Monday, September 16, 2013

Yellowstone National Park: Geysers and Hot Springs

Toward the end of the day we drove past Roaring Mountain and it was graced with a brilliant double rainbow! The steam rising from roaring mountain comes from its fumaroles, openings in the earth where steam is escaping from the volcano. The name of the mountain comes from the loud sounds caused by this venting. 

Most of these pictures are taken within the huge crater left from the last eruption of the Yellowstone super volcano. The diameter of the caldera is between 35 and 45 miles wide, and in this area magma is much closer to the earth's surface than in most places. The magma heats water and creates pressure which then forces it upwards, resulting in all these amazing geothermal areas. It was common to see spots like this near the road where there was a little water seeping or and steaming. 
We took a walk to see the area known as Artist's Paint Pots. There were many hot pools in various colors, and it was really beautiful. In the geothermal areas there are many signs posted to stay out because of the volatile nature and in some places the crust can be very thin with boiling water just beneath. Unfortunately lives have been lost in the past by people walking out into these areas. Teams of geologists have determined places where boardwalks could safely be built through some of these spots, and they're continually reassessing the changing environment and moving the walks when necessary. In one area the ranger pointed out where the previous boardwalk had been last spring, and now there were bubbling pools there! It's continually changing. It's a bit disconcerting to be walking an area that is so volatile, to be in the caldera of an active volcano!
This was one of the hot pools. The water was so clear you can hardly tell it's there! Right after this picture, the water began to boil and roll.

This is a mud pot, similar to a hot spring, only the water has mixed with earth and is bubbling up in big, goopy burbles. It's pretty otherworldly! Raphael was especially excited about seeing the mud pots! You can see where the area around it has changed, dried out and cracked.
This was a beautiful little hot pool in the Artist's Paint Pots area. I loved the milky blue color of the water.  Other pots had hues of green, rust, and brown.
These next few pictures were taken in the Black Sand Basin area, named for the obsidian sand.  One of the requirements for the kids to earn their Junior Ranger patches was to attend a ranger program, so we spent about an hour on a tour learning about the Black Sand Basin. This is called Handkerchief Geyser, so named because long ago people would throw their handkerchiefs in and then watch them blow out when the geyser erupted! The ranger told us they have dredged out some of the geysers and found all kinds of junk blocking them, including tires! I'm glad that there is more environmental awareness now.
Another hot pool in the Black Sand Basin. 
Yellowstone has over half of the world's 900 or so geysers. This is Cliff Geyser.
I love the bacterial mats created by hot water pouring into the river here!
Of course we had to see Old Faithful. We had a nice little picnic while waiting to see it erupt.
And thar she blows! Even though Old Faithful was the largest geyser we saw during our visit to Yellowstone, I enjoyed seeing other features more. As silica builds up in the neck of the geyser it grows narrower each year. Right now the opening is only about four inches wide, and it narrows by an inch each century, so they're only giving it about 400 more years. It's truly an ever changing landscape. Steamboat Geyser, which we didn't see, is the world's tallest, and was dormant for many years. It has only begun erupting again in the last several weeks.
This was a hot pool next to the road. I love the color and clarity of the water.
Opal Pool
Grand Prismatic Hotspring. It was quite cool on this day, and as such, the steam largely cloaked the brilliance of this pool. I've seen pictures of its turquoise color and it's quite spectacular with the colorful bacterial mats surrounding it. Our camera battery was dead by this time so Erik and I were snapping pictures on the ipad and his phone!

My only disappointment with Yellowstone is that we couldn't have spent more time there! I hope to return someday and stay for a week or two, having time to get off the main roads, do some more hiking, attend ranger programs, gaze at the stars at night, and learn more of this amazing place. It is one of the most incredible places I've ever seen, and I'm so thankful for the time we had there.

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