Home Away From Home, Montana

Mammoth Hot Springs and Norris Basin

Leaving really early is just not in our list of possibilities. Of course, I slept later today too so we ended up leaving a little after 8:00 and then had to stop for gas but really to clean the windshield so we could see the beautiful things ahead of us today.

As we traveled through the park on the way to Mammoth Hot Springs, we passed numerous fumaroles. A fumarole or steam vent is the hottest hydrothermal feature in the park. A small amount of water in fumaroles flashes into steam before it reaches the surface. They are easiest to see in cool weather and today with a temperature of 35 this morning we were blessed with being able to see quite a few. When we passed Terrace Spring steam was on both sides of the road and then just before we reached Beryl Spring the sky was covered with steam and it was rising. It looked like a huge sauna.

We continued on through Madison and headed toward Mammoth. Again, we encountered more steam. Just before we got to Clearwater Springs the entire side of the mountain had steam rising. We had earlier decided that we wouldn’t stop anywhere but would go directly to Mammoth but we had a change of heart when we saw the volumes of steam rising. What a sight to see.

And then we ran into construction! We were one of many in a long line of traffic that was not moving either way. Just a 30-40-minute delay while they worked on repairing the roads.

We had been advised to drive to Upper Terrace and hike down to Lower Terrace so that’s what we did. The parking lots were jammed but we luckily found a small place to pull the Jeep in. The Hot Springs are amazing, otherworldly, and beyond description. I mentioned that it looked like the land that was forgotten. With cascades of waters streaming down the mountainous rock, it looked surreal. The water is heated deep underground and then rises to the surface. As it rises it penetrates through limestone, dissolving calcium carbonate. Above ground, the travertine terraces are formed. Underground channels sometimes shift or clog causing the water to change course. When that happens springs may slow down or stop thus it is an everchanging landscape.

We walked along the boardwalk in amazement focusing on the various bright colors, some earth colors and some vivid greens and blues. There wasn’t much wind this morning but apparently, it had been windy sometime earlier. We saw several hats in restricted areas.

When we got to the bottom we walked into Mammoth and stopped in a couple of stores. Then we turned around and started the trek back up to the car. Near the beginning to the walk up was the Liberty Cap, a dormant hot spring cone. It stood as a sentinel all alone.

As we were walking someone mentioned that there were elk in a meadow below us so we walked down there and sure enough we saw about seven elk grazing and ignoring the people. All of the elk except one crossed the road while the other one seemed to almost disappear. We returned to the boardwalk to continue our climb and suddenly there she was, right beside the boardwalk.

The walk back up was exhausting whether from the altitude or the climb. We had to stop a couple of times to catch our breath. We chatted with a nice gentleman from France who offered to take our picture. He even offered me some water.

We finally made it to the car and drove into town hoping to find a nice place for our picnic. Parking was at a premium and when we finally found one it was pretty far from the picnic area so again, we ate in the car with air condition.

After lunch, we went to the Visitor’s Center. It was quite a busy place. Since it’s near the North Entrance I would guess some people were in there getting ideas.

Next, we walked to the Mammoth Hot Springs Hotel. Our main interest was in the Map Room which contains a large wooden map of the United States constructed out of 15 different blocks of wood from nine countries. We found North Carolina which was made from walnut. We walked in the gift shop but didn’t make a purchase. We went outside the hotel and sat down just to rest a bit and began talking to some other RVers. They are on a Fantasy Tour visiting some of the same stops we have visited.

We continued our stroll in the town returning to the gift shop and there right next to the sidewalk was an elk. We were really too close to her but our choice was an elk or moving cars. We hurried on by.

As we left Mammoth our intention was the Norris Basin but we remembered that yesterday as we passed by there on our way in, the parking lot was full and cars were parked down both sides of the highway in both directions. I really doubted we’d get in but we did and found a parking place in the parking area very near the trail.

The Norris area is described as “a world of heat and gases where microorganism live in such massive numbers they add color to the landscape”. The area is on the edge of a giant volcano, the Yellowstone Volcano, which is one of the largest on earth. And why were we there?

There were two loop trails, the Back Basin Trail and the Porcelain Basin Trail. We started out of the Back-Basin Trail which had a surprising number of steaming geysers and hot springs. There was a very prevalent odor of sulfur.

Our first stop was at Emerald Spring, a beautiful clear pool. “A hot spring’s color often indicates the presence of minerals. In a clear blue pool, the water is absorbing all colors of sunlight except one, blue, which is reflected back to our eyes. The 27-foot deep pool is lined with yellow sulfur deposits. The yellow color from the sulfur combines with the reflected blue light, making the hot spring appear a magnificent emerald green.” We are still amazed at the vibrant colors we see in all of the hot springs and the springs are very prevalent on the Back-Basin Trail.

The two most popular geysers in Back-Basin are Steamboat Geyser which is the tallest geyser in the world at 300-400 feet and Echinus Geyser. Both are acidic geysers which are very rare. We didn’t get to see either erupt although Steamboat was due.

We continued on the trail and were nearly done when Jerry saw the sign pointing to Porcelain Basin. As tired as we were we knew we wouldn’t get back to see these oddities again so we soldiered on. We followed the boardwalk around and through the basin which is totally devoid of trees. It again looked like a forgotten barren land.

As we continued on the boardwalk we saw some people along with a ranger stopping by a small geyser. The ranger told us that it was due to erupt in about 15 minutes so we waited – and waited! It did finally erupt and was amazing. We were so close to it! The ranger advised guarding our phone screens, sunglasses and camera lens as the acidic water and steam would etch them. We could actually feel the water from the steam.

Another long day and an even longer ride back to the campground as we ran into an elk jam. We just waited patiently and ate potato chips!