Yellowstone – What a Gas Hole!

Buffalo at beautiful Yellowstone National Park

Vast expanses of open range stretch as far as the eye can see, the deer and the antelope really do play in America’s West.

The lack of a gold rush back in the 1800’s left Wyoming sparsely populated, with just over half a million cowpokes in all. Thirty-three cities in the U.S. are more populous than the entire state of Wyoming.

That’s a boatload of land per person.

Buffalo at Yellowstone National Park

We had come to Wyoming to see the world’s first National Park.

The Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone River

Permanently set aside in 1872, Yellowstone was named for the bright colors of the rocks on the walls of The Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone River.

The river flows north from Yellowstone Lake, cascades down over four hundred feet in two magnificent waterfalls before cutting a spectacular nine hundred foot deep gorge through yellow and orange volcanic rocks on its way to meeting up with The Missouri River.

Without a doubt this is the ultimate place for a traditional camping trip.

Wanting to see the colorful canyon from every angle possible, we gathered our hiking gear and traipsed the semi-strenuous trails along the rim and around the Upper Falls.

The jaunt took some time, and energy, so we were glad that we carried some snacks, and of course a good water bottle with us.

From the falls we discovered Uncle Tom’s Trail. This trail provided an absolutely mind-blowing view of the Lower Falls — we just scampered down a bit over three hundred metal steps along the sheer canyon cliffs.

The Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone River

Uncle Tom's Trail in Yellowstone National Park

Getting BACK up up the 300 steps, that was quite another story altogether.

Ah yes, feel the burn.

Uncle Tom was quite certainly a masochist, especially since back in his day they didn’t have the stairs!

The falls, canyon and lake would be more than enough to warrant setting aside this area as a National Park but — wait — there’s more!

The Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone River

As breathtaking as this portion of the Park was, at least we felt we had our feet solidly on planet Earth.

Things were about to take a most drastic change.

We were about to enter an other-worldly world, and it’s next to impossible to describe the bizarre sights, sounds and smells of the place.

Oh yes, the smells are a huge part of the Yellowstone experience.

Two-thirds of all the geysers in the world are within the borders of Yellowstone National Park

Two-thirds of all the geysers in the world are within the borders of Yellowstone.

Superheated water gushes hundreds of feet into the air from some while others spout tiny bursts of steam.

In some spots, boiling springs and pools of sulfur-rich water dwell next to pits of bubbling mud called paint pots, all reeking like rotten eggs.

See all of our adventures in America’s Wild West!

Two-thirds of all the geysers in the world are within the borders of Yellowstone National Park

Old Faithful in Yellowstone National Park

We mounted our trusty bikes for a ride through The Upper Geyser Basin, home to the most famous of Yellowstone’s geysers, Castle, Grand and of course, Old Faithful.

We waited with eager anticipation as a crowd gathered for the scheduled eruption of the ancient trustworthy fellow.

Right on time, he did not disappoint.

The Sapphire Pool at Yellowstone National Park

Cycling our way up the path from the visitors center to The Sapphire Pool, we were awed by the Mars-like terrain around us.

Eruptions by a couple of the less-than-faithful fountains, The Grotto and Spa Geysers made the out-of-this-world
experience even more present.

Geyser at Yellowstone National ParkAdditional snaps to The National Park Service for making the whole area remarkably handicapped-friendly.

The Emerald Pool at Yellowstone National Park

From the Upper Geyser Basin, we took an easy bike ride over to the Black Sand Basin.

The basin is named for the obsidian glass sand covering parts of the ground and is best known for its colorful hot springs, The Emerald Pool and Opalescent Pool.

It is also home to The Cliff Geyser, named for the wall of geyserite along edge of Iron Creek formed by its eruptions. We had the good fortune to experience one these eruptions with forty feet of boiling water shooting skyward and then splashing with a cloud of steam into the creek.

Bubbling mud in Yellowstone National Park

One of David’s most vivid memories from his childhood visit to Yellowstone was the simmering, colorful mud in the paint pots.

Small wonder that a giant boiling mud-puddle would stick in a kid’s mind. He had to see them again.

There are several examples of muddy geothermal pots in the park but the two standouts are The Fountain Paint Pot and The Artists Paint Pots. The Fountain is just a short hop north of Old Faithful in the Lower Geyser Basin so we hit it first.

