Final Reflections

Today, July 27th, marks the last day of my internship with Yellowstone’s museum collections. As I look back on my experience, I have learned a lot about Yellowstone’s history as well as collections management.

I’ve cataloged, photographed and housed hundreds of items in my time here. The objects I cataloged ranged from photographic prints, wolf skulls, clothing and sample invertebrate specimen. I’ve learned how to handle and preserve negative film. I’ve learned how to clean old vehicles that remain in the park’s vehicle storage. I’ve also learned about building pest control and how the curator decides on what objects to bring into the collection. I worked with completing collections inventory. I also put together an exhibit with some of my fellow interns. Lots of new work, experiences and tasks filled my nine weeks at the HRC, and time flew by quicker than I could ever imagine.

I also learned about a lot about Yellowstone’s past. I cataloged prints of the no longer standing canyon hotel. I cataloged personal clothing items of old canyon hotel workers. Through cataloging wolf skeletal remains, I came in contact with wolves that roamed far and wide in Yellowstone. I found out that Yellowstone’s geothermal features can forever alter the landscape.

I am very grateful to Colorado State University’s Public Lands History Center for giving me the opportunity to intern at the HRC over the summer. I found the internship because the PLHC reached out to me. I wouldn’t have been able to participate in this internship in any other way. My summer in Yellowstone has advanced my personal and professional growth, and the PLHC was a key facilitator in setting up my internship and getting me actively involved in public history. I certainly hope this is not the last time I am working in museum collections, and I also hope it is not the last time I am working in Yellowstone! plhc-logo-black


Group Effort: Creating an Exhibit

This summer, several of my fellow curatorial interns and I (including fellow CSU grad student and PLHC intern Dustin Clark) created an exhibit about Native Americans in Yellowstone. The exhibit currently stands in the upstairs lobby at the Heritage Research Center.

We came upon the topic in part due to our desire to explore traditionally underrepresented stories in Yellowstone. While we all had an interest in Native Americans in the park, we also had to face to reality of space constraints. We only had a single tall case available for the exhibit, so we had to be selective about which stories we wanted to feature. Twenty-six Native American tribes are currently associated with Yellowstone, so there was no way we could’ve discussed all associated tribes in significant detail. So after further discussion, we decided to feature the Shoshoni Tukudika, a nomadic tribe that based most of their movement within the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem, and the Nez Perce who fled across Yellowstone to escape capture from United State Troops.

Even though there were three people working on a single case, creating an exhibit proved to be a time consuming process. We each researched the tribes’ history as well as historical objects that the museum collections hold. We at first had too many possibilities. For instance I found about five possible photographs to use, but after comparing the photographs I found with those that my fellow interns found, I ended up using only one photograph from my original selection. We also had a fair mix of both original objects as well as reproductions. We had to scan and reproduce all photographs due to light damage. We also all worked to build a model wickiup, the shelters that Tukudika would use (which was Dustin’s idea).

The exhibit creating process demanded that we work well as a team. Ultimately, I found it very useful to have people to discuss my ideas with. If I faced a creative block about what to select, Dustin or Erin would find a perfect solution. Conversation proved essential when we had to install the exhibit. Overall creating the small exhibit was a wonderful experience to share with my fellow interns, as well as a rewarding personal experience. It has left me wanting to create more moving into the future!


Yellowstone Heritage Research Center Curatorial Interns and their final exhibit product (from left to right) Hannah Ashley (CSU history graduate student and PLHC intern), Erin Atwood (Montana State Undergraduate Intern) and Dustin Clark (CSU history grad student and PLHC intern)

What is Dead may never Die

Yes, the title of my blog post does originate from Game of Thrones. With the new series premiering a few days ago, the show is not far from my mind. I found this particular motto relating nicely with the large amount of natural specimen that the museum storage holds.

There are lots of bones in the collection. Skulls, mandibles, vertebrate bones and hyoid bones are all just a fraction of the skeletal materials in storage. I know part of this because I had to build stable, secure boxes to hold a large amount of wolf cranial and post cranial materials that came into the collection. There are also skeletal materials of bears, bighorn sheep, bison, elk and coyotes. A large array of bird skeletons (and fully preserved bird cadavers) also resides in the collection. So, why do the remains of so many animals live on in the collections?

The main answer is research. Scientists can gather data about how a species changes over time by examining the skeletal materials. Researching the skeleton in person is important, as researchers could discover details previously unobserved, or the details researchers want are unique to their project. They could want to find features that would not be available in a written description of the remains.

In many ways, science and the humanities overlap. Sometimes the richest information comes from examining the source itself, not reading a secondary description of it. Also, I never thought that I, a humanities based person, would be in charge of the care of biological specimen. While biologists recovered the bodies and created post-mortem reports, it is the museum staff that provides care for the remains. For me, that shows a fascinating cooperation between the two disciplines, and also shows that they do not exist in two separate worlds, at least in a place like a national park.

Vanishing Buildings

While Yellowstone’s ecosystem can dramatically alter a landscape, humans have also created, and destroyed, structures in Yellowstone. There are many historic buildings and structures that are still in use in the present (like the Lake Hotel and Old Faithful Inn). However, there are other buildings, some very large and significant in size and history, that humans have built and demolished over the course of Yellowstone’s history.

