been preserved officially nor were businesses forbidden from setting up to sell whatever they wanted to the tourists who flocked there.

How was it important? Although no one in Congress had seen this remote western area, the men who had gone there were able to show photographs and paintings and tell them stories of what they had seen—phenomenal geysers and hot springs, lakes and waterfalls, mountains and valleys teeming with wildlife.

Not only Americans but people from all over the world are now able to visit and experience a place like no other, where only the necessary concessions are permitted and noone is trying to sell you anything outside of the few souvenir shops you may enter if you wish.

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John Muir’s 180th Birthday

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John Muir Home in Martinez California On April 21, 1838, famous naturalist John Muir was born in Dunbar, Scotland. So this 21st we celebrate the 180th birthday of a hero of the conservation movement, without whom the national parks of the world might never have been created. Muir’s writings about the beauty of U.S. lands, particularly in California and Alaska, convinced the U.S. government to protect Yosemite, Sequoia, Grand Canyon and Mt. Rainier as national parks. He also included a chapter on Yellowstone in his 1901 book Our National Parks, and Janet quotes his 1898 description of Yellowstone Lake in Yellowstone Treasures. Here’s a famous quote from a letter he wrote to his sister Sarah in 1873: “The mountains are calling and I must go.”

In June 2017 I took the opportunity during a visit to the Bay Area to see the peaceful house where he lived with his wife and two daughters, Helen and Wanda. A highlight of the tour is his study, which he called his “scribble den,” with its bright daylight, fine wooden furniture, and landscape paintings. It is also great fun to walk through the seven acres of orchards and other parts of the grounds, including the oldest structure in the town of Martinez, the Vicente Martinez adobe. (Click for larger images.)

Muir study with typewriter

John Muir’s study

Historical markers

Historical markers for the Vicente Martinez adobe and the John Muir home




Think of Muir as you celebrate Earth Day this weekend! If you are in the Bay Area on Saturday, a John Muir Birthday / Earth Day celebration at the John Muir Home National Historic Site in Martinez, California, this year includes family-friendly activities, music, food for sale, and self-guided tours. Learn more about what you can see on a visit in this “National Park Getaway” article.

—Beth Chapple, Editor and Publisher

P.S. Here is another lovely John Muir quote: “Handle a book as a bee does a flower, extract its sweetness but do not damage it.”

Photo credits: The exterior of the John Muir house is an NPS photo. All other photos by Beth Chapple.

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Why we say it is Yellowstone National Park’s birthday today

Categories: History, Through Early Yellowstone
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1872 Yellowstone act excerpt

Excerpt from page 50 of Through Early Yellowstone

On the first of March in 1872, President Ulysses S. Grant signed the bill setting aside “the tract of land in the Territories of Montana and Wyoming, lying near the head-waters of the Yellowstone river,” creating the nation’s first national park at Yellowstone. We reproduce the text of that act in our historical anthology, Through Early Yellowstone, to share with other readers what this foresightful law was meant to do. This land was “set apart as a public park or pleasuring-ground for the benefit and enjoyment of the people.” And the act continues to inspire governments to dedicate land for conservation throughout the world—just look at Chile and Peru for recent examples.

The month of March in Yellowstone also means that park roads start to close to oversnow travel, in preparation for plowing and reopening in April and May. While the road from the North Entrance (Gardiner) to the Northeast Entrance (Cooke City) is open year-round, today at 9 pm the road from the East Entrance to Lake Butte Overlook (Sylvan Pass) closes to snowcoaches and snowmobiles, and other roads follow throughout the next two weeks. Conditions permitting, there is also a schedule for reopening the roads for motorized traffic. See the Park Roads page at https://www.nps.gov/yell/planyourvisit/parkroads.htm.

This period between closing the park roads to oversnow travel and reopening them is a time when cyclists and hikers can travel the roads but car drivers are not allowed. See the National Park Service’s Spring & Fall Bicycling page to learn about the regulations and reminders, since you must still share the road with bears, administrative vehicles, and snow removal equipment. No services are available within the park during the spring shoulder season.

—Editor and Publisher, Beth Chapple

Updated August 20, 2018.

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Broad and beautiful Hayden Valley is where today’s visitors are most likely to see herds of bison close to—or on—the road. The valley is named for Dr. Ferdinand V. Hayden, born on September 7, 1829. He played a large role in the creation of Yellowstone National Park.

Trained as a medical doctor at Albany (NY) Medical School, Hayden served as a surgeon in the Union Army until 1865. However, he became interested in geology through collecting and studying fossils in the Dakota Territory and in 1867 began his government-supported geological surveys of the west.

During the summers of 1871, 1872, and 1878, the Hayden Survey studied the Yellowstone area systematically. The men observed and reported on many geological and other phenomena in voluminous reports. The report of Hayden’s first exploration was essential in convincing Congress to establish YNP in 1872.

Hayden’s love of geysers and hot springs reportedly could move him to tears. As an early guidebook writer observed: “He cannot compose himself in the presence of a geyser in eruption; but, losing recollection of the material world for the time, rubs his hands, shouts, and dances around the object of his admiration in a paroxysm of gleeful excitement.”

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New Youth Campus proposed for Mammoth Hot Springs area

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Having returned from my Yellowstone trip several weeks ago now and not expecting to be able to go again this year, I’m reduced to reading all I can find about the park in order to keep current. I’ve just read some of the National Park Service’s Environmental Assessment for the proposed Youth Campus. I hope that Alternative C will be built on the land where the Mammoth Horse Corral was formerly located. Of course, I don’t know for sure that this is going to happen, but I am trusting enough to mention it in Yellowstone Treasures’ Fifth Edition (pages 269–70).

The proposal would bring as many as 140 young people to work and enjoy the park each summer and house them in lovely modern surroundings while they are there. Being concerned that the important historical features in the area should be carefully preserved, I just sent a comment to that effect. I included a suggestion that a separate access road and small parking area be available for visitors to the small (formerly military) cemetery started there in 1888. Although the soldiers’ graves have been relocated elsewhere, the cemetery is still a beautiful spot and should be carefully preserved for posterity.

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Trains to Yellowstone? Oh, for the days . . .

Categories: History, Transportation
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I just answered an amazing question on quora.com: “What are the dangers of taking a train to Yellowstone?”

To my mind this is a strange question, but perhaps the person asking it does not know where trains do and do not run in the U.S.

It would be great if there were still trains to one or more of the entrances to the park. However, the last passenger train, the Northern Pacific, to terminate at Gardiner, Montana (the North Entrance) arrived with a passel of Girls Scouts in 1955, and one could only get as far as Livingston on a train up to 1979. The other railroads that took passengers near the park had stopped running trains to the vicinity of Yellowstone even before that.

Your present options are taking a tour bus, flying to one of the gateway towns that has an airport and renting a car, or driving in your own car, which people do from every state in the Union.

Personally, I would think it high time that railroads reconsider the possibility of building tracks back to Gardiner, Cody, and/or West Yellowstone. The National Park Service should then set up shuttle buses to all the major points of interest—if only there were money for such a dream to come true any time soon. . . .

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