Yellowstone’s Hydrothermal Beauty
September 9th, 2020
Yesterday we came face to face with some fantastic beasts of Yellowstone and the Teton Range. Today we’re getting up close to living, breathing Planet Earth.
Yellowstone is the oldest national park in the U.S. and the site of explosive volcanic activity over millions of years. The last apocalyptic eruption here occurred 640,000 years ago. The area is still active and every so often there’s chatter and fear about it potentially erupting again which would be disastrous for the greater region extending into Wyoming, Montana, Idaho, Utah and Colorado. But for today’s post, it’s just the usual sub-surface rumbling and percolation.
Mammoth Hot Springs is a short drive from the north entrance of Yellowstone near the Wyoming/Montana border. This complex of hot springs is a vast exit for hot water heated by the earth’s magma, or molten rock. The hot water bubbles to the surface — spilling over, cooling and leaving calcium carbonate behind in travertine terraces.
The water at Mammoth Hot Springs comes from the Norris Geyser Basin, another thermal feature of the park. According to the Yellowstone website, “The park contains more than 10,000 thermal features, including the world’s greatest concentration of geysers as well as hot springs, mudpots, and steam vents.” Mmmm … mudpots.
The terraces and steam create a surreal and beautiful landscape, and thinking about the timeline of geological activity in Yellowstone puts the shortness of our human lives in clear, comparative perspective.
Yellowstone’s thermal features, beautiful as they are, are also very dangerous. You should never ever touch the water or dip a toe to test the temperature. No matter all the signs and warnings around the park, tragic accidents still happen every year. Combined with yesterday’s bison horn warning, Yellowstone is not a place to indulge your curiosity or wander off trail! Even driving the road, hydrothermal features are easy to spot, hard to resist and the prettiest hue of aqua blue.
We had hoped to see more of Yellowstone on our drive through but it had been a big year for snowfall and the main route going south was closed. We were confined to seeing the northwestern corner of the park but I already look forward to going back again someday to explore more.
Tomorrow we’re back on the magic carpet!
Post of the Day: Adding a bit of light to the darkness as we get through the pandemic together. This series features travel photos from my archives, shared with you while staying close to home.