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Amazing Colors in Yellowstone Caused by Algae, Bacteria and Microorganisms

Wyoming is a spectacularly beautiful state filled to the brim with eye-catching splendor. See some of the images I captured here.

Colorful pools of water with steam rising in Yellowstone National Park

Colorful pools of water with steam rising in Yellowstone National Park

Yellowstone National Park

A fantastic 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 exciting 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 separate one from this fiery core component.

Never static, minor earthquakes frequently happen in this locale and the landscape one sees today will evolve into something different in the future. It has been an ongoing pattern for eons of time.

Yellowstone National Park Photo

Yellowstone National Park Photo

Discovery of This Area

Listeners did not believe the earliest explorer's accounts of what they had found in the land mass which we now call Yellowstone National Park.

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, before the 1800s, 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 this area home today would have provided sustenance for the Indians.

Effects of Heat, Bacterium, Algae, and Minerals in This Environment

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.

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 survive in temperatures over 167 degrees Fahrenheit.

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

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

Old Faithful and Thermal Features in Yellowstone

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 the famous geyser Old Faithful that has been emitting a stream of hot water in regular intermittent fashion for years.

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

Mud pots are mud puddles in which steam comes up from below ground and heats them 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 significant fault in the earth's crust. Yellowstone is the most volatile and hottest exposed area on earth!

Ever-Evolving Landscape

Many forested areas exist here. 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 picture below, one can see a white band around the base of a now dead 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. It is an ever-evolving landscape within this national park.

Elevated Walkways

People walking through these more active geothermal areas within the park are admonished to stay on the wooden walkways. The elevated walkways are to ensure people's safety as well as to protect this fragile environment.

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

First U.S. 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 locations pictured here, there is much in the way of wilderness with mountains and valleys.

Hiking, camping, fishing, and 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 this part of the country. Learning about Mother Earth from this unique place on the planet can be exciting and fun.

Colorful Yellowstone National Park

Colorful Yellowstone National Park

The last photo shown above has scalloped edging around the intensely pigmented pool of water. These are 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 are 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 fantastic color display for yourself someday. There is much more of Yellowstone to see!


Wikipedia: Yellowstone National Park

National Park Service: Yellowstone National Park

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2009 Peggy Woods

Comments are welcomed!

Peggy Woods (author) from Houston, Texas on September 08, 2017:

Hi Dale,

I am sure that you and your wife will really enjoy getting to see Yellowstone in person. It is certainly an amazing site to behold!

Dale Anderson from The High Seas on September 08, 2017:

Glad you shared this with us, Peggy! My wife and I are trying to schedule a trip out there as soon as we can both clear our calendars. She is going to love reading this I am sure.

Peggy Woods (author) from Houston, Texas on August 06, 2017:

Hi Susie,

I sure hope that Yellowstone does not blow its lid so to speak. We would all suffer the consequences. It is a beautiful but at the same time eerie place to visit. Glad you liked this Susie.

Susie Lehto from Minnesota on August 06, 2017:

I have never desired to visit Yellowstone, but I love seeing photos and learning about the place. Steve Quayle recently published a new books with beautiful colorful large photos. He has photographed Yellowstone for several years and says that it has not changed and that there is no danger of it blowing. All is well regardless of the hype.

You sure do know a lots about the place, which I am pleased about. Thank you, Peg!

Peggy Woods (author) from Houston, Texas on July 10, 2017:

Hi Rajan,

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

Rajan Singh Jolly from From Mumbai, presently in Jalandhar, INDIA. on July 09, 2017:

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

Peggy Woods (author) from Houston, Texas on September 29, 2013:

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 on September 25, 2013:

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 Woods (author) from Houston, Texas on July 24, 2012:

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.

Peggy Woods (author) from Houston, Texas on July 23, 2012:

Hi vocalcoach,

Nice that you were able to visit Yellowstone with your family when you were a child of 8. It is so striking a place that it is easy to see why it lingered in your memory. Thanks for the 5 star rating, your comment, votes and the share. So happy that you enjoyed my photos.

