The Travertine Terraces of Mammoth Hot Springs: Yellowstone

Today, Peggy and I are continuing our exploration of Yellowstone National Park, which we visited as part of our four month, 12,000 mile exploration of the US between September and December this past year. All photos in this post were taken by either Peggy or me unless otherwise noted.

Photos of Yellowstone National Park taken by photographers Curt and Peggy Mekemson.
If you are visiting Yellowstone National Park, be sure to visit the colorful travertine terraces of Mammoth Hot Springs.

Located 50 miles north of Old Faithful, the travertine terraces of Mammoth Hot Springs are one of the most unique and beautiful of Yellowstone’s hydrothermal created landscapes. The terracing is a result of underlying limestone. Hot water dissolves the limestone and deposits it on the surface. The bright colors, like the colors of the hot springs in the Yellowstone Caldera to the south, are created by thermophiles, tiny microorganisms that thrive in the hot springs. Different types of thermophiles have different tolerance for the heat and come in different colors based upon their exposure to sunlight. Those that can tolerate the most heat live deep in the pools and tend toward blue and green. The ones living on the cooler outer edges are more in the brown and yellow range.

Peggy and I took a day to drive up from where we were camped in the town of West Yellowstone to visit Mammoth Hot Springs. On the way up we saw a lot of great scenery that I will feature in another post and two hydrothermal features I haven’t covered in this series yet: mud pots and fumaroles.

Photos of Yellowstone National Park taken by Curt and Peggy Mekemson.
Mud pots occur when hot thermal water is flowing under a layer of clay that blocks the water from escaping to the surface. Steam from the water, however, is able to make its way through the clay. Certain microorganisms convert the sulfur dioxide in the steam to sulfuric acid which turns the clay into a gooey, sticky consistency. Bubbles are created as a result of the steam bubbling up through the goo. It sound like plop, plop, plop.
Photo of an exploding bubble in a Yellowstone mud pot by Curt Mekemson.
I included this exploding bubble in an earlier post. I liked it so much you get to see it again.
Photos of Yellowstone taken by photographers Curt and Peggy Mekemson.
A fumarole is similar to a geyser but lacks the water to create eruptions. Instead, the heat from the volcanic rocks turns what water is available into incredibly hot steam that escapes from vents and ranges in temperatures up to 280°F (138°C). It can be noisy. This is a shot of Roaring Mountain that received its name from the noise created by the escaping steam. It could be heard from miles away in the 90s. It’s quieter today.

And now it’s time to visit the terraces of Mammoth Hot Springs. A convenient road takes you around the terraces. Walkways off the road take you to the lower terraces. The following photos were taken from the walkways.

Photos of Mammoth Hot Springs by Curt and Peggy Mekemson.
Canary Springs is one of the most popular sites along the lower terrace trail at Mammoth Hot Springs.
Photos of Mammoth Hot Springs taken by photographers Curt and Peggy Mekemson.
A broader, softer perspective of Canary Springs.
A view of the travertine terrace just above Canary Springs.
Photos of Mammoth Hot Springs taken by photographers Curt and Peggy Mekemson.
Another perspective of the terrace just before the water flows over the edge.
Cupid Springs. I don’t have a clue on how it got its name.
Umpteen shades of grey.

The road snakes around the upper terrace. There are several pullouts that allow close up views of the various formations.

Photos of Mammoth Hot Springs taken by photographers Curt and Peggy Mekemson.
This section is known as Angel’s Terrace. I’m assuming it’s because of the white travertine, which is how the dissolved lime comes out of the ground.
Photos of Mammoth Hot Springs taken by photographers Curt and Peggy Mekemson.
Another perspective. Like stair steps.
Photos of Mammoth Hot Springs taken by photographers Curt and Peggy Mekemson.
We really liked the contrast of colors here.
Photos of Mammoth Hot Springs taken by photographers Curt and Peggy Mekemson.
It was the colors, shape and tree that caught our attention that had us pull out our cameras.
Photos of Mammoth Hot Springs taken by photographers Curt and Peggy Mekemson.
This unique dome is known as Elephants Back.
Photo of hydrothermal mound in Yellowstone NP taken by Curt Mekemson
We were driving back to West Yellowstone when we came across this very colorful small dome. The steam coming from the back suggests a fumarole. We simply had to stop and photograph it. That does it for today. Our next post will be on Heidelberg Castle. After that, it will be back to Yellowstone and its scenic beauty.

33 thoughts on “The Travertine Terraces of Mammoth Hot Springs: Yellowstone

  1. That first photo of Canary Springs is my favorite. It reminds me of the abstracted landscapes of the Canadian Group of Seven painters, like Lawren Harris. Even if you took away Old Faithful and the fumaroles, I’d go to the place just to see Canary Springs.

    In the “who knew?” category, now I know the difference between travertine and marble. I’ve often seen ‘travertine marble’ advertised for use in homes, but it seems that’s either an invention of savvy marketers or simple confusion. That said, I still remembered reading about a ‘travertine palace’ or castle. This time, the internet came through: look at this fabulous — and analogous — site.

    • It’s one of those places where you wander around in awe, Linda, a description that fits much of Yellowstone. In fact, I’ve read that Easterners refused to believe the reports of the first visitors to the area. Rotorura in New Zealand shares some of the characteristics. And there are waterfalls that Peggy and I have visited in the Grand Canyon that share the brilliant white travertine. Thanks for your information on Turkey. One can see why the area was held sacred for thousands of years.

  2. Great photos! I love that Mammoth Hot Springs is constantly changing too. The colors are a little different every time I visit. I haven’t been in a while so it was nice to see some current images.

  3. Excellent photography, Curt. This is just marvelous. Now, possibly Peggy can offer some insight, but I could have sworn that when I visited this spot in the 1980s, Angel’s Terrace had water running through it. I think I have photographs of that. It is possible that the escaping water moves around, right? I appreciated seeing the bursting mud bubble a second time. Your mud pot photos are just great and it’s easy to imagine the pop popping. The fumarole in Roaring Mountain is interesting to me as well. The mineral terraces just can’t be beat though.

    • Thanks, Crystal, and you are right about the water flow. It does vary over time. I suspect the recent western droughts had a role to play this time. Maybe all the rains and snow we’ve had this year will recharge the aquifers. The fumaroles at Roaring Mountain were much more prominent in the 90s as well. We had a blast photographing the terraces.

  4. Gorgeous! We stayed over at the cabins by Mammoth when we visited Yellowstone. (I was very pregnant, so my memories of that trip are a wee bit fuzzy and I didn’t get as much hiking in as I’d have liked.) It’s such a striking landscape, and your photos are spectacular as always!

  5. Yellowstone is one of those places that make you scratch your head and think, “how’d they do that?” Considering Mother Nature was just ad-libbing I’d say she’s done pretty well…

  6. Yellowstone is a wondrous place, and the hydro- and geothermal features are some of the most fascinating. Thanks for another look at some of them here! (I see you are now in Egypt – have a great time!)

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