I will make a confession here – I have been excited to see the Mammoth Hot Springs at Yellowstone ever since I saw it depicted while riding on the Big Thunder Mountain Railroad roller coaster at Disney World.   The Mammoth Hot Springs (the real things – not the Disney World version) are located in the Northeast corner of the park, so we swung by them on our way out of the park.

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Once again, the diversity of the park amazes!  This area of the park is unique.  Despite having hot springs like other areas of the park, the rock here is limestone, from the remains of an ancient sea, instead of rhyolite from ancient lava flows like in other areas of the park.  Due to the different rock types travertine terraces quickly form.  Here is the NPS explanation:

“Travertine terraces are formed from limestone. Thermal water rises through the limestone, carrying high amounts of the dissolved limestone (calcium carbonate). At the surface, carbon dioxide is released and calcium carbonate is deposited, forming travertine, the chalky white mineral forming the rock of travertine terraces. The formations resemble a cave turned inside out. Colorful stripes are formed by thermophiles, or heat-loving organisms.

Travertine formations grow much more rapidly than the more common sinter formations in the park because of the “soft” nature of limestone. Due to the rapid deposition, these features constantly and quickly change.”

These terraces were cool.  Not unusually, C and I enjoyed this more than the boys did, who just wanted to get back in the car and listen to more of The Alien Adventures of Finn Caspian.

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Totally over having pictures taken – but this was a cool formation that shot water straight up with force, so it built up like a cone

These travertine terraces build so quickly, and the water flow changes all the time. It was really neat to see different terraces that evolved over time. When water flows on them, they are bright colored, due to the bacteria that lives in the hot water.

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Once the water stops flowing over them, they turn white.

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Eventually they break apart further, and the cycle of life continues as grass and plants start growing over them.

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old travertine terraces
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more old travertine terraces that are starting to be covered by grass and bushes

After looking at the terraces, we walked through the Mammoth Hot Springs area, by the shops and to the Visitor Center, and it was a really cute place.  Less crowded and very quaint. We would have liked to spend more time in that area, but it will have to wait until next time because we are Minnesota-bound!

Until next time, Yellowstone!

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