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Yellowstone, Land of Wonders: Newly translated Yellowstone Park travelogue

Categories: Janet Chapple's Other Writing, Thermal features, Yellowstone, Land of Wonders
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Yellowstone Land of Wonders book coverI have not been posting these two weeks [Dec.2012, Jan. 2013], since all I’ve been doing is going through page proofs and helping to create the index for the 1886 book that colleague Suzanne Cane and I have translated from French. It’s called Yellowstone, Land of Wonders: Promenade in North America’s National Park, written by Belgian Jules Leclercq. The author was there at a time when Yellowstone was just opening up to tourists; there were few people around and no limits to where they could go or what they could do. So, while climbing around the terraces at Mammoth Hot Springs, author Jules Leclercq decided it would be pleasant to bathe in a hot spring. He wrote:

I experienced supreme satisfaction plunging into a basin whose waters were an exquisite 30ºC [86ºF]. My bath was a meter deep. The siliceous efflorescence that lined the interior walls seemed like velvet cushions.
I remained perfectly still for a long time in this delightful bath, allowing my body to be pervaded by the invigorating influence of those waters, gentler to the skin than the softest comforter and as agreeable to the taste as to the touch.

While I was reveling in my bath, I became aware of the augmentation in water level following a sudden rise in level in a higher spring, and, to my great horror, I noticed a neighboring basin that had been completely dry was now flooded by the rise. Now, it was in that basin that I had put my clothes, my boots, my towels. One must have suffered a similar ordeal to understand what deep despair can arise from the smallest accidents. The proximity of the hotel consoled me in my misfortune.

A similar incident a few years earlier (1879) was described in “Through the Yellowstone Park to Fort Custer” by Dr. S. Weir Mitchell, who, with a physician friend, found “gleaming bathtubs full of water . . . so absolutely delicious that we sank for a few moments into motionless, silent enjoyment. Presently my friend uttered words which I may not repeat, and looking up, I saw that the springs above us had been seized with a fit of prodigality, and had suddenly and liberally overflowed the doctor’s dressing-tables. His visage as he got out of the bath with alacrity was something to remember.”

Our book will be available in May 2013 in hardcover and e-book versions from the University of Nebraska Press.

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White Creek and Yellowstone Treasures

Categories: Thermal features
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From the time Yellowstone Treasures was new in 2002 until the third reprint of the third edition earlier this year [2012], I’ve told readers about a narrow unmaintained trail that leads from the Great Fountain Geyser parking area to some interesting hot springs and geysers along White Creek. Certainly not intending to go against National Park Service regulations, I nevertheless neglected to point out in recent printings that the trail was closed to visitors in about 2010.

This action was probably taken because visitors were overusing the area and harming the natural features, as a knowledgeable geyser gazer pointed out in an e-mail message last week. He said that “the number of people going up White Creek to look at Octopus Pool and other features increased drastically” about ten years ago. He also said that these visitors “had no knowledge of how to be safe in such situations. Nobody understood how much environmental damage they were doing, either,” and he pointed out that “anybody with access to the internet and popular guidebooks thinks of White Creek as a destination.”

Not surprisingly, this gave me a sense of mea culpa, which has been gnawing at me these past few days. Although I cannot correct old editions, I will no longer write about the White Creek hydrothermal features in Yellowstone Treasures—and I will point out that the area is now closed to visitors. White Creek is one of several interesting but fragile and even potentially dangerous places in the park that have suffered from overuse and been judged by the park service to need time to recover.

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My best excuse for neglecting my blog this late fall [2011] is that I’ve been working non-stop with my colleague Suzanne Cane to send off our new Yellowstone manuscript to a publisher. We’ve translated into English a French book called La Terre des Merveilles. We’ve made the title into Yellowstone, Land of Wonders and brought it up to date with lots of explanatory notes.

