Yellowstone National Park can be an overwhelming experience during a first time visit. This volcanic landscape is so far removed from the norm, that a visitor might as well be on another planet. Most National Parks feature a short nature trail or a scenic drive loop that presents a pleasant mellow experience that is easy on the eyes, while at Yellowstone, the opposite is true. Dangerous wild animals are found on the nature trails and the scenic drive loop offers nothing but intense views of the otherworldly geothermal landscape that imparts a feeling of extreme sensory overload. Once inside this National Park, there is no escaping the strange surroundings, so it is best to just go with it and experience this odd landscape to the fullest extent!
Upper Terrace Drive is a short one way touring loop in the northwest end of Yellowstone National Park that definitely offers an opportunity to experience extreme sensory overload. This region is in the super volcano blast zone and most of the surrounding mountains actually are gigantic piles of hardened volcanic ash. The ground composition is basically volcanic tuff too, with copious amounts of calcification from the geothermal hot springs activity. The barren pale grayish white ground surface creates a stark contrast to the lush green colors of the deep pine forest and the initial visual effect can be compared to viewing a harsh no man's land or a morbid death zone in a science fiction movie.
Sulphuric Acid is associated with volcanic areas and a very weak diluted solution is enough to decompose limestone over eons of time. Hot spring water also has a similar effect on limestone and there simply is no end to the underground water supply that lies just above the gigantic magma plume beneath the Yellowstone caldera, because seasonal snow melts replenish the aquifer. The result is constant percolation that deposits calcified lime on the ground surface, which in turn creates natural terraces on gentle slopes.
Just like the name suggests, Upper Terrace Drive is a showcase of hardened lime deposit terraces and percolating hot springs. The soft volcanic tuff and limestone ground composition in this area is subject to earthquakes, which create fissures for boiling hot water to reach the ground surface, so even the infrastructure of the hot springs is naturally replenished. The result is an area of eternal geothermal activity that has produced some of the strangest geological oddities that can possibly be imagined. The colorful mineralized water fountains seem like they belong somewhere in outer space and the layers upon layers of hardened lime terraces look as if an artist composed this region by design.
Upper Terrace Drive certainly is a slow ride like no other, because the temptation to stop the car and stare will occur every few yards traveled. For this reason, if a visitor is able, it is best to just take a walk on this paved touring loop, in order to save precious fuel and to minimize air pollution. When on foot, staying on the paved road, marked hiking trail or boardwalk will be necessary for safety's sake, because the ground surface in this area is thin and unstable. Falling through the thin earth crust will result in being boiled alive, so it is best to heed the warnings. The Upper Terrace Drive is also a maintained cross-country ski trail during the long winter season, which can present an entirely different viewing perspective. Mammoth Hoth Springs is right next door, so be sure to tour the Upper Terraces first, because this unique geological area definitely is a worthwhile primer course!
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