“Be it enacted by the Senate and House of Representatives of the United States of America in Congress assembled, That the tract of land in the Territories of Montana and Wyoming, lying near the headwaters of the Yellowstone river . . . is hereby reserved and withdrawn from settlement, occupancy, or sale under the laws of the United States, and dedicated and set apart as a public park or pleasureing-ground for the benefit and enjoyment of the people.” The signing of that monumental piece of legislation by President Ulysses S. Grant on March 1, 1872, was the start of the best idea America ever had–our National Parks. In 1997, we have the opportunity to commemorate and celebrate the 125th anniversary of the establishment of Yellowstone National Park and the beginning of the national park idea. Several 125th Anniversary events have been planned [for 1997], and the public is welcome to attend. Specific news releases about each event will be provided, approximately two weeks prior to the event. Events include:March 1: The official birthday of Yellowstone National Park. The Mammoth Post Office will be offering a commemorative stamp cancellation from 10 a.m. until 2 p.m., and National Park Service staff will be present to greet visitors, answer questions, and serve birthday cake and punch. Stamped, self-addressed envelopes can be mailed to the Postmaster at P.O. Box 9998, Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming 82190 for cancellation.

April 20-26: National Parks Week. Activities will include a March for Parks in Livingston, Montana, on Saturday, April 26, and special activities in area schools sponsored by the National Park Service and the Greater Yellowstone Coalition.

August 1: Dedication of Bison Exhibit at Canyon Visitor Center. This new exhibit is presented in cooperation with the Buffalo Bill Historical Center of Cody, Wyoming.

August 17: Military Appreciation Day. The park will recognize the significant contribution of the military during their 30-year administration of the park from 1886 until the formation of the National Park Service in 1916. Military bands, reenactor troops, and the dedication of the new self-guided walking tour of historic Fort Yellowstone at Mammoth Hot Springs will be the highlight of the weekend-long event.

August 25: National Park Service birthday celebration at Old Faithful. The National Park Service was established on this date in 1916. Plans call for a special program with national and state dignitaries.

October 12 – 14: Fourth Biennial Scientific Conference on the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem: People and Place, The Human Experience in Greater Yellowstone. This conference will focus on the human experience in the greater Yellowstone, with particular emphasis on the changing relationships between nature and culture and on the challenges of preserving and interpreting the region’s cultural heritage.

When President Ulysses S. Grant signed the Yellowstone Park Act, no one foresaw the worldwide rippling effect of his action. In the United States today there are 374 unique places where this Nation preserves its natural and cultural diversity and heritage. Furthermore, the national park idea has spread, and now more than 140 other nations have modeled their own national park systems after ours.

Superintendent Michael Finley stated, “We are able to celebrate Yellowstone’s anniversary today because of the vision of those who preceded us 125 years ago. Anniversaries are occasions for both celebration and examination. Only through an evaluation of the road we have travelled and serious consideration of the values and feelings we presently have about our national parks can we intelligently consider the direction that we need to head in the coming years. How we meet the challenges today will determine what we as a people will celebrate 125 years from now.”

For further information or questions regarding the 125th Anniversary celebrations, please contact the Public Affairs office at the above-listed numbers.


Yellowstone National Park–some say it is America’s greatest contribution to world culture– the best idea we ever had. Yet when President Ulysses S. Grant signed the Yellowstone Park Act on March 1, 1872, the preservation of a park more than 3,300 square miles in size was a radical idea. This was a time when natural resources were thought to be limitless, and conservation was considered wasteful. With the signing of the Act, a new era in conservation began.Historically, in Europe, “parks” were owned by the wealthy elite for their use alone. In early America, particularly Puritan New England, the attitude toward the value of work resulted in the perception that idle time led to wickedness, and nature was viewed as frightening and something to be subdued. But in the 1800s the philosophy of romanticism evolved in Europe and spread to America. Men such as Henry David Thoreau, Ralph Waldo Emerson, and Henry Wadsworth Longfellow wrote about nature in a new way. They described it as wondrous, beautiful, and restorative. In the mid-1800s American cities began setting aside tracts of land for public parks such as Central Park in New York. Attitudes were changing.

