Yellowstone, Part One

I remember when I first learned about Pompeii. Somewhere around 20,000 people lived there and didn’t take the volcano or the earthquakes seriously until it was too late. As a kid I thought these were the dumbest, most reckless people ever. There’s a giant volcano RIGHT THERE – you don’t build your house and raise a family underneath such a thing.

Yeah, so, we have been sleeping directly on top of the world’s largest volcano for the last week. There are five visitor’s centers here. In Ryan’s words, “It’s gonna produce a whole lot of pretty before it blows civilization sky high.” Eat, drink, and be merry, for tomorrow we die.

The volcano is powered by Earth’s mantle. Hot magma rises through a vent in the earth and melts the rock above it. That big pool of melted rock sits about six miles below the surface, and that’s what’s powering all the geysers and springs that are all over the park.

It’s also what goes boom. The first eruption was 2.1 million years ago. Another occurred 1.3 million years ago. The most recent was 640,000 years ago.

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An artists rendering of the pool of magma that sits beneath Yellowstone. Image courtesy of I09.com.

The pressure building from the heat source starts to make the earth above it rise like a loaf of bread. Eventually it blows, leaving a crater (or caldera) in its place. Then the cycle starts again. The bulge in the earth currently has been rising at about two and a half inches a year. Yikes.

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Our favorite question in the FAQ section of the park’s website.

The park, like the volcano, is huge. Driving just the heart of the main loop in the park is 135 miles (not counting the 15 to 20 miles you’ll drive from the entrance gate). We camped in three different places so that we’d be able to see what we wanted to see without losing several hours to the road.

Since the park is so big and there is so much to do here I’ll be breaking things up into multiple posts. Stay tuned for more – there’ll be bison and hiking and geysers and more!

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Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone. Photo by Tricia.

4 thoughts on “Yellowstone, Part One

  1. Technically, Mauna Loa is the biggest volcano on Earth (measured from the sea floor. It’s POSSIBLE there’s a bigger one in the pacific ocean: Tamu Massif). Yellowstone is certainly the biggest active geyser in the world. And yeah, the park is big. It’s twice as big as Rhode Island for pete’s sake. Great photo!

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    1. Kinda depends on how you choose to measure this. All of the literature in the park describes Yellowstone as the largest volcano in the world. Many news reports do as well. It appears they are measuring not by height or diameter but by the potential output of volcanic material. In Yellowstone’s case, the last eruption ejected 1,000 cubic kilometers of volcanic material. Nothing else has ever come close. See here for more: http://www.science20.com/the_conversation/yellowstone_volcanic_system_four_times_bigger_than_thought-155081

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  2. Love your shot of Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone! It’s a perfect composition with the focal point off center, the flowing river in the foreground along with the tree peeking on the left. Loving your posts!

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  3. Why is the steam blue and green?It’s lovely.
    I was told someone was hiking off trail and fell into a geyer. Burnt to ash work no remains to give the family!
    Stay on the trails! 😉

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