From Pics to Parks
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.
Native Americans have been living in this region for at least 11,000 years. The Nez Perce (nes PURS), Shoshone (shoh-SHOH-nee), Crow, Blackfeet, and Umatilla (um-uh-TIL-uh) are among the 27 current tribes that have historic connections to the land. So though Native Americans knew about the sweeping views, jaw-dropping geysers, and incredible animals of this region for thousands of years, descendants of European settlers only “discovered it” 150 years ago.
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. That helped protect the land from loggers and miners, but it also meant that the Native American people could no longer live or hunt on their tribal homeland.
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. Members of the 27 tribes with connections to the park’s land work with the National Park Service to help manage the park.
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.