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Yellowstone Officials: It’s Elk Calving Season, Don’t Put One In Car

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By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily

Yellowstone National Park officials are reminding visitors that elk calving season will soon begin and to be aware of the animals while in the park.

As Cowboy State Daily has noted before, animals do not want to be hugged or be our friends (as disappointing as this might be). And being more than usually aware of that fact, the National Park Service is offering up a few helpful tips about how to be not quite as friendly with the park’s natural residents.

Cow elk are much more aggressive towards people during calving season, and may charge or kick. Visitors are advised to look around corners before exiting buildings or walking around blind spots, since cow elk may bed their calves near buildings and cars.

If a person sees an elk calf by itself, they should leave it alone. Really. Do not put the cuddly baby animal in your car because it looks cold. Because mama elk is probably nearby and will not be amused.

Selfies with animals are not recommended, and neither is sneaking up on animals.

People should stay at least 25 yards away from elk at all times. If an elk charges, find shelter in a vehicle or behind a tall, sturdy barrier as quickly as possible.

Calving season runs from May to late June and calves usually weigh around 30 pounds at birth. Full grown bull elk are around 700 pounds and stand 5 feet high at the shoulder, while cow elk weigh around 500 pounds and are shorter.

There are usually around 10,000 to 20,000 elk in Yellowstone during the summer season. Elk are the most abundant large mammal found in the park.

This is an annual warning by the park, but as we have seen before, there is always some tourist that ignores the rules and attempts to pet an animal. It usually doesn’t end well.

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Could 2021 Be A Record Year In Yellowstone?

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By Mark Davis, Powell Tribune

A year ago, Yellowstone National Park leaders made headlines when they delayed opening the park due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Initially, there were some who doubted the park would open for the season at all. And when officials announced the eventual opening in May, there were worries positive cases spread by tourists streaming in could overwhelm medical services in gateway communities and complicate supply shortages at area retailers.

However, many efforts to encourage social distancing and discussions with local health officials helped the park achieve a remarkable record: not one Park Service employee tested positive for the novel coronavirus until late September and there were only 62 cases the entire year (19 park employees, 42 concessionaire employees and one subcontractor). The moves to mitigate the pandemic paid off, said Yellowstone Superintendent Cam Sholly.

“I attribute our success to a phenomenal team and partners, great mitigation and luck,” he said in a Thursday interview. “The wheels kind of wobbled in late September and October when we had quite a few cases. But overall, considering we hosted almost 4 million visitors in the middle of a pandemic … people should be really proud of what we did last year.”

Considering there were almost no international visitors in 2020, the park did well, finishing the year with 3,806,305 visits. That was down 5% from 2019, but still the sixth-most visits in the history of America’s first national park.

As Americans began searching for socially distanced activities, they headed to the great outdoors in record numbers. By August, the crowds began piling in through Yellowstone’s gates. It was the second-highest August on record and the following two months broke attendance records.

“Now what we’re seeing is September is busier than June was in most years. And October is extremely busy,” Sholly said. “So we’ve gone from three or four months of being really busy to five to six months of being really busy. That’s great for the economics of the surrounding communities, but it’s a major challenge that we all need to figure out moving forward.”

Sholly is gearing the staff up for a record-setting year. “I think this year is gonna be a real test. I predict it will be the busiest on record. And ironically. I mean, look at COVID last year: Who would have thought that we’d be having this conversation a year ago?” 

Part of the Park Service’s plans include pushing for high levels of vaccinations. More than 900 employees have already been vaccinated, Sholly said, and anyone working in the park who wants to be vaccinated can do so in the next six to eight weeks. He said much of that was thanks to Wyoming officials.

“I commend the governor and Park County for being there for us,” Sholly said.

Reservations for gateway communities near the park’s East Entrance are coming in quickly, said Claudia Wade, executive director of the Park County Travel Council.

“I’m very optimistic,” she said, but cautiously so. “Having a record year in the park doesn’t mean record year for gateway communities.”

Due to restrictions on travel there will be fewer seasonal workers, motor coach operations are currently unsure of their plans and there are still restrictions on employee housing and hotel availability, Wade said. There will also be few, if any, international visitors.

