Geysers, Geysers, Geysers!
[Yellowstone National Park, WY]
Yellowstone can be roughly divided into three areas – North Yellowstone (where we were yesterday), the hydrothermal area around Old Faithful, and the canyon of the Yellowstone river. Having seen the North, we decided to tackle Old Faithful and the three hydrothermal basins around it today.
The Old Faithful Visitor Education center posts the next eruption time for Old Faithful, +- 10 minutes. When we arrived around 9:20 am, the next eruption time was in about an hour.
We meandered through the exhibits in the visitor center, then decided to go claim some front-row seats on the benches surrounding the famous geyser.
While not the most powerful or tallest in the park, it’s one of the most predictable, erupting every 90 minutes or so. When it does, it shoots up 8400 gallons of water as high as 185 feet. An eruption can last from 1.5 minutes to 5 minutes. It is a cone geyser, meaning that the water shoots up through a narrow channel and as it deposits minerals at the surface, a cone forms. Old Faithful is young, so its cone is very small.
As we took our seats facing the geyser, dark clouds rolled in.
We thought the storm would take a while to get to us, but soon rain drops started falling down on us. As the rain intensified, I was set on staying outside and putting my rain gear to the test… until a park ranger came out and said that while he can’t force us to go inside the visitor center, he strongly advises us to do so as the area around Old Faithful attracts lightning. As we ran towards the visitor center, the rain turned into hail!
Inside the visitor center, the only thing erupting was me. I was fuming! I was not about to let this crazy summer rain storm spoil my Old Faithful sighting! As soon as the rain let up a little and the lightning seemed to have passed, I went back outside with a few other brave souls and got to see the eruption up close and personal. 🙂
Luckily, the storm passed quickly, and Laura and I got to walk around the rest of Upper Geyser Basin. While Old Faithful is the most popular geyser here, a series of boardwalks allowed access over the scalding water to many other beautiful and fascinating springs and geysers.
We were lucky to see the Riverside Geyser erupt – it does so every six hours .
The entire landscape made us feel as if we were on another planet. It made us appreciate the violent forces that still churn underneath the surface and continue to shape our planet. The steam, the bubbles, the burps of water everywhere – it was fascinating. The water was clear in a lot of the pools, and it made us wonder what they look like underneath. We encountered all sorts of colors in the pools and geysers – some due to minerals in the water, others due to heat-loving organisms known as thermophiles. The temperature of the water also played a role in what color the pools were.
At the end of the boardwalk on Upper Basin, we found the crown jewel of this area – Morning Glory. Its colors were bright and amazing. Sadly, the current green color in the middle is not the original bright blue. Trash and coins thrown by visitors have clogged up the plumbing system of cracks underneath, changing the temperature and with it the color of this amazing pool.
By the time we got back to the start of the boardwalk at Old Faithful, we saw that the next eruption would be in about 45 minutes, so we decided to grab a quick lunch across the street and come back to watch it again. Laura had not ventured in the rain on our first attempt, so she wanted to see it up close this time. The storm clouds were mostly gone and we got to see a second eruption under the sun.
From Old Faithful, we checked out the other two geyser basins nearby – Middle and Lower. On our way to Middle Geyser Basin, it started pouring again, forcing us to wait out the rain in the parking lot.
When we did tour the Middle basin, most of its features were shrouded in steam due to the lower temperature brought on by the rain storm. Still, we were able to see Exelsior Crater, Grand Prismatic Spring and Turqoise Spring, all pictured.
Grand Prismatic was huge. At 370 feet across and 121 deep, it’s the largest hot spring in Yellowstone and the third-largest in the world. We could see its orange, blue, gold and brown despite all the steam. Nearby Turqoise Lake reflected the storm break in the clouds – half of it was blue, half of it was grey.
At Lower Basin, we finally got to see our first fumarole – Fountain Paint Pot, alive with clay bubbles on the surface.
Close by were the silica-rich turquoise waters of Silex Spring.
Also nearby was Red Spouter, which can change from mud pot to spring to steam vent depending on the amount of water there. When we went by, it was a steam vent, and I was fascinated by the hissing sound of the steam coming out of it.
Our final set of hydrothermal features was along Firehole Road. Here, we saw a fountain geyeser called Great Fountain. Unlike cone geysers, which shoot out water from a narrow opening, fountain geysers spray water in multiple directions, usually from a pool. The Great Fountain Geyser erupts every 14 hours so we didn’t get to see it, but we still enjoyed the terraced pools of water around it.
Nearby, the White Dome cone geyser seemed dormant when we parked, only to erupt on our way to get to it. That was a nice treat. 🙂
On our way back to the hotel, we experienced yet another bison jam. 🙂
In the evening, we went to the nearby Lake Lodge hotel to eat dinner in the cafeteria and to use to painfully slow wifi in the lobby. We drove the quarter-mile distance due to the changing weather, and we did indeed see another violent rain storm pass through while we were eating dinner. An amazing rainbow formed over lake Yellowstone afterwards. What a perfect ending to a geyser-filled first full day in the park!