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Excerpt from A Place of Marvels

Categories: History, Through Early Yellowstone
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We’ll soon be celebrating National Parks Week, April 20-28. But let’s get a head start. On this day in 1870, park writer Ray Stannard Baker was born in Lansing, Michigan. This Pulitzer Prize–winning journalist is best known for his biography of President Woodrow Wilson, for whom he had been the press secretary. Baker worked for McClure’s Magazine at the time he published his Yellowstone report, excerpted here.

On Hymen Terrace by Blumenschein

Engraving of Ernest L. Blumenschein’s 1903 drawing. Tourists on top of Hymen Terrace, Mammoth Hot Springs.

Beyond the Upper Basin one cannot escape a veritable succession of marvels. At the Fountain there are many strange forms of geysers and hot springs, often gorgeous in coloring, surrounded by water-formed rocks in many curious and beautiful designs, and veritable caldrons of bubbling mud, and bears in the garbage-piles, and I know not how many other wonders. At Norris there are growling, jagged holes in the earth, belching forth huge volumes of hot steam, which, having killed and bleached all the verdure of the near mountain-side, has given the whole valley an indescribable air of desolation, as if the forces of nature had gone wrong—the very work of the devil, after whom so many of the marvels are named. Farther along one shudders under the brow of Roaring Mountain, makes a wry face while sipping water from the Apollinaris spring, wonders at the Hoodoo rocks [at Silver Gate], or admires the gorgeous colored pulpits and terraces of the Mammoth Hot Springs.

And yet after all these things, amazing as they are, one turns again to the road and the mountains and the trees. Undue emphasis may have been laid upon the odd, spectacular, bizarre—those things, dear to the heart of the American, which are the “biggest,” the “grandest,” the “most wonderful,” the “most beautiful” of their kind in the world. But the Park is far more than a natural hippodrome. The geysers appeal to one’s sense of the mysterious: one treads on the hollow earth not without an agreeable sense of danger, thrills with the volcanic rumblings underneath, waits with tense interest for the geyser, now boiling and bubbling, to hurl its fountain of hot water into the air; one is awed by these strange evidences of a living earth, guesses and conjectures, as the scientists have been doing for centuries, and then, somehow, unaccountably weary of these exhibitions, turns to the solemn, majestic hills, to waterfall and marshy meadow, to the wonderful trail through the forest. For, after all, the charm of the Park is the charm of the deep, untouched wilderness, the joy of the open road.

Indeed, the very name Park, associated as it is with smooth lawns and formal, man-guarded tree-groups and stream-courses, seems out of place when applied to these splendid mountain-tops. Here is a space nearly sixty miles square—a third larger than the State of Delaware, and, with its adjoining forest reserves, which are really a part of the public wilderness, nearly as large as Massachusetts or New Jersey. Visitors see only a narrow road-strip of its wonders, though the best; upon vast reaches of mountain and forest, lakes, rivers, geysers, cañons, no man looks once a year; probably many areas have never been seen by human eyes. The United States regular soldiers who guard it keep mostly to the roads, the boundaries of the Park being for the most part so wild and rugged that even poaching hunters could not cross them if they would.

It was a carping German traveler who complained that this Park was no park. “Look at your dead trees and burned stumps in the woods,” he said, thinking perhaps of the well-groomed, man-made forests of his native land, “and your streams, full of driftwood. It is not cared for.”

