Yellowstone National Park

After John Colter visited Yellowstone in 1807, his reports of "fire and brimstone" were dismissed as fantasy. Jim Bridger visited the area in 1856, but his reports of spouting water fared no better. It was not until after the Civil War that the area was properly explored and Yellowstone’s wealth of geothermal features began to be taken seriously. At this time the west was still being settled and settlers were quick to exploit any assets that they found. In 1872 fears that the unique landscape of the Yellowstone area could be destroyed by commercial exploitation resulted in  the area being designated as the first National Park in the world. Attempts to protect the park were initially ineffective, but  the Army took control in 1886 and set up an effective system for park management. The National Park Service took control in 1918.

 

 

Old Faithful Geyser erupting

Getting a picture of the famous Yellowstone geyser erupting has taken us 28 years. This is not because eruptions of Old Faithful are rare, it normally erupts at intervals varying from 35 to 120 minutes.    During our first visit in 1988 the most photographed feature in the park was erupting as we parked the car but had finished by the time we had got cameras ready. Our second visit in 2006 was even less successful. We had arrived later than expected, but knew that we could still manage to spend at a good hour waiting for Old Faithful.  However as we parked the car at around 1pm people were drifting away so it had clearly just finished a performance. The sign at the visitor center  said that the next eruption would be around 2:20pm  which we decided would not give us enough time to see the Grand Tetons. In October 2016 we tried again. We stayed at the Old Faithful Inn, right next door to the geyser and just after 10am we were rewarded with an eruption. So, at long last we have a picture of Old Faithful doing its business. Click Tab 2 to see the picture that we used to show here of the much less reliable White Dome Geyser which obliged by erupting during our 1988 visit. 

Evening light over Steamboat Point & Yellowstone Lake

Yellowstone Lake and the surrounding mountains look peaceful in this shot with only some steam rising on the left to hint at its true nature. This is a caldera, the site of a giant volcano that erupted and collapsed not once, but three times. The eruptions occurred 2 million, 1.3 million and 640,000 years ago, so if there is a regular cycle then we may not be far away from an eruption that would devastate most of the USA and have a serious impact on world weather.  At the moment there is no sign that an eruption is imminent, so relax and enjoy the geothermal features.

Crested Pool, Upper Geyser Basin

Some of the geothermal features at Yellowstone are an absolute riot of colour, and hence  are best appreciated on a sunny day. Crested pool is is filled with boiling water around 13 metres (42 feet) deep. When we visited in 2006 it was simmering gently but at times it can erupt into a violent boil. The blue and turquoise colours of the pool contrast well with the orange and yellow colours of the surrounding rocks.

 

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Yellowstone Lower Falls from Artist Point

Although most of Yellowstone National Park is in Wyoming, the park extends into southern Montana and a small section is in Idaho. The geothermal features and best known views are in Wyoming including this one  of traditional rather than geothermal beauty. The view of the 94 metre (308 foot) high Lower Falls plunging into the Yellowstone Canyon from Artist Point is the of the most photographed in the park. Nearly twice as high as Niagara, these falls may carry considerably less volume of water, but they do carry the biggest volume in the US Rockies. On the way to Artist Point you pass the Upper Falls which are slightly less photogenic at a mere 33 metres (109 feet) high.  The yellow colour of the canyon walls is a result of the action of hot water on the volcanic rock. Click Tab 2 to see a wide angle view of the falls along Yellowstone Canyon and see if you can spot the steam vent by the river.

Main Terrace, Mammoth Hot Springs

These travertine (limestone) terraces have been formed by hot springs that deposit limestone when they reach the surface and release dissolved carbon dioxide gas. It is estimated that the springs currently deposit around 2 tonnes of limestone per year. The terraces can change quite quickly, for example the Opal Terrace was dormant for many years until in 1926 it suddenly sprang to life. Click Tab 2 to see some more colourful travertine formations at Mammoth Hot Springs.

 Yellowstone Lower Falls from Artist Point, Yellowstone National Park, WY, USA
Main Terrace, Mammoth Hot Springs, Yellowstone National Park, WY, USA
 Crested Pool, Upper Geyser Basin, Yellowstone National Park, WY, USA
 Steamboat Point & Yellowstone Lake in evening, Yellowstone National Park, WY, USA
 White Dome Geyser (erupting), Firehole Lake Drive, Yellowstone National Park, WY, USA
 Porcelain Basin, Norris Geyser Basin, Yellowstone National Park, WY, USA

Porcelain Basin, Norris Geyser Basin

Unlike the Upper Geyser Basin, the Norris Basin has no Old Faithful to draw the crowds. Named after an early park superintendent, this is the hottest geyser basin in Yellowstone. It is also the home of Steamboat Geyser, the largest in the world but prone to long periods of dormancy. It is well worth spending a few hours exploring this area, which offers a wide variety of geothermal features. The Porcelain Basin is an area where high acidity discourages the growth of plants, algae and bacteria, allowing the natural colours of the rocks, minerals and water pools to shine through. 

 

 

 

 

 

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- We have visited thermal areas in Iceland and New Zealand and Yellowstone is undoubtedly the best.
- There are some great opportunites for spotting wildlife including (if you are very lucky), bears.
- Don’t come here expecting spectacular mountain scenery, the mountain collapsed 640,000 years ago.
- Traffic jams caused by tourists stopping their cars in the road to gaze at wildlife. Nobody minds if it is a bear, but most of the time they are just looking at bison or elk.
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Bison, Fountain Flat

Many years ago, great herds of bison roamed widely across the grasslands of the USA and they were the staple diet of many Indian tribes. Then settlers arrived, and their cattle brought diseases to which the bison had no immunity. Disease and commercial hunters had soon made the bison (also, incorrectly, called buffalo) virtually extinct. Yellowstone is one of the few places where some bison survived and were not hybridised through interbreeding with domestic cattle. Under the protection of the National Park, bison have become common in Yellowstone with numbers estimated to be around 4,900. This pair of bison were part of a large herd that we saw in 2016 grazing on Fountain Flat. The other members of the herd weren’t prepared to pose for a picture, so they were left out of the photo.

Wyoming MinimapMontanaIdahoColoradoUtahNebraskaSouth DakotaNorth DakotaFort Laramie National Historic SiteGrand Tetons National ParkYellowstone National ParkJackson Hole
Wyoming MinimapMontanaIdahoColoradoUtahNebraskaSouth DakotaNorth DakotaFort Laramie National Historic SiteGrand Tetons National ParkYellowstone National ParkJackson Hole

 

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