THE YELLOWSTONE BACKCOUNTRY PAGE
UNUSUAL THERMAL AREAS
Natural thermal arches like these are scattered throughout the Yellowstone backcountry. The one on the left is at Sylvan Springs, while the one at the right is along Shallow Creek east of Canyon.
THE FAIRYLAND BASIN
This remote area of nearly 50 ancient thermal cones is located in east-central Yellowstone on the edge of the Mirror Plateau.
It appears that few documented parties have managed to reach this location due to its relative inaccessibility in hardcore canyon country and its downright dangerousness of approach. Park geothermal geologist Rick Hutchinson visited the place in solitary in 1976 (and on at least a half dozen other occasions), and park rescuers retrieved a lost hiker there in 1985, arriving by helicopter. Except for those visits, few historic parties are known to have explored this secluded area until 1992 when Lee Whittlesey, Rocco Paperiello and three others descended into the basin for a thermal survey. In 1994, Paul Rubinstein’s party took the first known videotaped pictures of the area.
The name Fairyland Basin was proposed in 1992 by Yellowstone Park Archivist, Lee H. Whittlesey who fancied the locale to be the enchanted domain of fairies, goblins, gnomes, and hobbits. An account of that trip was published under the title “A Visit to…Fairyland Basin” (GOSA Transactions, 1993, pp. 193-202).
ASTRINGENT CREEK HEADWATERS
This large, unmapped, thermal lake is one of many fascinating features that can be found just to the west of the headwaters of Astringent Creek.
Northwest of the Pelican Valley, near the headwaters of Astringent Creek is an extensive area of unmapped thermal activity. These hot springs are not confined to one area, but rather are spread out over many square miles. What make many of the individual features unique, is that they are distributed in heavy timber. Rarely in the park, will one find so much thermal activity in deep forest cover. This area contains some of the park’s youngest thermal features, with several only a few years old. Others are extremely hot. If any part of Yellowstone contains previously unknown geysers, the headwaters of Astringent Creek would be a likely candidate.
VIOLET SPRINGS AND UPPER OTTER CREEK
Just west and north of the Hayden Valley is a sparse scattering of interesting thermal features. Above Violet Springs are a group of diversified springs and mudpots. They seem to be concentrated in pockets of intense activity throughout the forest, running from north of Highland Hot Springs to north of Violet Springs and up to the headwaters of Otter Creek.
ABOVE MORNING FALLS
The headwaters of the North Fork of Mountain Ash Creek contain some of the most pristine hot springs in Yellowstone. Flowing from the base of the Pitchstone Plateau, these springs are not spectacular in intensity but have a subtlety all their own. They are of particular interest to researchers because of there undisturbed nature. The park does not encourage travel here, in fact they play down that this area contains thermal activity of any kind.
THE CANYON OF LOWER BROAD CREEK
The stretch of Broad Creek between Joseph’s Coat Springs and Fairyland Basin is nearly continuously thermal. Very unusual springs line both sides of the streams. They are characterized by intense colors and steep runoff channels. In addition there are more thermal sites set back in the woods and out of site of the stream. This old growth forest undoubtedly contains many undiscovered springs.
JUNIPER CREEK AND ITS HOT UNNAMED TRIBUTARY
Near the confluence of Juniper and Spruce Creeks is a mapped thermal area that contains several nice hot springs. Upstream from this area is an unnamed, unmapped hot tributary of Juniper Creek that is quite interesting. This unknown stream runs very hot, as it is nearly 100 percent thermal. It is also quite large in water volume. Its origins are from numerous seeps and springs that line its banks about a mile up from where it enters Juniper Creek. The land surrounding this stream was severely burned during the fires of 1988. The area has had such little growth since that it seems like a moonscape in places, thus making the hot creek seem that much hotter.
THE VALLEY OF DEATH
In the southwest corner of Yellowstone is a long flat valley that contains one of the larger, little-known thermal fields in the park. Well-known to researchers this area is at the headwaters of the stream that flows over Silver Scarf Falls. It is extensive, running nearly two miles in length. In 1997, park employee Mike Stevens proposed the name “Valley of Death” for this region of thin crusts and intense, boiling springs. The activity is not limited to just this valley. To the west and south are dozens of pockets of hot spring activity. Many groups can be found on the upper reaches of Boundary Creek, while more springs are southwest of there near the headwaters of Little Robinson Creek.
AN EXTENSIVE AREA WEST OF NORRIS
A great place to search for hidden pockets of hot springs, is north of Sylvan Springs for about three miles. Several unnamed creeks can be found here and all of them have very interesting thermal zones. This scattered activity runs north-south all the way to the headwaters of Winter Creek. Again this section of Yellowstone undoubtedly contains many unsurveyed pockets of activity.
THE GRAND CANYON OF THE YELLOWSTONE
Simply put, the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone is a veritable treasure trove of unsung thermal features. Difficulty of access and park closures have kept many complex, individual features hidden from view at the base of the canyon. A few of the more notable areas include the stretch of canyon just downstream from Silver Cord Cascade, downstream from Seven Mile Hole, and at the junction of Broad Creek and the Yellowstone River.
CASTLE CREEK AND GIBBON HILL
For roughly a three mile radius around Norris Geyser Basin the park is dotted with scores of hot springs, steam vents, and thermal seeps. The Castle Creek drainage is no exception. This stream is dotted with interesting features for at least a mile of its length. When venturing upstream one must use caution as this portion of Yellowstone straddles a bear closure area.
One of my favorites signs in the backcountry. Apparently it was removed sometime in the mid-1990's.
THE YELLOWSTONE BACKCOUNTRY PAGE
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