There is one final thermal adventure lesson from our first excursion to Yellowstone that I would like to share—though I am sure there are hundreds more to discover, but this is neither the time nor the place for that. There are several other unique and interestingly named features that I have not discussed that kept our children mesmerized and quite intrigued by the science of the occasion. Our son, in fact, is now in college majoring in Environmental Science and looking at graduate programs in Paleontology. I can’t say it had anything to do with this trip, but discovering these thermal features didn’t hurt his natural curiosity any.
In addition to the geysers and hot springs that we previously discussed, Yellowstone also contains thermal features curiously named mudpots and fumaroles. A fumarole is also called a steam vent and is simply a vent in the Earth’s crust. The supply of water around fumaroles is not as plentiful as around geysers and hot springs. Simply put, modest amounts of water come in contact with hot rocks and turns to steam. The difference is simply the amount of water. The steam rushes up through a series of cracks and fissures and out the vent, sometimes with enough force to create a loud roar.
Finally, a mudpot is created when steam rises through groundwater that has dissolved surrounding rocks into clay. Various minerals in the rocks make wide variations in the color of the mud. Many are quite beautiful and striking to look at. Most often this water is quite acidic which helps to break down and dissolve the surrounding rocks.
The largest collection of mudpots that we discovered in the Park was the Fountain Paint Pots. Covering quite a significant portion of space, this is a grouping of mudpots that, due to the minerals in the rocks which are broken down or released by the acid in the water, take on a variety of colorful hues. This section of the Park is quite picturesque and, though less showy than features such as Old Faithful, is not to be missed. It also features a walkway connecting the mudpots so visitors can tour the area safely. And what kid wouldn’t be intrigued by something called a mudpot—doesn’t that just sound like something fun to see?
Our children still talk about this trip: Old Faithful and Giant Geyser spouting off, the beautiful Mammoth Hot Springs travertine terraces, the colorful mudpots in the Fountain Paint Pots area and, especially in view of the recent tragedy in Japan, the volcanic activity underneath the surface of the earth that makes it all possible. In addition to being a wonderful place for an RV trip, Yellowstone National Park is a science lesson everyone should see first hand.
For more information on camping in our beautiful national parks, here is a glossary of campground terms, including an explanation of national park camping.