And Heaven help that it may never be cared for in that way! Not a park, but a wilderness, full of wild beauty and natural disorder, may we keep the place as nature left it, disturbing no land-slide where it lies, no natural dam of logs and stones heaped here by mountain freshet, no havoc of wind-storm or avalanche. The windfall, with its shaggy spreading roots full of matted earth and stone, rapidly being covered with grass and moss, and the river-bed full of bleached driftwood, each has its own rare quality of picturesqueness, its own fitting place in this wild harmony. There is beauty even in the work of the forest fire, which has left whole mountain-sides of freshly scorched pine foliage, a deep golden red smoldering in the sunshine; and many a blackened bit of forest, longer burned, leaves an impression of somber shadows, of silence and death, which cannot be forgotten. One even comes to begrudge this wilderness its telephone poles, its roads, and the excellent stone embankments which keep them from slipping down the mountainsides into the swift streams below; for they detract from its wild perfection. We may behold nature in its softer and more comely aspects almost anywhere; but every year, with the spread of population in our country, it becomes more difficult to preserve genuine wilderness places where hill and forest and stream have been left exactly as nature made them. Already our indomitable pioneers have driven the wilderness into the very fastnesses of the mountains, so that only remnants now remain. And this great Yellowstone Park remnant has been fortunately set aside by the government for the enjoyment and inspiration of the people forever.

CREDIT: “A Place of Marvels: Yellowstone Park as It Now Is,” The Great Northwest Series, The Century Magazine 66, no. 4 (August 1903): 481–91. Reproduced in Chapple, Janet, ed. Through Early Yellowstone: Adventuring by Bicycle, Covered Wagon, Foot, Horseback, and Skis, pp. 215–17. Lake Forest Park, WA: Granite Peak Publications, 2016.

Believe us, the engravings of Blumenschein’s illustrations for Baker’s article come out far better in the print version of the book.

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Yellowstone trail reconstruction in 2018

Categories: News
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NPS Yellowstone Canyon Closures Map As this lovely map from the National Park Service website shows, the Canyon area is filled with construction projects that are going to improve safety and accessibility for people, and only some of them have been finished. The map is from October 11 and does not include the Uncle Tom’s Point project that was finished on October 20, 2018. (Tap or click the image for a larger version.) For example, the Brink of Upper Falls is closed for construction through the summer of 2019. And the portion of the North Rim Trail between Brink of the Lower Falls and Chittenden Bridge is still closed.

Here’s the good news: the Uncle Tom’s Point reconstruction that was completed on October 20 added new walkways and improved overlooks with views of Upper Falls. Canyon Overlook and Sunset Point are wheelchair-accessible, and you will now be able to walk the South Rim Trail to Chittenden Bridge in 0.87 miles (1.4 km).

There’s more to come for trails through Yellowstone National Park. Mount Washburn trails and trailheads closed for the season on July 12, 2018. They are reconstructing the trail and building a telecommunications structure at the historic Mount Washburn fire lookout. Also, on October 15 Fishing Bridge closed for construction, and more recently a boardwalk on Geyser Hill had to be closed due to activity underneath. On Twitter? Follow us (@GPPublications) and the park itself (@YellowstoneNPS) to keep informed about trail changes and improvements.

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Updated for 2018, part 3

Categories: Geysers, Science
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Steamboat Geyser 4 June 2018

This photo of a major eruption of Steamboat Geyser gives a sense of its power but not its full height!

Every time we update the Yellowstone Treasures guidebook, such as for the second printing of the fifth edition in spring 2018, there are numerous changes to the hot springs and geysers that must be reviewed and considered. Not only that, “the number of hot springs in the park has been estimated to be around 10,000. Geysers known to have erupted or erupting now number more than 1,200” (Yellowstone Treasures, page 61).

Here are a few of the geyser changes since the cutoff date for the first printing, February 2017. During 2017 Atomizer Geyser (p. 96) noticeably slowed its interval down from twice a day to an average of 20 hours. Page 93 of the first printing says Giant Geyser last erupted on September 28, 2015 (and that was after a five-and-a-half year hiatus, so it was pretty important). But nature has been busy proving the guidebook wrong. Giant erupted on July 7, October 9, and November 3, 2017, so we included the November date as the last eruption. Now the most recent eruption was actually July 24, 2018, and that was the third time in the month of July.

