Attractions in Yellowstone Park
geysers, steam vents, and hot springs to the Grand Canyon of the
©Kevin Sanders 2014
made the heavens and the earth in six days and on the seventh
He rested...I'd like to think that on the seventh day while He
rested, He slept and dreamed of a wild and beautiful place. And
when he awoke, there was a grizzly and a land we now call Yellowstone."
There are 7 major areas, or districts
within Yellowstone Park where all of the major attractions are
found. Most will be located on the "lower loop".
in 1872, Yellowstone Park is the first national park established
in America and remains one of the largest; encompassing
2.2. million acres or 3,472 square miles.
is larger than the states of Rhode Island and Delaware combined
and lies in three states - Wyoming, Montana, and Idaho. Some 350
miles of paved road wind through the park, crossing the Continental
Divide three times and looks much like a figure 8; the upper and
the lower grand loops.
from approximately 5,300 feet to almost 12,000 feet. Most roads
lie at around 8,000 feet.
district is best known for its fly fishing, and wildlife.
district is where you will spend most of your time viewing geysers,
hot springs, steam vents "fumaroles", and paint pots,
views along the Firehole River as well as wildlife.
The Lake district
would include Yellowstone Lake as well as hot springs, fumaroles,
and possibly bears.
Canyon district you will find one of the better high elevation
grazing meadows in Yellowstone; Hayden Valley. Your best bet at
finding a bison during August. The Canyon district is also best
known for its famous waterfalls, deep canyon, high elevation mountain
pass and sweeping vistas as well as bears, elk and other wildlife.
district will include Norris Geyser basin, one of the more dynamic
geothermal basins within Yellowstone as well as open meadow scenes
with wildlife and views along the Gibbon River.
is home to Yellowstone Park headquarters and historical buildings
as well as wildlife, and the famous travertine terraces.
/ Roosevelt district is best known for its wildlife, waterfall
and river scene as well as geologic evidence left behind by past
volcanic eruptions. This district is considered low elevation
for Yellowstone, and is spring/winter range for numerous specie
- Mention Yellowstone Park and
visitors usually think first of "Old Faithful." Fact is, Old
Faithful is only one of 10,000 unique thermal features found
in the 2.2 million acre park. The world's greatest concentration
of geothermal features is located in Yellowstone - hot springs,
steam vents, mud pots, and about 250-300 geysers.
- The number of geysers
can vary almost daily due to earthquake activity. Each time
the park experiences a quake, much of the underground plumbing
system changes or shifts which then effects many of the geysers
in the park.
- A classic example
of this change in activity can be found at Echinus geyser
located at Norris Geyser basin. In the mid-80's Norris received
a 3.5 quake which triggered a very active and predictable
eruption schedule for Echinus. Then in May of 1999 Norris
received a 4.5 quake which then made Echinus unpredictable
and at the same time created new activity just uphill at the
worlds largest geyser; Steamboat. Update: Steamboat erupted
for the first time in 10 years on May 4th, 2000! and has erupted
once per year since then.
Old Faithful Geyser
Yellowstone park, as a whole, possesses
close to 60 percent of the world's geysers. The Upper Geyser
Basin is home to the largest number of geysers found in the
park. Within one square mile there are at least 150 of these
hydrothermal wonders. Of this number, only five major geysers
are predicted regularly by the naturalist staff. They are: Castle,
Grand, Daisy, Riverside, and Old Faithful. There are many frequent,
smaller geysers to be seen and marveled at in this basin as
well as numerous hot springs and one recently developed mud
This large area of geothermal activity can be viewed
by foot along the boardwalk trail at Fountain Paint Pots and
by car along the three mile Firehole Lake Drive. The latter
is a one-way drive where you will find the sixth geyser predicted
by the Old Faithful staff: Great Fountain. Its splashy eruptions
send jets of water bursting 100-200 feet in the air, while waves
of water cascade down the raised terraces. Patience is a virtue
with this twice-a-day geyser, as the predictions allow a 2 hour +/- window of opportunity.
Fountain Paint Pot trail
is one of my favorite thermal areas to visit, and contains all
four types of thermal features found in Yellowstone. They are:
hot springs, mud or paint pots, steam vents, and geysers.
geyser basin, though small in size compared to its companions
along the Firehole River, holds large wonders for the visitor.
Excelsior Geyser reveals a gaping crater 200 x 300 feet with a
constant discharge of more than 4,000 gallons of water per minute
into the Firehole River. Also in this surprising basin is Yellowstone's
largest hot springs, Grand Prismatic Spring. This feature is 370
feet in diameter and more than 121 feet in depth.
Star Geyser Basin
backcountry geyser basin is easily reached by a 5-mile roundtrip
hike from the trailhead south of Old Faithful. Lone Star Geyser
erupts about every three hours.