Our author, Jules Leclercq, was a Belgian attorney and judge, who spent his time away from the bench in traveling and writing excellent books about far-flung places. He went all over the world between the 1870s and the early 1900s: China, South Africa, Mexico, Iceland, remote islands, etc. Of course, his twenty-four travel books were all in French, although he clearly knew a lot of English. As far as we can determine, none of his travel books has ever before been fully translated in English.

Suzanne and I loved his style: well-informed but often humorous, observant of details but never bogged down in them, respectful of his surroundings and his companions if sometimes gently mocking of himself or his situation. His Yellowstone visit was in 1883, but he showed great sensitivity to his environment and was appalled at the vandalism to park features he sometimes observed. We’ve tried to make the English version reflect Leclercq’s typical late-19th-century way of writing: using lots of similes and adjectives, flowery but always sticking to the subject.

I found the book while researching for my Yellowstone anthology of early writings, working title “Magnificent Playground,” which as of now remains unpublished—but that’s another subject. Yellowstone, Land of Wonders will be published by the University of Nebraska Press. Although our work on it is done except for the proofing, it is scheduled for publication in spring of 2013. We’ll just have to wait, but I think everyone with an interest in Yellowstone and western U.S. history will want to read it.

Here’s a sample of Leclercq’s genius for description that will make anyone who has ever seen this spring sigh with longing to go back:

Mute with amazement and astonishment, we gazed upon Grand Prismatic Spring, nature’s most gigantic hot spring. This expanse of steaming, sapphire-colored water is so surpassingly transparent that the thousand fantastical forms on the festooned walls could be distinguished under the crystal liquid. The aqueous layers take on a more and more intense blue color as the eye penetrates deeper into the abyss. Several meters from the edge one loses sight of the bottom of the basin, and the dark color of the water indicates unfathomable depths that are concealed from view. Toward the center of the basin, the water rises several inches high as it boils; agitated by an undulating motion, it regularly spills over from all sides above the reddish and curiously festooned siliceous ring that slightly protrudes around the basin.
An extensive mist of hot vapors rises continually from the bosom of this marvelous expanse of water. Nary a bird glides above it; no tree grows on its banks. Words fail to describe the country surrounding it, sublime in its desolation and nakedness. And yet I need only close my eyes to see it again, for it is unforgettable.

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Yellowstone Volcano Observatory scientist not worried about an imminent supereruption

Categories: Science, Thermal features
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Today I’m wearing my Supervolcano T-shirt, acquired at a preview showing of the 2005 BBC/Discovery Channel movie of that name. It was a scary movie for anybody, and the Internet spin it engendered has continued, since apparently many people have taken this fictional treatment as something all of North America needs to worry about from now on. Yellowstone Treasures (meaning me) interviewed our geologist (my husband Bruno) about this, and we put his comments up on our Web site soon after the movie was shown. See the nugget called “The Yellowstone Supervolcano.”

Even before that movie came out, the USGS had set up the Yellowstone Volcano Observatory, and Jacob Lowenstern is now its esteemed head scientist. Here’s part of what he said in a recent e-mail interview. Before upping the Yellowstone supereruption alert level, he wrote, “we’d need to see more going on than what we’ve seen, and we’d want to see deformation and earthquakes happening simultaneously and in some abundance.” Even those warning signs wouldn’t necessarily mean a massive eruption, the scientists are quick to note. “Scientists are reasonably good at short-term forecasts of volcanic activity but cannot look long into the future.” However, Earth’s tectonic plates are too complex for their future to be knowable. Thus, in lieu of predicting exactly when specific earthquakes and volcanic eruptions will happen, geologists “typically rely on probabilistic evaluations that are based on how often volcanoes have erupted in the past.”

