Around the Park in Fourteen Days: A Photo Essay

The last couple of weeks I have been traveling in a mad rush around Yellowstone as part of my work, but I made time for capturing some springtime photographs.  

Yellowstone LakeCecropia Moth

Three Bighorn LambsBlack Bear near TowerWatching Old Faithful Erupt from the Crow's NestSnowshoe Hare in motionBison Grazing in Hayden ValleyGrizzly Near Washburn

Geyser Gazing

castle geyser.jpg.jpgThis evening I explored the Upper Geyser Basin and wandered among the colorful cyanobacteria—the creatures responsible for the vibrant hues in the thermal features.

While witnessing all of this volcanic activity, it occurred to me how strong our notion is of the ground beneath our feet being solid and secure. A trip to Yellowstone quickly debunks that view---the earth’s restlessness never ceases below us, but in Yellowstone we’re allowed to peer beneath the surface to an underworld of fire.

sawmill geyser.jpg.jpgCastle Geyser: The mineral cone formed over thousands of years. Castle has a reputation for being unpredictable, as T. Scott Bryan observes in his book The Geysers of Yellowstone, “When we talk about the personalities of geysers, Castle heads the list. It has been known to undergo at least four different types of eruptions.”

Sawmill Geyser: A fountain-type geyser with eruptions that can produce a burst of water up to 35 feet in height.

chromatic pool.jpg.jpgChromatic Pool: A lesson in thermal features—geysers are characterized by a broken, underground plumbing system. The water’s path becomes constricted, heat cannot escape, and the pressure increases until critical mass is reached.

Hot springs resemble geysers in principle, but lack the broken plumbing; water flows freely to the surface to release heat. Chromatic may lack the showy plume of a geyser, but the striking color more than compensates.

anemone geyser.jpg.jpgAnemone Geyser: Growing up near the ocean, I loved seeing Yellowstone’s version of one of my favorite sea-creatures. The color and texture of its sinter (the deposits surrounding the geyser) truly does resemble a true anemone’s pink and orange bulbous tentacles.

Into the Yellowstone Interior

bison at midway geyser basin.jpg.jpgFor three months I've been living at the end of the road; now that the snowplows have opened up the Yellowstone interior, I've been having fun exploring Yellowstone's vast area. I am still trying to adjust to it being three times the size of Yosemite!

swan on gibbon river.jpg.jpgI had to drive to Old Faithful today to conduct an environmental training. Yellowstone has experienced record snowfall this winter and much of the landscape is still covered in snow.

But spring has gained the upper hand---the creeks and rivers are alive with rushing water, and newly green meadows have begun to peek out from beneath their white blanket. The steam from the geysers lend the land a mystical quality; I keep expecting a dragon or unicorn to emerge from the mist.

Dashing Through the Snow

Snow%20Van.jpgYou know you have a great job when part of your duties require you to travel to work through the interior of Yellowstone on a 2 ½ hour snowcoach ride. On Wednesday, I journeyed out to Old Faithful for a two-day trip to inspect the facilities. As snow covers all interior park roads in winter, the only way in is via snow transportation.

bull elk.jpgThe trip to Old Faithful revealed a sublime winter landscape, rolling hills of white with steam from the geysers and hot springs drifting in the air like fallen clouds. We passed curious elk and bison, and waited many times for a bison jam to clear before proceeding. I admire the bison for their indifference to vehicles of any size.

The Old Faithful area in winter has an immense charm. Automobiles are notably absent, and visitors and park employees ski or snowmobile on the snow-covered roads. Stands of colorful skiis sticking out of the snow decorate the entrance to every employee dorm, and everybody wears at least three layers of clothes. Yet there is a quietude to the landscape—-the whiteness of winter stretches for miles in every direction.old faithful.jpg

I braved the cold after lunch one day and ventured out to watch Old Faithful. Insider tip: Old Faithful isn’t as trustworthy as her name implies. The current 90 minute or so interval between eruptions used to be as short as an hour. Earthquakes, and the resulting effects (shifting landscape, mineral deposits, changing water flow) can cause the interval between eruptions to shift.

