The first time I visited Yellowstone National Park I was on a geological field trip in college. It was pretty amazing really, we were told in-depth about all the different geo-thermal wonders, their dangers, how they form, function, and work.
The Discovery of Yellowstone National Park
When John Colter, one of the original members of the Lewis and Clark expedition, first discovered Yellowstone in 1807 and later returned to civilization his stories of fantastic geysers, sulphur scented hot springs, and boiling mud pits were mocked. The general consensus at the time was that a place like that couldn't exist, it was completely impossible, either that or he'd had a tour of the devil's living room.
As time went on more and more people stumbled into what is now known as Yellowstone National Park, some were simply trying to avoid raids, and others were explorers. Many of them had interesting tales to tell, and did, until the idea of a land filled with boiling mud and sulphur scented air couldn't be written off as a delusion.
During the Langford-Washburn expedition of 1870, a man by the name of Gustavus Cheyney Doane, a lieutenant in the U.S. Calvary, sent the first document confirming the existence of Yellowstone to Congress. This particular document went on to help make Yellowstone the first National Park in the United States. Doane, however was a bit of a greedy man when it came to the fame and recognition aspect of life. That particular trait did not serve him well for the rest of his life.
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The Dangers of Hot Springs
The hotsprings in Yellowstone National Park are some of the most colorful and beautiful waters you will ever see. It can literally be a rainbow of color trapped into a single pool of steaming water. This steaming water though isn't just steaming, because of how peaceful looking it is most people don't realize that it's temperatures are deadly. There are really only one or two (and I mean that literally not figuratively) that are within temperature ranges that a human can touch. Almost every single hot spring in the park is a beautiful deathtrap waiting to happen.
Now what really surprised me during this lecture, wasn't how the temperatures were dangerous, it was the reason why you don't go off the boardwalk at the park, and why you never approach a hot spring, even when it is right there on the side of the road. Hot springs may look like pure water but they aren't, they actually hold a lot of minerals and a few different strains of extremophile bacterias. Over time the build up of minerals and bacteria creates a crust that clings to the outer part of the hot spring. Well the crust is only a thin shell over the water but it will continually grow and grow. Thing is, it literally is only a thin shell, but it looks like solid ground. If stepped on that person, animal, whatever doesn't stand a chance. This is the number one reason why you have to stick to the pathways at Yellowstone. The paths have been carefully checked and are safe.
I am sure that you know that Yellowstone has a bear population. Unfortunately, many people forget when they are at Yellowstone that these are truly wild animals and instead envision a sweet docile Yogi bear type of teddy-bear. Well the image of them stealing food is true enough if you don't take certain precautions, but the real dangers depends heavily on the season.
During the spring and summer you have to always be on your guard for bear cubs. If there is one thing you never want to do it is to come between a momma bear and her fluffy angels. They have no mercy for that kind of thing.
During the Late Summer and Fall they are getting ready to hibernate and that brings a whole new set of problems into the mix. In order to prepare for hibernation bears must eat a lot. Sometimes more than they can easily find. So they have to be very protective of what food they do manage to get their claws on. A human that allows him or herself to get between a bear and it's food during the pre-hibernation time is not doing better than a human that gets between a momma bear and her cubs. Please remember that bears are wild animals, and as my professor used to say wild animals are wild because their only concern is how to survive.
The Home of Bison
I remember back in third grade when we were studying Native American History and the main subject was food sources for the ethnic groups that lived on the plains. Bison, during this time came to the point of extinction. Hundreds of bison, during the old west, were left to decay in the hot sun, because of a bounty. Well there I was I little 3rd grader trying to remember what the word extinct meant, and once I did remember I ever so politely raised my hand.
"They aren't extinct, ma'am. My daddy took us hiking and we hiked right past one grazing behind a fence. It was big and shaggy and it had big horns on its head like a cow. It looks just like the picture."
Well, it turns out she was mostly right. Bison were hunted to the edge of extinction. If it hadn't been for a small pocket of bison living in Yellowstone, about 300 bison in all, they would be completely extinct. You see all living bison are direct descendents of those 300 bison that survived by living in Yellowstone National Park.
Another thing you should probably be aware of. Bison are also wild dangerous animals. Every year people get hurt by bison, just like people get hurt by bears at the park. Bison might act a lot like a cow in terms of their grazing habits, but those horns on top of their heads can hurt you badly if you get too close or irritate one too much. So please respect the bison. They are one of the last great mega-fauna from North America.
Old Faithful isn't so Faithful Anymore?
Old faithful, the famous geyser at Yellowstone national park, was famous for erupting every hour on the hour. This by the way isn't true. The origin for this common misconception dates back to the Washburn expedition. During that expedition one of the explorers reported that there was a geyser present that erupted nearly every hour. It was this report that became the common belief about Old Faithful's reliability.Their have also been misconceptions about the height of its eruptions as well as the common belief that the geyser is slowing down between eruptions. From what scientists can tell at the moment neither of these two factors have gone outside of the statistical average on this geyser since its eruptions started being documented.