In 1870 and 1871, expeditions were sent to explore the area we now know as Yellowstone National Park. The members of those expeditions and many other Americans, influenced by this new way of viewing nature, worked tirelessly to have the Yellowstone Park Act introduced into Congress in December 1871. Congressional debate focused on the “worthlessness” of the Yellowstone country for any “useful” purpose. The lack of any known reserves of timber, minerals, or other resources of any economic value was emphasized. Because most of the area was at or above 7,000 feet in elevation and
received snow during much of the year, agriculture and settlement were considered difficult at best. Though Congressional opposition was weak, the necessity of preserving a place of such little value was questioned. In order to secure passage of the bill, supporters promised that no funding from Congress would be requested for the park’s administration. Indeed, Yellowstone received no federal funding until 1877 when it was recognized that without someone in charge, there would soon be nothing left to see as poaching and vandalism were rampant.

Our perception of Yellowstone has changed dramatically since the Congressional debates of 1871-1872. Today the park is host to more than 3 million visitors each year from all over the world. While still fairly remote, it is no longer inaccessible. Its geysers, hot springs, waterfalls, and wildlife are no longer thought to be worthless, but are considered priceless. The park has become an integral part of our culture and stands as a symbol, not only of American democracy, but also of the importance of preserving wild places for everyone. As we celebrate Yellowstone’s 125th anniversary, we are reminded of the vision of those early park supporters who believed that Yellowstone’s resources should be preserved not for their economic value but for their intrinsic natural beauty. We are the beneficiaries
of their efforts to have this special place set aside “for the benefit and enjoyment of the people.”


“Yellowstone” is the oldest and most important of the park’s place names, dating back to the late eighteenth century. The name was first applied to the 671-mile-long river that begins just south of the present park and flows into the Missouri River at present-day Williston, North Dakota.The earliest known appearance of the name occurs on John Evans’ manuscript map of 1797. Evans, a Welshman employed by Spaniards to explore the Missouri River, showed a tributary stream as “River Yellow Rock.” Historian Hiram Chittenden considered the name a translation of the Minnetaree Indian expression Mi tsi a-da-zi, which was transformed in French to Roche Jaunes (Rock Yellow) or PierreJaunes (Stone Yellow). Later, in 1798, the French version was Anglicized by Canadian geographer David Thompson to “Yellow Stone.”

Although Chittenden believed that the name “Yellowstone” originated from the colorful walls of the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone River within the present national park, most historians today do not agree. Their reasoning is that the earlier historic uses of the name referred to the yellowish sandstone bluffs that border the river for 100 miles or more near present-day Billings, Montana. It is unlikely that the Minnetaree Indians or the early EuroAmericans knew of today’s famous canyon near the headwaters of the river.

The source of the Yellowstone River is found on the slopes of Yount’s Peak, southeast of the park. Geologist Arnold Hague traveled to the spot in 1887 and reported that the source of the river was “in a long snow-bank lying in a large ampitheatre on the north side of the [Yount’s] peak.” The river flows through Yellowstone Lake, the largest natural freshwater lake above 7,000 feet in elevation in the United States. The lake is 20 miles long and 14 miles wide, has a shoreline of 110 miles, and is at least 320 feet deep, with an average depth of 140 feet. After leaving the lake, the river flows through four canyons on its journey to the Missouri River: the Grand Canyon (where Upper and Lower Falls are found), the Black Canyon, Yankee Jim Canyon (just north of the park boundary), and Rock Canyon (just south of Livingston, Montana).

Through association with our first national park, the name “Yellowstone” has assumed a significance that goes far beyond its importance as a place name for a river. The name has become synonymous with much that is basic to the national park idea.


It is a testimonial to the spectacular nature of the wonders of Yellowstone that three “discovery” expeditions were required before the American public would believe that such a place existed. Exploring parties of 1869, 1870, and 1871 each played a role in revealing Yellowstone to the world.In September of 1869, three prospectors from Diamond City (near present-day Helena), Montana Territory, headed south to investigate the persistent rumors of unbelievable curiosities near the headwaters of the Yellowstone River. These men, known as the Folsom-Cook-Peterson Expedition, spent 36 days exploring and mapping the Yellowstone region. They were astounded by what they saw. Upon reaching the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone, Charles Cook said, “it seemed to me that it was five minutes before anyone spoke.” Returning to Diamond City, they wrote a magazine article about their experiences and made the suggestion that the area be reserved in the public interest.

