Scenes from Yellowstone (2003)

A visual adventure through the spectacular beauty of Yellowstone National Park. Experience powerful geysers, colorful hot springs, panoramic mountain views, thundering waterfalls, and sprawling, wildlife-filled valleys in this huge (100 photo) SceneSet!
Roosevelt Arch -- Welcome to Yellowstone National Park!  "It is a pleasure now to say a few words to you at the laying of the corner stone of the beautiful arch which is to mark the entrance to this park. Yellowstone Park is something absolutely unique in the world so far as I know. Nowhere else in any civilized country is there to be found such a tract of veritable wonderland made accessible to all visitors." With those few words, President Theodore Roosevelt dedicated the arch that now bears his name, at the north entrance to Yellowstone National Park, Gardiner, Montana, on April 24, 1903.  Many people don't know that Teddy Roosevelt was an avid outdoorsman and conservationist, and also one of the leading forces in promoting the United States National Park Service. He was a particular fan of Yellowstone, and did a great deal to promote the enhancement, protection and use of the park.  At one time, access to Yellowstone was primarily through this entrance; visitors would arrive by train and take stagecoaches through the arch to the park. Over time other entrances were opened, and as automobiles became the preferred mode of access to the park, the trains went by the wayside. But the arch remains as a popular tourist attraction (and you still drive through it to access the park from the north!) Mammoth Terrace Layers  After entering Yellowstone National Park, the first of the many interesting geothermal areas you reach is Mammoth Hot Springs, which is a truly remarkable place. Boiling water percolates up from a number of hot springs and cascades down hillsides, forming terraces that are shaded a variety of colors. These have built up over many thousands of years.  This image, taken late in the afternoon, shows three "visual layers": in the foreground, water runoff from one of the major geothermal springs; in the middle ground, some of the terraces that are found all over the Mammoth area; and in the background, some of the mountains that surround the area. Travertine Stairsteps  One important way that Mammoth Hot Springs differs from the other geothermal areas in Yellowstone is the composition of the deposits there. Most of Yellowstone's thermal features create deposits of  geyserite , a rather hard silicate material that over time allows the formation of the solid cones and underground structures that permit geysers to form. In contrast, Mammoth's springs deposit a material called  travertine , a form of calcium carbonate. This is a much softer material, and will not maintain its structure under pressure, which is one reason why there are no geysers at Mammoth.  As the water containing dissolved travertine percolates up and then down over existing structures, fascinating patterns of "stairstep"-like terraces are created, both large and small. This view is about 10 to 15 feet across, showing the interesting shapes and varying hues of the travertine. Soaring Above Mount Everts  Looking east from the Mammoth Hot Springs thermal area, you see a wide golden mountain, which I later learned is named Mount Everts. From where I stood it appeared more like a plateau than a mountain, and I liked the way the clouds above it seemed to be trying to mimic its shape.  This is a three-shot panorama. Minerva Terrace  Minerva Terrace is one of the most popular of the various terraces at Mammoth Hot Springs. Because of the nature of this area, springs often have water flow for long periods of time and then can lay dormant for years. Others become more or less active on shorter schedules.  At the time we visited, Minerva was quiet, but its mostly intact terraces indicate that perhaps it was active not too long ago. Main Terrace Pastels  The main terrace at Mammoth Hot Springs is called... wait for it.. the Main Terrace. :) It is arguably the most beautiful formation at Mammoth, consisting of a set of cascading, rippling terraces of travertine, with bacterial mats and other minerals creating a spectrum of colors from orange to blue and green.  Here Mount Everts is once again in the background, along with some nicely cooperative puffy clouds. :)
Main Terrace Textures  This image is a closeup of the Main Terrace at Mammoth Hot Springs (see previous image for a wider view.) You can see the beautiful, delicate layers of travertine that form along the terraces.  When I saw this it reminded me somewhat of the sides of a very decorative cake. Except for it being full of steaming hot water, of course; and, well, it smells pretty rank too. :) Late Day Sun on Palette Spring  Palette Spring is one of the more active features at Mammoth Hot Springs. Carbonate-laden water percolates up from the top of the hill and then cascades down in rivulets, forming this large structure (note the small evergreens on the left -- this view encompasses a good 50 or more feet across.)  The orange color is created by thermophilic bacteria that thrive in the hot water run-off from the spring. These are found near many of Yellowstone's springs, as we'll discover later in this SceneSet. Mammoth Springs Sentinels  Trees are a common casualty of the changing fortunes of Yellowstone's geothermal features. A particular area may lie dormant for decades, allowing plant life to flourish and trees to begin growing. Then, when that area begins to get active again, boiling mineralized water takes care of the trees in short order.  In this area near the higher elevations of Mammoth Hot Springs, several dead trees stand "watch" over the valley below. Ironically, the area has become mostly quiet again, and in time these trees may be replaced by live ones. Blue Spring  Blue Spring is a relatively new feature at Mammoth Hot Springs, as evidenced by the newly-killed trees on the right hand side, the trunks of which are actually submerged. The high temperature of the water in this area prevents bacterial growth and leads to the pretty cyan blue color in the pool. Fragile Travertine  As mentioned in an earlier image description, travertine is a rather fragile material compared to the geyserite that makes up most of Yellowstone's geysers and other thermal features. Once a spring dries up, the travertine may crumble over time.  This is one of many reasons why it is so important that unique places like Mammoth Hot Springs be protected so that future generations can enjoy them. Mammoth Hot Springs -- Upper Terraces  The terraces at Mammoth are actually split into two general areas: the  Lower Terraces  are where most of the geothermal features are, including the Main Terrace, Palette Spring, and Minerva Terrace; the  Upper Terraces  contain a variety of other features, not quite as interesting as the lower (IMO) but also worth exploring.  This is a shot of a huge travertine mound at the Upper Terraces; the trunks of dead trees making it seem quite stark indeed.
