Bud, my husband, and I spent over a week among the lodge pole pines at Norris a beautiful campground in the heart of the park. The scenic Gibbon River flows through a meadow below the campground and a one-mile wooded trail leads to the Norris Geyser Basin one of the hottest, most dynamic of Yellowstone’s hydrothermal areas.
We spent many hours strolling the 2-mile long boardwalk admiring the over 30 geysers in the Porcelain and Back Basin loops. The variety and beauty of the rainbow colors and shapes fascinated me. Also the hissing steam, pungent smell of sulfur and the boiling water beneath the surface. We read that many of the colors are from heat-loving microorganisms called thermophiles.
We learned that Norris sits on the intersection of three major faults making it the parks most active earthquake zone and a part of one of the world’s largest active volcanoes.
Lamar Valley, the prettiest and wildest area in the park’s northeast corner became our favorite hangout. While watching wolves, bears, coyotes, bison, elk and other animals we learned their ways from other wildlife enthusiasts who were generous with their telescopes and knowledge. We could see why Lamar Valley has been dubbed the “Serengeti of America.”
Yellowtone's Grand Canyon is one of the park’s most breathtaking sights. The turbulent Yellowstone river roars through 20 miles of golden-hued cliffs. The spectacular 109 feet Upper and 308 feet Lower Falls plummet over huge rocks.
We also enjoyed watching fisherman fish for trout on the Firehole River among the bison at the Fountain Flat picnic area. Their trout lines danced on the sparkling blue water.
Another highlight was viewing Old Faithful, the world’s most famous geyser, from the balcony of its century old namesake The Old Faithful Inn. Old Faithful’s eruptions reach over 100 feet every 80 minutes and spouts 800 gallons of water a day. We viewed over 30 geysers, hot springs, fumaroles and mud pots from the boardwalks and paved bicycle trails starting at the visitors center.
As Norris Campground did not have showers we got them at the The Old Faithful Inn for a nominal fee.
We were surprised to learn from the park literature that Yellowstone is a huge active super volcano. We did not know that the majority of the world’s active geysers are in Yellowstone and that the molten rock, or magma, is as close as 3 to 8 miles underground. Many volcanic eruptions have occurred in the past two million years. Yellowstone's 30 by 45-mile caldera or basin formed when its central portion collapsed after the last volcanic eruption 640,000 years ago.
There are only three other locations in the world: Iceland, New Zealand and Siberia that have large concentrations of hydrothermal activity.
Peering through clouds of steam we gazed in awe at Grand Prismatic, Yellowstone’s largest 370 feet hot spring. Only satellite pictures can capture the entire deep-blue spring ringed with a bright yellow and orange.
Yellowstone Lake, the largest lake at high elevation in North America, was still frozen in mid May. The lake’s vast white sheet of ice was visible as we explored the West Thumb Geyser Basin.
Mammoth Hot Spring's beautiful white terrace structures of water and limestone looked like a living sculpture. The yellow, orange and green thermophiles provided a splash of color. Like few places on earth the rocks formed before our eyes. We reached the terraces from several boardwalks. Elk grazed on the manicured lawns nearby.
As we moved around the park I could not stop grinning. To my amazement I realized most other people were smiling too. I wondered if they too felt spiritually uplifted.
A booklet by the Jackson Hole Chamber of Commerce summed up my feelings best. They said Yellowstone National Park, Grand Teton National Park and the National Elk Refuge are treasures belonging to all American citizens. Each of the preserves were created by a group of visionary individuals who came together to safe-guard a precious, one-of-a-kind place for future generations. The idea of the national park-public lands owned by a federal government rather than a lesser governing body is the greatest conservation gift any country has bequeathed to the world. The three parks form the largest intact natural ecosystem in the lower forty-eight states. The opportunities to recreate, enjoy life and receive inspiration from the natural world are innumerable and unparalleled.
They said the power of place is reflected every year when more than three million people from throughout the world visit the incomparable scenery, wildlife and quality of air and water. Respecting the power of place is not only realizing that our economy, community and environment make this place special, but remembering that the three are interrelated. What helps or harms the other one will affect the other two. For our long term health is woven together with our economy, community and environment.