2012 Western Road Trip: Mammoth Hot Springs

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After checking into our cabin, we decided to walk around Mammoth Hot Springs, the features for which the area we were staying in was named. We had plenty of time before dinner. Even though it would have been a short walk from the hotel, we decided to drive over to the trailhead. It was warmer than we had anticipated, and the heat of the day wasn’t combining well with the altitude.

Mammoth Hot Springs

Mammoth Hot Springs is one of the world’s best examples of travertine-depositing hot springs. And some of the terraces are quite large. The terraces are always changing, shaped by the volume of water, the slope of the ground, and objects in the water’s path.

The underground plumbing for the springs is made up of a network of fractures and fissures. The water comes from the rain and snow that falls on the surrounding mountains and then seeps into the ground. Small earthquakes may play a role in keeping this network open.

The colors that you see are actually microorganisms called thermophiles. Colorless and yellow thermophiles grow in the hottest water; orange, brown, and green thermophiles grow in cooler waters. Thermophiles are a feature in all of the park’s hydrothermal areas.

Palette Spring
Palette Spring

Small pools at the base of Palette Spring
Cool Hot Water

Palette Spring from above
Palette Spring From Above

Besides the thermophiles, there were other signs of life…or of past life. As the flow of spring water shifts, life can get in the way. There were lots of dead trees dotting the landscape that were overtaken by steaming hot water (maximum water temperature = 163°F). And in many instances around the park, dead trees appear to be wearing “bobby socks.” Dead trees soak up mineral-laden water. When the water evaporates, the minerals are left behind and turn the lower portion of the trees white.

Short Bobby Socks

Boiled to Death

Jason loved the barren landscapes dotted with these decimated trees. I came to love some of the unique formations created by the thermophiles. What at first looks ugly becomes beautiful as you look closer.

Thermophile Beauty

Sculptural Thermophiles

Sinewy Thermophiles

Thermophiles or Coral?

One of the coolest features was Canary Spring. For starters, it was huge! Second, it flows like a waterfall.

Canary Spring
Canary Spring

Canary Spring Water Flow

While checking out Canary Spring, we saw our first bison for the trip, a pair hanging out below the spring. They started off quite far apart, but slowly moved closer. They quickly became more than friends, if you know what I mean. We have pictures, but I’ll keep things PG.

Bison Buddies

We wrapped up our tour of the hot springs by looping around the Upper Terrace Drive. As we wound around on of the bends, we spotted this big boy up close.

Surprise Bison

Then, as we were returning to the hotel for dinner, we spotted another bison (we think he was one of the two getting it on) just chilling out next to a small parking area. We kept our distance, but another idiot just drove his vehicle right up to the bison. Way to read all those signs, buddy. Lucky for this Idiot-of-the-Day, he took off just before Mr. Bison decided to get up.

Lounging Bison

Time to Get Up

Shake It

Left in a Dust Cloud

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2 thoughts on “2012 Western Road Trip: Mammoth Hot Springs

    1. Laura Post author

      Yeah, we definitely weren’t expected to see that 🙂 FYI – I just sent you an email with more Yellowstone/Grand Teton details.


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