Orange Spring Mound  Over many centuries, Orange Spring has built up a huge mound that surrounds its source; the spring itself is not even visible from the ground. I forget exactly how high the mound is, but it must be at least 12 feet. The name of the spring is self-explanatory. :) Angel Terrace  Angel Terrace is a huge area at the Upper Terraces of Mammoth Hot Springs, with hot water flowing down a considerable distance from the top of a hill. In fact, when we were there, the water had apparently recently expanded its territory, and was flowing almost into the lot where you park to view the terrace... Looking Skyward -- The Petrified Tree  Many people don't realize that there is a petrified tree at Yellowstone National Park... and it is still standing. It's located not far from Mammoth Hot Springs and I was fortunate to be able to photograph it in pleasant early evening light.  You may notice the wrought iron fence in the background; this actually surrounds the tree, to keep visitors away. This is necessary because there actually used to be  three  petrified trees here. The other two were carried away by tourists, one piece at a time. Each likely said "I'll only take one small piece, what will that harm?" Multiply that innocent-seeming sentiment by hundreds of thousands of tourists over the years, and pretty soon it's all gone... Roadside Diner  We had heard that the best time to see wildlife at Yellowstone National Park was in the morning. This was our first morning of the trip, and while we didn't go out specifically looking for animals, we found some anyway.  As we drove towards the Norris Geyser Basin, we happened upon this bison having breakfast, right next to the road. I immediately pulled over to take a few shots in the golden morning light; this is natural behavior the first time you see a bison in Yellowstone. They are pretty much everywhere, though; after a day or two this excitement fades to indifference -- "oh, it's just another bison" -- and even disappointment -- "I thought that was a bear!" But they are still very majestic animals. New Growth and Steam -- Norris Basin  Our first stop on our first full day at Yellowstone was Norris Geyser Basin, the hottest and most dynamic of the geothermal areas at Yellowstone. New features are constantly popping up and existing ones changing here. In fact, at the time we visited, part of the basin was closed for safety reasons -- heat levels along the pathways had reached temperatures high enough to melt your shoes!  Approaching Norris on a clear cool morning, you see steam rising in pillars from the various springs and geysers -- it almost looks as if the land is on fire. In the foreground, a new forest is sprouting up to take the place of an area that was deforested in one of Yellowstone's naturally-occurring fires, years before. Sunlit Steamboat Geyser  Steamboat Geyser is one of the larger and more interesting geysers at the Norris Basin. It's not one of the "predictable" geysers, like Old Faithful; hours, days or even years can pass between its eruptions. When it does erupt, water can reach a height of several hundred feet, making it one of the biggest geysers in the world. Even when not erupting, Steamboat often vents large quantities of steam, which is likely the source of its name.  On this crisp morning I was able to take this interesting shot of the geyser's crater with the steam billowing up, backlit by the sun (visible as a small white circle on the right hand side.)
Steamboat Geyser Spray  While Steamboat Geyser is in its steam phase (see preceding image) it often puts up "mini-eruptions" that are only a few feet high. These spray boiling water in a radius of a few feet around the geyser crater. Lilliputian Volcano  One of the interesting aspects of Yellowstone's features is that they occur in so many sizes and scales. This picture, taken in isolation, looks somewhat like a grand volcano spewing forth ash and steam. In reality, it's just a small steam vent (or fumarole), and the volcano-shaped cone is only a few inches high. Cistern Spring  Cistern Spring is a somewhat classic example of a "hot" hot spring. The very high temperature of this spring's water is evidenced by its deep blue-green color, the large amount of steam on the surface, and the lack of reddish-to-yellow bacterial mats surrounding it. Red Rock Fumarole  A fumarole is simply a hole in the ground through which steam, hot air or other gasses escapes to the surface. There are several thousand of them within the boundaries of Yellowstone National Park.  There are often rocks of very interesting colors surrounding fumaroles; the colors may be formed by mineral deposits or microbial activity. Shy Visitor at Norris Basin  When one thinks of wildlife and Yellowstone National Park, rabbits aren't what generally comes to mind. I was somewhat surprised to find this little guy hopping around right in the middle of Norris Geyser Basin -- though he was of course careful to stay well away from the thermal features! Porcelain Basin  One of the largest sections of the Norris Geyser Basin is the area called the Porcelain Basin. This large region is set in a depression and contains dozens of small geysers, springs, fumaroles and other geothermal features. I'm not sure exactly what the origin of the name is, but once again it may be from the variety of shades and hues exhibited in the structures here.  Viewed from above, the basin looks like some sort of a war zone. The ground here is apparently acidic and this prevents the growth of much plant life, adding to the barren feel of the place. Over a mile of foot paths stretch through the basin, and it is quite a feeling to walk through the place.
