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 is hereby reserved and withdrawn from settlement, occupancy, or sale under the laws of the United States, and dedicated and set apart as a public park or pleasuring-ground for the benefit and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.

The creation of a National Park does not, by itself, diminish the potential threats to one. In the same passage quoted above, Muir goes on to say, "Even the scenery habit in its most artificial forms, mixed with spectacles, silliness, and kodaks; its devotees arrayed more gorgeously than scarlet tanagers, frightening the wild game with red umbrellas,--even this is encouraging, and may well be regarded as a hopeful sign of the times." Prior to the creation of Yellowstone, the Yosemite Valley had been turned over to the management of the state of California, who had allowed it to descend into a carnival atmosphere that was defacing and denuding the landscape. Yellowstone was destined to follow the same course until 1886, when administration of the park was turned over to the US Army. A troop of cavalry was lead into park headquarters at Mammoth Hot Springs. Originally intended to be a temporary measure to restore order and quell poaching, the permanent buildings of Fort Yellowstone began construction in 1891. The cavalry would stay until 1918, when administration of the park was turned over to the newly-formed National Parks Service.

Albright Visitor Center, former Bachelor Officer's Quarters.
Double Calvary Barracks, now headquarters for Yellowstone.
Former Field Officer's Quarters, now a private residence for park administration.
"Officer's Row," also residence for park administrators.
Adjacent to Fort Yellowstone, what is known today as the Mammoth Hot Springs Historic District sprung up. Foremost among those buildings is the Mammoth Hot Springs Hotel. Known originally as the National Hotel, it was completed in 1886 when it began receiving guests from Northern Pacific Railway. Despite a fetching profile of gables and towers, a series of renovations and reconstructions in 1911 and 1936 brought the hotel to its current shape. In 1937, a grouping of cabins was added to the complex to provide accommodation for that new class of visitor: the motorist. Most distinctive about the hotel is the manner in which the architecture and colours of the hotel, while mirroring nearby geologic features like distant Mount Everts, still stand out from the surrounding landscape. Within Yellowstone is a consistent tension between the lodges designed to harmonize with nature and those acting as beacons of civilization in the wilderness.

The lobby's small fireplace. As we will see,
they will get much, much bigger.
The lush, wood-paneled Map Room.
The map of the United States for which the Map Room is named. It was
constructed with 2,544 pieces of 16 different types of wood from nine countries.
A row of cabins.
Inside one of the charming cabins.
The dining, lounge, and grill building. After its rennovations in 1936,
Mammoth Hot Springs Hotel became a complex that included the main
building, a recreation hall (now serving hotel employees), cabins, and
this building.
Inside the dining room. More recent renovations affect an
Art Deco style that mirrors the terraces of the hot springs.
One of the oldest buildings in the Mammoth Hot Springs Historic District - and in all of Yellowstone National Park - is the Mammoth General Store. It has stood, catering to the needs of visitors, since 1895.

Each of Yellowstone's lodges and historic districts are built around a stunning natural feature. In the northwestern corner of the park, this feature is Mammoth Hot Springs. Superheated, mineral-rich water travelling along one of the park's many fault lines issues forth from the ground at Mammoth, depositing travertine terraces in a surreal moonscape. Like a coral reef, the terraces seem almost to be alive: new terraces grow where springs erupt, leaving old terraces to decay and weather away.

A broad view of Palette Spring.
Liberty Cap, an extinct dome spring.
Closer view of Palette Spring.
The source of Palette Spring, at the top of the terrace.
The view of the Mammoth Hot Springs Historic
District from atop the terrace.
The gnarled remains of a tree killed by
the calcareous waters of a growing spring.

The variety of colours are caused by different species
of thermophile bacteria that live at different temperatures.
An extinct and decaying terrace.
The ridges and rills of dried-up springs.
Wide view of Mammoth Hot Springs with Liberty Cap.
Entrepreneurs once left objects in the springs to
be coated with travertine and then sold as souvenirs.
The fields surrounding the hot springs, the fort, and the hotel are attractive resting areas for Yellowstone's population of stately elk. These may also be the safest elk in the park, as their main predators - wolves and grizzly bears - are reluctant to pass into human-occupied spaces. Thanks to unenlightened attitudes towards wildlife, native grey wolves were exterminated from Yellowstone in 1926. Shortly thereafter, park managers worried that elk populations would grow unchecked, destroying the park in the process. The National Parks Service then engaged in an annual elk cull designed to keep their numbers at the sustainable level of three to four thousand animals. Under pressure from animal rights groups, the cull was ended in 1968. As predicted, elk populations exploded up to 19,000 by the mid 1990's. Recognizing the importance of keystone predators, a group of grey wolves from Northern Canada were reintroduced to Yellowstone in 1995. Their arrival set off a "trophic cascade" restoring health to the entire ecosystem. Elk numbers have been brought back down to 3-4,000, which has allowed aspen and other woody browse to grow, which has allowed beavers to flourish, who build dams that create wetlands, which provide homes for more birds, fish, and mammals. Wolves have also helped out smaller mammals by suppressing coyotes, and wolf kills provide scavenge for bears, ravens, and eagles. 

