Yellowstone National Park and the area around it, the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem, is a geothermal system like nowhere else in the world. Situated primarily in the state of Wyoming, this 2.2-million acre expanse is a roiling hotspot.
It has at least 10,000 geothermal features. Geysers are the most commonly known geothermal form, like Old Faithful, but there are several different kinds.
On the northernmost border of Yellowstone is Mammoth Hot Springs. Different from erupting geysers, Mammmoth stands out for its travertine terraces.
These terraces were formed from hot springs and carbonate deposits over thousands of years.
Beneath the earth, thermal water from the hot springs travels via a fault line that runs through limestone. The water interacts with hot gases and forms a hot, acidic solution; the limestone dissolves into calcium carbonate.
Once this water reaches earth’s surface, carbon dioxide is released and the acidic solution forms a mineral called travertine, a chalky white substance.
The terraces are ever-changing. Over two tons of the acidic solution are deposited here every day.
The different colors are a result of algae and bacteria.
There are boardwalk paths for visitors to observe the travertine terraces. Between the upper and lower terrace boardwalks are approximately 50 hot springs.
On the lower flats are the village, slightly left of center in the above photograph; a hotel and cabins, basic park services, Albright Visitor Center.
Located about a 1.5 hour’s drive north from the popular spots of the park, like Old Faithful, Mammoth is an isolated and lesser-known area of the park, close to the Montana border. Maps below.
In addition to the terraces, there are also a few formations, like Orange Spring Mound which occurred from a slow water flow and mineral deposits.
Inhabitants of the valley include elk, often seen grazing.
Fort Yellowstone is also here. It was once an Army fort created for establishing order in America’s first national park; the birthplace of the U.S. National Park Service.
In Yellowstone’s fiery and magma-driven corner of the world, Mammoth Hot Springs is a unique landscape well worth exploring.
Written by Jet Eliot.
All photos by Athena Alexander.