Steam Reflections  One of the steam vents in the Porcelain Basin area, located on the edge of a small pond of runoff water. I am not sure what it's called, and in reality it wasn't one of the more impressive features, but I liked the reflection. :) White on Yellow  After spending some time at the Norris Geyser Basin, we travelled over to the Canyon area in Yellowstone National Park, and spent several hour walking and hiking in the area. One of the first images I took was of this white water bend in the Yellowstone River. It is located just upstream from Yellowstone Upper Falls. Yellowstone Upper Falls  Of the two major falls on the Yellowstone River, the Lower Falls are by far the more celebrated and photographed. The Upper Falls, however, are also quite impressive; they are not as high as the Lower Falls, but are quite wide and make quite a splash. (Funny, aren't I.)  In the background, up river from the falls, you can see the Chittenden Memorial Bridge, named for the park engineer who led the construction of the initial span in 1903. It provides access to both sides of the river and canyon. Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone  No, it's not  that  Grand Canyon, but the canyon carved by the Yellowstone River is indeed called the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone and is quite impressive in its own right. Most people just view the canyon and falls from the rim, but to get a better look at it (and the Lower Falls) we took a somewhat arduous hike down what is called  Uncle Tom's Trail . It's a trail at the start, anyway; most of it consists of a set of metal staircases and platforms drilled right into the wall of the canyon. These vibrate when people walk on them (not good for photographers) and they feel very open and exposed (not good for acrophobics). I, of course, am an acrophobic photographer, but the photography takes precedence so I set my fears aside and forged onward. :)  This image was taken looking downstream from Yellowstone Lower Falls, and shows a typical view of the majestic Yellowstone Canyon, inclduing yellowish color of the walls, which gives the River its name (as well as the Canyon, and the Park!) Yellowstone Lower Falls  A simple image of the powerful and majestic Yellowstone Lower Falls, taken from half-way down the canyon. The amount of mist kicked up by the falls was truly impressive, even from a considerable distance away. Yellowstone Lower Falls - Curves and Colors  If you view Yellowstone Lower Falls at the right angle, at the right time of day and the right time of year, you get rewarded with a beautiful rainbow produced by the clouds of mist.  This image shows a closeup of the falls, mist and rainbow set against the yellow walls of the canyon. The curves of the fall and rainbow are complemented by the evergreen branch, making this one of my favorite images.
Painted Walls -- Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone  This is a wider view of the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone, showing that the stone here is in fact more than just yellow. Various minerals tint the canyon walls a variety of shades of yellow, orange, brown and pink; it's quite an amazing place. Far below, the Yellowstone River winds its way through the canyon. Pot of Gold  Viewed from a different angle, the rainbow moves away from the falls themselves and further down the canyon. The rock outcropping is actually much larger than it appears in this image.  Unfortunately, I wasn't able to find the gold. :) Yellowstone Lower Falls from Artist Point  Artist Point is set on an outcropping of rock on the rim of the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone, quite some distance from the falls; it provides a panoramic view of the falls, river and canyon. This classic view of Yellowstone Lower Falls is one of the icons of Yellowstone, making this likely the "least original" photograph I took at the park. But hey, sometimes an image is a cliche for a good reason! :) Yellowstone Lower Falls Closeup  This is a close-up view of the powerful Yellowstone Lower Falls. It was shot from Artist Point, like the preceding image, but using a telephoto lens to get "up close and personal". Yellowstone Caldera Rim from Dunraven Pass  While most people think of Yellowstone National Park as being a collection of small geothermal features, the geological reality is that the majority of the park is located within a huge  caldera : the collapsed dome of a volcano. Geologists have determined that over the last few million years, there have been multiple enormous eruptions of the entire Yellowstone area; these were cataclysmic events that would, for example, make the 1980 eruption of Mount St. Helens look like a child's science experiment by comparison.  This image shows in the distance part of the rim of the Yellowstone Caldera. It was taken near the top of Dunraven Pass, which at 8859 feet, is the highest roadside elevation in Yellowstone National Park. Yellowstone Valley Panoramic  Yellowstone isn't all mountains and geothermal fireworks; it also has its pastoral moments. I was taken by this expansive valley view that we came across while driving towards the northeastern quadrant of the park.  This image was taken from a 9-shot panorama.
