GRANITE PEAK PUBLICATIONS: Accompanying travelers to the national park since 2002

Late-season thoughts on long-lasting thermal features

Another in the occasional series “My Favorite Hot Springs”

Black Sand Basin, showing Rainbow Pool and Sunset Lake. Click to enlarge!


In any piece I write about Yellowstone, it may be hazardous to say this or that is my favorite. Here is what I committed myself to when I wrote about Black Sand Basin—maybe because in my summer visits I always spend a few days at Old Faithful Village, very nearby. “Black Sand Basin has got to be my favorite easy walk,” I wrote. “In less than a mile of walking you can enjoy a welcoming geyser (Cliff Geyser), which may be erupting as you get out of your car, then Rainbow Pool and Sunset Lake to the north.” (See “Yellowstone gems we all own” for more.)

The above is still valid, but this week, daydreaming about being back in the park, I am mentally picturing the half-mile or so of mostly level walking needed to see all the features at West Thumb Geyser Basin. (There is a short stairway at the far end of the loop.) This walk is surely another favorite of mine but requires a drive of about 19 miles from Old Faithful. It is also a place where I lost track of my husband for about an hour during the last summer he was well enough to travel, but that’s another story.

West Thumb has a lot of the quintessential “bang for the buck.” It is a delightful place to spend an hour or so, not only for its thermal features but also for its beautiful view of Yellowstone Lake. In winter it is just as great a place for a stroll. Unfortunately, it lacks geysers—although Hillside Geyser was active here for a few years earlier this century. There is generous parking, restrooms, and a picnic area for summer lunches.

Starting out past the small information building, when you turn right at the walkway’s intersection, you’ll come to a pair of beautiful hot pools, which used to differ in color and apparent temperature, but in summer 2016 and perhaps before, they overflowed into each other. Other pools that are especially notable include Black Pool, which did used to appear black but became blue when it turned hotter (and even briefly erupted in 1991) and Abyss Pool, one of the park’s deepest, which performed as a geyser as recently as 1992.

All these pools are described and some are pictured in Yellowstone Treasures, fifth edition, pages 140 to 143. Scroll down on the Guidebook page to see what pages 138-39 look like, with a map of Yellowstone Lake’s West Thumb and a photo of Bluebell and Seismograph Pools.

Photo credit: Aerial view of Rainbow Pool and Sunset Lake in Black Sand Basin on Iron Spring Creek by Jim Peaco,
June 22, 2006. Available on the official Yellowstone National Park Flickr page.

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