Ok, well, perhaps not the automobiles part, but our trip to Yellowstone National Park was certainly filled with thrills of the geothermal variety. Geysers, hot springs, bubbling paint pots of greyish mud and travertine formations dripping with steaming mineral waters are found around every bend throughout the park. Oh, and there are buffaloes too. Big, meaty and wonderful buffaloes. And, despite all of the grizzly bear attacks and encounters that were reported this summer in Yellowstone, we saw nary a bear during our three days in the park.
What we did see was pretty spectacular, if not the slightest bit frightening. Our planet is pretty cool, and the powers of the earth manifest themselves in awesome ways, visible to all right on the surface at Yellowstone. The caldera of Yellowstone, or, the region directly above the super-massive volcano that lies just beneath the surface of the earth, is literally bubbling with geothermal activity. The American Indians who inhabited the region around what is now Yellowstone Park did not venture into the caldera region. They could hear loud noises like thunder in this region and regarded it a dangerous place; they believed that the spirits inhabiting the region did not wish humans to enter. Likely they were hearing the frequent earthquakes and eruptions of geysers now known to be byproducts of the volcano lying just beneath the surface. We all know about Old Faithful, that regular and massive unleashing of pent up pressure and boiling hot water that erupts several times a day, but this is just one of the many amazing features of America’s first and largest national park.
On the first day that we entered the park we headed to visit good Old Faithful, and luckily we arrived just in time for an eruption. But, along the way we stopped to visit a lesser-known attraction at the park, and for us it was perhaps even more impressive and interesting. This was the Grand Prismatic Spring. As the name suggests, the Grand Prismatic Spring is a large hot spring, filled with all the colors of the rainbow, and perhaps some that you never knew existed. Several pools steam and bubble, each displaying their own shades of turquoise, cerulean, indigo, blood orange, chartreuse, crimson, and other colors yet to be named and classified. The brilliant spectrum comes, amazingly, from living organisms, algae and bacteria, living and thriving in the blistering waters that boil up from the earth. Visitors are able to walk very close to the pools and gaze into the waters, making sure to stay balanced on the boardwalks built by the park service. Even with the bubbles and steam rising from the pools, signifying their intense heat, it is difficult not to jump in for a soak in what seem to be the most beautiful and inviting hot tubs ever created.
As I mentioned, we stopped at the Grand Prismatic Spring on our way to the much more famous and showboating Old Faithful. Admittedly, the violent and dramatic torrent of water that comes gushing out of the earth, spraying anywhere from 100-200 feet into the air, is a sight to see. But something about the hoards of people, the viewing benches set out around the geyser, and the paved walking paths leading from enormous parking lots made Old Faithful’s eruption one of the less impressive parts of the trip. I found that waiting in anticipation for over 30 minutes with just a few other foreign visitors for the small, bubbling, White Dome Geyser to erupt was a much more authentic and exciting experience. This much smaller geyser teased us over and over again, at times bubbling, other times steaming like a tea pot, before finally erupting and eliciting cheers from us and the 4 or 5 other patient observers who stayed to watch the show.
On our first day in the park we also got our first up-close look at the massive buffalo that come to mind anytime Yellowstone Park is mentioned. A small herd was grazing just along the road, causing cars to stop and rangers to hurry them along. We did manage to capture a few shots of them before being shooed away. But it wouldn’t be our last chance to see buffalo, not by a long shot.
On our second day in the park we struck out for Mammoth Hot Springs, a town in the northeastern part of the park that bears the name of the hot springs found there. We decided we’d stop at anything that caught our eye along the way, which turned out to be a lot of things. Of note were the bubbling Paint Pots – holes in the ground varying from the size of a bucket to the size of a backyard swimming pool filled with grey or brownish mud that bubbled and popped at the surface. It was fun to watch the mud plop and fly from the gooey looking “pots,” making very odd noises as it did so. We also saw several more buffalo. One even decided that the road we were driving on was a perfect walking path. We lined up with several other cars moving in both directions as this massive buffalo slowly meandered along the road. It was quite a sight and certainly nails home the idea that we are visiting their park, not the other way around.
Finally we made it to Mammoth Hot Springs, but learned that this is a spring that fluctuates quite dramatically in its water tables throughout the year. When we visited the spring it was practically devoid of all water, making it less exciting than we had hoped. I imagine it is very cool to see when it is full of water, but the drive was well worth it anyway. Continuing our drive we found ourselves at the Grand Canyon of Yellowstone and stopped there for a short walk and a few photographs. We headed back to camp happy to have seen so many exciting manifestations of the earth’s forces, along with several buffalo and a few elk to boot.
Our third trip into the park was really just to drive through as we began our journey out to the east coast. We enjoyed the drive, stopping at times to look for wildlife, and to see the massive arch built as the northern entrance to our first national park. As we reached the gated archway, a herd of pronghorn grazed on grasses beside us, giving us a warm sendoff from this magnificent park.
Enjoy a few more images from our time in Yellowstone by clicking on the gallery below: