Wednesday, 7 October 2015

The Wilderness Lodges of Yellowstone - Part 3

Yellowstone National Park's stunning vistas of mountains, valleys, lakes, and wildlife cover a terrible secret. The park's variety of thermal features and igneous rock layers in turn betray it. Roiling beneath Yellowstone is a magma hotspot; an up-swelling of material from deep within the earth that fuels the park's system of geysers and mineral springs, as well as the 1000-3000 earthquakes that happen there per year. Periodically, this hotspot has become so unruly that it vents itself in a pyroclastic fury of unimaginable scale. In its last major explosion 640,000 years ago, 240 cubic miles of ash and debris were thrown into the atmosphere, falling back to earth as far south as the Mexico border. Its caldera measures 34 miles by 44 miles across.

What exactly causes the Yellowstone Hotspot is unknown, but it has lain beneath North America for approximately 16 million years. As the continent moved through plate tectonic action, a succeeding number of volcanic blasts carved out the Snake River Plain that cuts a swath through southern Idaho, terminating at Yellowstone. Moist air from the Pacific channelled up this valley condenses and collapses on Yellowstone, dumping 150 to 300 inches of snow each winter. Some 2.1 million years ago, the hotspot arrived beneath Yellowstone. That was when the first of four eruptions happened that shaped the park as it stands today. A second and smaller explosion happened just outside the park's modern boundaries about 1.3 million years ago. The third happened 640,000 years ago, with the last minor eruption happening about 174,000 years ago. The caldera of this much smaller eruption was filled in by water from Lake Yellowstone, forming the West Thumb. The shore at West Thumb is dotted with thermal springs and minor geysers that have entertained and entranced generations. In the early days, when such activities were permitted, guests could fish in Yellowstone Lake and then swing their line over to a geyser, drop the fish in, and cook it on the spot.

The "Black Pool."
The shoreline at West Thumb Geyser Basin,
dominated by the "Big Cone" geyser.

"Fishing Cone," where visitors would boil fish on the line.
Springs drain into Yellowstone Lake.

Nowhere is the energy of the Yellowstone Hotspot more apparent than in the famous geyser basins. As that 150-300 inches of snow melts and sinks into the earth, it becomes superheated by the magma beneath. Returning to the surface, it explodes in magnificent geysers, bubbles out hot mineral springs and mudpots, or evaporates out in billowing fumaroles. There are an estimated 10,000 thermal features in Yellowstone, with the world's highest concentration of geysers. More than that, these geysers are nearly half of all the known geysers in the world. The most famous of Yellowstone's geysers is, of course, Old Faithful.

Wednesday, 23 September 2015

The Wilderness Lodges of Yellowstone - Part 2

When stories of a surreal wonderland of geysers and mudpots began to surface, the American public could not believe what they heard. John Colter, a guide for the Lewis and Clark Expedition of 1804-1806, was ostensibly the first white man to see Yellowstone. In mocking tones it was called "Colter's Hell." As more and more mountain men ventured into the area and returned to verify Colter's story, public condescension turned into pubic curiousity. Three expeditions were launched between 1869 and 1871. The first was financed and led by David Folsom. Charles Cook, and William Peterson of Monatana. There was still fear that explorers into Yellowstone wouldn't be taken seriously, so Folsom was reluctant when invited to speak to a group of prominent citizens in Helena, Montana. He eventually did, and that speech along with journals from the expedition inspired Montana's Surveyor-General, Henry Washburn, to mount an expedition of his own in 1871. With funding from Northern Pacific Railroad, expedition member Nathaniel Langford went on a speaking tour that led to the formation of the Hayden Geological Survey of 1871. Ferdinand Vandeveer Hayden was a geologist, and his expedition was a veritable army of botanists, zoologists, meteorologists, ornithologists, mineralogists, photographers, entomologists, statisticians, artists, hunters, and guides, along with an actual military escort. In 1872, the indisputable tract of land called Yellowstone was declared a National Park. For his part, Langford was made the park's first superintendent.

Just south of Roosevelt Lodge is one of the great scenic spots of the park. On Tower Creek just before its confluence with the Yellowstone River, Tower Fall is one of the most popular waterfalls in the park. At 132 feet, it was a picturesque stopover for the Washburn Expedition as they explored the region for several days en route to Lake Yellowstone.

Calcite Spring, near Roosevelt Lodge.
Tower Fall from the upper viewpoint.
The feature is named for the rocky spires
that rise above the water. 
Mount Washburn.
The high-country plains and forests of Yellowstone's north.
Following the path of the Washburn Expedition and past the mountain named in Washburn's honour, visitors arrive at the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone. At 24 miles long and up to 1200 feet deep, hewn by the Yellowstone River and its two rumbling waterfalls, the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone has inspired reverence and awe from the moment of its discovery. Charles Cook described the moment he accidentally happened upon it in 1869: "I sat there in amazement, while my companions came up, and after that, it seemed to me that it was five minutes before anyone spoke." The Hayden Geological Survey included the artist Thomas Moran, whose painting of the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone helped promote the creation of the park to the public and the Congress.

