Yellowstone National Park certainly tops the list of places in the world that can offer incredible geology and spectacular landscapes.
While last week’s column focused on the geothermal majesty of Mammoth Hot Springs Terraces, which serves as the northern entrance to the park there are plenty of other equally impressive spots found throughout the park’s 2.2 million acres.
For example, south of Mammoth Hot Springs is the Norris Geyser Basin, one of the park’s most active thermal areas.
A visitor could easily spend half a day exploring the basin, which is actually two separate but adjacent geyser fields: Back Basin and Porcelain Basin.
Interpretive trails with boardwalks wind through both basins. Additionally, the Norris Geyser Basin Museum, located between the two fields, is a good place to learn about this fascinating place.
The Norris Geyser Basin is believed to have been active for more than 100,000 years, making it the oldest thermal area in the park. It encompasses dozens of hydrothermal features ranging from erupting geysers to stinky fumaroles (sulfur-smelling steam vents).
Park rangers point out that the area is an active zone, meaning that every year new springs and geysers can appear while others will go dormant. This is caused by small earthquakes that can occur, which can shift the flow of water, as well as clogging from accumulations of minerals in the geysers and springs.
The 1.5-mile Back Basin trail passes by about a dozen major and minor hot springs and geysers. Among the most impressive are Emerald Spring, a 27-foot-deep pool of extremely hot water that is distinctive because of the rich blue color of its waters.
A bit farther up the trail is Steamboat Geyser, known as a most temperamental geyser. The world’s tallest active geyser, it can throw water more than 300 feet high, but does so infrequently (the last time was in May 2002) and — obviously — on its own schedule.
Most of the time, Steamboat just kind of chugs—hence the name — with big puffs of hot steam broken up every so often by larger eruptions of hot water that leap 10 to 40 feet.
Next up is Echinus Geyser, named because its mineral deposits resemble the spines of echinoderms (sea urchins). This smaller geyser erupts for three to five minutes every one to four hours. The geyser is noteworthy because it is the largest acid-water geyser in the world.
The trail continues for another half-mile or so, passing more than a dozen smaller geysers and bubbling hot springs with names like Green Dragon Spring, Puff n’ Stuff Geyser and Porkchop Geyser.
On the other side of the museum is the .75-mile Porcelain Basin trail, where you’ll find additional geysers and hot stuff. Chief attractions here include Whirligig and Constant geysers, known for blowing their tops on a relatively regular schedule.
Twelve mile east of the Norris Geyser Basin is Canyon Village, gateway to the magnificent Upper and Lower Falls of the Yellowstone River, an area known as the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone River.
At Artist Point, there is a quarter-mile trail that leads to several spots that afford amazing views of the 23-mile-long river canyon and the two booming falls (at 308-feet, Lower Falls is the more impressive of the two and twice as high as Niagara Falls). The steep yellow-colored canyon walls here are quite dramatic and make for photos that look like paintings.
At the other end of the canyon is picturesque Tower Falls, a 132-foot high waterfall that made famous in the paintings of several 19th century nature artists including Albert Bierstadt.
About 20 miles south of Norris Geyser Basin are the Lower and Upper Geyser basins, home of several of the park’s most famous features including Old Faithful, the Great Fountain Geyser and the colorful Grand Prismatic Spring.
Rangers note that Old Faithful has become less faithful in recent years because of geological changes. Earthquakes in other parts of the world have been known to affect Old Faithful’s schedule.
The geyser, however, still manages to erupt 17-20 times per day, with each burst discharging 4,000 to 8,000 gallons of water to an average height of 130 feet.
While other geysers in the park may be bigger or more regular, there is something special about Old Faithful, which is one of the park’s best known features, and quite an impressive sight.
Near Old Faithful, you’ll also find the historic Old Faithful Inn, built of logs in 1903, as well as the Old Faithful Lodge complex, which has a visitor center and bookstore (and lots of other services).
East of Old Faithful is Yellowstone Lake, which includes West Thumb, Grant Village, Lake Village and Fishing Bridge.
Of course, with more than two million acres it’s difficult to truly explore Yellowstone without making several trips of longer duration.
For more information about the park, contact Yellowstone National Park, 307-344-7381 or go to www.nps.gov/yell.
Rich Moreno is taking a break from Nevada and takes his Silver State readers to Wyoming this week.