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15 Things You Might Not Know About Yellowstone National Park

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Celebrated for its flora, fauna, geological structures, and sprawling landscapes, Yellowstone National Park is undoubtedly one of the country’s greatest centers of natural beauty. But there's more to this park than Old Faithful—and here are 15 highlights. 

1. YELLOWSTONE IS THE WORLD’S SECOND OLDEST NATIONAL PARK.

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The official date of establishment of Yellowstone National Park was March 1, 1872, making it the first park of its kind to earn the designation in North America. While Yellowstone is sometimes heralded as the oldest national park on earth, it is 96 years younger than Mongolia’s Bogd Khan Uul.

2. HALF OF THE WORLD’S GEOTHERMAL FEATURES ARE LOCATED IN YELLOWSTONE.

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One of the park’s most popular attractions is its collection of geothermal features, an umbrella term that includes geysers, hot springs, fumaroles, mudpots, and travertine terraces. With tens of thousands of such phenomena, Yellowstone is home to more than half of the world’s supply of geothermal features and approximately 75 percent of the world’s geysers. The park has an estimated 1283 geysers spread across nine geyser basins.

3. NOBODY BELIEVED EARLY WITNESSES OF THE GEYSERS.

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John Colter, a member of the Lewis and Clark Expedition, spent the winter of 1807 and '08 on a solo journey through the wilderness of what is now Wyoming. Colter tried to share stories of what he had seen, but details of his travels describing a land of “fire and brimstone” were widely rebuffed as delusions. Almost 50 years later, independent explorer Jim Bridger returned from Yellowstone with accounts of boiling springs and waters sprouting from the ground—his reports met the same skepticism that dogged Colter. 

4. THE LARGEST GEYSER IN THE WORLD LIVES IN YELLOWSTONE (AND IT’S NOT THE ONE YOU’RE THINKING OF).

Old Faithful, located in the Upper Geyser Basin, may be the most famous geyser on the planet, and for good reason: The punctual, easily calculated intervals between eruptions have earned it global celebration. But Old Faithful’s cousin in the Norris Geyser Basin trumps it in terms of sheer size. The Steamboat Geyser, which is capable of producing 300-foot-high eruptions of water, is the tallest active geyser on the planet.

5. THE PARK MAY BE FATAL TO BISON. 

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After more than a century of benign activity, in 2004 the geysers of the Norris Geyser Basin earned a toxic reputation when their emissions were deemed responsible for killing five roaming bison. Park scientists determined that a meteorological anomaly provoked an unusually high—and ultimately fatal—concentration of the basin’s fumes at ground level. Prior to this grisly moment, the last major mass gas fatality was in 1899, when several grizzly bears suffered a similar fate.

6. THAT SAID, THE BISON POPULATION REMAINS INTACT. 

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The Yellowstone grounds house America’s oldest and largest natural herd of bison. 

7. INITIALLY, THE U.S. ARMY WAS STATIONED AT YELLOWSTONE.

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In 1882, avowed nature lover and Civil War hero General Philip Sheridan led an expedition that took him to Yellowstone. While Sheridan was duly impressed with the park’s aesthetic wonder, he was aghast at the presence of monopolist organizations running amok throughout the territory at the expense of the land. After Congress stripped away funding for Yellowstone, he dispatched Captain Moses Harris, a Union soldier who had served under Sheridan and who shared his ecological ideologies, to lead troops to Yellowstone, protecting it against commercial poaching, the spread of wildfire, and maladies of all kinds. The armed forces stood guard over the park until 1918, when the establishment of the National Park Service usurped the military’s involvement with Yellowstone. The rangers that took the soldiers’ positions were known as “spread eagle men.” 

8. THE TERRITORY BOASTS THE LARGEST SUPERVOLCANO IN THE U.S.

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The contiguous United States has more than its share of supervolcanoes—that is, volcanoes capable of producing more than 240 cubic miles of ejecta per eruption—with noteworthy examples living in California and New Mexico. But outweighing the pair is the Yellowstone Caldera: 45 miles long, 34 miles wide, and with a main magma chamber several times the size of the Grand Canyon. Though considered an active supervolcano, the caldera’s last eruption was 640,000 years ago.

9. YELLOWSTONE EXPERIENCES THOUSANDS OF EARTHQUAKES EVERY YEAR.

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A typical year sees between 1000 and 3000 earthquakes hit Yellowstone National Park. In January 2010, for instance, the park sustained 250 quakes in just two days. However, the vast majority of these tremors are so gentle they go completely unnoticed by human visitors.

