GRANITE PEAK PUBLICATIONS: Accompanying travelers to the national park since 2002

All posts tagged hot springs

Upper Terrace Drive at Mammoth closed due to thermal activity

Categories: News, Thermal features, Trip planning
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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.

Summer sale on Visiting Geyserland ebook!

Categories: Geysers
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Yellowstone Treasures geyser walks ebook We recently improved Visiting Geyserland, adding more direct links to the geyser routes and maps. Visiting Geyserland is our guide to the geysers and hot springs in the ten Yellowstone geyser basins and other hydrothermal areas convenient to the roads. It’s handy to have the geyser walks at your fingertips on your phone or tablet when you are in Yellowstone. You can zoom in close to the maps and use the hyperlinks to jump to the correct section of the trails as you choose to follow them.

All summer we are offering this short ebook at $4.99, discounted from the list price of $8.49. The Buy now button on the Visiting Geyserland page takes you to our distributor IPG, where you can choose the format that works for you: ePub, Kindle, or PDF. Might be a good way to introduce a friend to Yellowstone Treasures!

—Editor Beth

Yellowstone Park on the Web

Categories: Bio, History, On the Web, Thermal features
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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.

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.

Castle Geyser black-and-white photo

“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, with the working title of Magnificent Playground.

Castle Geyser photo from 1996 by Leslie Kilduff, appears on page 99 of Yellowstone Treasures, Updated Fourth Edition.

Yellowstone Gems We All Own

Categories: History, Thermal features
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    Post Two on My Favorite Hot Springs

Yellowstone Park is blessed with gems you can see but not purchase. Yet they are priceless. The ones I’m thinking of are Emerald Spring and Emerald Pool.

Most deep hot pools are blue, because their water absorbs all colors of sunlight except blue, which is reflected back to our eyes. Emerald Spring at Norris Geyser Basin, however, is lined with yellow sulfur, so when combined with the blue of the water, that gives us green.

Screen Shot_EmeraldSpg

This spring has a somewhat acidic pH, and its temperature has varied from around 181ºF to 196ºF over the years. Its frequent turbulence comes from gases like carbon dioxide, but on occasion it has heated up enough to erupt as a geyser. In fact, in 1931 its nearly constant eruptions could reach 60 to 75 feet, according to geyser expert T. Scott Bryan.

Much larger and even more beautiful is Emerald Pool at Black Sand Basin, near Old Faithful village. Its color comes not from a sulfur lining but—being too cool to act as a geyser (about 144ºF to 156ºF) and not acidic—yellow bacteria can grow happily here. This accounts for its gorgeous green color and yellow surrounding bacterial mats.

DSC_0501

Park Historian Lee Whittlesey tells us in his Yellowstone Place Names that Emerald Pool was named by members of the Hayden Expedition during summer 1872, just after Yellowstone became the world’s first national park. An 1894 writer called it “the most beautiful thing in the way of wonderland water I have ever seen” and pointed out that its rim looks like “rough-grained gold,” making it “an emerald set in gold.”

Black Sand Basin has got to be my favorite easy walk. 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. Save the crown jewel, Emerald Pool, on its own short boardwalk, for the last.

Connecting a Hot Spring Microbe and a Criminal Trial

Categories: History, On the Web, Science, Thermal features
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Thinking my blog followers might like to learn about the interesting connection between a microorganism found in Yellowstone Park and a notorious criminal trial twenty years ago—recent enough that some of you will have followed that trial—I’ll repeat here something I wrote last spring for another website.
– – – – –
One thing leads to another. So let’s play Connect Initials and Years. Specifically, let’s examine how a microbe found in Yellowstone National Park (YNP) related to evidence from a sample of deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA) in the most famous criminal trial of the late twentieth century.

1966: Indiana University professor Thomas D. Brock (TDB) and undergraduate assistant Hudson Freeze collect a tiny organism from 73ºC Mushroom Pool in YNP. The bacterium, named Thermus aquaticus (TAQ), is subsequently found to thrive in the laboratory even in boiling water and is deposited with the American Type Culture Collection (ATCC).
Brock_MushroomPl [Photo of Brock at Mushroom Pool by Janet Chapple, 1996]

1975 and 1977: Doctor Frederick Sanger of Cambridge University and colleagues publish two papers that made DNA sequencing in the lab much less laborious than it had been previously—and for which he won his second Nobel Prize (in 1980).

1983–84: Researcher Kary Mullis and team at Cetus Corporation, Emeryville, CA, buy a sample of TAQ for thirty-five dollars from the ATCC. From this they purify an enzyme known as Taq polymerase. It proves to be so stable, even when repeatedly heated and cooled, that it can be used to conduct repeated reactions and produce a large amount of DNA from a minuscule example, a technique called a Polymerase Chain Reaction (PCR).

