Yellowstone, Land of Wonders: Promenade in North America’s National Park by Jules Leclercq

An unprecedented English translation of a travel narrative from the early years of Yellowstone National Park.

In 1883, a well-traveled French lawyer, writer and judge named Jules Leclercq explored the newly designated Yellowstone National Park on horseback. Three years later, he published a book praising the area’s strange and wondrous marvels–but the book is not simply a lovely appreciation of natural scenery. Leclercq also researched the history of the region and its people in order to write a scholarly study, a snapshot of a place in time. And yet there has never been a complete English-language translation of his original text until Janet Chapple and Suzanne Cane’s Yellowstone, Land of Wonders.

Leclercq is most fascinated by Yellowstone’s geysers: “The mind is so occupied with the extraordinary geological phenomena bursting upon one at every step,” he writes, “that one views the scenery only abstractedly.” He does, however, turn his pen to Yellowstone Lake and Falls; he considers the latter far superior to Niagara. He also includes a chapter on the park’s wildlife, and warns that whole species will be exterminated if hunting continues unchecked.

Leclercq’s narrative is imperfect. He sometimes quotes without attribution from contemporary sources and gets geological details wrong. But Chapple and Cane meticulously keep readers informed on such points. Their translation and editing–with copious notes–is thorough in confirming and expanding Leclercq’s points, offering commentary not just on Yellowstone but on the author and his era. The result has more than just historical value; as Leclercq concludes (and as is still true today), “All this grandeur inspires grave and religious thoughts.”

This review originally ran in the May 10, 2013 issue of Shelf Awareness for Readers. To subscribe, click here, and you’ll receive two issues per week of book reviews and other bookish fun!

Rating: 6 geysers.

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