I was exceedingly lucky to spend a full week in Yellowstone with my mother, who flew in from Pennsylvania to join me. I can’t say I knew what to expect of the park, I just knew that it was extremely popular and had a very famous geyser. And I feel kind of ignorant for not knowing how much more there is to do and see in Yellowstone.
The park is a huge 2.2 million acres roughly encompassing all the major hydrothermal features possible. A great portion of the park is actually the caldera of a volcano, which is what we associate as the crater area at the top of the peak of a volcano. In this case, the caldera is huge and relatively flat, spanning something like an eighth of the acreage of Yellowstone. It last irrupted 640,000 years ago but is still classified as active, although the rim has eroded and is hard to distinguish. The greatest clear evidence that you are standing inside of the rim of a volcano are the numerous and varying hydrothermal features.
I had no idea that geysers were only the beginning. There are four major types of features: geysers, hot springs, mud pots and fumaroles and a single location can shift into all four during different times of the year. Geysers I think are well known, but the great variance in the amount of water expelled and the time between irruptions really makes each one unique. Old Faithful irrupts about every hour, but wasn’t the most spectacular. Some can shoot hundreds of feet in the air, but haven’t gone off for years. The hot springs were my favorite. Each one was a unique colorful steaming pool of water with calcium textures lining the edges.
Some bubbled. Most had bright orange or green overflows trickling down over the hillsides. My favorite was the largest in the park: the Grand Prismatic Spring. I had a picture of the spring as a screensaver and never thought something so exotic could be from Wyoming. The mud pots were bubbling thick pools of white or grey mud that made a neat simmering pasta sauce sound. And the fumaroles were holes in the ground with hollow rumbling sounds and steam emitting from the depths below.
The wildlife is the other main draw to Yellowstone. While my mom was disappointed that bears weren’t lining the roads begging for food like they used to and I was disappointed that if I wanted to see a wolf my best option would be waiting in line for a telescope so I could maybe see one stick its head out of the woods about 500 yards away, we did see a lot of wildlife. We agreed the best encounters were ones where we got to see wildlife behaviors. We saw a bald eagle snatch a fish from the river. We saw two huge bison face off: one came trudging up a hill making low grumbling noises before kicking up dirt and rolling on the ground until the older male paced off. We saw a herd of female and yearling elk being herded across a hill by a huge male elk with a giant rack of antlers. The sound male elk make is something of a shrieking bugle. It’s hard to describe, but strange and beautiful at the same time.