Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Mammoth Hot Springs - Yellowstone

Yellowstone National Park is truly an amazing place. Trying to pick your favorite area within the park can be quite difficult with everything that it offers. What are you into? Geysers? Waterfalls? Springs? Large lakes? Wildlife? Hey, its all there!

We started our tour of the park at Mammoth Hot Springs in the northwest corner of the park, choosing to stay at nearby Indian Creek Campground. This has always been a favorite campground of mine. It's within a 10 minute drive from the Upper Terrace Drive, and offers more privacy than Mammoth Campground.

The Upper Terrace Loop Drive is an excellent place to start your tour of this area. Early morning offers the best viewing time, in my personal opinion. The lighting can be magnificent at this time, and the steam rising from Canary Spring can add a magical element to the sun's rays. You also stand a very good chance of seeing wildlife; bear, coyote, deer, elk and rabit all visit this area, and I was fortunate enough to observe all of them during my visit.

A quick drive around the loop soon brings you to Orange Mound Spring. I found early morning to be an excellent time to photograph it from the north (which I found to be its most attractive side). Mid-morning to mid-afternoon better serves the more popular south and west sides. The spring, though viewable from the west, is best viewed and photographed from the east via the viewing platform.

Continueing along the loop, you pass Angel Terrace (also beautiful in early morning light) before returning to the begining at Canary Springs.

A boardwalk allows visitors access to multiple viewpoints along the Main Terrace and extends to Canary Springs. It is a highly recommended walk. Again, early morning is an excellent time to capture the mystique the steam offers as the sun peaks over the ridge to the east. It can, however, make close-up compositions challenging. If your desire is to isolate certain elements with a telephoto, you would do best to come back later in the day after temps have warmed up, resulting in less steam.

If you like to capture patterns, you will love this walk along the terrace! The are many opportunities to isolate patterns and formations in the limestone, colored by bacteria and algae - the stuff us photographers love!

I was more moved by the ambience of the morning, watching the travertine crusts play peek-a-boo as the curtains of steam opened and closed. It struck me as fascinating in an eery way, adding - yes, I said it before - mystique.

The sub-surface rock at Mammoth Hot Springs is limestone, which is very soluble in hot water. When the calcium-rich waters rise to the surface, they deposite the terraces of travertine seen in these images. Again, bacteria and algae add the color to these features. Mother Nature can be beautiful, can't she?

There are a lot of contrasts to be witnessed too. The most obvious are the dead trees that the travertine crusts have enveloped. The terraces provide a rather hostile environment for vegetation!

Minerva Terrace, though not nearly as active as it once was, is still very attractive and worth the visit. It can be reached by descending the boardwalk from the Main Terrace, or by hiking up from the lower parking lot.

Palette Spring, shown at the very top, is a relatively new feature to the area, forming in only the last few years. It is beautiful! Early morning is the only time it receives direct sunlight due to its northeast facing. Soft light serves it best, in my opinion.

From a pull-out along the main road, one gets a great view of Canary Springs from below. Mid-morning is the best time for photographing this angle, and requires a telelphoto lens if you wish to isolate its colorful features.

Proceding further north along this road, one arrives at the lower parking lot and the town of Mammoth Hot Springs, where most all conveniences and supplies are offered. Elk are often seen lounging in the lawn and wandering thru town!

Speaking of wildlife, remember the variety I mentioned that inhabit this wonderful area? I witnessed this sow and cub my very first morning as I was driving down to Mammoth Hot Springs from our camp. I spotted the yearling out of the corner of my eye first, then watched it catch up with mom on the other side of the road and continue to graze with her. I photographed them for well over an hour, and could have continued longer!

That evening, my daughter and I watched a black bear traverse the slopes below Canary Spring and wander past the lower parking area and boardwalk before disappearing in the trees above, much to the relief of the rangers monitoring the situation!

We also had a resident bison at the entrance to our campground at Indian Creek. It became so comfortable that it wandered further in towards the campsites, requiring a ranger to be called to scare it off. There were many other wildlife sightings as well.

This is first part of a series I will be posting from our visit to this wonderful park last June. I hope you have enjoyed it and that it has given you some ideas for a trip to one of our national Parks, or even motivated you to plan a visit to Yellowstone itself.

Next up: Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone.


  1. Great photos and write-up, Don. I look forward to more!

  2. Thanks Greg! It was a great trip and one that I recommend to all.