Travelling in the U.S. is a dynamic, spatial experience, as the country presents itself majestically through its vast prairies, the five Great Lakes, the Rockies that stretch across 1,000 miles, the towering 1,200-year-old sequoia trees, the canyons, the hoodoos sculpted over years by rain and melting snow, the thundering Niagara and Yosemite falls, and the thermal activities in the Yellowstone Basin. Visiting these places is not only awe-inspiring but also spiritually moving, as one acknowledges the hand of a superior power in shaping their geological contours.
Of these natural wonders it was the trip to the Yellowstone National Park that proved to be a magical experience with its mountains and bare trees encrusted with snow, thermal springs and bewildering variety of flora and fauna. The visit was akin to a pilgrimage, prayerfully contemplative and intellectually puzzling because of the paradox — the juxtaposition of ice and snow and hot springs.
From Hampton, New Jersey on the East Coast of the United States access to the Mid-West, where the park is located, was not direct. We flew from Newark airport to Denver, then to Idaho Falls, a small picturesque town just a two-hour drive from Yellowstone, and considered the wheat bowl of America.
Yellowstone can best be defined as the interplay of Nature’s poetry and drama. It sits astride the Continental Divide in north western Wyoming, bordering the States of Montana and Idaho.
Occupying 2.2 million acres, it is one of the powerful seismic areas in the world, racked by earthquakes, cracked by water boiling to the surface, and littered with the detritus of centuries-old volcanic eruptions. Much of the park sits in a caldera, or crater, 70 km wide. Volcanic heat continues to fuel the park’s famous geysers and hot springs due to the activity of magma 10 km deep under the ground. This makes it home to 600 hot, gushing, angry geysers and 10,000 geothermal springs, which in autumn present a contrast of snow-clad mountains and plateau and erupting geysers, scalding the ground. This juxtaposition of the extremes (hot and cold) is not just fascinating, but makes you wonder how Nature throws up such idiosyncrasies. The most spectacular is the Upper Geyser Basins, which contain the world famous Old Faithful Geyser, the star of Nature’s show and the prime example of geothermal action. The name derives from its faithful eruption every eighty minutes, spewing forth gallons of boiling water at a speed exceeding 100 mph for a minute or so. And at freezing temperature all that is witnessed is the gushing steam that rises in a huge, cloud in the sky almost 30 ft high.
Spectacle of colour
The entire geyser basin is prismatic and according to its formation and colours the geysers are named Jewel Spring, Mustard Spring, Shell Spring, Emerald Pool and Sapphire Pool. Amazingly in these boiling cauldrons microbes exist colouring the pools and springs in vibrant blue, green, ochre and yellow. The soft volcanic stone further reinforces the spectacle of colour and water with its strange artistic geological formations and hence the names jewel, mustard and shell confirming to their respective shapes and configurations.
The geysers are just one dimension of Yellowstone. Nature continues to impress with scenic meadows, large lakes, roaring rivers and high waterfalls. To see the dramatic Grand Canyon of Yellowstone, we had to drive 97 miles only to realise it was closed because of heavy overnight snowfall. The Yellowstone River with its 110 miles of shoreline is North America’s largest alpine lake. As we happened to visit the place during Fall, Yellowstone was mantled in changing hues and textures — the aspens turning from golden yellow to orange to rust to burgundy making them breathtakingly beautiful.