LSD for the Eyes: The Upper Geyser Basin of Yellowstone.

June 15, 2019

River Yellowstone, Upper Geyser Basin, nature USA
Steam and boiling water everywhere!

"Holy Shit Moly!" I shout gallantly and in discrete megaphone volume across the hills. There's steam and hissing everywhere - right in front of my feet and far back on the horizon between the dark green firs and the black tree skeletons. Small bubbles rise out of a yellow pond like someone spilled freaking hot Fanta by accident.

 

I'm in the Upper Geyser Basin of the Yellowstone National Park. I already know the large, well-known geyser - Old Faithful - from my big trip in 2017. That's why I'm a bit displeased by the pile-up of Asian tourists around it and decide to ignore the place as much as possible this time.

Luckily there is not only one geyser, but hundreds of small hot springs, colorful craters, fountains and crazy rock formations. Between the tops of the Rocky Mountains lays the largest concentration of geysers in the world. Some erupt at a definable time, many are unpredictable. It could take five minutes or 50 years. But basically it doesn't matter if they really go mad, because the sheer rainbow splendor of their existence lets my camera lens crack and gives me the feeling of having an LSD trip on Mars.

Thin Crust Area

Hot springs of the Upper Geyser Basin in Yellowstone, colorful hot springs
Hot springs and instable crust in the entire area

I'm walking on thin ice. Or rather, on thin fire. It's like in a screwy computer game where you lose a life as soon as you step beside the line. Thin Crust Area. The entire Upper Geyser Basin is instable. If I jumped off the boardwalk into the landscape to take a stupid photo for Instagram, I might break in and evaporate.

"Then I have to call your dad, send him your bones and explain what happened," my fiance says very seriously and a little vexed by smiling gently. That's what he always says - in different variations - when we are climbing up to dubious rocky peaks or when I have the idea of sticking my feet into a torrential stream of snow melt.

 

So I decide to cut my enthusiasm down to sending curses of joy across the area. Fortunately, you can hardly hear them between the spitting and bubbling of the magnificent holes in the earth.

No matter how many fountains and boiling craters I see today, no geyser and no thermal spring is like the other. Each has its own bizarre shape, its own colourful bacterial culture and forms its own unmistakable uniqueness. And the fascinating thing: In a few days, weeks or months, each of them could look quite different. Because nothing here is ever finished. The earth is alive!

Roland Emmerich Deluxe: The Supervolcano of Yellowstone

Supervolcano Yellowstone, next eruption, geology
One of the many colorful hot springs in the area of the supervolcano

Even crazier and more inconceivable is the fact that the entire Yellowstone National Park is located in a huge volcanic crater, which exploded in a big Armageddon-like event 600,000 years ago for the last time so far. The incident did not leave such a ridiculous little crater as the one from Vesuvius, but a monstrous hole that is 30 miles wide and 50 miles long. Yeah, man!

Geologists have discovered that the volcano - which lays belowground - has been active for 17 million years and that the eruption has caused an ash fall that even reached California.

In the disaster film "2012" a new eruption is depicted. Of course in the completely undramatic typical Roland Emmerich style. Spoiler alarm: In the end all continents fly apart and mankind is virtually extinct. So it really is totally harmless.

But if you are into conspiracy theories and geology speculations, you should definitely dig deeper into the matter, because there are certainly exciting approaches and researches about a future eruption of the supervolcano and its consequences.

For now it's enough for me to admire the consequences of the last eruption - and these are clearly all the geysers, hot springs and mud pots that only exist because it's still bubbling like hell beneath the surface.

Wyoming: Winter and Summer on the same Day

Rock formations of geysers in the Upper Geyser Basin, Yellowstone, eruption times
Marvellous formations of geysers

We make our way across the Upper Geyser Basin in the heat of the day by striding over the narrow asphalt track that stretches between the dangerous fields. In Wyoming it is either -4F cold and snows like shite or you get a heat stroke right away. Sometimes even both happens on one day.

It is fascinating how much the Gulf Stream moderates the climate in Europe and suddenly lets it appear like the plurgy, lukewarm water of a bathtub after an hour of sitting. Over here in the USA the differences of temperature rave and leave me with the amazed feeling that it snowed so much on June 7th that the east entrance to Yellowstone Park had to be closed.

 

Every bubbling water hole, no matter how small, has a special name. "Chromatic Pool", "Riverside Geyser", "Crested Pool". And every name hits the spot. Some geysers have built entire pieces of art and look like white castles, grottos or animal formations. The water that the geysers spit out, typically comes from an underground reservoir. A thin natural drain leads from there to the earth's surface, through which the boiling fountain shoots out with a lot of pressure. Factors such as rain, seasons or air pressure have an influence on the activity of the geyser, but most of the time no one has an exact idea when the next eruption will take place. What would the wonders of the world be, if one did not wonder from time to time!

Geological Wonders of the Upper Geyser Basin

The Morning Glory Pool in the Upper Geyser Basin
The Morning Glory Pool in the Upper Geyser Basin

The asphalt road leads to the Firehole River - yes, all the places out here have such fantastic names! - and from there to the incredible Morning Glory Pool. It is definitely worth a big Holy Shit Moly! I stare into the colourful pond, whose beginnings disappear into dark depths. Yellow, orange, turquoise, blue. It's like somebody dumped a watercolor box. Van Gogh would have fallen headlong into the pond with envy. But then his ear would probably have clogged the thermal spring and it would have died.

No kidding - it's absolutely forbidden (and stupid like donkey shite) to throw anything into a geyser or a hot spring. These can actually be hindered and destroyed in their activity. That's why I only take two million photos and enjoy the fascinating and unreal sight of this small crater by looking at it with my boyfriend.

 

"Sometimes I think I should start studying geology," I say to him. Then it occurs to me that it is not possible because I travel too much, because I want to see geology.

Life's too short for all the things I'd like to do. I have no idea when I last felt bored. I don't even know how to spell that word anymore. But I could also have trouble in spelling it because I've been in the USA for over a month now by speaking English only, which is why my German occasionally goes down the drain.

A Copper Hole and the mighty Old Faithful

Old Faithful Geyser, Yellowstone
Old Faithful Geyser, Yellowstone
The way back leads us away from the asphalt to wooden boardwalks, which were installed by the park management wherever it is safe. Hopefully. Well. Being vaporized by colorful geysers while feeling like being on an LSD trip is certainly not the worst way to die. Or the most boring way. Yuck - I said the word!
When we stop at a big brownish waterhole, I look at the sign telling me that the pool is "colorful".
"They should rename it to Copper Hole," I say, pulling up an eyebrow.
My boyfriend explains to me that the thermal spring probably looked different and more colourful many years ago, but then changed. Hopefully not because some shitheads threw coins in it. I'd like to say this out loud, but I can not come up with the English term for "shitheads" right away. So I quickly say something scientific to hide my ignorance of inappropriate curses.
We end up back at Old Faithful. On the non-touristy side, far away from Asian mass pile-ups. And the very moment I look, the famous geyser erupts. "Holy Shit Moly," I say again. Quietly. And quite impressed.

 

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