An Unnerving Volcanic Wonderland

Yellowstone National Park is located on the northwestern border of Wyoming, reaching into Montana and Idaho. The park is the most active earthly wilderness in the world. This is not because of the some three million annual visitors, but rather the hot lava bed which shifts the altitudes of the park in relatively short measurement spans and therein, it has more geysers than everywhere else in the world combined.

En route to Yellowstone from the direction of Cody, WY crossed through Shoshone National Park. Uncertain of the amenities to come, Andrew and I filled the car’s gasoline tank in Wapiti where notably, the coffee was free. From a National Parks book Andrew received for his birthday, I read the passage about Yellowstone in preparation for the road ahead. Grizzly bears and wolves, buffalo and elk, microbial inhabitants of the hot springs and giants hidden in the forests. These are the animals we would sharing the terrain with for the next few hours.

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Lone Buffalo with a view of Lake Yellowstone

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Resting Elk

For our trip, we purchased a National Parks Service annual pass which is a flat fee of $80 for entrance to all national parks for the year. I highly recommend this, for even if only visiting a handful of parks or make a repeat trip somewhere, it will have more than paid for itself.

Entering the park from the east entrance the most notable observations were the drop in temperature as we rose to the parks highest peaks and the barren trees that may have been the result of a fire which burned one third of Yellowstone in 1988. The climb down for the highest hill tops leads to to Lake Yellowstone—a vast blue lake with parts hot and cold where tall snow capped mountains peak in the distance.

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Changing Leaves

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Beach front

Yellowstone National Park was established as a national park by President Ulysses S. Grant in 1872, pre-dating even Montana, Wyoming and Idaho in their statehood.

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The Act of Dedication reads:

AN ACT to set apart a certain tract of land lying near the headwaters of the Yellowstone River as a public park. Be it enacted by the Senate and House of Representatives of the United States of America in Congress assembled, That the tract of land in the Territories of Montana and Wyoming … is hereby reserved and withdrawn from settlement, occupancy, or sale under the laws of the United States, and dedicated and set apart as a public park or pleasuring ground for the benefit and enjoyment of the people; and all persons who shall locate, or settle upon, or occupy the same or any part thereof, except as hereinafter provided, shall be considered trespassers and removed there from … Approved March 1, 1872.

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Crossing the continental divide

Yellowstone National Park sits atop the Yellowstone Caldera, an active super volcano. The magma bed underneath causes earthquakes all the time, generally 3,000 in a single year, and of course, while most are two subtle to feel, measurements have shown that ground level have “bulged” in areas of the park by as much as 10 inches within the past decade.

Yellowstone’s super volcano is unfathomably powerful, ominously active and its next eruption is unsettlingly unpredictable. It’s previous eruptions are to have been 1,000 times more powerful than Mount St. Helens’s 1980 eruption.

On our visit, we walked a wooden path through a stretch of hot springs. The nearby information center posts a daily geyser schedule, akin to the next A trains coming into Jay Street, and we were just in time for Old Faithful. Back in Iceland, we had been soaked by Geyser—the first geyser from which all others have their name, geyser—and now, we were seeing the world’s most famous.

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The grand entrance to Old Faithful

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View from the wooden walkway of the many, many hot springs

As we got closer to the time of Old Faithful’s next “show” crowds began to swarm and fill the parameters from the safety of built-in sidewalks in silence where their cameras on cue.

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The countdown begins and the steam begins to build and tease with more fury

For several minutes we watched the steam rise up slightly and blow off into the wind, unsure of what to expect but knowing this wasn’t quite it yet. And then in a swoosh, the steam rose up several meters into sky forming a giant cloud which rolled over us and lasted for several minutes.

There she blows

Watch the video here: