The 10,000 hot springs, mud pots, and fumaroles, plus 300 or so active geysers within Yellowstone comprise more than half the entire world's thermal features. We've got the tips you need to know before you go to best experience the park's geothermal wonders.
Past eruptions of cataclysmic volcanoes brought about the steaming, vaporous landscape of Yellowstone today. The heat from the magma (molten rock) under the Yellowstone Caldera, an active volcano, continues to fuel the park's geyser basins, such as the Upper Geyser Basin, where more than 200 spouters cram into less than two square miles; and Norris, where water 1,000 feet below ground is 450° F. The complex underground plumbing in these geyser basins is affected by earthquakes and other subterranean hijinks that geologists are only beginning to understand. Some spouters spring to life, while others fall dormant with little or no warning.
General Hot Spot Tips
1. Stay on trails and boardwalks.
In some areas, like in Norris, water boils at temperatures of more than 200° F. If you want to venture into the back country, where there are no boardwalks, consult a ranger first.
2. Leave the area if you feel sick or dizzy.
You might be feeling this way due to overexposure to various thermal gases.
3. These hot springs aren't for bathing.
The pH levels of some of these features are extremely acidic.
4. They also aren't wishing wells.
In the past people threw hundreds of coins into the bright blue Morning Glory Pool. The coins clogged the pool's natural water vents, causing it to change to a sickly green color.
5. Rise and shine.
Set your alarm clock: generally, the best light for shooting the geothermal features is early in the morning. You'll avoid the thickest crowds then, too. The runner-up time is the late afternoon.
6. Watch the weather.
Breezy days are good for photographing geysers, since the steam will be blown away from the jetting water. But avoid standing downwind or your view can be clouded with steam.
7. Protect your gear.
If you get water from a thermal feature on your lens, dry it off as quickly as possible, because the water has a high mineral content that can damage your lens.
Geothermal Planning Tips
8. Watch the Life to Land video.
Before your trip, catch this 20-minute film about the park's geothermal wonders. You don't have to go all the way to the Canyon Visitor Center, today you can even watch it through the Yellowstone NPS site.
9. Leave time to explore Mammoth Hot Spring terrace steps.
In the northwest corner of the park, a network of boardwalks allow you to get up close to the colorful terraces. The Lower Terrace Interpretative Trail will take about an hour to walk the many steps.
10. Check the schedule for Old Faithful.
While it generally erupts every 94 minutes, check with a visitor center to get the latest timing update.
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Photo Credits: Grand Prismatic Spring courtesy Fodors.com member Stephanie Ripley, West Thumb Geyser Basin Courtesy Tim Whiteaker, Castle Geyser courtesy Fodors.com member Maruthy Vedam, Paint pots and fumaroles courtesy Fodors.com member Tim Whiteaker.