Most visitors to Yellowstone National Park are not aware (at first) that they have entered a giant volcano. That’s right. Yellowstone sits above a “hotspot” – a place where molten rock rises up from the mantle into the earth’s crust, close to the surface. This has created the Yellowstone supervolcano, which has erupted every 650,000 years or so and is responsible for the amazing geologic landscape and thermal features we see today.
But don’t worry – there is little chance of an eruption occurring while you’re there! For one thing, these episodic eruptions occur on such a huge scale, with many hundreds of thousands of years in between, that you won’t likely be around for the next one. For another, because Yellowstone is so fascinating and dynamic, geologists have planted instruments all over the region to map its frequent earth movements. We would have plenty of warning of an impending eruption. Even though Yellowstone does experience frequent earthquakes that does not signal a major event.
The Yellowstone supervolcano last erupted 630,000 years ago. That eruption formed the caldera edges that you can see today, when the eruption blasted apart the crust, which then collapsed as the volcanic activity subsided.
The cooling lava formed some of the most interesting geologic features in the Park. Look for cliffs with columnar jointing, and visit the glassy obsidian rock (which formed when the lava cooled extremely rapidly).
There were a number of previous eruption events which have left a trail of geologic clues across Idaho, Utah, and Nevada. The reason for this long “tail” is that the earth’s crust actually moves over the mantle in response to plate tectonics.
If you want to learn more about the Yellowstone volcano, I recommend the book Windows Into The Earth by Robert B. Smith and Lee J. Siegel. And if you want to follow what’s happening in Yellowstone all the time, check out this website: https://volcanoes.usgs.gov/volcanoes/yellowstone/ There you’ll see the kinds of instruments that scientists use to monitor the volcano, and discover other fascinating aspects of its geologic history.
In the next couple of posts I’ll look more closely at the Yellowstone supervolcano and how it forms the thermal features you can see when you visit.
Humans have a complicated relationship with wolves. They may be ancestrally related to man’s best friend, the dog, but… Wolves are variously described as scary, beautiful, intelligent, cagey, dangerous, and fascinating. The gray wolf is the top predator in the Yellowstone ecosystem, and has been the bane of ranchers and farmers since Europeans first came to the region with sheep and cattle. We love to watch them play outside their dens in Yellowstone National Park, but we don’t want them in our back yards or our herds.
Early in the last century, gray wolves in the states around Yellowstone were almost exterminated and were in danger of extinction. Protections covered those that migrated south from Canada, but those that did migrate did not establish thriving packs in the northern U.S. In the 1970s wildlife biologists began to explore the idea of reintroduction of wolves into the Park. For one thing, biologists recognized that the populations of the wolf’s primary prey species (deer and elk) had exploded, and that huge and now unmanaged population was damaging fragile streams and rivers. Balance in nature is important, some would say vital, and wolves provide balance.
The reintroduction of the gray wolf did finally begin in 1995. Wolves were held in pens in the Lamar Valley on the northern edge of the Park until biologists were satisfied that releasing them into the wild would be safe for them and that they would remain in the Park, lessening conflict with humans. Since their reintroduction wolves have established a number of thriving packs both within and outside the Park, and while there have been a few negative interactions, the efforts of wolf biologists and other groups have gone a long way to mitigating problems.
I’ve had the good fortune of seeing wolves in the wild. They are beautiful – and scary (though they are not the most dangerous wild animal in North America. That distinction belongs to mama moose!) They generally stay away from humans, but hearing their song on an evening wind is spine-tingling. If you go to Yellowstone, be sure to spend some time either early in the morning or late in the evening in the Lamar Valley, where the wolves still congregate and den. If you see a large group of people with spotting scopes, they are surely watching wolves.
Two of my favorite books about wolves are Rick Bass’s THE NINEMILE WOLVES, and Thomas McNamee’s THE RETURN OF THE WOLF TO YELLOWSTONE.
It’s interesting to note: both bison and wolves were hunted nearly to extinction and brought back by the efforts of concerned biologists. Today, both animals rank highest on the list of animals that tourists wish to see when visiting Yellowstone National Park.
