We are on an all-American road trip out west. Are you traveling to Yellowstone National Park? The Artists Paint Pots offers an interesting hike to a thermal area in the park where some really cool geothermal activity is taking place just north of Gibbon Falls.
Be careful with children when you visit the Artists Paint Pots. The water bubbling and boiling to the surface is near boiling temperatures and will burn you badly. Plus there are about four signs along the way to stay on the path because there can be a thin layer of weak ground above hot water and you could break through and burn yourself. We borrowed a CD of park information for the car ride to help teach the kids about Yellowstone. The CD was great, but, one of the first chapters we listened to was about how guys who either fell or jumped into boiling ponds and died really awful deaths like boiling to death and watching their skin fall of their bodies. So the kids are totally terrified of half the park now.
The Artists Paint Pots got their name from their different colors of mud and water. The different colors come from the different bacteria that lives in the pond. These bacteria are called extremofiles as they can withstand very high heat and acidic conditions. Pools that are a deep blue are nearly pure water, while other colors indicate whether a hole is caustic or acidic and to what degree. For more information on the site, visit http://www.nps.gov/yell/photosmultimedia/0009artistpaintpots-iy.htm
Mud pots form up on the hill because less water can reach that area so the mud isn’t washed away. In this case, the result is that sulfur is eaten by one of the bacteria, which produces sulfuric acid that reacts chemically with the rock and melts it into the mud.
There is a really neat stand of trees on the left side of the trail as you walk to the Artist Paint Pots. Minerals (I think I heard it was silica) from the area flooded the trees and plugged the base of the trees killing them and making their bases white.
You may also notice some charred trees as well. That is because this area burned in the forest fires of 1988. We really enjoyed this hike and the site of Artists Paint Pots itslef. We highly recommend you make this one of your stops as well.