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Late-season thoughts on long-lasting thermal features

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Another in the occasional series “My Favorite Hot Springs”

Black Sand Basin, showing Rainbow Pool and Sunset Lake. Click to enlarge!


In any piece I write about Yellowstone, it may be hazardous to say this or that is my favorite. Here is what I committed myself to when I wrote about Black Sand Basin—maybe because in my summer visits I always spend a few days at Old Faithful Village, very nearby. “Black Sand Basin has got to be my favorite easy walk,” I wrote. “In less than a mile of walking you can enjoy a welcoming geyser (Cliff Geyser), which may be erupting as you get out of your car, then Rainbow Pool and Sunset Lake to the north.” (See “Yellowstone gems we all own” for more.)

The above is still valid, but this week, daydreaming about being back in the park, I am mentally picturing the half-mile or so of mostly level walking needed to see all the features at West Thumb Geyser Basin. (There is a short stairway at the far end of the loop.) This walk is surely another favorite of mine but requires a drive of about 19 miles from Old Faithful. It is also a place where I lost track of my husband for about an hour during the last summer he was well enough to travel, but that’s another story.

West Thumb has a lot of the quintessential “bang for the buck.” It is a delightful place to spend an hour or so, not only for its thermal features but also for its beautiful view of Yellowstone Lake. In winter it is just as great a place for a stroll. Unfortunately, it lacks geysers—although Hillside Geyser was active here for a few years earlier this century. There is generous parking, restrooms, and a picnic area for summer lunches.

Starting out past the small information building, when you turn right at the walkway’s intersection, you’ll come to a pair of beautiful hot pools, which used to differ in color and apparent temperature, but in summer 2016 and perhaps before, they overflowed into each other. Other pools that are especially notable include Black Pool, which did used to appear black but became blue when it turned hotter (and even briefly erupted in 1991) and Abyss Pool, one of the park’s deepest, which performed as a geyser as recently as 1992.

All these pools are described and some are pictured in Yellowstone Treasures, fifth edition, pages 140 to 143. Scroll down on the Guidebook page to see what pages 138-39 look like, with a map of Yellowstone Lake’s West Thumb and a photo of Bluebell and Seismograph Pools.

Photo credit: Aerial view of Rainbow Pool and Sunset Lake in Black Sand Basin on Iron Spring Creek by Jim Peaco,
June 22, 2006. Available on the official Yellowstone National Park Flickr page.

Essential sights to see

Categories: Thermal features, Through Early Yellowstone, Trip planning
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Here is my answer to the 6/11/18 question on the Quora website: What are some sights to see in two days at Yellowstone National Park? (BTW, Two days is not nearly enough for a place as large as Yellowstone.)

Grand Prismatic Spring, the same one that is featured on the cover of “Through Early Yellowstone”


The century-long-and-then-some favorites are the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone River with its two great waterfalls and Old Faithful Geyser. But before or after the always-predictable Old Faithful eruption take the Geyser Hill walk with or without an interpretive ranger and enjoy lovely hot springs and the possibility of other geysers going off. The other most remarkable sight near Old Faithful (a few miles north of it) is Midway Geyser Basin, but you *must* get there early or late in the day to find parking.

Be ready to stop as you drive between these major attractions, since there are pleasant surprises (sometimes including wildlife) all along the roads.

Photo credit: Grand Prismatic Spring in Midway Geyser Basin, taken by Bruno Giletti, can be seen on page 65 of Yellowstone Treasures, updated fifth edition.

My hike to Narrow Gauge Terrace in June

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Finally in June this year Janet and I got the chance to travel to Yellowstone and the Grand Tetons together. Janet was there on a longer road trip, but we spent several days together at Old Faithful and Norris Geyser Basins, as well as at Colter Bay and the Laurance S. Rockefeller Preserve in Grand Teton National Park, and then some time in Gardiner and Bozeman, Montana, too. No doubt we will gradually share some of our adventures over the coming months. One day I drove back to Mammoth Hot Springs on my own.

The story I am ready to tell is the hike I got to take from the Mammoth main terrace to Narrow Gauge Terrace. Enjoy!
—Beth, editor and publisher

https://www.slideshare.net/BethChapple/beyond-mammoth-hot-springs

The Marvels of Yellowstone Lake

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Janet on the north shore of the lake, 2009

While we recline in the doldrums awaiting the opening of Yellowstone Park’s roads—mostly on April 21st, when the bulk of the plowing should be done and wheeled vehicles can again reach the interior of the park—I will pass along a link about a man who is building a robot to learn what is below Yellowstone Lake and is yet to be discovered and explained by scientists. Elsewhere I learned that project leader David Lovalvo’s crowd sourcing for this project reached its goal of raising $100,000 last year.

