Yellowstone National Park, as a whole, is considered to be a living, breathing and ever changing museum. To that end, the National Park Service has created four trailside museums in the park.
In 1928 Park Superintendent Horace Albright proposed the construction of several small local museums that would enhance the experience of visiting the First National Park. With a grant from John D. Rockefeller and under the guidance of Dr. Bumpus, the American Association of Museums built four such museums in Yellowstone.
These are interpretive structures that have been constructed to blend in with their surroundings and contain exhibits that explain parts of the park.
The Museum of Thermal Activity was located at Old Faithful and was the first of these museums to be constructed. Unfortunately, it is no longer standing. It opened in 1929 and was acclaimed for the quality of the materials and construction and for the way it blended into the surroundings. In 1971 the museum was razed and replaced by a visitor center.
The Norris Museum was built in 1930 and to this day serves as the gateway to the Norris Geyser Basin. Your first glimpse of the geyser basin is from the breezeway at the museum. Here you get you first sight of the hydrothermal features of the Norris Geyser Basin. The wings on either side of the foyer originally contained bird specimens but both now have exhibits explaining geothermal activity and life in the thermal areas.
The Madison Museum overlooks the junction of the Gibbon and Firehole Rivers and was intended to focus on park history. Nearby is the site where the 1870 Washburn expedition camped. It features many elements which have come to be associated with the National Park. It is constructed of stone and wood-shingled walls and rafters of peeled logs. It was built in 1930. Today is serves as an information station as well as a bookstore. What remained of the original exhibits have been removed and the building sat vacant until 1991 when it became home to an “Artists in Residence” program for several years. Since 1995 the Yellowstone Forever group has had a bookstore there and it is now called the Madison Information Station and has a “Junior Ranger Station” sign for those youngsters who are earning their badges.
The Fishing Bridge Museum was built in 1932 and has many of its original exhibits which serve as an example of early National Park Service displays. Antlers, rams’ horns and bighorn sheep skulls still decorate the two wrought-iron chandeliers but they have been removed from the log frame around the screen in the amphitheater. The original log seats in the amphitheater have been replaced with thick plank sets. On the south side of the museum you can cross a flagstone terrace which overlooks Yellowstone Lake. You can walk down the steps to the lakeshore.
It is well worth your time to spend a few minutes at the trailside museums while you are enjoying Yellowstone. It will give you a better insight on Yellowstone.
Photos courtesy of Yellowstone National Park.
AUTHOR: Susie Knapp