Excitement about the stories of the Yellowstone area was at a fever pitch when in August 1870 a party of 19 men, 40 horses, and a dog left Helena to further explore the region. This group, the Washburn-Langford-Doane expedition, was composed of prominent Montana territorial citizens, and they spent a month exploring the present park, giving names to many of its features, including Old Faithful Geyser.

Following the return of the expedition to Helena, Nathaniel P. Langford (an employee of the Northern Pacific Railroad, which would play a prominent role in advertising the future park) traveled to the East Coast to give speeches promoting their “discovery.” Dr. Ferdinand V. Hayden, then head of what would become the U.S. Geological Survey, was in one of the Washington, D.C., audiences. Hayden was intrigued by Langford’s story, and he petitioned Congress for $40,000 to outfit a government scientific party to explore the Yellowstone country.

The expedition traveled west during the summer of 1871 and spent many months in Yellowstone, confirming the Washburn party’s discoveries, taking scientific readings, and accurately mapping the area. Hayden’s party of about 30 men included an artist, Thomas Moran, and a photographer, William H. Jackson. Their artwork and photographs played an important role in convincing a skeptical nation of the wonders of Yellowstone.

In the winter of 1871, a bill was introduced into Congress to set the Yellowstone area aside. On March 1, 1872, President Ulysses S. Grant signed the bill that reserved Yellowstone as a public park, “forever free from settlement, occupancy or sale . . . for the benefit and enjoyment of the people.”


“. . . and behold! The whole country beyond was smoking with vapor from boiling springs; and burning with gases issuing from small craters, each of which was emitting a sharp, whistling sound.” So wrote fur trapper Joe Meek in 1829.The rare, spectacular wonders Meek spoke about along with bubbling mudpots and erupting geysers are the main reason why the Yellowstone plateau was set aside 125 years ago this month. Back then, wildlife was considered merely a commodity for food or income, and the wilderness scenery–mountain ranges, deep canyons, expansive forests, and large lakes–was viewed as an obstacle to travel and settlement. There was no gold or other precious mineral wealth to be found here, and the climate was too severe for ranching or farming. In short, Yellowstone was considered worthless–but it did have some curious hydrothermal attractions that people might enjoy. So, the world’s first national park was created.

What makes Yellowstone’s geysers and hot springs so fascinating to many visitors is their dynamic nature. While some geysers, such as Old Faithful and Great Fountain, have been steadily active throughout most of the park’s recorded history, others are quite rare and irregular. For example, Steamboat Geyser, the world’s tallest geyser when active, has had intervals ranging from 5 days to 50 years; the most recent eruption was on October 2, 1991.

Today, intense “geyser gazing” interest is focused on the Upper Geyser Basin where Giant Geyser is showing signs of rejuvenation after about 40 years of near dormancy. Since July 1996 there have been 10 major eruptions; the most recent was on February 24, 1997. Each eruption lives up to the geyser’s name: scalding water rocketing up to heights of 195 feet (60 meters) or more (twice the usual height of Old Faithful), with eruption durations of more than an hour, and a massive flood of hundreds of thousands of gallons of water cascading off its sinter platform into the Firehole River.

Geysers are–in a geologic perspective–very unstable and short-lived. Violent change can occur at any time and with little or no warning. The magnitude 7.5 Hebgen Lake earthquake of August 17, 1959, caused many hot springs to erupt as geysers, destroyed or damaged others such as Sapphire Pool, and created new thermal features.

Even without earthquakes, Yellowstone’s hydrothermal features change. For example, in the 1880s Excelsior Geyser was hurling desk-sized rocks in eruptions that were 290 feet (90 meters) high and at least 145 feet (50 meters) across. Excelsior then slumbered for 95 years until September 14, 1985, when it roared back to life for 47 hours and turned the Firehole River muddy white from bank to bank. Excelsior has not erupted since. Likewise, Black Opal Pool in Biscuit Basin, a short distance north of Old Faithful, exploded during the spring of 1925 and ejected thermally cemented sandstone 975 feet (300 meters) away in a lateral blast. Since then, Black Opal Pool has remained a hot pool.

Norris Geyser Basin is especially dynamic. Nearly every year in mid- to late-summer, the area is subject to a basin-wide thermal disturbance producing wild fluctuations in temperatures, discharges, eruptive activity, and water clarity. At the start of one such disturbance, Porkchop Geyser suddenly doubled its eruption height and, within seconds, “blew-up,” scattering rock fragments at the feet of eight surprised park visitors.

