15 Things You Might Not Know About Yellowstone National Park

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Celebrated for its flora, fauna, geological structures, and sprawling landscapes, Yellowstone National Park is undoubtedly one of the country’s greatest centers of natural beauty. But there's more to this park than Old Faithful—and here are 15 highlights of the park, which was established on this day in 1872. 

1. Yellowstone is the world's second oldest national park.

The official date of establishment of Yellowstone National Park was March 1, 1872, making it the first park of its kind to earn the designation in North America. While Yellowstone is sometimes heralded as the oldest national park on earth, it is 96 years younger than Mongolia’s Bogd Khan Uul.

2. Half of the world's geothermal features are located in Yellowstone.


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One of the park’s most popular attractions is its collection of geothermal features, an umbrella term that includes geysers, hot springs, fumaroles, mudpots, and travertine terraces. With tens of thousands of such phenomena, Yellowstone is home to more than half of the world’s supply of geothermal features and approximately 75 percent of the world’s geysers. The park has an estimated 1283 geysers spread across nine geyser basins.

3. Nobody believed early witnesses of the gEysers.

John Colter, a member of the Lewis and Clark Expedition, spent the winter of 1807 and 1808 on a solo journey through the wilderness of what is now Wyoming. Colter tried to share stories of what he had seen, but details of his travels describing a land of “fire and brimstone” were widely rebuffed as delusions. Almost 50 years later, independent explorer Jim Bridger returned from Yellowstone with accounts of boiling springs and waters sprouting from the ground—his reports met the same skepticism that dogged Colter. 

4. THE LARGEST GEYSER IN THE WORLD LIVES IN YELLOWSTONE (AND IT’S NOT THE ONE YOU’RE THINKING OF).

Old Faithful, located in the Upper Geyser Basin, may be the most famous geyser on the planet, and for good reason: The punctual, easily calculated intervals between eruptions have earned it global celebration. But Old Faithful’s cousin in the Norris Geyser Basin trumps it in terms of sheer size. The Steamboat Geyser, which is capable of producing 300-foot-high eruptions of water, is the tallest active geyser on the planet.

5. THE PARK MAY BE FATAL TO BISON. 

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After more than a century of benign activity, in 2004 the geysers of the Norris Geyser Basin earned a toxic reputation when their emissions were deemed responsible for killing five roaming bison. Park scientists determined that a meteorological anomaly provoked an unusually high—and ultimately fatal—concentration of the basin’s fumes at ground level. Prior to this grisly moment, the last major mass gas fatality was in 1899, when several grizzly bears suffered a similar fate.

6. THAT SAID, THE BISON POPULATION REMAINS INTACT. 

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The Yellowstone grounds house America’s oldest and largest natural herd of bison. 

7. INITIALLY, THE U.S. ARMY WAS STATIONED AT YELLOWSTONE.

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In 1882, avowed nature lover and Civil War hero General Philip Sheridan led an expedition that took him to Yellowstone. While Sheridan was duly impressed with the park’s aesthetic wonder, he was aghast at the presence of monopolist organizations running amok throughout the territory at the expense of the land. After Congress stripped away funding for Yellowstone, he dispatched Captain Moses Harris, a Union soldier who had served under Sheridan and who shared his ecological ideologies, to lead troops to Yellowstone, protecting it against commercial poaching, the spread of wildfire, and maladies of all kinds. The armed forces stood guard over the park until 1918, when the establishment of the National Park Service usurped the military’s involvement with Yellowstone. The rangers that took the soldiers’ positions were known as “spread eagle men.” 

8. THE TERRITORY BOASTS THE LARGEST SUPERVOLCANO IN THE U.S.

Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

The contiguous United States has more than its share of supervolcanoes—that is, volcanoes capable of producing more than 240 cubic miles of ejecta per eruption—with noteworthy examples living in California and New Mexico. But outweighing the pair is the Yellowstone Caldera: 45 miles long, 34 miles wide, and with a main magma chamber several times the size of the Grand Canyon. Though considered an active supervolcano, the caldera’s last eruption was 640,000 years ago.