Granted, this article appeared on the Internet a year ago, but its interest is evergreen. Geoscientists at the U.S. Geological Survey, particularly Lisa Morgan, Wayne Shanks, and Kenneth Pierce, published classic research papers on what they had learned by 2007*. But there is much more of interest lurking in the depths of the lake, and I only hope to live long enough to find out more about it.

*See the section titled “Yellowstone Lake Studies” in: Integrated Geoscience Studies in the Greater Yellowstone Area: U.S.G.S. Professional Paper 1717.

Through British Eyes—Yellowstone, Summer 2016

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In this special summer when record numbers are expected in all the nation’s parks due to the centennial of the National Park Service, gas prices are down somewhat, and many foreign tourists (especially those from China) are touring the U.S., a neighbor has sent me a perceptive account of her British friends’ June trip through Yellowstone. I think reading Annie’s comments about Yellowstone may be both entertaining and helpful to people visiting in the next two or three months, so I’m passing along some excerpts from the message she recently sent my neighbor. You’ll learn both the plusses and minuses of a 2016 summer visit!

Pictures here of Aurum Spring at Upper Geyser Basin and Naiad Spring at Mammoth Hot Springs are courtesy of Suzanne Cane, taken in 2013.

From Annie and Paul’s 2016 Trip Report

Our next National Park was Yellowstone, which you can enter by driving through The Grand Tetons and using the South Entrance. We have now visited so many parks that we wondered what Yellowstone could offer that would amaze us yet again.

[The morning after settling into their campsite] From past experience we know you have to go in the parks early so we headed in about 7 am, our aim being to get to the old Faithful Geyser, so named as it erupts more reliably than any other big geysers. At present it erupts roughly every 90 minutes. It expels anywhere between 4–8 thousand gallons of boiling water and reaches a height between 1–2 hundred feet. It is not the largest geyser in the park, but you are guaranteed to see it blow. We had around 40 minutes to wait so took a walk around Geyser Hill.
SC031_Aurum G_12in.copy Aurum Geyser’s pool on Geyser Hill “lays” uniform geyser eggs

It was a truly surreal experience; the Park has built boardwalks around the geysers, and walking around there is a strong smell of sulphur, which Paul hated. I felt it was rather healthy to inhale and clear the lungs. (Ed., Venus, Mars…) The pools vary in size and colour, some small with luminous turquoises and blues. The large ones can be almost obscured with steam, but the wind will momentarily clear it to show crystal clear water bubbling away. Then there are the mud pools which go gloop, gloop, gloop and really stink. We saw some small eruptions but nothing amazing. What was surprising was the number of flowers growing quite close to the geysers’ centres.

We headed back to Old Faithful, which was now due to erupt. The photographers had gathered but there is a large viewing area all around the geyser. There were several false alarms with little spouts of water and massive eruptions of steam, then suddenly she was off—huge column of water rising into the air followed by clouds of steam. It lasted for about 3 minutes and was truly impressive.

Leaving Old Faithful we drove slowly along the Yellowstone Lake, one of the world’s largest alpine lakes, its shores are volcanic beaches. To the east and southeast of the lakes are the wild and snowcapped Absaroka Range of mountains. Truly beautiful.

We wended our way back to camp and decided to treat ourselves to dinner out. We made enquiries at the office and they recommended Bar N Ranch for excellent steaks, quiet and good service. Just what we wanted. It was 10 minutes out of town and perfect. A large wooden lodge style building, we had a lovely table in the window looking out over fields to the pine forests in the distance and their tented camp site, which actually looked a bit like an Indian war army camp all in straight lines with US flags flying! However, the food was great, fresh salad, 9oz. fillet steak cooked medium rare, (not rare as in England which is raw in America) and nice vegetables, and a mellow glass of red wine. Perfect end to the day. [This restaurant is new to me—maybe I’ll get to sample it this summer!]

Next day we went into the park a bit later, which was a big mistake, crowds of people and difficulty parking at various view points. . . . [Driving north of Beryl Spring, between Madison and Norris,] we got stuck in a massive line of cars. We thought it was road works, slowly we crawled along until finally we got to an open clearing and found cars stopping all over the road to photograph bison, really!—hardly the most enchanting of animals and how many photos do you need? That put me in a bad mood as it seems so selfish.

[Unable to find parking at Norris Geyser Basin] we headed on around to Mammoth Hot Springs. Lots of car parks but very busy and we finally got into one and set off on the boardwalk. The hot springs here have created very strange rock formations like steps with boiling water running down them, large pools of iridescent green and blue, bubbling and steaming. . . . I walked higher and higher, and at the top you have an overlook of all the spectacular terraces.
P1050633_Naiad Spring Naiad Spring, about halfway up the stairs from the Mammoth Lower Terrace parking areas, became active in 2012.

