(There were no travel bloggers in 1890. There were no blogs. No Web. But there were more and more people in America ready to do some traveling and looking for places to go. So if there was such a thing as a travel blog in the last decade of the 19th century, this is what I think it might have looked like.)
It was 18 years ago in 1872 that Ulysses S. Grant signed the bill creating Yellowstone National Park. And it was at the same time that the Helena Daily Herald christened this massive expanse of one-of-a-kind natural oddities Wonderland.
Depending on who you talk to, the creation of Yellowstone as a national park was intended to preserve this scenic Wonderland for all Americans, to protect it from commercial exploitation and to act as a reservation for the park’s wildlife, including buffalo, bears, elk and antelope. But others say the idea came from Jay Cooke as a way to load the potential visitors onto his Northern Pacific Railway. Whatever the reason, Yellowstone exists today at the edge of wilderness and civilization, a place that can still be discovered and explored.
It presents a collection of natural wonders that can be seen nowhere else in the world. There is the scenic beauty of stops like the Yellowstone Grand Canyon but there is also an unending array of geysers, springs, and boiling mud pots, many in striking colors and surrounded by unusual rock formations. Sights like these, as you might imagine, are unpredictable. One of Yellowstone’s geysers goes off only once every fortnight. Old Faithful, on the other hand, got its name by being just that and putting on a show on a regular schedule for all visitors.
A trip to Yellowstone is both vigorous and invigorating. If you are coming from the east coast the most popular route is to take the Northern Pacific to Livingston, Mont., and to change there for a spur route to Cinnabar, Mont. At Cinnabar you can board a stage coach for the 8-mile ride through the northern entrance of the park to the Mammoth Hot Springs Hotel. If you’re coming from the West you can take the Utah and Northern Railway to Monida, Mont., then take a stage coach through the West entrance.
At the Mammoth Hot Springs Hotel you can book 5 days of lodging, meals and transport through the park for $40. Travelling within the park is on horse-drawn wagons, each with four horses and capacity for 11 passengers.
Some visitors will rent a wagon and camping equipment in Montana and explore the park at their own pace, often with guides and servants. Others choose to explore on horseback. The Northern Pacific publishes the Wonderland guides which include information about Yellowstone’s attractions and maps.
In addition to the famous Mammoth Hot Springs Hotel, a new hotel, the Lake, recently opened near Yellowstone Lake. And the soon-to-be Fountain Hotel is under construction near Old Faithful. For the campers there are tent camps at the Norris Geyser Basin and the Upper Geyser Basin. President Chester Arthur choose to camp on his tour of Yellowstone in 1883.
Yellowstone is a vast territory and many of the attractions are quite far apart. It is more than 30 miles from the Mammoth Hot Springs to Yellowstone Canyon and almost 40 miles to Old Faithful. Coach tours of the park may cover as much as 40 miles a day. In the last decade, the Army Corps of Engineers has built some new roads and made getting around the park a bit easier. Since 1886, Yellowstone has been managed and maintained by the U.S. Army.
While many come to Wonderland to see the sights, others see it as a path for restoring physical and mental health. One well-known German doctor prescribes its spring water, because of its arsenic content, as an effective treatment for nervous disorders. Others cite the healthfulness of the sulphuric smell that pervades much of the park. And of course we all understand the restorative value of camping.
At this early stage of its existence as a national park, Yellowstone remains an adventure, a way for travelers to imagine themselves on a Lewis and Clark expedition. It is a place to feel free and explore.