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Pictures - Algae, Bacteria and Microorganisms create Amazing Colors in Yellowstone

Updated on September 26, 2016
Peggy W profile image

Visiting national, state & local parks rates high on my wish list when it comes to vacations. Each & every one is distinct & memorable.

Yellowstone photo

Colorful pools of water with steam rising in Yellowstone National Park
Colorful pools of water with steam rising in Yellowstone National Park | Source

Yellowstone National Park

An absolutely amazing artist's palette of colors can be found in Yellowstone National Park all created by Mother Nature assisted by some of her workers consisting of algae and bacteria.

The landscape is like no other place on earth.

The molten magma at the core of the earth is closer to the surface here causing all types of interesting and unusual effects.

In most places on earth the crust is about 90 miles thick before one encounters the magma, but in Yellowstone only about 40 miles separates one from this fiery core component.

Never static, minor earthquakes are frequently felt in Yellowstone and the landscape one sees today will evolve into something different in the future.

This has been an ongoing pattern for eons of time.

From what I have read, the earliest explorer's accounts of what they had found in the land mass which we now call Yellowstone National Park were not believed by listeners.




Yellowstone National Park Photo
Yellowstone National Park Photo | Source

Understandably people were probably very skeptical when being told of intense aqua, orange, brown, yellow, blue and even green colors of water and land that seemed to emerge in this landscape resembling no other.

Putting these surreal descriptions together with the geysers, almost 300 of them, that were intermittently putting on their explosive show and it is no wonder that early explorers to Yellowstone were believed to be telling tall tales of fantasy.

Of course prior to the 1800's the Native American Indians knew of this geothermic area because they had utilized this land for hunting and fishing.

The bison, elk, bears, wolves and other animals that still call Yellowstone home today would have provided sustenance for the Indians.

Chinaman Spring in Yellowstone

Chinaman Spring
Chinaman Spring | Source

As you can tell from the picture shown above regarding the Chinaman Spring, the bubbling and steaming water is simmering at 202 degrees Fahrenheit or 94 degrees Celsius.

Average temperatures of the hot springs in Yellowstone are around 199 degrees Fahrenheit and many varieties of bacteria (which are small one celled organisms) can thrive in that sizzling environment.

Some of these thermophilic bacteria (species that love and live in the hot waters) develop long strands that can become quite colorful.

Emerald Basin in Yellowstone

Emerald Basin
Emerald Basin | Source

Algae are tiny plants that live in water and much of it is also present in Yellowstone adding to the colorful display.

The color of algae is related to water temperature with the light colored algae existing in the hotter springs.

Algae seldom exists in temperatures over 167 degrees Fahrenheit.

Rich minerals that have been liquefied and brought to the surface by the super heated springs also assist Mother Nature in creating brilliant splashes of pigmented coloration within the national park.

Thus the array of bacterium, algae and minerals thriving in this acidic hydrothermal environment help to create this astonishing landscape.

Yellowstone National Park


Old Faithful...

A Ranger's Guide to Yellowstone Day Hikes
A Ranger's Guide to Yellowstone Day Hikes

Yellowstone is so large that it is good to read up ahead of time and know where you wish to spend your time.


Comprising the palette for all of these rainbow colors (in which the bacteria, algae and minerals have done their part) are the ever-present thermal features which include the geysers, mud pots, hot springs and fumaroles.

Most people have probably heard of Old Faithful...the famous geyser within Yellowstone that has been expressing a stream of hot water in regular intermittent fashion for years.

Fumaroles are steam vents that express various gases...some of which are sulfuric in nature giving off that rotten egg smell.

Mud pots are literally mud puddles in which steam comes up from below ground and heats them up making them bubble. If these mud pots also have minerals in them they become very colorful and are labeled Paint Pots for obvious descriptive reasons.

Porcelain Basin in the Norris Geyser Basin rests over a major fault in the earth's crust. This is the most volatile and hottest exposed area on earth!

Colorful Yellowstone National Park


Yellowstone National Park




Many forested areas are within Yellowstone.

But as movements deep within the earth shift, some areas that once had healthy stands of trees give way to the ground becoming saltier and or acidic with hot waters taking its place.

These minerals and other components are drawn up into the tree and it soon loses its battle with life.

