Friday, September 16, 2011

Yellowstone National Park - hot springs and cyanobacteria!

Grand Prismatic Spring with Excelsior Geyser bubbling in the background - Midway Geyser Basin, Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming. Copyright (c) 2011 Wendee Holtcamp

For a charm of powerful trouble,
Like a hell-broth boil and bubble.
Double, double toil and trouble;
Fire burn, and caldron bubble.

- William Shakespeare

This week I went to Jackson Hole, Wyoming to spend some time with Dr Paul Cox, founder of the Institute for Ethnomedicine (among other things - a very interesting and accomplished scientist he is!). This is Paul in the lab looking at some Phormidium under the microscope - a cyanobacteria or blue-green algae. You can see it on the computer screen. I'm writing an article about his work on BMAA, cyanobacteria and Lou Gherig's disease (ALS - Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis).
On one of the days, Cox's colleague at the Institute, Dr Sandra Banack, took me to Yellowstone - and this is related to the story! She showed me a little known waterfall, Moose Falls, not far off the road (You can view photos from my last trip there, in 2009 - to the Lamar Valley, Mammoth Hot Springs and more - when we saw wolves and bighorn sheep!)
Ah, so lovely! We went on this steep but short hike to a ledge overlooking Grand Prismatic Spring - the largest hot spring in the U.S.! A stunning view isn't it? Apparently not a lot of people know about this trail. You get a much broader/better view than on the boardwalks. We ate lunch up there. This is a view of the Excelsior Geyser beyond in the distance, which wasn't gushing at the time, only bubbling. It is very steamy, but close up the water is just gorgeous and looks like the Caribbean with coral reefs! It discharges 4000-4500 gallons of water per minute! Oh and the entire Yellowstone National Park practically lies inside a giant caldera, or the rim of a volcano. And with 65,000 years or so since the last eruption, we are due for another. Sandra was kind enough to check the earthquake levels for me... I didn't ask! A side view of the different colors in the pool. And guess what makes the yellow and orange colors? You got it - cyanobacteria - one of the most ancient organisms on earth. The orange is actually made by... Phormidium! The same species Paul was looking at in the lab, which he gathered from a wetland in Logan, Utah. Sandra tells me that underneath the orange mat it is green. They are photosynthetic organisms. Not sure why they get the orange top coat - will have to find out. The yellow is from the cyanobacteria genus Synechococcus and they live in hotter temperatures. A close view of the Phormidium mats in the Grand Prismatic Spring

Sandra on the boardwalk near Grand Prismatic
This is a really close up view of the Phormidium cyanobacteria.
I'm actually not sure where I shot this but it's more mats of cyanobacteria.
On the side of Excelsior Geyser - looks like the Caribbean doesn't it? Or maybe a hot tub in the Caribbean!
Another view of Excelsior
Near Grand Prismatic and Excelsior lies this beauty - turquoise pool - reflecting a drop-dead gorgeous sky!
Me standing in front of Opal Pool. Having come here many, many times, Sandra was surprised at how small it was compared to Turquoise pool and suspected something in the water under the earth must have shifted.
This was taken out the car window! The bison walked right by our car. Of course I had to stick my head/hand out the window to take a photo. It was a little disconcerting to be that close to a bison...
The photo makes it look almost like he is missing a limb but he's actually walking. And yes, it was a boy. I looked.
We took a 1.6 mile (each way) flat hike to Fairy Falls. I didn't see any fairies though. Darn!
The mountainside was steep but Sandra darted right up. She's used to trekking the mountains of Samoa, Fiji and other places looking for bats, and other things. Evidence of the massive 1988 fires is everywhere - notice all the downed trees?
She pointed out the many edible berries on the mountainsides this time of year. These are Saskatoon berries and we had some, as well as wild raspberries and huckleberries.
I liked this view of the whorls in this dead tree, plus the new life coming through.
And of course we had to stop by and see Old Faithful. This was my fourth visit to Yellowstone, but I hadn't seen it erupt since I was a kid of 14. We had stopped here while moving from Portland, Oregon to Minneapolis, Minnesota. This is pre-eruption. Old Faithful will start putting out some steam. A lot of people had gathered around. We actually arrived about 20 minutes before it's eruption, so perfect timing!
And thar she blows!
On the way out of the park we saw a couple of elk in a meadow. We looked but didn't spot any moose or bear or wolves. Bummer!
A closer view of the two elk.


susan said...

Wendee, your pictures are, as always, stunning!

Unknown said...

Beautiful pictures. We just had a whirl wind tour of Yellowstone in all of 4 hours as we were passing through. We didn't get to the springs so seeing these was very nice :) We will be going back again to spend more time there for sure!