The Wonders and Mysteries of Yellowstone
DELSEY PARIS and THE UNSEASONAL have teamed
up to take a fresh look at travel destinations that go beyond expectations.
The Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem, which exists in the northwest corner of Wyoming,
is deeply impressive, with its grand beauty and exciting geology. It paints a
perfect picture of the fragility and power of nature.
The Yellowstone Caldera is one of three active supervolcanoes in the U.S. It formed during the last of three supereruptions over the past 2.1 million years. Volcanism in this area is relatively recent; one of the smaller eruptions created Yellowstone Lake. Currently, Yellowstone is a dormant volcano, with low levels of unrest that are exhibited via numerous geothermal vents.
The visible activity is a result of light and hot magma rising toward the caldera’s surface. Gases bubble out in the form of vents, thermal mud pools, or boiling streams. The place where the Boiling River met with the chilly Gardner River was accessible for swimming — swirling together, the water temperature was just right. Deep in one of the remote corners of the Yellowstone backcountry, a gurgling hot spring invites adventures for a bubbly bath — pockets of air released by an underwater fumarole causes the stir. The surroundings are almost alien: Mineral limestone towers with patches of green and orange sit along the river’s edge.
Thermophiles are heat-loving organisms nourished by energy and chemical building blocks that are available in the hottest environments on Earth. Thermophilic microbes, such as bacteria and algae, form delicate and thin structures. The bright colors along the edges of the mineral-rich water are the result of microbial communities, which produce a vivid rainbow spectrum ranging from green to red.
For thousands of years, Yellowstone had been a place for many tribes and bands to hunt, fish, gather plants, quarry obsidian to field dress bison, and venerate the thermal waters for religious and medicinal purposes. The Mud Volcano area was significant for the Kiowa — their tradition says that a hot spring called Dragon’s Mouth is where their creator offered the Yellowstone area to be their home.
Tribal oral histories indicate extensive use during the Little Ice Age; Kiowa stories place their ancestors from around
1400 to 1700 C.E. After the arrival of European Americans, Yellowstone National Park was established as the world’s first national park in 1872.
In 1890, President Roosevelt took a family vacation to the park and found it “had the same rejuvenating effect” as the German town Baden-Baden. Even though his guide got them lost and his wife was thrown from a horse, Roosevelt never lost his fascination for the park, which features over 2 million acres of land, numerous geyser basins to visit, and scenic mountain peaks and shaded valleys filled with elk and bison.
The best time to visit is June through October, when the snow has melted. Ideally, you might want to reserve three days to visit the park. We started in the north at Mammoth Hot Springs, which is a large complex of hot springs and one of the biggest mysteries of the park since scientists can’t explain its underground plumbing system.
The beautiful terrace structure was created over thousands of years, as hot water from the spring cooled and deposited calcium carbonate — a primary compound in limestone. Although these springs lie outside the caldera boundary, their energy has been attributed to the same magmatic system that fuels other Yellowstone geothermal areas.
The water that feeds Mammoth travels underground from Norris Geyser Basin. Naturally, Norris Geyser Basin was our next stop. It is one of the hottest and most acidic of Yellowstone’s hydrothermal areas, and it’s part of one of the world’s largest active volcanoes.
The basin offers innumerable hot springs, mud pools, and fumaroles that bubble and vent incessantly. Every turn we took offered a new variety of thermal activities. Norris is near the intersection of three major faults. The dynamic of the stir from underneath is palpable in the entire area. Hiking the basin is breathtaking and incomparable.
The Canyon Lodge and Cabins is one of the most eco-friendly hotels: Of the facility’s more than 500 rooms and cabins, some have been certified Gold by the U.S. Green Building Council’s Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) program. Conveniently located on the east side of the park on Clover Lane, this wooded property, near the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone River, features charming, rustic cabins.
On our second day, we visited the Grand Prismatic hot spring. The Fairy Falls trailhead takes you to the viewing platform. From there, climb up the Overlook Trail and you’ll be rewarded with spectacular views in the afternoon, when the direct sunlight falls into the steaming water of the hot spring and highlights its vibrant colors. The Midway Geyser Basin boardwalk offers a close-up view of Grand Prismatic, which is deeper than a 10-story building. Its boiling water travels up from a crack in the Earth to reach the surface. Bigger than a football field, it is the third largest hot spring in the world.
The world-famous geyser Old Faithful erupts every 90 minutes, and it is the biggest of nearly 500 geysers. Although it is uncommon to be able to predict geyser eruptions with regularity, Old Faithful lives up to its name, only lengthening the time between eruptions by about 30
minutes in the last 30 years. Spending the evening with Old Faithful and seeing it erupt under the golden light of the sunset was a spectacular treat.
Staying at Old Faithful Inn is an experience in itself. The inn was built during the winter of 1903–04, and today is one of the few remaining log hotels in the United States. It is a masterpiece of rustic architecture, featuring a stylized design and fine craftmanship. Its influence on American architecture, particularly park architecture, is immeasurable.
The lobby of the National Historic Landmark features a 65-foot-high ceiling, a massive rhyolite fireplace, and railings made of contorted lodgepole pine. According to local legend, a freak blizzard struck the Old Faithful Inn on August 25 in the early 20th century. Trapped and isolated for days, the guests decided to celebrate Christmas. Today, Christmas in August is an annual tradition, and the celebration includes decorating Christmas trees, singing carols, and exchanging gifts.
With over 1,000 miles of trails in Yellowstone, choosing one is difficult. On our last day, we hiked the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone River and explored the spectacular waterfalls on the North Rim Trail, which takes around three hours to complete. The trail crosses a pine forest that is surprisingly quiet, considering how close it is to a dangerous canyon wall.
From there, the trail takes you to many of the top viewing points, including Brink of the Upper Falls, a deep 20-mile gash. At some spots, the path you take is just a few feet from a sheer 1,000-foot drop to the river. Another impressive hike is Mount Washburn. From the 10,243-foot-tall summit, you’ll have excellent views of Yellowstone. On your way, you might see some incredible wildlife.
No visit to the park is complete without meeting the impressive bison that are frequently causing traffic jams. Sharing the streets with these majestic animals is a memorable encounter you won’t forget.
Images: Ger Ger Words: Tina Ger
The Unseasonal is a purpose-driven special projects magazine and alternative take on the world – a magazine about passion, travel, beauty, the change in seasons, the unusual, and the human condition. It features timeless pictorials, thoughtful stories, and unique collaborations. The Unseasonal embodies the feeling of a getaway, of slowing down, of exotic places, optimism, breathtaking dreams, unique architecture, and a lightness of being, traced with elements
from the past, the future, Romanticism, and impulses for making the world a better place.