“It will mostly be domestic tourism. On the other hand, we can’t go anywhere either,” she said. “I continue to encourage people to be safe — COVID-19 is not behind us by any means — but I still think this year will be considerably better than the last.”

Visits to National Park properties have increased by 50 million since 2013, including a streak of top 10 attendance years in Yellowstone. Meanwhile, the number of employees in the park has been stagnant for more than a decade, which Sholly said will need to change.

“If you want to host more people, you’re going to need to add the staff to do it,” he said. The superintendent noted that, if an increase in visitors leads to Yellowstone’s resources being degraded, that will ultimately have a negative impact on the Cody area as well. 

“I think, especially if you start looking at what types of impacts more visitors have on the park, one way to mitigate that is with more staff,” Sholly said. “If you don’t have that staff, what options do you look at in order to protect and prevent and mitigate resource damage?”

Several of Yellowstone’s entrances are already open to wheeled vehicles, while the East Entrance is set to open Friday, May 7. The route from the Northeast Entrance through Cooke City, Montana, and down the Chief Joseph Scenic Byway is set to officially open Thursday, May 13.

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Automated Yellowstone Shuttles Arrive At Park; Look Like Aquariums With Wheels

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By Jimmy Orr, Cowboy State Daily

Although it would be simple to draw a parallel between the new automated shuttles in Yellowstone which will debut next month to the Stephen King movie “Maximum Overdrive”, where demonic cars and trucks run over people for fun, the two situations are probably not similar.

While the movie and the national park both have automated vehicles, it is unlikely that the shuttles in Yellowstone will become possessed and start attacking people.

That would be a PR problem the National Park Service could do without.

Officials at Yellowstone National Park announced the first two automated shuttles arrived at the park on Monday and they don’t look ominous. One could say they look kind of goofy. Like a cross between a giant 1976 Pacer and an aquarium.

The looks of these “bubble shuttles” should calm those who are nervous about automated vehicles.  The late artist Bob Ross might call these vehicles “happy”.

Besides, it won’t be like the Daytona 500 where shuttles are autonomously racing each other to drop patrons off. The automated vehicles are low-speed, electric, and will be traveling around pre-established routes.

The park service said there will be several weeks of testing onsite prior to the launch and all crashes must be immediately reported to law enforcement.

“A robust plan will also be used to train all park-wide first responders on operations that come up during the pilot,” said a spokesperson with the park service.

Teams will spend the next month training, mapping, and preparing for the launch on May 24.

The park service said a successful pilot would ensure that “safety comes first”.

That would likely mean that if the program — which ends on August 31 — drew even slight comparisons to the Stephen King movie, it would not be deemed successful.

In fact, none of the press materials even mention the movie — which is a smart PR move.

“A primary goal of this project is to understand how this technology operates in parks, so we will be collecting data throughout the pilot about ridership, speeds, stop times, attendant overrides, and much more,” the park service said.

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Yellowstone Officials Prepare For Three Major Road Projects In 2021

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By Wendy Corr, Cowboy State Daily

They say there are two seasons in Yellowstone – winter and road construction.

Even though Yellowstone National Park is set to open its gates beginning April 16, preparations are already being made for three major road construction projects will occur in the park this year.

One project will force the closure of the highway between Tower-Roosevelt and Canyon Junction, while the other two projects will cause delays and/or traffic pattern changes — one at the Old Faithful Overpass Bridge and the other at the North Entrance.

Morgan Warthin, Public Affairs Specialist for Yellowstone, asked for patience from motorists who are visiting the “upper loop” of the Park this summer.

“Last year, the road from Tower-Roosevelt to Canyon Village was closed — and we ask for visitors’ patience, because that road again will be closed this year for road construction,” she said. 

This is the second year of the project that will widen the road, provide additional or improved pullouts, create a larger, safer parking area at Tower Fall General Store and improve the Tower Fall’s trail and overlook. The project’s anticipated completion date is May of 2022.

But Warthin added that with the closure of that road comes an additional inconvenience.

“That means access to all of the trails around the Mount Washburn area are also closed because of the road construction,” she said.