10. ONE RARE AND MYSTERIOUS FLOWER ONLY GROWS IN YELLOWSTONE. 

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Nowhere in the world but in the lakeshores of Yellowstone National Park does the (aptly named) Yellowstone Sand Verbena grow. What’s particularly strange about the anomaly is that its genetic makeup would suggest that it’s suited to warmer climates. 

11. SOME OF THE MOST PRIMITIVE BACTERIA ON THE PLANET LIVE IN THE PARK. 

Another rare species that calls Yellowstone its home can be found thriving amid the gaseous emissions of the park’s hot springs. A particular strain of microbe, among the most primitive of any extant species, feeds off the area’s plentiful carbon dioxide and hydrogen resources.

12. THE U.S. GOVERNMENT ERADICATED, AND THEN RESTORED, YELLOWSTONE’S WOLF POPULATION.

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In the 1910s, Congress grew nervous about Yellowstone’s hunting wolves. Fearing that the predatory prowess of the park’s lupine population would result in an extinction of the local elk and other ungulates, Congress funded a systematic killing of any and all wolves inhabiting the area. Between 1914 and 1926, the act resulted in the elimination of 136 wolves, rendering Yellowstone virtually free of its apex predator. Unfortunately, Congress hadn’t prepared for the hike in prevalence of sick and lame animals, formerly the easiest targets for preying wolves. 

Forty years later, the government began to have a change of heart. Congress met with biologists concerned about the threat of elk overpopulation, discussing the merits in reintroducing wolves into their former habitat. The debate ended in 1995 when the government began transporting gray wolf packs to the Yellowstone grounds. Data collected in 2005 reflected a healthy recovery of the wolf population in and around the Yellowstone area.

13. YELLOWSTONE IS THE SUBJECT OF A LEGAL ANOMALY. 

All Yellowstone National Park territory falls under the legal jurisdiction of the United States District Court for the District of Wyoming. However, only 96 percent of Yellowstone falls within Wyoming state lines; the remaining four percent is split between Montanan and Idahoan land. This makes Wyoming’s the only district court to oversee land in more than one state. 

14. THE PARK HAS ITS OWN JUDICIAL SYSTEM. 

The previous point is more than just legal trivia. While Yellowstone offers a treasure trove of spectacles that any visitor should make a point to see, the park’s jail isn’t a must-see destination. As of 2006, Yellowstone boasts its own justice system, which includes a courtroom, presiding judge, and four holding cells. Furthermore, major crimes that occur on park grounds fall under the legal jurisdiction of one specifically assigned FBI Agent.

15. THE PARK IS HOME TO THE MOST REMOTE LOCATION IN THE CONTIGUOUS UNITED STATES.

Thirty-two miles separates any road, residence, or establishment from the ironically named Thorofare area, which earns it designation as the most isolated location in all of continental America. While hikers and campers are welcome to explore the grounds, which traverse both Yellowstone National Park and the Teton Wilderness, visitors are forbidden from tarnishing its rustic beauty with electrical devices or automobiles. The only way to get there is by horseback or, if you’ve got the energy, your own two feet.

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25 Wild Facts About Alaska
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Located 500 miles away from the nearest state, there’s likely a lot you haven’t heard about Alaska. Here are 25 facts about the last frontier.

1. Dog mushing is the official state sport.

2. The state flag was designed by a 13-year-old boy. After calling on students throughout the territory to submit their ideas, Alaska ultimately decided on Benny Benson’s scene of the Big Dipper and the North Star in 1927.

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3. Seventeen of the 20 highest peaks in the U.S. are located in Alaska.

4. Some of Alaska’s bizarre moose-specific legislation has included laws against pushing a moose from a plane, viewing a moose from a plane, and giving a moose beer.

5. Haines, Alaska is home to America’s first museum solely dedicated to hammers. Visitors to the Hammer Museum can view their fascinating collections of hammer sculptures, handle-making machinery, and spring-loaded meat tenderizers.

6. Balto is the famous sled dog that’s usually credited with delivering medicine to a remote Alaskan village, but some argue that Togo was the true hero. Before Balto completed the last 55 miles of the journey, Togo pulled the medicine through 200 miles of wind and snow. His stuffed and preserved body is on display at the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race Museum in Wasilla, Alaska.

7. Alaska broke their record high when temperatures reached 100° F in 1915.

8. Their low of -80° F recorded in Alaska’s Endicott Mountains still holds the record for the nation's all-time low.

9. Alaska has more coastline than the other 49 states combined.

10. Because of their long summer days, Alaska is capable of producing some unusually oversized produce. Some notable specimens that have been harvested in recent years include a 35-pound broccoli, a 65-pound cantaloupe, and a 138-pound cabbage.

