YELLOWSTONE, Wyoming - You’re likely familiar with Yellowstone National Park, located in Wyoming — and a little in Montana and Idaho. It’s so full of beauty and astonishing natural features that it’s no wonder it was the world’s first national park, established in 1872.
It’s also the home of a giant supervolcano that could blow at any minute, wiping the park off the map entirely. Just in case, I would run — not walk — to the park to see some of nature’s most stunning landmarks before they’re gone forever.
1. Old Faithful
Mathematicians, statisticians and dedicated observers have spent years studying and analyzing this well-known Yellowstone National Park geyser. So far, they’ve found that short eruptions, lasting about 2 minutes, lead to shorter intervals, around 65 minutes. Meanwhile, longer eruptions, which generally last around 4 minutes, have roughly 90 minutes between them.
Despite all of the math, any of Yellowstone’s 1,000 or so annual earthquakes could affect the interval time, so intervals are just rough approximations.
2. Mammoth Hot Springs
Like most things in Yellowstone National Park, this feature was created by volcanic activity deep below the earth that threatens to destroy the beauty it creates. Like Old Faithful, these terraces are constantly changing as a result of the heat from a partially molten magma chamber, water and limestone. Swimming in the boiling hot waters isn’t recommended, but it’s certainly a cool place to check out!
3. Grand Prismatic Spring
Nature’s tie-dye, Yellowstone’s Grand Prismatic Spring is the largest hot spring in the U.S., and the third largest in the world. The spring is full of vivd colors which are the result of pigmented bacteria in the microbial mats that grow around the edges of the mineral-rich water. The spring’s blue center is so hot that bacteria can’t grow there, producing an almost rainbow-like effect.
4. Firehole River
This river is one of several in Yellowstone National Park. It’s remarkable for its natural heat which comes from the hot spring's water that flows into it.
On average, it’s 9 to 18 degrees Fahrenheit warmer than other rivers! Old-time trappers named it for the steam that often rises from the river, making it appear to be smoking. It’s also good for fishing, despite the fact that other animals can’t live in it due to the extreme heat.
5. Morning Glory Pool
This Yellowstone geological feature may not even make it to the supervolcano eruption; in the past, many visitors threw trash, logs, rocks, and coins into the pool, affecting the heat and circulation of the water. Once a clear, solid blue, yellow and orange bacteria have started to spread towards the pool’s center, changing its appearance forever.
6. Yellowstone Falls and Yellowstone Grand Canyon
Did you know that Yellowstone National Park has a Grand Canyon and a waterfall almost twice as tall as Niagara Falls? The Yellowstone River’s winding path takes it north from Yellowstone Lake, down the Upper and Lower Yellowstone Falls (the Lower Falls being the taller of the two) and into Yellowstone’s Grand Canyon, an awe-inspiring canyon that runs up to 1,000 feet deep.
If those amazing views don't do it for you, then maybe the park's fascinating history will sway you.
The first-known American to encounter the park was a member of the Lewis and Clark expedition named John Colter, who left the group of explorers to join a pack of fur trappers. In 1807, he passed through parts of what would become Yellowstone, and observed some of its bizarre geothermal oddities, which he described to others as a place of "fire and brimstone".
Many people wrote him off as mad, unable to believe that such natural wonders were actually real. They nicknamed the "fictional" place "Colter's Hell," and even as other mountain men began to corroborate Colter's claims, they were still written off as mere myth.
The first organized survey of what would become the park didn't occur until 1860, and people didn't really explore the area in earnest until the late 1860's — but once people really started to get to know Yellowstone, it wasn't long before the recognized its beauty and importance and protected it as the country's first National Park.