Last year, when we picked Yellowstone as our primary target for 2015, my thoughts were entirely focused on the geysers. I’d never seen a geyser, and that’s what I thought Yellowstone was. As you know from our earlier posts, I found it had much more than that, although the geysers and other hydrothermals at the park are pretty amazing. The park is one of the only places in the world where these hydrothermals have been preserved for people to see in their natural form and not just tapped to make energy. Our travels have certainly taught me to appreciate and be grateful for our national park system.
There are 4 main geyser areas in Yellowstone – one by the lake on the Southeast side of the park called West Thumb and three on the west side of the park. Most of the hydrothermals are a bit off the road (or else the road would melt) so we mostly visited them in the Mini Cooper so that we would have the energy for hiking and walking the trails.
Our first geyser visit was to the West Thumb geyser basin. When we headed out from Grand Teton park, it was a pretty, warm sunny day. However, by the time we arrived at West Thumb, it clouded up and the wind started blowing and it started to rain, so we bundled up to explore the area.
It was cool to see how this almost alien landscape was tucked up so close to a big lake and amongst the trees. Since this basin didn’t have much for shooting geysers, we headed over to Old Faithful and watched it go from the balcony at the historic Old Faithful Inn. Both the building and the geyser were impressive!
Old Faithful is located in the largest geyser area. Along Firehole River, the upper, midway, lower, black sand and biscuit basins provide access to hydrothermal features of all types. Here are some of our favorites:
Morning Glory used to be all blue and white, but people threw things in it and that partially clogged the vent and cooled the water.
Castle geyser erupts in little bursts like this for quite a while.
In the midway basin was my favorite features – Excelsior geyser crater and Grand Prismatic Spring. Both are HUGE! Excelsior hasn’t erupted for years but it pours 4,000 gallons a minute into the river in steaming waterfalls. You only get to see the spring when a big gust of wind blows away the steam for a moment.
The Grand Prismatc Spring is 200 feet across and the most brilliant colors that the steam rising over it seems to take on the colors, too. Stunning!
Most of the areas near these features are pretty barren, but we did see a little life here and there.
The Norris geyser basin is farther North on the West side. It has more acidic geysers. We couldn’t make the whole loop because part of the boardwalk was being repaired, but it was amazing nonetheless.
This is Liberty Cap. It’s the remnants of an old geyser. It’s supposedly named after the cap worn by French revolutionaries, but we think it looks a bit phallic.
What you don’t get from these pictures are the smells, sounds and sometimes sudden motion we experienced at these features. It’s really humbling because it makes you feel like you’re treading on such a thin crust over a big, hot lava chamber!
While exploring these hydrothermals, we also visited a few waterfalls – Firehole, Undine and Wraith.
We thoroughly enjoyed our time here. We are now on to Glacier National Park in Northern Montana for a couple weeks before swinging by Sturgis on our journey South.