After a continental breakfast at the Stagecoach Inn we rejoined the coach and because it is impossible of course to do justice to Yellowstone in just one day we returned to the park to see some more.
Yellowstone sits on top of a reservoir of molten rock about two hundred kilometres below the surface of the earth that rises here close to the fractured surface and is the reason for all of the geysers, bubbling mud pots and hot springs that are scattered liberally around the park and belch and spit continuously. The magma chamber is about sixty kilometres across and about twelve kilometres thick so that is something to bear in mind when you are wandering about leisurely admiring the scenery.
Luckily these super volcanoes don’t go off very often, the last time was six hundred and thirty thousand years ago, but if it did explode you would definitely wouldn’t want to be close by because one thing to be sure is that nothing for thousands of miles around would survive. Scientists estimate that Yellowstone blows every six hundred thousand years and some experts calculate the next one is well overdue! In fact most volcanologists agree that the Yellowstone Caldera has been getting more and more fidgety in recent years and the magma floor has been rising at the fastest rate since records began in 1923.
The last super volcano eruption on earth was seventy four thousand years ago in northern Sumatra and that produced an enormous blast and a long period of volcanic winter that almost destroyed the emerging human race. It is absolutely certain that a Yellowstone explosion would be a thousand times more powerful than the Mount St. Helens eruption in 1980 and could completely obliterate the world as we know it to such an extent that we certainly wouldn’t have to worry about climate change or Saturday night’s lottery result ever again.
In addition to the risk of the volcano there are other natural things that also present constant danger. There are on average about one thousand earthquakes a year, most are too small to notice but they are always there, rock falls are a constant danger because of all of the seismic activity forever rearranging the geological furniture as it were and then there is always the chance that there may be a serious explosion that would be curtains for anyone standing close by.
Bearing all that in mind it is probably good advice therefore not to go poking around the surface with a big stick! The last major earthquake was in 1959, volcanic explosion in 1989 and rock fall in 1999. Perhaps best not to arrange a revisit then in 2019!
I mention all this because today we stopped off to see the most well-known and reliable geyser in the park. Old Faithful is a popular tourist spot where the reliable geyser erupts promptly every seventy minutes or so and there are grandstands arranged an appropriate distance away from the boiling steam for the visitors to sit and admire the spectacle. An eruption can shoot anything up to eight and a half gallons of boiling water to a height of fifty five metres and can last from one to five minutes. The average height of an eruption is forty four metres and that’s about the equivalent of about ten London double decker busses.
Previously the most famous geyser in the park was Excelsior, which used to erupt regularly to a height of a hundred metres but in 1888 it just stopped and didn’t erupt again for a hundred years. One day Old Faithful will no doubt just stop in exactly the same way. The biggest geyser in the park and indeed the world is the Steamboat geyser which blows to a height of one hundred and twenty metres but this spectacle is most infrequent and you really wouldn’t want to sit waiting for it because that could waste more than half of your life.
This is a busy part of the park and nearby is the Old Faithful Inn, which is a remarkable hotel constructed entirely of timber and stone and has a cathedral like interior rising to four floors with impressive balconies overlooking the log and limb lobby and public areas. Given the amount of wood involved in the building I wasn’t at all surprised to see that smoking was forbidden in most of the interior.
After Old Faithful we walked along visitor trails and marvelled again at more fizzing mud pots and geyser spurts through the ruptures in the ground and kept an ever vigilant eye open for bears. This part of the park has the world’s largest concentration of geysers and five major geyser basins at West Thumb, Old Faithful, Midway, Lower and Morris and at some point on our journey we passed the site of Steamboat Geyser but didn’t stop off to wait for it.
The weather was cold and there was snow in the air and the coach driver who was keeping an eye on the forecast was obviously eager to move on because heavy falls were predicted and when this happens it can close all of the roads until the following spring. This usually occurs about the beginning of November and as we were only a week away and wanted to be home for Christmas, it was probably very sensible to move on. (The following day he confirmed to us that the snow had fallen and some of the roads were indeed closed).
We left the park at the south entrance that took us into the Grand Teton National Park down US highway 26. This was a journey of about eighty five kilometres to the town of Jackson and on the way we passed the majestic snow capped Grand Teton mountains and Jackson Lake to the west of the highway. Many inappropriate former place and topographical names in the U.S.A. have been changed by the Board of Geographic names that was established in 1890 with a mandate to make place names consistent and respectable. They clearly overlooked the translation of the French named Grand Tetons and as Bill Bryson pointed out in ‘Made in America’obviously decided that Big Tits Mountains was quite acceptable!
Tonight we stayed at the Painted Buffalo Inn in Jackson which was close to the town’s main square with arches of shed Elk antlers and close to the shopping and restaurant areas of this busy tourist town.
We carried out the ice and alcohol double act and later went into town to look around the western tourist shops and debated whether to buy a Stetson each but we agreed that this would be an unnecessary extravagance and decided instead upon the much more sensible and inexpensive alternative of cowboy neck ties. Later we had buffalo steaks at the famous Million Dollar Cowboy Bar, which is a cowboy restaurant with an impressive collection of western memorabilia and cowboy theme bars and then unlike Johnny Cash who threatened to have a rowdy night out in Jackson we returned sedately to the Painted Buffalo for a quiet final drink.
We got married in a fever, hotter than a pepper sprout,
We’ve been talkin’ ’bout Jackson, ever since the fire went out.
I’m goin’ to Jackson, I’m gonna mess around,
Yeah, I’m goin’ to Jackson,
Look out Jackson town.
(Johnny Cash & June Carter)
The postcard images were all originally purchased in 1995 on the Coach Trip. The Promotional leaflet images are also all 1995 originals.