11. About 1700 miles south of the geographic North Pole lies the Fairbanks suburb of North Pole, Alaska. The town’s famous Santa Claus House gift shop is open year-round, and thousands of letters addressed to Santa are sent to the zip code each year. (A real-life Santa Claus was even elected to City Council.)

12. The Bering Strait that separates Alaska from Russia is around 55 miles wide at its narrowest point. Within it sit the Russian island of Big Diomede and the U.S. island of Little Diomede, which are just two and a half miles apart. So in theory, it would be possible for some Alaskans to see Russia from their houses.

13. Following the attack on Pearl Harbor, Japanese forces bombed and invaded the Aleutian Islands of Alaska. The occupation lasted nearly a year.

14. Moose, caribou, and bear killed by cars in Alaska are considered property of the state [PDF]. When road kill is reported, the carcasses are butchered by volunteers and distributed as food to charity organizations.

15. America’s largest national forest is the Tongass. It’s about three times the size of the runner-up, which is also located in Alaska.

16. Each year, brave Alaskans compete to be crowned the king or queen of their throne in the Fur Rondy Festival outhouse races. Teams outfit the bottoms of their custom-built outhouses with skis and race each other down a two-lane track. In addition to the title of first place, prizes are awarded for the most colorful, best-engineered, and cleanest commodes.

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17. The Thing, John Carpenter’s 1982 horror classic set in Antarctica, was filmed in Alaska.

18. In Barrow, Alaska, the longest night lasts for 67 days. In the summer they make up for it with 82 days of uninterrupted sunlight.

19. If Manhattan had the same population density as Alaska, only 28 people would inhabit the island.

20. There are 107 men for every 100 women in Alaska, the highest male-to-female ratio in the United States.

21. Juneau is America’s only state capital that isn’t accessible by road.

22. In 1867, Russia agreed to sell Alaska to the United States for $7.2 million, which amounted to about two cents an acre.

23. Many hotels in Alaska offer Northern Lights wake-up calls upon request.

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24. The Aleuts, Inupiat, Yuit, Athabascans, Tlingit, and Haida make up the major native groups of Alaska. At more than 14 percent, Alaska has a more concentrated indigenous population than any other state.

25. For years, the small town of Talkeetna, Alaska hosted the annual Moose Dropping Festival. Varnished pieces of numbered moose droppings were dumped from a crane into a parking lot and participants whose corresponding droppings landed closest to the center of a target received cash prizes. The event eventually grew too dangerously large for the town of 850 to handle and was retired in 2009.

This story originally ran in 2015.

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Stones, Bones, and Wrecks
10 Shipwrecks You Can Visit
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UNESCO says that there are no fewer than 3 million shipwrecks lost beneath the waves, their locations just waiting to be discovered. But for tourism purposes, the most interesting shipwrecks are those we already know about—and can visit. These 10 shipwrecks have intriguing stories, and they’re all places where you can step foot, although in some cases a boat (and possibly scuba gear) may be necessary. Remember: Look, don’t touch, since removing artifacts can spoil the chance for valuable archeological research (and is often illegal).

1. BESSIE WHITE, FIRE ISLAND, NEW YORK

The half-buried shipwreck of the Bessie White on Fire Island, New York
Nick Normal, Flickr // CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

The 200-foot schooner Bessie White wrecked off the shore of this barrier island while laden with coal in 1919 or 1922 (historians aren't sure of the exact date). The crew escaped, but the 3-year-old ship ran aground. In October 2012, Superstorm Sandy revealed the battered remnants of the ship's hull, which had been carried to a spot near Skunk Hollow in the Otis Pike Fire Island High Dune Wilderness. The National Park Service sometimes leads hikes to the wreckage, whose location over time provides scientists with clues to how the landscape of Fire Island has changed.

2. MS WORLD DISCOVERER, SOLOMON ISLANDS

The shipwreck of World Discoverer in the Solomon Islands
Philjones828, Wikimedia Commons // CC BY-SA 3.0

A cruise ship built in 1974 that once carried passengers to polar regions, MS World Discoverer ran aground in the Solomon Islands in 2000. No lives were lost—all the passengers escaped via ferry after an uncharted rock pierced the ship's hull. Today the wreckage is still a tourist attraction in Roderick Bay in the Nggela Islands, listing heavily against the shore.

