After an exciting, beautiful ride on Beartooth Hidghway, we entered Yellowstone Park in Wyoming on the east side. The road through Yellowstone is a grand figure-eight loop system and we're on the east side of the loop today. Now for the history lesson. Yellowstone National Park was our first national park, established by an act of Congress in 1872 and signed into law by President Ulysses S. Grant on March 1, 1872. Yellowstone is primarily located in Wyoming, though it also extends into Idaho and Montana. The region takes its name from the dramatic gold-hued cliffs lining the river canyon, known by the Minnetaree Indians as mi tsi a-da-zi or Yellow Rock River. The Yellowstone area has been home for Native Americans for at least 11,000 years. The Lewis and Clark Expedition in the early 1800's bypassed this area and aside from visits from mountain men during the early to mid 19th century, organized exploration did not begin until the late 1860's. The US Army was commissioned to oversee the park just after its establishment. In 1917, administration of the park was transferred to the National Park Service, which had been created in 1916. Though its meadows and mountain forests are beautiful in their own right, Yellowstone is unique for its geysers, hot springs, mud pools, and fumaroles. Basically, this is a highly volatile geo/thermo-dynamic area that can freakin' blow sky high at any damn time. The park sits atop one of the largest active volcanoes on earth- a " hot-spot" that last erupted some 640,000 years ago, carving out a caldera 28 miles wide and 53 miles long. Before that, there were two other huge eruptions - one about 2 million years ago and another 1.3 million years ago. Heated by this vast subterranean magma chamber, the Yellowstone valley continues to steam and vent. The magmatic heat powering those eruptions still powers the park's geysers, hot springs, fumaroles, and mudpots. Volcanism lies at the heart of Yellowstone's past, present, and future. Yellowstone National Park spans an area of 3468 square miles, comprising lakes, canyons, rivers, and mountain ranges. Yellowstone Lake, which you'll see pictures of later, is centered over the Yellowstone Caldera, the largest supervolcano on the continent. A caldera is a cauldron-like volcanic feature usually formed by the collapse of land following a volcanic eruption. It is a large, usually circular depression at the summit of a volcano formed when magma is withdrawn or erupted from a shallow underground magma reservoir. The removal of large volumes of magma may result in loss of structural support for the overlying rock, thereby leading to collapse of the ground and formation of a large depression. Calderas are different from craters, which are smaller, circular depressions created primarily by explosive excavation of rock during eruptions. A supervolcano is a volcano capable of producing an eruption with ejecta greater than 240 cubic miles. A supervolcano occurs when magma in the earth rises into the crust from a hotspot, but is unable to break through the crust. Pressure builds in a large and growing magma pool until the crust is unable to contain the pressure. Like I said, bitch can blow at any time. We're entering on the east side today and traveling the east side which differs greatly from the west side, as you'll see later. In addition to its geologic wonders, Yellowstone National Park is also one of the most successful wildlife sanctuaries in the world. Both grizzly and black bears are sighted occasionally in the back country and sometimes from the road, although I was not so lucky as to experience this. I did talk to many hikers who had encountered bears. I noticed they all carried little canisters of bear spray in a holster across their chest. I was wondering how well that stuff works. I did talk to a couple in Red Lodge Montana, who'd left a canister in the floor of the back seat and when they extended the seat back it set of the bear mace. I believe it took several professional cleanings to eliminate the chemicals until they could enter their vehicle again. All this reminds me of a bear joke. Some hikers asked a park ranger about how to take care of themselves with regard to bears in the woods. The ranger told them to carry bells and pepper spray with them as protection. Use the bells to let the bear know you are in his area since you never want to startle a bear. By using a bell, the gentle sound will be heard by the animal and the bear will head in the opposite direction. As a last resort, in case you find yourself face to face with a bear, use the mace. Since bears are rarely in plain view, one should learn to identify which bears are in the area in which you are hiking. The hikers then went on to ask the ranger about the differences between black bears and grizzly bears. How would you know which bear was in your area? The ranger said you could tell the difference by their fecal material. A foolproof way to tell is to look for bear excrement. Black bears eat nuts and berries, occasionally small animals. If the droppings have a sweet, fruity smell and you can actually see berries in it and perhaps squirrel fur, then you can safely assume it's from a black bear. If the droppings contain small bells and smells of pepper, then you know it's a grizzly bear. OK, I digress. Back to the wildlife. The park also has several thousand elk, gray wolves, coyote, many mule deer, pronghorn antelopes, moose, bighorn sheep, and about 2200 bison, of which I saw maybe 2199. Yellowstone National Park has five entrances: North - Gardiner, MT West - West Yellowstone, MT South - Jackson via Grand Teton National Park (about 60 miles south) East - Cody, WY (about 53 miles east) Northeast - Cooke City, MT Today, we're coming in from Barefoot Highway and Cooke City, MT.