9. YELLOWSTONE EXPERIENCES THOUSANDS OF EARTHQUAKES EVERY YEAR.

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A typical year sees between 1000 and 3000 earthquakes hit Yellowstone National Park. In January 2010, for instance, the park sustained 250 quakes in just two days. However, the vast majority of these tremors are so gentle they go completely unnoticed by human visitors.

10. ONE RARE AND MYSTERIOUS FLOWER ONLY GROWS IN YELLOWSTONE. 

Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

Nowhere in the world but in the lakeshores of Yellowstone National Park does the (aptly named) Yellowstone Sand Verbena grow. What’s particularly strange about the anomaly is that its genetic makeup would suggest that it’s suited to warmer climates. 

11. SOME OF THE MOST PRIMITIVE BACTERIA ON THE PLANET LIVE IN THE PARK. 

Another rare species that calls Yellowstone its home can be found thriving amid the gaseous emissions of the park’s hot springs. A particular strain of microbe, among the most primitive of any extant species, feeds off the area’s plentiful carbon dioxide and hydrogen resources.

12. THE U.S. GOVERNMENT ERADICATED, AND THEN RESTORED, YELLOWSTONE’S WOLF POPULATION.

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In the 1910s, Congress grew nervous about Yellowstone’s hunting wolves. Fearing that the predatory prowess of the park’s lupine population would result in an extinction of the local elk and other ungulates, Congress funded a systematic killing of any and all wolves inhabiting the area. Between 1914 and 1926, the act resulted in the elimination of 136 wolves, rendering Yellowstone virtually free of its apex predator. Unfortunately, Congress hadn’t prepared for the hike in prevalence of sick and lame animals, formerly the easiest targets for preying wolves. 

Forty years later, the government began to have a change of heart. Congress met with biologists concerned about the threat of elk overpopulation, discussing the merits in reintroducing wolves into their former habitat. The debate ended in 1995 when the government began transporting gray wolf packs to the Yellowstone grounds. Data collected in 2005 reflected a healthy recovery of the wolf population in and around the Yellowstone area.

13. YELLOWSTONE IS THE SUBJECT OF A LEGAL ANOMALY. 

All Yellowstone National Park territory falls under the legal jurisdiction of the United States District Court for the District of Wyoming. However, only 96 percent of Yellowstone falls within Wyoming state lines; the remaining four percent is split between Montanan and Idahoan land. This makes Wyoming’s the only district court to oversee land in more than one state. 

14. THE PARK HAS ITS OWN JUDICIAL SYSTEM. 

The previous point is more than just legal trivia. While Yellowstone offers a treasure trove of spectacles that any visitor should make a point to see, the park’s jail isn’t a must-see destination. As of 2006, Yellowstone boasts its own justice system, which includes a courtroom, presiding judge, and four holding cells. Furthermore, major crimes that occur on park grounds fall under the legal jurisdiction of one specifically assigned FBI Agent.

15. THE PARK IS HOME TO THE MOST REMOTE LOCATION IN THE CONTIGUOUS UNITED STATES.

Thirty-two miles separates any road, residence, or establishment from the ironically named Thorofare area, which earns it designation as the most isolated location in all of continental America. While hikers and campers are welcome to explore the grounds, which traverse both Yellowstone National Park and the Teton Wilderness, visitors are forbidden from tarnishing its rustic beauty with electrical devices or automobiles. The only way to get there is by horseback or, if you’ve got the energy, your own two feet.

We’re Lovin’ the McSki, Sweden’s Ski-Thru McDonald’s

Per-Olof Forsberg, Flickr // CC BY 2.0
Per-Olof Forsberg, Flickr // CC BY 2.0

Gliding down the slopes for a few hours can leave you happily exhausted and so ravenous that you wish you could stuff a big, juicy burger in your mouth before you even get back to the lodge. At one Swedish ski resort, you can.

