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Weird geology

July 31. As is my habit at every venue, I spend my first full day at Yellowstone doing the touristy stuff. Visit the information center, see the exhibits, watch the video, read the park newspaper, study the NPS map.

Old Faithful

Then I visit the primary thermal sites along the highway between Old Faithful Center and Madison Junction, about 16 miles. All kinds of features are visible: mud pots, thermal pools, geysers, paint pots, etc. This is geology rampant. Nowhere else on the planet is there such a number and variety of undisturbed thermals.

Some of the pools, a deep sublime aquamarine blue, are so enticing I almost want to dive in. Only problem is, they’re near the boiling point and steam rises off them like a thick fog. I remember as a kid both the fascination and fear I felt as we trod the boardwalks in the thermal areas. I was warned at the time that the crust was only eggshell thin off the sides of the boardwalk, and one misstep would send me crashing through, plunging me into the depths of the earth.

I see Old Faithful for the first time in 55 years. I was nine or ten when my family took a vacation to Yellowstone while we lived in New Mexico. I haven’t done the math, but at an average of once every 84 minutes, I wonder how many times the famous geyser has erupted skyward during those years. Faithful indeed.

So far I’ve only been through a relatively small part of the park, but I’ve seen tens of thousands of acres, virtually all of which shows the effects of the massive fires of 1988. Most of the pines are young and have reached a height of only 15-20 feet. Their dead ancestors lie like jumbled piles of bleached bones on the forest floor.

There is little sign of fire on the toppled trunks; all the scorched bark has fallen away. I suppose that after the crowns of the trees were destroyed by fire, they lost the means of photosynthesis, died, and were blown down by relentless winter winds after their roots rotted and weakened. Even though the fires are a natural process, I’m disappointed and saddened at what I see. But Mother Nature has no regard for human sensitivities.

It turns out to be long day of walking around the boardwalks. I also include a short two mile hike up a river gorge to Mystic Falls, where the Little Firehole River tumbles off the Madison Plateau in a deafening cascade almost 100 feet high.

Back at camp, I build a large salad for dinner and settle down to begin the second of Daniel Silva’s series, The English Assassin.

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