The geysers, springs and mud pots that speckle Yellowstone’s fractured crust are to me the most remarkable aspect of the park. I love junior wildlife as much as the next guy, but they have moose calves in Maine, too. There are only a handful of places on Earth where lava-fueled steam spouts past the surface, and I can’t imagine any of the others matching the beauty and variety found in Yellowstone.
That said, Iceland is on our short list of places to visit. And we pretty much stuck to the South Island in New Zealand, so I can’t comment on that either… let’s move on.
Most of the park’s geothermal displays are clustered in groups, convenient to the big figure-8 of the loop road that winds through the heart of Yellowstone. These groups can be broadly categorized by feature type – geyser, pool or mud pot; they can also be ranked by how powerful they smell.
Picture a detached refrigerator door, shelves filled with old eggs and mayonnaise jars (lids off). Picture that refrigerator door leaning up against the wall of a sauna and imagine the hot breath of that sauna condensing on your face and sunglasses. This is the Wall of Smell, most pervasive at Norris and Mud Volcano, less oppressive at Old Faithful. There were times when I didn’t want to clean my glasses for fear of etching some kind of acidic spirograph on the surface.
You might want to keep your lens cover handy.
We stumbled onto a great thermal itinerary (north to south, basically) by the grace of accident and hotel availability. We spent our first two nights in the park at Mammoth, and the hot springs there offered a gentle introduction to the Yellowstone groundwater scene.
From Mammoth we drove south to our room at the Old Faithful Snow Lodge, stopping along the way for a full survey of the stinky prehistoric terrain at Norris basin. We finished up our tour of the major thermal sites with a day and a half at the Old Faithful Basin. The sequence – quiet springs to agitated pools to grand geysers – just felt right.
Basically we’re glad that we got the rotten eggs of Norris out of the way while we were still fresh.