I don’t know about you, but I am totally astounded whenever I see anyone step off the boardwalk at Yellowstone’s hot springs. As a summer seasonal park ranger I see this behavior all the time and can’t help but wonder. What are these folks thinking?
Last week I came across a perfect example of why it is best not to consider doing anything so foolish.
|Good Godfrey! Collapsed travertine at Mammoth Hot Springs|
I was in Mammoth Hot Springs finishing up a week of training before the summer season gets going in full swing. I’d wanted to see the famous travertine terraces in Mammoth and finally had an opportunity one day after class to stroll about Canary Spring with some co–workers.
|Taking a stroll at Canary Spring|
Although Mammoth is outside the boundaries of any of Yellowstone’s three famous volcanoes, a network of fractures and fissures still form a plumbing system through which hot water percolates to the surface from deep underground. Frequent small earthquakes serve to keep this plumbing system open.
And since Mammoth is outside of the boundary of the volcanoes, it’s bedrock of limestone was never blasted into eternity like the bedrock inside the caldera. This ancient limestone is the reason the Mammoth terraces exist.
Heated groundwater combined with dissolved carbon dioxide in the limestone creates a weak solution of carbonic acid. As this solution rises through the bedrock it dissolves calcium carbonate, the primary compound in limestone. When this dissolved calcium carbonate hits the surface it precipitates out of solution and is deposited in the form of travertine.
|Collapsed travertine deposits at Canary Springs|
So you think it’s okay to walk off the boardwalk in the hot springs? Do you really know what is underneath that thin crust?
Perhaps visitors are not quite aware of the concept of dissolving rock capable of leaving underground voids and empty spaces which can then collapse with the slightest weight from above.
If people understood this, I wonder if they would still step off the boardwalk. Ultimately, they are not only destroying a fragile resource but they are also putting themselves into some serious danger.
|Mammoth Hot Springs Terraces|