Looking at the first picture to the right, one can see a white band around the base of a now lifeless tree that had absorbed nutrients detrimental to its life.

In this environment nothing remains the same forever.

Areas that were once hot and lifeless (except for the bacteria and algae) again become fertile for trees and other plants.

This can also be readily viewed in Yellowstone.



Yellowstone picture


Algae colored pool in Yellowstone


As one walks through these more active geo-thermal areas within Yellowstone National Park, one is admonished to stay on the wooden walkways that have been provided.

This is to ensure one's safety as well as to protect this fragile environment.

Besides...who would wish to take the chance of suddenly being scalded by steam or hot water that might just lie below the surface?

Colorful Yellowstone National Park

Many walk-ways are provided in Yellowstone National Park.
Many walk-ways are provided in Yellowstone National Park. | Source

Wooden walkways in Yellowstone National Park

One is told to stay on the wooden raised passageways.
One is told to stay on the wooden raised passageways. | Source

Wooden walkways in Yellowstone


Yellowstone landscape


Yellowstone scenery

3dRose LLC orn_17291_1 Morning Glory Pool Yellowstone National Park Snowflake Porcelain Hanging Ornament, 3-Inch
3dRose LLC orn_17291_1 Morning Glory Pool Yellowstone National Park Snowflake Porcelain Hanging Ornament, 3-Inch

Great souvenir to have showing the effects of algae in Yellowstone. Your Christmas tree can be a place for memories of your travels...or wish list of places to see for that matter.


First National Park...

Yellowstone was designated as America's very first national park on March 1, 1872 by then President Ulysses S. Grant.

Comprised of 3,384 square miles ( 8,765 square kilometers ) it provides a variety of scenery.

In addition to these colorful geothermal areas pictured here, there is much in the way of wilderness with mountains and valleys.

Hiking, camping, fishing, and / or photography would keep one entertained for as long as one might wish.

Lodging both in and outside the park is available.

Ancient volcanic activity shaped most of Yellowstone.

Learning about Mother Earth from this unique place on the planet can be interesting and fun.

Yellowstone National Park colors

Doesn't this look like an abstract painting?
Doesn't this look like an abstract painting? | Source

Colorful Yellowstone National Park


Have you ever seen these geo-thermal areas in Yellowstone National Park?

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The last photo shown above has scalloped edging around the deeply pigmented pool of water. These are formed from silica deposits that have turned into what is known as geyserite.

The intensity of color depends upon the light, the microorganisms present and the particulates that might be suspended in the water among other things.

Pigments within the microorganisms themselves also account for different coloration.

Hopefully these pictures of the effects of algae and bacteria in Yellowstone will entice you to come and take a look at this amazing color display for yourself someday. There is much more of Yellowstone to see! I'll be looking forward to your comments.

This is the same area from which most of my photos were taken..

Map pinpointing Yellowstone's location...

A markerYellowstone National Park, Wyoming -
Yellowstone National Park, WY 82190, USA
get directions

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5 out of 5 stars from 4 ratings of Amazing colors in Yellowstone National Park

© 2009 Peggy Woods

Comments are welcomed!

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    • Peggy W profile image

      Peggy Woods 2 weeks ago from Houston, Texas

      Hi Rajan,

      I hope your wish to visit Yellowstone National Park comes true someday. It is absolutely amazing!

    • rajan jolly profile image

      Rajan Singh Jolly 2 weeks ago from From Mumbai, presently in Jalandhar,INDIA.

      Awesome display of colors by nature. Would love to visit Yellowstone National Park one day if possible.

    • Peggy W profile image

      Peggy Woods 3 years ago from Houston, Texas

      Hi Roberta,

      It is fun to think what the first explorers must have thought when first seeing sites like this. It is other worldly to be sure!

    • RTalloni profile image

      RTalloni 3 years ago from the short journey

      We live in an amazing world! Very much enjoyed your photos. It's interesting to think of how explorers managed without all of our technology and then of how they were not believed. It would be neat to have heard the conversations… :)

    • Peggy W profile image

      Peggy Woods 5 years ago from Houston, Texas

      Hi sgbrown,

      Glad that I could show you some of the amazing colors in Yellowstone National Park. See my other hub for more information and photos. Hope you can cross Yellowstone off of your bucket list in the near future. Thanks for your comment and votes.

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