- Photo Essays
I have to admit, my initial impressions of Yellowstone National Park in Wyoming / Montana were far from enthusiastic, and as we drove around on our first day in the park I got to wondering what on earth all the fuss is about.
It’s never a good idea to go to a place with too many expectations.
After three weeks exploring the wilderness of Alaska I have to keep reminding myself that not everywhere is going to be aesthetically thrilling. I need to stop comparing every single place we go to Alaska…especially since our next stop is Arizona and the Grand Canyon, which I know will be worlds apart.
But of course when I arrived at Yellowstone my first thought was: “Well, it’s not nearly as pretty as Alaska”.
Childish, I know.
We were lucky enough to be travelling in Alaska when the fall colours were at their peak and being mid-September I naively expected Yellowstone to be the same. I also expected it to be incredibly mountainous. It was neither.
Maybe it was as I stood shivering in the pre-dawn chill at the Lamar Valley watching a pack of five wolves lazing and playing on the ridge; or when I heard the high pitched, somewhat musical screech of a bull elk bugling (mating call) at dusk at the Mammoth Hot Springs and watched him lead his entourage of ‘women’ over the hill for a bit of privacy.
Or maybe it was when I realised that while I’d been sulking about the fact that the Yellowstone sights weren’t doing it for me nearly as much as Alaska….we’d actually been driving and walking over the largest and most volatile active geothermal area in the northern hemisphere.
And that all 2.2 million acres of it could blow at any moment causing…well, you can imagine what an eruption of that magnitude could do. Let’s just say, best to tie up your loose ends now people!
Now that caught my attention!
(Note to self: read guidebook sections on ‘environment’ thoroughly before arriving at one of the world’s most geologically phenomenal places.)
So here’s the lowdown of what makes Yellowstone, uh…tick.
The area known as Yellowstone is sitting above what is referred to by scientists as a ‘hotspot’. A hotspot is a place where heated molten rock under the earth has been pushed up to sit just below the surface essentially causing a massive below-ground furnace.
There are forty other active hotspots in the world but Yellowstone is the only one that is not below the ocean. The eruption that formed the crater that is now Yellowstone occurred 2.1 million years ago and there have been two more since then.
The first eruption is the reason that Yellowstone is not really mountainous (another of my unfulfilled expectations, as you may recall).
The mountains simply sunk into the caldera.
What we see of all this when we travel through Yellowstone are the geothermal features that result from this crazy commotion under the surface: exploding geysers, boiling hot springs, steaming fumaroles and bubbling mud pots.
So this all put a different spin on things and I started to see Yellowstone with new eyes.
Instead of just seeing tiny puffs or massive plumes of steam rising from the earth and going “hmm, that’s nice”… I imagined the intensity of the pressure and heat, and molten lava bubbling below the earth that was causing it.
I imagined what it would be like if the pressure built up so much that it all erupted and turned us all to ash.
I imagined how these valleys were once massive mountain ranges that were engulfed by the eruptions.
So yes, I stopped my sulking and sat back and took it all in.
No, it wasn’t as pretty as the places we explored in Alaska but ultimately, it was the geological wonder of Yellowstone National Park that finally got me. This place is truly phenomenal – and now I totally see what all the fuss is about.
…”Cahill stumbles from glacier to geyser, encounters wildlife (some of it, like bisons, weighing in the neighborhood of a ton), muses on the microbiology of thermal pools, gets spooked in the mysterious Hoodoos, sees moonbows arcing across waterfalls at midnight, and generally has a fine old time walking several hundred miles while contemplating the concept and value of wilderness….”