You’ll see unique sights if you visit Hot Springs State Park in central Wyoming. Unlike other state parks in Wyoming, entrance to this park, located in the city of Thermopolis, is free. I’ve included a map of this day-use park at the end of this post.
History of the park
In 1897, Big Horn Hot Springs State Reserve became Wyoming’s first state park. The park, now called Hot Springs State Park, has always been famous for its therapeutic mineral hot springs.
On the iconic Monument Hill, you’ll see the words “World’s Largest Mineral Hot Springs” in large white letters.
Visitors can enjoy unique attractions at Dinosaur National Monument in Utah and Colorado. While visiting here, I found myself constantly shifting my field of view to things above and below me. Colorful tilting rocks in vast landscapes showed geology in action. Petroglyphs and pictographs told stories of Indigenous people from long ago. An amazing collection of dinosaur fossils took me even further back in time.
The Monument also includes places to hike, fish, river raft, picnic, and camp. There’s a visitor center in Utah, and another in Colorado.
The small Visitor Center in Utah features informational exhibits and a store.
Earlier this month, we took a long journey to go fishing for fossils in Wyoming. We had reservations for June 2, but thunderstorms dumped rain on the site and the owners shut it down. The last seven miles of the dirt road to the quarry turn into a slippery mess during rainstorms. We drove to our next destination in Vernal, Utah and returned to dig fossils the next day.
The FishDig Quarry is north of Kemmerer in southwest Wyoming. Visitors can make reservations ahead of time or just show up. FishDig opened for the season a week before we arrived. Be sure to check their website for hours and fees.
When you arrive at the site, you’re given advice on what to look for and how to split the rock. The helpful staff will try to identify things if you ask. Unlike other fossil-digging sites nearby, you get to keep everything you dig–-except for pieces worth $100,000 or more. In those cases, the owners keep 50% of the value.
A rock hammer and chisel are provided for free. They will cut your rocks down to more manageable sizes for no charge. As I’ve mentioned before, rocks are heavy so having less bulk to transport is helpful. Note, they do not provide anything for you to carry your fossils home in. Bring boxes and something to wrap them in, like bubble wrap or newspaper.
I call this a double yolk thunderegg because two of these round rocks formed together. Thundereggs are Oregon’s state rock. You never know what’s inside until they’re cut open, like this one, or already cracked open.
This double yolk thunderegg is from Richardson’s Rock Ranch, north of Madras, Oregon. Though you can no longer dig there, you can purchase cut, polished, and raw rocks of many kinds from their large store.
If you want to dig for thundereggs, visit Priday Polka-Dot Agate Beds, about 9 miles northeast of Richardson’s. See my post about this amazing place if you want to uncover ENORMOUS thundereggs.
Could this be a pickled herring fossil? I got this fossil from my mom and don’t know anything about it’s history. It looks like the herring fish pictured on this Green River Fossil site. Though I was hoping it was something rare, fossils of this small fish are common.
The Green River Formation, located in parts of Colorado, Wyoming, and Utah, is one of the best places to find fish fossils in the world.
This and that rock from Fischer Canyon, Oregon. According to the Central Oregon rockhounding map, published by the Bureau of Land Management, you can find petrified wood, jasper, and agate here. Other sources list calcite and quartz as being at this site.
This small conglomerate includes several types of rock that merged together.
Last month, we collected petrified wood bits from Bear Creek, south of Prineville Reservoir in Oregon. The following pieces are one inch or less in size. Getting decent photographs of these tiny stones proved to be a challenge.
I set up a tabletop studio and tried a Panasonic Lumix and a Galaxy Ultra phone camera. I had to keep adjusting the spotlights outside of the studio. Each stone was given a quick spritz of water to bring out their color. After many unsuccessful attempts with both cameras, I finally got some good shots with the Panasonic.
A couple days ago, we went on a Lower Crooked River drive. We were there early in the morning, attempting to avoid an incoming storm system. I remembered I had been there about a year earlier for an afternoon drive. How would the lighting differ in the photos taken on both trips?
This post highlights the 8-mile section between Prineville Reservoir and Castle Rock. See map at the end of the post. On this drive, the curving lines of the road and river contrast with the straight lines of geological features.
A morning drive
As we drove north from the reservoir, shadows covered the east side of the road. The morning light cast a warm glow over the canyon lands.
When I drove the highway west of Cody, Wyoming, I saw stories unfolding in rock formations along the road.
