People had been living in Yellowstone for 11,000 years, but the first European American to see the region was most likely a man named John Colter, in 1807. People ridiculed his stories and began referring to the place as “Colter’s Hell.” But word of its natural wonders continued to trickle eastward over the next few decades. Most of the descriptions sounded like feverish delusions. The famous trapper and guide Jim Bridger reported seeing stone forests and upside-down waterfalls. Another trapper named Joe Meek described fire and brimstone, steaming rivers, and boiling mud. East Coast newspapers refused to print the description sent to them by a group of prospectors in 1869, saying that they didn’t publish works of fiction. In 1870, a railroad man named Nathaniel Pitt Langford led an expedition through the region in hopes of drumming up support for the Northern Pacific Transcontinental Railroad. He was stunned to find that all the tall tales were true. Finally, in 1871, the government sent out an official scouting party made up of a group of scientists. The party submitted a 500-page description of the region, which was enough to convince Congress to place the area under governmental protection.
Yellowstone covers nearly 3,500 square miles, and is home to one of the world’s 30 active super volcanoes. The volcano lies underneath Yellowstone Lake, and it’s responsible for some of the more dramatic of the park’s features, including hot springs, mud pots, and the famous Old Faithful and Steamboat Geysers.
From the Writer’s Almanac