Lamar Valley -- Lone Tree Panorama  After scrounging a somewhat last-minute dinner on our second evening in Yellowstone, we decided to turn our attention away from both falling and spurting water and towards Yellowstone's "wilder side". The Lamar Valley is located in the northeast corner of the park; you drive through it when approaching the park from the Northeast entrance. It also happens to be one of the better places in the park to see wildlife.  We drove through the valley and did get to see some wildlife, though not that much -- several bison (see later images) and a black bear that was too far away to photograph. The land itself, however, was strikingly beautiful. This is a typical panoramic view taken from the road, which curves and twists its way through the valley. A Peaceful Moment on the Lamar River  The Lamar River is a renowned fly fishing river and of course runs through the Lamar Valley. I came across this idyllic scene while driving around looking for grizzly bears (which unfortunately we didn't see.) The fisherman, river, golden hills and bison in the late day sun make this a classical view of what Yellowstone National Park is about. (Well, except for the lack of geysers, but you can't have everything. :) )  If you're into fly fishing, this image just might represent your idea of the dream vacation! Golden Light on Tower Falls  Tower Falls is a 132-foot drop on Tower Creek, and one of the prettier waterfalls in Yellowstone National Park. In contrast to the dramatic power and presence of the Lower Falls and Upper Falls of the Yellowstone, it has a more graceful appearance, which I attempted to capture here in this time-lapse closeup. Lamar Bison in Early Evening  A closer view of a bison grazing in the meadow alongside the Lamar River on a beautiful evening. Lamar Hills  By early August (when we visited the park) much of the West is experiencing dry conditions and the hills turn varying shades of yellow and brown, especially as the sun gets low on the horizon. Here, the golden tones contrast with the evergreen trees and the crisp blue high-elevation skies. Twilight Cloudscape  As we continued driving through the Lamar Valley, the bears kept hiding, but the scenery got more and more beautiful as the day faded and the light grew more golden.
Alpenglow -- Lamar Valley  Finally the sun's rays left the valley and slowly crept up the mountainsides as we watched. This panorama doesn't really do the view justice, but gives you a good idea of what it was like. The cloud patterns were also very interesting that evening. Soda Butte  There are no active geysers or hot springs in the Lamar Valley right now -- at least that I know of -- but this extinct geyser dome is evidence that the area has been geothermally active. The name of this feature comes from its location, near where Soda Butte Creek joins the Lamar River. It is actually very large -- some 20 feet wide -- and chunks of its base are eroding and breaking off (hopefully due to natural, not man-made activities!)  As the orange-red glow of sunset kissed the distant mountains, we heard a wolf pack as I was taking the picture. This is the area where the last wolves once lived in Yellowstone before they were all exterminated -- and is also one of the areas where recently reintroduced wolves have settled. Lamar Valley Sunset  This sunset wasn't as nice as the one I experienced my first evening in Montana, back in Bozeman, but was still very pleasant. I began to wonder if the sunsets were  always  nice out here! Magenta Twilight -- Lamar Valley  After the sun went down, the sky turned a pleasant spectrum of blues, pinks and purples as haze began to settle over the valley. Quite a beautiful sight, which I attempted to capture in this multi-shot panorama of the valley, river, mountains and sky. The small brown dots on the bank of the river at the bottom left are a herd of bison, which made this a nice conclusion to a wonderful evening. Misty Dawn on the Yellowstone  Having had only limited success in the wildlife department the prior evening, we decided to try the early morning approach the next day, getting up before sunrise and heading out for another drive. (What, you mean people  sleep  while on vacation at Yellowstone? What a waste! :) )  We didn't see any critters here along the Yellowstone River, but I couldn't resist snapping a shot of the sun's first rays touching the treetops while the mist swirled over the water. First Light -- Hayden Valley  After trying the Lamar Valley the previous night, we set our morning sights on the Hayden Valley, another valley widely regarded as an excellent place to find active wildlife. The Yellowstone River runs through this valley from the Canyon area, south until it meets Yellowstone Lake; here the rising sun tinges its banks golden hues.
