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An Alien Landscape
By Colleen Messina

1     Morgan had never seen such a formidable landscape before. A reservoir of smoking, turquoise water bubbled from hidden springs. The crumbling hills around the pool were dotted with cactus. Park Ranger Cynthia was taking the class on a guided nature walk at the Mammoth Hot Springs Terraces in Yellowstone Park, where wooden walkways crossed the geyser-laden hills. The limestone terraces looked like orange layer cakes with dripping, white icing. Shafts of steam swirled into the bright, blue sky.
2     Sections of the distant mountains had blackened soil from a fire several years earlier. The scorching flames had left a charcoal footprint on the mountains. Tender trees were hanging on for dear life because of the landscape's austerity.
3     "Morgan, come on! You walk so slowly!" called Erica. Erica had a high metabolism and always walked ahead of the group.
4     Morgan trudged up the sloping path after her friend. The wind shifted, and an awful smell hit Morgan's nostrils. She gasped for breath.
5     "Ugh! What is that? It smells like rotten eggs!" she said.
6     "That's the sulfur from the geysers, and it is pretty strong-smelling," Park Ranger Cynthia said. The husky Ranger looked crisp and professional in her dark green uniform. Her wide-brimmed hat shaded her face, which was slick with sunscreen. Her no-nonsense talks made cactus infestation sound like an issue of national security.
7     Morgan's class had come to Yellowstone National Park for their senior odyssey. They had done all kinds of ridiculous fundraising to get there because it was a long way from New York City. Many kids had never been in the mountains before. Their guide, a perky, outdoorsy woman, wanted them to comprehend many facts about the plethora of animals and vegetation in the Park.
8     "Those patches of green and orange in the hot water of these geysers are creatures called thermophiles, and they have the amazing ability to live in extreme temperatures. No one is allowed to walk near the geysers or deface the Park in any way," Cynthia bubbled, as though she was a geyser herself.

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