March 1, 2010

Happy Birthday, Yellowstone!

Yellowstone National Park was the first national park in the world. Established on this date in 1872, it features a beautiful lake, forests, a “Grand” canyon, waterfalls, exciting wildlife such as bison and bears, and lots and lots of fascinating thermal activity.

There are
rainbow-colored hot springs, steaming rivers and lakes, mud volcanoes, several thousand steam vents, and from 300 to 500 geysers— more than half of all the geysers in the world!

Yellowstone is mostly in the state of Wyoming, but parts spill over into Idaho and Montana. It is well worth even a long trek to see it!

Caldera is the largest supervolcano in North America and one of the largest in the world. A caldera is a large crater formed by a volcanic explosion or by the collapse of a volcanic cone. Most people think of a volcano as a mountain that sometimes blows its top; Mount Saint Helens in Washingon with its 2-square-mile crater is a good example of that “typical” volcano. Yellowstone Caldera, which hasn't had a major eruption for hundreds of thousands of years, is a giant depression—but it, too, can be defined as a crater—all 1,500 square miles of it!

According to the U.S. National Park Service, fully half of the world's geothermal features (such as mud pots and geysers) are in Yellowstone. With 10,000 different features, no website can possibly show them all, but Terra Galleria has a lot of beautiful images. (After enjoying the thumbnails, and perhaps clicking your favorites to see a larger version, be sure to explore all the pages, especially the “large format photos” and “panoramic photos” pages!)

There are several so-called virtual tours of Yellowstone on the internet. Mountain Visions' virtual tours have 360-degree views and sound. The National Park's website has an informative slide-show type “virtual tour” of one of the geyser basins.

Watch geysers erupt on Yellowstone's webcams.

Make a “geyser” at home! has an activity with soda and Mentos. Be sure to point out to your kids that what is going on in this activity is in no way related to actual geysers, which are created by hot water under pressure! (Also, the article says that diet soda works better than sugary soda; I wanted to add that diet soda is also FAR less sticky than “regular”!)

Watch an animation about geysers.

More than just geysers!
Other features at Yellowstone include hot springs and fumaroles. A fumarole is a hole from which steam and other (sometimes stinky) gases escape. At the Home Science Tools website, there are experiments to find out more about hot springs and fumaroles. BE SURE to read the entire instructions and follow those instructions carefully WITH AN ADULT! (Scroll down around halfway down the page to see the instructions.)