Most of the geysers are in the Southern Loop. . . We headed in on day 3 at about 7 am and reached Biscuit and Black Sand Basin well before the crowds. It is really difficult to do justice to these geysers. One favourite was Excelsior Crater; it was completely covered in steam which also enveloped us, and as we reached the far side of the pool the wind cleared, the steam momentarily revealing the brilliant colours in the water, at the edges light turquoise getting darker and then deep blue in the centre, and really clear. Quite phenomenal. Grand Prismatic Spring was quite dramatic, as from a distance you can see the steam is coloured blue, mauve, red, pink and yellow. As you get nearer the steam swirls about you and it is a really eerie feeling. Unique and, yes, awesome!!

Yellowstone is a fantastic park, we gave it 5 days but really do need longer to explore it.

Robot will explore the depths of Yellowstone Lake

Categories: Science, Thermal features, Through Early Yellowstone
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Yellowstone Lake Mount Sheridan

Part of Yellowstone Lake with Mount Sheridan

Just coming off the deadlines for suggesting changes to the designer’s files for my next book, Through Early Yellowstone, I want to pass on a delightful link from the Yellowstone Insider. On January 27th publisher Kevin Reichard passed on some interesting news published in Jackson Hole News and Guide. Hey! Sharing good stuff is what the Web is for, isn’t it?

My interest in microorganisms stems from a Yellowstone Institute class I took with researcher Anna-Louise Reysenbach way back in July 1999. Microbial research is a fascinating but very complex subject, and in recent years I’ve been learning and writing more about it. Take a look at my website “nuggets” from July 8 and 9, 2014, on “Yellowstone Park and the Quest for the Origins of Life.”

In a nutshell, some major research bodies, such as the USGS, NOAA, and several universities, are collaborating with the Global Foundation for Ocean Exploration to build a research boat and diving robot that will explore the bottom of Yellowstone Lake.

If all goes as planned, starting next summer the robot will take pictures and return samples of what it finds there. This will follow up on lake bottom research reported by USGS scientist Lisa Morgan and colleagues as part of a series of articles published in 2007: “Integrated Geoscience Studies in the Greater Yellowstone Area,” USGS Professional Paper 1717.

[Revised Feb. 27, 2017—Ed.:] The Global Foundation for Ocean Exploration created a fascinating ten-minute video starring microbial ecologist Dr. Reysenbach that does not seem to be available any longer. Although the video does not show us any microbes (seen only under a microscope), it does show some views of the thermal vents on the ocean bottom, teaming with hitherto unknown life.

Photo credit: This photo from page 144 of Yellowstone Treasures, fourth edition (2013), was taken by Bruno Giletti.

Continuing the occasional posts about my favorite hot springs and pools in Yellowstone, today I’ll feature two located in Upper Geyser Basin. One of these is a short walk from Old Faithful Geyser and next to the remarkable formation of Castle Geyser. The other takes more effort to reach but is also worth every bit of it.

Crested Pool, pictured by my friend Suzanne Cane on a beautiful sunny day a couple of summers ago,Crested Pool copy has gone by many names since first seen by writers about the park. It has stayed consistently beautiful since it was first described in the 1870s—not true of all Yellowstone’s hot pools. We’ve used Suzanne’s picture on the cover of our guide to the park’s most accessible thermal areas, Visiting Geyserland.

Lee Whittlesey, Park Historian, lists no fewer than ten names for this pool in his Yellowstone Place Names. First it was called “Fire Basin” by expedition leader Ferdinand V. Hayden (1872). Then the goddess Diana was featured in three names as “Diana’s Spring,” “Diana’s Well,” and “Diana’s Bath.” Sadly, the most appropriate old name was “Devil’s Well”: in 1970 a young boy jumped or fell to his death in this pool.

If you cross the Firehole River beyond Crested Pool and pass other great features like Grand, Oblong, and Riverside Geysers and Morning Glory Pool, you’ll come to the unmaintained trail (and former road) that leads uphill to Artemisia Geyser. It’s a real geyser, but you have to be very patient or very lucky to see an eruption. It goes off extremely irregularly; somewhere between one-third of a day and a day-and-a-half will pass between any two eruptions. However, as you can see from my June 2015 picture, it is worthwhile visiting,
ArtemisiaG_6_15 just for its gorgeous-colored pool and the unusual patterns of its geyserite surroundings. You can continue on the path past other lovely features all the way to Biscuit Basin.

Upper Terrace Drive at Mammoth closed due to thermal activity

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Recently some tiny but active terrace-forming springs have made their appearance very close to the Upper Terrace Drive. Now park geologist Hank Heasler has determined that water up to 152 degrees Fahrenheit (67 ºC) is bubbling out near the road. News sources say the feature became visibly active in May and is creating new small terraces too close to the drive for visitor safety. As a result the Park Service has closed the road.

When I visited early one morning in mid June, checking up on one of my favorite features, Canary Spring, I noticed that the area around Grassy Spring seemed very hot, with little terraces appearing since I was last there and a tiny new spring above the first major parking area, where I usually park to visit Canary.

