Thursday, August 02, 2012
The main event at Yellowstone is geyser eruptions. Old Faithful is of course best known, as it's large and has a schedule almost like clockwork. We watched 5 eruptions in the three days we were in the park, the last being at sunset as we returned from a walk around the Old Faithful Geyser Basin. The setting sun was turning the steam clouds a beautiful shade of pink.
Old Faithful attracts a crowd at almost every eruption; private cars, group vehicles, and tour buses pour into the parking lot shortly before the expected moment. I found it interesting that the famously predictable schedule has slowly changed during the approximately 100 years of the park's existence. Now 90 minutes, in the early days it was closer to an hour between eruptions.
The Old Faithful Geyser Basin is the largest grouping of geysers in the world. Some erupt from little pools; others have formed cones or irregular shapes as a result of the accumulated mineral deposits. The basin also includes a number of springs and pools, a boiling pool with steam bubbles seething at the surface, and beautiful surrounding woods and streams.
Across the river and the fields, the historic Old Faithful Inn, which opened in 1904, has become a feature of the landscape as well. (We stayed there, but weren't really that happy about it, as our room was neither historic nor well-maintained -- it was in a mid-20th-century cheap addition. Peeling paint and rotten plaster? No chairs to sit on? Please! But I digress. Our other night near Old Faithful was at Snow Lodge, which met all our expectations, and lived up to our experiences in other historic buildings in national parks.)
Old Faithful Inn from the Geyser Basin
Geysers vary enormously, from tiny ones (as above) up to the erratic Steamboat Geyser with a steam jet as high as 380 feet. Steamboat, around 30 minutes drive from Old Faithful in the Norris Geyser Basin, was active for a few years beginning in around 2000: its last big eruption was in May, 2005. When we walked there, it was emitting a small but still impressive series of steam puffs.
Steamboat Geyser as we saw it.
I found that each thermal basin has its own interesting look and characteristics. Norris, which is larger and has the thermal features more spread out, seemed especially barren. The high acidity of the springs that well up, erupt, and bubble through the landscape kill trees and plants. Within the basin, however, I noticed one small patch of grassy vegetation covered with steamy condensation that glistened in the sunlight. I didn't succeed in capturing its fairy-land-like look in a photo.