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New Gallery — Yellowstone Hot Springs

Updated: Jul 14, 2021

Yellowstone National Park is fertile ground for photographing wildlife and the Grand Landscape, but I found myself gravitating to the more intimate environments of individual hot springs.

On first impression, this could be an aerial image of the Great Salt Lake, a close-up of a petri dish, or an abstract painting. In reality, we are a few feet above a deep hot spring pool on the left and a small powdery blue pool on the right. The greens, blues, and oranges come from pigmented thermophilic bacteria, the powder blue from dissolved salts. Clicking on the photographs will take you to their location in our companion commercial site—Iris Arts. Photo: © Donald J. Rommes

About twenty years ago, Nancy was interviewing park rangers in Yellowstone for her audio guide on Yellowstone National Park. I was mostly along for the ride, but I was also her chauffeur and companion during our 10 day stay. We drove the roads, hiked many of the trails, and visited all of the major attractions of the park. While Nancy was busy interviewing rangers or meeting with park administrators, I was free to photograph.

Having no responsibilities, and a good deal of free time, I really enjoyed myself and exposed a lot of film.

This was, of course, prior to digital cameras. The photos I took were with transparency film—using either my 4x5 Linhof or the Hasselblad camera. With the advent of digital technology, I scanned some of the images and eventually added them to my Lightroom files. Since then, we have visited Yellowstone several more times and the digital files now outnumber the digitized film files.

Geyser basin with water-filled terraces fairly distant from the source of hot water. Most of the color here is from reflected skylight with only a small amount of orange color contributed by bacterial mats. Photo: © Donald J. Rommes

My main photographic interest was on the west side of the park—where the geothermal areas were concentrated. Most of the geyser basins were monochromatic deserts of light=gray volcanic precipitate, called sinter. They are dynamic places, with roaring steam vents, bubbling mud pots, erupting geysers, and shimmering pools of scalding water. Clouds of steam both warm and obscure and the sulfurous scent is a constant reminder that your stay won't be long.

Most interesting to me were the colorful extremophilic bacteria. Many hot springs held boiling water that originated from lava-heated subsurface groundwater. At the spring's surface, and especially where the scalding water flowed out of the spring, the water cooled. As it cooled, heat-tolerant bacteria were able to grow. Certain bacteria, with characteristic pigments, outcompete others at a given temperature. Since water is cooler the further it is from the hot source, bands of similar temperature (isotherms) form. Each band is home to different bacteria. The result is bands of color near the surface of hot springs and similar bands parallel to flowing hot water,

The hot springs are thus interesting geologically, hydrologically, biologically, and photographically.

Enveloping steam, muted colors, no horizon. This photo evokes a sense of mystery and disorientation. All that is missing is the humid warmth of the steam and the potent scent of sulphur. Clicking on the photograph will take you to its location in our companion commercial site—Iris Arts. Photo: © Donald J. Rommes

This gallery is comprised of old and new photographs, from digital cameras and film. Many scenes are abstractions of nature and emphasize form and color and feeling. Close inspection provides more detail about what the subject is, but here, that's less important than what it it is about.

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