Otter Creek  So we're driving along the road keeping our eyes peeled for wildlife, and we spot a sign saying "Otter Creek". What the heck, we think, and pull over. Sure enough, we see some otters in the water. Imagine, finding otters in Otter Creek -- how often does  that  happen?  (At first I wasn't actually sure that these were in fact otters. Fortunately, a kind viewer informed me that they were.) Fishing in the Hayden Valley  The Hayden Valley has numerous wetland areas, where we saw hundreds of waterfowl. No,  we  weren't fishing, but these geese and pelicans were having a grand old time trying to catch some breakfast... Still Morning  A peaceful, still view of a quiet section of the Yellowstone River. Bison Reflections and Wildflowers  Even when you can't find other forms of wildlife in Yellowstone, there is likely to be a bison or three not far away. :) Here the soft morning light illuminated this colorful hillside, with a herd of grazing bison, reflected in the water below. Young Buck  Finally, after much driving around, we came across this young fellow -- a four-legged creature that was  not  a bison!  Unfortunately, I am not sure exactly what species this is. I tried asking but rather than reply to my simple question, he got annoyed and left. Hmph. Sunlit Steambath  Driving further south along the road towards Yellowstone Lake, we came across an area with some interesting geothermal features. This was a huge hot spring -- it must have been around 50 feet wide -- that was producing enormous billowing clouds of steam, lit up by the bright sun.  This almost looks like a forest fire scene -- but fortunately, was not!
Clear Air at Yellowstone Lake  Yellowstone Lake is a very large body of water located near the middle of the park. Due to the high elevation of the park, it is frozen much of the year, and filled with very cold water even in the summer -- cold enough that people are warned not to fall out of their boats!  The lake is ringed with geothermal features, some of which are even under the water. It has been in the news lately because of evidence of geothermal activity in the lake bottom, with some scientists concerned about what this might mean in terms of the potential for earthquakes or eruptions in the greater park area.  I didn't take a lot of pictures of the lake, because, as one Yellowstone guide put it: "What can I say? It's a big lake." :) But I did like this view of one cove with these big rocks in the foreground. Morning Light at West Thumb Basin  Yellowstone Lake is shaped somewhat like a hand; on the west side there is a rounded bay that has, naturally come to be known as West Thumb. On the shoreline here is one of the most interesting geyser basins in the park, where geothermal features lie directly adjacent to the lake and interact with its cool waters.  This view shows some of the steaming hot springs and pools in the crisp morning air, with Yellowstone Lake in the background, and behind it, mountains in the distance. Abyss Pool -- West Thumb Geyser Basin  Abyss Pool is the deepest hot spring in Yellowstone, at 53 feet. It was named because this great depth makes it seem like the pool has no bottom... like an abyss...  The bright blue color indicates that the temperature of the water in this pool is very high. Runoff from the pool flows down towards the lake, and there are microbial mats and mineral deposits around its periphery. Underwater Springs  West Thumb basin features many geothermal spring vents that are either completely or partially under the water of the lake. In some cases, they may be above the water level at certain times of the year and below it at others.  The cold lake water has altered the behavior of many of these features. Biological Abstraction  One might be hard-pressed to think of bacteria as being in any way "beautiful", but the  bacterial mats  that surround the geothermal features at Yellowstone qualify. These are not your run-of-the-mill bacteria, however; they are  thermophilic  (heat-loving) bacteria that thrive in the hot waters along the edges of hot springs, and in the run-off channels from springs and geysers. The hot water of Yellowstone allows the bacteria, along with many types of algae, to thrive year-round, even through the harsh Wyoming winter. Over time, they form colorful streamers and ribbons that flow and wave under the waters flowing through them. Firehole Spring Splash  Firehole Lake Drive is a loop road north of Old Faithful, near the Lower Geyser Basin. It is not a "household name" like several other geyser areas at Yellowstone, but has some impressive geothermal features.  Firehole Spring erupts nearly continuously, shooting boiling water a few feet into the air. The hottest water is on the right side, where the splashing occurs; the water then cools as it runs off to the left and behind the spring, where thermophilic bacteria and algae thrive. These create the beautiful yellow, orange and brown mats seen here.
Great Fountain Geyser  Great Fountain Geyser is one of the largest and most dramatic geysers at Yellowstone National Park. Its "cone" is actually a set of sinter terraces over 100 feet wide -- most, but not all of it is pictured above. The crater at the center, where eruptions take place, is over 10 feet in diameter. It erupts approximately every 10 to 12 hours, with water reaching heights over 100 feet; unfortunately, we arrived between eruptions and didn't have time to wait. White Dome Geyser  White Dome Geyser erupts on an irregular schedule, approximately every 10 to 60 minutes, and reaches heights of 20 to 30 feet. The cone is over 10 feet high, but the opening of the geyser is only a few inches wide. As minerals build up on the outside, raising the cone, they also line the inside of the geyser, reducing the width of its orifice. It is possible that in time the cone will seal itself and White Dome will go dormant.  We were fortunate to be able to wait for this geyser to erupt -- and I was fortunate to be able to photograph it near that perfectly-placed little puffy cloud. :) Fountain Paint Pots  The Fountain Paint Pots are one of the biggest attractions of the Lower Geyser Basin at Yellowstone National Park. In this huge pit, an acidic mud composed of clay and silica particles boils away under the influence of geothermal heat. The color, which ranges from gray to pink, comes from minerals in the original rock that formed the mud.  The nature of the pots changes over the course of the year. In the spring, higher water content causes the mud to be liquid and so it boils almost like a thick soup. Over the summer the pots dry out and begin to form cracked, dry formations as you can see on the edges of the pots here. Silex Spring  Silex is a fairly ordinary hot spring in the Lower Geyser Basin, but I found its cool blue color fascinating, especially in contrast to the crisp Wyoming sky. The spring erupted after the 1959 Hebgen Lake earthquake, which affected a lot of Yellowstone's geothermal features (its epicenter was just west of the park's boundaries.) Multi-Hued Fumaroles  This collection of fumaroles (steam vents) was bordered by rocks in a variety of pastel shades. The oranges and reds are due to mineral contaminants in quartz, I believe; the yellow on the left may be from sulphur deposited by the steam itself. Clepsydra Geyser  A  clepsydra  was an ancient time-keeping device that worked by measuring water that dripped out of a container; it was also called a  water clock . This geyser likely bears this device's name because it operates "like clockwork" -- it erupts nearly continuously. At its base there are a number of intricate sinter formations, and a pale green hot water pool.
