Someplace you might otherwise avoid, but have got to see — Yellowstone and its bubble and boil

What causes geysers, hot springs, fumaroles, and mudpots?  In part, a partially molten magma chamber below the earth’s surface, remnant of a cataclysmic volcanic eruption that occurred hundreds of thousands of years ago.

Sounds like someplace you might want to avoid.

Not so.

Each year two to three million people visit just such a place and walk along boardwalks across steaming pools and bubbling holes at Yellowstone National Park, where a volcano experienced huge eruptions 2 million, then 1.3 million, and most recently 640,000 years ago. “The magmatic heat powering those eruptions still powers the park’s hydrothermal features.”  (National Park Service brochure – Yellowstone).

I don’t know about you, but the idea of volcanoes frightens the bajeebies out of me. One word. Pompeii.

And had I fully realized that I would be walking around the top of a volcano, I likely wouldn’t have been nearly as enthusiastic about visiting Yellowstone where, lacking any grasp of either geology or geography (just ask my husband who will be happy to tell you), I expected to merely see Old Faithful, never really thinking about why.

So yes, I was surprised when I was walking along boardwalks and the truth set in.

Yellowstone National Park

Yellowstone has the distinction of being the first national park in the world. William Henry Jackson’s photographs and Thomas Moran’s sketches influenced Congress to establish Yellowstone  in 1872. Yellowstone contains over 10,000 hydrothermal features, approximately one-half of the world’s. There are over 300 geysers in the park. ( National Park Service- Yellowstone )

Yellowstone occupies the northwest corner of the state of Wyoming where it has entrances from the north, northeast, east, south, and west. We were in southern Montana in June of 2010 for a wedding and decided to spend a day at Yellowstone. We entered through the north entrance and exited through the west entrance.  (See a map.)

Mammoth Hot Springs Terraces

Our first stop was the Mammoth Hot Spring Terraces.

Mammoth Hot Spring Terraces – Yellowstone Park – June 2010

The landscape was so foreign

that I felt like I had stepped onto a different planet,

or perhaps the moon.

Boardwalks drew lines across the surface,

zigzagging back and forth,

climbing up to an elevation change of 300 feet.

We were at Jupiter Terrace (which I thought was an appropriate name even though I’ve never been to Jupiter and can only imagine). In the 1980s Jupiter spring “flowed so heavily that it overtook boardwalks several times.  It has been dry since 1992, but when active, its color and intricate terraces make Jupiter an appealing spring.” (National Park Service – Jupiter)

Even though it was clearly dangerous,

even hostile ground,

beauty prevailed.

The park signage said to allow a minimum of 2 hours to walk the trail system. Being on a blitz trip though the park, we walked a little ways, retraced our steps and returned to our car.


Yellowstone is surrounded by rugged mountain peaks.

We saw groups of what might have been deer grazing along the roadside,

and a mama grizzly with a cub (near the top at the bottom of the tree).

We drove by fire-decimated forests, struggling for a new foothold,

and steam rising from the mountainside,  a constant reminder of the persistent furnace pumping out heat below the surface.

We saw a herd of bison, old and young,

with babies nursing,

and adults drinking from clear water.

We saw bison stopping traffic, crossing the road,

up close and personal.

The road system inside the park is a figure eight. We entered at the top left of the eight and drove around to the bottom right point of the top circle to get to the Yellowstone canyon.

I wish I could tell you more about the canyon, but we weren’t able to spend a lot of time there and it’s been two years. I believe we might have gotten out at the Artist Point overlook, but don’t hold me to it.

We did see the falls. But whether this is the upper or lower falls, I couldn’t tell you. Perhaps you know?

The stone along the canyon walls was very yellow in most places, providing the inspiration for the name of the park.

We left the canyon and traveled southeast along the lower circle of the figure eight drive,

stopping once when we couldn’t resist the steam rising up from the sulpher caldron

where the liquid was visibly boiling.

In that same area, we saw a circular hole filled with

brown, bubbling mud.

We drove on towards Old Faithful, passing Shoshone Lake. During Yellowstone volcano’s last eruption, “the park’s central portion collapsed, forming a 30- by 45-mile caldera, or basin. [. . .]” The lake occupies the southeast corner of the caldera. “Just north of the lake the land surface rises and subsides. This suggests that the Yellowstone caldera is not dormant and will likely erupt again.”  (National Park Service brochure – Yellowstone).

Old Faithful

The Yellowstone visitor’s center lists the times Old Faithful is predicted to go off. When we arrived there was just a little steam rising out of it.

But a crowd had gathered, and we saw that we had arrived just in time.

It started off small,

and then, Wow!

After hearing about Old Faithful all my life, it was an amazing thing to behold.

You can read about how geysers work at the National Parks website.

Midway Geyser Basin

We first saw the Midway Geyser Basin, our final stop on our day at Yellowstone, from a distance.

There we were back to the boardwalks again, and heading towards what could be the smoke from a raging inferno for all we knew.

Shallow pools of water cover colorful mats that contain millions of micro organisms.

The 1/2 mile boardwalk trail first took us past the bubbling blue water from the Excelsior Geyser.