Peggy Woods (author) from Houston, Texas on July 22, 2012:

Hi Cyndi10,

"Evil brew of beauty"...interesting description of some of the sights in Yellowstone. It can get a bit smelly also because of sulfur content in some areas. It is one of the most active areas on earth with an ever changing landscape. Despite it's beauty, my mother was actually glad to leave that area. Thanks for your comment. Glad that you liked my pictures.

Peggy Woods (author) from Houston, Texas on July 22, 2012:

Hi Mary,

Yes, it is a good thing that they have built those raised wooden walkways because the earth's crust is very thin in those areas and one could end up with one's foot going through and into some boiling hot water! People are warned to stay on the paths in Yellowstone. Aren't those colors amazing! So glad that you liked this. Thanks for your comment, votes and share.

Sheila Brown from Southern Oklahoma on July 22, 2012:

Terrific hub! Absolutely makes me want to visit Yellowstone, soon! Is added to the top of my "bucket list". Wonderful information and beautiful pictures! Voted up and awesome!

Audrey Hunt from Pahrump NV on July 22, 2012:

Dear Peggy ~ This is a spectacular sharing of mother nature's paintings.

You are a stunning photographer! I enjoyed this lovely journey so very much. It took me back to a time when I was 8 years old visiting Yellowstone with my family. I was completely mesmerized by "Old Faithful." I gave this 5 stars and voted up and across (not funny) and will be more than happy to share this everywhere!

Cynthia B Turner from Georgia on July 22, 2012:

Hello Peggy, Your photography is wonderful, but the pictures look like an evil brew of beauty. Thank you for giving us so much information and for sharing your pictures.

Mary Hyatt from Florida on July 22, 2012:

I really enjoyed this Hub about the algae and bacteria and the colors they have created in Yellowstone National Park. Good thing they built those wooden walkways so people can safely get up close to the sights. I want to return and read more of your Hubs on travel out West. You did a wonderful job on this Hub relating this subject; your photos were wonderful

I voted this everything except funny, and I will share.

Peggy Woods (author) from Houston, Texas on February 18, 2012:

Hi alocsin,

Yes...aren't the colors incredible! Yellowstone National Park should be on everyone's list of places to visit if possible. Thanks for your comment and votes.

Aurelio Locsin from Orange County, CA on February 18, 2012:

Incredible that something so small can create such beautiful imagery. It's great that your photos were able to capture their glory. Voting this Up and Beautiful.

Peggy Woods (author) from Houston, Texas on February 10, 2012:

Hi oceansnsunsets,

So happy for you that you got to see the fabulous Yellowstone National Park in person. As you say the geology of the place is fascinating and those colors...amazing! Thanks for your comment.

Paula from The Midwest, USA on February 10, 2012:

Hello Peggy, we were able to go and see Yellowstone for the first time this last summer. I was so wowed by what we saw, and the colors were very amazing! Great hub here, thank you so much for sharing it and giving me a little big of time travel back to where we were.

I love the geology of that place, and the history, and I know that I haven't begun to scratch the surface. Your hub here helped in that regard, thank you.

Peggy Woods (author) from Houston, Texas on November 09, 2011:

Not sure what you meant, but some say that any publicity is good publicity. Hope you enjoyed the pictures of the amazing colors in Yellowstone National Park.

gggggggggggggg on November 09, 2011:


Peggy Woods (author) from Houston, Texas on October 09, 2011:

Hello JSParker,

Isn't traveling fun! Nice to see things out of the country but also nice to see what lies within our own borders. Our National Parks as well as State Parks and National Monuments are all a delight to see. How many of the National Parks did you get to see besides Yellowstone? Thanks for leaving a comment.

JSParker from Detroit, Michigan on October 09, 2011:

After focusing more on travel abroad, we did a 30 day trek through American National Parks including the queen of them all, Yellowstone. Looking at your pictures brings back that delightful experience. Your hub is beautifully done and well laid out. An example to emulate. And still HOT after one year. Very impressive.

