Our friends Karen and Al are working near Grand Teton National Park, and we had planned a get together once the southern road in Yellowstone finally opened up after June 11. With the way the weather has been, picking a date (June 14) so far in advance can be challenging. But we could not have asked for a better day! Our plan was to explore the Upper Geyser Basin of the park, which contains the very popular Old Faithful. Many people stop to watch Old Faithful, and then go on to explore another area of the park. But they are missing out on a lot of other geysers.
The largest concentration of active geysers in the world are contained in the Upper Geyser Basin. Time for a quick geology lesson! Three major volcanic eruptions have occurred in Yellowstone within the past 2 million years. The hydrothermal features in the park include geysers, hot springs, mudpots and fumaroles. Three features are needed to produce these: heat (from the magma 3-8 miles underground the park), water (from the rain and snow), and plumbing (from the natural underground cracks).
Today our focus was on the geysers, which are formed when the plumbing/cracks are constricted enough to prevent the water from easily getting to the surface, which would allow heat to escape. The water beneath the surface is under intense pressure, heats up to boiling, and is eventually forced out through an eruption of water and steam. That’s the quick and easy explanation!
The National Park service now has a Geyser App for your phone, so you can easily monitor when they will be erupting. Of course, cell phone service in the park is very spotty, so you are better off writing down the times that are posted in the visitors center. We arrived early in the morning, in time to watch Old Faithful erupt. In the photo below, take note of the number of people watching.
Old Faithful erupts about every 90 minutes, and goes for 1 – 5 minutes, expelling 3700 – 8400 gallons of boiling water depending on the length of the eruption. It is the one geyser closest to the visitors center, but it is not the largest geyser in the park.
Afterwards, we headed for a quick breakfast, and planned out our day based upon the predicted geyser eruption schedule posted in the visitors center. A side note, we were pleasantly surprised at how affordable food is in the park, compared to West Yellowstone (about 1/2 the cost for breakfast!).
After breakfast we took a “brief” hike up to Observation Point. I put that in quotes because the posted sign stated it was only 1/2 mile, but it was almost straight up a hill. From that viewpoint, we were able to watch Old Faithful again erupt,(for the scheduled 11:14am time) and take in the beautiful scenery surrounding the area. In the photo below, you can see Old Faithful on the left, and the famous (and super expensive) Old Faithful Inn on the right. The crowd on the boardwalk is getting a little bigger.
We took a short stroll down to Solitary Geyser, which is named because it is far from the other geysers, and no one seems to visit it. This geyser was altered by humans, before they truly understood what geysers are all about. It was originally a hot spring, and the park put a pipe into it to divert the hot water down into a pool (around 1915). When the water level dropped, the “spring” started erupting. The pipe was removed and the water level restored, but the geyser continues to erupt every 4-7 minutes, to this day. We watched it bubble up and erupt twice while we were there. It goes a few feet in height. Al, Karen and Dan are on the left in the picture below. We had this geyser to ourselves for about 15 minutes before another couple showed up.
Continuing along the boardwalk, we stopped to look at several small geysers on the way to Castle Geyser, which was set to erupt at 12:25pm (+/- 45 minutes). The park service has a nice trail guide (available for a $1 donation), which has a detailed map and description of all the geysers. We arrived at Castle Geyser a little after noon, and took up a spot to view the eruption. Note the lack of people in the photo in the background.
The Castle Geyser only erupts once every 13 hours (+/- 1 hour), and lasts 15-20 minutes for the water phase, followed by 30 minutes of steam. It reaches a height of 75 feet. A little after noon, the smaller pools around the “castle” started boiling, and soon the water started erupting, at first in small bursts, then in one large burst.
We were happy we arrived early, since the geyser started erupting early, and it was an amazing display. Much more impressive than Old Faithful, even though it does not spew water as high. And to be able to watch a geyser that only erupts every 13 hours was a great experience. We planned on watching the geyser for a while, since the Grand Geyser was not set to erupt until 2:25pm (+/- 75 minutes).
After about 15 minutes of watching the geyser, we started hearing people screaming in the distance. We turned around to discover the Grand Geyser was also erupting way ahead of schedule. Again, there was very few people around the Grand Geyser at the time.
The Grand Geyser is considered to be the tallest predictable geyser in the world (just not today!!). Since the duration of the eruption is only 9-12 minutes, we sprinted up the boardwalk to watch the remainder of the eruption. Within the Grand Geyser is also the Vent and Turban Geysers, and they were erupting as well. Vent, on the left and Turban on the right are mostly steam, with Grand in the middle spurting the water.
While this was going on, the Castle Geyser had switched over to the steam phase. You can see it in the distance from the Grand Geyser.
Unlike the Castle Geyser, when the Grand Geyser ends, it is if someone turned the switch to “off”, because everything just stops. It just looks like a dormant geyser. Note how the trees near the geyser have turned white from the steam and water spray.
By this time, it was a little after 1:00pm, and the next scheduled eruption was 1:50pm (+/- 30 minutes) at the Riverside Geyser. Thinking we had plenty of time, although aware that everything else had gone of prematurely, we headed down to see the very popular Morning Glory Pool. We passed the Grotto Geyser on the way, which has no predictable schedule. It is very unique in its shape.
The Morning Glory Pool was named after its likeness to the flower. The pool is a hot spring, not a geyser. People have thrown coins and other objects into the pool over the years, which have clogged up the steam vent. As a result of this vandalism, the temperature in the pool has been lowered, and more bacteria has grown. The park service has tried to lower the water level and vacuum out many of the objects, in order to restore the pool back to its natural state.
And yes, while viewing the pool, we again heard more screams in the distance, and turned around to discover the Riverside Geyser was also erupting early!
The Riverside Geyser erupts every 6 hours, and lasts about 20 minutes. It is on the bank of the Firehole River, providing a very scenic display.
We sat and watched the geyser for about 10 minutes, before making the almost 3 mile walk back towards the visitors center. We stopped along the boardwalk to view a few more geysers, and stopped to watch the Anemone Geyser. The geyser is actually two geysers close together, and are named after the Anemone flower. Most people just walk right on by, not realizing these little geysers erupt every 7-10 minutes. It is worth the wait, because you could get splashed by this geyser, depending on which way the wind is blowing.
We ended up with a splash of water and steam.
After a reasonably priced, and tasty meal at the Old Faithful cafeteria, we headed over to the Midway Geyser Basin to try to view the Grand Prismatic. At 370 feet in diameter, it is the largest hot spring in the park. It is also difficult to see, due to the constant steam (blue colored) floating up from the spring.
To get a good view, click here, for some google photos. Some folks do go “off trail” and hike up the hill you see in the background of my photos.
According to Al’s fitness app on his phone, we walked over 12 miles in about 8 hours. It was a wonderful day with good friends, and spectacular eruptions. We feel very fortunate to have been able to view so many geysers erupting in one day. If you have the time, don’t just watch Old Faithful and leave. Go take a walk around the entire Upper Geyser basin, and look at all the wonderful thermal features. Perhaps if people realized this is the only place on Earth to see so many, they would spend more time here.
Oh, remember my first photo of Old Faithful (yes, I know this is a long blog) showing a few hundred visitors? This is what you will encounter when you go in the afternoon (taken when we were leaving the area). Thousands of people crammed together! Go early!!
Quote for the day: “I don’t drink water, because if water can erode rock, think what it can do to flesh.” – Jarod Kintz