We made the short drive from Grand Teton to Yellowstone National Park along the John D. Rockefeller, Jr. Memorial Parkway. We were so excited. Yellowstone was the much anticipated highlight of our summer plans. Established in 1872, Yellowstone is the world’s first national park. Of the 2.2 million acres, 80% is forest, 15% is grassland and 5% is water. Ninety-six percent of the park is in Wyoming with 3% in Montana and 1% in Idaho.
Yellowstone is HUGE with:
- five entrances into the park
- ten visitor or information centers
- three medical clinics
- six gas stations
- seven general stores
- five hotels or lodges
- twelve campgrounds
- and numerous restaurants and gift shops
We had camping reservations at several campgrounds throughout the park which we had to make a year in advance. To say it is a popular tourist destination is an understatement! Our first reservation was at Grant Campground and we were lucky to be given a site overlooking West Thumb Lake which is connected to Yellowstone Lake. This is the largest lake in Yellowstone National Park and is beautiful.
Our time in this area of southern Yellowstone centered around what may be the most famous part of Yellowstone, its geysers.
Our first stop of course was to see Old Faithful. We got up extra early to get a head start on the mobs of tourists. Each year over three million people visit this park. Yellowstone is very crowded in July so it is best not to come unless you have plenty of time AND patience. Old Faithful is the most famous attraction in Yellowstone, so named because it faithfully erupts about every 60 to 90 minutes, spewing 8,400 gallons of steaming hot water up to 180 feet into the air. It is one of the most predictable geysers on earth. There are benches around the base of Old Faithful where crowds gather to sit, wait and watch the eruption. The Visitors Center has a list of several geysers and the times they are predicted to erupt so you know what time to head to each area to watch the eruptions. The time of some, like Old Faithful, can be easily predicted within ten minutes. Others can be predicted plus or minus 90 minutes while others are very unpredictable.
Yellowstone is home to more geysers than any other place on earth and is one of the world’s most active geothermal areas. Within the park are hundreds of geysers, hot springs, mud pots and steam vents. This is because the park sits atop an enormous “supervolcano” and the immense heat from the underground magma powers the geysers. The volcano last erupted 640,000 years ago and shows no signs of erupting anytime soon. Water from precipitation seeps into the ground, meeting the superheated earth near the underground magma chamber. Tremendous pressure builds up until the water is forced back to the surface. Some geysers like Old Faithful have their own underground “plumbing systems” and erupt at predictable intervals. Other geysers share plumbing “pipes” with adjacent geysers and erupt more sporadically.
We drove around the West Thumb and Upper Geyser Basins with a variety of geysers, hot springs and bubbling mudpots. There are more than 150 spouters within a square mile area just in the Upper Geyser Basin alone. The boardwalk led us around to areas such as the Fishing Cone where years ago fishermen could fish in the lake and then swing around and place the fish in the boiling water of the Fishing Cone to be cooked. This is no longer allowed. We saw the colored Paint Pots and the deep blue Abyss Pool.
We drove by the White Dome Geyser and as we pulled into the small parking lot a lady leaned out of her car window and told Bill the geyser would go off in about twenty minutes. Bill spread the word and a small crowd gathered on the boardwalk. As twenty minutes passed with no eruption we began to wonder if the lady had been mistaken. Suddenly the geyser erupted, spraying us with cool water. We were surprised since we expected the water to be warm. It was a really nice eruption to see and we were really glad we had waited.
The Midway Geyser Basin is known as Hell’s Half Acre where the basin’s hot water gushes into the Firehole River. The Grand Prismatic Spring is located here, which at 370 feet across and 125 feet deep is the largest hot spring in the United States. The many colors come from light refraction, mineral particles and heat loving microorganisms called thermophiles. Hot springs are similar to geysers except they do not have the constrictions in their “plumbing” so water does not reach the temperature needed to set off an eruption. Around all the thermal areas are really nice boardwalks. The ground around the boardwalks is very unstable and in many cases consists of bubbling hot water which can exceed a surface boiling point of 199 degrees F. as well as steaming mudpots. Some of the boardwalks could be crowded and at times I was uneasy as tourists were busy looking instead of watching where they were going. I sure didn’t want to be knocked off one of those boardwalks! Most annoying were the tourists walking around with umbrellas to protect themselves from the sun. Haven’t they heard of hats and sunscreen? This is what happens to tourists who don’t heed the warnings to stay on the boardwalk. They disappear and are never seen again!
We also enjoyed seeing bubbling mudpots and steaming fumeroles. Mudpots occur in places where microorganisms help convert hydrogen sulfide into sulfuric acid which dissolves surrounding rock into clay. The clay mixes with rising steam and groundwater to form mud of different colors and consistency.
Fumeroles is a vent in the Earth’s crust. Groundwater comes in contact with hot rocks underground and turns to steam. The steam rushes up through cracks and fissures and out the vent, sometimes with enough force to create a loud hiss or roar.
here are two videos ; http://youtu.be/ra5QVkWhMhc
It seems everywhere we drove in Yellowstone had steam rising, constantly amazing us.