Mammoth Hot Springs
( Originally Published 1900 )
This extraordinary region was first made known in a way in 1807. A hunter named Coulter visited it, and getting safely back to civilization, he told such wonderful stories of the hot springs and geysers that the unbelieving borderers, in derision, called it "Coulter's Hell." Others visited it subsequently, but their remarkable tales were generally regarded as romances. The first thorough exploration was made by Prof. Hayden's scientific party for the Government in 1871, and his report led Congress to re-serve it as a public Park. The visitor generally first enters the Park at the Mammoth Hot Springs, which are near the northern verge of the broad central plateau. Here are the wonderful terraces built up by the earlier calcareous deposits of these Springs, covering an area of several square miles, and in the present active operations about two hundred acres, With a dozen or more terraces, and some seventy flowing springs, the temperature of the water rising to 1650. The lower terrace extends to the edge of the gorge of Gardiner River, with high mountain peaks beyond. The hotel is built on one of the ter-races, with yawning caves and the craters of extinct geysers at several places in front. The higher ter-races rise in white, streaked with brown and other tints, as the overflowing, trickling waters may have colored them. The best idea that can be got of this place is by conjuring up the popular impression of the infernal regions with an ample stock of heat and brimstone. For a long distance, rising from the top of the gorge of Gardiner River westward in successive terraces to a height of a thousand feet above the stream, the entire surface is underlaid with sulphur, subterranean fires, boiling water and steam, which make their way out in many places. The earth has been cracked by the heat into fissures, within which the waters can be heard boiling and running down below, and everything on the surface which can be, is burnt up. Almost every crevice exudes steam and hot water; sulphur hangs in stalactites from the caves; and in. some places the odors are nearly overpowering. It is no wonder the Indians avoided this forbidding region, and that the tales told by the early explorers were disbelieved. Yet it is as attractive as it is startling. The hot springs form shallow pools, where the waters run daintily over their rim-like edges, trickling down upon terrace after terrace, forming the most beautiful shapes of columns, towers and coral decorations from the lime deposits, and painting them with delicious coloring in red, brown, green, yellow, blue and pink. So long as the waters run, this decoration continues, but when the flow ceases, the atmosphere turns everything white, and the more delicate formations crumble. The whole of this massive structure has been built up by ages of the steady though minute deposits of the waters, the rate being estimated at about one-sixteenth of an inch in four clays. The rocks upon which these calcareous deposits are made belong to the middle and lower Cretaceous and Jurassic formations, with probably carboniferous limestones beneath that put the deposits in the waters. A dozen different terraces can be traced successively upward from the river bank to the highest part of the formation. Two cones of extinct geysers rise from the deposits, near the hotel, the Liberty Cap, forty-five feet high, and the Giant's Thumb, somewhat smaller, both having been built up by the deposits from orifices still seen in their tops, whence the waters have ceased flowing. All these springs, as deposits are made, shift their locality, so that the scene gradually changes as the ages pass.
In climbing about this remarkable formation, some of the most beautiful bits of construction and coloring nature has ever produced are disclosed. The Orange Geyser has its sides streaked with orange, yellow and red from the little wavelets slowly trick-ling out of the steaming spring at the top, which goes off at quick intervals like the exhaust of a steam-engine.' At the Stalactite Cave the flowing waters add green to the other colors, and also scale the rocks in places like the back of a fish, while below bang stalactites with water dropping from them. The roof of the cave is full of beautiful formations. The water is very hot when it starts from the top, but becomes quite cold when it has finished its journey down. One of the finest formations is Cleopatra's Bath, with Cupid's Cave beneath, the way to them being through Antony's Gate, all built up of the de-posits. Here rich coloring is painted on the rocks, with hot water and steam amply supplied to the bath, which has 154° temperature at the outer verge. All the springs form flat basins with turned-up edges, over which the waters flow, and trickling down the front of the terrace, paint it. When the flow ceases, and the surface has been made snowy white by the atmosphere, it becomes a spongy and beautiful coral, crumbling when touched, and into which the foot sinks when walked upon. The aggregation of the currents run in streams over terrace after terrace, spread out to the width of hundreds of. feet, painting them all, and then seeking the Gardiner River, flowing through a deep gorge in front of the formation. Everything subjected to the overflow of these cur-rents gets coated by the deposits, so that visitors have many small articles coated to carry away as curiosities.
Among the many beautiful formations made by these Hot Springs, the most elaborate and ornamental are the Pulpit Terraces. These are a sue-cession of magnificent terraces, fifty feet high, with beautifully colored columnar supports. There is a large pulpit, and in front, on a lower level, the font, with the water running over its edges. The pulpit, having been formed by a spring that has ceased action, is white, while the font is streaked in red and brown. Finely carved vases filled with water stand below, and alongside the pulpit there is an inclined surface, whitened and spread in wrinkles like the drifted snow, which requires very little imagination to picture as a magnificent curtain. Beyond is 'a blackened border like a second curtain, the coloring being made by a spring impregnated with arsenic. In front of this gorgeous display the surface is hot and cracked into fissures, with bubbling streams of steaming water running through it, and great pools fuming into new basins with turned-up edges, over which the hot water runs. Upon one of these pools seems to be a deposit of transparent gelatine, looking like the albumen of an egg, streaked into fantastie shapes by elongated bubbles. Everywhere are surfaces, over which the water runs, that are covered with regular formations like fish scales. It is impossible to adequately describe this extraordinary place, combining the supposed peculiarities and terrors of the infernal regions with the most beautiful forms and colors in decoration. The great hill made by these Hot Springs was, from its prevailing color, named the White Mountain by Hayden. The springs extend all the way down to the river bank, and there are some even in the river bed. It is a common experiment of the angler -to hook a small fish in the cold water of the river, and then, without changing position, to swing him on the hook over into the basin of one of these hot springs to cook him. The formation of the terraces is wedge-shaped, and runs up into a gulch between the higher mountains, which have pines scattered over them, and also grow some grass in sheltered nooks. It is said that the volume of the springs is gradually diminishing.