For demonstrating this improved PCR technique, Mullis shared the Nobel Prize in Chemistry. Cetus and later their successor company Hoffmann–LaRoche made hundreds of millions of dollars in patent rights and licenses.
Screen Shot 2014-04-14 at 7.58.31 PM [Computer-rendered view of a random DNA double-helix by Geoff Hutchison
From Creative Commons.Freely shared with attribution; no derivatives.
from Creative Commons
]

1986–96: DNA sequencing becomes more and more important in several fields of endeavor, among them archaeological research, proof of paternity, prenatal health, the origins of species—and forensics. DNA evidence was used for the first time in a U.S. criminal court in 1987. However, note here that not until 1996 did the National Academy of Sciences (NAS) announce the reliability of DNA evidence.

1994: A National Institutes of Health (NIH) website points out that “The DNA Identification Act of 1994 authorized the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) to expand a pilot project into a national DNA database, the Combined DNA Index System (CODIS), as a tool for solving violent crimes.” Thus, this national database had just been authorized in 1994 and was not fully functioning until 1998.

1994–95: Football star O. J. Simpson (OJS) Screen Shot 2014-11-17 at 5.04.52 PM [from Wikipedia Commons, 1990]
is the defendant in a widely televised eleven-month-long trial for the murder of his ex-wife Nicole Brown Simpson and her companion Ronald Lyle Goldman. The prosecution presented DNA evidence to the jury. However, (quoting the Crime Museum website): “A major hurdle that the prosecution team failed to overcome was the lack of knowledge and understanding regarding forensic science, specifically DNA.” And, “This inability to understand key evidence made the evidence essentially useless; even some seasoned lawyers found the scientific testimonies to be incomprehensible. It is reported that the DNA evidence showed that the chance that some of the blood found near the bodies came from anyone but Simpson was one in 170 million. The chance that blood found on Simpson’s sock could be from someone other than Nicole Brown was one in 21 billion.”
The trial verdict was Not Guilty.
At the time of this high-profile trial even such responsible entities as the NAS and the FBI were unsure or did not yet fully appreciate the implications of DNA evidence. Thus, a murderer was not convicted.

Early 2000s: Taq polymerase becomes only one among a number of DNA polymerases that are used in sequencing reactions.

2014: Twenty years after the OJS trial, would a jury decide differently?

Morning Glory Pool—Queen of Yellowstone’s Beautiful Hot Springs

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If Old Faithful is historically the world’s most famous geyser, then Morning Glory Pool is surely the park’s most famous hot spring. This has been the case for almost the entire history of Yellowstone Park. But, like all Yellowstone thermal features, Morning Glory has not stayed the same.

The Grand Loop Road, that famous figure-eight-shaped main road in the park, went within a few yards of Morning Glory Pool (and also of Old Faithful Geyser) until the road’s rerouting in 1969. This proximity to Morning Glory helps explain the pool’s early popularity and also its appeal to vandals.

At the time it was named, probably in 1883, the name Morning Glory was entirely appropriate, since it was named for the common garden flower. Its shape was a perfect funnel and its water was a super-clear pale blue color. Early writers called it “a cerulean jewel” and its water “of the loveliest, clearest robin’s egg blue.” The color was due to a water temperature too high for the growth of bacteria or algae, even near the edge.

Morning Glory was surrounded by a border of scalloped geyserite as much as 10 inches wide and 5 inches high. Souvenir hunters had managed to remove every bit of this border before Jack Haynes photographed this view of the pool.
MorningGlory_Pool
From the first half of the 1900s

As more and more tourists passed by closely on the road, many of them also seemed to find it irresistible to throw things in. The pool’s only known natural eruption occurred in 1944, but in 1950 an eruption was induced in order to clean out the vent. Rangers found $86.27 in pennies, other coins, clothing that included 76 handkerchiefs and “delicate items of underclothing,” and items as large as logs, according to T. Scott Bryan’s The Geysers of Yellowstone.

By mid century, due to all the vandalism and consequent lowering of the temperature, concentric rings of bright yellow and orange bacteria and algae grew around the blue center, to the point where the name is now not really appropriate.

Since the 1970s the road has become an asphalt path for bicyclists and pedestrians. Although most visitors today observe the rules and have the good sense not to throw things into hot springs, cleaning out Morning Glory Pool is still needed from time to time. The temperature also may vary from natural causes, and the colors vary as a result, as you can see from pictures of the pool in successive decades taken by my friend and colleague Suzanne Cane.
SC_0195_Morning Glory Pool in 2003
2003

SC_0193_Morning Glory Pool
2013

Contemplating Morning Glory Pool has inspired me to create a list of my favorite 20 easily found hot springs in Yellowstone. They occur in numerous other areas besides Upper Geyser Basin, where Morning Glory is located. I revisit most of them every time I visit the park. You can find some of them described and pictured in five of the Nuggets on this website, such as in the Itinerary for a family trip nugget or the one about West Thumb Geyser Basin. And gorgeous Crested Pool appears on the cover of our new Visiting Geyserland e-book. I’ll write about some other favorites in the months to come—it will be a delightful memory trip for my off-season months!

