"Yellowstone National Park is magical, spiritual and a place of inspiration," said historian Bruce Gourley, who has lived near the park for decades and is the author of the recently published Historic Yellowstone National Park.
As the first national park in the U.S. marks its 150th anniversary, it's looking back at the past but focusing mostly on its future as it brings greater recognition to the Indigenous people who had roamed the land for 10,000 years.
"This isn't just about the last century and a half," said Yellowstone Superintendent Cameron Sholly at a recent virtual event. "We also want to use this anniversary to do a better job of fully recognizing the many American Indian nations that lived in this area for thousands of years prior to Yellowstone becoming a park."
In the coming months, Yellowstone will be highlighting multiple tribal nations, whose members will give presentations, display artwork and engage with visitors at the park's Tribal Heritage Center.
On March 1,1872, President Ulysses S. Grant signed the bill that created Yellowstone for the "benefit and enjoyment of present and future generations."
However, the Indigenous people who hunted and fished there were not included in the process.
"The presence of native people was not only downplayed, but they were literally pushed out of the park because their presence discomforted many white people," Gourley said.
Photos courtesy Tom Murphy
Yellowstone is located mostly in Wyoming, but it also extends into Montana and Idaho. Today, some 4 million visitors come to experience the 9-million-hectare landscape that sits atop an active supervolcano whose last major eruption occurred 640,000 years ago.
Appropriately known as Wonderland in the early days, the geothermal park is famous for its beautiful lakes and mountains, incredible array of wildlife, powerful waterfalls, rainbow-colored hot springs, and amazing geysers such as the well-known Old Faithful, which erupts roughly every 1½ hours.
For professional wildlife photographer Tom Murphy, there is no better place. He especially loves the remote wilderness.
"I get to see the natural behavior of bison, coyotes, elk, wolves and grizzly bears, how they live and relate to each other," he told VOA. "The goal of my photographs is to capture their interesting lives and give people a sense of the beauty and intelligence of the wildlife."
He thinks it was a mistake to eliminate the wolves in Yellowstone during the last century and applauds their reintroduction in the mid-1990s, which has created greater biodiversity.
Yellowstone's bison herd is important to Scott Frazier of the Crow tribe. "The bison are sacred and represent freedom to the Indian tribes, who have a symbiotic relationship with them," he explained.
Frazier, who is 72, has been visiting the park since he was a child.
"It was so quiet, not like today," he said of going camping and fishing with his father. "There weren't many cars, and sometimes you'd see a bear on the road, but that's rare now."
"Today, it's so different," he said.
"People who come from the cities may not have seen a squirrel, let alone a moose. Unfortunately, a lot of them spend time taking photos or videos instead of enjoying the moment that is right in front of them," he said in an interview with VOA.
But Frazier is more concerned about the past 150 years, when Yellowstone barely acknowledged the tribes in the park.
It is "a dramatically important step" that Yellowstone, as well as other U.S. national parks, is reaching out to Native Americans, he said.
"I would like to see more recognition of the places the tribes consider to be sacred in Yellowstone," said Frazier, who teaches environment classes in the park from the Indigenous point of view.
Other Native Americans also say it's about time Yellowstone focuses more on Indigenous contributions.
"There's very little mention about Native Americans, including the Shoshone," said Robyn Rofkar, administrative assistant at the Eastern Shoshone Tribal Cultural Center on the Wind River Indian Reservation in Wyoming.
"It would be good to include Native American names at sites around the park. I also think Yellowstone should sell more traditional things made by the Indian tribes, like Shoshone beaded items."
"Hopefully, we can educate the tourists so they know that Yellowstone was part of the Indians' homeland," she said.