The short paved trail in the photo below takes you to a place of wonderment along the North Fork Shoshone River.
Stories unfolding from a distance
The rock formations along the ridgetop are a village of homes with a view carved by the common folk. At one time, the richest man in town lived in a round home atop the tallest tower. He bragged about his wealth to anyone who would listen. One day, he danced with glee around and around inside the house. It fell to the ground, but he survived. From then on, he lived a humble life in a square home and he never danced again.
Sheep Mountain is a distinctive landmark about 15 miles southwest of Cody.
This is a beautiful piece of stilbite up close. Specimens like these, from the stilbite subgroup, can be found near Mill Creek, Polk County, Oregon. The crystals on this mineral are gorgeous, but I also like the parallel lines surrounding the cavity in this piece.
Here’s a picture of a piece of polished labradorite up close. This feldspar mineral has a unique appearance. Its iridescence catches your attention and is referred to as “labradorescence.” I like holding a piece with a lot of color and tilting it to see different colors in the light. The parallel lines of color within the stone, the twinning surfaces, reflect the light.
Here is Mud Volcano, located at the base of the trail. It used to have a 30-foot tall volcanic cone. Albert C. Peale, a member of the 1871 Hayden Geological Survey, noted, “The trees all about this place are coated with mud showing that it throws out mud sometimes to a considerable height.”
However, sometime prior to the area being designated a National Park in 1872, the cone blew up in an eruption. This area is still worth a visit. The rumbling sounds, smell of sulfur, and various thermal features make it a treat for the senses.
Here’s a closer look at the cracked mud around the base of Mud Volcano.
The 0.7-mile trail includes these stairs that take you up to Black Dragon’s Cauldron and the Sizzling Basin. They certainly came up with some interesting names for these thermal features!
This post includes photos of smaller-sized special somethings collected over the years.
Special somethings discovered
The first photo shows a radiator cap from a 1928 Pontiac. We found it buried in the forest where we used to live. The Indian brave sculpture is so detailed!
The next photo shows a picture of my favorite salt & pepper shakers. This pair was found in an antique store in Snohomish, Washington. I’m not sure what year these were made, but they look like Depression-era glassware.
Things from the earth
The next photo shows a piece of black obsidian. I found this piece at Glass Buttes, about an hour east of Bend, Oregon. This rock has radiating curves that developed as it cooled thousands of years ago.
This observatory of the past is on McKenzie Pass near Sisters, Oregon. Dee Wright Observatory was built in 1935 by the Civilian Conservation Corps to showcase the human and geological history of this location. The round tower sits atop a small hill.
Here’s what it looks like when you approach it from the west. It’s one of the odder roadside attractions in Oregon but one that should not be missed.
The Observatory is constructed of local lava rock. The triangular-shaped rail supports look like rock cairns.
Today I’m featuring views of Oregon mountains from afar. We’re lucky to have wide open views of these landmarks.
The first picture shows a view of the iconic Cascade Volcanoes west of Bend, Oregon. From left to right you can see Broken Top, South Sister, Middle Sister, North Sister, Black Crater, Mount Washington, Three Fingered Jack, Black Butte, and Mount Jefferson. Visitor can drive scenic roads, hike, rock climb, bike, go boating, fish, hunt, and nature watch around these peaks. This map helps you find the activities you’re looking for.
The second picture shows mountains east of Terrebonne, Oregon. The highest peak is Gray Butte, where I’ve seen lots of stunning wildflowers in the spring. At the base of the mountains, on the left side, you can find Smith Rock State Park. This park is a destination for rock climbers and hikers from around the world.
We just returned from a trip to Yellowstone National Park and the Norris geysers were spectacular, as always. Some of the geysers are big and showy; others are small but still impressive.
The picture below is of Steamboat Geyser. Gray stone, dappled with red and brown-colored rocks, surrounds the vent.
In 2020, this geyser erupted 48 times. Water shoots 300+ feet into the air, making it the tallest in the world. This year, once again, we just missed its latest eruption. It went off on May 31, 2021, the day we drove to the park from Bend, Oregon.
Here’s an overview of the basin. If you don’t have time to walk the trails, You’ll get great views from this observation area.
Here’s a view from the trail. There are geysers everywhere you look in the Norris Geyser Basin.
I took these photos from the Phil Brogan Viewpoint. On a clear day, you can see Mt. Bachelor, the Three Sisters, and other peaks in the distance. On this day, clouds covered them in soft shrouds. The visitor center reopened on May 20, a couple days after my visit. It’s a great place to learn more of this area’s volcanic past.
