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  • Writer's pictureRachel Sisk

Tree Travels - Yellowstone

Travels to Yellowstone National Park in June 2018 inspired "Yellowstone Studies" original painting study series by American artist Rachel Sisk.

Pictures and Paintings from Yellowstone Caldera

You hear about how remote and wild Yellowstone is, but it almost feels like Disney world with surreal spewing fountains, deep aqua pools, lush green fields, and masses of people on the road that inch closer and closer to peer at a fantasy world of bear, elk, and bison-animals that have disappeared from our daily landscape. Yet, there are no thick panes of glass separating the two sides from each other in this zoo. It’s real. Wildly real. The paved roads, grocery stores, and gas stations dotted around the park may dull our senses and make us forget where we are, but--we’re in the caldera of an active volcano. We are slowly slipping along as the North American plate shifts southwest.

The quiet calm lures us in, overlooking the reality that underneath our feet a magma plume is churning up from the lower mantle of the earth, rocks are melting, pressure building. Between 1923 to 1984, the caldera rose by 1 meter. Signs say, “Land in constant flux” to remind people lest they forget. Warm springs appear and disappear in different locations, better “Stay on the marked trail.”

Conifer trees, many years older than they appear, are dwarfed from the thin crust and low nutrient content. In the Mud Volcano area, trees lay crisscross along the deceivingly bright-green hillside, and ones also stand still, a deep brown almost black, frozen in time. A heat surge too hot for trees cooked them from underneath.

Mud pots bubble, bake, and break the neutral grey colored ground into a dry cracked skin. Thermal spring waters bleach herbaceous plants in the path of the runoff, and mark the base of dead trees white.

A strange cloudy, yet clear, atmosphere accentuates the steam rising from white-grey gravely ground in June.

Each night after the day’s excursion, we lay in our tents. The thin walls collect our breath that slowly slides and drips down, mimicking the heavy rain outside, until we wake. We are warm with layers and hand warmers, snuggled inside, yet lay open and exposed to this wild world. Bison pass by in the night, quietly brushing against the tent. Brown cakes and mud meld together, hiding the large animals’ lumbering route from those unaware, except for the stray strands of hair embedded in the weathered wood grain of logs by the road.

Returning to our campsite one afternoon, we discover our tent shifted and tarp poles blown over from high wind and sleet. Others’ tents are snagged in trees. Each night we have different neighbors, seemingly not cut out for 30 degree camping, mushy ground, and rain filled fire pits.

About one week at minimum is needed to see the major sites around Yellowstone’s figure 8 shaped loop, but longer is needed to hike, internalize, and process the whole experience. “Expect delays” the park service warns – but not as much from the large furry animals, but from animal onlookers slowing down to see other species, many only found in quantity in this wild wonderland.

View the Yellowstone Studies collection paintings.

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