However, Yellowstone officials point out that the Park has more than 1,000 miles of hiking trails – in lieu of Mount Washburn, hikers could consider Bunsen Peak near Mammoth Hot Springs, Purple Mountain north of Madison Junction or Avalanche Peak along the East Entrance Road.

The two other road construction projects in Yellowstone are finishing up and are expected to be completed later this year.

According to park officials, the North Entrance is not equipped to meet the challenges of increasing visitation and traffic.

The construction project there will improve traffic and pedestrian flow. The project is being funded by the Federal Highways Administration, Yellowstone Forever, the National Park Foundation and fees collected in the park.

While no delays are expected with the North Entrance construction project, the same is not true for the Old Faithful Overpass Bridge. 

Motorists are cautioned that delays up to 15 minutes could occur to accommodate one-lane travel over the overpass bridge. However, travelers will be able to access Old Faithful and the Upper Geyser Basin, lodges, stores, clinic and gas station.

Park officials urge motorists to drive slowly through road construction and be alert to workers, heavy equipment, wildlife and other hazards.

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Yellowstone Looking Forward to Record-Breaking 2021 Season

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By Wendy Corr, Cowboy State Daily

Coming on the heels of one of Yellowstone National Park’s most popular years, park officials are preparing for another busy tourism season in 2021.

Yellowstone is popular any year — but last year’s coronavirus pandemic and travel restrictions left people looking for outdoor destinations, making the wide open spaces and natural splendor of Yellowstone prime selections. 

Last year’s visitation broke several monthly records, said Morgan Warthin, a public affairs specialist for the park, and officials expect the trend to continue.

“But to underscore last year’s really busy visitation, last year, September and October were busier – our busiest months on record,” she said. “We anticipate high visitation this year as well, and we’re getting ready for it.”

Roads in Yellowstone will begin to open April 16, less than two weeks from now. But the pandemic still casts a shadow on activities in the Park.

Warthin said all national parks are under a mask mandate this year, but as an improvement over last year, staff in Yellowstone will be able to conduct their Ranger programs and hope to open visitor centers in mid-summer.

“We had last year to refine our mitigation protocols and procedures,” she explains. “So we can take that experience into this year and apply some of those lessons learned.”

What remains, though, is restrictions on bus traffic — which Rick Hoeninghausen with Xanterra Parks and Resorts, manager of the park’s lodging and other amenities, said will affect visitation.

“There’s a limit to how many passengers you can have in a vehicle in the park, and that’s 10 – that includes the driver and the tour director. So you know, if they can’t come there, they’ll be canceling to here, and many of them have already.”

But Warthin stressed that the Park Service is working closely with motorcoach industry leaders.

“No decisions have been made yet,” she pointed out. “But we are certainly hopeful to re-engage with that industry.”

Despite the limits on buses, the people are coming — but due to the pandemic, opening dates for some lodging properties have shifted.

For example, Grant Village was going to open May 28 – but now it won’t open until June 18. Old Faithful Inn was going to open May 7 — now, according to Hoeninghausen, it won’t open until June 4. 

“And when it does open, it’s only got the East Wing, so about 80 of 329 rooms,” he said.

That means that Hoeninghausen is already fielding calls from visitors whose reservations have to be modified.

“We have thousands of guests that potentially are impacted, the ones that are arriving between April 30 and June 1,” he said.

Hoeninghausen says the staggered and delayed opening for lodging properties and restaurants relates to the Park Service wanting to not just “go full barrel” into summer, but instead, to protect the health and safety of employees and guests. 

But he added that so far, the vast majority of visitors have been able to rebook later in the summer. Adding to the craziness, Hoeninghausen said, is a new reservation system that will put a pause on bookings for the next few days.

“That (updating) process will run into next week, but hopefully, we’re back up and running and open to the public again by Wednesday,” he said.

And for those who aren’t able to change their plans, Rick said he’s encouraging them to look at the gateway communities for lodging.

“I mean, any year, we’re going to eventually fill up anyway,” he pointed out. “In fact, our website has links to the [gateway community] chambers of commerce.” 

And he noted out that no matter where they stay, visitors can still have that western experience.