The spectacular changes in Yellowstone’s hydrothermal features continue to occur quite frequently. Whether it is the creation of a violent new mud volcano in the back country or the re-awakening of a long dormant large geyser, Yellowstone’s visitors will be just as amazed and entertained during the next 125 years as they have been in the first.

** This press release was written by Rick Hutchinson, Yellowstone’s research geologist, shortly before his untimely death in his beloved Yellowstone backcountry.


When someone mentions the word “volcano,” what do you think of–Mount St. Helens in Washington, Kilauea in Hawaii, Mount Etna in Italy? Or do you think of Yellowstone? Although we have come to expect earthquakes in this region, most of us do not associate a volcano with our first national park. However, in the past two million years there have been three major volcanic explosions in what is today one of the most popular vacation spots in our nation. These eruptions were violent, and they devastated vast areas. Geologists tell us it could happen again–but probably not anytime soon.No one is quite sure why a volcano would be found in Yellowstone–usually volcanos occur at the edge of continents where continental plates move by each other or in the middle of oceans where the sea floor spreads apart. But the earth’s crust is very thin at the point we call Yellowstone. Normally, the earth’s crust is about 20-30 miles thick; at Yellowstone, the crust is only 2 miles thick. The hot, melted rocks of the earth’s mantle are very close, indeed.

The volcanic eruptions that occurred in this area are characterized by sudden outpourings of hot gas, ash, pumice, and rock. These explosions left enormous depressions, which are called calderas. The last caldera explosion occurred about 600,000 years ago and obliterated most of the physical evidence of the preceding two caldera explosions. This event is known as the Yellowstone Caldera, and it destroyed about 1,000 square miles of the central portion of present-day Yellowstone. By comparison, the 1980 eruption of Mount St. Helens blew up less than one square mile, while the largest known historical
volcanic eruption occurred in 1883 on the island of Krakatoa in Indonesia, destroying about 12 square miles.

Today it is difficult to see much of the original Yellowstone Caldera. Not only does it cover an immense area, but following the caldera explosion and continuing for the next 500,000 years, there was a series of lava flows that filled in most of the caldera. This period of lava flow ended about 75,000 years ago. Since that time the forces of water and ice have reshaped Yellowstone once again.

Yellowstone was glaciated at least three distinct times. During the last glaciation (called the Pinedale Glaciation), an enormous icefield built up in the Absaroka Mountains southeast of the present-day parkand in the Gallatin Mountains north of the park. Glaciers flowed from these icefields into the Yellowstone area. The mass of ice centered in what is today the Yellowstone Lake basin and grew to a depth of more than 3,000 feet. Eventually this ice covered about 90% of Yellowstone. By about 8,500 years ago the ice had all melted. Even though a few snowfields may persist in the highest areas of the park today, there are no glaciers in Yellowstone.

The landscape that you see in Yellowstone today is the result of both violent episodes and slow-moving processes that have occurred over thousands of years. It is often hard for us to comprehend the scope of geologic time since written human history goes back only 7,000 years and because most of us only know our family history for three or four generations. Until the fires of 1988, many repeat visitors to Yellowstone noticed very little change in the landscape. But, this is a dynamic place, and the one constant that remains true for Yellowstone is change.


The history of bison and their management in Yellowstone National Park could be described as cycles of endless bounty followed by scarcity. Most people know that vast herds of bison, or buffalo as they are more commonly called, once filled the North American continent. Estimates suggest that as many as 65 million bison roamed North America in the early 1800s. With such seemingly unlimited numbers, their destiny appeared certain, but, instead, their fate nearly followed that of the passenger pigeon. Market hunting and poaching all but eliminated this species from North America; by 1890 fewer than 1,000 bison remained.Yellowstone National Park was not immune to the slaughter. In the 1870s poachers and meat hunters continued to kill bison within the newly created park. It was not until the arrival of the U.S. Army in 1886, sent to protect all of Yellowstone’s resources, that poaching and hunting were brought under control. Later, in 1894, Congress passed the Lacey Act, which imposed a $1,000 fine on anyone convicted of shooting bison, and the preservation of this American species was assured.

