Arriving in Wonderland: Legends and Landscapes

By: Sonya Carrizales

When I first got the news that I was chosen for an on-site internship in Yellowstone, it didn’t feel real to me. Living and working in Yellowstone was merely a pipe dream for me, so when that daydream materialized, I was very excited and somewhat speechless. Ever since I’ve arrived in Gardiner, MT, right outside the North entrance of Yellowstone National Park, that feeling of wonder and disbelief has persisted.

Yellowstone River in Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone

I could not have imagined the outlandish tales I would soon hear or incredible sights I would soon see. In my first week alone, I’ve heard stories of early tourists feeding black bears and stealing natural resources from the park while learning the ins and outs of my new position. I got the chance to see spectacular sights such as the Lower Falls at Canyon when my supervisor took me on a full-day tour through Yellowstone. The guided tour helped me contextualize where different expeditions, raids, and events took place. I was able to visit and revisit Yellowstone’s most prominent sites while my supervisor recounted the histories of early explorers, historic buildings, and wildlife populations that have survived from near extinction. We talked extensively about the bison population in particular, as my mom and I saw hundreds of Bison breeding in Lamar Valley the weekend before.

Bull(male) bison. Northern Bison herd, Lamar Valley

Calves (baby) bison, also known as “Red dogs” pictured. Northern  Bison herd, Lamar Valley

Delving into events that led to Yellowstone’s creation, I read the book Empire of Shadows by George Black to better understand the key players in the establishment of our first National Park. I learned how mystical landscapes of the greater Yellowstone area were traversed by early pathfinders, “civilized” by self-appointed vigilantes, and ultimately conquered by the U.S. Cavalry after the violent Indian Wars. At this point, I have a firm grasp on the history leading up to Yellowstone’s inception, so I’m going to shift to learning about specific women who were influential in early Yellowstone history. I look forward to continuing to become a subject matter expert in the topic of Women’s History at Yellowstone National Park!

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