I made Mr. Hawthorne stop the car so I could get out and track down this apparently not-so-elusive creature. Click to enlarge the picture and you can see the beastie next to the tree.
Here's some info about a grizzly attack at a campground near Soda Butte. Interestingly enough, it is believed that a photographer had been baiting wildlife in the area and this is why the bear was in the vicinity.
This is Tower Fall. Like many of Yellowstone's waterfalls, Tower Fall began as a low ledge at the junction of two different bedrocks. Rock at the brink and underlying the fall is a tough volcanic breccia. (Breccia is rock composed of sharp, angular fragments embedded in sand or clay.) The weaker downstream rock erodes faster. Where Tower Creek drops into space, imagine the missing streambed - a channel of softer rock long since worn away. Just downstream from the base of the Fall, the Yellowstone River enters a narrow, swift-running gorge. Tower Creek cannot downcut fast enough to keep pace - and is left hanging high above the river.
We noticed smoke from a distant fire. I always love it when I can sneak music into my blog from a hundred years ago that meant so much to me then and now it's so au courant, blogwise.
The next day, when we went back into Yellowstone, I asked the ranger about the smoke. Seems like lightning struck on September 14, Mama Hawthorne's birthday, and started all this. (We started on our journey September 15.) The resulting fire has burned over 4000 acres, jumping into Yellowstone. About 20% has been contained.
Ahhh. The Grand Canyon of Yellowstone and the waterfalls. " ... As I took in the scene, I realized my own littleness, my helplessness, my dread exposure to destruction, my inability to cope with or even comprehend the mighty architecture of nature...." Nathaniel P. Langford, 1870, one of the first explorers to record his impressions of the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone.
This is the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone River. Scientists believe the canyon was formed after the huge volcanic eruption which occurred about 640,000 years ago. This eruption emptied a large underground chamber of magma (partially molten rock). Volcanic debris spread for thousand of miles in a matter of minutes. The roof of this chamber collapsed, forming a giant smoldering pit - a caldera - 30 miles across, 45 miles long, and several thousand feet deep. Eventually the caldera was filled with lava. One of these flows was the Canyon Rhyolite flow, occurring approximately 484,000 years ago. The flow came from the east and ended just west of the present canyon. About 590,000 years ago, a thermal basin developed in this lava flow. This hydrothermal activity both altered and weakened the rhyolite lava by the action of the hot steam and gases, making the rocks softer. The Yellowstone River began eroding these rocks downstream near Tower Falls and the erosion continued upstream to Lower Falls. The Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone gives a glimpse of Earth's interior. The waterfalls highlight the boundaries of the lava flows and thermal areas and the rugged mountains flank the park's volcanic plateau.
Large lakes were created by other lava flows that created the canyon, cutting through various soft and hard rhyolite lava. Later on, glaciers blocked the canyon three different times. Each time, these glaciers formed lakes which filled with gravel and sand. Floods from the melting glaciers at the end of each glacial period recarved the canyon, deepening it and removing most of the sand and gravel. The present appearance of the canyon dates from about 10,000 years ago, when the last glaciers melted. Since then, other erosional forces, namely water, wind, earthquakes, and other natural forces, have continued to sculpt the canyon.
Here the Yellowstone River plunges 308 feet over the Lower Falls. Hot springs have weakened the rock just downstream where you might see several geysers spouting into the river. As falling water pounds the thermally softened rock, it continues to undercut the falls and deepen the gorge. In this geologically active landscape, the park's riverbeds drop abruptly in more than a hundred locations. A half-mile upstream, the Upper Falls formed at a junction of lava flow and glacial lake sediments - one dense and hard, the other brittle and easily eroded.
Moving along through Yellowstone.
This is one of the many mudpots in Yellowstone. Mudpots are some of the most acidic features in the park. Their acidity plays a part in making them different from most hot springs and geysers. Hydrogen sulfide gas is present deep in the earth below the mudpots. Some microorganisms use this gas as an energy source, helping convert the gas to sulfuric acid, which breaks down rock to wet clay mud. Hydrogen sulfide, steam, carbon dioxide, and other gases explode through the layers of mud in dramatic ways.
