Many people don’t realize that what’s driving all the geyser activity in Yellowstone is a big volcano. In fact, everything you see in Yellowstone –from the geysers and hot springs, to plants and animals to even the abundance of waterfalls and frequency of fires—is because the park sits atop one of the world’s largest volcanoes.
The fact that the Yellowstone volcano is in the middle of a continent makes it unique and helps to generate rare plentiful geyser activity. The volcano or hot spot not only provides the heat and the right plumbing system needed for geysers, but it also accounts for almost everything else in Yellowstone.
As the volcano’s magma domed up the ground surface of the entire region it caused our high elevation climate and weather. The lava that oozed out, cooled and hardened into rock, establishing the soil types. Climate and soils determine plant varieties which, in turn influence the wildlife because particular animals eat specific plants and other animals prey on those animals, and so on.
The high Yellowstone Plateau is frequently struck by lightning as storms pass through, sparking fires while the resident plant communities correlate to the frequency and intensity of the fires. The volcanic crater/caldera and successive lava flows have broken up the high plateau creating sheer faces that drop to lower areas. The high areas catch abundant snow and as it melts, streams run off and down the sheer slopes creating myriad waterfalls. The geyser basins, rivers and lakes are located between the lava flows.
Geysers, wildlife, fire, lakes, waterfalls…Though volcanoes are often considered destructive, the Yellowstone volcano is, in essence, responsible for the whole natural network here. It’s what makes Yellowstone Yellowstone.