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Fireside Read: Atlas Of Yellowstone

Author : W. Andrew Marcus
Published : 2012-04-23

At first glance, the Atlas of Yellowstone is a trivia lover's guide to Yellowstone National Park, with additional insights to neighboring Grand Teton National Park. But the heart and soul of this fact- and map-filled book is Yellowstone and its landscape, its occupants both human and animal, and the reach and impact of this wondrous terrain.

Sized for the coffee table (9.6 inches by 13.25 inches), this not-quite 300-page atlas touches not only on the geographic personality of Yellowstone and its surrounding lands, but also on the human geography that evolved along with the park.

Compiled via a collaboration of experts pulled together by scholars at the University of Oregon, Montana State University, and the University of Wyoming, the project came together with support of the Yellowstone Park Foundation as well as that of individual supporters who donated funds to the cause. (The Yellowstone Park Foundation is one of many "friends groups" that make an invaluable contribution to our national parks as federal funding declines for “America’s Best Idea.” Download the Traveler’s first-ever magazine dedicated to these groups.")

Within the covers you'll find quasi-encyclopedic entries on the Sheep Eater Indians who called the park's landscape home, sections on exploration of the area from John Colter in 1806 down through the Washburn and Hayden surveys in the 1860s and 1870s, and even an overview of the economies that rely on Yellowstone today.

A wonderful map of the park denotes places of interest to various tribes that passed through this landscape long before it became the world's first national park. The area near today's Fountain Paint Pots was known to the Crow as "Alashipiiwishe," which translates to "where there is some mud," according to the authors. The Midway- and Upper-Geyser Basins were referred to by the Nez Perce as "pa'nd'inquint," or "water keeps coming out."

Those who connect artists to Yellowstone will enjoy the section on photographer William Henry Jackson and painter Thomas Moran, who put down on film and canvas, respectively, the landscape's wonders when they visited Yellowstone with the 1871 Hayden Expedition. Gracing these pages are both Moran paintings and Jackson photographs. Colorful postcards and more recent paintings that have been inspired by Yellowstone and Grand Teton also are touched on in the text.

Today, conservation is a major concern, and some artists have incorporated this and related themes into their works. In her painting Out to Lunch, artist and environmental activitist Anne Coe depicts bears at a picnic in Grand Teton National Park. Through this seemingly playful and cartoonish piece she compels viewers to consider the effects humans have on bears and the environment. Coe puts the bears in a ridiculous scene (four bears are feasting on watermelon, chocolate cake, hot dogs and more), breaking barriers between human and beast. She makes a statement, laced with humor, that people are taking advantage of the natural environment at the expense of bears (and other wildlife) and that all species must share the national parks.

Curious about the development of Yellowstone National Park? There are sections that track this, including an 1895 map that shows the roads that existed in the park at the time, as well as a short article tracing the rise of development around Old Faithful. For instance, in 1910 the only structures in the Upper Geyser Basin were the Wylie Tent Camp near Giant Geyser, the Haynes Photo Studio in the same location where it stands today, the Old Faithful Inn, Klamer's Store in a spot near today's interchange just north of the inn, and a couple of barns.

By 2010, that development had grown to include more lodging (the Old Faithful Lodge, the Snow Lodge, cabins associated with those lodges), a visitor center, and government housing and offices.

Page through this book and you'll also find narratives on some of the park's charismatic fauna, such as wolves and grizzlies; an overview of vegetation in the greater Yellowstone area; precipitation data; even two pages on climate change and the impacts it is having on temperatures and snowfall in the park.

Lovers of waterfalls can turn to page 120 to find the locations of many of the park's waterfalls, as well as a description of them; are they "plunge" falls, or "cascades," or "horsetail" falls? And have you ever seen Silver Cord Cascade? It falls 1,200 feet into the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone not far below the canyon's Lower Falls.

The text also touches on Grand Teton, going into some detail of the glaciers that carved that park's landscape (and which passed over Yellowstone), and offers a a bit of climbing history in Grand Teton. Here the authors touch briefly on the debate over whether Nathaniel Langford and James Stevenson, members of the 1872 Hayden Survey of Yellowstone, were the first whites to summit the Grand Teton. The text notes that the two "claimed to have reached the top but left no evidence. In 1898, William Owen and Franklin Spalding led a climbing party to the summit of the Grand to complete the first confirmed ascent of a major Teton peak."

Naturally, there's also a thorough section on Yellowstone's geysers, with details on named geysers in each of the Lower, Midway, and Upper geyser basins; a map pinpointing the locations of many of the geysers; a sidebar on the dangers of geothermal energy development to thermal features; even some charts on the intervals between eruptions of some geysers.

The Atlas stretches beyond natural history and resources, geography and biology, delving into the economies of surrounding communities, per capita incomes, agricultural production in the neighboring counties in Wyoming, Montana, and Idaho, even market access.

Some might quibble with the length of the articles -- they're limited to two pages each -- but the authors believe that enhances the value of the Atlas.

"...limiting each story to a pair of pages maintains a tight focus on each story line and avoids the kind of mishmash that can result if too many voices speak at once," writes John Varley, long Yellowstone's natural resources manager, in a preface to the book. "The tight focus and quality assurance are further maintained by the assignment of two experts to each story, insuring that the reporting and data meet high scholarly standards."

The Atlas is rich in maps, from sections of maps William Clark sketched in 1805, 1808, 1810 and 1814 from descriptions provided by others who traveled through parts of the landscape (on some he even noted Indian villages and their populations) and the 1872 Hayden Survey map up to present-day topographical maps at a 1:100,000 scale. There's even a Gazetter section in the back to help you locate a specific place or feature.

This book is no quick read, but it is a great resource, one you can either sit down with to explore one facet of this intriguing region at a time, or use to find an answer to a question about Yellowstone.

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