In 1902, only 23 free-ranging bison were counted in Yellowstone’s Pelican Valley, and National Park Service (NPS) officials doubted that this native herd would survive. Consequently, 21 bison from private ranches in Texas and Montana were brought to Yellowstone and placed in pens at Mammoth Hot Springs and managed like cattle. These bison were moved to the “Buffalo Ranch” in the Lamar Valley in 1907 and were intensively managed there until the late-1930s. In 1936, bison were trucked from the Lamar herd to the Firehole and Hayden valleys. Bison were now allowed to range freely in the park and mix with the native herd. With protection from poaching and hunting, the native and transplanted bison populations increased. In 1954, the park’s entire population of bison numbered 1,477. By this time the bison in Yellowstone wintered in three fairly distinct herds, although there is some overlap between the herds at various times of the year. These herds are called the Northern (Lamar Valley) herd, the Mary Mountain (Hayden Valley-Firehole River) herd, and the Pelican Valley herd.

A large bull bison can measure six feet tall at the shoulder and weigh a ton. Bison have massive heads and a high hump on the shoulders. In winter bison use their head as a snowplow, swinging it back and forth through the snow to find the vegetation below. Female bison look like the males, although they are smaller and have more slender horns that point forward. Bison are gregarious and congregate in large herds. Although adult bison are dark brown with long shaggy hair on their shoulders and front legs, calves are reddish brown without shaggy hair when born in April and May. Many spring visitors to Yellowstone go to the Lamar Valley or the Firehole area to view these new calves. Bison mate in July and early August, and areas like Hayden Valley ring with their bellows and are filled with dust from the battles between rival bulls.

Management of bison in the park has changed over time. As mentioned earlier, bison were managed intensively (ranched) for many years in order to increase their numbers and preserve them as a natural species in the park. In the 1930s, National Park Service policy began to shift from artificial manipulation of wildlife to the preservation of species in a more natural state. However, bison were still managed, albeit sporadically, by way of removals (including live transplants to many areas around the nation to develop new bison herds) until the mid-1960s. In 1968, manipulative management of bison ceased, and the bison population was allowed to increase or decrease in response to environmental conditions, particularly winter weather. A parkwide count at this time placed bison numbers at 397. Throughout the late 1970s and 1980s a series of cool, wet summers produced bountiful grasses for bison to feed on. Concurrently, a series of mild winters and winter recreational activities (snowmobiles were first allowed on groomed roads in Yellowstone in the early 1970s; groomed roads cut down on the energy a bison uses to travel compared to when the bison moves through deep snow) have allowed more bison to survive the winter. By the winter of 1996-1997, an early winter count placed the park’s bison population at 3,500.

Although the three states surrounding Yellowstone (Wyoming, Montana, and Idaho) had had “Boundary Control Agreements” with the NPS since the early 1970s to assure that any bison moving out of the park would be killed, it was not until 1982 that Montana instituted a public hunt to control bison moving beyond Yellowstone’s boundaries. Due to public controversy, the Montana legislature halted the public bison hunt in 1989. In 1990, Montana and the NPS developed an interim management plan in which state and federal personnel shot bison in Montana to protect private property, provide for human safety, and protect Montana’s brucellosis class-free status. Brucellosis is a disease that can cause abortions in domestic cattle. Some bison as well as elk carry the bacterium that causes the disease. Although there are no documented cases of wild, free-ranging bison transmitting brucellosis to cattle in the wild, the possibility of transmitting the disease exists if cattle would come in contact with infected birthing material or a new-born calf from an infected animal.

In 1995, as part of a court-approved settlement agreement resulting from a lawsuit filed by the state of Montana, a new interim bison management plan was developed. Bison entering Montana along the park’s northern boundary would either be captured and shipped to slaughter or shot. Bison entering Montana along the park’s western boundary would be captured and tested; bison testing positive for brucellosis would be shipped to slaughter. Due to the management removals and winter-kill, the Yellowstone bison population in March 1997 is estimated to be between 1,200 and 1,500 animals.

A long-range bison management plan and environmental impact statement is being jointly prepared by the NPS, the U.S. Forest Service, and the state of Montana with the cooperation of the Animal Plant Health Inspection Service (an agency in the U.S. Department of Agriculture). This plan will evaluate several strategies for managing the periodic movement of bison outside the park while ensuring opportunities to view free-ranging bison and maintaining a self-supporting population in Yellowstone National Park. The plan and the draft Environmental Impact Statement are scheduled for public review on July 31, 1997.


