The student will:
- Identify the course of the Yellowstone River
on a map of Yellowstone National Park and identify
with 100% accuracy at least two locations on
the map through which the river passes.
- Review the water cycle and describe the cycle
of the Yellowstone River from beginning to end
with 100% accuracy.
- Identify the watershed of his/her home with
- Be exposed to an alternate version of the
origin of the Yellowstone River from the Shoshone
- Identify and describe, in writing, the course
of one other Yellowstone stream.
- Invent a legend describing the origin of
a selected Yellowstone stream.
A - Map of Yellowstone National Park (1.4MB
B - River Run Worksheet (10KB pdf)
Map of the United States
Colored and regular pencils
The water cycle is the journey of water as it
moves from land to sky and back again. Heat from
the sun evaporates water from the surface of the
Earth (oceans, lakes, rivers, etc.) and plants
transpire, or lose water to the air. This water
vapor condenses into clouds. Precipitation is
triggered when the clouds meet cooler air and
the water returns to the Earth’s surface
in the form of rain or snow. Some of the precipitation
soaks into the ground and is called groundwater,
but most of the water (either above or below ground)
flows downhill, makes its way into a watershed
(an area from which surface water drains into
a river system or other body of water), and eventually
ends up in the Earth’s oceans.
Most of the water in the Yellowstone River begins
as snow. The source of the river is near the continental
divide in the mountains of northwestern Wyoming.
The river flows northward through Yellowstone
National Park, entering and exiting Yellowstone
Lake and tumbling over the Upper and Lower Falls,
and on through the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone.
The current canyon dates back to the end of the
last glaciation, 14,000 years ago. Melt water
from glacial ice carved the current V-shaped valley
and today the Yellowstone River continues to erode
hydrothermally-altered volcanic rocks.
After leaving the park, the Yellowstone River
flows into the state of Montana, collecting water
from such tributaries as the Gardner, Bighorn,
Powder, and Tongue Rivers. At 692 miles (1154
km), the Yellowstone River is the longest free
flowing stream in the contiguous United States.
It eventually merges with the Missouri River in
western North Dakota.
The Missouri River, approximately 2,315 miles
(3,725 km) in length, is the longest river in
the United States and drains approximately one-sixth
of the North American continent. The Missouri
flows into the Mississippi River north of St.
Louis, Missouri. The Mississippi River system
drains most of the area between the Rocky Mountains
and the Appalachian Mountains and empties into
the Gulf of Mexico about 100 miles (160 km) downstream
from New Orleans, Louisiana.
A legend paraphrased from the Shoshone tribe gives
another view of the origin of the Yellowstone
Long ago there was no river in this
part of the country. A man came from the south
and climbed a mountain in the area that is now
called Yellowstone. There the man found an old
lady carrying a basket of fish. The man was hungry
and demanded that the old lady boil some fish
for him. She said she would feed him, but warned
him not to bother her basket. The man, being impatient,
would not listen, and stepped on the edge of the
basket. Water and fish spilled out, covering the
land, and no matter what the man did, he could
not stop it. The man piled rocks to hold back
the flood, but the water broke his dam and rushed
onward. That is where the Upper Falls of the Yellowstone
is today. The man ran faster and built another
higher dam of rocks, but it too was unable to
contain the water and today is known as the Lower
Falls of the Yellowstone. The water gouged a deep
channel in the land, forming the Grand Canyon
of the Yellowstone River and continues to flow
to this day. The big fish basket that the man
tipped over became Yellowstone Lake and the old
woman with the fish was Mother Earth.*
*The legend is paraphrased from this reference:
Clark, E. 1966. Indian Legends of the Northern
Rockies. Norman, Okla.: University of Oklahoma
The instructor will:
- Review the water cycle with the students.
- Ask students to define a watershed and, if
needed, provide a definition.
- Provide students with copies of Attachment
A: Map of Yellowstone, and ask students to locate
the Yellowstone River and trace its course throughout
Yellowstone National Park, highlighting Yellowstone
Lake, the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone, and
the river’s union with the Gardner River
at Gardiner, Montana.
- Select a student(s) to trace the course of
the Yellowstone River on a map of the United
States to the point where it converges with
the Missouri River, then continue on the course
of the Missouri River until it converges with
the Mississippi River, and finally continue
the course of the Mississippi River and identify
the river’s end at the Gulf of Mexico.
Remind students that water in the Yellowstone
River that began as snow in the mountains in
northwestern Wyoming eventually ends up in the
Gulf of Mexico.
- Instruct students to locate their home on
a map of the United States and ask if they live
somewhere along the watershed of the Missouri
or Mississippi Rivers.
- Have students identify the course of a stream
in their own watershed.
- Instruct students to write or draw a complete
water cycle of the Yellowstone River on Attachment
B: River Run Worksheet.
- Tell students that different cultures may
have different, non-scientific views regarding
the origin of rivers or other landforms and
share the Shoshone legend described above.
- Ask students to select another Yellowstone
stream. (Suggestions include: the Firehole,
Snake, Lamar, Gardner, or Lewis. See http://www.nps.gov/yell/pphtml/maps.html
for an online, larger version of the pdf map
included with this lesson plan.)
- Direct students to describe, in writing,
the course of the stream on Attachment B. Students
should describe the location of the stream’s
origin, its confluences with other rivers, and
the body of water that receives it.
- Instruct students to write an alternate
explanation in legend format to explain the
origin of their stream on Attachment B.
Run Rubric (41KB pdf)