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Yellowstone National Park was established by the U.S. Congress and signed into law by President Ulysses S. Grant on March 1, 1872. It is located primarily in Wyoming, although it also extends into Montana and Idaho. It is situated at the headwaters of the Yellowstone River, from which it takes its historical name. The park spans an area of 3,468.4 square miles, including forests, canyons, meadows, lakes, rivers, and mountain ranges. Yellowstone Lake is North America's largest mountain lake. It is twenty miles long, fourteen miles wide, and 430 feet deep at its deepest point, averaging 140 feet deep.

The human history of the park began at least 12,000 years ago. There is archaeological proof that humans used the area to hunt and fish. During the construction of the post office in Gardiner, Montana, in the 1950s, an obsidian projectile point of Clovis origin was found that dated from approximately 11,000 years ago. Exploration expeditions of the area began in the late 1860s. In 1869 a group of private citizens from Montana Territory set off on a month-long journey to see what the region contained. This was the Cook-Folsom-Peterson expedition. Notes from this expedition helped General Henry Washburn, the new Surveyor General of Montana, launch his own exploratory efforts the following summer. On December 18, 1871 a bill was introduced in Congress for the establishment of a preserve. The following spring Yellowstone National Park was born, making it the world's first national park.

The park's early years were not trouble free. Poachers were common, tourists were robbed on occasion, and vandals routinely defaced or stole a wide variety of natural features. Within a few years of its creation, many people were saying Yellowstone should be in the hands of the Army, which could better handle such problems. The Army took over in 1886. No one had a clear idea what the steering philosophy of a national park should be. The Army offered stability and protection for the park while such management guidelines were being forged. In 1918, administration of Yellowstone was handed over to the newly created National Park Service, which manages the park today. In 1915 Yellowstone opened it gates to automobiles. Prior to that, transportation around the park was done by horse drawn wagons, stage coaches, and surrey carts.

Yellowstone is known for its wildlife and its many geothermal features. Nowhere in the world are there as many geysers as in Yellowstone. Hundreds of species of mammals, birds, fish and reptiles have been documented, including several that are either endangered or threatened. The vast forests and grasslands also include unique species of plants. Grizzly bears, wolves, and free-ranging herds of bison and elk live in the park. The Yellowstone Park Bison Herd is the oldest and largest public bison herd in the United States, numbering about 3500. The park is the centerpiece of the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem, the largest remaining, nearly intact ecosystem in the Earth's northern temperate zone.

This was my first time to this magnificent place. We had four days in the park, not a lot of time to cover such a large area, but we packed it in, going non-stop, and saw all the main areas of the park. We stayed in Cody, WY, which was a 90 minute daily commute to and from the park's east and northeast entrances. We were not able to be there for sunrise in the park or to catch the dawn and pre-dawn critter sightings, but we still saw a fulfilling amount of wildlife, and captured some beautiful sunsets on our way out of the park each night.

We were more interested in the Hayden and Lamar valleys in search of the animals that live there, but we did spend time photographing some of the geyser areas, although we miss-timed most of the eruptions. We stopped to shoot the incredible waterfalls located throughout the park, took in the majestic Grand Canyon of Yellowstone, and parked the car along the road every time we saw some wildlife, or a beautiful meadow, river, or scenic landscape.

And of course, all the bison stops. Those crazy creatures. I found them extremely entertaining the way they would do what they do knowing they rule the land. If they felt like blocking the road, they did. You just have to wait till they feel good and ready to move on. Yellowstone is truly the land of the bison. It was a bit unnerving to see people get too close to these wild animals. The park is very diligent about disseminating warnings that the bison will gore you, that it is the most common wildlife injury in the park. Fortunately all was peaceful with our bison / human encounters.

One of the highlights of our Yellowstone experience was encountering a pack of wolves close enough to view and photograph without the need for a telescope. I saw three black animals running down a big hill, off in the distance as we were driving in the Lamar Valley. I couldn't tell if they were bears or wolves. We turned around and stopped at that location. After waiting a few minutes we started to hear them howling. Then we saw a wolf come up to the top of a hill. We were able to photograph it as it stopped there for awhile. There were others in the pack around it, and even more way off in the distance on the other side of the road we were on. They were all communicating with each other. It was the most thrilling experience to hear a 180 degree chorus of wolves howling in a connected harmony. The wolf packs disappeared from Yellowstone in the 1920's, victims of an intense extermination effort. In January 1995, after a nearly 70 year absence, in one of the most exciting wildlife conservation efforts in American history, fourteen Canadian wolves were captured near Hinton, Alberta and relocated to Yellowstone. Seventeen more wolves were brought from Canada the following year. Now there are twelve separate wolf packs thriving in Yellowstone, providing a vital link in the park's ecosystem.

The other highlight of our trip was Carl's six seconds of fame! While we were photographing a heard of bighorn sheep near the north park entrance, we were approached by a news crew capturing video for a story about all the recent bear attacks. We were interviewed which resulted in a very nice clip of a small part of Carl's response. The story aired nationally on the NBC Nightly news: http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/21134540/vp/44379365#44379365 (1:46)

I shot over 2000 photos during our four days in the park, and deleted about 1200. Of the remaining 846 keepers I have posted 140 photographs that I feel best represent this very special corner of the world. I hope you enjoy them. For best viewing, click on Slideshow in the upper right corner. A photo strip will appear across the top. Above this, in the upper left corner, you can set the viewing speed. It defaults to medium, which should be the most appropriate speed for viewing and reading the captions. If you mouse over the photo a pause icon will appear so you can pause on the photos with longer captions. Mouse over the photo again for a play icon to resume the slideshow, or to click forward or backward.

From the official Yellowstone Guide book: "Of the few untamed places still left to us to protect, it would be hard to think of any that ignite the imagination more quickly, more surely, than Yellowstone National Park... The power of Yellowstone's legacy is that it emphasizes what it means to be good stewards of the land. Somehow our visits here leave us feeling a little more generous, and a little more willing to speak for the magic that yet lies in the last of the wild places."
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