YELLOWSTONE TREASURES: Accompanying travelers to the Park since 2002

One hundred thirty years ago in Yellowstone Park

One hundred thirty years ago in Yellowstone Park

Let’s celebrate March, Women’s History Month, with an excerpt from a Yellowstone story written by Margaret Andrews Allen. In 1885 her family visited Upper Geyser Basin in a horse-driven wagon. Camping near Castle Geyser, they all set out the morning after arrival to see the geysers.

“First, of course, we visit Old Faithful, the Clock of the Valley, hardly varying five minutes in its hourly eruptions. Its low, broad cone of scale-like layers is firm as the solid rock. No thought of danger here. Everything gives us the idea of regularity and order. We are in position, the curtain rises, and the play begins. The eruption is fine, the geyser sending up a solid column of water, with clouds of hot steam, for over a hundred feet. But it is soon over, and we add to our experience by drinking of the hot sulphur water it has left in all the little hollows of the crust. This is merely to add to our experience, for the taste is far from agreeable. This geyser is the great resource of hurried tourists, from its regularity. We met many parties who had seen only this one—and that one alone is well worth seeing. But what one is sure of seldom fascinates. The freaky ones are most sought after and admired.

“We cross the rushing Firehole, and I shall leave it for the guide-book to tell the variety of craters and pools, extinct and active geysers and formations, all the way from Cauliflower to Coral. We come back to our tent already feeling like old residents, ready to initiate ignorant new-comers.

“We have seen various men pass with mysterious bags on long poles, and, on questioning one of our neighbors (a very old resident, for she has been here a month) we find it is merely the family washing. The bag contains soap and clothes, and is to be hung in a boiling spring, when, in a few hours, the dirt will be boiled out. We follow suit, and immediately our bag of clothes is hanging in a lovely little blue pool not far from our tent.

“But we have a ham in our wagon; why should not that be cooked in the same way? The Devil’s Well [Crested Pool] is near, and soon our ham, in a strong sack fastened to a pole, is cheerfully bubbling away. In about two hours it is well done, and lasts us the rest of the journey. Our potatoes are not so successful, for our bag breaks, and down they go to whoever the owner of the well may be, for a perpetual potato-soup.

“At dinner, our neighbor, the Castle, starts an eruption, and immediately the whole valley is in turmoil, rushing hither and thither for a good view. But the geyser changes its mind, the clouds drift up, a drizzling rain begins, and we are settling down for a quiet afternoon in our tent when suddenly, with rumble and roar, the deceitful Castle shoots a column of water into the air and everything is dropped for the show.

42 Castle copy

“Our neighboring campers are already climbing the sides of the cone, about twenty feet above the road, to have a look inside, and we follow their example. Then stones are thrown in and shot out instantly. I bethink me of our dish-towels, and in they go. In another minute they are fifty feet in the air, and dashed down far on the other side; for a strong wind has risen and driven the water and steam in a great curve to the south. After three such baths they are clean. We have seen the only poetical washing-day in our lives. We wish all were like it. It is not turning the geyser to a base use: it is merely idealizing washing.”

Of course, the thousands of visitors to geyserland today do not use the pools and geysers to wash their clothes and dishes. But think how it must have lightened the load of “woman’s work” for the few days Ms. Allen was in Yellowstone. Times have changed!

Ms. Allen’s entire story will be reproduced in Granite Peak Publications’ upcoming collection, Magnificent Playground.

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Terrorists and Supervolcanoes

Generally, I prefer to steer clear of the media flurry every time there’s a large swarm of earthquakes or something else in the news that again brings up the subject of the Yellowstone supervolcano. But I can’t resist passing on this reaction to the recent news about a terrorist in Canada thinking that triggering the magma under Yellowstone would be a great idea.

At least the article about this that I just found ends with a sensible paragraph:

“Fortunately, the USGS agrees the likelihood of a Yellowstone volcano eruption is unlikely at this time. The volcano alert level is currently green, and seismographs detected only 178 earthquakes in the region, with the largest registering at a magnitude 1.9 on January 20, 2015. The USGS also calculates the odds against a Yellowstone eruption as 730,000 to one on an annual basis. As a comparison, the odds of a royal flush in poker is 1 in 649,740, so perhaps that’s not too comforting.”

