7 Things You Didn't Know About Yellowstone National Park

Yellowstone was born on March 1, 1872 -- making it the world’s first national park. When President Ulysses S. Grant signed the Yellowstone National Park Protection Act into law, it protected more than 2 million acres of mountain wilderness, amazing geysers and vibrant landscapes for future generations to enjoy. As we celebrate Yellowstone’s 144th birthday, check out these interesting facts about our iconic national park.

 

1. Half the world’s hydrothermal features are found at Yellowstone. Yellowstone National Park preserves more than 10,000 hydrothermal features -- an extraordinary collection of hot springs, mudpots, fumaroles, travertine terraces and -- of course -- geysers. Microorganisms called thermophiles -- meaning “heat loving” -- live in these features and give the park its brilliant colors. 

colorful pool
Grand Prismatic Spring at Midway Geyser Basin paints an incredible picture in vibrant blues, yellows and oranges. Photo by Natalia Ornia (www.sharetheexperience.org).

 

2. Old Faithful isn’t as reliable as its name. Sprinkled amid the hot springs are the rarest fountains of all -- geysers -- and Yellowstone has more than anywhere else on earth. The most famous: Old Faithful, which got its name in 1870 for its regularity. During the last few decades, the average interval between eruptions has lengthened, causing some to question its faithfulness. While this geyser has never erupted at exact hourly intervals, its eruptions are somewhat predictable. Plus, Old Faithful erupts more frequently than any of the other large geysers -- around 17 times a day. 

geyser erupting
Old Faithful's shows last between 1.5 to 5 minutes and can reach a height of 184 feet. Photo by Jim Peaco, National Park Service. 

 

3. “Share the road” takes on a whole new meaning at Yellowstone. Beyond its geysers, Yellowstone is world-renowned for its bison herds. It’s the only place in the U.S. where bison have lived continuously since prehistoric times. Rush hour here is a little different with bison often causing traffic jams -- nicknamed bison jams -- as cars wait for the animals to cross the road. Learn more interesting facts about Yellowstone’s bison

bison in front of cars on road
Traffic jams mean something different at Yellowstone. Photo by Daniel Kleiman (www.sharetheexperience.org).

 

4. Yellowstone’s history dates back 11,000 years. While the park itself is only 144 years old, human history in the region goes back more than 11,000 years. The earliest intact archeological deposits in the park were discovered at a site on the shore of Yellowstone Lake. The first American to explore the area was John Colter, a veteran of the Lewis & Clark expedition. After years in the wilderness, Colter began to tell others of the area’s incredible geothermic activity. Few believed these fantastic stories and mocked the region, calling it “Colter’s Hell.”

steam erupting from geyser at sunrise
A steamy sunrise at Grotto Geyser. This weirdly shaped cone erupts about every eight hours, splashing to a height of 10 feet. Photo by Neal Herbert, National Park Service. 

 

5. Yellowstone is a supervolcano. One of the world’s largest active volcanoes lies beneath Yellowstone. The first major eruption of the Yellowstone volcano occurred 2.1 million years ago and covered more than 5,790 square miles with ash. That's among the largest volcanic eruptions known, and marks Yellowstone as a supervolcano (a term used to describe any volcano with an eruption of more than 240 cubic miles of magma). While the volcano is still active, it’s been about 70,000 years since the last lava flow. With the U.S. Geological Survey and University of Utah, the National Park Service established the Yellowstone Volcano Observatory in 2001 to monitor volcanic and seismic activity in the area.

golden skies and steaming geyser
Pictured here is Great Fountain Geyser, one of the great geysers of Yellowstone. Photo by Greg Chancey (www.sharetheexperience.org).

 

6. Yellowstone is home to the largest concentration of mammals in the lower 48. Yellowstone’s wildlife is abundant and diverse with an estimated 300 species of birds, 16 types of fish and 67 species of mammals -- the largest number of mammal species in the contiguous United States. The list of mammals includes grizzly bears, wolves, lynx, fox, moose and elk. But remember, no matter how cool the animals are, you shouldn’t approach them. Park rules state that you must stay at least 100 yards from bears and wolves and at least 25 yards from other large animals.

fox pouncing on prey
A red fox leaping for its dinner at Yellowstone National Park. Photo by Gerald Wilders (www.sharetheexperience.org).

 

7. Yellowstone has its own Grand Canyon. The Grand Canyon isn’t just in Arizona -- there’s also the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone. Created by erosion from the Yellowstone River, the canyon is more than 1,000 feet deep, 1,500-4,000 feet wide and roughly 20 miles long -- it also provides endless views. One of the most photographed views in Yellowstone is the canyon from Artist Point, and we can definitely see why!

rocky cliffs, waterfall and flowing river
A view of Lower Falls and Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone from Artist Point by Diane Renkin, National Park Service.

Now the question is, when will you visit Yellowstone National Park and find your park? www.nps.gov/yell