Yellowstone: The Creation and Selling of an American Landscape, 1870-1903

Yellowstone: The Creation and Selling of an American Landscape, 1870-1903

Yellowstone: The Creation and Selling of an American Landscape, 1870-1903

Yellowstone: The Creation and Selling of an American Landscape, 1870-1903

Synopsis

Examines the American myths and late-Victorian values behind the movement both to preserve the Yellowstone wilderness and to extract its natural resources--codifying the ultimate American landscape.

Excerpt

Yellowstone. Few American place names ring more hallowed than this, the first national park in the world. Witness the summer of 1988 when millions of people around the world watched horrific televised images of a fiery holocaust of timber laying siege to the park's world famous Grand Canyon, spouting geysers, and rustic hotels. Morbidly fascinated by a good sublime disaster, my eyes were drawn to Yellowstone that summer as well. And, like millions of other outraged taxpayers, I could not help thinking that the quickly formed media consensus about the fire was correct: American resolve and technology should have been able to stop this. Residents and business persons in the region had every right to be angry with incompetent government bureaucrats. Yellowstone would never be-- as, one was to assume, it had always been--"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. As a budding historian of the environment and a tourist myself, I could only hope that this was the case here--that the fire would prove to be less an ecological tragedy for Yellowstone than a public relations fiasco for its managers. This was not, after all, the first piece of American forest to go up in flames; would it not recover like the burned-over Allegheny foothill near my childhood home, albeit more slowly? Didn't an old ecology professor of mine say something in class one day about western lodgepole pine cones needing to burn in order to regenerate? But ecology mattered little in the face of the once-revered, now cremated, image of Yellowstone and its park rangers.

During the national wake held for Yellowstone that fall, I became troubled by these matters of nature and culture. What was it that initially inspired sacred designation and vigilant protection of this archetypically cherished landscape? More unsettling, how was one to reconcile the park's esteemed place of reverence in our national iconography (and the sincere outcry over the fire) with our widespread resignation toward larger environmental degradation? Nature-loving Americans weep over a forest fire surrounding Old . . .

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.