The National Park, besides the extraordinary geyser and hot-spring formations exhibits the grand scenery of the Yellowstone Falls and Canyon. The Yellowstone River has its source in Bridger Lake, to the southeast of the Park, and flows northward in a bread valley between generally snow-capped mountain ridges of volcanic origin, with some of the peaks rising over eleven thousand feet. It is a sluggish stream, with heavily timbered banks, much of the initial valley being marshy, and it flows into the Yellowstone Lake, the largest sheet of water at a high elevation in North America. This lake has bays in-dented in its western and southern shores, giving the irregular outline somewhat the appearance of a human hand, and there are five of them, called the ” Thumb” and the “Fingers.” The thumb of this distorted hand is thicker than its length, the forefinger is detached and shrivelled, the middle finger has also been badly treated, and the much swollen little finger -is the biggest of all, thus making a very demoralized hand. The trail eastward over from the Upper Fire-hole geyser Basin comes out on the West Thumb of the lake, mounting the Continental Divide on the way, and crossing it twice as it makes a curious loop to the northward, the second crossing being at eighty-five hundred feet elevation, whence the trail descends to the West Thumb. Yellowstone Lake is at seventy- seven hundred and forty feet elevation, and covers about one hundred and fifty square miles, having a hundred miles of coast-line. The scenery is tame, the shores being usually gentle slopes, with much marsh and pine woods. Islands dot the blue waters, and waterfowl frequent the marshes. The most elevated portion of the immediate environment is Flat Mountain, on the southwestern side, rising five hundred feet, but beyond the eastern shore are some of the highest peaks of the Park, exceeding eleven thousand feet. Hot springs adjoin the West Thumb, and there is an actual geyser crater in the lake itself. Towards the northern end the shores gradually contract into the narrow and shallow Yellowstone River, which flows towards the northwest after first leaving the lake, having occasional hot springs, geysers, paint pots and steam jets at work, with large adjacent surfaces of geyserite and sulphur. The chief curiosity in operation is the Giant’s Cauldron, boiling furiously, and with a roar that can be heard far away. The pretty Alum Creek is crossed, its waters, thus tainted, giving the name. South of this the Yellowstone is generally placid, winding for a dozen miles sluggishly through prairie and timbered hills, but now it contracts and rushes for a mile down rapids and over pretty cascades to the Upper Fall.
Restricted to a width of but eighty feet, the river shoots far over this fall, the current being thrown outward, indicating there must be room to pass behind it. The fall is one hundred and twenty feet, and suddenly turning a right angle at its foot, the stream of beautiful green passes through a not very deep canyon. The appearance of the surrounding cliffs is quite Alpine, though the rocks forming the cascade constantly suffer from erosion. About a, half-mile below is the great Lower Falls of the Yellowstone.. Before reaching it, a little stream comes into the river over the Crystal Fall, about eighty feet high, rushing down a gorge forming a perfect grotto in the side of the canyon, extending some distance under the overhanging rocks. The surface of the plateau gradually ascends as the Lower Falls are approached, while the river bed descends, and this makes a deep canyon, brilliantly colored, generally a light yellow (thus naming the river), but in many portions white, like marble, with patches of orange, the whole being streaked and spotted with the dark-gray rocks, whose sombre color in this region is produced by atmospheric action. The river rushes to the brink of the Lower Fall, and where it goes over, the current is not over a hundred feet wide, the de-scent of the cataract being about three hundred feet, and the column of falling waters dividing into separate white streaks, which are lost in clouds of spray before reaching the bottom. Only a small amount of water usually goes over, about twelve hundred cubic feet in a second. Before the plunge the water forms a basin of dark-green color, and both blue and green tints mingle with the prevailing white of the cascade. Towards sunset, when viewed from below, there are admirable rainbow effects.. The river is quite narrow as it flows away along the bottom of the canyon, which now becomes deep and large. The grand view of this beautiful picture is from Point Lookout, a half-.mile below the falls. Unlike any other of the world’s great waterfalls, this cascade, while a part, ceases to be the chief feature of the scene. It is the vivid coloring and remarkable formation of the sides of the canyon that make the chief impression. These change as the sun gives light and shadow, the morning differing from noon and noon from night. It is impossible to reproduce or properly describe the beautiful hues in this wonderful picture. The prevailing tint is a light yellow, almost sulphur color, with veins of white marble and bright red streaked through it. The colors blend admirably, while the cascade in the background seems enclosed in a setting of chocolate-brown rocks, contrasting picturesquely with the brighter foreground. Throughout the grand scene, great rocky columns and pinnacles arise, their brilliant hues maintained to the tops, and the scattered pines clinging to these huge columnar formations give a green tinge to parts of the picture. The debris, forming an inclined base about half-way down, is colored as brilliantly as the rocks above, from which it has fallen. In the view over the can-yon from Point Lookout, the contracted white streak of the cascade above the spray cloud is but a small part of the background, while the river below is only a narrow green ribbon, edged by these brilliant hues. Some distance farther down the canyon, another out-look at Inspiration Point gives a striking view from an elevation fifteen hundred feet above the river of the gorgeous coloring of the upper canyon.
This grand Canyon of the Yellowstone extends, as the river flows, a distance of about twenty-four miles. It is a depression in a volcanic plateau elevated about eight thousand feet above the sea, and gradually declining towards the northern end of the can-yon. Above the Upper Fall the river level is almost at the top of the plateau, and the falls and rapids de-press the stream bed about thirteen hundred feet. About midway along the canyon, on the western side, is Washburne Mountain, the surface from it declining in both directions, so that there the canyon is deepest, measuring twelve hundred feet. Across the top, the width varies from four hundred to sixteen hundred yards, the angle of slope down to the bottom being fully 45 °, and often much steeper, in some cases almost perpendicular where the top width is narrowest. This Grand Canyon is the beautiful beginning, as it were, of the largest river in the world,the Missouri and the Mississippi. Upon the trail in the southern part of the National Park which goes over from the Firehole River to the West Thumb, and at quite an elevation upon the Continental Divide, there is a quiet little sheet of water, having two small streams flowing from its opposite sides. To the eastward a babbling brook goes down into the West Thumb of the Yellowstone Lake, while to the south-west another small creek flows over the boulders to-wards Shoshone Lake. This scanty sheet of water, properly named the Two-Ocean Pond, actually feeds both the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans. The one stream gets its outlet through the Mississippi and the other through the Columbia River of Oregon.