‘Wonderlandscape’ tells story of Yellowstone National Park


“Wonderlandscape: Yellowstone National Park and the Evolution of an American Cultural Icon” (Pegasus Books), by John Clayton

John Clayton explores the vast historical and cultural history of one of the most popular national parks to uncover why Yellowstone is so beloved in “Wonderlandscape: Yellowstone National Park and the Evolution of an American Cultural Icon.”

Clayton visited Yellowstone National Park for the first time in 1988, and he immediately was captivated by the area’s history, geology and wildlife. Yellowstone is the poster child for the National Park Service, and it has been the focal point for debates about climate change and wildlife management for some time. The history is vast and surprising, and Clayton takes several key moments in the life of Yellowstone to follow its growth and why it continues to be the jewel of the system.

In the early years of the United States, the first explorers of the West heard stories about a land with canyons, geysers and waterfalls that sounded too good to be true. It wasn’t until Thomas Moran returned from a trip with paintings of what he saw that the unique region actually lived up to the rumors. Soon after the land was set aside as a park, but since there was no National Park Service, it was initially an area where everything from people building houses to a zoo could be seen. The wild animals were part of the experience and steps were taken to make them part of a show.

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The book includes elements of the park’s history from its initial creation in an area where states hadn’t been established yet to the present, where the folks who work there have to struggle with the dichotomy of keeping the land pristine while also keeping the visitors happy. In 11 chapters, Clayton examines key moments along with the colorful cast of characters who helped shape Yellowstone as we know it today. (One of them is a cartoon character that debuted on television in 1958.)

The author has crafted a book that will appeal to national park aficionados and fans of Yellowstone National Park, and by breaking down the pivotal moments in bite-size chunks, he’s also written a terrific page-turning experience.