THE YELLOWSTONE BACKCOUNTRY PAGE
Much of Yellowstone is still unexplored and unsurveyed to this day. Numerous hot springs, creeks, lakes, canyons and waterfalls have still never been documented in the park's pristine wilderness.
What is backcountry? For the purposes of this page it is defined as any part of Yellowstone National Park that is over 100 yards from a main paved highway.
I hope you enjoy these pages and that you learn something about the lesser known parts of Yellowstone. If you would like to contribute new information to this page please contact me HERE.
NOTE: I WILL BE IN YELLOWSTONE FROM MEMORIAL DAY THROUGH LABOR DAY. MUCH OF THAT TIME WILL BE SPENT IN THE BACKCOUNTRY GATHERING PHOTOGRAPHS FOR THIS WEBSITE. SO IF YOU DON'T SEE A PHOTO HERE NOW, CHECK BACK IN A FEW MONTHS!!
SOME FACTS ABOUT YELLOWSTONE AND ITS BACKCOUNTRY:
In size, Yellowstone is the 8th largest park in the United States, 12th in North America, and 50th in the world. (Greenland National Park is the largest National Park in the world and is roughly 77 times the size of Yellowstone)
Annual precipitation ranges from 10 inches (26 cm) at the north boundary to 80 inches (205cm) in the southwest corner.
The topography of Yellowstone is roughly 80% forest, 10% meadows, 9% water and 1% developed areas (roads or buildings).
Within Yellowstone’s borders are about two-thirds of the world’s geysers and over half of the world’s thermal features.
Its forests contain eight species of conifers with approximately 80% of them being lodgepole pine.
The Yellowstone backcountry is home to the largest concentration of elk anywhere in the world.
There are at least 1,000 miles of backcountry trails, emanating from 97 trailheads.
THE STATE OF THE PARK 1999
The following is an excerpt from the State of The Park Report for 1999. It contains some fascinating information about what is “out there” in the Yellowstone backcountry. Many of these locations are explained in more detail in the other sections of this website.
More than 1,000 American Indian and EuroAmerican archeological sites have been documented in Yellowstone. Many have not been visited since their initial recording more than 30 years ago. Current conditions are poor and unknown.
Eighty-four percent of recorded archeological sites are of American Indian origin. In addition to their network of trails, the Indians left behind burial sites near fishing bridge, a bison kill along the shore of Yellowstone Lake. Tiny campsites indicated by only a few obsidian chips, rock shelters, teepee rings, and wickiups – tipi-shaped shelters of wood, the remains of which can be discerned in some backcountry sites. Few of these sites have been evaluated as to tribal or cultural affiliation. The archeological evidence suggests that most Indian use during the past 11,000 years occurred seasonally by a variety of groups including the Crow, Shoshone, Bannock, Nez Perce, and Blackfeet.
Many of the known sites date from the late 1800’s to the mid-1940’s and are associated with early park development under the U. S. Army and the NPS, as well as with the development of concessions within the park.
Recorded sites include:
Queen’s Laundry bathhouse.
The Stephens Creek Game Ranch, and Rife House Ditches, Reese Creek diversion dam, and Ice Lake dock, have also been recorded. Reports are now being completed for 40 backcountry patrol cabins; the Corkscrew Bridge; Midway Geyser Basin bridge and walkway; and the Iron Springs quarry. Known but unrecorded sites include the Norris Blockhouse (the park’s first headquarters), Camp Sheridan, graves, and old hotel and dump sites.
TIPS ON HOW TO DATE EUROAMERICAN SITES IN YELLOWSTONE
Many cultural remains in Yellowstone are scant at best. What you will see may be nothing more than a few scattered pieces of debris. In the case of shelter sites, only a crude foundation or some weathered wood shards may be left. If you do discover an obvious remnant of human habitation in the backcountry, here are a few things to look for that may help determine the age of the site.
There are basically two styles of nail that will be encountered in Yellowstone. They can be used to date the remnants at a particular site.
1) Cut or Square Nails. (larger)
During the Civil War the United States got very mechanical in the manufacture of nails with the method of stamping out nails from iron. This process of machine made or raw iron nails continued until about 1892. Then the factories changed over to the streamlined and more cost-effective wire nails. It took until roughly 1894 for stores to use up their individual stocks of square nails. And by the late 90's the square nail was gone, and you began to have all wire nails.
Some types of glass can also be used to date a site. The easiest is the purple glass that is still commonly seen at some of the old hotel sites in the park.
In the glass-making process before World War I, sand was fluxed with soda. The was the common method world-wide. One side effect of this process was that when sunlight strikes soda glass for a long time it gradually turns purple. It gets more and more purple as time goes on. When the war began the United Sates was cut off from its suppliers of soda, which happened to be Germany and Austria. Faced with a glass shortage, we went to other fluxes and we never went back to soda. These newer glass-making methods did not have the purple side effect but rather stayed white in the sun. Thus purple glass fragments date a site to the mid-teens or earlier.
If you find what we are called “bull-eye cans,” you know a site is pre-1905. On one end of the can there will be a big ring. In the center of the ring is usually a little drop of lead. This is called Bull-eye sealing. It was part of the vacuum sealing process used in the late 19th century. But it wasn’t fool proof, people got sick from eating the contents sometimes and thus the process did not last.
In some of the old park dump sites, you can find these type of cans almost rusted away, but will find the rings, because they are lead and wont oxidize like the other metal. After “bull-eye” canning were the modern machine made cans we have today.
One of the most common ways to date a bottle is by noting how far the mold seam goes up the bottle. The mold seam is the line made by the mold in which the bottle was formed. Almost all bottles manufactured after 1860 have a mold seam. Before then bottles were made with a blowpipe using what's known as the "free blown method". In either process, the lip of the bottle was formed after the body of the bottle and then applied to the bottle. A lot of bottles made after 1890 were machine made and did not have the "applied lip".
Although rare, stove parts can help date a site. On many stoves there will be a patent date.
Dating a site from bricks is a little more involved and will take a bit of work. On some old factory made or imported bricks, there are individual impress designs. There are catalogs that can identify the maker and year based on that design.
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