Monday, September 18, 2017

The Smell of Hell

Yellowstone is an excellent place to experience that our planet is very much alive. Here you can explore the beating heart of the earth, its spitting habits and its heat. Literally.

In my post about Mammoth Hot Springs I mentioned that the hot water that feeds that area comes from the Noris Geyser Basin. Today I take you right there.

Noris Geyser Basin is the hottest and most changeable thermal area in Yellowstone. It features the world's tallest active geyser, colorful hot springs, and microscopic life in one of the most extreme environments on earth.

Noris Geyser Basin is hot with all the steam hissing from everywhere, and it's smelly - sulfur! Ancient explorers referred to the odor of geysers as the "Smell of Hell" and you can smell it in many corners of Yellowstone, but especially in the Noris Geyser Basin. Funny enough though, I never thought it such a bad smell. Yes, geysers do emit a bit of a stench due to the elevated levels of sulfuric acid and hydrogen sulfide gas contained within the geysers themselves. For me this smell belongs to Yellowstone, it is a natural part of it and while not pleasant, it's not that bad either.

It bubbles and hisses everywhere.

The typical colors of Yellowstone - orange and emerald or turquoise - are found in this area as well, even though not quite as intense as we have seen these colors at the Grand Prismatic Spring. That place is pretty unique.

You can walk along the many pools and lakes. But remember to stay on the boardwalk! The ground is hot, not solid in all places (it's a thermal area after all) and there have been people who died here - most of them as a result of pure stupidity. You don't believe me? Well, read this story. Enough said.

So stay on the trails and enjoy this unique environment. The emerald color of the water tells of minerals,

and this water is colored with mineral and microscopic life forms.

Hot springs in something that looks like a cold environment (I think this is in the Porcelain Basin, but I don't exactly remember).

The mud puddles are so entertaining to watch. They bubble continuously and make like "blob" sounds. Sometimes they spill mud all around - it's a good idea not to get too close. They are particularly popular with children!

Even though it's smelly, this shouldn't keep anyone from witnessing one of nature's most incredible displays of raw, unbridled power.

Sunday, September 10, 2017

Hot on the Terrace

Yellowstone National Park is full of the most interesting and fascinating natural features, one of them being Mammoth Hot Springs in the Northwest corner of the park. Well, it's not just hot springs - it's terraces composed of travertine (calcium carbonate). I have just one word to describe them: spectacular.

Some areas look like snow or ice, frozen waterfalls. But no, there isn't anything that feels cold or only cool here. It's darn hot, baby!

Wyoming, especially so far north as Yellowstone, isn't known for hot weather, but here on the terraces shorts and t-shirts are the appropriate attire. Man, it was hot! No shade around here, of course.

The ground displayed bizarre formations.

Some of the terraces reached almost the backyards of the houses in the tiny village of Mammoth - almost.

The elk seem to love this area. They come here, lick the ground (probably mineral rich) and even lie down and take a nap. They weren't bothered by the heat at all. Perhaps they thought it's their personal outdoor sweat lodge.

Even though the main color here is white followed by orange, I could make out my favorite color combination of orange and turquoise in some places. Not quite as intense and vivid as the Grand Prismatic Spring but still quite fabulous.

And of course at the same time you can take in the stunning surroundings.

Due to the nature of this place there were a lot of dead trees.

Ever changing ground formations and bubbles on the water that tell about the heat of the hot springs (the hot water that feeds Mammoth, by the way, comes from the Norris Geyser Basin).

You can walk the terraces on boardwalks, and the Lower Terraces Area has the most spectacular views. This part is by far my favorite one.

Doesn't it look like ice and snow?

But it's the dead trees that fascinated me the most.

Yes, we sure needed a little break to take all this in. This is only a rather small part of Yellowstone, but full of awesomeness. You need to take your time to let it sink in.

Sunday, September 3, 2017

Scene & Story - August 2017

Except for the eclipse I didn't take that many photos in August. That month was dominated by the beginning of the school year and me going back to work. It was very hectic and extremely busy setting up the high school library and providing about 1600 students with their different textbooks and English novels.

No wonder that my favorite photo for August is one of quietness from a slow morning with my favorite girl. This summer when Kaefer was home from college we often went to our small neighborhood coffee joint to have a delicious cup of coffee, get a sweet treat from the bakery and sit and chat with the neighbors. It brings back memories of lazy summer days when we could spend our time with sweet nothingness and just enjoy being there. It held talks of the future, laughter about silly jokes and comfortable silence. Looking back at it just one week before she'll return to college it already carries the hint of bittersweet feelings.

