On this day, we drove from the North Gate to the Old Faithful section of Yellowstone National Park. We began the drive with a few scattered buffalo sightings, but unfortunately no photo ops. We did, however, stop for a quick walk out into a field to capture some pretty scenery.
We then made a stop between Norris and Madison to see Gibbon Falls.
We also made a stop off at Firehole Canyon between Madison and Old Faithful, where we stumbled upon the other hot spring where swimming is permitted other than the Boiling River (which was still closed until early July, we were told, because of high water levels). Not equipped with bathing suits anyway, the water was pretty warm but we weren’t sure just how comfortable it would be to swim in.
Once we arrived at Old Faithful, we were met with a huge parking area surrounding gift shops, a few restaurants and the historic Old Faithful Inn.
We ate our lunches and patiently waited with the crowds for Old Faithful, the park’s, and probably the world’s, most famous geyser to go off. Named for its comparative predictability for when it will shoot water and steam up into the air, it goes off approximately every hour or 2.
While eating our lunch, we noticed many ravens flying around us, one perching in the tree above us. They are quite large and magnificent birds and it is entertaining to hear them squawk and cackle. It is easy to imagine how the character depicted in the Edgar Allen Poe poem would feel taunted by one.
We then ventured out onto the boardwalk that leads around the various thermal features found in this part of the park. There are boardwalks rather than trails through the most active thermal areas to keep people off of the fragile ground in these areas where hot water is not too far below the surface. It also keeps people at a distance from the actual features, which can scald.
An active volcano and one of the world’s largest volcanic calderas (a volcanic crater), Yellowstone is known for having more thermal features than any other place in the world combined – more than 10,000 to be exact. The park holds four different types of thermal features – geysers, hot springs, mud pots, and fumaroles. The Old Faithful area holds all of the above except for mud pots, which are found closer to the Norris area, but which were consistently too crowded during our trip for us to park near.
Geysers – After water and steam travel through an underground pressurized plumbing system of sorts that prevents it from boiling until it is near the surface, pressure pushes hot water and steam out of the earth, causing it to shoot up into the air.
Hot Springs – Hot water from deep within the earth rises without the constriction of a geyser. The result is an often small, pretty pond-like structure that varies in color due to the microorganisms that thrive in heated fresh water. You can tell which are the hottest as they will be the clearest and bluest due to the fact that they are too hot for the microorganisms to survive. I’ll be honest though, some of the photos in the following slideshow may actually be geysers and not hot springs, but I can’t remember which, there were so many!
In fumaroles, water rises through a narrow path in the earth where all of the hot water converts to steam by the time it reaches the surface.
All of these features were beautiful and fascinating in their own right and remind one of how fragile, wondrous and active this geologic area is..and that we really hope it doesn’t erupt in our lifetime! Not that that seems terribly likely to happen, but some say that it is due.
We took our time around this area, and by the time we were done, it was pretty late in the afternoon. If you plan to visit Yellowstone, definitely map out the better part of a day to spend in this section of the park. It will take you longer than planned, trust me! Particularly since the thin air kind of does make you move a little bit slower than usual, too.
On our way back, we stopped to shower at the Mammoth Hot Springs Hotel. Telling them that we were staying in a nearby campground, we were able to pay $4.16 to use one of
the hotel’s shared showers.
We were met with the most stunning sunset on our way out of the gate, with hazy rays of sunlight shooting up from behind the mountains piercing the sky!
Overall, our first full day at Yellowstone was a success, though the crowds were a bit overwhelming at times. We are hoping to find some off the beaten path sections as we continue our stay!
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