Trip report #10 – Yellowstone – Mammoth Hot Springs
Mammoth Hot Springs lies at an elevation of 6,239 feet and is five miles south of the town of Gardiner, MT, where we are currently staying. It is the site of the Yellowstone Park headquarters and delightfully colorful hot springs. Home to the park’s most dynamic hydrothermal areas, its features are constantly changing.
Steam rising from the thermal terraces is best viewed in the early morning, as are the wildlife, so we headed out around 6:30 this morning with coats and cameras in hand.
We were immediately rewarded with little traffic and a just-before-dawn view of the Upper Terrace. As the sun continued to rise, its light cast a golden glow on the eerie thermal features and adjacent forest.
Based on information provided by the park, colorless and yellow thermophiles grow best in the hottest water while orange, brown and green thermophiles thrive in cooler waters. The maximum water temperature at Mammoth is 163o F.
The first was the 37-foot-high Liberty Cap, named in 1871 by the Hayden Survey exploration party because it “resembled the peaked knit caps symbolizing freedom and liberty during the French Revolution.” (Ok, if you say so, but I’m thinking it resembles something else …)
Minerva Terrace was lovely, as were Jupiter and Mound Terraces. Each has its own pattern of activity, sometimes flowing heavily and then inactive for decades.
Named for Horace Albright, Yellowstone’s first National Park Service Superintendent, the center features videos and other information about two artists who helped bring public attention to the beauty of Yellowstone. Watercolorist Thomas Moran and photographer William H. Jackson were commissioned by the 1871 Hayden Survey to provide drawings and photos to supplement the Survey’s reports. The Albright Center exhibits include 23 Moran paintings and 26 of Jackson’s photos. Unfortunately, the lighting around them is very low and makes it difficult to see them clearly, but the videos and signage are very well done.
In Mammoth, large groups of people generally mean elk activity. And sure enough, as we were leaving, a large bull elk was bugling and gathering his harem. He walked right in front of our truck, affording me several nice photo opportunities, including one showing a fellow Airstream making its way toward the terraces.
One park employee told us about one especially aggressive bull that has charged and damaged 27 vehicles so far this season. According to this employee, when the bull’s attacks reach 30 in number, park officials will remove him from the area.
A quick look at my Death in Yellowstone book seems to confirm our belief as I could find no mention of death by elk.