I'm joining Sarah and León for Scene and Story.

Tuesday, August 29, 2017

The Dark Side of the Moon

For the first time in almost one hundred years, on August 21st the moon moved between the earth and the sun over the continental US, giving some states from West to East the rare opportunity to experience a total solar eclipse. After a rainy (but still fascinating) total eclipse we witnessed in Germany in 1999 and a beautiful annular eclipse in Northern California in May 2012 we were excited to have another chance to see this spectacular natural event.

Since we are not living in the path of totality we had to figure out where to go. Months in advance we planned and finally booked a hotel in Boise for the night before because we had decided to either go North to Smith Ferry (which we had checked out on our way back from Yellowstone a few weeks before) or Northwest to Eastern Oregon. Both were excellent destinations for the eclipse.

In the weeks and days before, the eclipse craziness had the media in its grip and there were already horror stories about traffic chaos as well as shortage of fuel and food. We were well prepared with an ice chest full of food, an extra gas tank and, most of all, good mood with a spirit of adventure. Kaefer invited B., her friend and roommate, to come along and so we left on Saturday around noon.

We were prepared for everything. What we didn't expect was this:

Where was all the traffic? Definitely not on our route.

The girls had brought a lot of music for the trip which, of course, we called eclipse music. We listened to "Here comes the sun", "Daylight", "Highway to hell" (which it thankfully wasn't) and, of course, the ultimate eclipse song "Dark side of the moon". As you can tell, we were more than ready for the eclipse.

And where were the long lines at the gas stations? This was one of the longest lines we saw - so no, there were no real lines.

We stayed the night in Winnemucca in Nevada where almost every hotel was booked out. The little town was packed with eclipse chasers on their way, and everybody was in a good mood. On our way up to Boise the following day we met many more eclipse chasers and everybody was cheerful, happy to be on their way to see this rare greeting of the universe.

We arrived early in the afternoon and decided to check out the places right beyond the state line to Oregon. There were two options in the path of totality that interested us. One was Lime, an old abandoned cement plant and ghost town. When we arrived there, it already looked like this:

No facilities, no nothing. No thank you. We do like our adventure, but this wasn't the right kind of adventure for us.

So we settled for this:

This is Farewell Bend State Recreation Area right at the Snake River, just an hour and 20 minutes from Boise (without traffic). We drove back to Boise, had dinner and went last-minute food shopping at Trader Joe's whose staff definitely was totally in the eclipse spirit.

The next morning we got up really early, left without a breakfast and went to Farewell Bend. Thankfully there was a time change in between, we gained an hour and thus it was only 4:50 am when we arrived at the state park (yes, there was no traffic!). Volunteers were already busy, they even offered us eclipse glasses for free (which we declined since we had our own) and directed us to a parking lot where we could leave the car. Everything was masterfully organized with a lot of cheer. There were lots of very clean and always well re-stocked bathrooms, picnic tables and of course the beautiful Snake River.

We had breakfast, and then the long waiting started (totality would start at 10:26 and last for two minutes and seven seconds). The girls goofed around and played cards, I knitted and the Geek set up the equipment.

The park filled with people, but it never was over crowded. Some people brought very heavy equipment. The atmosphere was so cheerful and expectant, we talked to a lot of people and it was just a great feeling of belonging together.

Shortly after nine the spectacle started with the moon biting into the sun and pushing further and further in front of the sun.

The shadows started to change and you could see those crescents - this is something you can also see during a partial eclipse and is a very fascinating side effect.

The light started to change as well, there was a slight breeze and the temperature dropped. I tried to capture the weird light in this photo, but it is way too difficult. It is not like dusk, but a very eerie quality of light. You could feel how the excitement was rising minute to minute now.

Finally there was only a sliver of the sun left.

And then - boom!

It became dark from one moment to the next, and there was this wonderful glow around the sun. It was amazing, fascinating - I lack the words to describe this special moment, these short two minutes that are forever in my memory.

The photos don't do it justice.

No, it wasn't completely dark. It was like a very beautiful very dark blue, and all around the horizon glowed in light like shortly before the sunrise (or shortly after the sunset). We could see some stars as well. It was other-worldly.

And then the sun popped out again.

Time to put on those eclipse glasses again!

This is me after the eclipse - happy, grateful to have witnessed this beautiful play of the universe, still full of awe. Covered in crescents.

You might wonder whether we are completely crazy to be on the road for almost four days to watch just two minutes and seven seconds of a solar eclipse. We probably are (and so were many others). 

Was it worth it?

You bet.