For the best current information on the subject see this USGS page, or take a look at our own nugget about it.

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Canoeing and kayaking in Yellowstone

Yellowstone Lake with deer

Yellowstone Lake at West Thumb

Have you ever imagined seeing the lakeside hot springs of West Thumb Geyser Basin from the water? A new article by Kurt Repanshek, “Fleeing Yellowstone & Grand Teton Crowds by Sea Kayak,” tells you how to go on a guided kayaking tour to do just that.

You can also bring your own boat and explore lakes beyond Yellowstone Lake. From the Travel Tips section of Yellowstone Treasures, here are some of the regulations about nonmotorized boating. It’s permitted on all park lakes EXCEPT Sylvan and Eleanor Lakes, Twin Lakes, or Beach Springs Lagoon.

Boating permits, required for all boats and float tubes, cost $10 (annual) or $5 (7-day). They can be
obtained at any of the following locations:

  • South, West, and Northeast Entrance Stations
  • Lewis Lake Campground
  • Grant Village Backcountry Office
  • Bridge Bay and Bechler Ranger Stations
  • Canyon, Old Faithful, and Mammoth visitor centers
  • West Yellowstone Visitor Information Center.

Boats are not allowed on rivers and streams, except that hand-propelled vessels may use the channel between Lewis and Shoshone Lakes. Only non-motorized boats are allowed in the most remote sections of the three so-called fingers of the lake: Flat Mountain Arm, South Arm, and Southeast Arm. This is primarily to protect the nesting pelicans, terns, and seagulls. Boating is a great way to see birds!

—Beth, Editor and Publisher

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A celebrated author

grandmother granddaughters

Janet with three of her four granddaughters, ages 6, 8, and 10.

This February, guidebook author Janet Chapple was pleased to celebrate her birthday with a banquet at the Bellevue Club, in Oakland, California. Family and friends traveled from far and wide to join the party. Four of Janet’s friends played a Haydn string quartet for us.

One guest, a violinist, revealed in a short speech that he learned on a trip to Yellowstone how highly regarded the book by his musician friend really is. A park ranger told him that Yellowstone Treasures was the best guidebook to the park he’d ever seen. He realized then that the book was by the cellist he enjoys playing chamber music with.

Two granddaughters watch Janet with her cake

Two granddaughters, one from New Jersey and one from Berkeley, watch Janet as she blows out her candles.

After dining on sea bass, salmon, or filet mignon, the approximately 40 guests, myself included, got to try this lovely layer cake.

—Beth Chapple, editor and daughter of the author

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Would you like to work and play in Yellowstone this summer?

If you are 15 to 18 years old, here is a great opportunity to make about two hundred dollars a week for a month or two and gain valuable skills and work experience in the world’s first national park, Yellowstone!

Consider joining the Youth Conservation Corps, meeting like-minded young people, and contributing to essential maintenance in this remarkable place. Here is all you need to know about the program.

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Art for February birthdays

Moran painting of Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone River

Snapshot of Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone, Wyoming, 1906, painted by Thomas Moran.

I just took this photo in the De Young Museum, Golden Gate Park, San Francisco. (Apologies for the fuzzy quality of photos taken with my iPad.)

It’s appropriate to post this, because painter Thomas Moran’s birthday is coming up. He was born in England on February 12, 1837. Many people think that Artist Point on the canyon rim was the place Moran sat to create his famous paintings, but that was at another spot, now called Moran Point. See this page in the Yellowstone Online Tour to straighten out that fact.

And why do I find myself in San Francisco today? I traveled to the Bay Area to celebrate a few family birthdays, guidebook author Janet Chapple’s among them. Happy February Birthdays!

–editor Beth Chapple

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Watching Yellowstone wolves

Just so my readers don’t miss it, I am passing on a link to a lovely story about the difference seeing wild wolves can make in people’s lives. The story appeared yesterday on the National Parks Traveler site.

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Yellowstone Geyser Eruptions: How Do They Work?

Knowing that lots of people would like to learn how geysers work, I’ll take a stab at explaining the requirements and the mechanism as simply as possible.