Lindvallen, a ski resort located approximately 200 miles northwest of Stockholm, is home to the McSki, a quaint, wood-paneled McDonald’s that you simply ski right up to. If all the surrounding snow leaves you with a hankering for a McFlurry, have at it; Delish reports that you can order anything from the regular McDonald’s menu. (Having said that, we can’t promise the McFlurry machine will actually be working.)

The ski-thru window is ideal for skiers and snowboarders who don’t want to break for a lengthy lunch, but there’s an option for people who would rather not scarf down a combo meal while standing up: According to the blog Messy Nessy, the indoor seating area can accommodate up to 140 people.

The McSki has been delighting (and nourishing) vacationers since it opened in 1996, and it’s definitely a must-visit for ski lovers and fast food aficionados alike. It’s not, however, the strangest McDonald’s restaurant in the world. New Zealand built one inside an airplane, and there’s also a giant Happy Meal-shaped McDonald’s in Dallas. Explore 10 other downright bizarre McDonald’s locations here.

[h/t Delish]

More Than 100 National Parks Are Waiving Fees on Martin Luther King Jr. Day

noblige, iStock via Getty Images
noblige, iStock via Getty Images

The National Park Service is hosting five "free days" in 2020—the first of which lands on January 20. In honor of Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, the NPS is waiving its regular entrance fees at 110 national park properties around the country, USA Today reports.

Of the 400-plus parks managed by the agency, 110 charge admission fees ranging from $5 to $35. These include some of the most popular sites in the system, like Yosemite, Yellowstone, and Grand Canyon national parks.

Every one of those parks will be free to visit on Monday. Martin Luther King, Jr. Day is a day of service, and parks across the U.S. will be hosting service projects for volunteers looking to give back to their communities. If you'd like to participate, you can find volunteer opportunities at your local NPS property here.

If you're just looking for a place to reflect, you can't go wrong with any of the sites in the national park system. Before planning a visit to one the parks below participating in the free day, read up on these facts about Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

Here are the National Parks that will be free on January 20, 2020:

  • Acadia National Park, Maine
  • Adams National Historical Park, Massachusetts
  • Antietam National Battlefield, Maryland
  • Arches National Park, Utah
  • Assateague Island National Seashore, Maryland/Virginia
  • Badlands National Park, South Dakota
  • Bandelier National Monument, New Mexico
  • Big Bend National Park, Texas
  • Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park, Colorado
  • Bryce Canyon National Park, Utah
  • Cabrillo National Monument, California
  • Canaveral National Seashore, Florida
  • Canyonlands National Park, Utah
  • Cape Cod National Seashore, Massachusetts
  • Capitol Reef National Park, Utah
  • Capulin Volcano National Monument, New Mexico
  • Carlsbad Caverns National Park, New Mexico
  • Castillo de San Marcos National Monument, Florida
  • Cedar Breaks National Monument, Utah
  • Chaco Culture National Historical Park, New Mexico
  • Chattahoochee River National Recreation Area, Georgia
  • Chesapeake and Ohio Canal National Historical Park, Maryland/West Virginia/Washington, D.C.
  • Chickamauga and Chattanooga National Military Park, Georgia
  • Christiansted National Historic Site, U.S. Virgin Islands
  • Colonial National Historical Park, Virginia
  • Colorado National Monument, Colorado
  • Crater Lake National Park, Oregon
  • Craters of the Moon National Monument & Preserve, Idaho
  • Cumberland Island National Seashore, Georgia
  • Death Valley National Park, California
  • Denali National Park & Preserve, Alaska
  • Devils Tower National Monument, Wyoming
  • Dinosaur National Monument, Utah
  • Dry Tortugas National Park, Florida
  • Eleanor Roosevelt National Historic Site, New York
  • Everglades National Park, Florida
  • Florissant Fossil Beds National Monument, Colorado
  • Fort Davis National Historic Site, Texas
  • Fort McHenry National Monument and Historic Shrine, Maryland
  • Fort Pulaski National Monument, Georgia
  • Fort Smith National Historic Site, Arkansas
  • Fort Sumter and Fort Moultrie National Historical Park, South Carolina
  • Fort Vancouver National Historic Site, Oregon/Washington
  • Fort Washington Park, Maryland
  • Gateway Arch National Park (formerly Jefferson National Expansion Memorial), Missouri
  • Great Falls Park, Virginia
  • Glacier National Park, Montana
  • Glen Canyon National Recreation Area, Utah/Arizona
  • Golden Spike National Historical Park, Utah
  • Grand Canyon National Park, Arizona
  • Grand Teton National Park, Wyoming
  • Great Sand Dunes National Park & Preserve, Colorado
  • Guadalupe Mountains National Park, Texas
  • Gulf Islands National Seashore, Florida/Mississippi
  • Haleakalā National Park, Hawaii
  • Harpers Ferry National Historical Park, West Virginia/Virginia/Maryland
  • Hawai'i Volcanoes National Park, Hawaii
  • Home of Franklin D. Roosevelt National Historic Site, New York
  • Hovenweep National Monument, Colorado/Utah
  • Isle Royale National Park, Michigan
  • James A. Garfield National Historic Site, Ohio
  • Joshua Tree National Park, California
  • Kennesaw Mountain National Battlefield Park, Georgia
  • Lake Mead National Recreation Area, Nevada/Arizona
  • Lassen Volcanic National Park, California
  • Lava Beds National Monument, California
  • Lewis and Clark National Historical Park, Oregon/Washington
  • Little Bighorn Battlefield National Monument, Montana
  • Mesa Verde National Park, Colorado
  • Montezuma Castle National Monument, Arizona
  • Mount Rainier National Park, Washington
  • Muir Woods National Monument, California
  • Natural Bridges National Monument, Utah
  • Olympic National Park, Washington
  • Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument, Arizona
  • Padre Island National Seashore, Texas
  • Pea Ridge National Military Park, Arkansas
  • Perry's Victory & International Peace Memorial, Ohio
  • Petrified Forest National Park, Arizona
  • Pinnacles National Park, California
  • Pipe Spring National Monument, Arizona
  • Pipestone National Monument, Minnesota
  • Prince William Forest Park, Virginia
  • Pu'uhonua o Hōnaunau National Historical Park, Hawaii
  • Rocky Mountain National Park, Colorado
  • Sagamore Hill National Historic Site, New York
  • Saguaro National Park, Arizona
  • Saint-Gaudens National Historical Park, New Hampshire
  • San Francisco Maritime National Historical Park, California
  • San Juan National Historic Site, Puerto Rico
  • Sequoia & Kings Canyon National Parks, California
  • Shenandoah National Park, Virginia
  • Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore, Michigan
  • Sunset Crater Volcano National Monument, Arizona
  • Theodore Roosevelt National Park, North Dakota
  • Thomas Edison National Historical Park, New Jersey
  • Tonto National Monument, Arizona
  • Tumacácori National Historical Park, Arizona
  • Tuzigoot National Monument, Arizona
  • Valles Caldera National Preserve, New Mexico
  • Vanderbilt Mansion National Historic Site, New York
  • Vicksburg National Military Park, Mississippi/Louisiana
  • Walnut Canyon National Monument, Arizona
  • Whiskeytown National Recreation Area, California
  • White Sands National Park, New Mexico
  • Wilson's Creek National Battlefield, Missouri
  • Wright Brothers National Memorial, North Carolina
  • Wupatki National Monument, Arizona
  • Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming/Idaho/Montana
  • Yosemite National Park, California
  • Zion National Park, Utah

[h/t USA Today]

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