Thomas Moran's Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone, 1872.

Wednesday, 9 September 2015

The Wilderness Lodges of Yellowstone - Part 1

Be it enacted by the Senate and House of Representatives of the United States of America in Congress assembled, That the tract of land in the Territories of Montana and Wyoming, lying near the headwaters of the Yellowstone River... is hereby reserved and withdrawn from settlement, occupancy, or sale under the laws of the United States, and dedicated and set apart as a public park or pleasuring-ground for the benefit and enjoyment of the people...
With these words spoken on May 1, 1872, the United States Congress created what has been called America's best and only truly original idea: the world's first National Park.

Native American peoples have been using the rich resources of the Yellowstone region for more than 11,000 years. Obsidian from the caldera of this supervolcano provided the Crow and Shoshone people with material for speartips, arrowheads, and trade with other tribes. Projectile points made from Yellowstone obsidian have been found as far away as the Mississippi. When mountain man John Colter returned to civilization with stories of Yellowstone's bubbling mudpits, scalding steam vents, and magnificent geysers, an unbelieving public nicknamed it "Colter's Hell." After Yellowstone was declared the world's first National Park, Northern Pacific Railway attracted well-heeled tourists by promising them "Wonderland."

Though the railway station has long since withered away, along with the decline in the railway as a means of mass public transportation across the continent, the town of Gardiner, Montana still serves as the northern gateway to Yellowstone. Carriages would line up along the Northern Pacific station's boardwalk to receive the newly arrived tourists, ferrying them to distant points of scenic beauty and wilderness romance within the vast expanses of the park. In 1903, President Teddy Roosevelt laid the cornerstone of the triumphal arch that the carriages would pass through, like Alice through the rabbit hole, demarcating this preternatural landscape from the ordinary. The Roosevelt Arch, inscribed with those words sacred to democracy - "For the Benefit and Enjoyment of the People" - still beckons travellers today.

The United States in the mid-19th century had two conditions that were fertile for the development of the national parks idea. One was wilderness, and the other was an impending threat to the sanctity of that wilderness. Unlike the nations of Europe whose civilizations were measured in millennia, the United States was a new country born in the wilderness of North America. Whereas England, France, Spain, and Germany had monumental Gothic cathedrals, crumbling Roman ruins, and lands long-since carved up by feudal aristocrats, North America had pristine forests, expansive prairies, and towering mountains with the perception that they belonged to no man, Native Americans notwithstanding. Americans like Ralph Waldo Emmerson and Henry David Thoreau began to recognize that just as democracy was essential to the political health of the individual, so was nature essential to their spiritual, emotional, and moral health. To quote Thoreau, from his 1854 memoir Walden:
We need the tonic of wildness... At the same time that we are earnest to explore and learn all things, we require that all things be mysterious and unexplorable, that land and sea be infinitely wild, unsurveyed and unfathomed by us because unfathomable. We can never have enough of nature. We must be refreshed by the sight of inexhaustible vigor, vast and titanic features, the sea-coast with its wrecks, the wilderness with its living and its decaying trees, the thunder-cloud, and the rain which lasts three weeks and produces freshets. We need to witness our own limits transgressed, and some life pasturing freely where we never wander.
In 1893, historian Frederick Jackson Turner proposed the Frontier Thesis, which argued that expansion across the North American frontier shaped American cultural identity by privileging individualism and eschewing traditional, aristocratic, academic, and institutional forms of authority. America's wars against the Aboriginal peoples of the continent contributed to the idea that the nation was forged in the struggle to "tame" the wilderness. However, even as Turner identified the formative power of the frontier on the American psyche, the American frontier was declared "closed." The line of colonization hit the Pacific and despite continued colonial conflicts in the Pacific and the Caribbean, America's collective attention turned from moving outwards to moving inwards and upwards: settlement, development, industrialization.

