This blog post brought to you by Andy Ryan!
Yellowstone! An internationally recognized geological oddity. Before we begin our journey through Yellowstone, it must be prefaced with its popularity. Keep in mind, we toured just four days before the eclipse, when Teton County’s population alone increased by 50,000, and Yellowstone shared in near totality circumstances and surely an influx of collateral tourists; the sheer number of people cannot be understated.
Yellowstone was overrun in a way that Kathryn and I had not experienced in any natural setting. Yellowstone is equipped for visitors: large and frequent parking lots for the grandest features, beautiful informative visitor centers, and smooth wide paths that frequently blend into board walks. But, be it eclipse traffic or the typical summer vacation crowd, the facilities were packed. Parking overflowed in both directions around the parking lots; the boardwalks were single file lines with very limited space to stop and see the formations before you shuffled past.
Despite the conditions, we managed to find a few popular spots and a few detours.
Old Faithful we caught just moments before a typically spectacular eruption. Arriving at the visitor’s center, we found a prediction clock with just a couple of minutes to spare. Luckily, Old Faithful was right on time. The power of the geyser was breathtaking in person; not only did it give us a gasp, but we joined the crowd in unison.
From there, we took off down the Firehole byway. This road connects a series of named and unnamed geysers culminating in the Firehole geyser, a pond sized body of boiling water. The water gives life to a shelf of orange algae just below the water’s surface before it empties out into a companion lake. That algae is a similar extremophile to the type that gives features like the Grand Prismatic Geyser its coloration. These microorganisms thrive in that ultra-high temperature environment and create some amazing scenes for those of us looking in.
Not all the geysers we stopped at were so grand or colored however; one of our favorite features was Mud Volcano. The feature was a boiling vat of thick silver-gray mud with bubbles forming at two main points. When Mud Volcano was originally found, the feature was much more intense. Records indicated that the eruptions could be felt from a hundred yards away as the same thick liquid shot into the sky with regularity. Since its discovery, the pressure decreased significantly, leaving just that cauldron of goo bubbling away.
Our favorite feature by far was also the most interactive – Boiling River is the most northern feature of the west side of the park. Here, a geyser bubbles up and drains down into the river at several different entry points. The water from the geyser is, of course, boiling hot and churns up steam as it flows into the cold river water. A short walk out into the river and down its banks and you find yourself right in the confluence of those two radical temperatures. Kathryn and I found two rocks in just the right place and sat across from each other. We held onto each other to brace ourselves against the current of the river. The temperature was never constant – you might have a frigid patch flow over your left side as something shifted up stream – but it was a relaxing and unforgettable moment resting there in the river.
Yellowstone was quite the experience. The park is enormous; we spent the better part of two days there and there was still much more to do. I would plan another trip with much more time to wander the trails. It’s a beautiful and unique part of the world that deserves more than just a few days of travel.