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.
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.
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."
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.
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.
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.
© Copyright, Tolka Branch, Birdwatch Ireland 2006