Next we circled past the Grand Prismatic Spring, Yellowstone’s largest hot spring, and one that provides a photographer’s paradise.

I believe this is the  Opal Pool near the end of the circular trail. I found the pastel colors here enchanting.

We ended our trip to Midway Geyser Basin, and Yellowstone Park, at the Turquoise Pool—the colors here have to be seen to be believed.

Two years later I still don’t know what a fumarole is.

But Yellowstone is absolutely worth a visit. If I made it out alive, you probably will too.

But go soon.

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33 thoughts on “Someplace you might otherwise avoid, but have got to see — Yellowstone and its bubble and boil”

  1. Wonderful report about your trip, Christine. And I love the photos that accompany your story; fascinating pictures. They make me want to go there and check Yellowstone out myself. Though the idea of walking over a thin crust above lava scares me too! Eeks.

  2. Excellent photo shots. Yellowstone is one of America’s must see places. I used to visit every year in the 80s because of my job circumstances. They were always rather quick visits, but still I got to see a lot of this amazing place. You brought back some great memories.

    1. Thanks, Arlee. You’re right, it is an awesome place to see. I guess you were lucky to be able to travel out to the big country on a regular basis. I love it out there.

  3. I spent a week at Yellowstone a couple of years ago and can’t wait to go back. Thanks for sharing your beautiful photos and bringing back those memories. I think I’d like to go back in winter and see it in an entirely different perspective.

    1. I can see how you would need a lot more time to really ask it all up. At least we had a day. I think a winter trip would be awesome. But some of the ill-traveled roads we were on when we left the park remind me of stories where people got stranded in their car for days in the snow. I like being in a little more heavily populated area for winter. 😉

  4. I was there with family on vacation when I was a kid. It still evokes strong memories. An amazing place. We didn’t get to the canyon and the falls though, unfortunately.

    The various tribes of the area knew it well, and probably the first white man to see it was a former member of the Lewis and Clark expedition. His stories about it were dismissed as “Colter’s Hell.”

    Beautiful pics, Christine. I’d love to go back again on my own.

    1. The canyon was beautiful, but dwarfed in comparison to the Grand Canyon, if you’ve ever seen that.

      That’s funny about Colter’s Hell. I can see why they’d think that.

  5. Beautiful! Thanks for sharing, christine. I’ve always wanted to see Yellowstone. And yes, it is scary to contemplate those valcanos going off. I’ve been to Pompeii, and can imagine the destruction too vividly.

    1. I wanted to see Pompeii, but we weren’t able to get there on our 2009 trip to Italy. The fact that I had a severe adverse reaction to some clams I ate the first night in Rome and had to spend the next day recuperating, didn’t help.

  6. Glad to hear you “made it out alive”, Christine. I’ve always wanted to visit Yellowstone, as well, but truly want to soak in one of those natural sulfur hot springs out west. You have some beautiful and interesting photos here.

    1. Ha ha. A little drama queen, I’m sure civilization will get some kind of warning before it I’s ready to blow again. That will likely happen long after you and I are gone.

  7. Thanks for sharing your lovely pictures. The color of the canyon walls was my favorite, until I saw the turquoise pond. Wow. Hard to imagine how beautiful it must be firsthand. One would need to put aside the thoughts of volcanic eruptions to fully enjoy this.

  8. Hi Christine .. I’d love to visit sometime – though hope to goodness it didn’t have its Pompeii moment at that time! It does look stunningly beautiful .. amazing how life can live in such places ..

    Loved your photos – they are great .. cheers Hilary

    1. You should go if you ever get the chance. It is amazing, isn’t it? When I see a plant growing out of a rock, or something blooming in a hostile environment, I am always amazed, and humbled.

  9. Beautiful share, Christine. I’ve been twice to Yellowstone ~ 1972 and 1992. Loved it both times. One of my favorite memories is a picnic by Yellowstone lake . . . with waves washing up on shore. Also loved the turquoise waters throughout the parks “pots.”

    We are so fortunate to have so many wonderful National Parks to peruse ~ Yellowstone, Yosemite, Acadia, Great Smokies, etc.

    1. Thanks, Nancy. We didn’t get to explore the lake because of our quick trip through, but your picnic memory sounds delightful. We are fortunate that we have the protected national parks here. I’ve never been to Acadia, but hope to go some day. The others you mention we’ve seen. I hope to post photos from them in the future.

  10. I don’t remember Yellowstone but know of the phenonena that you speak of. I was but an infant when mom and dad decided to take a break from Yosemite National Park, where we went camping every year, and go to Yellowstone. We didn’t stay long as the mosquitoes that year were quite bad and I apparently got bitten alot. But your photos certainly take me on a beautiful trip through to see amazing scenery found nowhere else. Thanks so much for sharing.

    1. I have some photos from Yosemite too that I hope to post sometime. I didn’t have the good fortune to go there more than once, but we made that trip count. 🙂

  11. Gosh, these are gorgeous images, Christine. That’s a place I need to visit–but then there are so many, aren’t there? Hope you’ve had a lovely weekend. I know I’m late getting to this post. I’m so far behind!
    Hugs,
    Kathy

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