Yellowstone’s Mammoth Hot Springs

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A thermal area in the park that attracts me strongly and that I think is underrated in general is Mammoth Hot Springs. Nineteenth-century visitors were sure it would sometime soon be turned into a spa or sanatorium, but fortunately that didn’t happen.

Before soaking in the hot pools became strictly forbidden, lots of people did it. Park hotels did not provide hot showers in those days. Belgian travel writer Jules Leclercq visited in 1883 and 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. . . .” until he noticed water in a neighboring basin suddenly rising. It happened that his clothes and towels were in that basin. “The proximity of the hotel consoled me in my misfortune,” he concluded.

Lacking a volunteer organization such as the Geyser Observation and Study Association that keeps good track of the geysers in and around the Old Faithful area and Norris, Mammoth-lovers mostly have to find out what is happening there for ourselves. Mammoth’s springs and the terraces they create are always changing. The ones I found most active this August were Grassy Spring and its very new (probably as yet unnamed) neighbor; Canary Spring; and Narrow Gauge Terrace.

In the twenty years I’ve been observing it, the hot water activity in Canary has gradually migrated from close to the hillside just below the Grand Loop Road out to the north.

Canary Spring 2009

Canary looked like this when I was there in 2009.


The terraces Canary is building are amazingly high and beautiful. Here’s what I saw on the morning of August 15th 2014:

Near the steps leading down to Canary is a good place to observe how newer springs can begin to form terraces by depositing a thin layer of calcite ice on top of still, level pools of hot water; with time tiny delicate terracettes form around the pools. Eventually these will build up to be impressive terraces, too—and the boardwalk will have to be moved again!

An area not shown on the Yellowstone Association pamphlet map at all but described in Yellowstone Treasures is my other favorite at Mammoth, the extremely active lower terrace formation at Narrow Gauge Terrace. Deeply ensconced in tall trees, the growing terraces are almost impossible to photograph well. It was very dark there in 2009, but my friend Suzanne Cane got a very good shot in June 2013.
Narrow Gauge Terrace 2009

Narrow Gauge Terrace by Suzanne Cane in 2013

This year, the active springs and color from them cover about 300 degrees of a circle. My Narrow Gauge notes: “Building a throne for itself. One large dead tree fully knocked over at south end. No sound here but the musical bubbling at several pitches from various outlets.” Magical!

More about my geyser day

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riverside geyser firehole river

Riverside Geyser (2004)

While I waited for Grand on August 12, 2014, several geyser gazers mentioned that Riverside Geyser was due around 1:30 pm, so I thought (although I hadn’t brought a lunch)—why not stay out in the basin? So on I went to relax in the shade at Riverside and catch its 1:55 pm eruption—a little less rewarding than sometimes, because the wind was blowing the water and steam back at the geyser cone. It couldn’t create a beautiful drape across the river, as I’ve seen many other times. [This ten-year-old photo shows a faint rainbow, something else to look for when you visit. –Ed.]

Just as I approached on the long walk back up the paved road (the former Grand Loop Road), Castle obliged me with my fourth major eruption of the day at about 2:25 pm.

But that was not all! After some sustenance and a rest, I took off again for the early evening eruption of Great Fountain. A few minutes after establishing myself with a book on the viewing bench, my neighbors on the bench and I struck up a conversation. Nine-year-old Emma from Portland wanted to tell me all about her many trips to the park and environs and to pick my brains about what I knew, so the book was put away.

I timed the first overflow of Great Fountain at 6:38 and knew we still had at least 45 minutes to wait, so I asked Emma if she’d like to walk back along the road to see Surprise Pool and Firehole Spring. She asked her father’s permission, and off we went. Like me, she was mesmerized watching the big white bubble of steam rise over and over in Firehole Spring and sometimes burst at the surface. And I had to scold her father for never stopping there on the way to Great Fountain.

Nevertheless, Emma had a one-up on me, when she said she’d been to Oblique Geyser—and I haven’t. I’m more inclined to call it Avalanche Geyser (see “A Yellowstone rock in the Smithsonian, Part II“—but I’ve never been there.

Great Fountain began its significant bursts at 7:21. Never having seen it erupt on the same day as Grand, I had never noted the contrast in their eruptions. Grand pushes up its water higher and higher and continues with constant jetting until it all disappears down its big hole. But it’s always worth waiting a few minutes, because as on this day, it can return with one (or sometimes more) great spoutings; on this day, the second was higher than the first, as I caught on my second video:

In contrast, Great Fountain begins rather tentatively (and may have a blue bubble at its base, but not this time). It seems to die back, then surges up again numerous times. I watched for only 20 minutes but suspect it went on longer.

And so to rest, with visions of spouting waters to last me another year.

CREDIT: The photo of Riverside Geyser was taken by my son-in-law Niklas Dellby on August 5, 2004.