Pacific Northwest and Northern Rocky Mountains. We had finally arrived at one of the flagship destinations for our trip: Yellowstone National Park! One of the crown jewels of our national park system, home of Old Faithful...we set aside two days to explore the park, and I did something slightly devious to my students. I spent the entire day looking at "not geysers"!
Frankly, I'm not sure any of the students noticed the distinction. That's the thing about Yellowstone; it is so full of wonders and curiosities that it would be a unique landscape to explore even if there were no geysers to be seen at all. We spent our day exploring the northern loop of the park, from Canyon Village and the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone to Mt. Washburn and then to Mammoth Hot Springs. We stopped in at Norris Geyser Basin at the end of the day, but were distracted by a wolf.
There is a fable about several blind men who were touching an elephant and disagreeing about its nature, whether it was like a rope (the tail), a snake (the trunk), or a tree (the leg). Yellowstone's most striking feature was so big that it was decades before geologists recognized it for what it was: a vast caldera, the site of three of the largest volcanic eruptions to ever hit the North American Continent in recent geologic time (2.1 million, 1.3 million, and 640,000 years before present).
How big is the caldera? The snowcapped mountain in the distance in the picture below is Mt. Sheridan. We were standing on the side of Mt. Washburn; there is a forty mile gap between the two. The mountain ridge that connected the two peaks sank into the caldera during a single massive eruption that put 600 cubic miles of ash into the atmosphere. The ash spread for thousands of miles. A repeat eruption would be devastating to civilization (despite what the television tells you, such eruptions are not imminent, nor are they overdue; we would see signs of caldera unrest dozens, if not hundreds of years beforehand). The source of these eruptions is thought to be a mantle hot spot, although there are several alternate interpretations.
wolf drama in this post.
We were done with another day...tomorrow would include the famous geysers (maybe), and Grand Teton National Park.
I've been posting regularly for the last ten days, but I am hitting the road again tomorrow, so the next few posts will be at unpredictable intervals, as web access will be tricky. Take care, all!