“The park doesn’t change,” he said. “Yellowstone is still Yellowstone, bison are still roaming. Geysers are still going. But at the end of the day, guests can still find a place near the park, if not in it, and still have the same experience they would have had in terms of the wildlife and the natural features of Yellowstone.” 

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Yellowstone Proposes To Add Fiber Optic Lines

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By CJ Baker, Powell Tribune

Yellowstone National Park’s telecommunications system currently consists of an array of outdated antennas and dishes scattered across the park’s backcountry and developed areas. Park officials are hoping to trade them in for fiber optic cable.

Under a proposal now out for public comment, the National Park Service would allow a private company to install 187 miles of fiber optics along the park’s major roads. While the project would not expand the areas where cellphone and internet service is available, it would dramatically improve the coverage already in place. Adding the cabling would also allow the Park Service to remove five 28-foot-high microwave radio reflectors from mountaintops and the backcountry.

Diamond Communications LLC, a company based in New Jersey, would construct and maintain the fiber network, building it over a series of three construction seasons. Most of the work would be completed in the first two years, with up-to-30-minute traffic delays expected.

When finished, the network would run along almost all of the park’s Grand Loop Road, stretching from the North Entrance to the South Entrance while hitting all of the developed areas — from Tower Falls to Fishing Bridge to Grant Village. Almost all of the cable would be buried just off the roadway, creating few new disturbances to the soil.

The Park Service says it would put various restrictions in place to minimize the impacts to travelers and to Yellowstone’s flora and fauna. As just a couple examples, the contractor may be required to use rubber-tracked vehicles and no trees could be removed during raptor and songbird nesting seasons.

Diamond Communications would recover its construction costs by leasing the fiber optic infrastructure to service providers, such as cellphone companies.

“The proposed action may also lead to requests by service providers to construct cell towers in developed areas or to add equipment to existing infrastructure,” the Park Service acknowledged in an environmental assessment. However, it said any such requests would be evaluated at the time they’re received, stressing in a news release that the fiber optic proposal itself “would not expand authorized cellular phone coverage areas.”

The assessment notes that some Yellowstone visitors come to the park to get away from it all, but says that, even after improvements are made, “the very limited data services provide excellent opportunities for visitors to disconnect.”

At present, the Park Service suggests that Yellowstone’s developed areas are a little too disconnected.

“Due to the immense size and relative isolation of the park, employees rely heavily on telecommunications equipment and technology to effectively communicate,” the document says.


The Mammoth Hot Springs area already has fiber service, but the bandwidth available in most of the other developed parts of Yellowstone is “profoundly inadequate,” the assessment says. Currently, the roughly 40-year-old microwave radio reflectors allow 240 Mbps of bandwidth to be shared between nine areas. To put that in context, a single smartphone requires an average of 5-12 Mbps of bandwidth — meaning it can theoretically take only a couple dozen people to tie up the system. And Yellowstone hosts thousands, not dozens, at any given time.

Beyond the millions of visitors who travel to Yellowstone each year, roughly 4,000 people work in the park, either for the government or for private concessionaires. Park officials say the telecommunications equipment now in place can’t keep up. The system is unreliable, they say — going offline three times in the past five years — and it’s often overwhelmed by data requests in the summer months. That impacts emails, phone calls and credit card transactions at park stores and can even affect 911 calls and emergency responses.

In a 2016 survey, just over half of Yellowstone visitors rated their connectivity as either poor or nonexistent. Those working in the park, meanwhile, report having a hard time getting online for banking, classes, healthcare, shopping and video chats, text messaging and email.

“Many previous employees have described the feeling of digital isolation as one of the primary reasons for choosing not to return to Yellowstone,” the assessment says. 

While services have been upgraded in Mammoth and Canyon Village, the connectivity in Lake, Grant Village and Old Faithful “continue to be virtually inoperable throughout the day and night,” the document says.

Park officials say that also leaves them with no good way to communicate with visitors about road closures, delays and other time-sensitive information; the assessment indicates the Park Service would like to offer “interactive educational tools” like phone apps as well.

According to the Park Service, the 57-page environmental assessment cost approximately $200,000 to produce — including $161,452 paid to an outside contractor.

