Yellowstone: The Creation and Selling of an American Landscape, 1870-1903
Yellowstone Park Book Confronts Myth, Reality, and Future
It has been called a natural wonderland, become a near religious icon among many, and promoted by others for its tourism and development potential.
A new book copublished by the Montana Historical Society Press and the University of New Mexico Press confronts the history, myth, reality and future of Yellowstone National Park.
Yellowstone: The Creation and Selling of an American Landscape, 1870-1903 by Chris J. Magoc is thought provoking and a must-read for all those who care about the world's first national park.
In his preface to the book Magoc recalls the horrific 1988 fire in the park that had him, like millions of others, "morbidly fascinated by a good sublime disaster." As a "budding historian of the environment," Magoc wrestled with his knowledge that fire was a part of nature and his feelings that the "esteemed place of reverence" would never be the same.
"Yet often in this postmodern culture of veneer, behind the visually driven media coverage lay the more complicating matters of history and culture," Magoc writes.
Magoc takes the reader from the famous 1870 exploration of the Washburn Expedition into the "mysterious plateau region" of the headwaters of the Yellowstone River to present-day controversies over mining and thermal production that threaten the ecosystem of the park.
"Yellowstone's discovery resonated with a national audience intrigued with color and spectacle, power, and the exotic. Entertainment, we now call it," Magoc writes.
Illustrated by photographs from the Montana Historical Society Photograph Archives Haynes Collection and other sources, the book is at once a fascinating history and a scientific inquiry.
The public was outraged that the 1988 fire was allowed to get so out of hand, yet scientific observation revealed that wild flowers soon took hold in the burned out areas, that meadows provided lush growth for wildlife, and that lodgepole pine serotinous cones had popped out ready to start anew.
"As some publications quietly reported the following spring, the fire began regenerating the health of the Yellowstone forest the day it started," Magoc, now history professor at Mercyhurst College in Pennsylvania, writes. Magoc examines the impact that increased use of the park by those who love it has on its environment, and how such issues as microbe "mining" by biotech companies in the park's thermal features threaten further development much as mineral mining has in the past.
"Yellowstone is both cultural myth and environmental paradigm," Magoc writes. "As such, the region and its people bear a burden of symbolism and responsibility that is global in scope."
The 266-page book that includes 54 historic photographs and illustrations sells for $9.95 in paperback and $19.95 in hardcover. It is available in Montana at local bookstores, or by calling toll-free 1-800-243-9900 with an additional charge for shipping.