Thursday, May 3, 2012

April 29, 2012. Yellowstone. Part 1 Of 5.

This is the view across the street 
from our hotel room in Gardiner, Montana.

 We're leaving  Gardiner,
and heading to Yellowstone.

First glimmer of sunshine on the mountain.
Looks like silver.
It's quite pretty.

We're driving down Main Street
 and there are wild critters in the front yards.

I'm curious and I don't understand.
Corral Drive In,
 Home of the Hateful Hamburger,
claims to be the "Best in the West."
USA Today claims it the
#1 Burger Joint in the USA.
And AAA says it's the #3 Burger Joint
in Montana and Wyoming.

God knows, I could use a good burger right now.

So which is it?
  #1 in the USA, 
#3 in Montana and Wyoming,
 or the Best in the West?

I'll never know, 
since it's closed.

We're entering Yellowstone National Park
at the North entrance.
Yellowstone is the first national park,
established by the US Congress 
and signed into law by President Ulysses S. Grant
on March 1, 1872.
It is primarily located in the state of Wyoming,
but also extends into Montana and Idaho.

Yellowstone Park, to me,
is a terrifying place, geologically.

I've been here twice,
and both times I've been waiting 
for the calderas, and fumeroles,
and geysers, and steam pots
to all come together in perfect harmony
and blow us all to Kingdom Come.

This is the Roosevelt Arch 
at the North entrance to Yellowstone National Park.
The cornerstone, a time capsule
containing a Bible, a picture of Roosevelt,
and local newspapers, was laid down by
President Roosevelt in 1903.

The top of the arch is inscribed 
with the words,
"For the Benefit and Enjoyment of the People."
There are five entrances to Yellowstone Park,
and this North Entrance was the first for Yellowstone.
Construction of the arch began February 19, 1903
and was completed August 15, 1903
at a cost of $10,000.

Last time,
we came in from Cody, Wyoming,
on the East.
The East and South entrances are still closed.
Only the North and West entrances are open.

That's not snow up there.
Those are holes in the mountain.

Landslides are epidemic in this valley.
In late spring and summer, storm clouds
travel through the Gardner River canyon,
striking Mt. Everts with brief but intense showers.
The dry, layered cliffs have little protective vegetation.
Loosened by seismic tremors and constant freezing and thawing,
tons of mud and rock wash downslope,
forming alluvial fans at the base.
Down valley, toward Gardiner,
the slumping is more severe. 
After a heavy rain, cliffs of shale, mudstone, and sandstone
turn to liquid mud and half the mountain seems 
to come pouring down, sometimes blocking traffic.
Boulders and uprooted trees ride great distances. 
One can see landslide evidence on either side of the road.

And in case you're wondering,
the river is Gardner
and the town is Gardiner.
Go figger.

Our first stop is Mammoth Springs.
This is Liberty Cap,
a dormant hot spring cone,
not to be confused with Liberty Cap,
AKA psilocybe semilanceata,
the mushroom containing the psychoactive compounds
 psilocybin and baeocysten.

Of the world's psychoactive mushrooms,
the Liberty Cap is the most common in nature
and one of the most potent.
I have these in my garden.

 Where was I?
Oh yeah, in Yellowstone.

Signs are all over Yellowstone indicating "Dangerous Ground."
In thermal areas the ground may be only a thin crust
above boiling hot springs or scalding mud.
There is no way to guess a safe path.
New hazards can bubble up overnight,
and some pools are acidic enough to
burn through boots.
More than a dozen people have been scalded
to death and hundreds badly burned and scarred.
Leaving the boardwalk or trail,
or taking pets beyond the indicated points,
is unlawful and potentially fatal.
Throwing objects into thermal features,
collecting specimens,
or defacing formations
destroys what nature took centuries to build.
Violators will be prosecuted.

This area is constantly changing.
The ground is unstable and there is scalding water bubbling.

A living palette of color shimmers in these hot springs.
Billions of thermophiles, or heat-loving microorganisms,
thrive in these springs.
There are patchworks of colors,
created by different species of thermophiles,
each in a unique niche created by subtle differences in the spring.
Temperatures vary from spring to spring.
Some spots are too hot or too cool for some thermophiles.
Other spots are perfect.
Gases, most potent at the vent, are nutritious for some,
but deadly for other thermophiles.
Swirling water or calm pools create different living conditions.
And the formation's miniature hills and valleys 
capture light and cast shadows,
creating habitats for sun or shade-loving thermophiles.

View from the upper terrace.

This is the view from the Upper Terrace.
The physical scene has changed little 
since the Fort Yellowstone era.
From 1886, fourteen years after the park was established,
the U.S. army was responsible for protecting Yellowstone.
Cavalry and stagecoaches stirred up dust clouds 
on the streets of Mammoth Hot Springs.
Mammoth became a boom town 
as the Army headquartered here
and most tourists entered the park via the North Entrance.
The buildings below were Officer's quarters, a guardhouse,
cavalrymen's barracks, stables, and a chapel.
Today, the well-preserved Army buildings
provide employee housing or have been reincarnated
as warehouses and park maintenance shops.
In 1915, automobiles were allowed into the park.
Horses were banned in 1916,
and the new National Park Service took over 
park protection and administration.
Accessible year-round,
Mammoth continued as headquarters.

Unidentified critter carcass.

This is Orange Spring Mound.
After bubbling through several vents
along the top,
hot water flows over the mound.
Heat-dwelling bacteria and algae 
grow abundantly in Orange Spring Mound's water,
creating tapestries of "living color."

Yellowstone's volcano
heats water deep underground.

Under great pressure, the water percolates upward through
buried limestone, dissolving a mineral called calcium carbonate.

Above ground, the water begins to cool and evaporate.
Gases are released and water pressure decreases.

Orange Spring Mound gradually grows 
as the water flows over it,
depositing calcium carbonate, or travertine.

Eerie, but beautiful landscape.

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