On 1st of March, 1872, the U.S. Congress (which in those days actually worked) established the world’s first National Park in the territories of Wyoming and Montana, naming it Yellowstone. The huge diverse and geothermally active plateau had been known for years by that name, because of the color of the rocks exposed along the Yellowstone River.
America started a world-wide movement in that year. There are now more than 1200 parks and preserves in over 100 countries. It’s one of the best things that my country has ever done. Years later all parks and monuments were included in one system, managed by the Department of the Interior. In the early days soldiers of the Army often assumed the roles now filled by rangers. Currently the U.S. has more than 400 parks and other preserves covering over 84 million acres in all 50 states. They include sites of historical as well as natural importance.
You may have heard that most of Yellowstone is underlain by a super-volcano that could erupt at any time. It’s done so many times in the past, and with such explosiveness that, far to the east in Nebraska, the fossilized bones of entire rhinoceroses lie buried in volcanic ash traced back to Yellowstone. Don’t let this dissuade you from visiting however. Yellowstone caldera erupts on a very long timescale of 600,000 years or so.
If you haven’t visited Yellowstone yet, I highly recommend it. Because of its popularity you’d do well to consider an off-season visit, or at least avoid the high summer months of July and August. But Yellowstone is a big park and you can always do a lot of hiking if you find yourself there during a busy time. I recommend planning ahead and reserving campsites along a route through the park, or a room in one of the lodges.
So here’s to Yellowstone Park on its 144th birthday. And may the idea of national parks that started with you never die!