Geology is such a cool science. I have degrees in geology (which meant, at the time, diddly squat in terms of getting a job, but it was a cool branch of science to study, anyway). Yellowstone National Park is a great place to see geology, past and present. Take Red Spouter, for example.
Before August 1959, Red Spouter did not even exist. In its place was a small grassy hill in the Fountain Paint Pots area. Then, on August 17, 1959, the Hebgen Lake earthquake occurred about 25 miles northwest of Fountain Paint Pots with a magnitude of 7.3. It was quite a shaker and “rippled through Yellowstone,” creating Red Spouter.
The interesting thing about Red Spouter is, depending upon the season, it can be a hot spring, a mudpot, or a fumerole. Back in the summer of 2018, as I was moving from TX to central WA, I stopped for a brief visit to Yellowstone. At the time I explored the Fountain Paint Pots area, Red Spouter was a fumerole (steam vent). During my recent February 2022 visit, I toured the same area while on a snowcoach trip, and Red Spouter was a splashing, muddy red, hot spring (well, maybe you’d call it a mud pot, although it seemed really watery to me).
Why is this? Well, it all depends upon the water table just beneath the surface. If the water table is high, like when snow melts and in the spring, then it’s either a splashing hot spring or a bubbling mudpot. If the water table is low, which it can be during the height of a dry summer (and it’s pretty dry out in Yellowstone, anyway), then Red Spouter is a steam vent.
Geology is cool, and it’s even cooler when you can get nicely-composed photos of that geology, right?
Copyright Rebecca L. Latson, all rights reserved.
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It’s #TriviaTuesday Folks! So, how many of you have ever visited one of the geyser basins in Yellowstone National Park, marveling at the colorful hot springs and the energetic geysers? Do you know how to tell if what you are looking at is a geyser or hot spring (if there is no sign to identify it)? Especially if a geyser, when not erupting, looks like a hot spring?
According to a cool little video on the NPS site for Yellowstone, you should look at the edges of a thermal feature. “Hot springs often have ledges or walls of sinter (silica deposits) around them, because as the water level fluctuates, it leaves behind silica deposits. The edges may even be scalloped or lacy, such as what you see when looking at Doublet Pool in Upper Geyser Basin.
“Beadwork,” or pebbly-looking sinter indicates a geyser. “As the water splashes with each eruption, it deposits silica, creating a bumpy appearance.” At some geysers that look like hot springs, you’ll notice rounded, riverstone-like pebbles beneath the water. These rounded stones are called “geyser eggs” and are formed by silica deposition and water movement.
Colorful orange and yellow bacterial mats are also good indicators of hot springs, since that means the water is warm enough for thermophilic (heat-loving) bacteria to thrive, but not hot enough to be a geyser.
The thing is, the landscape beneath and above Yellowstone is always changing. Excelsior Crater Geyser used to be a geyser, and is now a hot spring – well, it’s a hot spring right now that hasn’t erupted in several decades, but it could become a geyser again if the conditions change.
This is just a close shot of a very small hot spring (maybe 3 feet in diameter, including the melted ground around it) I saw while walking on the boardwalks at Upper Geyser Basin in Yellowstone National Park one freezing February morning. It was a pretty thing, all bright and distinct against the white snow, and it reminded me of a favorite old 1950’s sci fi movie I watch all the time on my iPad when traveling (I listen to movies while editing photos). Anybody ever seen “The Thing From Another World?” Not the one with Kurt Russell, but the 1951 black-and-white version? To me, that’s a classic. The timing and overlapping of the dialog, the whole black-and-white scenario. I love it. Oh, the special effects are laughable, but I still like it way better than the 1982 film. Maybe it’s an age thing, but to me, the old movies are classics and always will be.
Anyway, where is this going, you may ask? Well, in the 1951 version, at one point, the plane with the scientists and the Airforce personnel are flying over the alien’s frozen-over crash spot, and it looks exactly like this little hot spring’s configuration right here. As a matter of fact, when I spotted this thermal spring, it was the first thing that popped into my head.
So, sometimes, you may photograph the things you see because they remind you of something else, right?
Copyright Rebecca L. Latson, all rights reserved.
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Ok, it’s Saturday, so here’s a 2-fer to go with the previous post.
From one of the National Park Service’s pages:
“Imagine you are here in the late 1800s, a time when yellow filamentous bacteria was prominent. What colors are present today?
This spring occasionally goes dormant for brief periods of time. Vibrant pinks and neons are sometimes seen.