The American west is rich with wildlife. But some of America’s most interesting animals can only be seen easily in Yellowstone National Park because they are now concentrated in that ecosystem. Plus – visitors can drive through the Park from dawn to dusk and observe even from roadsides animals that are otherwise not visible to humans.
Buffalo in winter
Here are just a few of the animals you might see:
Ungulates like bison, elk, mule deer, white-tail deer, moose, antelope, bighorn sheep, and mountain goats
Predators like coyote, fox, mountain lion, grizzly bear, black bear, bobcat, lynx, and wolf
Smaller mammals like weasels, skunks, and badgers
Birds like bald eagles, trumpeter swans, ospreys, and sand hill cranes
Elk are numerous throughout the Park. They like to concentrate around the hot springs at Mammoth. Mountain goats are often seen at the highest elevations, like the slopes of Mount Washburn. Bald eagles can be spotted soaring or sitting above the rivers, searching for trout.
Many animals congregate in the Lamar Valley along the north end of the Park – which conveniently is open to cars all winter (unlike the rest of the Park in winter which is only open to snow vehicles.) Because two of these animals – bison and wolves – have interesting histories, I’m going to concentrate in the rest of this post on the American bison, or buffalo, and next week I’ll talk a bit about wolves.
Elk on the lawn at Mammoth
When Europeans first arrived in America there were large endemic herds of American bison. Bison have been here since prehistoric times, grazing in huge herds in the open prairie lands. By some estimates, 20 to 30 million buffalo once roamed the plains of America, mostly west of the Mississippi. Some say that there were so many animals they occupied every square inch of land for as far as the eye could see. They were hunted on horseback and on foot by native Americans who harvested them for food, clothing, and shelter.
Sadly, buffalo were easy targets for Europeans with firearms, and by 1900 they were nearly at extinction, with only 300 animals remaining in the entire country. Some travelers shot buffalo through the open windows of trains passing through the plains; there were so many animals no one realized the extent of the slaughter until it was almost too late. The near extermination of the buffalo was also partly responsible for the degradation of living conditions for many native American tribes, especially Plains Indians, who relied on the buffalo for survival.
Fortunately for the buffalo, a few animals were held in private hands, and conservation efforts in the early 1900s concentrated on bringing animals back into Yellowstone. A small herd of genetically pure animals was held in the Mammoth area until the population stabilized. As a result, today almost 5000 American bison roam freely throughout the Park, and it is almost a certainty that if you visit Yellowstone, you’ll see buffalo. They are magnificent and impressive animals, our national mammal.
But, please! These animals, while they look like large – very large! – cows, are extremely dangerous, as dangerous as a grizzly if you get too close. They are ill-tempered and defensive and can gore or trample the unsuspecting tourist. Enjoy them from a safe distance and think about the tens of thousands of years the American bison has been a part of this beautiful landscape.
In anticipation of the release of VOLCANO DREAMS, I want to spend a little time “in” Yellowstone National Park. In subsequent posts I’ll focus on the Park’s animals and thermal features, but this post will give you a cursory overview of the Park’s human history.
Yellowstone National Park was established in 1872 by Congress and signed into law as the world’s first national park by President Ulysses S. Grant. But long before it was a national park, the Yellowstone ecosystem was inhabited by Native Americans who lived with its extraordinary natural features and unique animal life.
As long ago as 11,000 years prehistoric peoples lived in the Yellowstone region, as evidenced by dated projectile points. When Native American peoples began to coalesce into tribes, Shoshone, Blackfeet, and Bannock were among those that traversed the region. The Shoshone gathered obsidian (a volcanic glass rock), known for its ability to be honed to a knife-sharp edge. The Tukudika harvested the bighorn sheep and became known as the Sheepeaters. The Kiowa tradition says that their creator gave them Yellowstone at a hot spring in the Mud Volcano area. Other tribes – Crow and Piegan – also have strong associations with the region, and even long after the arrival of Europeans Native Americans have lived in and around Yellowstone. Altogether 26 current tribes have historic connections to Yellowstone.