We are fortunate to have a website called GeyserTimes.org, where geyser gazers can log their observations or the notes from a ranger or scientist at the US Geological Survey (USGS) Yellowstone Volcano Observatory. Readings from seismometers, thermometers, and water discharge monitors are used to record eruptions even when nobody is there to witness them. That is how we know that Steamboat Geyser started erupting again on March 15, 2018, too late to get into the second printing. On page 233, it unfortunately still says “After eruptions in 2003 and 2005, Steamboat erupted once each in 2013 and 2014.” Yet as of today there have been 11 more since March 15, with the latest occurring on July 20, 2018! The USGS is keeping a running count of Steamboat’s water eruptions at the Yellowstone Volcano Observatory page.

You may have a chance to see the Giant or Steamboat Geysers on your trip to Yellowstone. Stay informed with Yellowstone Treasures, both the book and this website.

—Beth Chapple, editor and publisher

Photo credit: James St. John, June 4, 2018. Reproduced courtesy of a partial Creative Commons license. More photos and more about the history of Steamboat Geyser is available at on the geologist’s Flickr page for this photo.

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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.

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Geyser watching as family sport—beats TV!

Categories: Geysers
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Grand Geyser

Grand Geyser (2013)

Here is an excerpt from an article in the February/March 2018 issue of The Geyser Gazer Sput that went straight to my heart. This family,the Altstidl’s, lives near the Bavarian Alps.

GOSA: How long have you been geyser gazing?
The parents first fell in love with Yellowstone in 1994 and so decided to return in 1997 with the twin boys. They were only 13 months old, but not too young to enjoy Echinus Geyser. Since 2001, we have been coming back to this beautiful place every year and, with time, developed our passion for geysers. While waiting for our first major geysers like Grand and Great Fountain, we were taught about the things to look for by a lot of very helpful and friendly people and learned they were part of the GOSA community. We began subscribing to the Geyser Gazer Sput in 2007 and have enjoyed being part of the community ever since.

GOSA: How did your family begin geyser gazing?
Initially, we used the predictions provided by the National Park Service. We still remember waiting for Madison VC to open on our way from West into the basin to get some information and plan our day. Those were the days before we had the Internet! With the children still in a stroller we already tried to wait for at least Echinus, Daisy and Grand. We were so lucky that the boys were very patient.

But I think what really got us hooked in the first place was the nice atmosphere while waiting for Great Fountain. The anticipated eruption with sparkling diamonds combined with blue at the bottom just took our breath away. It was there where Jeff Davis and Lynn Stephens started teaching us where to look to make our “own” predictions and told us about other geysers not predicted by the NPS like Fountain and Artemisia. After that we got “fireworks” at Grand; rainbows at Beehive; thumps at Oblong; playful, never tiring Fountain; mystic, blue-green Artemisia; soaking, funny Fan and Mortar; and graceful, blue and high Morning. So many eruptions which brought us joy and delight, but also the feeling of awe and gratefulness. We always saw something new or interesting. Attached to almost every geyser are memories of people sharing knowledge and giving advice. Such an openness, especially towards foreigners, was what made it special and we feel like part of a huge family now.

Excerpted from The Geyser Gazer Sput, Vol. 32, No. 1, February/March 2018, by permission of editor Pat Snyder. Photo credit: Beth Chapple, June 23, 2013.

I’ve been privileged to see eruptions of all ten of the wonderful geysers mentioned here, even though I get only a very limited time in the Upper Geyser Basin each summer. The Altstidl’s mention of their children being patient reminds me of how my then-six-year-old granddaughter Lexi made no complaint about our hour-long wait for Grand Geyser to erupt; perhaps small children sense that something wonderful is about to happen.

You, too, can become a member of the now thirty-year-old Geyser Observation and Study Association. Write c/o Bill Johnson, PO Box 5031, White Rock NM 87547; email store@gosa.org; or sign up on the website: www.gosa.org.

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Broad and beautiful Hayden Valley is where today’s visitors are most likely to see herds of bison close to—or on—the road. The valley is named for Dr. Ferdinand V. Hayden, born on September 7, 1829. He played a large role in the creation of Yellowstone National Park.

