Yellowstone National Park Part I: Boiling Earth and Buffalo Jams
|Mammoth Hot Springs. A bit like being on another planet.
There's nothing that I like more than a volcanically active area where you can see the Earth in action, building and reforming itself. Yellowstone National Park delivers that on an epic scale. It is, after all, a giant caldera. Here you can see the world's greatest concentration of geysers. Here you can walk along rainbow colored hot springs and hot pots. Here the crust of the Earth seems so fragile as water and steam explode out of the deep fractures below.
We first stopped at Mammoth Hot Springs. Near the visitor's center we saw a group of Elk cows and their babies. Then we explored the upper terraces area, drawn by the glowing blue of some of the pools on the higher terraces. The amazing travertine terraces that form the hot springs are created by rain and snow melt descending far into the earth where it is heated by magma chambers. This hot water comes in contact with limestone deposits far below the surface, first laid down when this area was a vast sea. The water, on its way back up to the surface combines with carbon dioxide. This forms a carbonic acid solution that dissolves incredible amounts of the calcium carbonate (limestone). Once the water reaches the surface some of the carbon dioxide escapes from the solution, which in turn means the limestone can no longer stay in solution. A solid mineral is then deposited in beautiful terraces. Nearly two tons of travertine are deposited on the Earth's surface by Mammoth Hot Springs every day.
|The travertine terraces of Mammoth Hot Springs. You can see the glowing blue color of some of the pools reflected in the steam coming off the top.
After Mammoth Hot Springs we headed south and then east on the Grand Loop Road toward Canyon Village and south into the Hayden Valley. We started seeing an individual bison (buffalo) here and there. I've never seen one in the wild before. I was itching to see herds of them. But first we stopped along the Yellowstone River to see the Trumpeter Swans. We got to see a bunch of Wigeon as a bonus. This was my first glimpse at Trumpeter Swans as far as I can recall.
|My first buffalo. Not a great photo of the animal as its giving us buffalo butt but its MY FIRST BUFFALO!
These magnificent animals were once found as far east as North Carolina.
|Bison (Buffalo). They do standing still and doing nothing really well.
As we exited the Buffalo Jam heading toward Fishing Bridge I saw the above bison just walking at a good clip along the side of the road. You can see the well worn game trail beneath its hooves. Then a little farther on some mule deer were hiding in the road. And then suddenly there were buffalo pouring out of the woods. They passed right behind the truck. We'd hoped to get them in front of us for photographic opportunities but the buffalo had other ideas.
After making our way through the Buffalo Jam area we stopped at the Mud Volcano area where we took photos of a single buffalo hanging out near the parking lot. And a Swainson's Hawk landed in a nearby tree to watch us doing so. We then explored the hot springs.
|Mud Volcano. When discovered it was a lot more active. The water temperature is around 184 degrees Fahrenheit. Iron sulfide creates the dark-gray color while hydrogen sulfide produces the lovely rotten egg smell most hot springs exude.
We camped at Fishing Bridge. It's known for bear activity so no cooking outside in this campground. We walked down to the river in search of bear but didn't see anything. But we did see one thing I've been trying to see for years. See below.