Thermophiles are heat loving organisms that have inhabited the earth for almost four billion years. These primitive life forms — algae, bacteria and archaea — thrive in water temperatures up to 167-degrees and their color is dependent on the water temperature in which they live, varying from deep browns to bright green, gold, orange or red. Their formations, called microbial mats, are nothing short of extraordinary and provide an unending canvas to explore by extracting small or large areas into abstract images. At various locations, the water of some deep springs adds an amazing sapphire blue to the palette as well.
One of the most concentrated places for these, and therefore one of the most popular for tourists, is the Grand Chromatic Spring in Midway Geyser Basin. It is a huge, shallow lake of intricate webs of color in various shades and shapes eventually flowing out in an emerald-green creek that cascades over a small rock ledge into the Firehole River. I visited the area on two occasions and each time it was inundated with buses making entry into and exit from the parking area a long and tedious process. Beyond the number of people, the clamor they brought along was nothing short of annoying. It’s one thing to be in a crowd, but another to be in a place that should be revered, humbling those who are there, and yet most are carrying on as though they were at a dance club on the weekend, taking non-stop selfies and almost ignoring their surroundings, placing themselves on the highest pedestal of importance. But that is just my take on the situation and I have never been accused of being in touch with reality, but I tried to ignore the circus and concentrate solely on my photography by zoning out everyone and imagining I was there alone.
The photo at the top of the post illustrates the outflow stream I mentioned earlier, but getting this image in a single shot would have required extreme patience. As it was, the right side was almost always engulfed in steam while the left was mostly as it is seen here. Yet as a single image, most times the right side was just a large blob of white and uninteresting. So I took several images, one of which I thought was good for the left, and then waited patiently until the right side opened up a bit and took another image. I did this several times until I thought I had enough images of the trees on the right side from which to choose and blend into the rest of the scene later at home, which turned out was pretty easy to do.
Color is not restricted to the thermophiles within the hot springs and geyser areas; it can be found among the meadow grasses that surround them as well. They take on a striking rust color and I noticed it even if the water probably lay just below the surface. The combination of those warm tones in the grasses and the cool blues of the sky and water always makes for good separation between the elements and I often found myself drawn to these combinations throughout my time in Yellowstone. The water temperature also had an effect on many of the trees in these areas as well. My first thought was that they died because of the soggy ground, but I learned from Eric Bowles that the roots ended up being cooked by the hot water! The standing snags that remained had a distinctive white color at their base and were dubbed “bobby sox” trees. Amazingly, after meeting him in Grand Teton, I ran into Eric again in Yellowstone leading his group. Just off to the right of the image above, was a small forest of these trees and I spent quite a while trying to create something unique, but never did achieve anything satisfactory there. A friend of mine originally told me about these trees, and she has several striking images of them taken in the winter which I admire greatly. I tried some blurs which never seemed to work, yet when I got home, I realized that I may have been moving the camera in the wrong direction…I should have moved it up instead of down. So I tried to accomplish what I was looking for within the digital darkroom. Below are two of the many shots I took of that small grove without any blurring.
But if you’re looking for color or to create abstracts, then the microbial mats offer an opportunity to get lost inside their world and lose any sense of the passage of time. I found myself there many, many times.