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Yellowstone National Park
Yellowstone Lake lies in a stunning setting with the Absaroka Mountains off to the east. The basin is part of the caldera formed following the last major volcanic eruption which occured about 640,000 years ago. Yellowstone Lake was originally 200 feet higher than it is today. The "arms" of the lake were formed by sculpting by glaciers and uplift along fault lines.
Many geologists believe that Yellowstone Lake originally drained via into the Snake River and then on into the Pacific Ocean. It now drains northward from the well-known Fishing Bridge, a popular spot for fishing until it was closed in 1973. Interestingly, the lake’s north end does not drop substantially in elevation until LeHardys Rapids. This is is considered to be the actual northernmost boundary of Yellowstone Lake.
The area of the Yellowstone Lake known as West Thumb is a caldera within a caldera. A caldera is a large, somewhat circular basin formed by a volcanic explosion that occurred about 162,000 years ago. The resulting caldera later filled with water forming an extension of Yellowstone Lake.
Yellowstone Lake becomes thermally stratified with several water layers having different temperatures in late summer. The topmost layer of the lake doesn't often exceed 66°F. The lower layers of the lake are much colder. Survival time for anyone in the lake is estimated to be only 20 to 30 minutes due to the frigid lake water. During the winter, the ice layer thickens on Yellowstone Lake. The ice thickness typically varies from just a few inches to more than two feet.
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