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A few weeks back, I saw that our PBS station was re-airing The National Parks: America’s Best Idea. Running twelve hours in length, it’s a bit daunting to watch. But since it originally aired, I’ve visited so many of the parks discussed: Volcanoes in Hawaii. Mesa Verde. Yellowstone. And many more! I had enjoyed it the first time, and I wanted to see it again. Even for a not-totally-sold-on-the-outdoors person like me, it’s awe-inspiring and kind of made me want to go out and commune with nature.
Some neat things I picked up (I know my list is Yellowstone-heavy; I blame my recent trip):
- Back in the 1860s when Yellowstone was being explored, a man named Truman Everts lost the group he was with. I can only imagine his fear as he wandered around among geysers, wild animals, etc. for 37 days before being located. No cell phones then! When he was found, he weighed just 50 pounds.
- Yellowstone became the first National Park in the world, in 1872. President Grant signed this into law, with a newspaper reporting “It will be a park worthy of the great republic.” Yosemite existed at the time, but as a state park rather than a national one — a big reason for this was that Wyoming, which contains most of Yellowstone, was not a state yet.
- Yellowstone is larger than the states of Delaware and Rhode Island combined.
- Inspired by “Alice in Wonderland,” published in 1865, Yellowstone was often referred to as “the wonderland” around that time. Visitor Emma Cowan wrote “We had at last reached Wonderland” when she and husband arrived in 1877. Her husband was unfortunately shot while there by a Nez Perce Indian, whose tribe was fleeing from the white men. Cowan recovered and returned to Yellowstone with his wife years later to celebrate an anniversary.
- It was fashionable at the time to travel to Yellowstone for a 5-day, $40 stagecoach “Grand Tour” through the park. Only the rich could afford to get there. Greater crowds arrived with the invention of the automobile.
- Looting in parks was a big problem in the late 1800s/early 1900s. People carried off fossils, carved their names in natural features, etc. I remember hearing this at various parks we’ve visited. Several ancient Indian dwellings were pretty much emptied of artifacts due to the Victorians carrying off “souvenirs.” At a certain point, the army was brought in to police some of the parks and try to prevent vandalism by tourists.
- Theodore Roosevelt was President during the time many of the National Parks were founded, and he was a big champion of the parks. Of the Grand Canyon, he said: “I hope you will not have a building of any kind, not a summer cottage, a hotel or anything else, to mar the wonderful grandeur, the sublimity, the great loneliness and beauty of the canyon. Leave it as it is. You cannot improve on it. The ages have been at work on it, and man can only mar it.”
- Above is the Roosevelt Arch, which forms the north entrance to Yellowstone. I’m kind of wishing we had gone through it, because it looks neat. Its foundation was laid in 1903 by Theodore Roosevelt, with the quote “For the benefit and enjoyment of the people,” a quote from the congressional act creating Yellowstone as the nation’s first national park.
- Yellowstone is said to have three seasons: June, July, and winter.
- By the 1880s, the millions of bison that had roamed the US were gone except for a herd in Yellowstone.
And that’s just a bit of the really interesting nuggets The National Parks: America’s Best Idea contains. I urge you to watch it — buy it, or see if your library carries it. I can pretty much guarantee you’ll love it and learn a lot.