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Geological History of Yellowstone National Park

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People watching Old Faithful erupt from geyser...

People watching Old Faithful erupt from geyser cone, Yellowstone National Park, 1948 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Yellowstone National Park is home to Old Faithful, the most famous geyser in the world, so it’s little wonder that much of the geological history of the park is all about volcanoes and hydrothermal features.

Yellowstone National Park lies well and truly on one of the earths “hot spots”, where the crust is uncommonly thin thus the wide variety of hydrothermal features which can be found there. Two great volcanic eruptions have precipitated from here during the geological history of the park, 2 million years ago there was the Huckleberry Ridge Caldera event, and a little more recently, 1.3 million years ago, the Mesa Falls Caldera event.

Of more direct significance, when we’re talking about the geological history of Yellowstone National Park is an eruption which took place only 600,000 years ago – the Yellowstone Caldera event. During this volcanic eruption the center of Yellowstone National Park exploded, the collapse of the volcano creating an enormous caldera (basin) measuring an unbelievable 28 miles by 47 – one of the worlds largest. This eruption was known to eject a massive 600 cubic miles of ash, hot gasses and other material, the largest eruption in historic times it even altered the weather from all around the globe.

This crater is still evident in Yellowstone National Park, although these days many visitors to the park won’t even notice it. It is rather hidden by lava which filled some of the crater from the eruption, some other portions have been eroded over the years by glaciers and erosion, the southwestern part of this crate is actually filled by Yellowstone Lake.

The Grand Canyon in Yellowstone National Park offers a rare glimpse of what the Earth looks like on the inside, yep, you can actually see the Earth’s interior, the spectacular waterfalls serving to highlight the boundaries of thermal areas and lava flows.

Yellowstone National Park has the most concentrated number of geysers in the world, I’ve already mentioned Old Faithful, which erupts faithfully somewhere between every 30 to 120 minutes with an average of 65, although earthquakes in recent years have lengthened the average time between eruptions to closer to 78 minutes. Five other famous geysers in Yellowstone National Park are;

  • West Thumb
  • Upper Old Faithful
  • Midway
  • Lower
  • Norris

all of which can be clearly seen along the Old Faithful to Mammoth Springs route in Yellowstone National Park.

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