If you’re visiting Mammoth this summer or fall, you can still park just outside the entrance to the Upper Terrace Drive and walk down the Canary Spring boardwalk or beyond the new hot activity to see my other favorite feature, Narrow Gauge Terrace.

For more about Mammoth Hot Springs and a video of Canary’s activity last year, see my September 18, 2014, post. Here’s what the spring and terrace looked like in 2009:

Canary Spring 2009

Canary looked like this when I was there in 2009.

You can locate the features mentioned here in Yellowstone Treasures (print version, map page 265 and text pages 271 to 274) or check it out in the e-book version of that guidebook. You can also find information about this part of Mammoth in our companion/derivative e-book, Visiting Geyserland, pages 11 to 15.

Yellowstone Park on the Web

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A United Kingdom website called “The Independent” last week passed on one misleading interpretation and one, to me, amazing coincidence.

Along with a lovely picture of Morning Glory Pool, which I wrote about last December,
their headline, “Yellowstone Park hot spring turned green by good luck coins tossed in by tourists,” seemed to imply that the metal in coins had caused the color of the pool to change. However, they clarified it in their article, explaining that a prodigious amount of tossed-in debris had caused the spring’s temperature to be lowered, allowing the colorful types of bacteria that love heat—but not too much heat—to grow far down into the pool.

The coincidence was that their photo showing the pool
Screen ShotMngGlPlwith Mother 2015-03-14
is one from the June 1940 National Geographic (but uncredited) that I discovered while researching for Yellowstone Treasures. “The Independent” admitted to retouching the image, which looks bluer and generally prettier than it does in my copy of the old magazine. But the real coincidence here is that the woman seated on the right is my mother! She was playing music during summer of 1939 in Old Faithful Inn with the other four women in the picture, who called themselves The Ladies’ Ensemble of Billings (Montana). Margaret Orvis (my mother’s name at that time) played piano with the group for tea in the afternoons. Then she took up the drums to play with them in the evening for dance music.

I doubt that Mother ever knew her picture was in the National Geographic! That was the summer I played hide-and-seek with my sister Joan in the inn.

What goes around comes around.

[Editor’s note: If you are curious, read more of Janet’s memoirs in “Janet celebrates her 75th anniversary in the Park.”]

The Half-Way Group of Yellowstone Beauties

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Post three on my favorite hot springs, showcasing four more springs

It’s high time I featured the hot springs of the must-not-miss geyser basin called Midway. A short distance north of Upper Geyser Basin—where Old Faithful Geyser is located—and a similar drive from the capacious Lower Geyser Basin, is an area that was called Hell’s Half-Acre back when the park was new. Those were the days when the hot wonders of Yellowstone seemed to put travelers frequently in mind of hell and the devil.

Today’s visitors climb the boardwalk (accessible with assistance) up from the Firehole River to a remarkable caldron of steaming sky-blue water below a deep opening in the buildup of countless layers of geyserite rock deposited over the centuries.

Our pictures show a small part of Excelsior Geyser’s edge as it looks today (first photo) and an eruption in 1888 (second, black-and-white photo), almost the only decade when this tremendous geyser is known to have erupted—as high and wide as 300 feet (90-plus meters).

DSC_0437

Excelsior photo Haynes

Two small but lovely pools appear along the boardwalk as you leave Excelsior’s edge: well-named Turquoise Pool (first) and sometime-geyser Opal Pool (second), which is inclined to drain completely at times.

SCane_2013_Turquoise Pool copy

DSC_0439

The final attraction you will pass, Grand Prismatic Spring, by itself takes up almost two acres of space, giving the lie to the old popular name for this whole basin. Not only its size but its coloring is incomparable. Yellow, orange, and brown bacterial mats encircle the central pool’s blue and green, and prodigious runoff creates gentle brown terraces leading away from the pool. On a sunny summer day, the blue of the water reflects delightfully in the pool’s steam.

GrandPr.Spg

Our picture was taken as we walked along the edge, but a quick look at Google Images will show you numerous shots of the whole pool taken from the air and from the hills to the west and east of the basin.

When you’ve seen Grand Prismatic Spring you will understand the dismay caused by a German tourist crashing his drone into this irreplaceable Yellowstone treasure during the summer of 2014. His careless act (and others like it) led to a total ban on drones in all national parks.

Visiting Midway Geyser Basin provides an experience like none other in the world.

The historic picture of Excelsior Geyser erupting, which you can also see on page 64 of Yellowstone Treasures, was taken in 1888 by Frank J. Haynes (courtesy of National Park Service, Yellowstone); Excelsior’s edge, Grand Prismatic Spring, and Opal Pool (in 2010) by Bruno Giletti; and Turquoise Pool by Suzanne Cane.