Sunday, June 13, 2010

Stories from the Road -- Mammoth Hot Springs

People have a morbid curiosity. As I said in my Hot Springs post, death fascinates us. A corollary of death is a hostile place. We are fascinated by land completely unsupportive of life -- well, most life. Land that quite possibly could kill us if we are unprepared. People find harshness beautiful.

We are full of contradictions. We are arrogant in our species superiority, and love reigning supreme in our natural world. And yet we have an obsession with things we cannot control, cannot dominate.

Yellowstone National Park is a hostile place. An alien world. It is a gorgeous world completely foreign to our livable habitat. A land of geysers, hostile weather/climate, and an overwhelming sense of enormity. Humans do not control this place.

I missed Mammoth Hot Springs on my first trip to Yellowstone, but it was my first stop on my second trip. In many ways, this place is my symbol of Yellowstone. A land of unearthly colors, steam, long-dead plants, and a broad horizon.

During my tour of the area, I saw an elk sitting at the edge of the scarred land. It was not very interested in trekking across the hot earth, but I wondered if experience was the reason. The elk stared in the same way as the people standing near it. "If only I could walk out there..."

When you are at Yellowstone, you wonder if such places really exist. Is this a dream? Can our planet really be this hostile, this extraterrestrial? The vast landscape gives the surreal illusion that you are completely alone, completely lost, on a foreign planet. It is an astounding experience.

Yellowstone opens the imagination in these ways. I kept thinking about interplanetary travel, in the (distant) future. I wonder if my thoughts when seeing Yellowstone would be similar, yet magnified, when the first explorers set foot on Mars or whatever planet/moon we land on. Sure, there remain earthly characteristics about Yellowstone -- oxygen (atmosphere), water (bacteria-ridden), life (the elk). Yet, the otherworldly experience I had here had to mirror past explorers and past/current astronauts. Surely...?

The magic of Mammoth Hot Springs is in the colors. Stark whites, browns, and oranges. Underneath a blood blue sky. Scorched trees, steam gently rising, and a darkened ridge to the east. Vibrant contrasts, and monotone horizons. It's a weird, scary, beautiful place. Simple, good things. All hinting of something far greater than ourselves. We want what we cannot control.