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Wednesday 12 August 2020

Yellowstone National Park: Mammoth Hot Springs

Just when you thought you'd never have to see another Yellowstone post from me again I'm back with one more! Trust me, you'll want to hang around for this one. It's a good one!

One of my favorite places in all of Yellowstone was Mammoth Hot Springs. Located in the very northern part of the park, right by the Montana border, Mammoth Hot Springs is a fair drive from the South entrance of Yellowstone, but oh boy is it worth the trip. The landscape here is quite unique, and very different to anything you'll see elsewhere in the park. It's quite otherworldly and at times, as Mathilde pointed out, it felt like we were on the surface of the moon.

Mammoth Hot Springs is known for its spectacular travertine terraces, made where water and limestone interact, but there is so much more to see here. Let's take a look...

We visited Mammoth Hot Springs on our second day in Yellowstone after visiting West Thumb Geyser Basin and Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone River. Being a two and a half hour drive from the south entrance it made for a long day in the park (it was after 10pm by the time we made it back to our motel in Jackson), but I'm so glad we didn't miss it.

We spent our time at Mammoth Hot Springs checking out the Lower Terraces Area, which has decked walking trails throughout. The nearby Upper Terraces Area is limited to vehicular access, but as we arrived quite late in the date we gave this a miss and opted to just explore on foot. 

From the parking lot we made our way along the boardwalk past the first terraces we'd see here. These were pretty impressive and I was in awe of the formations, but I would soon learn that these were not the most spectacular in the area. Can you believe that there were more impressive terraces than the one below? Well, you've already seen a peek at them in the pics above, so I'm sure you can!

The kids may not look too impressed, but trust me, they were in awe too. It just doesn't look that way when it's cold, stinky and you're wearing a mask!

The further we hiked up the decked trail the more impressive the views became. The more varied the rock formations created by the springs became too. Green and orange pools nestled among the white rock creating little splashes of color. While there was much plant life surrounding the terraces, any trees that we came across on the terraces were long dead, adding to the alien feel of the place. Like everywhere else in Yellowstone, the steam was ever present, however there wasn't as much of it here as there had been in the geyser basins. The terrace formations here are ever changing and in this area we were able to see them in various stages of "growth". Some with deep and evenly sized "steps" and others with shorter uneven layers.

Once we made our way up a little higher the pools of water gave way to a much more barren landscape. The hot springs appeared mostly dry and the grey and white surface led Mathilde to ask if we were on the surface of the moon. It sure did look like it!

A little further along we found ourselves at the top of the Lower Terraces Area and at the end of the trail. Here the springs had more water but were still pretty desolate looking. Desolate in an awe inspiring way, of course! The spring at the top is known as Canary Spring. In the information brochure we were given upon entering the park there is a picture of Canary Spring from 2012, showing it as a majestic terrace. It mentions that the landscape here changes rather quickly and to compare Canary Spring today to the image in the brochure. Well, as you can see below, there is no majestic terrace here! That's how much the area has changed in just eight short years. It's still absolutely stunning, but in a very different way.

This part of the trail is not a loop so we made our way back down the same way we'd gone up until we reach a trail that split off to the side. There wasn't as much to see as we walked along this other trail toward the parking lot, but the views were pretty none the less.

Now, from here we planned to head over to the nearby Historic Fort Yellowstone. I honestly thought we'd see all of the geothermal wonders in the Lower Terraces Area. Nope! The most majestic of the travertine terraces and a dormant spring cone were just a little lower down. Palette Spring and Liberty Cap were probably my favorite part of Mammoth Hot Springs. Palette Spring sparkled like crystal in the sunlight. It was so beautiful. Liberty Cap reached up out of the ground, seemingly from no where, and looked rather out of place. I imagine that once upon a time it had been a rather large geyser. 

From here we did venture on down to Historic Fort Yellowstone, but as it was now late in the day we didn't get a chance to explore the buildings. We did, however, spot elk grazing among the buildings, which was pretty cool. There was even a fawn.

The post office at the fort features two large bear sculptures outside the front doors and Mathilde was pretty excited to see that they were masked up, just like her.

Speaking of masks, you may be wondering what sort of health and safety measures are in place in Yellowstone. Frequent signage reminding visitors to keep 6 feet apart from others not in their group could be found along the trails. For the most part, people were good at keeping their distance, however there were some popular spots where this just wasn't possible (Old Faithful in particular). We made sure to wear our masks whenever we couldn't keep 6 feet from others and I'd say that at least half of the people we saw did the same. With all the stinky smoke in the air, the masks actually came in pretty handy!

Mammoth Hot Springs was definitely a highlight of our trip to Yellowstone. I can't wait to go back sometime in the future and see just how much the travertine terraces have changed again. Next time we'll make sure to explore the Historic Fort Yellowstone and the Upper Terraces Area too.

To see more of our trip to Yellowstone National Park check out these posts:
Yellowstone Overview
Old Faithful & Upper Geyser Basin
Grand Prismatic & Midway Geyser Basin
West Thumb Geyser Basin

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