Yellowstone National Park celebrates 150 wild years – and what a history it’s been

CNN  — 

Beth Pratt first explored the wonders of Yellowstone National Park through the pages of a book.

Inside a tattered hardcover entitled “National Parks of the U.S.A.,” she still has a list where she penned in five Western parks she dreamed of visiting. Among the quintet was Yellowstone.

“I can still remember gazing endlessly at the photographs of granite peaks, roaring waterfalls and magnificent wildlife, and daydreaming about wandering in those landscapes. I would think ‘someday, someday …’” she told CNN Travel.

Her someday came during a cross-country trip from her Massachusetts home to California. As for her first look at Yellowstone, “it was truly a moment of awe.”

Pratt, who later took a job at the park, shared an entry from her journal dated September 20, 1991:

“Yellowstone is beautiful. No description I could give would do it justice – I am no John Muir. It is enchanting and full of natural wonders and the wildlife are everywhere. A Disneyland for naturalists. Right now, I’m watching a herd of elk across from my campsite. The bull sings to his herd an eerie song, yet a sound suited to the land.”

Indeed, Yellowstone is a land rich in dates and memories.

The park – 96% of which is in Wyoming, 3% in Montana and 1% in Idaho is celebrating a major milestone this year.

On March 1, 1872, President Ulysses S. Grant signed the Yellowstone National Park Protection Act into law. With the stroke of his pen, he created the first national park in the United States but also the world.

On this 150th anniversary, the National Park Service and Yellowstone fans look at the past, present and future with events planned well into the year.

A very short account of a very long history

Get your steps in at the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone.

Yellowstone’s history actually begins way before 1872, and it wasn’t as untouched as many people might think. For thousand of years, we have evidence of people thriving on the land’s bounty.

“Some of the modern trails frequented by hikers in Yellowstone are believed to be relics of Indigenous corridors dating all the way back to roughly 12,000 years ago,” the US Geological Survey says.

It was familiar ground to Blackfeet, Cayuse, Coeur d’Alene, Kiowa, Nez Perce, Shoshone and other tribes – all believed to have explored and used the land here, the USGS says.

They “hunted, fished, gathered plants, quarried obsidian and used the thermal waters for religious and medicinal purposes, the NPS says. (Yellowstone sits atop a supervolcano, and it has the world’s greatest concentration of geysers as well as hot springs, steam vents and mudpots, the NPS says.)

While the Indigenous people lived in balance with the land, waves of westward US ex