The park’s largest hot spring, Grand Prismatic Spring, is bigger than a football field!

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5 Big Questions About Yellowstone

America’s first national park is celebrating its 150th anniversary. 

1. How did Yellowstone become a national park?

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The Yellowstone area has been home to Native people for thousands of years. White explorers first arrived in what is now northwestern Wyoming in the early 1800s. They were in awe of its unusual hydrothermal features and abundant wildlife. 

In 1871, explorers teamed up with a photographer and artists to capture images of Yellowstone’s extraordinary natural wonders. Their efforts convinced the United States government to protect the area. On March 1, 1872, President Ulysses S. Grant signed a bill establishing Yellowstone as America’s first national park.

2. What exactly is a national park?

A national park is an area where the land, waterways, and wildlife are officially protected by the government. The parks are open for the public to visit. Not only was Yellowstone the first protected park in the U.S, but it also became a model for preserving land around the world. In later years, places like the Grand Canyon in Arizona and the Everglades in Florida also became national parks.

“Today, we have 63 national parks in America, and most other countries have them as well,” explains Yellowstone historian Alicia Murphy.

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3. What makes Yellowstone such a special place?

For one thing, Yellowstone sits atop an active volcano! Much of the park is in a caldera. Molten rock, called magma, boils beneath the park’s surface. All that underground heat fuels the hydrothermal wonders that make Yellowstone famous. 

The park’s countless hot springs are pools of boiling water. Some are filled with tiny organisms that turn the water bright colors. 

There are also more than 500 geysers (GYE-zuhrz) in Yellowstone. Magma heats up water underground until it bubbles to the surface and blasts into the air.

As for the volcano, visitors don’t have to worry. The last major eruption at Yellowstone occurred more than 630,000 years ago.

“Scientists monitor Yellowstone carefully and don’t see any signs that it will erupt anytime soon,” says Murphy.

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The geyser Old Faithful got its name because it’s dependable. It erupts about every 90 minutes.

4. What kinds of wildlife are found in Yellowstone?

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For many visitors, the wildlife is the park’s main attraction. Bison and elk are easiest to spot. But lucky visitors may also get a glimpse of grizzly bears, gray wolves, and moose.

Over the years, park officials have helped several endangered species make a comeback. One of them is the largest land animal in North America, the bison. 

By the late 1890s, the animals had been hunted to near extinction. Yellowstone officials bought bison from area ranchers and helped rebuild the population. Today, more than 5,000 roam the park.

5. How popular is Yellowstone? 

Last year, nearly 5 million visitors flocked to Yellowstone—the most ever in one year. But big crowds can lead to traffic jams and more people wanting to take wildlife selfies. This can stress out the animals, putting them and visitors in danger.

Park officials ask visitors to respect the park by not littering or getting too close to the animals. They say this will help protect Yellowstone for future generations.

  1. What are two types of hydrothermal features found in Yellowstone?
  2. How can big crowds affect Yellowstone’s wildlife?
  3. How does the article’s question-and-answer format help readers?
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