Thursday, September 11, 2014

Yellowstone, a prehistoric wonderland

Two million years ago Yellowstone first erupted then 700,000 years later it erupted again. The third time was 660,000 years later, which was 640,000 years ago. That means it is due for its fourth eruption sometime within the next 10,000 years. But don't let that scare you off visiting the world's first ever national park (created in 1872). With a 30 by 45 mile wide caldera and half of the world's hot springs this active volcano allows you to glimpse what prehistoric Earth may have looked like, with smoking, gurgling, bubbling, boiling, thumping, flowing, erupting, smelly and colourful geysers, hot springs, mudpots and fumaroles. What a fascinating and unique environment. So glad we came here.

Add to all of that some iconic creatures including bison, wolves, bears, elk, chipmunks, and tiny microbes in the springs that are descendants of the first microbes to evolve on the planet.

First day here we went on a ranger walk to orientate ourselves to the park and came across a huge herd of bison. It was still rutting season and the males were a tad energetic. We saw bison butting heads and chasing each other in their efforts to become the dominant male in the group. While fascinating and exciting the ranger had us make an orderly retreat as all of the action was occurring on the actual trail. She apologised profusely while we were all excited at what was the highlight of our day. Does she not know that action like this is what we travellers dream about?

Over the next week we marvelled at the beauty and awesome power of the park's many thermal features. We've seen geysers and hot springs before but never so many over such a large area and boasting such amazing colours. In one week I took over 300 pictures.

From start to finish
I saw Old Faithful erupt four times, each one different. The teasing geyser has an estimated time of eruption posted by the rangers, give or take 10 minutes and on average about 94 minutes apart. So you sit there patiently waiting, and the geyser bubbles, everyone whips up their cameras expecting it to erupt but it settles down. It also spurts and smokes, and everyone is staring at it for up to 20 minutes, arms going numb holding cameras, not wanting to miss the initial eruption. During one of these gurgles the girl one person away from me whipped up her mobile phone so fast it flew out of her hand, smashing on the ground into three pieces. Finally it erupts, immediately going up to its full height for about 30 seconds before it starts to settle down and stop over the next five minutes.
Waiting for Old Faithful to erupt

This is by no means the only erupting geyser and is among a forest of other geysers. During a walk around Old Faithful Loops (as it was called) we came across Castle Geyser. It had a posted eruption time of 8:15pm give or take 45 minutes and it was currently 7:55. People were sitting there so we assumed it had not erupted yet but could not be bothered waiting. Barely 100m further along the track the geyser erupted. Going on previous experience we watched from there, assuming it would blow itself out by the time we got back, but the geyser kept erupting. A young girl ran past us with a camera trying to get back for a photo, and the geyser kept erupting. Her parents walked past mumbling about how they hoped their daughter gets some good pictures, and the geyser kept erupting. I was getting annoyed so I decided to go back since this normally makes them stop, and the geyser kept erupting. I took my pictures and video and walked back to Elizabeth and a new friend we had made, and the geyser kept erupting. The stupid geyser erupted for more than 40 minutes. It was going dark and we kept looking back at the still erupting geyser and eventually had to find our way back to the lodge by mobile phone torch since we dawdled so long. This was the ever-ready battery of geysers. Definitely one to put on your must see list if you ever come to the park, and you should come to this park, it is really awesome.

Breakfast at Grant Village overlooking
Yellowstone Lake
Finally, a traveller's tip: book early so you can get lodgings in the park. There are cabins here with nice beds, bathrooms and heating that are cheaper than the motels just outside the park. Food is also good value compared to outside. (The surrounding areas hike up their prices because they are near the park.) It will also save you at least an hour of travelling time getting to the scenic areas inside the park each day and the same going home.

A few of my favourite pictures out of the 322 I took...

Grand Prismatic Spring from a trail above

Just because they are cute :-)

Hiking with a new friend
Yellowstone Falls

Hey buddy! Where are you going?

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