The Artist Paint Pots Trail is located on the west side of Yellowstone, just north of Gibbon Falls. Called paint pots for their colors, these mudpots are just far enough off the beaten path that you can get away from the crowds.
Much of this area burned during the fires of 1988. A young lodgepole pine forest is thriving here today. These naturally regenerated forest patches are important aspects of habitat diversity; there are also some older lodgepole pines here that survived the fires.
Watch for a group of standing-dead trees just after the trail begins; those trees are called Bobby-socks trees. Thermal features, not fire are responsible for killing them. When they were alive, the runoff from nearby thermal features flooded the area around the trees. Minerals in the water plugged the base of the trees and killed them, leaving their bases white.
The trail leads to a group of colorful hot springs. Stay alert while visiting any thermal area; new activity can appear without warning. Much of the water in these springs is near boiling; always stay on the trail. Just up-hill there are a couple of mudpots.
This slight elevation gain is one of the biggest factors in the development of mudpots. The water supply is more limited higher up the hill. Where hydrogen sulfide gas is present, microorganisms help convert that gas into sulfuric acid. The acid breaks down the surrounding rock into clay and mudpots are formed.
Various gasses continue to escape through the mud, causing it to bubble and pop. Though they appear to be boiling, most mudpots are not. But they are hot enough to burn you. As you watch these unique hydrothermal features always keep a safe distance and watch for flying mud.
If you are a frequent visitor to Yellowstone, you will notice that there is some seasonality to mudpots. During spring and other wet periods, the consistency of the mud changes. During extended dry periods, some mudpots can dry and become fumaroles or steam vents.
The view of Mount Holmes from the top of this trail is spectacular. Enjoying a little panorama, some hiking and a few thermal features, now that’s Yellowstone.