Afar depression hot spring; photo by George Steinmetz/Nat Geo Photo of the Day
Fifteen or so years ago L. and her friend S. motored over from Wisconsin to pick up me and my friend J. on the way to Wyoming and the Tetons.
Our first day’s drive we made it to Devils Tower (bad name, cool feature) and celebrated by breaking out a six-pack on our way to the campsite. We toured the base the following morning, crabby on instant coffee, then broke camp and hied on over to Yellowstone.
Yellowstone is a massive park full of curious and foolish people. (An example: You are given brochures at the entrance to the park warning you to stay away from the bison. They are as large as a small Honda and can go as fast, one of them said. And probably something about them not being pets. So what do curious and foolish people do? Instead of using their telephoto lens, they crawl under or over the fence to approach the bison.)
(Another example: we decided to pass a slow-moving RV on one of the few stretches of straight road. There were cars from the other direction heading for us. Our car was a small and old Honda without much pick-up. Nonetheless, we floored it, with all of us leaning forward screaming GoGoGoGoGoGoGoGoGoGoGoGoGooooooooooo! in an effort to give the little sedan a little oomph and scoot in front of the RV before we smashed into the oncoming cars.)
(No curiosity; just foolishness.)
Anyway, there’s a lot that’s cliched about Yellowstone and yeah, Old Faithful is cool and all but, y’know, the effect can be replicated by a machine.
What would be far harder to replicate, however, would be the sulfur pits (or, more accurately, the Artist Paint Pots). It looked like something out of a sci-fi flick or a recreation of what the earth might have looked like a million years ago. There was a crack in the planet and its history poured forth into the present.
Standing there, amidst the stench and steam and mud bubbles popping, I knew how small I was, how small this life was, and what a gift it was to witness the vastness of time stretched across the universe, catching us all up within it.
These hot springs, emerging out of the Afar depression gashed across east Africa, took me back to that moment, caught me back up in the yawn of time.
Make sure to read the story, by Virginia Morell, and click through the rest of Steinmetz’s photos.