The wonders of Yellowstone National Park
As the US National Park Service turned 100 years, celebrations are ongoing. It manages a wealth of over four hundred diverse properties (national parks, monuments, battlefields, etc. including the White House) that attract close to 275 million visitors every year. Thus, the overwhelming statistics alone whet our appetite to see, hear, and enjoy the breathtaking sights, and sounds, of the two ‘magnificent and meaningful places’ i.e. the National Parks that are closely connected but dissimilar in characteristics. First, our attention turned to the Granddaddy of them, the Yellowstone: said to be the first National Park in the world.
It was a beautiful early summer day in June; we started our ‘expedition’ from Salt Lake City, Utah. It was a pleasant morning and temperature hovered around 85 degrees Fahrenheit. Fresh green meadows, rolling hills, and valleys greeted us with bright sunshine. The Interstate highway that stretched far beyond our eyes can see merged into the snow-capped mountain ranges and touched the horizon. Blue sky with patchy, white, and puffy clouds, a light layer of summer haze, miles and miles of potato farms, and wide-open green spaces met us through Utah, Idaho, and Wyoming.
After about 4 hours of driving, we reached Driggs (Idaho), a gateway town that acted as our basecamp to the Grand Teton, and Yellowstone national parks. It is a quaint little town (founded in 1888 by Benjamin Woodbury Driggs) of about 1600 people. The town's main strip has many restaurants, gifts shops, and antique stores. We enjoyed a sumptuous dinner at one of the mom and pop restaurants.
Yellowstone National Park
This is the flagship of the US National Park Service that spans an area of about 9000 square kilometers containing lakes, canyons, rivers, geyser basins, and mountain ranges. Yellowstone is part of the South Central Rockies forests ecoregion and a major portion of the park is located in the state of Wyoming and it extends further into Montana and Idaho. The park is home to one of the world's largest active volcano (calderas), the Yellowstone Lake (largest high-elevation freshwater lake in North America), and the Yellowstone River. It has one of the world's largest Petrified Forests (fossilized remains of terrestrial vegetation.)
The Yellowstone ecosystems consist thousands of species of native and exotic plants, birds, fish, thermophiles and an assortment of wildlife (bear, bison, moose, elk, pronghorn, etc.). Here we could witness the amazing power of a volcano in the form of colorful hot springs, mudpots, and geysers.
We started our journey into the Parks via the South Entrance and the Grand Loop Road. The road took us through the major geyser basins (Lower, Midway, and Upper Geyser Basins) and the Old Faithful and covered Norris Valley and the Norris Geyser Basin, Madison, and exited via the West Entrance. Most of the main attractions are located right on the Grand Loop Road. The attractions are identified with proper signage and parking areas. This park is an exemplification of nature’s might and power. The beautiful sceneries, awe-inspiring geysers, and serene wilderness make you feel and admire Mother Nature’s bounties.
There are many steaming pools, hissing, whistling fumaroles, bubbling mudpots, hot springs, and steam vents all around. Except for about eight grand geysers, most of the Yellowstone geysers are small. Visitors are not allowed to stray away from designated walkways and visitor areas. They are warned against touching or stepping into fragile ecosystem of the geyser basins, as it is dangerous to personal health and damaging to the bacterial mats.
Geyser basins are colorful. Various mineral oxides formed by the interaction of high-temperature steam on metal and mineral salts produce an array of colors, and salt formations in and around the pools, and pots. The chemical reactions also produce extremely high acidic as well as alkaline waters.
Silica deposits, sinter (geyserite) formations are found around the basins. Some of the geyser basins have a strong sulfur smell. Erupting geysers produce gaseous matters such as carbon dioxide, methane, hydrogen, oxygen, nitrogen, ammonia, argon, radon, etc.
Many of the geyser basins are breeding grounds for a large variety of microbes. Microbes such as cyanobacteria, green sulfur bacteria, and green non-sulphur bacteria form something called the hot spring mats.
Colour-changing hot pools reflect the blue color rays present in sunlight. Depends on the intensity of the light, the amount of suspended particles in the water, and the type of bacteria in the water the color can vary from yellow, green, black, orange or other related hues.
There are many, small to large, geysers in Yellowstone. Small ones erupt to heights to ten feet, but the so-called grand geysers can reach a height of 100 feet or more. The most famous of all the Yellowstone Geyser is the Old Faithful that erupts once approximately every 45 to 90 minutes.
Old Faithful geyser was named in 1870. It is one of the most predictable geysers. Daily, park authorities post approximate times of eruption on the bulletin board. Geyser fields are located near volcanoes and are formed by certain hydrogeological conditions.
The varieties of geyser basins are amazing; they vary in color, content, and consistency. The Mammoth Hot Spring Terraces are another specimen precipitated out of limestone that was produced as a result of geothermal activities. Limestone changes color from white to gray as it ages, and color of the Terraces depends on the type of bacteria and temperature.
Caustic and changing nature of the thermal basins is not ideal for many living things. However, certain flora and fauna thrive in the hotspring channels and run-off areas. Much of the land area in the Yellowstone is covered with volcanic debris, lava, and rocks: it is not an environment that sustains plant or animal life. The run-off water is toxic due to various salt, mineral, and bacterial content.
Yellowstone offers a panorama of paradoxes: from fertile meadows, mountains and valleys with tall and majestic trees, barren lava scorched land mass to steaming geysers and mudpots, to wildlife and wildflowers; the landscape never seizes to amaze.
(The author, a technology professional, resides in Toronto, Canada with his family)