Take Time to Smell the Flowers  Elk compete with bison for the title of most populous large mammals in Yellowstone National Park. I was lucky enough to capture this female elk, who appears to be pausing for a pleasant sniff. I'm guessing that I may be anthropomorphizing a bit here, however. :) Excelsior Geyser Crater  In the 19th century, Excelsior Geyser was the largest geyser in the world; over 200 feet wide and 300 feet long, it erupted up to 300 feet in the air -- it must have been quite impressive to see. Sometime in the late 1880s, Excelsior went dormant, though it oddly sprang to life in 1985, for just a couple of days, erupting to a much lesser height.  Excelsior is now a huge hot spring which produces a tremendous flow of hot water: over 4,000 gallons per minute! The water percolates up from the super-hot main crater (visible as a deep blue area on the right in this image) and then flows downwards through a series of channels, ending up in the Firehole River. The main channel flowing down to the river has such a high flow that it is practically a river itself! The large size of the spring has led to the creation of enormous yellow, orange and red microbial mats, seen here on the left. Excelsior Geyser Blues  Another view of the Excelsior Geyser crater, taken from the opposite "hot" end of the spring, on one of the walkways in Midway Geyser Basin.  This is one of my favorite images from Yellowstone, and is actually a four-image panorama. I am always amazed by the sure size of these huge springs, and their impossibly blue, steaming hot water. Grand Prismatic Spring  Grand Prismatic Spring is the star attraction of the Midway Geyser Basin and is very appropriately named: it is indeed grand, and as you can see above, its waters and bacterial mats feature a veritable rainbow of colors. With dimensions of 250 feet by 380 feet, it is the largest hot spring in Yellowstone, and third largest in the world (the two larger ones are in New Zealand.) I was absolutely mesmerized by Grand Prismatic, and upset that I couldn't get closer to it to check it out better!  As with other hot springs, the colors represent variations on the temperature of the water, and the impact this has on microbial life. In the center of the spring the water is very hot; nothing lives there, and the color blue dominates. This fades to a slightly cooler greenish ring, which is then followed by a yellow band. Runoff channels go in all directions, and are colored orange, red and brown by thermophilic algae and bacteria.  The huge size of the spring actually makes it rather difficult to photograph, unless you are lucky (or rich) enough to be able to shoot it from a helicopter. From above, the spring looks like a giant blue eye rimmed green and yellow, and surrounded by thick orange "eyelashes". The Crossing  Driving from one of the geyser basins towards the Old Faithful area, we knew that there must be wildlife around because there was a big collection of cars stopped by the side of the road. (This is a common occurrence at Yellowstone!) We pulled over and found a large herd of elk grazing nearby. Then, all at once, they turned and crossed the river, presumably heading towards greener pastures. Old Faithful  I know what you're thinking: "Finally, he gets to Old Faithful!" Well, it did take us until late on our third day at the park to work our way down to its location. Old Faithful is indeed the most famous geyser in Yellowstone National Park, and likely the world. It was named because of its reliable, predictable schedule of eruptions: it shoots off about every 45 to 90 minutes.  This was the first of many Old Faithful eruptions we witnessed, since we were staying in a cabin only a short walk from the geyser. It's never as impressive to see as the first time, but each eruption is a bit different and you really can't help but marvel at something this fantastic occurring so regularly.