Peggy Woods (author) from Houston, Texas on October 06, 2011:

Glad to hear you liked the pictures of what algae and microorganisms cause in Yellowstone. The colors are amazing!

Bobby From The Future on October 06, 2011:




Peggy Woods (author) from Houston, Texas on August 04, 2011:

Hello livelonger,

So true! It is amazing the colors created by algae, bacteria and microorganisms in places like Yellowstone and elsewhere. Thanks for the visit and comment.

Jason Menayan from San Francisco on August 04, 2011:

This is stunning! What gorgeous shots. I've never been to Yellowstone, but my parents went there a few years ago and loved it. I have a friend who went to a similar lake (I think in Indonesia) where the minerals, bacteria, and algae created 4 colors in the same lake. Nature really creates some awe-inspiring work! :)

Peggy Woods (author) from Houston, Texas on August 04, 2011:

Hello leahlefler,

Your kids will enjoy Yellowstone as much as you did and you'll get to enjoy it all over again when you take them there. It truly is an amazing spot on this earth! Thanks for your comment.

Leah Lefler from Western New York on August 04, 2011:

We went camping in Yellowstone when I was sixteen years old (I won't mention how long ago that was, haha) - it was one of the most amazing experiences I have ever had. The wildlife, the sapphire pools, the boiling mud... it was just spectacular! Beautiful hub, and I can't wait to take my kids there (some day)!

Peggy Woods (author) from Houston, Texas on May 26, 2011:

Hi Rose,

You would have a ball photographing the sites in Yellowstone with your interest in photography. Such intense colors and interesting vistas to be seen there! If you go back there it will be a treat to see what you photograph. Thanks for your comment.

Rose Kolowinski on May 26, 2011:

Another beautiful hub, Peggy. I have been to Yellowstone but that was before I became serious about photography, so I have to go back someday. Thanks for sharing your colorful photos!

Peggy Woods (author) from Houston, Texas on May 11, 2011:

Hi leeroper,

Yellowstone National Park is a wonderland of colorful areas as you can see from these pictures. Amazing to see all in one area of the country. So nice that Yellowstone is protected as a national park for all to see and enjoy. Thanks for your comment.

leeroper from UK on May 11, 2011:

I had no idea of the array of colors in Yellowstone, now I want to watch a HD documentary of Yellowstone.

Peggy Woods (author) from Houston, Texas on May 09, 2011:

Hello kittythedreamer,

I don't have any more microbe hubs per say...just loved the colors in Yellowstone caused by algae, bacteria and other microorganisms which caused these amazing colors. I come from it more from an artistic point of view, but thanks for your comment. Will check out your hub.

Kitty Fields from Summerland on May 09, 2011:

What a wonderful and educational hub. I share in your interest with microbiology and the microorganisms that make up our planet. Thanks so much for sharing this information with the public. Keep up the great work! I can't wait to read more of your microbe hubs! Here's one of mine, if you are interested:

Peggy Woods (author) from Houston, Texas on May 09, 2011:

Hi KenWu,

Yellowstone is truly an amazing place with such colorful landscapes due to the interaction of the hot steamy water just below and at the surface plus the algae, bacteria and microorganisms that create an artist's palette of colors. Glad you liked this.

KenWu from Malaysia on May 09, 2011:

It's amazing. Thanks for the quick tour :)

Peggy Woods (author) from Houston, Texas on May 02, 2011:

Hello Knightheart,

Our National Park system is truly wonderful and I agree with you that places like Yellowstone need to be preserved for generations of people to come. Glad that you liked these pictures. Thanks for your comment.

Knightheart from MIssouri, USA on May 01, 2011:

Wow, I almost forgot the beauty of Yellowstone. Was there about 20 years ago and seeing God's creation was just breath taking. The beauty is almost indescribable! I pray that this country takes strong steps to protect these national treasures and preserve God's work for future generations! Thanks for the reminder of our beautiful country!!!