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Yellowstone National Park

Yellowstone Park

Wyoming’s Yellowstone National Park, born of a catastrophic eruption thousands of years ago, is a hotbed of geothermal activity. Strange and awe-inspiring wonders, like the clear blue waters of Black Pool in the West Thumb Geyser Basin, have attracted tourists for years. In 1872, the New York Times wrote about the contemporary fascination with Yellowstone’s “extraordinary and sometimes terrible manifestations of nature.” Though, back then, they did not know the half of it.

The park sits atop a massive hotspot of molten mantle. The 40-mile circular area encompassing the world’s most famous geyser, Old Faithful, is a gigantic caldera – the collapsed cone of a supervolcano. Yellowstone erupts on average once every 650,000 years, entombing half a continent under many feet of ash and pitching the entire planet into a dark and poisoned volcanic winter. It last did so 640,000 years ago.

Yellowstone Park

More than half of the world’s geysers are contained within Yellowstone. They are caused by the heating of ground water, which culminates in pressurized steam shooting forth from an opening in the ground. Old Faithful, the most famous of geysers, shoots boiling water up to 55m in the air. Its eruptions are predictable, occurring at intervals of 45 to 90 minutes, and last for 1.5 to five minutes.

Yellowstone Park

Reaching temperatures of 188F, the Grand Prismatic Spring is the largest hot spring in the US and the third largest in the world (behind Frying Pan Lake and Boiling Lake, both in New Zealand). What looks like the run-off from a battery factory is the result of pigmented bacteria that grows around the edges of the mineral-rich waters.

Yellowstone Park

A herd of bison strolls past the steaming Mud Volcano in Hayden Valley, north of Yellowstone Lake. Like a cauldron of witch’s brew ready to bubble over, this thermal feature was once very active. Although the spring is now relatively docile, an incident in 1979 in which earthquake tremors caused the spring to spill mud across the boardwalks is a reminder that sleeping beasts do wake up.

Yellowstone Park

Bathers relax in Boiling River, the only place in the park where visitors are allowed to swim. It is here that the scalding temperatures of a geothermal spring meet the frigid Gardner River. The confluence of the two makes for a pleasingly warm dip – a benevolent gesture from the volcanic gods before they blow the park to kingdom come.

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