Saturday, January 16, 2016

Artist Paint Pot Trail heads past mudpots

Mudpot along Artist Paint Pot Trail. Photo courtesy of Yellowstone NPS.
Topo map, Artists Paint Pot Trail

Yellowstone route heads through burned forest

A trail that looks like its out of an alien world – beginning in burned out trees then winding through a thermal area boasting multicolored hot springs, a geysers and bubbling mudpots – awaits on the Artist Paint Pot Trail in Yellowstone National Park.

The 1-mile round trip sits in the popular Gibbon Geyser Basin. To reach the trailhead, from Norris Junction, Wyo., take the Grand Loop Road (U.S. Hwy 89) about 4.5 miles south. An access road on the highway’s east side leads to a parking lot. The trail starts on the lot’s southeast corner.

The first portion of the trail is a stem across Gibbons Meadows amid remains of the 1988 forest fire, the largest in Yellowstone’s recorded history. The trunks of burned out lodgepole pines remain, but the understory is green with shrubs and young trees.

On the loop
A few geothermal features can be seen through the burned out trees. The up-close highlights of the trail, though, begins with the loop.

On the loop, multicolored mud pots, colored mostly pink, orange, rust, beige and slate, are abundant. They bubble and gurgle and even spit up mud. Here’s what they sound like.

Mudpots form when highly acidic hot water shooting up through cracks in the ground dissolve the rock into clay. Microorganisms that prefer these extreme environments also contribute to the rock’s the dissolution.

The thickness of the mudpots changes through the year. When thickest – usually in late summer – mud can fly up to 15 feet in the air and mud cones will form.

Paintpot Hill
On the southernmost part of the loop, the trail climbs about 80 feet up the side of Paintpot Hill to give great views of the geothermal features below. There are mudpots on the hillside, too, and a few spur trails via boardwalks head into them.

Paintpot Hill makes for a fantastic backdrop to the trail. Its summit sits at 8045 feet, a good 600 feet above the geothermal features.

When the loop reaches the stem trail, retrace your steps to the parking lot.

Notes: In the past, the area was called the Devil’s Paint Pots, and some guides and maps still refer to it as such. Always stay on the trail, as the geothermal features can burn skin.

Learn about trail guidebooks available in the Hittin’ the Trail series.