On viewing what has become known as the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone River in Yellowstone National Park, Lt. Gustavus C. Doane said, in 1870, “It is grand, gloomy, and terrible; a solitude peopled with fantastic ideas, an empire of shadows and of turmoil.” I have been to Yellowstone National Park several times with my family, and the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone is my favorite spot in the Park. In itself, it is almost worth the trip to Yellowstone Park.
There are two ways to consider the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone River: geologically and aesthetically.
For those interested in the geology of the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone, Wikipedia tells us that the Canyon is estimated to be approximately 10,000 years old. It is 20 miles long, 1000 feet deep and 2500 feet wide, and contains both an upper and lower falls. The Canyon was apparently formed by a combination of volcanic eruptions and the resulting lava flows, blocked rivers that created rivers which eroded the landscape, and glaciers that helped to shape the canyon through melting and flooding. The canyon continues to be influenced by factors such as water, wind, and earthquakes.
The major influence on the landscape of Yellowstone National Park itself is the underlying volcanic caldera or crater. The caldera is active and is the source for many of the features of the Park, such as bubbling mud pots, geysers, and so on. Rangers at Yellowstone say that there is the possibility of a catastrophic eruption of the caldera that could devastate much of the United States. Evidence of this thermal activity still exists in the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone in the form of geysers and hot springs that are still active and visible. According to Wikipedia, the rocks in the Yellowstone’s Grand Canyon are oxidizing or rusting and have caused the colors of the canyon walls.
The attraction of the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone for most people, however, is not the geological background of the area, but the scenic charm of the Canyon itself. The upper and lowers falls and the colors and shape of the canyon walls combine to create a setting of incredible beauty. The name of one viewing site, Artist Point, reflects the fact that many artists have found their inspiration in the Canyon. The pictures that accompany this article provide visual proof of what I am talking about.
If you’re ever in Yellowstone National Park and you have limited time available for sightseeing, be sure that your time at the Park includes the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone River. You won’t regret it.
The quote from Lt. Doane comes from the National Parkways Yellowstone National Park booklet