Yellowstone – A Treasure of the World

Eric Demsey , 2006

Long before any recorded human history in Yellowstone, a massive volcanic eruption spewed an immense volume of ash that covered all of the western USA most of the Midwest and down to northern Mexico. The eruption left a caldera 48km miles wide by 72km long.


That climactic event occurred about 640,000 years ago, and was one of many processes that shaped what we now know as Yellowstone National Park--a region once rumoured to be "the place where hell bubbles up." Geothermal wonders, such as Old Faithful, are evidence of one of the world's largest active volcanoes.


Fur trappers' fantastic tales of cauldrons of bubbling mud and roaring geysers were not believed at first. Several expeditions were sent to investigate, and in 1871, Ferdinand Hayden led an expedition that included artist Thomas Moran and photographer William H. Jackson. They brought back images that helped convince the US Congress that the area known as Yellowstone needed to be protected and preserved.


In 1872, President Ulysses S. Grant signed a law declaring that Yellowstone would forever be "dedicated and set apart as a public park or pleasuring ground for the benefit and enjoyment of the people."

 Grizzly Bear

I was lucky to have been sent to Yellowstone in October 2005 while working on a radio documentary on wolves. Travelling through Yellowstone, it is easy to understand why some refer to the area as the Serengeti of North America. At dawn, snow-encrusted Bison and Elk were easily seen while Mule Deer and Pronghorn roamed the more wooded areas. With such an abundance of prey, their predators are always present. The commonest is the opportunistic Coyote that, as well as killing young elk and deer, will also feed on anything from carrion to voles. However, what really make Yellowstone special are the large predators such as the Grey Wolf and the Grizzly Bear.


The wolves of Yellowstone are possibly the most watched wolves in the world and it is fascinating to witness the interaction between them and the other species in the park. It is hard to forget the sight of a male Grizzly Bear chase a pack of five wolves from a bison carcass on a snowy hill at dawn.

An American Robin


The lakes of Yellowstone are also a winter haven for many species of duck such as Barrow’s Goldeneyes  while the evocative calls of Trumpeter Swans can be heard each evening as birds come into roost. The first snows of the winter bring large flocks of American Robins into the park while Bald and Golden Eagles are frequently seen soaring over the valleys.

Barrows Goldeneye

Over 10,000 geothermal features dot Yellowstone's volcanic landscape, including 300 geysers (2/3rds of the world's total), hotsprings, mud pots and fumaroles. One of the most famous is the ‘Old Faithful’ geyser which spews hot water 30-40 metres into the air every 92 minutes. Around the hot springs ancient forms of life called ‘thermophiles’ survive at temperatures well in excess of boiling point.

The autumnal colours of Aspen, Cottonwood and Willow against  the snow covered mountains and hills, make the scenery breath-taking. With it's abundant and diverse wildlife, interesting thermals, beautiful alpine lakes, and spectacular canyons, Yellowstone is one of the true treasures of the world.

Eric Dempsey, 2006




© Copyright, Tolka Branch, Birdwatch Ireland 2006