“At Yellowstone,” he continued, “activity is clearly episodic. There was a very long period of volcanic activity between 170,000 years ago until about 70,000 years ago. Many tens of lava flows erupted during that time, though none were nearly as explosive as the supereruptions that are so oft-discussed in the press. Since 70,000 years ago, there have been no volcanic eruptions at Yellowstone. Nearly all geologists I know expect that Yellowstone will experience future volcanic eruptions, but we honestly cannot state when they will occur, nor do we know if there are any more supereruptions in Yellowstone’s future.

“It could still be tens of thousands of years before the next eruption. Having said that, it is always possible that things could change… and that’s why we keep a close watch.”

You can read more at:

I’ll be wearing my Supervolcano T-shirt in the park, starting June 20th [2011]. . .

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This time I want to write about three separate subjects that only relate to my recent [2010] trip to Yellowstone because they center on people in the park.
First, I want to publicly thank Yellowstone’s Park Historian, Lee Whittlesey. He has been encouraging to me about all my projects relating to the park and has helped me immeasurably to find what I’ve needed and to understand a great many things. I’ve gone to him with questions ever since 1995, when I began research relating to Yellowstone. This month he supplied a strong shot in the arm to the project my colleague Suzanne Cane and I have been working on for over two years, a translation of Belgian travel writer Jules Leclercq’s beautifully written 1886 French book called La Terre des Merveilles or The Land of Wonders. His help and enthusiasm are propelling us forward. What an amazing guy he is!

Next I’ll mention the delight I felt when, by chance, I got to meet USGS geologists Bob (“Chris”) Christiansen and Jake Lowenstern while waiting for Fountain Geyser to erupt. These two were presenting interesting geological remarks to a small group of people that turned out to be a field trip from the group Geologists of Jackson Hole. When they were about to leave I got up the courage to introduce myself and my husband Bruno Giletti, and they were both most cordial. These are two of the most important contemporary researchers into Yellowstone-related geologic questions, and I have known about them for many years, so it was a pleasure to finally meet them.

Lastly, at Mammoth Hot Springs in previous summers I’ve been able to consult the rangers’ logbook to learn what the various springs and terraces have been doing since the last time I was there. Now, I learned, there is no longer a logbook, and, as far as the rangers at the information desk in Albright Visitor Center could tell me, no one is keeping track for the park of where there are new springs, which ones are most active in building the travertine terraces, or any other current data about Mammoth’s remarkable features. If this is so, it is really a shame. I suppose it is directly related to lack of sufficient funds to have enough park service personnel to do all the things that should be done, and this type of study is a low priority. But the geysers all over the park have their own non-governmental group called the Geyser Observation and Study Association, with some 250-300 members. What about these unique hot spring terraces? I would love to be able to help personally with reviving the data collection on thermal features at Mammoth. Maybe in the next life. . .

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Geysers and hot springs: personal report for late August 2010

Categories: Geysers, News, Thermal features
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My routine whenever I’m at Old Faithful Village is to go to the Visitor Center when it opens at 8:00 am to check out the geyser predictions for the day. Last month I was able to catch most of my favorites—except Grand and also Fan and Mortar eluded me.

I was especially lucky to see two Beehive eruptions from the start, because before I was there and now after my visit, Beehive’s indicator is taking over. The indicator is a small geyser located next to Beehive’s large cone, and it commonly spouts a few feet for 10 to 30 minutes before Beehive’s incredibly powerful straight, high eruption. Now the indicator is going off every few hours and Beehive rarely.

With a little patience I was able to see a lovely Fountain Geyser eruption (at Fountain Paint Pots) and two Great Fountains. Unfortunately, the invaluable Lynn Stephens is no longer monitoring Great Fountain; for the past several years she has stayed in that geyser’s parking lot and noted when the overflow began, so that the prediction window could be narrowed, making the wait for the eruption much shorter. Due to an unexplainable fiasco with the National Park Service, her volunteer services have been terminated. She is sorely missed by geyser watchers. However, this summer we did have an apprentice of Lynn’s, Maureen from West Yellowstone, who has been able to watch the overflow quite often and help those of us with less time than we’d like to have see the eruptions.

