25 January 2013

Friday Field Notes: Why is Yellowstone in Montana?

Note: After more than a month-long hiatus in which the blog's author traveled to places as far and exotic as the Galapagos Islands and New Jersey, Friday Field Notes is back! Here's hoping that the natural world provides us all with excitement, beauty, enlightenment, and inspiration in 2013!

In the last few years, you may have driven past a billboard or a truck displaying this eye-catching advertisement:

The ad, containing a stunning aerial shot of Yellowstone's Grand Prismatic Spring, was put out by the Montana Office of Tourism in an attempt to ensure people spend time in Big Sky country on their next Yellowstone trip. The irony of it, however, will not be lost on most: Grand Prismatic rests firmly within Wyoming's borders. 

Yellowstone, oft heralded not just as America's but the world's first national park, is a spectacular and sublime place, so it's no surprise that Montana would want to claim partial "ownership" of it. And technically speaking, 3% of Yellowstone's more than 2.2 million acres is within our borders (1% falls within Idaho, while the remaining 96% makes up the northwest corner of Wyoming). But that's just the thing: only 3% of Yellowstone is within Montana. When one looks at the park's boundaries, this section appears as little more than a straight sliver of land invading south-central Montana. This observation begs the question: Just why exactly is Yellowstone even in Montana? A deeper look at history begins to reveal some of the answers.