As a portend of some uncommon sights coming up, the morning sun struggled to break through the clouds as we arrived in Mammoth Hot Springs:
Things were going to get odder and odder.
If you recall, in my first post on Yellowstone: ” YELLOWSTONE PART ONE: LIVING RAINBOWS OR KALEIDOSCOPE EYES?” I talked about hot springs whose vivid colors were caused by microorganisms called thermophiles who thrive in extremely hot water. The hot springs in the Mammoth Hot Springs area totally different. There are microorganisms too, but the big attraction here is due to the large deposits of limestone. A magma chamber deep below heats up the waters that have gathered from rain and melted snow and the superheated water combines with hot carbon dioxide exuding from the magma. This creates carbonic acid which in turns dissolves the limestone as it rises up to the surface hot springs. Once exposed to air, some of the carbon dioxide escapes and without it the dissolved limestone reforms to another solid mineral called travertine which is soft and chalky white (unlike my travertine dining room table of many years ago):
My travertine table was anything but soft. When my daughter was a young teen, she had a party at our house – and while I was in another room, her friends thought it would be cool to sit on the edge of the table. Despite the table top slab weighing hundreds of pounds, the combined force of multiple butts sitting down at the same time forced one edge to cantilever way up. Frightened, the teens jumped off and the slab came crashing down, splintering into many pieces. Fortunately no one was hurt. There was nothing I could do – it was an unfortunate accident. I offered small pieces to go as a party favors and luckily was able to find a replacement slab.
But I meander – let’s go back to Mammoth Hot Springs.
In the Mammoth area, the hot, acidic solution mentioned above dissolves large quantities of limestone on its way up through the rock layers to the hot springs on the surface. Above ground and exposed to the air, some of the carbon dioxide escapes from the solution. Without it, the dissolved limestone can’t remain in the solution, so it reforms into a solid mineral. This white, chalky mineral is deposited as the travertine that forms the step-like terraces.
The Mammoth Terraces constantly change shape and color as active springs become inactive while other dormant ones resume activity. Fresh travertine is bright white in color and as it weathers it changes to gray. There are also those microorganisms – cyanobacteria – and algae mats present which also affects the colors, for as they die their once vibrant colors bleach out adding to the stark, bleak landscape.
Take a look:
Here you can see the aging process of the travertine on these individual stepped terraces, as the newly white mineral turns to grey:
It is not all bleak and barren. If you look closely you can see wonderful formations that are much like the stalagmites found on cave floors; however rather than forming from the drip, drip, drip of calcium carbonite (dissolved limestone) from the roof, these are grown from the bottom up:
These vein-like growths remind me of the “bloody roots” from “War of the Worlds:”
There are also some starkly beautiful structures – here is a platform called Canary Spring, named for the yellow algae that trim its edge:
This one is called Cupid Spring. It was named in 1904, supposedly for a pretty cave that now has been covered over:
In the midst of all this barren landscape, we suddenly come upon Minerva Terrace, a hot spring that has been active on and off since the 1890’s. A perfect balance of colors which constantly change as the sun moves across the sky as well as intricate multi-step terraces, Minerva Spring shows nature’s glory:
So is Mammoth Hot Springs another spectacular example of our living breathing planet? Or does it suspiciously look like another planet from “A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away…” Here is of Mammoth Hot Spring:
And here is Tatooine: