Yellowstone Roads and Bridges
A Glimpse of the Past
As you drive through Yellowstone National Park visiting the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone, Yellowstone Lake, the Upper, Lower, and Norris Geyser Basins, and the Mammoth Hot Springs terraces, you are following the approximate route conceived by the first superintendent, Nathanial P. Langford in 1872. The current roadwork you see on your journey through the park reflects the philosophy and consideration that was given to road construction one hundred years ago.
Superintendent Langford's idea for a circuit road approximately ninety miles long would enable visitors to reach significant scientific and scenic wonders, combined with his plans for good wagon approach roads. Today's road system is strongly reminiscent of his vision.
By the end of 1882, 104 of the 140 mile system had been completed. However, the general quality of roads was poor due to a lack of funds, as well as over-ambitious planning. Carrie Strahorn described the conditions in 1880 in her book, Fifteen Thousand Miles by Stage, "the public highway (that) was cut through the timber over rolling ground, with stumps left from 2 to 20 inches above the ground, and instead of grading a hill it went straight up on one side and straight down on the other."
In 1883 road construction entered a new era that would last for the next 34 years. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers assumed responsibility for the road system. The first engineering officer, Lt. Dan Kingman, began by raising the quality of the existing roads. Perhaps a more significant contribution was his development of a landscape ethic, a philosophy which would be expanded upon many years later by the landscape architects of the National Park Service.
In 1885, Lt. Kingman completed the construction of a 228 foot wooden trestle which carried the roadway through Golden Gate Canyon.
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