When Old Faithful erupts, she pushes between 3,700-8,400 gallons of boiling water to a height of up to 184 feet. If you haven’t checked out the National Park Service’s live streaming webcam of Old Faithful, it’s worth a viewing (See my Yellowstone Webcam Links). I called the Yosemite Association staff when I arrived on site and waved to them while Old Faithful erupted. Technology is fun!

Haunted%20Hotel.jpgBefore we left, I was also fortunate to receive an evening tour of the Old Faithful Inn, a grand park lodge designed by Robert Reamer and described by one historian as “rusticity gone berserk.” The lobby, constructed with beautifully finished log beams and supports, rises to 76 feet in height. As the Inn isn’t occupied in the winter, our footfalls echoed in the empty rooms. And yes, given the remote winter setting and the empty hotel, I had the inevitable thoughts of "The Shining." Luckily, no twin girls appeared, but I did utter redrum to my coworkers a few times.

Snowshoeing on a Volcano (Sort of)

Mammoth%20from%20Upper%20Terraces.jpgA park ranger telling the story of a thousand year-old tree around a campfire in Rocky Mountain National Park inspired my passion for national parks. Although I did not realize my childhood dream of becoming a park ranger, I have been lucky to work in roles that support our national parks.

During my time in Yosemite, I learned an enormous amount from the dedicated interpreters who were so generous about sharing their love for the park—Dick Ewart, Dean Shenk, Margaret Eissler, Erik Westerlund… and many more. Thank you for teaching me so much about Yosemite!

Of course all that knowledge is useless now—my decade of Yosemite-oriented study counts for nothing in Yellowstone. I have to start from scratch. And what better way to learn than by attending a ranger-led walk!

Thermals%20in%20Mammoth.jpgAfter donning about eight layers of clothes, I ventured outside in twenty-degree weather to the Mammoth Hot Spring Terraces—the northern part of the park’s most active geothermal area.

While Yosemite’s geology and landscape centers around solid granite batholiths, Yellowstone’s terrain is all about volcanic activity—steaming, colorful hotsprings and geysers. Indeed, Yellowstone is known as a geologic hotspot—an area where hot molten rock rises to the surface. Lurking under this park is a vertical plume of hot rock 125 miles in depth. (Sorry, Mom, this does mean I am living next to an area that could blow sky high at any moment!)

Orange%20Spring.jpgRobert Smith and Lee Siegel open their book, Windows into the Earth: The Geologic Story of Yellowstone and Grand Teton National Parks, with a quote from an early scientist that captures the landscape perfectly:

“Anyone who has spent summers with the pack-train in a place like Yellowstone comes to know the land to be leaping…The mountains are falling all the time and by millions of tons. Something underground is shoving them up.”

Our park ranger for the day, Debbie, took her party of two intrepid students (myself and a woman from Texas) on a delightful two-hour walk on the terraces. She gave a great introduction to winter survival strategies and the formation process behind the terrace development.

Orange%20Spring%20invading%20the%20Road.jpg Halfway through the hike, snowflakes began falling, yet the whiteness in both land and sky lent this already surreal landscape an even more mystical quality. Elk grazed on uncovered grass near thermal pools, rising steam disappeared into the falling snowflakes, and a highway of animal tracks decorated the snow.

At Orange Springs Mound, we saw evidence of nature asserting her authority. The water flow had shifted from the top of the mound to the side, and the water had begun running down the asphalt road, leaving mineral deposits to color the pavement. Two park geologists were checking out the site when we arrived. As this is a popular road in the summer, the water’s route is problematic, but I think the beautiful oranges and greens left by the bacteria and algae are works of art.

Pete%20Devine.jpgFor Pete Devine---You will be so proud of me!!! On our walk, a park visitor asked the ranger what bird call we were hearing, and I said without evening thinking, “that’s a clark’s nutcracker.” And I was right!

Note--although Pete's not an official national park ranger, he's also an interpreter I learned an enormous amount from--thank you, Petey, and watch out for the buttoned shirts.