Yellowstone National Park and the Tetons

prismatic-smallWyoming is home to one of the great natural treasures on our planet; Yellowstone Park. It was the first national park preserved by any country and remains the most famous. Despite its remote location, it has about 3 million visitors a year. Signs of volcanic action are everywhere and the fiery tumult of the earth?s interior is often close to the surface. Multiple geysers periodically spout huge quantities of steam and water into the air and there are thousands of ponds and springs where the water boils. Old Faithful consistently spews a spectacular plume over a hundred feet into the air every hour or so as it has done for unknown years.

Several waterfalls plunge hundreds of feet in steep, rainbow hued canyons. The Park straddles the Continental Divide and the many streams which rise here empty into both Atlantic and Pacific Oceans. There are hundreds of different species of animals, birds, reptiles and fish, several of which are very rare. The volcanic and glacial activity has created many large and small lakes often connected by streams which make excellent habitat for the native cutthroat trout, attracting people from round the world to fish in these pristine waters. Over 1,000 archeological sites of Native Americans dating back at least 11,000 years have been discovered. An obsidian cliff of exceptional quality in the Park has been mined for millennia by native tribes as it is ideal for making sharp stone tools and projectiles. This obsidian must have been widely traded as it has been found as far away as Mexico, Ohio and central Canada.

img049The Park itself is roughly half the size of New Jersey and forms the heart of the Greater Yellowstone Wild Ecosystem which is ten times larger and still preserves most of its wild character unspoiled by development. This wider system, made up mainly of surrounding national forests and parks, is the largest wild system left in the temperate zone of the northern hemisphere. Its significance is enormous because it is the only area left in this part of the world where wild game like elk, buffalo, deer, big horned sheep, grizzly bears and wolves can migrate freely over a wide area as in pre-Columbian days. It required tremendous foresight and courage on the part of our forefathers to preserve this unique system for the world to appreciate.

The Park was established in 1872 and in the early years little was done to prevent its exploitation by miners, poachers, settlers and lumbermen. There was considerable local pressure to open up the area for commercial development. The buffalo herds were being poached in their last refuge and the area was threatened by an ugly fate similar to Niagara Falls. Fortunately far sighted leaders like Ferdinand Hayden convinced Washington to allocate the resources necessary for protection of its unique wild beauty, minerals, flora and fauna. They have certainly been vindicated in their policy by millions of appreciative visitors from around the world.

A vital step in the protection of the area was the addition of Grand Teton National Park to the south of Yellowstone beginning in the 1920s. Many dedicated people who have appreciated and loved the unspoiled beauty of the unique Snake River Valley known as Jackson Hole have united to preserve its pristine state. Despite strong pressures for commercialization and exploitation they have managed to maintain most of its integrity. John D. Rockefeller, Jr., recognizing the unique value of this treasure, added significantly to the size of the Park by donating private land. The creation of Teton National Park and adjacent national forests has made possible the protection of the whole area around the town of Jackson and over 98% of the land in Teton County belongs to a government and protected from eckless exploitation for as long as our flag waves.

The breathtaking vista of the Snake River Valley with the steep chain of the snow clad Teton Mountains rising to such a great height so sharply behind is unquestionably one of the world’s most unforgettable and uplifting sights. There are countless trails for hikers and many challenging ascents for mountain climbers to say nothing of the world class skiing possibilities. A float trip down the meandering Snake River beneath the mountains where wildlife like moose, bear and bald eagles are frequently seen is an unforgettable experience.

Native Americans had been visiting the Jackson Hole area for countless millennia, but apparently it was unknown to Europeans until after 1800. What attracted the nomadic Indians was the abundant wildlife, especially the buffalo and elk, but they usually sought more temperate winter quarters as Jackson winters can be fierce. In the early 1800s trappers began to arrive in this productive hunting ground, mainly in search of beaver for which there was a great demand in Europe at the time. Many of these were French which is why the place names around Jackson are often in that language. The name of the Park itself comes from the French word for nipple of which the shape of the peaks reminded them.