As the roads are cleared of their last vestiges of winter snows, and hotels and campgrounds are cleaned and readied for this summer’s visitors, it is interesting to think about how people used to travel to Yellowstone to see its wonders.Of course, Yellowstone’s earliest visitors were its earliest residents. American Indians lived in the region for thousands of years, although our knowledge of which tribal groups inhabited the Yellowstone area and how they lived is scant. The first Euroamerican to visit Yellowstone was probably John Colter, a member of the Lewis and Clark Expedition, who stayed in the West’s mountains after the Expedition returned to civilization in 1806. The exact route of his 1807-08 winter trek will probably never be known, but the evidence points to him wandering across the future park.

Colter was followed by other mountain men searching the Valley of the Upper Yellowstone for beaver and other pelts for trading. One of these mountain men, Warren Angus Ferris, became (as far as is known) Yellowstone’s first tourist, coming here not for business but just for pleasure. Concerning his 1834 visit, Ferris wrote:

“I had heard in the summer of 1833, while at rendezvous, that remarkable boiling springs had been discovered, on the sources of the Madison, by a party of trappers in their spring hunt; of which the accounts they gave, were so very astonishing, that I determined to examine them myself. . .”

As tales of the Yellowstone area grew, more people came to see for themselves if the stories were true. These early visitors to Yellowstone were a hardy breed, resourceful, and self-assured. Travel was by horse or mule through forests that were often so littered with deadfall (referred to as jackstraw) that one could only cover two to three miles in a whole day! After the area was set aside in 1872 as the nation’s first national park, visitation “skyrocketed” to around 1,000 people each year. These visitors had to travel through the park on bridal paths and game trails and sleep on the ground or in tents.

In 1883, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers arrived to begin proper road building, after which overnight accommodations sprang up throughout the park. In those early days the main bulk of the visitors to Yellowstone were prosperous citizens of the United States and the nations of Europe. Because travel to Yellowstone took days or even weeks, only the wealthy had the time and resources to visit “Wonderland.”

At first one had to take the Union Pacific Railroad to Corinne, Utah, and then get on a stagecoach for the 380-mile ride to Virginia City, Montana’s Territorial Capital. There you could hire horses and an outfit and, perhaps, someone to guide you to the park. Later the Northern Pacific Railroad, having extended its lines west from Chicago, brought visitors to Gardiner, Montana, along a branch line. There you would step off the train onto a 36-passenger tally-ho stage drawn by six matching horses for the ride into the park. For the tour around the park, each guest was issued a linen duster to try to help maintain their fine clothes amid the heavy cloud of dust kicked up by the stagecoach. It was also the time when, at certain points during the day, the driver (who would have had a name like Geyser Bob or Society Red) would stop to inform everyone that the forests to the left were for the ladies, to the right for the men!

While most folks rode the stagecoaches, there were still some intrepid souls who chose other means of touring the park. The first bicycle tour of the park took place in 1883, when three members of the Laramie, Wyoming, Bicycle Club came to visit, and in 1898 an Englishman, C. Hanford Henderson, toured the entire 140 miles of the Grand Loop on foot in 4 1/2 days!

The grand era of stagecoach travel ended in 1917 when touring cars replaced the stages. The Northern Pacific Railroad and the Union Pacific Railroad, which had reached West Yellowstone in 1907, both stopped passenger service in the 1950s when travel to Yellowstone became essentially what we know today.


“It is a pleasure now to say a few words to you at the laying of the corner stone of the beautiful arch which is to mark the entrance to this park. Yellowstone Park is something absolutely unique in the world so far as I know. Nowhere else in any civilized country is there to be found such a tract of veritable wonderland made accessible to all visitors. . . .” With these words, President Theodore Roosevelt dedicated the arch at the North Entrance to Yellowstone National Park in a ceremony on April 24, 1903.When Yellowstone was established in 1872 as the world’s first national park, it was remote and nearly inaccessible. Few tourist had the time or the financial means to travel to Yellowstone. The railroad companies of the time played a large role in promoting the park and providing access from the major cities of the east and west coasts. By 1903, the Northern Pacific Railroad line had been extended to Gardiner, Montana, and the north entrance to Yellowstone was turned into a bustling tourist destination. From the crowded Gardiner train depot visitors would board stagecoaches and begin their “grand tour”
of Yellowstone’s wonders.