Yellowstone National Park

There are two sounds that dominate this area, the thick bubbling splattering of boiling mud and the jet engine like roar of steam blasting through fissures in the ground.

The viscosity of the mud in the paint pots varies depending on the time of year. Thin and runny with the Spring rains and melt, thicker after a hot, dry summer. By our visit in Autumn, they were a gooey goop of gaseous gunk.

Norris Geyser Basin in Yellowstone National Park

The Artists Paint Pots are up the road a little way in the Norris Geyser Basin.

Home to the world’s largest geyser, Steamboat Geyser, that can spray over three hundred feet in the air on the rare occasions that it erupts.

These were not as impressive as mudpits go, but the walk along the loop trail of the area was fantastic.

Let’s just say that walking beside a nearly boiling little mountain stream is not an everyday experience for us.

A geyser in Yellowstone National Park

Everywhere we looked on our jaunts through the geyser basins something was either boiling, bubbling or steaming.

The very ground was hot in many places because Yellowstone is actually a huge volcano, known as a supervolcano, one of the biggest in the world.

This massive caldera erupts catastrophically every six to nine hundred thousand years, covering the entire continent in darkness and ash — basically killing every living thing for thousands of miles around.

It won’t be pretty when it happens again and oh, by the way, the last time was around seven hundred thousand years ago soooo…

Retro geyser warning sign at Yellowstone National Park

Retro buffalo warning flyer at Yellowstone National Park

Warning signs are posted all along the trails in an attention grabbing effort to keep tourists on the safety of the paths and boardwalks so as not to get parboiled. Don’t be like this kid!

There were several other warnings to heed involving wild animals — avoiding getting gored by a buffalo, trampled by an elk or mauled by a bear.

Somehow we managed to avoid all these pitfalls and made our way to the relative safety of Montana.

David & Veronica,

See all of our adventures in America’s Wild West!

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12 thoughts on “Yellowstone – What a Gas Hole!”

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  3. We went through Yellowstone National Park this past August on our way from Indiana to Seattle. We were greeted by a large bison sauntering down the road adjacent to Yellowstone Lake. We have a post on our blog with photos. By the way, your photos are stunning!

  4. That’s a place I have never been. It’s on my bucket list… along with standing on a geyser… It’s just too tempting not to give it a try!

  5. Enjoyed your post on Yellowstone – found it because I keep a "newspaper" on Yellowstone …

    I do want to make a correction. Yellowstone was not named for the bright yellow walls of the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone but rather for some yellowish sandstone bluffs near the mouth of the river in North Dakota. The reason that the river (and then later the park) is generally believed to be from this and not the other is that the natives who called it "Yellowstone", the Minnatarree, were a non-nomadic tribe living far from where the park is now. The Crow, who lived on the Upper Yellowstone, called the river, "Elk River." Thus, historians don't believe the river got its name from the striking yellow features of the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone.

    1. It seems that we have fallen prey to either a common misconception or historical unknown, depending on who you ask.

      As Jim points out, the name Yellowstone very well could be from some different yellow stones, however, the National Park's own website says "Historians do not know why the Minnetaree gave this name to the river."

      Other sources sight the rocks of the canyon for the name's origin but usually described as "common lore" or "legend" so we are inclined to agree with Jim's assesment.

      Thanks for the comment Jim and the opportunity to look further into this. We are always up for learning something new.

      1. The misconception is as old as the first noted Yellowstone historian, Hiram Chittenden, who believed that the Minnetaree must have meant the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone.

        I recently heard from another native who suggested that perhaps the name even came from a mistranslation of a native word for Elk, which sounded like the native word for Yellowstone; I think this was also Crow. So, in that interpretation, the Minnetaree called it “Yellowstone” after misunderstanding the Crow.

        In any event, it would be highly unlikely for a tribe 500 miles from the Canyon to have come up with a name for the river that no tribes upstream had for it. And, unlike some tribes, the Minnetaree did not migrate from that region, like say the Kiowa are now believed to have.

        Interestingly, though, the Act of Dedication, which created the park does not give Yellowstone its name; that’s believed to have come from official correspondences between Superintendent Nathaniel Pitt Langford and the Secretary of Interior.

        Also, the first known American to suggest a national park was George Catlin, ironically on a steamboat called “Yellowstone” when he suggested the entire West be set aside as a national park to preserve not just the land but the indigenous peoples.

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