Yellowstone – Otherworldly Features

I wanted to blow off Yellowstone, claim it was all hype and since we had seen so many amazing places already, this was totally not worth the crowds and fanfare.  But…it really is all that.  But the crowds do suck.

I wrote about the great day we had in the Upper Geyser Basin, home of Old Faithful, earlier.  After leaving that area, we got to discover many other amazing geothermal features.  One stop I wanted to make was at the Midway Geyser Basin, home of what is meant to be the most beautiful pool, Grand Prismatic Spring. And I’m sure it is.

This is the type of picture I had seen of it in my trip research:

photo credit to Ignacio Palacios via Getty Images

This is what we saw:


plus lots and lots (and LOTS) of people.  I was actually pleasantly surprised about the Upper Geyser Basin near Old Faithful being less crowded than I had feared, but here we found the expected crowds 😦 We couldn’t find a parking spot anywhere nearby, so C circled in the car while I took 3 unwilling boys into the throngs of people on the boardwalk.

line of cars waiting to get into the (full) parking lot – we got out and walked while C made a loop

My favorite thing to see there was actually the Excelsior geyser, what was once the largest geyser in the world until a series of violent eruptions in the 1880’s may have made it lose thermal energy, now it rarely (like the last was 1985) erupts, and is now a thermal spring.

crazy and otherworldly wall of steam from the Excelsior geyser
Another view of the Excelsior geyser

After doing the loop to the disappointing Grand Prismatic Spring, we jumped back into our circling taxi and headed out of the crowded masses.

Our next stop was the Artist Paintpots trail.  Happily, this wasn’t too crowded and we (more or less) found a parking spot (there were no lines, so people were kind of parked in random spots in the lot).

The trail is a 1.1 mile loop, and the beginning goes through a wooded area, but it quickly leads to a boardwalk surrounded by geothermal features.


not sure about artist paint pots – to me, it looks like the water after you have rinsed your paintbrushes

The piece de resistance of the the hike were the mudpots.  Mudpots happen when the underground chambers of thermal water come up through rocks that are easily dissolved.  The acid in the water corrodes the rocks forming a clay-like substance.  The consistency of the mudpots varies based on the amount of water they contain – from runny, mud-colored water to thick mud.


checking out the mudpot

After the hike, we hit our new hotel, in the Canyon area of Yellowstone, and rested until near sunset, when we drove through the Hayden Valley in search of wildlife.  We didn’t get to see any grizzly bears, but we did see bison and elk.


We also took a quick walk to see a few more neat geothermal features. We saw the Mud Volcano.  Apparently it was quite a sight to behold back when this area was being discovered in 1870.  It spewed mud to the height of the treetops, and early explorer Nathaniel Langford described Mud Volcano as the “greatest marvel we have yet met with”.   However, by 1872, it had blown itself up, and all that was left was what we saw – a muddy, bubbling hole that is half of the old volcano.


The other named feature was the Dragon’s Caldron, a cave with water rushing in and out of it, with steam constantly blowing out.  A great cave for a dragon, indeed.


As we walked on the boardwalk outside those two features, we could see and hear lots of other random features, filled with hot water or spewing steam.  What a crazy landscape!

We did make it to Lamar Valley to search for grizzly bears once again, but sadly, we didn’t see anything besides lots and lots of bison.


that is a seriously skinny bison!

More Yellowstone adventures to come in the next post!



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