Outdoors Magazine

The Otherworldliness of Yellowstone National Park

By Everywhereonce @BWandering

Yellowstone National Park Mammoth Hot Spring Landscape

Ignorance truly is bliss.

To say that we were ignorant about what we’d find at Yellowstone National Park is a bit of an understatement. We knew the park contained a geyser called Old Faithful but not much beyond that. We assumed, given its close proximity to the adjoining Teton Range, we’d mostly find more of the same at Yellowstone: alpine lakes, mountains, and rugged natural beauty. What we found, instead, was like nothing we’d ever seen before.

Then again, we had never traveled around on top of an active volcano before either, which is what – we now know – Yellowstone really is. Or, more accurately, a “super volcano” whose last major eruption is estimated to have been 1,000 times more powerful than the 1980 blast at Mount Saint Helens.

Yellowstone National Park Upper Geyser Basin

Visitors wait for an eruption in Yellowstone’s Upper Geyser Basin

Deep beneath Yellowstone’s surface still roils a blob of molten rock powerful enough to alter the entire landscape. In recent years an expanding magma reservoir has lifted sections of the park as much as ten full inches.

Rainwater and snowmelt, trickling through cracks and porous rock, eventually reaches this blazing hot lava. The resulting superheated water is driven by convection back toward the surface though a network of underground plumbing.

In some cases that plumbing is narrow and easily clogged allowing immense pressure to build. Eventually, the pressure becomes so great that it dislodges the bottleneck and releases a spout of water commonly known as a geyser.

In other areas hot springs flow more freely depositing dissolved minerals and creating waterfalls of colorful rock.

Yellowstone National Park Palette Spring

Palette Spring, Mammoth Hot Spring

Or barren looking wastelands.

Yellowstone National Park Mammoth Hot Springs Landscape

And everywhere steam rises as if from a witches brew.

Yellowstone National Park Mammoth Hot Spring Steam

Oftentimes we go places and know exactly what to expect. Through photographs and stories and research even entirely new locations can sometimes seem completely familiar. Other times, we’re totally caught off guard, as we were in Yellowstone National Park. How wonderfully refreshing. Ignorance really is bliss.

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