Finding Uncharted Waterfalls in Yellowstone Park

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The Yellowstone waterfalls discovery proves that there are still spots of uncharted wilderness right under our noses.

Three outdoor enthusiasts share their news upon finding uncharted waterfalls in Yellowstone Park.

If you thought GPS mapping and satellite photography had uncovered every inch of the lower 48 states, think again. Paul Rubinstein, Lee Whittlesey and Mike Stevens would like to show you a few things they’ve found.

Inspired by Lewis and Clark’s unfinished business, the three outdoor enthusiasts (Rubenstein is an aerial photographer, Whittlesey is an archivist for the National Park Service and Stevens is a high-school math teacher) have discovered and photographed more than 200 uncharted waterfalls in Yellowstone Park that have never before been documented. Their book, The Guide to Yellowstone Waterfalls and Their Discovery (Westcliffe Publishers, 2000), hit the shelves this fall. According to Dr. Judith Meyers, a geology professor at Southern Missouri State University, the discovery proves that there are still spots of uncharted wilderness right under our noses.

“We haven’t discovered everything just yet,” she says. “We’ve gone to the moon and we’ve mapped the surface of Mars, but we often forget that discovery is an ongoing process. Hopefully, this will remind us that we should take a second look and pause to look for things of value that we haven’t seen before. There may be something undiscovered in a vacant lot downtown or in our backyards.”

That said, Dr. Meyer is also quick to point out that the last thing Yellowstone needs is a network of new trails tearing up the back country so that people can look at these new wonders. Park rangers and other Yellowstone aficionados are worried about the publicity the book might generate. As far as they’re concerned, the waterfalls have been there all along.

“The operative word here is ‘discover,'” Meyer cautions. “Most people tend to think that discovery means seeing it for the first time, but to be considered a discoverer you have to publicize your knowledge of a feature. There’s a controversy within Yellowstone that these waterfalls haven’t been discovered at all. After all, if you found Shangri-La would you tell everybody?”

Probably not. But with the exception of a patch of indigenous crabgrass found near Old Faithful three years ago, a discovery this big — documentation included — hasn’t come out of the park in more than a century. Better dust off the hiking boots.

–Sam Martin