What is required to create a geyser and what’s happening when it erupts? All geysers have four requirements: water, heat, the right kind of rock, and a system of conduits and reservoirs (plumbing) that includes one or more constrictions to keep water and steam from flowing freely to the surface. The water pooled above such constrictions acts like a lid to maintain pressure on water below. Such constrictions differentiate geysers from the much more common hot springs. Although no one has yet been able to see exactly what this plumbing looks like, it must be something like this diagramGeyser Mechanism Figure drawn by my husband Bruno Giletti for Yellowstone Treasures. The countless different shapes the underground plumbing may take must account for the great variety in the patterns and timing of Yellowstone’s geyser eruptions—what I call their personalities.

Whether the water comes from the vent in the distinctive cone of Beehive Geyser2004_BeehiveG. or from the beautiful geyserite-ringed pool of Great Fountain Geyser, 2008_GreatFtnG the mechanism is the same.

Deep below the geyser’s vent or pool seen at the surface is a kind of rock that is rich in silica. In Yellowstone this rock, called rhyolite, was deposited in huge amounts when the caldera erupted. Silica is the primary element in the hydrous silicon dioxide (technical name for geyserite) that is deposited both along the conduits of the geyser’s water passages and all around its surface vent.

Also deep below a geyser are (1) a source of heat—in Yellowstone it is the still extremely hot volcanic rocks more than two miles below the surface—and (2) the water that has seeped into the earth from snowmelt and rain (meteoric water), and voila!—the geyser erupts.

As water gradually fills the reservoirs and is heated from below, it becomes superheated and forms steam bubbles, and the water pressure increases. Eventually, the steam pushes some water out of the vent, and steam—which requires something like a thousand times more space than water—is also released. When the pressure is thus sufficiently reduced, the steam in the conduit can blow the water column out of the vent. In many geysers, when the water supply is exhausted, the remaining steam continues for the steam phase of the eruption.

I have gleaned some ideas for this post from the sidebar my husband Bruno Giletti, a geochemist, wrote in Yellowstone Treasures (pages 88 and 89) and from T. Scott Bryan, a former ranger and also a geologist and author of books about geysers, including his Geysers: What They Are and How They Work. But as early as the mid 19th century, German scientist Eberhard von Bunsen and others already had it pretty well figured out. You can find out more about the study of the geyser mechanisms here in my September 2013 post.

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A quick heads-up on Yellowstone’s wolves

Exactly twenty years after gray wolves were reintroduced to Yellowstone Park, Kathie Lynch has given us a wonderful summary of their present very healthy state in the park. This is spite of the unfortunate killing of several collared wolves, at least three of them alphas, in the three hunting seasons since they were removed from the Endangered Species list in Montana, Idaho, and (until September 2014) in Wyoming.

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Time lines

Jack Baronett wooden bridge

“Yellowstone Jack” Baronett’s bridge over the Yellowstone River


Inside the guidebook Janet shares many anecdotes about the human history of the Yellowstone area, from prospector Jack Baronett who built a wooden toll bridge in 1871 to tourist Hazel Decker who camped in her car for 52 days to observe Steamboat Geyser. In the road logs she discusses the evidence of prehistoric peoples and the recent discoveries scientists have made at the bottom of Yellowstone Lake using a submersible robot. She compiled a time line of many of the important events in the Yellowstone area and the world in a chapter of Yellowstone Treasures called “Chronology: Yellowstone Since 1800,” which takes readers from the Lewis and Clark expedition up to the present day.

But when she and I were creating the first edition of the book in 2001 it became necessary to cut pages from the manuscript and restrict the time line to the most recent couple of hundred years of human history, even though the geological history of the region goes way back before that. Her Geological Time Line, which you can read right here on this website, extends all the way from Earth’s formation 4.6 billion years ago, through the time the Absaroka Range volcanoes formed 53 to 44 million years ago, to the time 12,000 years ago when glaciers last covered Yellowstone. This last episode was the Pinedale Glaciation, evident throughout the lower Lamar Canyon.

Thanks for spending the time with us,
Editor Beth

Credit: Photo courtesy of the U.S. Department of the Interior, National Park Service, Yellowstone National Park.

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