Yellowstone Discovery: Mud Volcano and Hayden Valley

Hayden Valley

Driving Northwest from the peaceful tranquility of Yellowstone Lake and the Lake Hotel we enter the Mud Volcao district.

As a fan of Tolkien – I always imagine this transition from the Lake Country into the sulphurous caldrons of Mud Volcano like Frodo stepping into Mordor. Granted this section of Yellowstone is gorgeous and unique – but the stench of sulfur and the rumbling of muddy acidic water ready to burst feels like this is where dark and light collide in a mythical fashion.

Mud Volcano is a few miles from the Lake Hotel on the Lower Loop/Grand Loop Road.

Hidden amid the thick forested hillsides – steam so thick with stench it takes brave travelers to park and hike the boardwalk/paved Mud Volcano trail.

Trust me it is worth the stop – and this is one of the most ‘explosive’ spots on the lower loop.

Yellowstone is an active volcano – crafted by millions of years of volcanism, erosion and God’s masterwork. Yellowstone’s thermal areas are where the past and present converge – each basin and thermal feature a window into the Yellowstone volcano.

When we think of volcanoes we often imagine Hawaii volcanoes bursting with fiery lava and pumice strewn black rock – or perhaps the legacy of Mt. St Helens.

Yellowstone has endured the traditional ‘cone’ eruptions in its past, but today – Yellowstone’s volcano lies in an active caldera, powered by a subterranean hotspot. This gives us the unique opportunity to learn and observe volcanism and experience how earth’s eruptive past/present can create the brilliant natural wonder

From a spiritual side, I think about all the pain and hardship this earth went through to create something as beautiful as a canyon – it puts things into perspective!

Throughout history, Yellowstone’s caldera fills and builds as a ‘resurgent dome’ only to erupt and collapse again. Mud Volcano is close to one of the resurgent domes – areas of active ground deformation where land moves up or down with the fluctation of the magma chamber below. Scientist monitor this activity closely to learn more about ongoing volcanic activity in YNP.

The hills you see east of Mud Volcano comprise Sour Creek Dome.

Don’t worry though – this may be dangerous terrain, but if you stay on the approved trail you’ll safely be able to experience Mud Volcano.

Mud Volcano is defined by its rotten egg scent of hydrogen sulfide gas.

The trail is a.6 mile loop with several interlooping trails to thermal features including:

Mud Volcano: a gaseous erupting muddy ‘volcano’ – watery clay and gas bubble and erupt constantly from a cavern backdrop.

Dragon’s Mouth Spring

Black Dragon’s Cauldron: is a boiling mud pot, similar to the Mud Volcano

Sulphur Caldron: is one of the most acidic hot springs in Yellowstone. Has a pH of 1-2, which is similar to battery acid or stomach fluids.

NPS website – Sulphur

Leaving Mud Volcano, we drive west towards the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone. The sulphuric smells of rotten eggs dissipate as we enter the glorious Hayden Valley.

The Hayden Valley (along with The Lamar Valley) is one of the best spots in the park to view wildlife.

This sweeping river valley is cut by the Yellowstone and is marked by rich colors of greens, burnt umber, sage and golden grass. Every time I’ve every driven through The Hayden Valley, I’ve had to put the car in park, waiting my turn during Bison road crossings. Yellowstone is the only place in the US that bison have lived since prehistoric times (continuously)

Don’t be in a rush – your dinner reservations at Canyon Village will still be there – just enjoy the view and allow wildlife to roam free.

I love visiting The Hayden Valley just before dusk. The sunsets are marvelous here and there is an unspoken quiet as night draws near.

To learn more about The Hayden Valley click here.

I hope you have enjoyed our tour of Yellowstone’s Upper and Lower Loops…

I will continue to blog about Yellowstone Country as we celebrate 150 years of Yellowstone National Park (2022).

Our next Yellowstone adventure? We’ll meander south from West Thumb Geyser Basin to Yellowstone’s southern entrance at Grand Teton National Park.

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