Yellowstone is world famous for its geysers and its wild life and less famous for currently being the location of the volcanic hotspot which used to be under Arco. Apparently molten magma is only 4 miles under the earth’s surface here as against 15 at Arco and scientists say that if there were to be a major volcanic eruption in Yellowstone, it would kill millions and end life on earth – so with that cheerful thought in mind, we are here to see the Geysers, the scenery and the Wildlife.
As a child, I had a book on volcanoes and geysers and of course, Yellowstone’s “Old Faithful” which is possibly the most famous geyser in the world was in it. So when coming to Yellowstone, visiting it and seeing it blow was a must.
Being the main attraction, they have built a visitors centre devoted to Old Faithful and to the other Geysers in the “Geyser Park” as they call it. We decided to get there early parking our RV can be difficult and also because we wanted to fit a lot into the day. When we arrived at around 9.30 after a two hour drive, the largest car park I have ever seen was virtually empty (when we left some two hours later, it was full).
Being the central attraction, Old Faithful is surrounded by a long ring of seats which become more and more packed as the approximate eruption time approaches (apparently around every 90 minutes or so)
When it is almost ready to blow, steam starts appearing relatively enthusiastically from the top of the Geyser, water starts bubbling out with increasing ferocity and then suddenly it shoots up into the air to a height of around 130 feet.
And after a few minutes it dies down, everyone gets up and leaves and about 90 minutes later, it does it all again.
If you feel too lazy to go there and watch it, then this link here will take you to a National Parks Service page with links to a live webcam.
Because the area is rich with geysers, fumaroles and hot springs,
a “park” has been established
with a board walk around which you
are encouraged to go and to stay on since stepping off into a geyser can kill you.
As you walk around, geysers go off in different places around the park, the only certain thing is that you will be the other side of the park when one goes off.
We saw various types of geysers including this Beehive Geyser
a hot pool (the Doublet Pool)
and numerous streams of water of various colours, the cause of which will be explained in a minute.
Close to the northern entrance of the park is Mammoth Springs (Mammoth because they are large in area) and we went on a walk led by a very enthusiastic Park Ranger named Wes Hardin – (normally I do not name names but he deserves a mention). He led us on a walk around most of the hot springs in this area and kept telling us certain key facts which I have included below because he will want to know that I have learnt them.
The landscape is constant changing and what is there one day may not be the next day. Because there is only a certain amount of water bubbling up, if it starts in a new place, it will stop somewhere else.
The Liberty Cap is a famous symbol of the area. It is the remains of a conical beehive spring which stopped flowing a long time ago – no one can remember it being a spring. WH fact one: It was formed by the minerals in the water which were continuously deposited in a ring around a hole in the rock floor. Eventually, the water pressure was not strong enough to get the mineral rich water to the top of the pillar and it got blocked internally. As it dried out, the minerals inside harden and now have permanently blocked the pillar.
The area at the very top of the terraces used to be covered with pools but a couple of years ago, it suddenly dried up
leaving behind a plateau with some dead trees in the middle. The trees died a long time ago because as they take up the water the minerals in it clogs their arteries and by the time they are dead they are very hard – almost stone like.
Nearby however a new spring “Canary Spring” has started
shown by the colourings on the Travertine deposits.
Palette Spring started up a couple of years ago and the mineral rich water deposits about 5 mm of solids each day – hence the steps are growing upwards and outwards each and every day.
The colours are due to Thermophiles which are bacteria living within the hot water. The hotter water at the top creates Yellow Thermophiles and the colder water down the slop is lived in by
Grassy Spring has been running only a short while
and the Thermophiles are very colourful.
and this is apparent on the twigs and other objects in the water. Many years ago, tourists used to put objects in the pools overnight for them to be coated before they went home – now that is forbidden by the National Parks Authority.
The significant animals on offer in the Park are said to include: Bison (aka Buffalo although there are a few technical differences); Black Bears, Grizzly Bears, Elk, Deer, and Osprey.
Obviously meeting an animal is luck and we did not have a tremendous amount of it. However
as we were driving along, a deer and two fawns ran across the road in front of us. There are very strict very slow speed limits in the park and we were told these were to protect the animals. If you hit an animal, usually the Rangers then have to go out and find it and humanely kill it (unless you have done that) and we were told that you get fined an amount in direction proportion to the weight of the animal – a 2000 lb bison costs $6000. I can find no evidence that this is actually true but it is a good story.
As you drive along, not only are you looking out for animals but you are also looking out for people who have found
something. This is usually a large number of people standing at the side of the road all pointing cameras in the same direction.
This method gave us our first Bison although it was some 200 yards away and even a telephoto lens gives a small image.
Eventually this bison repositioned itself and gave us a show of it taking a dust bath in order to relieve the itching caused by flies
and we decided we were going to have to be satisfied with that, but
and then a herd of a few thousand (above a part of the herd) some distance away and we decide that we are satisfied with Bison.
But a few miles further on, a car coming the other way is flashing its lights in a frenetic way and waving to us to slow down and just over the brow of the hill we see the reason why -
a Bison ambling along on our side of the road. The rules when this happens are to stop and see what transpires
whilst remaining in your car. This Bison just keeps walking towards us and finally decides that we are in its way
and not going to move so it passes along our left hand side and then just carries on walking down the road behind us.
Wildlife refuse to pose for pictures, hence the Coyote which we saw would only agree to a distant smudged picture of little artistic worth taken through the windscreen
and the Prairie Dog was not much better
but it being the first time we have seen either of these animals, we have to make to with bad pictures as memory joggers in our old years (whenever those might be).
And as for the famous bears, the nearest we came was 10 minutes behind one (so said a women who allowed us to see a really awesome (in America most things are described as awesome by the natives) view of an Osprey’s nest with chicks inside. We did however
see a Black Bear’s favourite food (wild strawberries) which apparently has the unfortunate effect of giving them diarrhoea
and a tree into which one could quite clearly see their claw marks as a bear had climbed the tree – the moral of this story is not to climb a tree in the hope of escaping a black bear coming your way!
Initially we were fairly unimpressed with the scenery and wondered what all of the fuss was about. I suppose this is the result of having seen so many other parks in the US.
We entered from the south and drove up the western side to the middle, then across to the east to see the Yellowstone version of the Grand Canyon and up to the north in Montana. It was not until we were approaching the northern exit at the end of day 1 did the scenery start to impress us and day 2 was very much better.
The southern part of Yellowstone is pretty and nice and if you had not seen better elsewhere, it would be impressive.
Yellowstone has its own version of the Grand Canyon and there are a pair of impressive falls within it. The Upper Falls drop 109ft
and the lower falls which are even more impressive drop 308 ft. We were told (by an ever helpful Ranger) that at its peak, 63,500 American gallons of water pass over the falls each second. Since we usually use Albert Halls to measure large volumes, I have converted this datum to answer the important question “How long would it take the Yellowstone River at the Yellowstone Canyon Lower Falls to fill the Royal Albert Hall” and the answer is approximately 6 minutes 55.13 seconds. So whilst I accept that there is a lot of water going over the falls, it seems to me that nearly 7 minutes to fill the Royal Albert Hall is quite a long time and I am not as impressed as I might have been.
The Canyon itself is very picturesque and its walls are made from a Yellow rock – hence the name of the park.
Most visitors seem to focus on the southern half of the park so when we were in the northern half, the roads were a lot quieter – which was welcomed because they seemed to be narrower.
You can see occasional volcanic remains
and occasional forest dells with rivers. Altogether, the northern half is nicer than the southern.
Not all was lost with the missing animals however,
This is the closest Pat got to an Elk
and this is the closest to a Bear !