Trained as a medical doctor at Albany (NY) Medical School, Hayden served as a surgeon in the Union Army until 1865. However, he became interested in geology through collecting and studying fossils in the Dakota Territory and in 1867 began his government-supported geological surveys of the west.

During the summers of 1871, 1872, and 1878, the Hayden Survey studied the Yellowstone area systematically. The men observed and reported on many geological and other phenomena in voluminous reports. The report of Hayden’s first exploration was essential in convincing Congress to establish YNP in 1872.

Hayden’s love of geysers and hot springs reportedly could move him to tears. As an early guidebook writer observed: “He cannot compose himself in the presence of a geyser in eruption; but, losing recollection of the material world for the time, rubs his hands, shouts, and dances around the object of his admiration in a paroxysm of gleeful excitement.”

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Just for fun . . .

Categories: Geysers, On the Web
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I’m sharing my early afternoon thrill of tuning in to the Old Faithful Streaming Webcam at 1258 today, seeing that Beehive Geyser’s Indicator was spouting among the gorgeous colors of spring, and waiting only until 1305 for Beehive itself to erupt to its 150-to-200-foot glory, as it does once or twice a day.

Now that the park is open and predictions are posted, you can catch all the daylight eruptions of Old Faithful Geyser. There are also views from nine static webcams scattered around the park that you can look at by scrolling down below the map of Upper Geyser Basin to “Other Webcam Views. . . .”

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Through British Eyes—Yellowstone, Summer 2016

Categories: Thermal features, Trip planning, Trip Reports
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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.

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All about fountain-type geysers

Categories: Geysers
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Geysers can be categorized as one of two types: cone and fountain. Let’s see what page 61 of Yellowstone Treasures has to say about fountain-type geysers.

Such geysers have a very broad pool rather than a cone or narrow vent, and they usually erupt in a series of bursts, sometimes beginning with a blue dome-shaped surge.

Great Fountain Geyser

Great Fountain Geyser (1996)

Great Fountain is perhaps Yellowstone Park’s largest fountain-type geyser. Eruptions usually range between 100 and 150 feet (30-45 meters) in height, and its vent is 16 feet (4.8 meters) across! In case you missed it, here’s Janet’s report on this blog about an early evening eruption of Great Fountain Geyser in 2014. She includes a video.

Another classic fountain-type geyser is Fountain Geyser, which may erupt as high as 100 feet (30 meters). Last year photographer and videographer Neal Herbert took a great short video of its eruption. Watch closely and you’ll see flashes of bright blue as steam bubbles explode and propel water from the crater (especially at the 50-second mark).

The most recent statistics of major geyser activity compiled by the National Park Service are from last November, “Current Activity of Selected Geysers.” When you travel there and want current predictions, you can either

  • call (307) 344-2751 or
  • follow @GeyserNPS on Twitter.

Great Fountain Geyser and Fountain Geyser are both in Lower Geyser Basin, but only the former is predicted, with an average interval of 10 hours 45 minutes (+/- 2 hours).

Find out more about geysers elsewhere on this website, including “Yellowstone Geyser Eruptions: How Do They Work?

—Beth, Publisher and Editor

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Let’s watch geyser videos!

Categories: Geysers, Science
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While we wait for Yellowstone’s winter season to open (that happens on December 15th), let’s enjoy learning what happens inside a geyser. I thank Jeff Cross for getting me started on this, with his link to a geyser eruption in New Zealand.

This led me to a 2009 video that I had somehow missed. Brian Davis explains geyser action in a remarkable animation, for which he hand drew each frame of the animations (sort of like for early Disney movies?).

Go Giant! Go Giantess! Go Fan and Mortar! Go Steamboat! These are all wonderful but erratic and uncooperative geysers in Yellowstone—I’ve never ever seen Steamboat.

Giantess Geyser

Giantess Geyser

Our mapmaker Linton captured this eruption on September 5, 2001. It now appears on page 98 in Yellowstone Treasures. I flew home from the park that year on September 10th. You know what happened on September 11th.

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