It became apparent to another generation of conservationists and nature transcendentalists like John Muir that America was quickly in danger of losing its natural heritage to the rapacious exploitation of natural resources. The more threatened wilderness spaces became, the more industrialized and urbanized the nation became, the more apparent the need for nature became and the more desperate the need to take legal action to preserve it. Wrote Muir, in the introduction of his 1901 classic Our National Parks:
Thousands of tired, nerve-shaken, over-civilized people are beginning to find out that going to the mountains is going home; that wildness is a necessity; and that mountain parks and reservations are useful not only as fountains of timber and irrigating rivers, but as fountains of life. Awakening from the stupefying effects of the vice of over-industry and the deadly apathy of luxury, they are trying as best they can to mix and enrich their own little ongoings with those of Nature, and to get rid of rust and disease. Briskly venturing and roaming, some are washing off sins and cobweb cares of the devil's spinning in all-day storms on mountains; sauntering in rosiny pinewoods or in gentian meadows, brushing through chaparral, bending down and parting sweet, flowery sprays; tracing rivers to their sources, getting in touch with the nerves of Mother Earth; jumping from rock to rock, feeling the life of them, learning the songs of them, panting in whole-souled exercise, and rejoicing in deep, long-drawn breaths of pure wildness. This is fine and natural and full of promise. So also is the growing interest in the care and preservation of forests and wild places in general, and in the half wild parks and gardens of towns.   
Thus was born the National Park: a wilderness space preserved as inviolate as possible, as a common trust for the common good of the nation and, indeed, the world. Today there are 3032 national parks spanning over 100 countries. In the United States alone there are 59. The first was Yellowstone National Park.

Old Faithful Geyser.
Grand Prismatic Spring.
The Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone.
Roaming herds of bison.

Sunday, 6 September 2015

The Winner of our GIGANTIC Contest

Our winner has been chosen! We couldn't decide between the top two, which works out anyways since they were both submitted by the prolific Karalora!

Karalora, be sure to get in touch with us for your small prize. Thanks to everyone else for playing and supporting Yesterday, Tomorrow, and Fantasy. And of course, keep your eyes peeled for Gigantic, which actually is a real thing. 

Wednesday, 26 August 2015

Walt Disney and the Gift of the National Parks

"If certain events continue, much of America's natural beauty will become nothing more than a memory. The natural beauty of America is a treasure found nowhere else in the world. Our forests, waters, grasslands and wildlife must be wisely protected and used. I urge all citizens to join the effort to save America's natural beauty... it's our America - do something to preserve its beauty, strength and natural wealth."
Walt Disney

Though better known for creating imaginative artificial landscapes, Walt Disney was a renowned lover of nature. While publicly eschewing titles like "conservationist," Disney still took an active role in helping Americans to better understand and preserve their shared natural heritage. In 1956, for example, he was awarded the distinction of being the honourary chairman of the National Wildlife Federation's National Wildlife Week, a position held until his passing in 1966. In an annual series of public service announcements made for the NWF, he made unequivocal statements like "We must help Nature preserve her vanishing creatures," "The preservation of our American wildlife is very close to me," and "You've probably heard people talk about conservation. Well, conservation isn't just the business of a few people. It's a matter that concerns all of us."

The first inklings one might get towards Walt Disney's sensitivity to nature is in one of his first films: Bambi (1942). In this story of a young deer's growth into maturity, Disney gives a vivid, sympathetic and often sentimental view into the lives of forest animals. Bambi's portrayal of nature was so heart-warming, and its portrayal of hunters so terrifying, that it spurred on considerable controversy in its day over the question of ethical hunting. This enduring film still wields this influence; it is not uncommon to hear that little deer's name brought up in debates over conservation issues, whether one is trying to elicit sympathy for wildlife or accusing someone else of having an overly naive and sentimental view of nature. Disney even lent his characters out to the US Forest Service in fire prevention posters, until Smokey the Bear was created in 1944. Yet Bambi is only the first example of how America's master showman and the company which bears his name have been able to shape the public perception of these important issues.

Sunday, 16 August 2015


At the D23 Expo, Walt Disney Feature Animation unveiled their next film: a version of Jack and the Beanstalk called "Gigantic"! In honour of this, we're holding a contest for the best new title for one of Disney's classic animated films. But here's the rule: the new title must be one word, and that one word must be an adjective!

You see our example above, now have at it! To enter, leave a comment on this post with the name of the movie you're retitling and its new title. If you want to get creative, feel free to post a link to your movie poster masterpiece or e-mail it to us via Cory's Blogger profile. Enter as many times as you want, and spread the word!

The winning entry will be posted on Sunday, September 6th (after we get back from our vacation!). The contest may be GIGANTIC but there is a small prize for the winner.

Wednesday, 12 August 2015

The Story of Mara

In the Indiana Jones Adventure: Temple of the Forbidden Eye in Disneyland USA, the great explorer has discovered an ancient lost temple dedicated to the god Mara. Deep within the temple is the Chamber of Destiny, in which Mara reads the thoughts and ambitions of visitors. He then opens up one of three doors, leading to a chamber bestowing either earthly riches, eternal youth, or visions of the future. But beware the eyes of the idol: one look and you will be carried, screaming, into the Gates of Doom.

Of course, this is a Disney ride, so off to the Gates of Doom you go! Thankfully Dr. Jones is there holding them closed, which results in a wild ride through the rest of the temple and its various dangers. Is there any ethnographic basis for the deity Mara, though? Indeed there is, which adds another dimension to an excellent ride.