Castle Geyser at Rest  Named for its terraced shape, Castle Geyser is one of the more beautiful formations at Yellowstone's Upper Geyser Basin. It's quite large, with a sinter cone over 15 feet high; the whole formation is about 50 feet wide (see the fence on the left side for some idea of scale.)  Castle is a fairly predictable geyser, but unfortunately we weren't around when it was erupting. I settled for this image of it in one of its more peaceful moods, its belching steam somehow mimicking the puffy clouds floating overhead. Morning Glory Pool  Morning Glory pool is named for its shape, which bears an obvious resemblance to a morning glory flower bloom. It is a rather large pool, and has always been a favorite of tourists. Too much of a favorite, unfortunately -- its behavior has been negatively impacted by early visitors throwing pennies and other foreign objects into it, which can ruin a hot spring or geyser. Fortunately, most Yellowstone visitors now are a bit more enlightened (though not all, sadly.)  You can see Morning Glory's runoff channel near the top left. Punchbowl Spring  Punchbowl Spring is another accurately-named spring at Yellowstone. It is about 12 feet in diameter and is contained by a "punch bowl" of scalloped sinter about 3 feet high. The spring is deceptively deep (more than 20 feet) and constantly boils away as seen in this image, with water running off through several channels. Daisy Geyser  Daisy erupts every couple of hours for a few minutes. First it begins to bubble up water, which starts to fill the area surrounding its vent, and then it shoots water to a height of over 100 feet. It is an unusual geyser because of the slope of its cone, which causes it to erupt at an angle, as I endeavored to show in this shot. Old Faithful Ablaze  A lone tree and steam from a resting Old Faithful glow with the golden light from the setting sun. Time Goes By  This is Old Faithful, but it probably looks quite different from most Old Faithful images you have seen before.  You've probably seen pictures of waterfalls where the photographer used a time exposure to blur and "smoothe" the water. That's what I did here with Old Faithful's eruption. The image was taken well after dusk and exposed for several seconds, leading to a "soft water" view of the famous geyser.
Steamed Goose  On the morning of our last day at Yellowstone, we awoke at Old Faithful to find brooding, moody skies overhead. We set off to two of the smaller geyser basins -- Biscuit Basin and Black Sand Basin -- to check out the geothermal features there.  Early in the morning at Biscuit Basin, I spied some geese among the puffs of steam coming from this small pool, which I don't believe is a hot spring itself but collects run-off from other springs. Wildlife at Yellowstone often makes use of the heat produced by hot springs to keep themselves warm when the weather gets chilly -- especially in the winter. Some day I need to get back here in the winter... Divine Retribution  This was one of the most dramatic moments I experienced at Yellowstone National Park. Walking around Black Sand Basin, the gloomy skies above parted and rays of sunlight broke through the clouds, illuminating the pillars of steam rising from hot springs and fumaroles in the ground. The word that best came to mind to describe the resulting scene was...  biblical . Cliff Geyser Explosion  Cliff Geyser gets its name from the fact that it is surrounded by walls of geyserite, one of which borders directly on Iron Creek, the body of water that runs through Black Sand Basin. This geyser reaches heights of several dozen feet, and is somewhat irregular in its schedule, so we were lucky to be there when it was erupting.  In the background you can see part of Sunset Lake. Spring Runoff -- Black Sand Basin  An abstract view of the curves and colors created by hot spring run-off and the microbes that thrive in it -- in this case, a shining mustard yellow color. Rainbow Pool Panorama  With dimensions of over 100 feet in width and length, Rainbow Pool is another of Yellowstone's grand hot springs. Not quite as colorful as Grand Prismatic, Rainbow is still quite pretty with its cyan waters and rust orange/brown bacterial mats. Also like Grand Prismatic, it is notoriously difficult to photograph! Big Splash at Grotto Geyser  Grotto Geyser is named for the interesting cavern-like shape of its "cone". I put the terms in quotes because what you see when you look at the geyser cone is only partially the cone itself; the standing formations are actually trees, which over the course of many years, have been covered in sinter forming the intricate structure of the geyser.  Grotto is a very active geyser, often spurting, gurgling and splashing for hours at a time. It only reaches a maximum height of 20 or 25 feet; this image shows one of the biggest splashes I saw when we were there.
