An In-Depth Overview of the Yellowstone National Park

Yellowstone National Park is the oldest National Park in the US.


The US Congress created the Park on March 1, 1872. It was the nation's first National Park. It is also seen as the first National Park in the world. Some say the development of Mongolia's Bodg Khan Mountain National Park predated Yellowstone. That Park may date as early as 1778.


In 1976, the Park was given the status of UNESCO biosphere reserve. In 1978, it was termed a World Heritage site.


This overview will give you all the essential details about the Yellowstone National Park. Find out why it is one of the most famous National Parks in the world.


Overview of the Yellowstone National Park


1. Physical features



The Park forms a square-like rectangle. It is 63 miles long and 54 miles wide. Further, it covers an area of 3,472 square miles.


The John D. Rockefeller, Jr., Memorial Parkway is an 80-mile scenic roadway. It connects Yellowstone with Grand Teton National Park to the south.


In addition, Yellowstone is surrounded by Custer, Gallatin, Shoshone, Bridger-Teton, and Caribou-Targhee national forests. The Park's Headquarters are at Mammoth Hot Springs near the northern entrance.


Yellowstone's relief is the result of earthquakes and volcanism. This has been combined with the erosional actions of water and ice. Most of Yellowstone Park has broad volcanic plateaus. They have an average elevation of about 7,875 feet.


Three mountain ranges protrude into the Park. They are each aligned roughly North to South.


They are the Gallatin Range in the northwest. The east has the Absaroka Range. Along the Park's southwestern boundary, there is the northern extremity of the Teton Range.


The tallest mountains in Yellowstone are in the Absarokas. Several summits exceed 10,000 feet there. The range's Eagle Peak is the high point and reaches 11,358 feet. It is situated southeast on the Park's boundary.


The Park has unusual geologic features. It has deep glacier-carved vallyes and rugged mountains. This includes eroded basaltic lava flows, fossil forests, a volcanic glass mountain, and irregular erosional forms.


The park is known for its scenic rivers and lakes. Yellowstone Park's largest body of water is Yellowstone Lake. The lake’s surface area is 132 square miles. Further, it lies at an elevation of 7,730 feet. It is the highest mountain lake of its size in North America.


The West Thumb area is a knoblike protrusion of the lake on its west side. It was formed by a minor eruption in the caldera about 150,000 years ago. Shoshone Lake is the next largest lake. It lies in the caldera southwest of Yellowstone Lake.


The most extensive drainage system is that of the Yellowstone River. This enters at the southeast corner and generally flows northward, including through Yellowstone Lake. It exists near the northwest corner of the Park.


The river's Yellowstone Falls are located in the north-central part of the Park. It descends in two majestic cascades. These are the Upper Falls, with a drop of 114 feet, and the Lower Falls, with a depth of 308 feet.


The falls make up the western end of the gorgeous Grand Canyon of Yellowstone.


The river has cut a gorge that is 19 miles long. It is between 800 and 1,200 feet deep and up to 4,000 feet wide.


The walls of the canyon are sculpted from decomposed volcanic rock. They are brilliantly colored in hues of white, lavender, buff, yello, pink, and red.


Some other streams of importance include the Snake River. This rises and flows along the Park's southern boundary before joining the Lewis River and heading south.


There are also the Gallatin and Madison rivers. These rise in and flow through the northwestern part of Yellowstone before exiting the Park and eventually forming the Missouri River in southern Montana.


2. Geology


The tectonic movement has thinned Earth's crust in the area. It formed a hot spot. It is a place where magma, or molten rock, comes close to the surface.


About 2.1 million years ago, a subsurface magma dome blew up in one of the world's most explosive volcanic eruptions.


Some 600 cubic miles of rock and ash were ejected, equivalent to about 6,000 times the amount of volcanic material released during the eruption of Mount Saint Helens in 1980.


Observations made in the early 21st century indicated that this single eruption consisted of two events about 6,000 years apart: one very large and a much smaller one.


Subsequent massive eruptions happened about 1,300,000 and 640,000 years ago. The last event, consisting mainly of lava flows, produced about two-fifths as much material as the first one.


The Yellowstone region is also highly seismically active. A network of faults related to the region's volcanic history underlies the Park's surface. The area gets hundreds of small earthquakes each year.


The great majority of those earthquakes are of magnitude 2.0 or less. People in the area do not feel them. Occasionally a more powerful quake will strike in the region. It has its effects in the Park.


One such event, a deadly quake, struck in 1959 in southern Montana just outside the northwestern corner of the Park. It affected several hydrothermal features in Yellowstone. This includes its iconic geyser, Old Faithful.


3. Plant and animal life



Nearly 1,350 species of plants are present in Yellowstone National Park. Roughly 1,150 of them are native. About four-fifths of the Park's area is forested. The majority of the tree growth consists of lodgepole pines.


The other conifer species in the Park are Whitebark Pine. They are found at higher elevations, especially in the Absarokas. There are Douglas Firs, which dominate at lower elevations, notably in northern areas.


Cottonwoods and willows grow along streams. Stands of aspens occur in many sections. Hundreds of types of Wildflowers thrive in a variety of habitats. The earliest flowers blossom in April and the latest in September. Common species include Lupines, Phlox, Larkspurs, Cinquefoils, and Indian Paintbrushes.


The Park boasts the greatest assemblage of mammals in the US except for Alaska. It has more than five dozen species. Bison, the largest of the mammals, were brought back from near extinction at the beginning of the 20th century. They now constitute several thousand heads.


Other large mammals often seen in Yellowstone National Park include Mule Deer, Elk, Foxes, Coyotes, and Black Bears.


There are also smaller populations of Brown Bears, Pumas, Bighorn Sheep, Mountain Goats, Pronghorns, Bobcats, Lynx, Badgers, Weasels, and Martens.


Nearly three hundred bird species have been identified in the Yellowstone National Park. They live year-round or seasonally. Many migrate through the Park in spring and autumn.


Roughly half of the birds nest in the Park during the summer. Woodpeckers and Songbirds constitute the greatest number of species.


4. Climate


Yellowstone's climate is also influenced by the Park's location deep within the continent and high elevation. The central part of the Park has dry winters and wet summers. In the rest, the moisture regimens are reversed. Temperatures almost always decrease with elevation gain. Yellowstone has a large area and variegated topography.


So, weather conditions within the Park can vary widely at different locations at any given time. Further, conditions may change dramatically in a short period in one place.


Summer days are warm and relatively sunny. Daytime temperatures reach about 80 °F in July at lower elevations. They then drop to nighttime lows in the 40s or 50s F. Temperatures are cooler higher in the mountains.


Precipitation totals in the warm months generally are light. But summer afternoon thunderstorms are common. Winters are cold and snowy. Temperatures rarely rise above the mid-20s F. They often drop to 0 °F or lower at night.


Annual precipitation amounts vary with location and elevation. It is the lowest in the north at about 10 inches and highest on the western slopes of the northern Teton foothills at about 80 inches.


Snowfall is heavy in most areas. This is especially at higher elevations. It typically begins in early autumn and continues into April or May.



Yellowstone National Park has abundant wildlife and majestic peaks. 

The Yellowstone National Park is the National Park Service's flagship. It is the world's first National Park. It is also one of the most well-known National Parks in the USA.

We hope our overview of the Yellowstone National Park will pique your interest in visiting this Park at least once in your lifetime.



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