Thomas Moran’s painting of the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone
The first white men to arrive, in the 1700s, were traders and trappers following the world’s appetite for fur. These early visitors described a hellish scene of “brimstone and vapors” so bizarre that the tales were laughed away. As the fur trade was replaced by mining and lumber, the stories spread until the region was explored more formally by others including the Washburn expedition. Public lectures followed that expedition and shared that the tales of the remarkable beauty of Yellowstone were no exaggerations, and this prompted requests for funds from Congress for further exploration.
An 1871 delegation headed by Ferdinand Hayden included the landscape painter Thomas Moran, whose paintings are still some of the most famous and beautiful representations of the Park. Preservation of the region itself was promoted by Hayden, and thus the generation of a new idea: creating a protected area for public enjoyment, our first National Park.
After further exploration and the essential development of roads and trails, early public touring of Yellowstone followed, though the tours were primitive by today’s standards. The west was still wild and untamed and attacks from bands of “hostiles” and robbers were possible at any time. The construction in 1883 of the big, out-of-place National Hotel at Mammoth Hot Springs, with a capacity of anywhere from 300-500 guests, opened a new era.
Stagecoaches carried passengers through the Park to a tent camp at the geyser basins near Old Faithful. Visitors bathed in the hot springs (not only dangerous, but today strictly forbidden as it damages the fragile thermal structures). “Sagebrushers” roughed it by camping in their own tents in the wild, and “dudes” spent their days with touring companies and their nights in the hotels that were built to accommodate, including the gorgeous Old Faithful Inn, opened in 1904.
Not until the early 1900s did the idea of the preservation of Yellowstone’s natural features become a cornerstone of its existence as a park. Preservation and conservation of both the wildlife and natural features are the reasons why Yellowstone is a national treasure – we can all visit this extraordinary place and enjoy its wonders.
If you want to read more about the history of Yellowstone, my favorite resource is Aubrey L. Haines The Yellowstone Story: A History of Our First National Park, published by the University Press of Colorado. I’ve created a Pinterest page with some of my favorite images, which you can find here.
Follow along – next week I’ll begin a discussion about the unique wildlife of the Park.
VOLCANO DREAMS: A STORY OF YELLOWSTONE (Web of Life Books) is my newest book, a picture book for readers ages 5-8 (and older!) out in September 2018. It tells the story of the Yellowstone super volcano, which is responsible for the thermal features that make Yellowstone one of the world’s jewels.
The story of the volcano, right down to the magma chamber underground, is framed by the animals that inhabit the Park, from buffalo to elk to bears. Packed with facts about both animals and geology, VOLCANO DREAMS is beautifully illustrated by Marlo Garnsworthy.
Kirkus Reviews has said about VOLCANO DREAMS: “The author’s first picture book reflects her own appreciation for this national treasure, which could inspire family visits. An unusual and appealing addition to the sense-of-wonder shelf.”
Starting next week, follow this blog for a tour of Yellowstone and a discussion about both the animals and the super volcano. Plus………….I’ll be running some cool giveaways. Stay tuned!
As a newbie writer, I had the great good fortune to move to the same Texas town where Kathi Appelt lives. When we met I was instantly struck by her generosity, not to mention her talent. She became my true mentor, encouraging me in all things including attending Vermont College of Fine Arts. It was there that I first heard her read some of the early pages of THE UNDERNEATH.
I was instantly mesmerized – as have been so many readers now, adults and children alike. It’s no wonder the novel is a Newbery honoree. It’s no wonder that ten years after publication we can celebrate this gorgeous piece of literature and introduce it to a whole new cadre of readers.
And here’s a lovely new trailer made by her son and daughter-in-law:
Kathi has generously come to the blog today with a guest post on fear and bravery, and on the necessary marriage of those two opposites that leads to what saves the day: love. I’m honored to host her.
Here is Kathi’s post:
I confess that I’m not a brave person. Rather than walk up and step on cockroaches, I tend to throw shoes at them and duck for cover. I don’t watch scary movies. No Texas Chainsaw Murders for this girl. I refuse to swim in bodies of water in which I cannot see my feet. There are crabs, don’t you know. You will never find me at the top of the Empire State Building, or any other tall building for that matter. I will never grace the gondola of a hot air balloon—you can go to the bank on that one.