Walking out beyond Grand Geyser one day I noted that Chromatic Pool was more colorful (because hotter) than its neighbor, Beauty Pool. At Biscuit Basin, the three pools as you enter there seemed to me the hottest I’ve ever seen them, and the perpetual spouter (new in 2006) near the river continues to play. The most beautiful pools I saw this year were at Midway Geyser Basin. Besides the ever-incredible Grand Prismatic Spring, its neighbors Turquoise and Opal pools were outstanding. I believe Opal erupted a few days after I was there.

So the park is never the same on two visits, but it never fails to delight me!

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At Old Faithful Village, 2010

Categories: News, Science, Thermal features, Trip planning
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Old Faitful visitor center

Old Faithful Visitor Education Center dedication, August 25, 2010

We were there when the new Old Faithful Visitor Education Center was dedicated and opened on August 25th. A sizeable group of visitors and interested employees of the park attended. The ceremony began with a real mounted color guard presenting the flag and continued with short speeches by Park Superintendent Suzanne Lewis (who will retire next month), NPS Director Jon Jarvis, and others important to the creation of the new building and its exhibits. It ended with lots of Yellowstone National Park pennant-waving and with the miracle of Old Faithful Geyser erupting just as keynote speaker, historian Paul Schullery, was concluding his inspirational remarks.

At one point Schullery asked for a show of hands of people who remembered the first visitor center (then called a ranger station and museum), razed in about 1970. Of course, I raised my hand, since the exhibits at that museum and the kind rangers who worked there are fond memories of the years I got to live nearby as a little girl.

The building itself is very roomy and quite impressive, with a long curved counter where rangers can answer your questions, an excellent bookstore, and a pair of exhibit rooms, dedicated to showing and explaining all the important aspects of Yellowstone’s hydrothermal features. They cover the caldera, the rocks formed in it, the various types of thermal features and their characteristics, life forms found near them, discoveries of features under Yellowstone Lake, microorganisms, and possible similarities to other planets and their moons. The centerpiece of the main room is a life-forms diorama, and of the young scientists’ room, a model geyser that builds up to a small eruption about every nine minutes.

Old Faithful exhibit

“Life in Thermal Areas” exhibit at the visitor center

I was grouching before seeing it about the new museum being called an “education center,” thinking that people on vacation, especially schoolchildren, might not enjoy being told they are being educated. But I have to admit the curators have done an excellent job. Now—if only all those electronics can be kept operating!

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Supervolcano: are we ready for another caldera explosion?

Categories: Science, Thermal features
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[Update 6 Sept. 2010: Looking at this post’s title again, I realize the word “ready” is ambiguous there. We will never be ready to be inundated with hundreds or thousands of square miles of ash and lava. The hope is simply that we can be warned in time to get out of the way when it does happen. And that is the best that modern scientists can prepare us for at this time. Such forces of nature do not wait for man to figure them out.]

As I pack for my annual trip to Yellowstone, people ask me if I worry about the escaped Arizona criminals being in the area or the potential eruption of the so-called supervolcano. My answer is no to both, since the chance of running into the criminals is probably less than that of being struck by lightning, and the caldera eruption will give us ample warning, now that the equipment and organization of the Yellowstone Volcano Observatory team is in place.

Predicted in our interview with Yellowstone Treasures’s geologist is the putting in place of a scientific team and equipment to detect any changes in underground activity that will precede the next caldera eruption.

You can download a USGS paper detailing the mechanisms for detecting and warning the public about “episodes of unusual geological unrest at the Yellowstone Caldera” at: This sets up an Incident Command System, explains how the various personnel and agencies will be structured and will react with each other in the case of impending danger, and how the public will be kept informed. It also outlines specific scenarios for reaction to catastrophic events.

As for me, I won’t be writing blogs in the next while but will be enjoying favorite places and friends in and around Yellowstone.

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