Saturday, November 7, 2015

Yellowstone In The Afternoon

During our summer road trip, we saw more interesting sights that I could squeeze into my real-time posts. Now that I'm back home and have fished all 548 photos off my devices, I have a few more road trip stories to share. 

To catch up on the rest of the trip, start here.

After surviving an icy, wind-blown morning and a picnic lunch served inside a tornado, we were ready to take on the afternoon blitz of our one-day whirlwind through Yellowstone National Park.

Here's the most fascinating fact about this fabulous wilderness:

The park sits on top of an active super volcano. 

Not even kidding. 

Technically called a caldera, a word meaning "cauldron," the low, flat area of the park lies within the crater of the original volcano. Calderas are formed when the magma chamber beneath a volcano empties out during an eruption; the Yellowstone caldera resulted from three super eruptions, the most recent of which occurred 640,000 years ago. 

Which simply means that the park is full of hot spots that bubble and boil, blast and steam, with appalling individuality and charm.

^ Active geysers, as the hot spots are generally known, make themselves known at a distance. Though the features may take several different forms - mud pots or steam vents, for example - all involve heat escaping the earth. Thus, these lovely steam clouds pop up here and there, their white presence even more striking as temperatures drop.

Gorgeous at a distance, the thermal features invite visitors to come closer. Though it's wildly unsafe to march across the weak surface of the hot spots on your own, the park offers countless boardwalks for humans to get up close and personal. Bison and elk are on their own, and often wander through the thermal areas while ignoring the huge crowds of people. We also came across several examples of big muddy hoof prints stomping along the walkway.

^All the thermal features are created by the same phenomenon, more or less. Water seeps through cracks in the ground and reaches the super heated magma, and returns to the surface as water, steam or mud, depending on its route. The speed of the return trip also varies, and water that is forced through narrow openings can shoot up under fierce pressure, creating world-class geysers.

This video shows a fairly typical spring, and features an off-camera interaction between an adorable Asian-American, my husband, and Ranger.

^ Personally, I'm a huge fan of the mud pots, with their thick, sloppy bubbles and soul-satisfying burbles. If I knew I wouldn't be scalded and then arrested, I would be tempted to hop right in.

^ Besides entertaining the eyes, the hot spots affect several other senses. Many emit some kind of sound - splashing, burbling, or even high-pitched squeals of gas escaping under pressure. This feature, cleverly named Dragon Geyser, produced a roaring sound that wasn't captured well in the video but you can use your imagination.

Also, keep in mind that a primary chemical component of these features is surphur. Yep, the whole place smells like rotten eggs. Or worse. 

^ But the dramatic, other-worldly views are worth it all. Though the afternoon skies continued to churn out dark, threatening storm clouds, the sky did not burst.

In fact, the day slowly grew calmer and more temperate. As the sun slipped low in the sky, we left the geysers behind to head back into civilization and our hotel in West Yellowstone.

^ One last herd of bison stood on guard to witness our departure, but before we left the park, we had one more surprise in store. 

Click here for the story of our last great Yellowstone adventure. 

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