At Mud Volcano, you are close to one of the major vents from which the lava flowed in that spectacular eruption 640,000 years ago. Early explorers to Yellowstone described this feature as a "most repulsive and terrifying sight," a volcano-like cone, 30 feet high and 30 feet wide with mud erupting to cover tall trees. The other major vent is near Old Faithful. Scientists closely monitor the areas surrounding these vents, known as resurgent domes, for information about future volcanic activity. When explorer Nathaniel Langford visited it in 1870, he described it as a "seething, bubbling mass of mud." It's likely a violent eruption blew out the cone's side, leaving the crater you see today. Rich in iron sulfides and powered by heavy gas discharge, the water constantly undercuts the back wall.
In 1870, explorers stood in awe as Mud Volcano spewed mud into the treetops, shaking the ground with each eruption. Two years later it was a pool of bubbling, muddy water. Mud Volcano had blown itself apart! While returning by a new route to our camp, dull, thundering sounds, which General Washburn likened to frequent discharges of a distant mortar, broke upon our ears. We followed their direction and found them to proceed from a mud volcano, which occupied the slope of a small hill, embowered in a grove of pines. Dense volumes of steam shot into the air with each report, through a crater thirty feet in diameter. The reports, though irregular, occurred as often as every five seconds, and could be distinctly heard half a mile. Each alternate report shook the ground a distance of two hundred yards or more, and the massive jets of vapor which accompanied them burst forth like the smoke of burning gunpowder. Nathaniel P. Langford 1870
Hydrogen sulfide gas emanating from the magma chamber causes the rotten-egg smell. Microorganisms, called thermophiles, use the hydrogen sulfide gas as a source of energy, turning the gas into sulfuric acid, which breaks down the rock and soil into mud. Different colors in the mud are vast communities of thermophiles. Some of the yellow, however, is pure sulphur. When iron mixes with sulphur to form iron sulfide, gray and black swirls sometimes appear in the mud.
Yellowstone's Sulphur Cauldron is a geothermal feature that broils with acid waters and bubbling mud. With a pH of 1, Sulphur Cauldron is 10 times more acidic than lemon juice and almost as acidic as battery acid. In spite of this, it is still a pool full of life. Bacteria called thermoacidophiles thrive in Sulphur Cauldron, converting the pool's hydrogen sulfide gas into sulfuric acid. Temperatures in the Sulphur Cauldron are about 190 degrees.
This is Dragon's Mouth Spring. An unknown park visitor named this feature around 1912, perhaps due to the water that frequently surged from the cave like the lashing of a dragon's tongue. Until 1994 this dramatic wave-like action often splashed water as far as the boardwalk. The rumbling sounds are caused by steam and other gasses exploding through the water, causing it to crash against the walls of the hidden caverns.
We saw this coyote on the side of the road, looking a bit disoriented. Cars were lined up to take pictures of him. I think he just wanted to get to the water on the opposite side of the road and all the cars and people were confusing him.
This is Yellowstone Lake. The largest body of water in Yellowstone park, the lake is 7732 feet above sea level and covers 136 square miles with 110 miles of shoreline. Yellowstone lake is the largest freshwater lake above 7000 feet in North America.
Yellowstone Lake. North America's largest mountain lake. Over geological time, it has drained in the Pacific Ocean and into the Arctic Ocean via Hudson Bay. It now drains into the Atlantic via the Gulf of Mexico. The lake is 20 miles long, 14 miles wide, and 430 feet deep at its deepest point. It averages 14o feet deep. Native trout generally inhabit the upper 60 feet because their foods rarely occur below that depth. Average August surface temperature is 60 degrees. Bottom temperature never rises above 42 degrees. In the winter, the lake freezes over by early December, with ice nearly 3 feet thick covering much of the lake, except where shallow water covers hot springs. The lake can remain frozen until late May or early June.
Such serenity. Peace. On the exterior. On the inside, it's a freakin' mess. We've taken the day driving down the eastern side. Due to time constraints, we left Yellowstone on the eastern side to go to Cody, Wyoming, for the night. We will return tomorrow and explore the radically different west side of Yellowstone. Stay tuned. Now, we're off to Cody, Wyoming. Enjoy the views.