Saturday, August 6, 2016

Yellowstone: Mammoth Hot Springs

I said Norris Geyser Basin was otherworldly? So was Mammoth Hot Springs! How on earth did the right conditions for these colorful travertine terraces manage to align all in one area? It's incredible. 

The bright white stepped areas are where the hot spring has stopped trickling down or changed course. In the areas where the water is still flowing, there are bright orange and yellow colors from the bacteria and archaea in the water. The signs said that Mammoth Hot Springs aren't "drying up" (lots of people see the parts where there's no water flowing anymore and assume they are), but they change course and the water level varies from season to season. I like seeing the contrasts between the wet and dry terraces!
This is one of those places where I couldn't stop thinking about fractals. As you looked closer, you could see steps and terraces in even these tiny ripples!
We liked this part too. It was like a tiny Goblin Valley, with 1-inch-high goblins.
Juniper tree
I love these flat pools, like lily pads. We saw formations like this in Carlsbad Caverns, too. They're called shelfstone or rimstone dams, and they look remarkably similar whether in a cave or here at the hot springs. It's because they're formed the same way. In a cave, the water moving over limestone forms carbonic acid, which cuts downward through the rocks, dripping and forming pools. As the carbon dioxide evaporates, the limestone precipitates out and re-forms. Here at Mammoth Hot Springs, the water is bubbling upward from the earth, so the carbon dioxide leaves the water once it reaches the surface! It has the same result: travertine deposits that form terraces.
Some even larger pools…
And some tiny ones of the same type. It's so interesting how the same basic geologic process can have an infinite number of expressions, based on specifics of the site, the rock layers, the slope, and so forth. That's part of what makes Yellowstone so fascinating! The underlying processes seem (relatively) simple, but the more you see them at work the more you realize their vast complexity!
This was another hot day, and when I look at these pictures I feel the phantom weight of that heavy, heavy baby on my back. 
Spooky dead trees standing in a grey wasteland.
Here is part of the site from farther away. You would almost think it was just a colorful mountain! All those intricate details only emerge as you get closer.

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