Story 1—The Yellowstone Caldera
My family and I spent last week, Monday, August 7th to Friday, August 11th exploring Yellowstone National Park. Once upon a time, oh, 640,000 years ago a hot spot, of magma from Earth’s core built up enough pressure to blow its way to the surface. It turned everything above it in a 35-mile (56.33 km) by 50-mile (80.47 km) ragged oval to ashes and took the ash up with it. Scientists have identified deposits of this ash in California, Iowa, and Louisiana. Then the hot spot “cooled down” to power geysers, mud pots, hot springs and meadows that are warm enough to grow grass in the winter. What’s that? The perfect area for a Spa? Well, okay, if you like bathing in superheated, boiling water, sipping on a sulfuric acid cocktail or enjoying a heat loving bacteria mud pack. If however, you value your health (and life!), it is a Spa for the spirit. To be enjoyed with the eyes, not with the hands. (Or any other body part. Except the hearing, there are some wonderfully interesting sounds made as steam and gas blast out of rock tunnels. You might want to leave your nose home though. Rotten egg gas is not the most enticing perfume.) The depression remaining after the explosion is called the Yellowstone Caldera.
Caldera is the Spanish word for large pot or kettle. Instead of Grandma’s stew or 5-Alarm Chili, this kettle cooked some of the most fascinating acreage on Earth. Interspersed between verdant green Lodgepole Pine and Fir forest are rock meadows, thinly crusted earth between “bottomless” holes spewing forth demonically scented gas and steam. Some of these holes contain crystal clear water bubbling with both heat and more gas. The colors in this Hades inspired place are heavenly. Sapphire, emerald and beryl describe the ponds and waterfalls. Yellow orange and ochers decorate the pool edges and follow the runoff rivulets. These vibrant, larger than life colors are made by microscopic, heat loving, or thermophilic, bacteria. As the bacteria ages, dries and dies, the color fades into the grays and white of the surrounding rock. A few places have bacteria and mineral combinations of dark brown and black. Elsewhere in the park are sub-alpine areas filled with gorgeous red, yellow, blue and violet flowers. The North swath is carpeted by a silver-green Juniper-Sage forest to rival anything Southeastern Idaho or Northern Utah has to offer.
Small warm water lakes and their accompanying rivers dot the park. The central Southeastern portion houses the very large, very blue Yellowstone Lake. It is 7,732 feet (2,357 m) above sea level, has 110 miles (180 km) of shoreline, and covers 136 square miles (350 km2). The lake bed has just recently been explored with camera containing robotic craft. The deepest areas are about 400 ft (120 m) and contain gray, white and green rock pillars made of fossil diatoms, single celled aquatic creatures. Cutthroat Trout are the native fish. From a bird’s eye view, it looks like a hiker, a hitch-hiker with one arm and a huge fist and thumb. (The area is called Thumb Point.)
Bison, Elk, Mule Deer, Trumpeter Swan, Pelican, Canadian Geese, Ducks and lots of friendly Squirrels can be seen in and around the Caldera. If you travel to the Northeast Range, away from lodges, hiking trails, boardwalks, roads, in short, away from people, you will also find Wolves, Coyotes, Pronghorn Antelope, Bobcats, Cougars and yes, Bears. The days of feeding the Bears garbage as a crowd gathering spectacle are, thank heaven, long gone. The rule of thumb now is “you have your spot, we have ours and with 100 yards between us, we’ll be just fine.” There were also the largest butterflies I have ever seen with orange and brown colors to rival the rocks.
(photo credits = 1-4, 6 Evelyn Stam vacation photos, 5 Yellowstone Lake as seen from space, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Yellowstone_Lake
Story 2—The only thing constant is change
One day, in the galactic timeline, Earth’s crust will have floated itself over the magma hot spot and Old Faithful, the most celebrated geyser, will be just another cold-water spring. Until then, the interaction between inside and out constantly changes the look of the park. Two examples: In August of 1959, when I was just over two years old, an earthquake rocked Hebgen Lake, 15 miles (24.14 km) away in Montana. The shock caused a plot of grass to spew forth red mud and earn the name Red Squirter. Since then the area has doubled. It spews mud mostly in the spring when there is the most water and whistles “scented” steam as the area dries. Dragon’s Mouth, a cave out of which used to come a stream of hot water shot out to the outlook boardwalk a good 30 or 40 feet (9.14 m or 12.19 m) away. In 1994 the Dragon must have found something to be happy about and he quit “flaming”. Now the water simply pours out, bubbling up and down to be sure, with a spray that mists the platform now and then. He expresses his opinion though. As the gasses, water and air flow through the underground tunnels, they make a growling, howling noise like, well, a dragon.
I wish I could be there when the mud pots plop their last sulfur spewing plop to see what other wonders Mother Nature has made. I could too, if I could figure out how to live for another 640,000 or so years. Until then (if ever) I’ll have to return to see what else has popped up.