I also don’t eat very hot and spicy peppers, nor do I drink anything stronger than a nice Chardonnay. You could say that I’m pretty much just a big old scaredy cat.
So this begs the question of why I tend to write books that put my heroes in positions that could clearly be considered “life or death.” On the surface, the answer seems to suggest that I’m somehow living vicariously through my characters, putting myself in impossible situations and then bravely winning the day. And I think there may be a modicum of truth to that. Don’t we all wish that we could be as resourceful as Kirby Larsen’s Hattie, in Hattie Big Sky, or as wise as Jacqueline Woodson’s Lonnie in Hush, or as funny and witty as Alan Cumyn’s Owen, in The Secret Life of Owen Skye?
The thing is, I know that Kirby, Jacqueline and Alan are all of those things that their characters are: resourceful, wise, witty. And more. So much more.
But where does brave come in? In the ten years since The Underneath was published, kids around the world have written to me about this book, and one of the things they almost always talk about it is the bravery that my old hound dog and his two kittens share. And they are brave, aren’t they? They would do anything for each other, including putting their own lives on the line.
The hard question that I carried with me while I wrote this story was not for my characters. I knew their answer. Rather, it was for myself. Would I, could I, do the same? Would I risk my own life for someone I loved? I sincerely hope that I would make that choice, but I simply don’t know. I’ve never been confronted with this kind of situation.
Every day, there is another story in the news about heroism, about someone who put him or herself in harm’s way. It’s something that doesn’t only show up in fiction or in movies. It can seem random—like recently, when James Shaw, Jr., a young father of a four-year old daughter, threw himself at a shooter at a Waffle House restaurant in Nashville, TN. Something compelled him to act bravely. And thank goodness, right?
But in a story, we need more. We need to understand why a character acts and reacts. We need to know what compels him or her to step into those hero shoes (and not throw them at the cockroach). In other words, fiction is not random.
One of the higher purposes of fiction is to allow us to discover how seemingly random elements can combine to create that instance of bravery in exactly the moment that it is called for. If we can watch a kitten like Puck grow from being a small mischief-maker into a determined hero, then we can more fully understand what motivates someone like James Shaw, Jr. to say, “I’m not going down today.”
For me, it always boils down to fear and love. They’re the opposite sides of a single coin. Ranger loved those kittens, and they loved him. We’re talking Big Love, the kind that rolls over you in waves. But wherever there is Big Love, there is Big Fear. And behind that Big Fear is the very real terror of losing those we love. There’s no bigger nightmare.
When I first became a parent, I remember reading an article in Mothering magazine. The writer had just had a baby girl. I had just had my baby boy. In the article, she claimed that becoming a parent was a “terrifying beauty.” I was struck by the truth of that phrase. There is nothing more profoundly wonderful, and at the same time, so wrought with the horrifying prospect of loss.
It’s not just with our children that we experience this kind of Big Love/Big Fear. It’s the same with all those we love, it’s the same with our pets, it’s the same with places. I call them “the three p’s.” People, pets, places. They’re where our hearts find meaning and yearning and sustenance. They’re where we are confronted with the depths of our own characters.
In writing Ranger and the kittens’ story, it was this Big Love that I was reaching for, but in order to find that, I had to find the Big Fear too. One can’t exist without the other.
Writing The Underneath didn’t make me brave. But it definitely gave my heart some room to expand. And I can’t help but think that when we give ourselves a chance to explore the “terrifying beauty” of our own lives, we can confront our fears and make more space for love to save the day.
Kathi Appelt is the New York Times best-selling author of more than forty books for children and young adults. Her first novel, The Underneath, was a National Book Award Finalist and a Newbery Honor Book. It also received the PEN USA Award. Her other novels include The True Blue Scouts of Sugar Man Swamp, a National Book Award finalist, and Maybe a Fox, one of the Bank Street Books Best Children’s Books of the Year. In addition to writing, Ms. Appelt is on the faculty in the Masters of Creative Writing for Children and Young Adults at Vermont College of Fine Arts. She lives in College Station, Texas. To learn more, and to find curriculum materials and activity pages, visit her website at kathiappelt.com.
