Yellowstone Discovery: The Golden Gate

Leaving Norris Geyser Basin, we are heading north on the Grand Loop Road back towards Mammoth Hot Springs.

This twenty-one mile stretch of road is dotted with scenery and geology.

Stop one, just north of Norris – you’ll discover Frying Pan Spring on the right side of the road and Nymph Spring on the left.

  • Frying Pan Spring: Shallow springs bubble with hydrogen sulphide gas that you smell as you drive by.
  • Nymph Lake is so acidic from hot spring activity on its bottom and shores that no fish can live in its waters.

One of my favorite features in Yellowstone is Roaring Mountain which sizzles. The mountain started ‘erupting’ with fumarole activity in 1902 and was so loud it could be heard for several miles like thunder until the 1920s. The volcanism isn’t as strong now- but roaring mountain still roars with dozens of fumaroles constantly hissing and releasing steam. It reminds me of something out of a fantasy novel like ‘The Lord of the Rings.’

Roaring Mountain (credi Wiki)

Several popular trailheads are in this vicinity – including Solfatara Trailhead and Grizzly Lake.

Obsidian Cliff and the Sheepeater areas are must stops.

Obsidian is a volcanic glass that is formed when lava extruded from a volcano cools rapidly with minimal crystal growth. It is an igneous rock.

Obsidian Cliff is unique because most obsidian occurs as small rocks amid other formations, but Obsidian Cliff has an exposed vertical thickness of about 98 feet. It is literally a mountain of glass.

Obsidian was first quarried from this cliff for toolmaking more than 11,000 years ago.

This cliff is the United States’ most widely dispersed source of obsidian by hunter-gatherers. It is found along trade routes from western Canada to Ohio.

It is the United States’ most widely dispersed source of obsidian by hunter-gatherers.

Obsidian Cliff is the primary source of obsidian in a large concentration of Midwestern sites, including about 90% of obsidian found in Hopewell mortuary sites in the Ohio River Valley (about 1,850–1,750 years ago).

Nearby Sheepeater Cliff is a favorite picnic spot at the edge of Sheepeater Canyon.

The cliff is a unique geologic feature formed by alava flowthat solidified to columnar basalt. The cliff was named for a small group of Shoshone who lived here before Yellowstone became a park. You can learn more about the 11,000 year human history of Yellowstone here.

Sheepeater Cliffs-NPS

Just before you reach Mammoth, visitors are treated to the glory of Yellowstone’s Golden Gate. This rock canyon etched by volcanism and time appears like golden – a brilliant array of colors.

Golden Gate is one of the most breathtaking spots in Yellowstone. If you are driving south from Mammoth it is literally a ‘golden’ door into the rest of the park.

Rustic Falls cascade seventy-four feet over the canyon walls. Mountain Goats frequent this spot. I’ve seen eagles there as well.

Rustic Falls was an interesting little 47ft roadside waterfall that rippled over a basalt

Rustic Falls at Golden Gate

Next up we are going to explore Yellowstone’s Lower Loop- starting at West Yellowstone, MT.

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