Mammoth’s popular visitor sites are dependent upon the area’s volcanic history, steaming hot water, and a system of small fissures running throughout the entire region. Approximately 600,000 years ago, Yellowstone experienced a catastrophic volcanic explosion that left behind a molten magma chamber. This chamber serves as the key ingredient in supplying the area with the hot water needed to form the region’s renowned terraces.
As rain and snow trickle down from Yellowstone’s slopes, cold ground water seeps deep underneath the park’s surface through a series of small cracks. The molten magma chamber then heats the water, forcing it back above the surface in over fifty hot springs lining the Mammoth area. During this cycle, the water joins forces with carbon dioxide gasses to form an acidic solution. As the water/acid solution journeys to the surface, it dissolves and picks up underground limestone deposits. Upon reaching the oxygenated surface, the carbon dioxide gasses escape, leaving the liquefied limestone to harden into travertine terraces.
Each of the following springs and terraces, all of which undergo continual reshaping, owe their formation in part to the above geological processes.
The name “Cleopatra Springs” has referred to at least three different springs in the Mammoth area since Yellowstone’s founding. Due to dormant periods in the springs’ activity, confusion still exists as to which terrace truly is Cleopatra.
Marked with a palette of bright colors and intriguing travertine deposits, Minerva Terrace is by far one of Mammoth’s most beloved visitor destinations. Although records of Minerva Spring indicate that the natural wonder was inactive for several years during the early 1900s, the spring has remained active since 1951. In fact, Minerva Spring was once so prolific that it occasionally deposited masses of travertine that buried the park’s boardwalks. In an effort to keep the feature open to the public, the National Park Service elevated the boardwalk surrounding the terrace and made it an easily moveable structure in light of Minerva Spring’s temperamental nature.
Prone to long periods of great activity followed by inactivity, Jupiter Terrace has sat idle since 1992. While active during the 1980s, Jupiter Terrace was so fruitful that its deposits often showered over park boardwalks in incredible displays of color and unique formations. Researchers speculate that Jupiter Terrace will someday be active again.
Lying in the shadow of Mt. Everts, Mammoth’s Main Terrace provides an ideal representation of the Earth’s powerful forces at work. The landscape surrounding the Main Terrace is in a constant state of change as new springs boil to the surface and older ones become inactive. In addition to its stunning scenery, the Main Terrace offers visitors clear views of historic Fort Yellowstone resting in the distance.
The Overlook provides visitors with stunning views of the Main Terrace framed with a mountainous backdrop.
Featuring a cream-colored base, Canary Spring draws its name from the bright yellow deposits spotting the formation. The spring owes its color to sulfur dependent bacteria and is recognized as one of the most distinctive Yellowstone terraces.
Located on the Upper Terrace Loop Drive, Prospect Terrace was originally named the “Eleventh Terrace” in 1872 by Dr. Peale. Arnold Hague, however, changed the name to “Prospect Terrace” in the late 1880s while leading a U.S. Geological Survey. Although the exact reason behind the terrace’s new name is unknown, many speculate the terrace was renamed simply because it offers a wonderful vantage point of the surrounding landscape and distant mountains.
New Highland Terrace
Although relatively inactive since the 1950s, the New Highland Terrace holds keys to the history of hot spring activity in Yellowstone. Located on the Upper Terrace Loop Drive, New Highland Terrace features the twisted remains of dead trees swallowed up in travertine deposits.
Orange Spring Mound
Featuring a distinctive large mounded shape, Orange Spring Mound formed over the course of thousands of years with a combination of sluggish water movement and small mineral deposits. The spring, located on the Upper Terrace Loop Drive, is characterized with unique streaks of color created from the presence of algae and microscopic bacteria.
Named in the 1880s, Bath Lake was once a popular bathing site for Fort Yellowstone soldiers. Although bathing and swimming in the park’s thermal features has long since been outlawed, the thermal feature retains its original name. Depending on the year and water levels, Bath Lake may actually be just as empty as it is full. Bath Lake experiences dramatic changes in thermal activity, most of which dates back to the destruction of fragile formations during the lake’s early use as a bathtub.
White Elephant Back Terrace
Resembling an elephant’s vertebral column, White Elephant Back Terrace showcases a long mounded ridge unlike most of Yellowstone’s thermal features. Water flow through a large fissure in the earth’s crust created the very old terrace.
Recognized for its brilliant white formations intermingled with colorful bacteria left behind during major thermal activity, Angel Terrace is highly unpredictable. Once dry and brittle, Angel Terrace is now showing new signs of awakening thermal activity.
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