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Lecture Series: John Clayton and Wonderlandscape

As America's premier national park, Yellowstone today stands for wilderness, ecological science, and natural beauty. But those associations, and others, have evolved since the park’s founding in 1872. 

Whether it is artists or naturalists, entrepreneurs or pop-culture icons, each character in Clayton’s story of Yellowstone ends up reflecting and redefining the park for their era. When Ernest Thompson Seton observed bears from a garbage pit in 1897, his adventures highlighted the way the park was then transforming from a set of geological oddities to a wildlife sanctuary, reflecting the nation’s concerns about disappearing populations of bison and other species. Subsequent eras added democratic patriotism, ecosystem science, and spiritual inspiration as core hallmarks of the park.

Clayton chronicles the Yellowstone journeys of artists such as Thomas Moran and Ansel Adams, dude rancher Larry Larom, architect Robert Reamer, firefighters, and even television’s Yogi Bear, among others. Each character discovers new wonders to fit the values of their time. Whether it is an unpeopled wilderness, a setting that allows for displays of Rooseveltian masculinity, or a suburban family funhouse, Yellowstone boasts diverse wonders that continually meet our nation’s changing needs.

As the National Park system enters its second century, the meaning of the national parks—and Yellowstone as the system’s flagship—is again central to our culture.