Public comments on the fiber optics proposal are being accepted through April 21. To submit a comment or learn more, visit

A final decision is expected this summer.

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Yellowstone Doubles, Triples, Even Quadruples Fishing and Boating Fees

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On its face, the quadrupling of some permit fees in Yellowstone may seem surprising but considering the last time some of these fees were increased President Clinton was in his first year of office, that sting might be somewhat relieved.

The new fee schedule was announced Wednesday by the park and the highest increase was for 7-day boating permits. The price of the fees for both motorized and non-motorized boating permits quadrupled, going from $5 to $20 for non-motorized boats and $10 to $40 for motorized boats. The last time these fees were increased was 1993.

Fishing fees were hiked as well, going from $18 to $40 for a 3-day permit, while a 7-day permit saw an increase from $25 to $55.  Season permits went from $40 to $75. The last time these fees were increased was 2012.

Yellowstone officials said the increase in costs was needed to guarantee funding and provide a sustained revenue source that will contribute to continued efforts to reduce non-native lake trout and increase the park’s aquatic invasive species inspection capacity.

“We continue to make substantial progress in our native fish restoration efforts in Yellowstone Lake and many other areas of the park,” said Superintendent Cam Sholly. “Efforts to restore native fish in Yellowstone Lake remain one of our highest conservation priorities.”

Some Yellowstone enthusiasts were less than pleased at the news of the permit hikes, blaming President Biden and the Democratic Party for the increases.

“What a joke! Democrats are in control!! Stick it to everyone!!” said Ed Bennett on the park’s Facebook page.

“That’s the Biden way,” said commenter Ed Stringer.

Other commenters took the increases in stride. Robin Krause urged people to put the costs in perspective.

“Wow, really shocked that people are complaining about the price but yet most people will spend $5 for a Starbucks coffee, $10 for a fast food meal, $100 for dinner for two. $1,000 for a cell phone,” she said.

The park also announced anglers will be able to purchase fishing permits online via for the upcoming season in addition to in-park stores and surrounding communities beginning this spring.

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First Grizzly Bear Of 2021 Spotted In Yellowstone

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By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily

Yellowstone National Park has documented its first bear sighting of the year, it announced Tuesday.

On Saturday, a pilot supporting park wildlife studies observed a grizzly from the air. The pilot saw the bear interact with wolves at a carcass in the northern part of the park.

While this is the first bear sighting of the 2021, tracks have been seen on several occasions in the last two weeks. This comes almost one week later than the first sighting of 2020, which occurred on March 7.

Male grizzlies come out of hibernation in early March. Female with cubs usually emerge in April and early May.

“When bears first emerge from hibernation, they look for carcasses at lower elevations and spring vegetation in thermal meadows and south-facing slopes or nourishment,” said Kerry Gunther, the park’s bear management biologist.

While this may be good news for wildlife enthusiasts, it may bring up different emotions for people who have been attacked by bears like the Choteau, Montana, man who nearly had his head ripped off by a grizzly last July.

Shannun Rammel said he heard there was a grizzly bear around his property and when he saw the door of an abandoned shed open, he snuck up to it only to find the bear he was looking for. The bear was not impressed and subsequently attacked Rammel.

If it wasn’t for his quick-thinking wife who tried to run over the bear in her truck, he may not have lived through the incident.

When bears emerge from hibernation, they look for food and often feed on elk and bison that died over the winter. Sometimes, bears will react aggressively while feeding on carcasses.

All of Yellowstone National Park is bear country: from the deepest backcountry to the boardwalks around Old Faithful.

The chances for encounters between bears and visitors are slim right now — the park’s winter season ended Monday and it is not scheduled to open for the spring season until mid-April and early May.

Nonetheless, the park is reminding any visitors to protect themselves and the bears by following certain guidelines:

  • Prepare for a bear encounter.
  • Carry bear spray, know how to use it, and make sure it’s accessible.
  • Stay alert.
  • Hike or ski in groups of three or more, stay on maintained trails, and make noise. Avoid hiking at dusk, dawn, or at night.
  • Do not run if you encounter a bear.
  • Stay 100 yards (91 m) away from black and grizzly bears. Use binoculars, a telescope, or telephoto lens to get a closer look.
  • Store food, garbage, barbecue grills, and other attractants in hard-sided vehicles or bear-proof food storage boxes.
  • Report bear sightings and encounters to a park ranger immediately.
  • Learn more about bear safety.

