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If it’s true that the great outdoors brings you worlds away from everyday life, then Yellowstone’s Fountain Paint Pot—with its noisy fumaroles, bubbling mudpots, and erupting geysers—may as well be in a different universe. This short hike starts with a visit to Celestine Pool and Silex Spring. Stop and gaze into the striking, turquoise waters that characterize these thermal features, but don’t get too close: these hotties flirt with the boiling point on a daily basis.
From here, follow the boardwalk north to the hike’s namesake: Fountain Paint Pot. A living lesson in geology, the Paint Pot owes much of its gurgling charisma to tiny, heat-loving organisms that convert solid rock into bubbling clay. Past the Paint Pot, the boardwalk swings by the ever-changing Red Spouter (a muddy pool in spring and early summer and a hissing fumarole in late summer and fall).
Next, stroll past Jet Geyser, a spring that propels 20-foot-high blasts of water and steam into the air every few minutes. Finish off the tour at a vantage point offering views of the rainbow-like runoff surrounding the Jelly, Clepsydra and Spasm Geysers. Return to the trailhead by following the boardwalk south back to Waypoint 2 and the parking lot.
MORE PARK INFO: Yellowstone National Park, (307) 344-7381; nps.gov/yell/.
-Mapped by Jeff Chow
- Distance: 1.0
Location: 44.548531, -110.807176
From the Fountain Paint Pot parking lot, head north on the boardwalk. Keep an eye out for coyotes looking for handouts, but remember it’s illegal to feed the animals.
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Just a few steps in, enjoy the deep blues of Celestine Pool. Though the picture of serenity, the pool’s glacial blue hue is deceiving: water temperatures in the pool have been measured at over 200 degrees Fahrenheit.
Location: 44.550249, -110.806016
Next up is Silex Spring, named after the Latin word for silica, which lines the bottom of the spring. Ranging from deep turquoise in the center to hues of Martian red on the fringes, this spring offers a dazzling display of chromatic scope.
Location: 44.550454, -110.806314
Swing by the hike’s namesake: the legendary Fountain Paint Pot. In this mudpot, tiny heat-loving organisms called “thermophiles” convert hydrogen sulfide gas into sulfuric acid, breaking down rocks into clay along the way. Adding water into the mix results in this gurgling cauldron of bubbling mud resembling a giant boiling paint can.
Location: 44.5511055, -110.8061421
Even features as enduring as Yellowstone’s geothermal springs change with the seasons: the Red Spouter is a prime example. During the spring, the Spouter operates as a wet, hot spring, bubbling muddy, orange water (picture tomato soup boiling in a crater on the moon). In the summer and fall, when water is more scarce, the feature operates as a fumarole, piping out white steam from its somewhat cracked and drier surface.
Location: 44.5510175, -110.8082718
Next on the list is Jet Geyser, which echoes the sound of a machine gun when it spouts water into the air. When it’s on, it’s on: During its active period, the Jet shoots water and steam 20 feet into the air every few minutes.
Location: 44.5509755, -110.8086258
From this vantage point, look out onto the barren landscape surroundng Jelly, Clepsydra and Spasm Geysers. The yellows and greens in the geyser runoff signify the presence of thriving microorganism communities. A prime example of micro-climates, this wonderful display of colors can only exist in the intense heat surrounding these thermal features. Keep your eye out for the Clepsydra Geyser in particular: it literally explodes to heights of 45 feet when active. Head south to complete the loop and return to the trailhead.
Location: 44.5499552, -110.8069047
Fountain Paint Pot
Location: 44.5504715, -110.8063349
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