Wednesday, April 18, 2018

Calcite Springs - Yellowstone National Park

Calcite Springs themselves are small thermal springs at the base of a cliff.  You view them from far away and they aren't all that interesting. But the whole landscape on display at the Calcite Springs View Point is interesting. You can look into a section of the Yellowstone river canyon and see millions of years of geologic history displayed in distinct and prominent layers.

Location: The Calcite Springs Parking Area is located on the eastern side of the upper loop of the Grand Loop Road.  The area is 1 mile southeast of Roosevelt Lodge.  And 1 mile from Tower Fall.

Hiking Distance and Time: This is a short boardwalk trail that is less than 1000 feet.  You can walk the whole distance in about 15 minutes.

Open Season: The road between Roosevelt and Tower Falls generally opens the second week of May.  In 2018 it is scheduled to open May 11.  It closes again in mid-October.

Date of Visit: Monday June 12, 2017

In the summer of 2017 I received a job with Xanterra Parks and Resorts in Yellowstone National Park. I moved there with my husband and our four young children. We lived in a 25 foot RV and spent all our free time exploring the park. This is the 21st of many posts that I will write about specific features within Yellowstone National Park. At first these aren't going to be in any particular order, but in a few months I'll start grouping them into lists. This one would probably fit into a list such as most interesting boardwalk trails in the park.



The first time I visited Yellowstone I was 17 years old. My parents took me and my four siblings to on a family vacation to the park in the summer of 2002. We were there for a week and drove all over the park. On one particular day we drove from our campsite at Bridge Bay Campground north all the way to the Petrified Tree.  We stopped to see the waterfalls in the Canyon Area before continuing over the Dunraven Pass and into the Tower/Roosevelt Area.

I remember a few things about that drive.  1. We missed the parking area for Tower Fall and I felt bad that we didn't get to see the waterfall,  2. The Petrified Tree was a huge disappointment surrounded by an over-crowded parking lot, and 3. I  remember walking along a paved trail on the edge of a strange canyon that had vertical lava columns embedded between layers of rock.

After we left Yellowstone I sometimes thought about that canyon and wondered where exactly it was.  On subsequent visits to the park I didn't have time to go to the Tower/Roosevelt Area to look for it.  And over time I forgot all about the canyon.

A few weeks after we moved to Yellowstone my family was driving on the section of the Grand Loop road between Tower Fall and Roosevelt Lodge.  We stopped at a place called Calcite Springs.  We walked around and I found myself on the edge of that canyon looking at the strange lava columns.  My memories from that long ago trip came back to me.  "I remember this place!" I told my family excitedly.  "We came here when I was a teenager!"

This was one of the few places in the park that I hadn't seen since I was a teenager.  Seeing this canyon brought back memories of driving around with my family in our 15 passenger white van.  My mom is from Indiana and she doesn't like driving on mountain roads.  When she reflects on our visit to Yellowstone she often says, "we were driving up and down mountains on these skinny two lane roads."  I like to tell her that that skinny two lane road over a mountain became part of my commute to work when I lived in Yellowstone.

Anyway, here is a picture of those vertical columns of lava.  They are near the top of the canyon.  The pillar shaped rock underneath the lava column layer is made of volcanic rock.  The rock on top is glacial till.
Here is what the lava columns look like up close.  This picture was taken from a pull out between Tower Falls and Calcite Springs.  The odd shape of the lava is an indication of how quickly the molten rock cooled.
The interesting lava layer isn't the only feature you can see from Calcite Springs.  The area is on a butte of sorts and so you get a great view of the surrounding areas.  To the north you can see the Yellowstone River make a sweeping curve around another butte.  On a cold day you can make out the puffs of steam coming from Calcite Springs near the edge of the river.
We posed for a rare family picture in front of one of the overlooks.  We aren't very good at family pictures.
The boardwalks in the Calcite Springs area aren't very long. They are less than 1000 feet total.  One option takes you to the top of the butte, this option has some stairs.  There is also a shorter stair-less trail for strollers and wheelchairs.
Here is the view looking south. The Tower Falls area of the river is just around the corner.  
We stopped in this area several other times throughout the summer.  I always through about what it felt like to see this canyon for the first time all those years ago. I think this canyon is one of the reasons I loved Yellowstone as a teenager. I was glad I could find it again as an adult.

Recommendation: Calcite Springs is a great overlook that gives you an amazing view without much effort. Make sure to stop here when you are passing between Tower Falls and Roosevelt Lodge.

Directions: The Calcite Springs Parking Area is located 1 mile southeast of Roosevelt Lodge, and 1 mile from Tower Fall.  There is no trail between Roosevelt Lodge and Tower Falls so will need to drive there.  The parking lot is fairly large, but parking can get a little harry here between the hours of 10:00 and 5:00 so you may not be able to get a parking spot if you are here during those times.  The good news is that spots open up pretty fast since the trail isn't that long.


Places Nearby: Tower Fall is just 1 mile south of Calcite Springs.  If the parking lot is clear then Tower Falls is worth a stop.  But if it's a traffic nightmare (which it usually is between 10:00 and 5:00) just keep going.  You aren't missing much if you don't see Tower Fall.  The same goes for the Petrified Tree which is 3 miles from Calcite Springs.

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I would love to hear what you think. Did I get it right, or was I dead wrong? What was your experience like?

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