Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Yellowstone - Geothermal Wonders or God Dropped Acid

Perhaps the thing that Yellowstone is most known for is it's geothermal features. When we got close to Old Faithful it's next eruption was predicted to be at 1:37. I wondered how they could be so precise. We soon found out that the predicted time is not always the time of the actual eruption.

We got to the geyser early. We watched, with about 35 other people, as the famous geyser erupted at 1:15. As the crowd grew and 1:37 came and went, an unfortunate park ranger was sent out to tell the crowd that the eruption had already happened and the next one was not predicted to occur until 3:00. The geyser does not go very high, although the coldness of the ground this day may have dampened it's power. It did go on somewhat longer that I had expected however.

Other features are scattered about the park. The first of these we encountered required a short walk to a small pool of boiling water spouting a thick cloud of sulfurous steam. Boardwalks surround most of the sites as the geothermal features are very fragile and the earth around them is thin and can give way easily which would result in  quite a nasty injury. Grisly signs repeatedly inform visitors of the dozen people that have burned to death.

At another point there were bubbling pots of mud. A small geyser spit water out of a diminutive cone. A somewhat larger geyser spouted off in the corner of a scalding pond. The ground was orange from the lichen growing around the boiling pools.

The colors of the Finger Paint pots look as if God took acid or a healthy dose of mushrooms before creating them. Brilliant blue, translucent pools reveal the white rock formations inside them. Around them grow various shades of green lichen. Here the orange color of the ground is the result of the sulphurous emissions from the pools. One very renown pool contains eye jarring, otherworldly bands of colors radiating from it's center to it's edge. Green pools remind me of Easter egg dyes.

Viewing the Artist's Paint Pots requires a walk through  grove of evergreens which reminded me of a Christmas Tree lot. In this spot the sulfur steam has not only stained the ground orange, it has also turned the ferns growing in the area a bright red. There are bubbling pots of water colored white, pink, blue and green. Again, various shades of lichen thrive in an atmosphere that would be lethal to other plant life. The total effect is a mad kaleidoscope of colors, textures and motion.

Then there is the Mud Volcano. A boardwalk takes you past boiling pits of mud and steam. A crowd pleaser and my personal favorite spot is the Dragon's Mouth where steam escapes from a cave as scalding water simmers and leaps outside it's mouth.

The Midway Geyser basin contains some of the largest of the geothermal pools in the park. They are also some of the most difficult to view due to the enormous amounts of steam and sulfur emitted by them. The Opal Pool located here has an iridescent red edge that surrounds a deep blue center. There is a crater created by a massive geyser eruption with steaming water in it's deep basin. These are all set in a barren, almost lunar landscape where magma heated water streams in a thin sheet across the earth. This water eventually runs off into the Firehole River at the rate of 4000 gallons per minute.Waterfalls of the boiling water descend into the cool river down a riverbank stained orange and green. One waterfall appears to travel down a set of emerald green steps, the rock stained by lichen and eroded by time.

Steam rising from the numerous other hot spots in the rivers, creeks and lakes are a constant companion as you travel through this wondrous landscape.


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