WY – Yellowstone NP . . . finding the beauty in hydrothermal geology

Having spent significant time at Lassen Volcanic National Park, hydrothermal features don’t hold the same awe for me as they once did. However, the travertine terraces at Mammoth Hot Springs were a geological marvel that blew my mind and kept my camera busy. I’d never seen anything like this. I was WOWED!

The colors are created by thermophiles, heat-loving microorganisms. According to the Yellowstone Association Trail Guide brochure, “Colorless and yellow thermophiles grow in the hottest water; orange, brown and green thermophiles thrive in cooler waters. Colors change during with the seasons due to differing amounts of sunlight.”

The terraces are living sculptures, shaped by the volume of water, the slope of the ground, and object’s in the water’s path. Travertine is created when the hot water perculates up from underground through limestone dissolving calcium carbonate and depositing it on the surface, causing the features to change quickly and constantly. Geology isn’t just history, it’s an active process.” Source: Yellowstone Association Trail Guide 

This terrace looks like a river of gold. 

The burned trees make the landscape feel even more other wordly. 

On my hike along Lava Creek to Undine Falls, it was great to gain this perspective of the terraces perched under the watchful eye of Mt Everts. The whitish/grayish lump in the middle of the photo is Terrace Mountain, a mere 406,000 years old.

There are three primary areas in the park to observe the hot springs, geysers, mudpots, fumaroles and travertine – Mammoth, Norris, Old Faithful and West Thumb. The trail system makes for a nice workout with benefits!

Cupid Spring (?) or I might have just taken the photo because I liked the shadow

Silex Spring

Timing the geyser action took some practice, but I found if I set my camera to shoot a series of 5 photos I’d capture the eruption at peak height.

Clepsydra Geyser

Chinese Spring

Blue Star Spring

Pump Geyser

Biscuit Basin was pretty cool. 

I waited and waited and waited for Old Faithful to blow. I had plenty of company. 

Sadly it was a windy day, and I never could see the spout. Notice the brown spots on the ground? Those are all bison poo piles.

By the time I got to Norris Geyser Basin, I decided I’d seen enough hydrothermal features. This photo gives you an idea of how the trails wind through the basins of Yellowstone, where geology is alive. 

Date(s) Hiked: April 17-19, 2016

Road Trip Day(s) #59-61 out of 88


  • The only campground in the park open during the winter/early spring season is Mammoth
  • Come prepared with grizzly bear spray or buy at Visitor’s Center upon arrival
  • Microspikes or YakTrax are a good option for early season travel.



3 thoughts on “WY – Yellowstone NP . . . finding the beauty in hydrothermal geology

  1. What vibrant photos.

    The other cool thing about Mammoth is how the formations change over time. When my parents went this last time, they said it had changed dramatically since we’d been there last.

Thoughts? Questions? Comments? Broken Links? I'd love to hear from you!

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s