Costner Rules

Kevin Costner, wearing a cowboy hat and range jacket sits astride a reddish-brown horse.

I just caught Kevin Costner’s powerful documentary about Yellowstone National Park that’s streaming now. Costner’s TV western hit Yellowstone is surging in ratings and spinoffs. But his doc is no victory lap. It’s more a personal meditation on exploration and leadership as one of Hollywood’s maverick stars shows us around the iconic wilderness preserve.

Costner tells the little-known story of the congressional expedition that set out to map the Yellowstone territory in the 1800s in preparation for exploiting its minerals and building a railroad through it to the Pacific Ocean.

“They weren’t here to protect Yellowstone,” Costner says. “They were here to rip it to shreds in the name of progress.”

But something happened out there that changed the world. As diaries of two of the expedition leaders reveal, the sheer beauty of the place overwhelmed them. Geologist Ferdinand Hayden began to advocate for saving Yellowstone. Against all odds, the Hayden forces prevailed. Congress designated Yellowstone as the nation’s first national park in 1872, paving the way for our own Sequoia to follow as the second NP in 1890.

The stirring and heartfelt wildlife photography of Yellowstone 150 puts an unforgettable stamp on hearing Costner call Yellowstone “America’s Serengeti,” with bison, grizzly bears, elk and other big game animals roaming its valleys and drinking from its pure river and lake waters.

Encroaching civilization no doubt underpins Costner’s solemn demeanor as the narrator of this film. He says he’s disappointed in the politicians in Washington but has no aspirations to get any closer than his Yellowstone role takes him. 

In the show’s fifth season, he stars as the reluctant governor of Montana, who would rather be out there on his horse than in the office. “It’s like being in school versus being in recess,” Costner told USA Today. “He thinks most clearly on his horse.”

Yellowstone 150 stays with you.   

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