The Otherworldliness of Yellowstone National Park

Yellowstone National Park Mammoth Hot Spring Landscape

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.

Yellowstone National Park Upper Geyser Basin

Visitors wait for an eruption in Yellowstone’s Upper Geyser Basin

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.

Yellowstone National Park Palette Spring

Palette Spring, Mammoth Hot Spring

Or barren looking wastelands.

Yellowstone National Park Mammoth Hot Springs Landscape

And everywhere steam rises as if from a witches’ brew.

Yellowstone National Park Mammoth Hot Spring Steam

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.


For other looks at this most diverse of U.S. national parks also check out The Colors of Yellowstone and The Ordinary Beauty of Yellowstone.

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32 Comments on “The Otherworldliness of Yellowstone National Park”

  1. Bama October 12, 2012 at 8:19 am #

    Going to volcanoes always blows me away by thinking that behind the docile appearance, a great power of destruction is hidden. But in my opinion, Yellowstone truly is the mother of all modern volcanoes.


  2. Raunak October 12, 2012 at 8:30 am #

    Holy Smokes!!!
    no pun intended 🙂


  3. dorseyml October 12, 2012 at 8:56 am #

    I went to Yellowstone in June, and it took my breath away! sooo beautiful!


  4. Journey Photographic October 12, 2012 at 8:56 am #

    Incredible – you’ve now put Yellowstone firmly on my list of places to visit.


    • Brian October 13, 2012 at 10:40 am #

      That’s our objective. 🙂


  5. mjolln1r October 12, 2012 at 10:19 am #

    Thanks for the pictures before it all ends up getting blown into the stratosphere! Seriously, great pics as always.


    • Brian October 13, 2012 at 10:40 am #

      Heh-heh-heh. People were worried for a bit when the ground started rising by a couple of inches. You never know.


  6. Katie Glenn October 12, 2012 at 10:25 am #

    I’m surprised too…I had no idea what Yellowstone looked like. The picture of Mammoth Hot Spring was unexpected.


  7. Jessica Vealitzek October 12, 2012 at 11:07 am #

    It’s one of my favorite places in the country–seems like almost every landform can be found there. I went in early May, when there was still snow everywhere and no people except a few photographers and documentarians. Got to watch a wolf stalk a buffalo calf (didn’t get it) and then an antelope (didn’t get that, either). My whole experience there was nothing short of amazing.


    • Brian October 13, 2012 at 10:39 am #

      We think we need to come back through this whole area, from Southern Utah to the Canadian Rockies, in the winter. It all must be such a different place under a blanket of snow.


    • wordsmithmagic October 17, 2012 at 12:22 am #

      Same here…a totally unique visit each time I’ve been.


  8. Angelia Sims October 12, 2012 at 11:47 am #

    Truly amazing. Wonderful images. So surreal.


  9. Jeanette October 12, 2012 at 12:26 pm #

    Gorgeous! Thanks so much for sharing. I had no idea Yellowstone was so unique!


    • Brian October 13, 2012 at 10:37 am #

      There’s more to the story too. Stay tuned.


  10. writecrites October 12, 2012 at 5:42 pm #

    When I visited the Rotorua area in New Zealand’s North Island, I thought, what amazing, fantastical formations of colored rock, steaming geysers, hot pools layered with bright orange and blue rocks. Nothing in the world could look quite like this. And then I remembered Yellowstone. I was only 15 when my family went there (and my sister and I were chased by a bear). But your post made me realize that I must go back and see it with new eyes.


    • Brian October 13, 2012 at 10:36 am #

      Yellowstone is pretty awesome, but I also hear incredible things about New Zealand – can’t wait to get there.


      • writecrites October 13, 2012 at 1:57 pm #

        You’ll love it. Even though it’s like Yellowstone, it’s got its own New Zealand character.


  11. Angela October 13, 2012 at 7:28 pm #

    Thanks for a quick trip home! Yellowstone Park is awesome, but I really know I am home when the Grand Tetons come into view! Congratulations on finding the way to a life of freedom and choice! What an empowering experience it is!


  12. earthriderjudyberman October 13, 2012 at 11:40 pm #

    This is a place I’d love to visit some day. Are there other areas of interest nearby?


  13. Jillian October 14, 2012 at 1:52 am #

    I watched a documentary once about the supervolcano under Yellowstone – frightening! But I definitely have always wanted to go to Yellowstone!


  14. heavenhappens October 14, 2012 at 3:38 pm #

    We visited yellowstone in 1994 and were totally amazed like you. We knew nothing before we went and loved every minute. Thanks for reminding me!


  15. travelgardeneat October 14, 2012 at 10:20 pm #

    Your photos make me want to return to Yellowstone! ~ Kat


  16. Mike Martinez October 15, 2012 at 7:21 pm #

    How inspiring!


  17. wordsmithmagic October 17, 2012 at 12:20 am #

    One of my favorite places in all of America. I’ve been lucky enough to go a few times and it’s been a different experience every time.


  18. Arizona girl October 18, 2012 at 4:15 pm #

    Nice thoughts at the end!


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