Yellowstone National Park Facts and Surprises

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Yellowstone National Park facts

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As the first national park in the world, Yellowstone National Park has delighted visitors for well over a century. With a wealth of geological history and an abundance of plant and animal life, there's a lot to know about the park. AOL Travel presents important Yellowstone National Park facts, some of which might surprise you.

Where is Yellowstone National Park?

This U.S. park is unique in that it encompasses parts of Northwest Wyoming, Northeast Idaho, and Southwest Montana. It's surrounded by several national forests: Targhee National Forest in Idaho, Gallatin National Forest in Montana, and Teton National Forest in Wyoming. The closest small towns are Gardiner, Montana to the north of the park and Ashton, Idaho to the southwest. The Yellowstone entrance in Gardiner remains the only year-round entrance to the park.

How many people visit the park every year?

According to the National Park Service Statistics Office, Yellowstone has seen an average of 3,047,914 visitors per year over the last 10 years. The park set new visitation records last June, July, August, and September. In fact, 2010 was another record year in attendance for the park with 3,640,185 total visitors.

What is the source of Yellowstone's geothermal activity?

The Yellowstone Caldera - the largest volcanic system in North America - is responsible for the fumaroles, geysers, and springs at Yellowstone National Park. Some more interesting facts about this "supervolcano":

• The ground above the caldera rises and falls several inches or more as a magma chamber beneath fills and drains. This past January, Yellowstone experienced a significant bout of uplifting.

• Scientists have determined that massive explosive eruptions (and thus the "supervolcano" label) have occurred at least three times: 2.1 million, 1.2 million, and 640,000 years ago. Smaller eruptions have also occurred, most recently about 70,000 years ago.

• Part of the caldera is filled with water in the form of Yellowstone Lake, North America's largest freshwater lake above 7,000 feet.

• The Earth's crust is only approximately two to three miles thick in Yellowstone National Park, compared to the nearly 30 miles of thickness in most regions of the world.

What forms of life can be found in in the park?

The Park Service reports that as many as 322 different species of birds have been spotted in the seven different species of conifers located in the park. Elk, moose, mule deer, and pronghorn also inhabit the region. There are also threatened and protected animals in the park: Canada lynx, grizzly bear, and gray wolf. Recent increases in the grizzly bear and gray wolf populations have created some controversy about their protection status.

The most surprising form of life to be found at the park is the thermoacidophile, a hardy type of archaea that shares similarities to bacteria and lives in Yellowstone's hot sulfurous springs. Many scientists believe that these archaea are the ancestors of the world's first cellular organisms.

For more Yellowstone National Park facts, take a look at the Yellowstone fact sheet at NPS.gov. And don't forget to check for available flights to Yellowstone. (West Yellowstone's IATA code is "WYS" and only operates from June to September. You can also fly through Yellowstone Regional Airport in Cody, WY, IATA code "YRA" year-round.)

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