Giveaway! Fifteen lucky winners will receive an autographed paperback copy of The Underneath. In addition, one Grand Prize winner will win a classroom set of 20 copies of the book PLUS a 30-40 minute Skype visit for her/his school, classroom, or library with award-winning author Kathi Appelt. Enter here!
Every year the Writing and the Writing For Children and Young Adults programs of Vermont College of Fine Arts puts on an auction benefit. It’s an awesome collection of biddable items that benefit the school “supporting scholarships, residency events, alumni programs and initiatives. This year 100% of the auction proceeds will fund scholarships for students in both programs, with the Glover Fund for Writers, Authors, & Publishers, VCFA’s invested scholarship fund which will grant writing students’ scholarships for years to come.”
Check out items like these:
Just added 25 page critique by Linda Camacho at Gallt & Zacker Literary Agency. Linda is looking for MG, YA, and adult fiction across all genres and will analyze the critical first 25 pages of your novel, defining its strength’s and identifying ways you might improve it or make it more salable.
Handmade VCFA Afghan crocheted by VCFA’s very own Angela Paladino. Lovely, cozy, and full of VCFA pride!
Spend three days at a VCFA residency!This is your chance to experience what another program residency is like. Accommodations at VCFA and meals included, if desired. [Dates must be agreed upon by winner and Program Director; excludes the two residential programs].
I’ve donated to this auction because I so love my alma mater and want to support her, and you can find my auction item here –a bunch of books and cool swag. I can personalize the books for you or your gift recipient (your kid’s teacher, maybe?) And because I love the school so much, I’m adding a last minute item – a hot-off-the-presses first edition hard-cover copy of my not yet released picture book VOLCANO DREAMS!
But don’t wait – there’s less than a week left to bid! Don’t miss this chance to get some wonderful stuff, and benefit VCFA!
We live within shouting distance of Yellowstone National Park. I can’t even count the number of times that I’ve visited the Park – at least once a year for some 20 years. There’s a “thing” when you visit and learn about the geysers, especially – a group of people who are routine visitors who quietly call themselves “geyser gazers”. These folks move from one eruption to the next, guided by their walkie-talkie network and ephemeral friendships, and they are usually the first on the scene when an unpredictable geyser erupts, because they know the signs, because they spend weeks in the Park, gazing.
For one or two summers, my son and I joined the geyser gazer network. It was huge fun, like fitting the pieces of a great puzzle together. We learned to read the pre-eruption signs; we brought our walkie-talkies and linked with the other geyser gazers; we waited (sometimes for hours) for a particular eruption; we made those ephemeral friendships with people from all walks of life.
Just a few weeks ago, the world’s tallest geyser, the highly unpredictable Steamboat, erupted for the first time in 3 years (check out the videos in this link). I wish I’d been there. Watching a geyser is like nothing else. The ground shakes, the sky is blotted out by steam, the noise is like a freight train, the air is rich with the smell of sulfur. Steamboat’s eruptions can reach the height of a 30 story building, so you’re also at risk of getting wet.
My upcoming picture book, VOLCANO DREAMS: A STORY OF YELLOWSTONE, explores the reason why there are so many geysers in Yellowstone. The Park lies above a super volcano’s giant magma chamber, which heats to boiling the rainwater that seeps down through cracks and fissures. I’m excited about sharing this window into science with readers.
Geyser gazers in action
But there’s also something magical in being a geyser gazer in a place like Yellowstone, beyond the geysers and the volcano. Sharing a fantastic (and not dangerous if you obey the rules) natural phenomenon with total strangers takes everything to a basic level of trust and companionship. There is no room for politics. There is no place for discrimination. There is only the thrill of communally watching our amazing earth perform a splendid feat.
That’s why I’m strongly opposed to raising the entry fees to our National Parks. All children – and their families – should be able to witness this magic, and should experience it with a broad spectrum of fellow citizens. This is not a right of the privileged few. We all “own” our Parks.