Captain Hiram M. Chittenden of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and director of road construction in Yellowstone, decided that the park’s primary entrance deserved a formal gateway to improve and dramatize the appearance of the train depot’s dusty staging area. Working from notes provided by Chittenden, architect Robert Reamer, designer of the Old Faithful Inn and Canyon Hotel (no longer in existence), designed and assisted in the planning of the project. Chittenden and Reamer called for extensive landscaping in the depot area and a large imposing arch built of local columnar basalt. The arch they designed and built rises 50-feet high in stark contrast to the surrounding area. On both sides of the arch, 12-foot high walls originally curved around a landscaped pond and garden. The arch, inscribed with the words: “For the Benefit and Enjoyment of the People,” faced the Gardiner train depot welcoming visitors to Yellowstone.

By the 1940s train travel was replaced by the automobile. Not just the wealthy could come to Yellowstone now. Automobiles not only changed who could travel, they also changed how and where people traveled. Visitors now came through the East, South, and West entrances to the park; the North Entrance was no longer the primary route into the park. In 1948, train service to Gardiner ended, and an era of Yellowstone’s visitation passed into history.

Today, the Roosevelt Arch still stands, and the words engraved across its face still welcome visitors to Yellowstone. The arch has become one of the great symbols of the “National Park Idea.”


Friday, May 2, 1997, is the opening day of Yellowstone National Park’s most famous building, the Old Faithful Inn. Overlooking Old Faithful Geyser and the Upper Geyser Basin, the Inn has been the most celebrated structure in Yellowstone since it first opened in June of 1904. The Inn is also a standing tribute to a great and unsung American architect, Robert Chambers Reamer.Robert Reamer was born in 1873, just a year after Yellowstone was established as the nation’s first national park. Reamer was a relatively unknown architect when Harry Child, head of the Yellowstone Park Company, hired him in 1902 to design and build a hotel for the Upper Geyser Basin. There had been a series of tent camps and cheaply constructed, shoddy hotels at this site during the previous two decades, and Child wanted to construct a first-class hotel for the wealthy customers who constituted the bulk of Yellowstone’s visitors at the turn of the century.

Fine hotels already stood at Mammoth Hot Springs, Lower Geyser Basin, Yellowstone Lake, and Canyon. These facilities stood out sharply from their surroundings and reflected the way visitors to Yellowstone toured the park in those days. Guests would spend a leisurely day marveling at the wonders of the park and then return to a hotel that looked and felt like one they might find in Chicago, New York, or Newport. These hotels represented a place of refuge for the night against the frightening wilderness outside.

Robert Reamer brought a different vision with him to Yellowstone. He believed it was possible to create a structure that would appear to have grown out of its surroundings, a structure that inside and out would seem to be an extension of the wilderness. At the same time, he believed that a hotel such as this could provide all the modern conveniences that any first-class hotel around the world offered. He believed that hotel guests would feel completely secure while at the same time feel a part of the wilderness outside.

The Inn was constructed from materials found in the area. Its rhyolite lava foundation stones were quarried just a few miles from the site, and the lodgepole pine forests that cover Yellowstone became its walls, ceilings, and framework. The lobby is cavernous and opened to the roof, with all the supporting beams and braces of lodgepole pine exposed to view. The massive fireplace in one corner of the lobby has an 85-foot high chimney made from the same rhyolite stone as the foundation. To stand in this great, balconied lobby as the sun filters through the asymmetrical windows gives one the feeling of standing in
the forest. But with hot and cold running water, flush toilets, baths, steam heat, and electric lights, the Inn was–and is–a first-class hotel.

Robert Reamer caused a revolution in architecture in national parks that has continued to this day. His style of architecture, where the building is designed to fit into the landscape, is called “rustic architecture.” Reamer designed many other Yellowstone structures for the Yellowstone Park Company, and he went on to become a well-respected architect in Seattle, where the Fifth Avenue Theater, Edmond Meany Hotel, and other structures that he designed are still standing and cherished. Mr. Reamer died in 1938.

Reamer’s vision can best be summarized in his own words, spoken as he reflected on the construction of the Canyon Hotel, which stood overlooking the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone River from 1911 until 1960:

“I built it in keeping with the place where it stands. Nobody could improve upon that. To be at discord with the landscape would be almost a crime. To try to improve upon it would be an impertinence.”

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