Saturday, September 7, 2002
The weather was much nicer today, sunny and cool. Hooray! This morning we drove west across the center of the park, through the charred remains of a forest decimated by the 1988 North Fork Fire. I remember the media at the time getting all hot and bothered over the Park Service's "let it burn" policy. It's no tragedy, though; it's just nature. Someday it will be forest again. Virginia Cascades Road circles through some of the worst of the fire damage and swings by the 60-foot Virginia Cascades.
Rebirth after devastating fire
Norris Geyser Basin is the hottest geyser basin in North America, and possibly the world. Temperatures as high as 459-degrees Farenheit were recorded a thousand feet underground before scientists had to quit drilling to avoid destroying their tools. The springs and geysers at Norris are very acidic, creating a barren basin, devoid of vegetation. Acid geysers - Yikes!
Norris Geyser Basin
The Norris area is actually divided into Porcelain Basin and Back Basin. Porcelain Basin has a nice overlook of the whole basin and a short path around the geysers for closer observation. As you look around, you can see as many as three or four geysers spouting at once!
Back Basin has a one-mile path you can follow through the many features. It's home to Steamboat Geyser, the world's tallest active geyser, sometimes erupting to a height of more than 300 feet for up to 20 minutes, spewing over a million gallons of water into the air. The full eruptions are totally unpredictable, and at the time we visited, one hadn't occurred in over two years. Minor eruptions of Steamboat Geyser, up to 40 feet, occur frequently.
Most boring name for a geyser: Congress Pool, named for the Fifth International Geological Congress. Best name for a geyser: Porkchop Geyser.
A 14-mile road following the Gibbon River connects Norris to Madison. At the edge of Gibbon Meadows we saw a black bear and then a lone elk. The road was in very poor condition at the time of our visit. When we reached the 84-foot-high Gibbon Falls, the parking area was closed due to road construction. We stopped in the road long enough for a quick photo. The falls is located at the point where the Gibbon River drops over the edge of the Yellowstone Caldera, a volcano so massive that it encompasses most of Yellowstone Park. The largest eruption ever to occur here was 2,400 times larger than the 1980 Mount St. Helens event, and the next one could happen at any time.
We backtracked to Norris Junction and turned north toward Mammoth Hot Springs. At the turnoff to Indian Creek Campground the cutest coyote ever was playing and rolling around in the grass. I wanted to take him home with us, but both Spike and the National Park Service would highly disapprove.
Our coyote buddy. He didn't seem wily at all.
The strange-looking Sheepeater Cliff began as a lava flow. As the lava cooled, the lava fractured into a set of columns. The cliff is named after the Shoshone Sheepeater Indians, the original occupants of Yellowstone.
Continuing north, we passed through a narrow gorge and crossed over the Golden Gate viaduct, an impressive piece of engineering clinging to the side of a cliff. Our guidebook warned us we'd want to say our "Hail Marys" as we drove over Golden Gate, but it wasn't actually scary.
Golden Gate viaduct
Mammoth Hot Springs lies near the norther border of Yellowstone Park at an elevation of 6,230 feet. Water seeping into the ground here meets hot gases underneath the surface and forms an acid solution. As the hot, acidic mixture works its way to the surface, it dissolves massive amounts of limestone. When the dissolved limestone is exposed to air, it becomes solid again and is deposited in the resulting terraces and mounds.
Orange Spring Mound, Mammoth Hot Springs
Thousands of years of hot, mineral-rich water flowing from the earth has created huge, multi-colored terraces and pools. The formations are constantly changing, and the area looks totally different than the other times I've visited, once as a child and once as a teenager. The limestone accumulates at a rate of over two tons per day, and the formations grow as much as eight inches per year. Don't miss this area. It doesn't have the flashiness of the geysers, but it is awesome!
From the Main Terrace
The hot, acidic water claims more trees
East from Mammoth to Tower Junction we passed two more very fine waterfalls, Undine Falls, 110 feet, and Wraith Falls, 100 feet. Undine can be seen from a roadside pull-out, but Wraith requires a one-mile hike. Waterfalls rule. What is it about the water-gravity combo that's always so compelling?
This drive goes through one of the most open areas of Yellowstone, all the better for spying wildlife. We got very close to a pronghorn antelope, then at Elk Creek we joined a gaggle of people gaping at some moose. The moose really blend in with the trees, but we saw one bull moose and several baby meese.
The petrified tree in the photo below isn't in some kind of trouble. A second tree that used to stand nearby was stolen piece by piece by idiots, and now the remains of this one has been locked behind iron bars for its own protection. Take nothing but memories, people! And photographs, of course.
Beware of tree
South of Tower Junction, heading "home" for the night, huge herds of elk could be seen on the mountainsides. They can be heard trumpeting from miles away! Several mule deer were foraging near the road as dusk fell. I again had to drive especially carefully - an animal-car collision wouldn't be good for anyone. At the turnoff for Canyon Village, a large bull moose was standing chest deep in a pond eating his dinner.
Back at the cabin, a bat had somehow gotten trapped in our bathroom! Tom captured it in the wastebasket and set it free outside, while I helpfully yelled instructions from the far side of the room like "Ohmygod, get that bat outta here!"
102 miles today and more gas-station sandwiches. Yuck. This gas-station food is just about on my last nerve.
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