Spasmodic Geyser  Spasmodic Geyser is another Yellowstone thermal feature with a colorful appearance and an equally colorful name. It isn't just a single geyser, but rather a collection of over a dozen small vents, pools and "mini-geysers", which erupt in a rather irregular and erratic fashion. I timed this image to capture activity in one of the main pools, along with smaller eruptions in a few of the smaller vents. Overall, this is a very fascinating geyser to just sit and watch for a few minutes. Rodential Contemplation  While wandering the miles of walkways at Upper Geyser Basin, we happened upon this cute little fella. At first we thought he was a chipmunk, but later learned that a defining difference between squirrels and chipmunks is that while both may have stripes, only the latter have stripes that extend onto the face. So this is a striped squirrel of some kind.  At any rate, while rodents are rarely considered big thinkers, this one seemed to be deep in thought... Solitary Geyser  Solitary Geyser is named for its somewhat secluded location, several hundred yards away from most of the other geysers in the Upper Geyser Basin. It is large in size but only erupts to a height of a few feet. There are many interesting deposits around its perimeter, as you can see in the photograph.  This geyser is also considered an objective lesson in how human tampering can permanently change geothermal features. When Yellowstone National Park first opened, Solitary was a dormant hot spring. Water was diverted from the spring to fill a swimming pool, which lowered its water level sufficiently to cause it to start erupting. Even when this change was later undone and the original water level restored, the internal plumbing of the spring had changed so much that it has remained a geyser ever since, erupting every 5 minutes or so. Captive Audience -- Old Faithful from Observation Point  Observation Point is a hill about 250 feet high near Yellowstone's Upper Geyser Basin. It's a short but somewhat steep hike up the hill, but definitely worth it for the eagle's eye view it gives you of the basin and surrounding area. It also gives you a unique opportunity to observe Old Faithful blowing its top from  above .  As you can see here, if you go to see Old Faithful during the middle of the day in the summer, you never have to worry about being lonely. ;) Beehive Geyser  Beehive Geyser is one of many "moderate-sized" geysers in Upper Geyser Basin. Early explorers thought its cone resembled a beehive and gave it the name. I didn't see much resemblance, personally, but what do I know. :) Firehole River  The Firehole River got its name from its early trappers who saw steam rising from geothermal areas near its valley and assumed it was caused by fires. The term "hole" refers to a small valley, thus "Firehole". It has a very interesting and unique ecosystem due to the elevated temperatures of the water caused by hot springs and geysers nearby.  The river winds its way through the western part of Yellowstone National Park and actually bisects Upper Geyser Basin. This image was taken from a bridge in the basin. You can see that the banks of the river in many places are stained white, orange and brown from mineral deposits and bacterial mats.
Purple Mountain's Majesty  The sky began to get somewhat gloomy as we left the Old Faithful area and headed north back towards Bozeman for our trip home. I paused to take in this scenic vista, though unfortunately I don't know the identity of the mountain.  Note the patchwork of live and dead trees in the foreground. The bare areas are part of the territory ravaged by fire during the tremendous fires that ripped through Yellowstone in 1988. Unseen below these dead trunks is the new vegetation quickly rising to fill the place of the dead trees, some of which actually only grow after a fire. Blazes were once viewed as detrimental, but in recent years scientists have discovered the essential role that they play in the renewal of the forests. Falls on the Firehole  A beautiful cascade on the Firehole River that we stopped to admire as we were driving towards the north entrance to the park. The black color is, I believe, due to algae that grow in the water, perhaps because of its higher-than-normal temperatures. Late Day Mountain Panorama  The skies and the mountains continued to impress as we continued our journey through the western part of Yellowstone National Park. Note the patches of snow and ice still on the mountains despite the early August date! Artist Paint Pots Basin  The last geothermal area we visited before leaving the park is also one of the least visited: the basin where the Artist Paint Pots are located, which also houses a few other small geysers and hot springs. This small geyser was surrounded with brilliant orange and pink mineral deposits. Artist Paint Pots  The artist paint pots are large holes filled with boiling mud. At the time of year we visited, enough water has evaporated that the pinkish mud gurgles and spatters, sending streams of mud several feet in the air, as caught in this photograph. The mud coats the walls of the "pot" creating beautiful, delicate patterns. Floating on Turquoise  A small, unnamed spring near the Artist Paint Pots, but one that I found captivating. The spring was filled with fine silt, lending it a powder blue or torquoise color, and it undercut the reddish rock above it. The rock seemed to be floating directly on the water.
Golden Gate to Yellowstone National Park  Yellowstone has a Grand Canyon which is not  that  Grand Canyon, and it also has its own Golden Gate, located just south of Mammoth Hot Springs. The name comes from the color of the rocks, some of which is due to native lichens.  The Golden Gate, and the road that passes through it, are important and historical parts of the park; over a century ago, the first paths were laid through this canyon, where you see the road and bridge in the photograph. This was a significant accomplishment as it made it much easier for stagecoaches carrying early tourists to reach Old Faithful and other areas of Yellowstone. Of course early travelers didn't have the benefits of modern civil engineering, and I can imagine the trip must have been rather hair-raising indeed... Hoodoos  Hoodoos are unusual rock formations that sometimes resemble human figures. They are most commonly found in dry areas where weathering creates tall spires; Bryce Canyon is the most famous example of a formation containing large numbers of huge hoodoos. While Yellowstone is not known for hoodoos, there are some there, between Mammoth Hot Springs and the Golden Gate. They are not the most impressive hoodoos I've ever seen, but I did find myself noticing some faces staring back at me in this picture.... The Day Fades  A simple image of Yellowstone's peacful nature -- rocks, trees, valleys, mountains, sky and clouds -- taken as our last day at the park drew to a close. A Final Glance  Finally, we returned back to Mammoth Hot Springs, where we began our trek three surprisingly quick days earlier. The sky grew angry at our departure, and the clouds opened up not long after. We had an amazing time at Yellowstone National Park, with our only regret that we didn't have more time to explore the amazing place. If you ever have an opportunity to visit Yellowstone, I strongly recommend that you take advantage of it!