One of these buildings is the Canyon Hotel. I had no idea a hotel existed in the canyon area until I started talking to museum staff about lodging in Yellowstone. Then, when I began cataloging, I found a photographic print of the Canyon Hotel, and I was rather shocked at the size and scale of the building. I was amazed that such a large building existed, and as a visitor to Yellowstone before my internship, I had no idea that the Canyon area of Yellowstone had a hotel.

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The park’s primary concessionaire in the early 20th century, the Yellowstone Park Company, offered park tours for tourists that arrived by train. Yellowstone prohibited automobile use in the park until 1916. Therefore, without roadway infrastructure the Yellowstone Park Associated provided tour packages. Included in these packages were hotel accommodations available for every stop visitors made. The Canyon Hotel, Lake Hotel, Mammoth Hotel and Old Faithful Inn were all places to stay on these tours. Yet, the Canyon Hotel is the only building that did not stay preserved into the present.

A number of factors caused the demise of the Canyon Hotel. Yellowstone had to change management policies after the park started accommodating automobiles. A large amount of visitors independently visiting Yellowstone through the automobile meant that guided trips were not necessarily as popular as they were before. In the 1950’s, Yellowstone received assistance from the Mission 66 program. The Mission 66 program provided funding to improve or replace park infrastructure, including updating visitor accommodations to reflect modern park use practices. With a rise in vehicle travel, Yellowstone managers opted to create motel-style accommodations. The decision was timely because the Canyon Hotel was also falling into serious disrepair. With tourists’ attitudes centering around temporary, automobile focused trips, and the Canyon Hotel needing serious funds to sustain upkeep, Lemel Garrison (park superintendent in the 1950’s) decided to demolish the Canyon Hotel. To make up for the hotel’s loss, Canyon Village was created. Canyon Village had about 500 rooms scattered in a series of 20 rooms per building, with a common main building providing visitor services.

The Canyon Hotel closed in 1959 ready for demolition.The closure was timely for the 1959 Hebgen Lake Earthquake. The earthquake seriously destroyed portions of the hotel. Then in 1960 a major fire broke out in August 1960, which burned the entire building. Needless to say, the Canyon Hotel had both human and geological forces removing it from Yellowstone. The Hotel’s presence, however, lives on in the collections, primarily through photographs, prints, souvenirs, as well as items that workers would have used while employed at Canyon.

Sources come from Mark Barringer Selling Yellowstone: Capitalism and Construction of Nature and Mary Shivers Culpin For the Benefit and Enjoyment of the People: A History of Concession Development in Yellowstone National Park 1872-1966

The Dynamic Changes of the Yellowstone Ecosystem

While cataloging, I came across a chromolithiographic print. The process commonly occurred in the early 20th century to color a black and white photograph. The print I found was of Sapphire Pool. Perhaps what struck me the most about this print was the pattern of rock formations (technically called geyserite knobs) appearing above the pool.

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Also interesting is the lone figuring gazing upon the pool. Seeing people taken with awe is still common today, although there is an addition of camera phones and selfie sticks. Also people are probably not able to get as close to the pool as that man is. Today, people are confined to boardwalks, for their safety and the safety of the ecosystem.

I wanted to pay this pool a visit, so I did some research. I found out, that while Sapphire Pool is still that brilliantly bright blue color, the rock formations are no longer there. The Hebgen Lake Earthquake of 1959 turned the still pool into a geyser. Sapphire Pool violently erupted for nearly ten years. The eruptions caused complete removal of the geyserite knobs, thereby completely altering the appearance of Sapphire Pool. Yellowstone is a dynamic ecosystem, particularly because of a super-volcano submerged under earth’s crust. Violent, unexpected changes are not unheard of. While prints fortunately exist to show people in the present what areas like Sapphire Pool looked like, the ecosystem is extremely dynamic. In a sense, nothing in Yellowstone’s ecosystem can be perfectly preserved the way it was from the park’s conception.

Week One: Introductions

I just completed the first week of my internship working with Yellowstone National Park’s museum collections.  The week was definitely one full of introductions and orientation. I’ve never worked with a museum collection before, so I am learning a lot about collections management as well as Yellowstone National Park.

I am so lucky to be working in Yellowstone over the summer. The park is on my mind frequently as lots of my academic interests involve Yellowstone’s wolves. The primary responsibility of my internship is to digitally catalog the collections’ cultural artifacts and natural specimens into a database to make them more accessible to researchers. Therefore, I spent a lot of my first week learning about how to catalog. The process not only includes entering items digitally, I have to photograph items, mark items with a catalog number and properly store items in the collections’ storage area. On Friday I cataloged wolf skulls, which was very exciting for me, because I could physically interact with the animals that I so frequently research about. See the image below of a skull of a very young adult female wolf, 1016F.


I also toured the beautiful Yellowstone Heritage Research Center, the facility that houses the park’s library, archive and museum collections. Also because I am working with the museums department, on Thursday we took a curatorial tour of the Yellowstone. We went to the different exhibits throughout the park that the museums department manages. We went to exhibits in Norris, Old Faithful, Lake Hotel, and Canyon. We took inventory of museum collections items on exhibit and learned about how the museums staff actively manages items outside of the Heritage Research Center.

I learned a lot this first week and am only starting to fully delve into my work. As I move into the future, I hope to find the hidden parts of Yellowstone’s past the different pieces of the collection have to reveal.