There is a logbook located in a
raised wooden cache near the geyser for observations of geyser
times and types of eruptions. There are minor eruptions every
1.5 hours. When you look at the logbook you will note that all
of the eruptions recorded by visitors are "major" :-)
The trail is an old road which
visitors in the 20's and 30's were able to drive on and is a
very easy hike. While hiking in, ask the hikers you pass on
their way out if they had witnessed Lone Star erupt. You can
then estimate the next eruption based on their recorded eruption.
Note: all of those asked will say they saw a "major eruption".
Shoshone Geyser Basin is reached by a 17-mile round trip
hike that crosses the Continental Divide at Grant's Pass. This
basin has no boardwalks and extreme caution should be exercised
when traveling through it. Trails in the basin must be used. Remote
thermal areas should be approached with respect, knowledge, and
care. Be sure to emphasize personal safety and resource protection
when entering a backcountry basin. The easiest way to view this
basin is to canoe into Shoshone lake via Lewis lake and camping
out. A permit is required to camp here as well as all other backcountry
campsites. see Backcountry Camping
river derives its name from the steam (which they thought was
smoke from fires) witnessed by early trappers to the area. Their
term for a mountain valley was "hole," and the designation was
born. The Firehole River boasts a world-famous reputation for
fly-fishing. Brown, rainbow, and brook trout give the angler a
wary target in this stream. Fishing permits are required to fish
in Yellowstone park. Click Here for more information on fishing permits.
What causes this geothermal activity?
crust here is less than 40 miles thick (the average is closer
to 90 elsewhere). Molten magma 3-4 miles below the surface results
in volcanic activity, geyser eruptions, and hot springs.
eruptions in Yellowstone Park have occurred 3 times, almost every
16,000 years. The first super eruption, which occurred 2.1 million
years ago was the largest of the three and massive in size. Ash
deposits 15 feet deep have been found as far south as Mexico,
and as far east as Iowa.
massive eruption has been estimated to have been about 6000 times
more powerful than the blast of Mt. St. Helens in 1981. The Yellowstone
volcano is the largest in the world and is classified as a super
volcano. Only 30 super volcanoes exist in the world, and Yellowstone
is the only one on land. The remaining 29 are scattered over the
last eruption, which occurred about 640,000 years ago, the remaining
earths surface collapsed in on itself leaving a large 50 mile
long X 25 mile wide high elevation flat plateau, or caldera under
which lies the worlds largest magma chamber. Since the last major
super eruption, Yellowstone has experienced 30 smaller volcanic
eruptions. Evidence of these smaller eruptions can be found throughout
no evidence at this time, that Yellowstone is about to erupt.
Hot Springs are the main attraction of the Mammoth District. These
features are quite different from thermal areas elsewhere in the
park. Travertine formations grow much more rapidly than sinter
formations due to the softer nature of limestone; up to 12" per
year. As hot acidic water rises through limestone, large quantities
of rock are dissolved by the hot water, and a white chalky mineral
(calcium carbonate) is deposited on the surface. When the water
reaches the surface, it has a balanced ph of 7.0 due to the large
amount of calcium carbonate which the acid water has dissolved.
visitors are sometimes confused by the rapidly shifting activity
of the hot springs and disappointed when a favorite spring appears
to have "died," it is important to realize that the location of
springs and the rate of flow changes daily, that "on-again-off-again"
is the rule, and that the overall volume of water discharged by
all of the springs fluctuates little.
Most of the
geothermal features found in the park average 200° F. Some
are much hotter. Stay on the boardwalks and marked trails. Each
year a few visitors are seriously burned, some have died. The
boardwalks are there for your safety and protection.
Norris Geyser Basin
Norris Geyser Basin is the hottest, oldest, and most dynamic
of Yellowstone Park's thermal areas. The highest temperature yet
recorded in any geothermal area in Yellowstone was measured in
a scientific drill hole at Norris: 459 degree's F just 1,087 feet
below the surface! There are very few thermal features at Norris
under the boiling point (199F at this elevation). Norris shows
evidence of having had thermal features for at least 115,000 years.
in the basin change daily with frequent disturbances from seismic
activity and water fluctuations. The vast majority of the waters
at Norris are acidic, including acid geysers which are very rare.
Steamboat Geyser, the tallest geyser in the world (300 to 400
feet) and Echinus Geyser (pH 3.5) are the most popular features.
Echinus has been under change for the past couple of years. The
pH has changed from acidic to more neutral and has been testing
at around 6.5, also increasing in temperature -- 172 degree's,
which has allowed algae beds to form in the run-off channel.
consists of three areas: Porcelain Basin, Back Basin, and One
Hundred Springs Plain. Porcelain Basin is barren of trees and
provides a sensory experience in sound, color, and smell; a 3/4
mile dirt and boardwalk trail accesses this area. The Back Basin
is more heavily wooded with features scattered throughout the
area; a 1.5 mile trail of boardwalk and dirt encircles this part
of the basin.
Springs Plain is an off-trail section of the Norris Geyser Basin
that is very acidic, hollow, and dangerous. Travel is discouraged
without the guidance of knowledgeable staff members. The area
was named after Philetus W. Norris, the second superintendent
of Yellowstone, who provided the first detailed information about
the thermal features.
