Mammoth Springs Terrace
Just down the road from the little town that exists purely to charge you ungodly amounts of money for gasoline (actually less than just outside the park, I learned later), we came up to our first big stop at the Mammoth Hot Spring Terraces. I pretty much immediately became enthralled by the place. We started out walking on the board walk and before I knew it, I was snapping pictures at just about everything. We spent quite a bit of time looking at the way the springs were still building up the sides of the terraces a lot like a coral reef.
As cool as it was to see the bottom of the terraces, when we took the winding road back around to the top, we got treated to some cool views of the actual hot springs. It was really cool to see the steam rising up out of the water like a thick, stinky fog. That’s right, the one bad thing I can say about the hot springs and geysers of Yellowstone is that they reek like horrible ass gas. Of course the steam coming up out of the ground are actually made up mostly of Hydrogen Sulfide, which means as cool as it might be to take a picture of yourself standing in the steam fogs, it’s hard to do so without gagging horribly. It’s basically the equivalent of trapping yourself in an elevator with me after I’ve had too much dairy.
I learned that the colors in the springs are actually caused by microscopic organisms that can only survive in the horribly stinky soup slowly boiling at high temperatures from deep within the mountain. I of course thought that it looked a bit like the generic “toxic waste” that you would find in the best caliber of Troma Films. In fact, if anyone at Troma is reading this and wants to buy some stock footage of it for their next direct-to-dvd awesomeness, I’ve got some for sale!
I honestly could have spent a full day on just this one spot taking some pretty awesome pictures. At the time I thought it was by far and away the coolest thing I had seen in a very long time, and I’m really not a nature guy. It was just that there were dozens of cool little individual springs all over the place, neat little rocks cropping up here and there, and a visible line between the healthy trees on the mountain side and the trees that had succumb to a painful tree death thanks to the thermal energy pouring up out of the mountains themselves. But, just like with the rapids, I had to decide that there were far to many things still on my list to go and see, so we headed out after a little while.
We decided that we should probably make our way down to Old Faithful to find out exactly when it was going to erupt. You don’t go to Yellowstone for the first time and not see that particular geyser. Along the way, I noticed the type of thing that I normally go out of my way to see while on vacation: a museum.
The Museum of The National Park Ranger
I can’t say that it was the coolest spot in Yellowstone, or even my favorite spot in Yellowstone, but it is the place where I regret not spending more time. Not only was it an awesome museum depicting both the military history of the Park Rangers and their modern duties, but it was curated by a cool old Ranger that had served at 18 different National Parks. I don’t know that I will ever stop kicking myself for not just declaring the rest of the visit to be unimportant and sitting down with him and a notebook and finding out all about the history of the parks services.
Unfortunately, I’m also from Missouri where they don’t really let you take pictures in side museums so I only snapped a couple of shots there when I didn’t think the guy was watching me. I’ve since learned that out west they don’t really care if you take pictures, or touch the rocks, or sit in the chair in the ghost towns. The more you know. I did make sure to sign the guestbook.
Given another week of vacation to spend only at Yellowstone, I’d probably spend at least one full day there talking to that dude, hearing his stories and learning about what it means to be a Park Ranger. These guys aren’t push overs, they go out and live in the crappy one bedroom shacks in some of the harshest environments and the most difficult hikes in the world. I dig that pretty hardcore.
Leaving the Park Ranger Museum, we only made one more stop before hunger pushed us all the way down to the far end of the park to see the famous spurts, and it was to go to the bathroom and check out the geyser museum which wasn’t nearly as cool because it really was just an excuse to have a book store.
We made it to Old Faithful and had some lunch at their little café there. I recommend that if you decide to go to Yellowstone in the future, you pack yourself a picnic. $6 for a hotdog is a little pricey. We actually had pretty good timing, because after we finished lunch, we were able to get a fairly decent spot on the benches to watch the blast, and only had to wait about half an hour for it to go off. It was crazy how many people where there for it, even on a Tuesday well after school had started all across the country.
We knew that it was getting close to going off because it was already steaming again when we got there, and the smaller geysers in the background were starting to puff off some pressure. We actually got treated to several false starts, which was like Mother Nature’s way of building up suspense with the crowd. Each time it would give a small gush everyone would jump up and whip out their cameras, myself included. Although, I did pass of the actual duties of photographing the real blast to my brother, since I had never seen it before and we thought it would be better for me to see it with my own eyes than on the view screen of a point-and-shoot digital camera.
The actual blast itself was actually pretty quick when it finally came, but it did gush several times, rising higher and higher into the air. I was happy that I had made the trip to see it, but really after everything else I had seen in the park, I would say it was one of the lesser attractions in the world of cool things. I did have someone tell me that the reason it was so short that day was because of how windy it was. Maybe if I went on a still day, I’d be impressed by it’s massive, monstrous and manly eruptions.
Really, by the time we were done perusing the little shop for gifts for the monkeys, we were starting to get a bit worn down for the day and thought it would be good to limit ourselves to only a couple more stops. I’m glad we made the last stop we did, because it was by far and away my favorite place in the park. At least so far, I’ll need to make another four or five journeys to Yellowstone to be able to see it all.
The Grand Prismatic Springs
My father confided in me that in the seven trips he had made to Yellowstone over the years, he had never been to the Grand Prismatic Springs before, which was sad because they are amazing. The colors in these springs were drastically different from the toxic waste holes of the Mammoth springs. This was a place painted by the hand of God, and the springs here did not reek horribly of the Earth’s butt sweat. It was a place where the world just seemed peaceful and inviting.
The first thing we saw as we started across the boardwalks to the springs were the waterfalls pouring into the Fire Hole River (seriously, that’s it’s name, I’m not making this up) and immediately rising into great pillars of steam.
I actually had a feeling as we walked across the bridge that this particular place was the reason I had come all the way out here. I just felt excited about it, and I wasn’t disappointed in the least. The springs actually boil up out of the ground and the water is the deepest shade of blue ringed on the sides by the entire rainbow. There are actually several different springs located in the area, but it’s named for the Grand Prismatic, which is the hot spring that looks like some sort of giant ameba when viewed from space.
There were a lot of people there taking pictures, and I can understand why. It was absolutely beautiful. By the time we got done making the loop around the springs, I decided that this was the best place in the park and pretty much refused to try and see any other sites that required me to get out of the car. Of course this decision was made for aesthetic reasons, and had nothing to do with the fatigue starting to set in from a day spent walking on paths after several days spent driving endlessly in the car.
We only stopped one more time on our way back out of the park, and that was to argue over the nature of a pair of birds we saw on the side of a field. My dad was convinced they were emus, and my brother was convinced they were cranes (he still says he saw a blue crane in the river on the way out, but we all know that he’s just crazy). We couldn’t really tell what they were at the distance, so I put on the full zoom and snapped a picture:
My conclusion, they are a couple of big ass turkey buzzards.
After that, we headed back to the hotel before making the insane trek back to Kansas City the next morning. My brother was asleep before we were even two minutes down the road, and because of that, he missed out on seeing the big horned sheep, which I sadly did not get a picture of. The did not look like the rams that dwarves ride in WoW, but my dad assured me that the one I saw had tiny horns for the breed, and that the do indeed get dwarf-ridable sized.