A network of fractures and fissures form the plumbing system that allows hot water from underground to reach the surface at Mammoth Hot Springs. Small earthquakes may keep the plumbing open. The water comes from rain and snow falling on surrounding mountains and seeping deep into the earth where it is heated.
The volcanic heat source for Mammoth Hot Springs [in Yellowstone National Park] remains somewhat of a mystery. Scientists have proposed two sources: the large magma chamber underlying the Yellowstone Caldera or a smaller heat source closer to Mammoth.
For hundreds of years, Shoshone and Bannock people collected minerals from the Mammoth Hot Springs terraces for white paint.
Travertine terraces are formed from limestone (calcium carbonate). Water rises through the limestone, carrying high amounts of dissolved calcium carbonate. At the surface, carbon dioxide is released and calcium carbonate is deposited, forming travertine, the chalky white rock of the terraces. Due to the rapid rate of deposition, these features constantly and quickly change.”
The images you see here reflect Canary Spring seen during a winter 2022 sunrise and a summer 2018 sunrise. Aside from the colors and lighting, what other – if any – differences do you see? I saw some much brighter colors during the summer on the terraces of Canary Spring. Aside from anything else, I’ve noticed that colors during the winter seem to be much more muted and darker, as well. I saw this not only here at Canary Spring, but also at Morning Glory Pool and Doublet Pool at Upper Geyser Basin.
FYI, the winter image was captured with my Fujifilm GFX 100s and 23mm prime lens, and the summer image was captured with a Canon 5dsr and 24-70mm zoom lens.
I visited Yellowstone National Park back in mid February 2022. It was a fantastic trip and I came home with memories of wonderful experiences and great photos. I also returned with a somewhat lower-than-usual opinion of people who visit this national park and leave marks and trash like those you see in the photos above. I guess people are either ignorant of park etiquette, or they think they are above it all and none of the rules apply to them.
Regarding the human foot prints among the wildlife foot prints at both Crested Pool and Grand Prismatic Pool: bison and foxes and wolves and coyotes cannot read the signs the national park has posted warning of the dangers of straying off the boardwalk in the geyser basins. People, on the other hand, can read the signs – they just don’t want to follow the warnings and are what I consider willfully ignorant. What these people don’t realize is that the crust really is thin around thermal features. Proof of that can be found at spots like Blue Star Spring in Upper Geyser Basin. Look into that searing hot, saturated aqua-blue pool and you’ll see the bones of a young bison who made a misstep back in the 80s.
This brings to mind my 2019 autumn visit to Yellowstone. Among the idiots who walked up to Old Faithful Geyser that year was one moron who decided it would be awesome to walk right up to Old Faithful that night – around midnight, I think. The burns he ultimately sustained made him decide to seek medical help, no matter how much trouble he might get himself in. The next day, as I was wandering along the boardwalks up there, I noticed rangers and other orange-vested people out there walking around near Old Faithful, retrieving articles of clothing that guy left behind, and checking to see if there was any damage to the geyser and surrounding area. These thermal ecosystems – and really, all ecosystems within any national park – are fragile and it doesn’t take much to screw them up. If they can be healed, it takes a looonnnnggg time. The snowcoach guide who took me and four other people through Midway Basin told us it takes a very long time for hoof, paw, and human foot prints to disappear from those shallow terraces around the edges of Grand Prismatic.
And let’s get to the face mask issue. This is yet another form of trash that people carelessly leave behind. Ok, more than likely, the mask either slips off the face or slips out of a vest or pant pocket when a person is pulling out something else, but they are sloppy at keeping track of things like face masks. Certainly mars the view, don’t you think? Sure, I can clone out the offending trash, but I have it here so you can see what I saw when I pointed my camera in that direction. It made me sad and angry at the same time.
Most photographer whose pages you visit on some platform like Facebook are pretty careful to not say anything political or otherwise incendiary to alienate prospective purchasers of their work. I suppose I should do the same, but I’ve never kowtowed to conventional practices and am of the belief that there are times when you have to take a stand one way or another. I don’t fence sit when I believe in something strongly enough.
Many people don’t care if they “foul their own nest” when it comes to visiting a national park, rather than leaving no trace so future visitors can appreciate the wild beauty. As such, I have very little patience with people, nowadays. I’m sure my attitude does not win me any fans or photo purchases, but I’ve never been one to shy away from writing (or saying) what I think, regardless of how it may irritate people. I point out human ignorance, stupidity, and hate where ever I see it. I find the people who write to tell me what a bitch I am are generally the ones who have committed the sins about which I write.