I hope you have the chance to come to Yellowstone and see a geyser for yourself. And give geyser gazing a shot! It’s super fun. Oh! – And come see me this August in the Park. I’ll be signing VOLCANO DREAMS.
Lately I think we all have felt confronted (if not bludgeoned) by humanity’s darker nature. Between what we hear in the news to what we read online to the inexplicable horror of mass murder to the cruel taunting and trolling that pervades social media it’s hard to believe in pure human goodness.
As an author who writes for young readers I feel compelled to bring goodness into my stories. But in order to shed that light in dark corners, I have to portray the darkness, too. So, how does an author find balance? How do we write about hopelessness and evil without leaving our readers feeling hopeless and lost?
A couple of recent essays have spoken eloquently to these questions. First, in this analysis of what it means to read and write dark stories, Vaughn Roycroft says that his attraction to dark material has a limit, and that limit is drawn by whether the story is gratuitous in its treatment of dark behavior, or whether, as he puts it, “We can choose to provoke contemplation. We can choose to seek meaning, and to inspire our readers to seek their own.”
And in this post from Diane Magras, she explores what it means to write an antagonist who is nuanced enough to become good and a protagonist willing to accept that change. As she puts it, “growth comes from understanding, from exploring that which is different, and includes a willingness to change perspectives, to learn.”
The cover of my childhood Grimms’
Both of these authors have hit upon a central point in telling tales of darkness. As authors we must help readers seek meaning and understanding, and we should work to portray evil as not inevitable but mutable and subject to our willingness to reach across boundaries.
The old tales of the Brothers Grimm are truly dark, and evil behavior is usually rewarded by severe (often bloody) punishment. Good and evil are clearly distinguished. While I love those old tales, that strive to teach the benefits of humility and generosity, we live in an age of greater complexity. Both in literature and in life today the roles played by protagonists and antagonists are more fluid. Most readers would identify with the protagonist – the “good” guy – in a tale. But if we portray our antagonists as purely “bad” we miss the opportunity to, as it were, teach the benefits of understanding the other.
Understanding the other is, I believe, the way out of darkness. This is why movements like We Need Diverse Books are so important, and why addressing mental health issues with compassion is essential. Shedding light in dark corners is a matter of seeing clearly what we might otherwise wish to ignore or pass off as “bad”.
This blog post will stray a little bit from usual subjects and into current events but bear with me. Or don’t. That’s okay, too.
As an author of books for children – and as a mother, and a former teacher – I feel a particular responsibility toward representing ethical and moral behaviors. When I write I try to address subjects like cruelty, kindness, decision-making, loss, love, bullying, and so on, with the hope that kids who read my books will find answers to some of their questions, the kinds of questions they may not even be able to voice.
That’s my personal moral, ethical approach to my work.
David’s “Death of Socrates”
But sometimes it’s important to pause and ask, what does that mean? What is the ethically and morally right thing to do in any given situation?
Some things are ethically ambiguous, or at least debatable. For example, I faced a personal ethical dilemma when my very ill father (who was fully in his right mind) begged to be taken home and off hospital life support knowing that he would die within days.
But some things are clearly morally and ethically wrong.
It is morally and ethically wrong to walk into a school and shoot children.
How we, as a society deal with that ethical truth is entirely debatable, and I’m not going to take a side.
Ok, I am going to take a side. I’m going to take the side of the students of Parkland’s Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School. This is the letter that I wrote to them, and I wrote it for young people everywhere who take stands against ethical wrongs.
Oh, Brave Ones,
When I see your faces, I am so proud. When I hear your voices, I am so moved. I see you, I hear you, and we – all – believe in you.
By terrible chance, this path has chosen you and it will not be smooth. Some will disparage you and some will mock you. Some will seek to bring you down. Please know that you have all of us behind you and though we can’t stop the arrows we will gladly take them in your place.
You are the Mockingjay. You are Starr. You are Martin, and you are bringing Martin’s dream. We will follow you.
You are the future and the past will fade in the brilliance of your light.
These are difficult times to navigate, for choices are hard when we complicate them with personal desires. I will focus on asking myself in each situation – and in my work – this question: what is morally and ethically right?