Elk investigating the hot springs terraces, in pursuit of salt.

A great stag creates chaos among the herd
on the lawn of Mammoth Hot Springs Hotel.
Though elk are easy to spot at Mammoth Hot Springs, many visitors hold out hope for catching an elusive glimpse of a wolf or a grizzly bear. That is unlikely for most, without the dedication to be up at early hours with spotting scopes and a thermos full of coffee. Therefore the next best place is the Grizzly and Wolf Discovery Center in the gateway village of West Yellowstone. Here, rescued grizzly bears and wolves live out their days, acting as ambassadors to help visitors understand the importance of keystone predators. Usually it is humans who create the problems for bears, but a bear trained to associate humans with food must live with the consequences of either relocation, captivity, or death.

This wolf paraded his "catch" around for a half-hour.

Whereas visitors arriving by Northern Pacific Railway came into the park through Gardiner and Mammoth Hot Springs, those arriving by Union Pacific Railway came in through West Yellowstone. At the station they would be ushered onto stagecoaches, trail rides, and tally-hos for a tour of the park. In the very earliest days, before the construction of the grand lodges that exist today, many stops were serviced by permanent camp companies. Over 1300 visitors traveled the "Wylie Way" in 1901, staying under the Wylie Camping Company's famous striped tent roofs. A number of their sites would go on to become the lodges that exist today. The original Union Pacific station in West Yellowstone now houses the Yellowstone Historic Center with its collection of vehicles and artifacts from those bygone days.

One of the original stagecoaches.
Collection of Wylie Camping Co. pamphlets.
Shaw & Powell Camping Co. artifacts.
A mannequin demonstrating the women's dressing room.
While most visitors today take a vacation as an opportunity
to dress their most slovenly, visitors in the park's early days
came with multiple suits of clothes for each hour of the day.
This was true of both men and women.
A National Forest Service board from the 1960's,
featuring Smokey the Bear and smokejumpers. 
The Union Pacific station's dining hall, designed by architect
Gilbert Stanley Underwood, who went on to design many
buildings in Yellowstone and other National Parks.
Travel through Yellowstone typically follows the "grand loop": a highway encircling the perimeter of the park. At each cardinal point is another magnificent wonder. In the beginning it was stagecoach and weary trail riders who made this trek, though today it can be made far more comfortably by car (which were first allowed into the park in 1915). The old days of the stagecoach still carry on, however, in the vicinity of Roosevelt Lodge in the northeast corner of Yellowstone. President Teddy Roosevelt was said to have camped in the vicinity on his tour of Yellowstone in 1903, and a Wylie permanent camp was named in his honour in 1906. Roosevelt Tent Camp became Roosevelt Lodge in 1920 when a central log reception and dining hall was built. Complimented with numerous cabins added between 1924 and 1947, it continues to welcome visitors keen to head into Lamar Valley for rich wildlife viewing. Some choose to go into Lamar Valley on foot, while others opt for the Old West Dinner Cookout via wagon, stagecoach, or horseback.

A portrait of Teddy Roosevelt, flanked by
elk antlers, overlooks the registration desk.
The neighbouring general store.
Roosevelt's cabins.
Inside the cabins, with a charming Western-themed bedspread.
The cabin's central heating system.
A reproduction tally-ho at the nearby corral.
Bison along the way to the cookout.
In line for steak, corn bread, beans, and cobbler.
Wagon's lined up at the cookout site.
A gentle evening on Roosevelt's expansive verandah or in front of its roaring fire and the intrepid explorer is ready for the next day's journey south to Yellowstone Lake, the roaming bison herds of the Hayden Valley, and the mighty Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone.    

No comments:

Post a Comment