Natural Wonders of Yellowstone

February 7, 2011
Yellowstone Wildflowers
April 17, 2011

Yellowstone National Park encompasses nearly 2.2 million acres, covering three states: Wyoming, Montana, and Idaho.  Within the park’s boundaries you can experience assorted geological wonders, including but not limited to: four mountain ranges, rivers, lakes, geysers, hot springs, and mudpots.

The four mountain ranges are The Washburn Range, The Red Mountains, The Gallatin Range, and the Absaroka Range.  Both the Washburn and Red Mountain Ranges are located entirely inside the park.  The Washburn Range is located on the northern side of the park, while the Red Mountain range is located on the southern side of the park.  The Gallatin Range begins about 75 miles north of Yellowstone by Bozeman, Montana.  The range prevails mainly in the northwest corner of the park.  The Absaroka Range begins about 80 miles north of Yellowstone near Livingston, Montana.  This range runs southeast and then turns south through the entire east side of the park.  The Absaroka Range also hosts the highest peak in the park, Eagle Peak at 11,358 feet.

The Yellowstone River begins where the North Fork and the South Fork of the Yellowstone River come together.  The Yellowstone River flows north through the park feeding and draining Yellowstone Lake.  It then drops over the Upper and Lower Falls at the top of the Grand Canyon of Yellowstone.  After flowing through the Black Canyon of the Yellowstone, the river then flows northward into Montana between the Absaroka and Gallatin Ranges in Paradise Valley, near the town of Livingston, Montana.  The river then flows east and northeast and is joined by several other rivers before it flows into the Missouri River in North Dakota.  The Yellowstone River is the longest undammed river n the lower 48 states.  Because the river has so few dams, it is an excellent trout habitat.  The most plentiful stretch of water is through Paradise Valley in Montana, especially near Livingston which produces brown trout, rainbow trout, and native cutthroat trout.

Yellowstone Lake is the largest body of water in Yellowstone Park.  The lake is 136 square miles with 110 miles of shoreline.  The deepest spot in the lake is at least 390 feet.  Yellowstone is the largest freshwater lake above 7,000 feet in North America.  There is also a variety of faults, hot springs, and small craters under a ‘bulge’ that is about 2,000 feet long and 100 feet wide under a section of the lake.  This ‘bulge’ is continually monitored for changes and seismic activity.

There are about 1,000 know geysers worldwide, and almost half of them are located in Yellowstone Park.  The most famous of Yellowstone’s geysers is Old Faithful.  Old Faithful erupts on average  every 90 minutes; however, intervals could be as little as 65 minutes and as long as 125 minutes depending upon length of the previous eruption.  It is believed that Old Faithful is not connected to any other thermal features of the Upper Geyser Basin, resulting in its “regular” interval of eruptions.  A geyser forms when surface water makes its way into the ground coming into contact with magma heated rocks.  The boiling and pressurized water is forced out of the surface vent resulting in hot water and steam spraying out.

Hot springs are boiling pools of water, heated by magma heated rocks below the surface.  Because the hot springs can release steam, they usually do not have the explosions common in geysers.  The Morning Glory Pool has a distinct blue color due to bacteria that live in the water.  The Morning Glory Pool has on rare occasion erupted as a geyser, following seismic activity.  This pool in particular has lost some of its blue color because vandalism by park guests, resulting in it being referred to as the “Fading Glory” pool.

Mudpots can also be seen in Yellowstone.  They form when heated ground water has dissolved surrounding rocks into clay.  Generally, this ground water is very acidic, aiding in the breakdown and dissolving of the rocks.  The resulting mud continues to bubble and stay heated from the magma below.  Usually mudpots are white or grey in color, but they can also be pink or reddish due the content of iron in the mud.

Whether you are camping in the area of Yellowstone, or just passing through, take some time to go and explore the natural wonders the park has to offer.  Remember to respect this natural beauty, by only staying in areas marked for visitor viewing.

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