The Atlas of Yellowstone is the first comprehensive atlas of a national park and its region, a fitting tribute to the first national park in the world. Yellowstone National Park and the Yellowstone region including Grand Teton National Park have had a significant influence on conservation history, scholarly discovery, and the perception of the American West. Yet there has never been a compendium that pulls together the wealth of data, scholarship, and archival information on this vast and diverse region. It is that very breadth and depth of information and the varied perspectives of residents, institutes, and agencies that have hindered a regional synthesis. The atlas format provides a solution to this complex task. A comprehensive atlas is ideally suited for compiling, synthesizing, and translating scholarly work into engaging visual presentations that are both accessible to the general public and a valuable reference tool for researchers, managers, and educators. The interplay of connections between places, the dynamic nature of the landscape and human interactions with the natural environment guide readers to a deeper appreciation of why Yellowstone is a significant location in the worldwide landscape.

1. First National Park in the World and the Press Took Little Notice

The international press took little notice when the U.S. Congress created the world’s first national park in 1872—nor was there much fanfare in the United States. But despite lengthy growing pains, the national park movement flourished beyond the imaginations of its founders. By 2010, 58 national parks, plus an additional 335 national monuments, seashores, battlefields, and other special sites, celebrated the American landscape and experience.

The 1872 Yellowstone Act called for basic land and resource preservation and the creation of “a public park or pleasuring-ground for the benefit and enjoyment of the people.” The Organic Act of 1916 established the National Park Service and required that national parks, monuments, and reservations be preserved “unimpaired for the enjoyment of future generations.”…as American writer and conservationist Wallace Stegner observed, “National parks are the best idea we ever had. Absolutely American, absolutely democratic, they reflect us at our best.” The worldwide popularity of national parks buttresses Stegner’s assertion. Today 180 countries have nearly 1,900 parks or equivalent reserves.

2. An Automobile Park

Yellowstone is predominantly an automobile park. More than 95 percent of visitors in 2009 came in approximately 1,090,000 private vehicles (cars, trucks, recreational vehicles, and motorcycles), compared to fewer than 5,000 buses. Winter visitation is a fraction of summer activity at both parks. In 2009, less than 3 percent of visitors came to Yellowstone in the winter.

3. Native American Yellowstone

American Indians have had a widespread presence in and around Yellowstone for the past 12,000 years. American Indian place names for Yellowstone and its features precede European American settlement and indicate the importance of Yellowstone to tribes of the region. Oral histories, archeological evidence, and historical accounts further demonstrate the persistent use of Yellowstone by American Indians. Hundreds of generations used Yellowstone for residences, hunting, resource procurement, ceremonies, and corridors of travel. Battles, burials, and intercultural gatherings also took place inside the present park boundaries.

American Indian names for the Yellowstone Area

Associated Tribe Name Translation
Assiniboine and Sioux Pahaska White Mountain country
Blackfoot Aisitsi Many smoke
Bannock Panaiti-Toiai’l Yellowstone country
Comanche Ohatiipi Yellow rock
Crow Aw’ Pawishe Land of steam
Nez Perce Me-mut-nee-spah Boiling earth
Nez Perce Kuuseyn’eyéekt Buffalo expedition
Salish-Kootenai K ali ssens No translation available
Shoshone pa’nd Up high
Shoshone Gooch-a-moonk-be-heah The buffalo heart

4. Splendid Waterfalls

Some of Yellowstone’s most plentiful and spectacular features are its waterfalls. About 350 waterfalls of more than fifteen feet are currently identified; the tallest is 1,200 feet high. The waterfalls are concentrated in the northeast and southwest corners of the park as well as in the side canyons of the Yellowstone River. Eighty percent of Yellowstone’s waterfalls are tucked away in the deepest recesses of its wilderness and not visible from roads or trails.

5. Yellowstone Super Volcano

Far beneath Yellowstone volcano is a fixed heat source. From it, heat from the Earth’s interior rises upward and fuels melting of the overriding crust. This process generates magmas that erupt episodically as well as catastrophically. Three such catastrophic eruptions, in or near the park, have occurred in the past 2.1 million years, leaving behind huge calderas in eastern Idaho and western Wyoming. Yellowstone’s eruptions were some of the largest in Earth’s history.

6. Dynamic Yellowstone Lake

Covering 286 square miles at a water surface elevation of 7732 feet, Yellowstone Lake is the largest high-altitude lake in North America. With an average depth of 138 feet and maximum depth of 430 feet, it contains just over twelve million acre-feet of water and is covered by ice from mid-December through May. Entering the lake are 141 tributaries, while only one river, the Yellowstone, flows both into and out of this body. Yellowstone Lake straddles the southeast edge of the 640,000 year-old Yellowstone Caldera, one of the most geologically dynamic places on Earth.

7. Headwaters of the Nation

In the 1760s mapmaker Jonathan Carver, aiding Robert Rogers in his search for the Northwest Passage, speculated that a height of land spawned all the great rivers of the continent. Carver’s musings were ultimately shown to be erroneous in many details, but accurate in concept. Greater Yellowstone is such a place. At Three Waters Mountain, south of Yellowstone National Park, a single gust of wind can deposit snow that will eventually end up in the Gulf of Mexico, the Gulf of California and the Pacific Ocean.

8. World Class Geysers

Yellowstone has approximately 500 geysers—more than are found in all the Earth’s other geyser regions combined. The world’s greatest concentration of geysers is in the Lower, Midway, and Upper Geyser basins, where there are approximately 150 geysers; the precise number is hard to define because geysers sometimes disappear and reappear over time. The remarkable abundance of geysers and geothermal wonders were a major reason that Yellowstone was set aside as a national park.

9. First Bison Preserve

The bison population declined to mere thousands by the time Yellowstone National Park was founded in 1872, and by 1900 there were fewer than two dozen. The devastation was so extensive that concerned individuals around the country began efforts to save the species. Yellowstone was the first preserve created by the federal government where American bison were protected from extinction.

10. Jurassic Yellowstone

In the greater Yellowstone ecosystem and the surrounding area fossils of dinosaurs come mainly from rocks deposited during the middle and late Jurassic period (160 to 145.5 million years ago) and the Cretaceous period (145.5 to 65.5 million years ago). During the middle of the Jurassic period much of the region was underwater, but some areas were periodically lifted out of the seas. Groups of dinosaurs wandered these Jurassic beaches, and today we see their footprints preserved in the sandstone that was once a sandy shore.