A Swainson’s hawk soars over tree-lined mountains, gushing waterfalls, and hot springs called geysers. The land below is part of Yellowstone National Park. Straddling the states of Wyoming, Montana, and Idaho, Yellowstone was the first national park ever formed.    




The area became widely known for its beauty in the 19th century. Native Americans had already been living in the region for thousands of years. But until the late 1800s, few others were aware of the awe-inspiring landscape. In 1871 the U.S. government sent geologist Ferdinand Hayden to explore the terrain. Hayden brought photographer William Jackson along with him. At the time, photography was a new art form and the equipment was very slow—it took Jackson 30 minutes to take just one shot!


After several weeks, Hayden and his team returned from their trek with hundreds of photos and drawings of the region. They presented the pics to lawmakers, who were amazed by the canyons, geysers, bubbling mud pools, and other natural wonders that the images revealed. In 1872 the government enacted a special law to conserve some two million acres of land in the area and protect the wildlife living on it.




Today Yellowstone—named for the Yellowstone River that cuts through the land—welcomes some three million visitors a year who come to camp, hike, and raft, as well as check out the park’s amazing natural features and wild animals.


The area is home to bears, bison, wolves, and ravens. Creating Yellowstone inspired the formation of more national parks in the United States. And it inspired other countries around the world to create protected parks as well. 



Text by Andrea Silen, NGS Staff

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