Yellowstone National Park is an amazing place. As far as national parks in America are concerned, I find Yellowstone to be more of an amusement park filled with bizarre and fascinating and scary geology rather than a scenic park like Glacier or Arches. And as a super volcano, Yellowstone Park is an anomaly that defies continental odds, and invites millions of human visitors into its steaming caldera every year, not to mention all the world-famous wildlife that wanders the innards of the volcano goring the occasional visitor.
I captured the above video on one trip. Stuff like this happens all the time there. So much so that it’s hard not to let crazy tourist things become the local entertainment. You have to go 50 seconds in to see the woman actually walk down to the boiling mud pot and stick her hand into it to see if it really is hot.
But what alludes most folks is the origins of such a place. What would cause an internal continental volcano of epic proportions to be located far from where any normal Pacific Rim of Fire volcano should be? In fact, what would cause an igneous event to smile across southern Idaho and end up at the intersection of Montana, Idaho and mostly Wyoming at such a time that more than a few Doomsday Preppers are preparing for when the whole thing explodes. And personally, since I live so close to Yellowstone National Super Volcano, if it blows, I won’t notice. At least for very long no matter how fun it is to think about.
The Yellowstone Supervolcano started millions of years ago and hundreds of miles away. Usually the explanation of how the whole Yellowstone thing started is with some thinning of the earth’s crust somehow. And that “somehow” is waved off with a flick of the hand and a theoretical concept like “mantel plume theory” or some other geological hotspot hand washing smoke and mirrors. But what if there was a more reasonable explanation? Luckily such a reasonable explanation exists, but one that requires some degree of catastrophe rather than slowly moving Uniformatariansm. So the case with Yellowstone National Park is one of a large crustal-thinning impact followed by 17 million years of continental drift.
Of course there is an acceptable and anticipated resistance to explaining away a major geologic feature on earth with a simple meteorite impact, but, as we say in science when applying Occam’s Razor, the simplest explanation is usually the right explanation. However, I will leave just a little room for Henry Mencken’s observation that “For every complex problem there is an answer that is clear, simple, and wrong.”
In the book The Roadside Geology of Idaho by David Alt and Donald W. Hyndman (1989), there are unfortunately a scant few paragraphs that lay out the Yellowstone meteorite situation. Oddly, the authors never really come right out and say it, but rather explain away the whole Yellowstone situation, along with the Snake River Basalts (That big smile that runs across the entire southern side of Idaho) as the result of a meteorite impact because, well, what else could have caused it? And if no meteorite fell, then we would also not see a whole pile of other major geologic features spread across hundreds of miles of the western USA.
According to the book…
“We think the meteorite that formed the Columbia Plateau struck 17 million years ago because that is the age of the oldest basalt flows associated with both the Columbia Plateau and the Basin and Range. We think it struck in the southeast Snake River Plain and the northern end of the Basin and Range begin in that area. Large areas o volcanic rocks that erupted in southeastern Oregon about 16 to 17 million years ago are probably remains of the lava lake.”
“If the big meteorite had not stuck southeastern Oregon 17 million years ago, the Yellowstone hotspot would not have burned its track through Idaho to create the Snake River Plain. This book would be one chapter shorter. The western High Plains from South Dakota to Texas would lack their deep deposits of volcanic ash erupted from the long chain of volcanoes that made the Snake River Plain.”
As a very frequent visitor to Yellowstone National Park (mostly during the early and late season and during winter to avoid tourists), I love the idea of a meteoritic formation for this whole geologic mess. And that the destructive force that may have started the whole process may be reversed in the future with an outward super volcano explosion that again will change the geology of much of the western United States taking with it all those who live nearby. Kind of a reverse-meteorite-impact. And speaking of impacts on earth, here is the latest news on that front.
Until next time…