The mind boggling Yellowstone terrain has a long track record of baffling experts since there are few other geological areas on earth that can even be remotely compared. Most of Yellowstone lies on top of one of the world's largest ancient super volcano calderas, which explains the extensive geothermal activity. This gigantic super volcano supposedly erupts on a 600,000 year cycle and it is long overdue according to some theorists. The thought of this is the reason why some people absolutely refuse to visit Yellowstone. In reality, it would not matter if you are standing in the middle of the Yellowstone Caldera or you are somewhere in Mongolia, because when this super volcano explodes, very few humans will survive anywhere on this planet.
Presenting the cold reality of Yellowstone actually is not as shocking as it may seem, because the threat is most often exaggerated. Media sensationalism and fringe documentaries are to blame for focusing on the fear factor, which causes some people to avoid experiencing this majestic place. The regular everyday volcanic anomalies that are considered to be normal in Yellowstone would be looked upon as being extreme warning signs anywhere else on earth. In other words, the clouds of steam rising up from the hot springs, the sky high geysers and boiling mud pits are perfectly normal in this strange place, simply because of the enormous size of the caldera. To put this into perspective, if the gigantic Yellowstone Super Volcano was about to erupt, there would be far more disastrous warning signs than just geysers and steam. For this reason there is really nothing to fear, other than fear itself.
Yellowstone will certainly not explode any time soon, even though the entire caldera terrain looks unstable. The strange landscape at Yellowstone may be volcanically active, but it is important to remember that this National Park is not the only place this caldera has been during its long history. As the North American Continent drifts west, the tectonic plate floats over the stationary underground magma plume that currently is located underneath Yellowstone. A trail of caldera explosions can be traced on a map over eons of time from northern California to Yellowstone, so the next eruption will likely be somewhere east of the current location.
Because of continental drift, the Yellowstone magma plume actually is slowly heading northeast toward Montana. No major events will likely occur until the magma plume passes underneath a portion of the earth's crust that does not allow pressure to be easily released. As can be seen in the Yellowstone landscape, the earth crust in this region has been shattered and displaced enough times to relieve some underground pressure. The ground actually swells because of the magma plume pressure and the exact elevation of Yellowstone can vary by several feet per year.
As can be imagined, Yellowstone certainly is a great place to ponder over the earth sciences. All these thoughts will naturally run through the mind when visiting this picturesque National Park. Yellowstone is an educational experience and it is easy to learn a little something in person. This big park is a very strange place and it seems like with every mile traveled, it gets even weirder. The landscape can change from the scenic splendor of forested mountain peaks and peaceful grassy wetland meadows to bizarre multi color mineral springs and boiling mud paint pots that look like they belong on another planet. The sheer variety of dramatic landscapes can stretch the bounds of imagination and this is what makes this park so exciting to tour!
One of the weirdest of the weird landscapes in Yellowstone National Park is without a doubt the Black Sand Basin. This natural attraction is located just north of Old Faithful on the central touring loop, so it is easy to find. This collection of mineralized hot spring pools and geysers is part of the Upper Geyser Basin. What sets the Black Sand Basin apart is the high proportion of black obsidian sand in this area. The black obsidian creates quite a contrast to the bright color calcified mineral deposits and for onlookers, the visual effect is fascinating to see.
The boardwalk paths are safe to tread upon in the Black Sand Basin, but the same cannot be said about walking on the bare ground. The earth crust is very thin in this area and it will not support much weight. Taking a closer look by treading on the bare ground may result in breaking through the crust and falling into a boiling hot spring, so by all means, it is best to obey the rules and stay on the boardwalk paths!
The foot paths do meander close to the main attractions in this geyser basin, so there are plenty of great viewpoints. Points of interest in this field include the Opalescent Pool, Spouter Geyser, Cliff Geyser, Emerald Pool, Rainbow Pool and Sunset Lake. There are also dozens of small bubbling mud pits, flowing hot springs and scattered little geysers throughout this strange geothermal field.
Because there is so much geyser activity going on in Black Sand Basin, there really is never a dull moment! It pays to keep looking around, because if you focus solely on an interesting object in front of you, something even more exciting will be guaranteed to happen behind your back. I cannot count how many times that I waited to watch a gurgling geyser in front of me send a jet of water straight up into the air, only to end up seeing a little gasp of steam. At the same time, a geyser went into a full blast eruption behind me and I only caught a glimpse of the water falling back to the ground. The small geysers in Black Sand Basin definitel play a cat and mouse game, which is very easy to become completely absorbed in. The Black Sand Basin certainly is a natural water fountain show packed full of surprises that often catches viewers off guard!
It is the steam effect that keeps things interesting and walking through the billowing clouds of steam in Black Sand Basin definitely is an unearthly experience. The comical cat and mouse game that the little geysers play can be aggravating, but in a fun way. After watching the overview for a while, the rhythm of the little geyser eruptions in this field look as if they could easily be synchronized with a musical score. Yellowstone is full of life in more ways than one and the Black Sand Basin certainly is a showcase of some of the weirdest sights that Mother Nature has to offer!
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