Yellowstone, Valley of the Geysers

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Flag of United States  , Wyoming
Monday, June 11, 2012

"Thousands of tired, nerve-shaken, over-civilized people are beginning to find out that going to the mountains is going home; that wildness is a necessity; and that mountain parks and reservations are useful not only as fountains of timber and irrigating rivers, but as fountains of life."
                                                -John Muir

First on the morning's agenda was a guided walk through the Upper Geyser Basin adjacent to the Old Faithful Inn. As we were in our room getting ready to meet Roger and the other participants, we looked out the window and saw an incredible sight---bison! There were several of them---a bull, 4 cows and 4 calves. We hustled downstairs and got to watch them cross a path right in front of us. It was such a thrill to see these magnificent animals so close, as close as safety allows! Later we learned this is called a nursery herd.

The Upper Geyser Basin trek ended up being around 3 hours, tiring but well worth it. This area is home to more geysers than anywhere else on earth and many beautiful hot springs, as well. I'm no geologist but the way I understand it, Yellowstone is in a caldera, a volcanic feature which is created by the collapse of land after a volcanic eruption. Many areas of the caldera are hot spots where thermal features---hot springs, geysers, fumaroles, and mud pots abound.  Here is my feeble attempt to define or describe the four:
        A hot spring is a pool formed when ground water comes into contact with magma deep in the earth and becomes superheated and rises to the earth's surface. Many hot springs have beautiful prismatic colors caused by various types of bacteria that survive at a range of high temperatures, often at or near the boiling point.      
        Geysers form if the geothermal ground water becomes so hot that pressure builds and water and steam shoot up from the earth's crust intermittently. The world has some 1000 known geysers and about half of them are in Yellowstone NP.
        A fumarole is much like a geyser but with more steam and gases than water. They are noisier and smellier! There are an estimated 4000 fumaroles in the park.
        Hot and bubbly, mud pots are much like hot springs except the water has mixed with mud or clay eroded from the surrounding earth. They may be called paint pots when the presence of iron compounds gives them pink or reddish color but they are never as attractive as hot springs!

I remember being impressed by Blue Star Spring, Grotto Geyser, Morning Glory Pool and Riverside Geyser. We waited a half hour or more to see the last one but it was worth the wait! I do wish I knew the names of all the features we saw.

Afternoon took us by bus to the Firehole River Valley and the Midway Geyser Basin where we viewed Excelsior Geyser which is immense! It looks like a hot spring but Roger told us it's actually a dormant geyser. Another highlight, Grand Prismatic Spring, is magnificent in photos taken from the air but is so large it is difficult to be fully appreciated at boardwalk level. In fact it is the largest hot spring in the park and probably one of the most famous landmarks, as well. Opal Spring and Turquoise Spring were very beautiful also.

It was a full day of Yellowstone wonders!
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