I hope the idiots who left that face mask trash and marked up the fragile areas within and around the hot springs were not photographers. That kind of cretin gives the rest of us photographers a bad name. I’m thankful there are still photographers out there who respect the land and the wildlife they photograph. I just wish they would speak up a little louder in defense of these ecosystems.
Copyright Rebecca L. Latson, all rights reserved.
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This is Emerald Pool, at Black Sand Basin, just a couple of miles or so from Upper Geyser Basin in Yellowstone National Park. Black Sand Basin is pretty cool because it doesn’t seem to be visited as much, being between the very popular Upper Geyser Basin, where Old Faithful is located, and Midway Geyser Basin, where Grand Prismatic is located.
So, it was on a quiet autumn day back in 2019 that I visited this pool of hot water. It was a teeny bit breezy so that the steam rising from the hot spring was not so thick you couldn’t see the actual color and shape of the pool.
I posted it today because National Parks Traveler published an article yesterday about some crazy idiots who took a couple of plucked chickens with them on a hike out to Shoshone Geyser Basin. They then put those chickens in a burlap bag and threw the bag into a hot spring to boil.
I’m sure those people thought they were being incredibly clever, but instead, they were being incredibly stupid. First of all, the waters in those hot springs are pretty caustic, so I’m sure the chicken would not have tasted very good, if they had not been dissolved in the first place by those caustic waters. Secondly, doing something like that disturbs and changes the delicate ecological and chemical balance and character of the hot spring, just like people throwing trash and coins into Morning Glory Pool have, over time, changed the once pristine saturated blue color into a yellow and green color. Thirdly, those morons on their little backcountry trip were extremely lucky they didn’t step onto thin crust and fall into a boiling hot spot during their little cooking venture.
Thankfully, a backcountry ranger caught them. But I’m sure the penalty will only be a slap to the wrist. Honestly, if those people wanted cooked chicken (and I wonder how they got that chicken out there on their backcountry hike in the first place, without it spoiling in the process), they should have just gone to a Wally World-type recreational venue, with lodging and restaurants.
Ok, that’s my eye-roll story for the day. Click on that image above to read the article.
On this Trivia Tuesday, did you know that you could once actually drive up to view Morning Glory Pool in Yellowstone National Park, instead of the 1.5-mile walk you take now? You can read about this and other interesting facts about this unique hot spring in today’s edition of the National Parks Traveler.
To read the story, click on either of the images above.
Thanks to people, this pool has changed its colors due to all the trash and coins folks have thrown into the water. Just a reminder: none of those colorful hot springs are wishing wells or trash cans, folks. They are unique, rare, and delicate geologic features that deserve our wonder, respect, and appreciation, not rocks, kleenex, snack wrappers, and coins.
Heart Spring, Upper Geyser Basin, temperature > 190 degrees Fahrenheit
Belgian Pool, Upper Geyser Basin, temperature ~ >150 degrees Fahrenheit
Did you know that the colors of the beautiful hot springs you see at Yellowstone National Park indicate the water temperature? Make no mistake, you do NOT want to soak in any of these after a long day hiking. Rule of thumb: the bluer the H2O, the hotter it is. And the orange, yellow, and brown colors you see ringing the springs and leading away from them are thermophilic (heat loving) bacteria.
Blue Star Pool on a chilly autumn morning, Yellowstone National Park
It’s Trivia Tuesday, folks! Here’s one from Janet Spencer’s “Yellowstone Trivia”: One ranger set out to remove the pennies from Upper Geyser Basin’s Blue Star Pool. After 15 minutes of work, he removed 700 pennies. That means 700 people figured “just one penny” wouldn’t hurt.
As a National Park placard says near another hot spring in Yellowstone National Park: “Thermal features are not trash cans or wishing wells – they are among earth’s rarest geologic treasures …”
Do your part, don’t litter, pack out what you pack in, and report any vandalism to a park ranger.
I first visited Black Sand Basin in Yellowstone National Park during the evening on the previous day from this shot. It was overcast and getting dark and I didn’t even notice this little side area next to the entry drive to the parking lot. I didn’t see this until I visited the next morning, a lovely, sunny day. I’ve been reading: TravelBrains’ “Yellowstone Expedition Guide” and learned this interesting fact: the trees you see here are dead, of course. The bottoms of their trunks are white because they absorbed the hot water in the area, which is filled with silica in solution. That silica comes out of solution and is what has colored those trunk bottoms. It’s the first step in petrification of the trees. Oh, and Black Sand Basin gets it’s name from the black obsidian sand grains in the area. Cool, huh?
Copyright Rebecca L. Latson, all rights reserved.
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