Wednesday, December 16, 2009

The Travertine Terraces

After our uneventful hike along Indian Creek (where I would sing a Carpenters' song every time we came over a rise, just to scare off any bears who might be on the other side) we drove farther north, up to the Montana/Wyoming border and the 45th Parallel. Lisa's boss had told us of a place on the Gardiner River where a flow of steaming hot water called Boiling River empties into the Gardiner. There's a swimming hole there, and a changing room near the parking area, but otherwise it's not well marked.

This photo was downloaded from Wikipedia.

The Gardiner River is very, very cold, starting up at an elevation of 10,000 feet on Joseph Peak. Both the Indian and Obsidian creeks, among others, empty into it, and it is apparently a good trout stream. It ultimately joins the Yellowstone River to the north. Where the Boiling River empties into it people are allowed to bathe and swim. It's an amazing experience--one moment you're in hot tub water, the next in the cold flow of the Gardiner, then back to the hot tub. The current of the Gardiner is quite strong and you have to brace yourself against the rocks on the river bottom to avoid being swept away. The half mile walk to the pools keeps a lot of people away, but still there were probably 40 or 50 folks there.

By the time we walked back to the changing rooms and got to the car we were hot and sticky again. It was early evening by then and time to start making the drive back to West Yellowstone. On the way we planned to stop to see the Terraces.

Oh my God.

As I've said, Yellowstone never ceased to amaze me. The Terraces are a geologic feature created by groundwater. The groundwater has been heated to around 170 degrees. At that temperature the water absorbs large quantities of carbon dioxide, forming carbonic acid, which dissolves the limestone and makes travertine (I'm getting all of this from the National Geographic Road Guide, by the way). About 2 tons of of this stuff is deposited daily--as the water cools the travertine is released. The fresh travertine is white, the older stuff turns grey.

Travertine, bathed in warm water, can support many different kinds of bacteria and algae, which give the terraces their color.

Here again was a place I could have spent days exploring. We stayed for about an hour. I can't possibly say more than these photos can, so I'll be quiet and just let you soak it in.

I didn't want to leave, but we had a fairly long drive ahead, and still needed to stop for dinner. For all that we had already experienced that day, we weren't done. Yellowstone still had a few things to show us before darkness fell.

Next: Evening in Yellowstone


  1. Oh, Marie, I gasped when I saw the icicles wrapped around the branch. And the beauty kept coming...what a fabulous Christmas gift...Yellowstone is a slice of heaven, for sure. And thanks for explaining about travertine...when we were in Yellowstone, I'd wondered why some places were white...Thanks for sharing.

  2. Thank you so very much for sharing your wonderful pictures. The Tetons and Yellowstone are two of my favorite places in the world. Being a flyfisherman I've been in both at least 25 times over the years and each visit is always a magical experience. I intended a short drive thru this year on our way home from VanCouver Island, stayed at Bozeman, drove down to West Yellowstone, only to be told both roads to Mammouth were closed due to fires and construction. This was in late September. Oh well. There is alway next year! :)