While firearms are allowed in the park, the discharge of a firearm by visitors is a violation of park regulations.

Bear spray has proven effective in deterring bears defending cubs and food sources. It can also reduce the number of bears killed by people in self-defense.

The park restricts certain visitor activities in locations where there is a high density of elk and bison carcasses and lots of bears.

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Organization Working to Create Yellowstone Bison Refuge to Increase Herds

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By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily

The nonprofit arm of Yellowstone National Park is working to expand a refuge and transfer area for bison to protect them from potential slaughter or hazing operations.

Yellowstone Forever is attempting to raise $250,000 by June to create the refuge area, which would allow Yellowstone National Park to increase the number of bison it is able to quarantine and make eligible for transfer.

Yellowstone quarantines bison to make sure they are free of brucellosis, a disease that can be transmitted to cattle and cause heifers to abort thier calves.

Bison without the disease are to be used to establish new tribal and conservation herds across North America through the foundation’s Bison Conservation and Transfer Program.

The program is designed to protect the bison, support the culture and economy of Native Americans and preserve the unique Yellowstone bison genome.

Yellowstone’s facility for quarantining bison and ensuring they are disease-free is currently at capacity. The park is unable to take in any more bison this coming winter.

The expansion of Yellowstone’s quarantine facility will increase the percentage of quarantine-eligible bison that can enter the program, the foundation said.

Currently, about 75% of bison eligible to be placed in the quarantine program are sent to slaughter due to lack of space. The expansion will reduce that number to 35%.

Capacity will increase from 100 animals entering the program to 250 animals over three-year intervals and the number of bison transferred to new areas each year will increase on average from 30 to 80 animals. 

By 2023 this could result in almost 400 wild Yellowstone bison being diverted from slaughter. By 2024 these bison will be ready for transport to other tribal or conservation herds.

Since the program began in 2016, 104 Yellowstone bison have been certified brucellosis-free and transferred to the Fort Peck Indian Reservation to complete assurance testing.

The park diverted an additional 105 bison from slaughter in March 2020 by placing them in the limited capacity facilities in and just outside the park.

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Yellowstone Eruption Would Mean Lava, Not Armageddon, Scientist Says

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By Tom Ninnemann, Cowboy State Daily

A volcanic eruption in the Yellowstone caldera would not lead to “Armageddon” in the West as is commonly believed, according to the scientist in charge of the Yellowstone Volcano Observatory.

Mike Poland, in his monthly update on activity in the caldera, said these lava flows in Yellowstone aren’t that common. They happen only once every few tens of thousands of years.

“A big misconception is that if Yellowstone were to erupt, it would be Armageddon — that only explosive eruptions are possible. And that’s just not true. In fact, the most common form of activity at Yellowstone is a lava flow,” Poland said.

The last big explosive eruption at Yellowstone was 631,000 years ago and resulted in the caldera that contains the world’s first national park, Poland said.

The last eruption of note, though, happened around 174,000 years ago, creating what is now the West Thumb of Yellowstone Lake. There have been 60 smaller eruptions since, the last of which occurred around 70,000 years ago.

Since that time, there have been about 20 or more lava flows that have occurred in the caldera region, he said. These lava flows are very thick, pasty rhyolite flows, not like the fast-moving flows seen from Hawaiian volcanic activity. 

The flows don’t move very quickly, but they are huge, Poland said. 

He added, however, that lava flows are still rare, with the last one occurring about 70,000 years ago. 

If you want to see the results of lava flows, they are easy to find as they are located in some of the most popular parts of the Park.

“If you stand in the Old Faithful area, what you’re seeing all around you are some of these really great big lava flows,” Poland said. “And if you want to see into the guts of these lava flows, go to the Grand Canyon of Yellowstone.”

Poland previously said that even if the volcano erupted on a schedule, the math didn’t work out to it erupting “soon.” Really, the math showed the volcano wouldn’t erupt again for another 100,000 years.

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