Here are a couple pictures of the volcanic views from a closer angle.
This 1.1 mile trail winds through basalt lava flows surrounding Lava Butte to the viewpoint.
Last week we visited Crack in the Ground in Central Oregon near Christmas Valley. You may be wondering what exactly this place is. Well… it’s a huge crack in the ground in the middle of the desert.
I wasn’t sure what to expect, but I was impressed by the crack’s picturesque angles and curved surfaces.
There’s a 2-mile trail inside that reaches a depth of ~70 feet below the surface. We took the left path that has a more gradual entrance. It’s in the middle of the picture below. This trail is relatively easy but if you go the whole length, expect to climb over boulders and through some cracks.
But how did this crack get here? It’s an ancient volcanic fissure. I learned in most climates, fissures fill up with soil and rock from erosion. Since it’s so dry here, there has been relatively little filling.
Crack in the Ground sits within the Four Craters Lava Bed. During the Pleistocene, four cone volcanoes were active here. A shallow depression formed when older heavier rock sunk. The fissure opened near the edge where there was tension along a fault zone. This Bureau of Land Management map shows the extent of the lava beds and the location of Crack in the Ground.
The 0.4-mile Trail of the Whispering Pines winds its way through the forest near the visitor center. You get great views of pine trees, Lava Butte, and several nearby volcanoes. This path sits on part of Newberry Volcano, a 1,200-square mile shield volcano.
South Sister, pictured on the left above, is the youngest and most geologically active of the Three Sisters volcanoes. The mountain last erupted 2,000 years ago, but a “bulge” began forming in 1997. By 2001, the bulge grew to 9 inches in height and 10 miles in diameter. Its growth since that time has slowed considerably. Both South Sister and Newberry are regularly monitored for volcanic activity.
When I walked around a corner into a gallery at the Baker Heritage Museum a couple years ago, I didn’t know what to expect. Wow, what a special moment! As you may know, I like rocks and this is an amazing collection of rocks, minerals, and fossils.
One of the first pieces you see is a 950-pound crystal from Arkansas. I would love to have something like that in my rock garden.
Two sisters in Baker City, Mamie Cavin and Elizabeth Cavin Warfel, collected specimens for 45 years and donated their collections to the museum in 1983. The 18-ton Cavin-Warfel Collection, together with other donations at the museum, is considered to be one of the best collections in the country. In fact, at one time the Smithsonian offered $500,000 to acquire it.
Cabochons and cut pieces of picture jasper cover one wall. Cabochons are gemstones that have been shaped and highly polished, rather than faceted. Billy Wyatt donated this collection.
Colorful specimens of green malachite and blue azurite are in this cabinet. Both are secondary minerals found in copper deposits. Malachite is one of my favorites and I have a few in my collection. The Oregon Department of Geology and Mineral Industries donated specimens related to mining to the museum.
During the chilly winter months, I sometimes think of the steam-filled landscapes of Yellowstone National Park. I wish I had a natural hot spring in my backyard. The thermal activity beneath Yellowstone is always producing steamy white clouds.
This view is from the Artists’ Paint Pots trail. Lots of contrasting colors and great views of the steaming basin from the top of the trail.
This is a hot spring near Morning Glory Hot Spring, one of my favorite sites in the park. See the ravens enjoying the warm water?
Grand Prismatic has rainbow colors, layered soil, and lots of steam. Did you notice the bison tracks in the foreground?
The bison spend time near the hot springs throughout the year. Here’s a pair grazing near a boardwalk trail.
Today I’m sharing close up photos of marvelous malachite. According to geology.com, malachite is a “green copper carbonate hydroxide mineral.” The site also refers to its striking green color and that’s why I collect it.
This first piece has a rough texture and interesting shape. For scale, it measures 1.5 x 1.0 inches.
The second piece is opposite of the first – rounded shapes and smooth textures. It measures 3.75 x 1.5 inches.
The following images of igneous rocks up close were taken in my yard near Bend, Oregon.
What’s an igneous rock? Geology.com describes them as being “formed from the solidification of molten rock material.” For example, granite, gabbro, basalt, scoria, and obsidian are all types of igneous rock.
You probably notice some of these rocks have round bubble-like holes in them. These “vesicles” form when gas is trapped within the melted rock at the time it cools and turns solid.