Yellowstone's most ancient attraction gets a facelift - | News, Weather & Sports in Billings, Montana

Yellowstone's most ancient attraction gets a facelift

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Millions of people come to Yellowstone National Park every summer to see wildlife, scenery, waterfalls, and geysers. But, people came to the area for thousands of years before it was a park to gather shiny black rocks. The road reconstruction project between Mammoth and Norris passes under that ancient rock bed.

Part of the project will protect the stone cliff, and a historic exhibit below it.

When you wait in line for half an hour to get through a road construction project, you’re not going to stop when a lead car finally takes your line through.  So, no one stops to see Yellowstone’s most ancient attraction to humans: the obsidian cliff.

People have been coming to this spot for thousands of years:

Yellowstone Cultural Resource Specialist Thomas James explained, “Native Americans have been coming to obsidian cliff for about 11-thousand years, and they would take the stone from here because it’s an incredibly high quality tool stone…. it’s the sharpest thing in the world, once it’s flaked.”

James said the black shiny rock was so treasured, it was a kind of currency, used for trade all over America.

He said, “The obsidian from this cliff, based on the chemical signature, we’ve found it as far away was Ohio, Western Canada.”

The obsidian cliff was created by a volcanic flow in the Park that cooled relatively quickly. It happened 180,000 years ago.

The National Park Service’s oldest roadside exhibit was created in 1931, to tell people about the black stone. It has a piece of obsidian you can touch. The exhibit enclosure needs repair.

The roof timbers flaked when James touched them.

He pointed out, “The wood here is very deteriorated. It’s been here for about 80-85 years.”

So, the road construction project that takes cars past the obsidian cliff and historic exhibit, will protect them.

James explained, “As part of the road rebuilding we’re doing some restoration work on the kiosk.”

James said the roof will be repaired, and flagstone paving will be replaced to meet ADA standards.

He said, “There’s also under this asphalt quite a bit of historic stone curbs and as part of the project we’re going to restore those original curbs in the area.”

The interpretive panels inside tell people not to take any obsidian rock. It is illegal. So, another part of the project keeps visitors off the cliff.

James said, “So, we’re going to have a walkway from the kiosk, to about where I’m standing and there will be a little viewing platform with benches, so the people can come and see obsidian cliff without going through the enclosed area.”

You are not allowed to stop in the obsidian cliff area now. But, when the road project is completed, you can pull over to see the historic exhibit, and examine the rock James calls “Volcanic Glass”.

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