3. PETER IREDALE, WARRENTON, OREGON

The shipwreck of the Peter Iredale in Warrenton, Oregon
Robert Bradshaw, Wikimedia Commons // CC BY 2.5

Now a haunting ruin along the Oregon coast, the Peter Iredale was once a four-masted steel barque sailing vessel owned by British shipping firm Iredale & Porter. In September 1906, the ship left Santa Cruz, Mexico, on its way to Portland, Oregon, where it was supposed to pick up wheat bound for the United Kingdom. But a heavy wind and strong current sent her on to the breakers and she ran aground at Clatsop Beach, with three of her masts snapping from the impact, according to the Oregon History Project. The wreckage became an immediate tourist attraction, and despite being buffeted by the wind and waves ever since, it remains so today. It’s now part of Fort Stevens State Park.

4. MV PANAGIOTIS, ZAKYNTHOS ISLAND, GREECE

Shipwreck of the MV Panagiotis on Navagio Beach, Greece
Maczopikczu, Wikimedia Commons // CC BY 3.0

This shipwreck in the Ionian Islands gives its beach its nicknames: Navagio ("shipwreck") Beach and Smugglers Cove. Supposedly, the Panagiotis, which wrecked there in the early 1980s, was smuggling cigarettes and possibly worse. The rusting hulk of the boat is far from the only thing to see, however; the beach also attracts visitors for its clear turquoise waters and pristine pale sand. It’s also one of the most popular spots for BASE jumping in the world. The cove can be accessed only by boat.

5. SS MAHENO, FRASER ISLAND, AUSTRALIA

Shipwreck of SS Maheno on Fraser Island, Australia
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Once an ocean liner that plied the Tasman Sea between New Zealand and Australia, the SS Maheno was also used as a hospital ship for the New Zealand navy during World War I. She was later sold to a Japanese ship-breaking company for scrap, but broke apart in a cyclone on the journey to Japan in 1935. Since washing ashore on Australia's Fraser Island, the ship has become a major tourist attraction, despite not being particularly safe.

6. SS OREGON, LONG ISLAND SOUND, NEW YORK

Once the fastest liner on the Atlantic, the SS Oregon sunk in 1886 just 18 miles off New York after hitting an unidentified schooner, often thought to be the Charles R. Morse. After an unsuccessful attempt to plug the hole in the hull with canvas, the captain ordered the ship abandoned, even though there were only enough lifeboats for half the ship's 852 passengers. (Fortunately, another ship arrived to save the passengers, and there were no casualties.) Today the wreck is a popular dive site in Long Island Sound. Although the ship's hull and decks have disintegrated over the years, the engine and boilers remain, among other remnants.

7. ULUBURUN, BODRUM, TURKEY

Granted, it's in a museum, but the Uluburun wreck, which sank off the coast of Turkey during the late Bronze Age, is one of the oldest ships ever found—it dates back 3,500 years. A local sponge diver found the wreck of the Uluburun off the southwestern coast of Turkey in the early 1980s. Archeologists then spent 11 years studying the ship, collecting 20 tons of artifacts, including the remains of fruits and nuts, pottery, jewelry, tools, and weapons. No one knows who built the ship or where it was headed, but judging by the amount of gold onboard, someone rich was involved. The remains of the ship and its cargo, as well as a life-sized replica, are kept at the Bodrum Museum of Underwater Archaeology.

8. MV CAPTAYANNIS, RIVER CLYDE, SCOTLAND

Shipwreck of the Captayannis in the River Clyde, Scotland
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Once a Greek sugar-carrying ship, the MV Captayannis has become a de facto home for birds and other wildlife since sinking in Scotland's River Clyde in 1974 during a terrible storm. (The minor collision with a BP oil tanker also didn't help.) The shallow waters around the wreck make it relatively accessible, and the ship seems likely to stay where it is, since its precise ownership is something of a mystery.

9. LA FAMILLE EXPRESS, TURKS AND CAICOS ISLANDS

Shipwreck of the La Famille Express in the Turks and Caicos Islands
Matthew Straubmuller, Flickr // CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

Built in 1952 in Poland, La Famille Express served a large part of its life in the Soviet Navy (where it was known as Fort Shevchenko), before being sold and re-christened with its new name in 1999. It wrecked under mysterious circumstances around 2004. It now lies in just a few feet of water, an attractive landmark for boaters in the Turks and Caicos.

10. EDUARD BOHLEN, NAMIBIA

Shipwreck of the Eduard Bohlen in Namibia
Anagoria, Wikimedia Commons // CC BY 3.0

This wreck is unusual for being buried entirely in the sand—it's now stranded about a quarter mile away from shore. A 2272-ton cargo ship that wrecked off Namibia's Skeleton Coast in 1909 in thick fog, the ship has since drifted so far from the water it's now completely land-locked.

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