Ignorance truly is bliss.
To say that we were ignorant about what we’d find at Yellowstone National Park is a bit of an understatement. We knew the park contained a geyser called Old Faithful but not much beyond that. We assumed, given its close proximity to the adjoining Teton Range, we’d mostly find more of the same at Yellowstone: alpine lakes, mountains, and rugged natural beauty. What we found, instead, was like nothing we’d ever seen before.
Then again, we had never traveled around on top of an active volcano before either, which is what – we now know – Yellowstone really is. Or, more accurately, a “super volcano” whose last major eruption is estimated to have been 1,000 times more powerful than the 1980 blast at Mount Saint Helens.
Deep beneath Yellowstone’s surface still roils a blob of molten rock powerful enough to alter the entire landscape. In recent years an expanding magma reservoir has lifted sections of the park as much as ten full inches.
Rainwater and snowmelt, trickling through cracks and porous rock, eventually reaches this blazing hot lava. The resulting superheated water is driven by convection back toward the surface through a network of underground plumbing.
In some cases that plumbing is narrow and easily clogged, allowing immense pressure to build. Eventually, the pressure becomes so great that it dislodges the bottleneck and releases a spout of water commonly known as a geyser.
In other areas hot springs flow more freely, depositing dissolved minerals and creating waterfalls of colorful rock.
Or barren looking wastelands.
And everywhere steam rises as if from a witches’ brew.
Oftentimes we go places and know exactly what to expect. Through photographs and stories and research, even entirely new locations can sometimes seem completely familiar. Other times, we’re totally caught off guard, as we were in Yellowstone National Park. How wonderfully refreshing. Ignorance really is bliss.