At Norris Geyser Basin*
Following several swarms of earthquakes in
the Norris Geyser Basin area in May of 1999, some of the Basin's
geysers are now displaying changes. The most noticeable change
is with Echinus Geyser, one of the Park's most popular and most
predictable geysers. The time between eruptions of Echinus since
May of 1999 has been unpredictable, whereas the geyser had been
erupting prior to 1999 roughly every 70 minutes.
largest geyser, Steamboat, erupted for the fourth time in just
over a year on April 27th, 2003. Prompting new questions about
increased activity for the worlds biggest geyser.
between eruptions at Steamboat -- famously unpredictable and spectacular
geyser--historically range from about four days to 50 years. After
a relatively quiet two years following an eruption in May 2000,
Steamboat erupted April 26, 2002; Sept. 14, 2002; March 26, 2003
and again on April 27, 2003.
July 2003: Due
to some major changes within the back basin, park rangers closed
off most of the boardwalk.
Sept. 2003: The boardwalk in the back basin reopened with
the addition of a new boardwalk, and conditions improved, but
keep in mind that change in Yellowstone is constant, and you may
encounter a sudden increase in thermal activity with little or
no notice. Always think safety while touring one of our many geothermal
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Canyon of the Yellowstone
The Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone is one of the more
impressive sights found in Yellowstone Park and one of the most
popular. It is famous for its colors, shapes, and waterfalls.
The canyon contains just two of 400 waterfalls found in Yellowstone,
but they are the largest.
time of year to photograph the Canyon is the first two weeks of
October. The sun has set far enough on the horizon that it highlights
one side of the canyon in light and shades the opposite side.
The North rim is better photographed in early morning in Oct.
and the South rim in the afternoon.
The Grand Canyon
of the Yellowstone is the primary geologic feature in the Canyon
District. It is roughly 20 miles long, measured from the Upper
Falls to the Tower Fall area. Depth is 800 to 1,200 ft.; width
is 1,500 to 4,000 ft.
as we know it today is a very recent geologic feature. The present
canyon is no more than 10,000 to 14,000 years old, although there
has probably been a canyon in this location for a much longer
period. The exact sequence of events in the formation of the canyon
is not well understood, as there has been little field work done
in the area. The few studies that are available are thought to
be inaccurate. We do know that the canyon was formed by erosion
rather than by glaciation.
story of the canyon, its historical significance as a barrier
to travel, its significance as destination/attraction, and its
appearance in Native American lore and in the accounts of early
explorers are all important interpretive points. The "ooh-ahh"
factor is also important: its beauty and grandeur, its significance
as a feature to be preserved, and the development of the national
Upper and Lower Falls of the Yellowstone
are erosional features formed by the Yellowstone River as it flows
over progressively softer, less resistant rock.
The Upper Falls is upstream
of the Lower Falls and is 109 ft. high. It can be seen from the
Brink of the Upper Falls Trail and from Uncle Tom's Trail.
The Lower Falls is 308 ft. high and can
be seen from Lookout Point, Red Rock
Point, Artist Point, brink of the Lower
Falls Trail, and from various points on the South Rim Trail. The
Lower Falls is often described as being more than twice the size
of Niagara, although this only refers to its height and not the
volume of water flowing over it. The volume of water flowing over
the falls can vary from 63,500 gal/sec at peak runoff to 5,000
gal/sec in the fall.
third falls can be found in the canyon between the Upper and Lower
falls. Crystal Falls is the outfall of Cascade Creek into the
canyon. It can be seen from the South Rim Trail just east of the
Uncle Tom's area.
Yellowstone River is the force that created the canyon and the
falls. It begins on the slopes of Yount Peak, south of the park,
and travels more than 600 miles to its terminus in North Dakota
where it empties into the Missouri River. It is the longest un
dammed river in the continental United States.
Just South and upstream of the upper falls
is Hayden Valley. This valley was once thought to be part of Yellowstone
Lake farther upstream. The theory is a large glacier blocked off
the Yellowstone river somewhere near the upper falls and forced
silt to fill in that section of the lake forming Hayden Valley.
In late July and all of August Hayden Valley is the home to the
majority of bison in the park and is their historical mating ground.
Yellowstone Park is also home
to abundant and varied wildlife, unlike anywhere else in America.
Nearly all wildlife species that inhabited the park when it was
first explored over 100 years ago survive today. Click here to view just a sample of a few.
"Roadside History of
Yellowstone Park". by Winfred Blevins, Mountain Press Publishing
"A Field Guide To Yellowstone's
Geysers, Hot Springs, and Fumaroles", by Carl Schreier, Homestead
"Yellowstone, A National
Park Waterfall Guide". by Charles Maynard, Panther Press
by Richard A. Bartlett, The University of Arizona Press
"Mountain Time, Man Meets
Wilderness in Yellowstone". by Paul Schullery, Simon and Schuster
"A Yellowstone Album,
A Photographic Celebration of the First National Park". Lee Whittlesey,
et al, Yellowstone Foundation
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