As we look across the landscape It strikes us as still and serene The ground beneath our feet may feel immobile and permanent It is as if the earth were a silent backdrop to our lives, detached from the daily rhythms of our existence This however is an illusion In truth, the earth is never still It is a powerful, unstable place That is always changing Filled with immeasurable beauty and wildness, Yellowstone National Park draws us into our planet’s mystery and gives us a rare opportunity to witness our earth as it really is In Yellowstone, everything is at once ancient and new Geologic forces shape virtually everything that happens here today Hundreds of millions of years ago this land was as flat as the ancient seas that lapped over it As the Rocky Mountains rose, the seas retreated Our restless earth began pushing magma up from deep below Volcanoes pierced the sky forming the rugged and majestic Absaroka Mountains Then, eons later, a series of supervolcanoes exploded The most recent occurring in the heart of Yellowstone was so catastrophic that within a matter of days, perhaps hours, an entire mountain range was obliterated All that remained was a 45 mile wide crater or caldera Today this tranquil landscape hides the caldera So vast that it can be easy to overlook These ancient, and more recent eruptions, have shaped the land we see today

The volcano’s presence still lingers in the soil and influences Yellowstone’s vegetation The older eruptions spewed andesitic lava that has weathered into soil rich with nutrients This soil gives the park its elegant sub-alpine fir and Englemann Spruce forests and exuberant meadows of wildflowers The more recent eruptions oozed rhyolite lava This lava has yielded soil so poor in nutrients That only vegetation as hardy as the spindly Lodgpole Pine can prevail Geology also influences climate and weather patterns in the park Volcanic forces push the Yellowstone Plateau higher than surrounding areas The land then channels storms onto the plateau where they leave up to 12 feet of snowpack Colossal glaciers once formed on this cold, high elevation, burying Yellowstone under as much as 4000 feet of ice These glaciers churned and tilled the land carving gentle U-shaped valleys transporting enormous boulders and leaving behind soil well suited for grasslands These grasslands support large herds of bison and elk Thus past geologic events influence not only today’s plant life but a rich diverse array of wildlife as well These animals live in rhythm with the land (elk bugles twice) and its seasons In spring, Yellowstone’s rivers roar with snowmelt

In places where the rock is hard, and erodes slowly, water bends to the shape of the land Where the rock is softer rivers slice down through the earth and reveal, layered in the walls of Yellowstone’s Grand Canyon a half-million years of geologic history At first Yellowstone may seem alien and mysterious But it is in this very strangeness that we are given a rare window into our planet, its restlessness, its unpredictability It reminds us that buried everywhere beneath the earth’s surface lies an inner raging heat In Yellowstone the magma still lies just a few miles beneath our feet The volcano remains an active force fueling more than 10,000 hydrothermal features More mudpots, fumeroles, hot springs, and geysers than exist in the rest of the world combined We begin to feel the power of our planet at work, at its most elemental, its most visceral, reminding us how fragile life is It is as if we are watching two wildly different worlds collide, the hidden earth of turmoil and the earth of air and life Snowmelt and rain seep down through the rocks to be super-heated and then recycled back to the surface in spectacular convulsions Hot water carries dissolved minerals from deep below to form new rocks before our eyes The hot springs dazzle with radiant blue and may seem cool and inviting but the water bubbling up can be scalding hot or even extremely acidic Despite these harsh conditions single cell micro-organisms life at its most basic thrive here in abundance including archaea, simple organisms believed to be similar to the first forms of life on our planet How ironic, our distant origins occurred in an incubator

where today’s advanced forms of life would perish in an instant The beauty we witness at Yellowstone inspires our imagination We romanticize it and marvel at it We thrill to nature’s stunning colors and patterns Yet what we behold with awe and joy is only temporary, a flicker of an eye in the life of our planet Past and present geologic forces will continue to reshape Yellowstone These forces, usually subtle, occasionally dramatic will inevitably transform all that we see before us, and life, as resilient as ever, will adapt (crickets chirping) At times it may be easier to understand what exists thousands of miles away than what lies only a few miles beneath our feet But here on the earth’s uncertain surface, We witness how deeply life is intertwined with the land, (water pouring over the Lower Falls) as Yellowstone reveals its mysterious beauty