Geyser city

Until I started to educate myself about Yellowstone, its primary claim to fame was as the home of Old Faithful, and that was the initial reason to come here, as we check off the iconic American landmarks one by one. So on our first full day in the park, that was where I felt we must go. We got up at a reasonable hour this morning, had the buffet breakfast at the Canyon Village restaurant, got 10 gallons of gas at $4.45 a gallon (youch!) and were off to retrace our route from yesterday evening, this time in broad daylight without a cloud in the sky.

While there are several potentially interesting things to check out along the way, we passed them all in a beeline for Old Faithful Village, arriving there about 10:30 or so. The visitors center is under construction (as of right now it’s just a few girders sticking up into the air behind a chain link fence), but the temporary visitors center had the times for all the major geysers and we were within 20 minutes or so of seeing Old Faithful, so we just hung around until it went off, at the far end of the predicted time scale. There were lots of people around, but it wasn’t mobbed or anything, everything in the village has been designed a hundred years ago around the geyser, so it is certainly accessible, and its kind of funny to watch the build-up around the occasional spurt of water for a good 10 minutes before the real eruption begins, stringing you along as though the real show were imminent long before it really becomes so. When a geyser does go off, people ooh and ahh like they’re watching fireworks, and the resulting spray is impressive if not spectacular, as its very monochromatic and all over in a couple of minutes.

Having dispatched Old Faithful (which is neither the tallest, most frequent nor most predictable geyser, just the most famous), we took a walk around the southern end of the upper geyser basin, which took about 90 minutes and covered the popular Castle Geyser (which has a huge blocky cone that might have looked like a castle once), Plume Geyser, Anemone Geyser and a bunch of others. Any or all of these might go off at any moment, most of them are spewing out small amounts of steam all the time, or contain burbling or even boiling water. The walkways around the basin are mostly boardwalks that keep you on a proscribed path and presumably out of harms way. Surrounding the geysers is a blasted mostly treeless moonscape with bright rust colored channels running here and there. From the far side of Geyser Hill, we could sit and watch Old Faithful go off a second time in relative solitude, then made our way back to the Old Faithful Lodge for lunch in the ubiquitous Xanterra cafeteria, food service concessionaire for the National Park Service.

After that it was back on the trail, but wouldn’t you know it Old Faithful was due to erupt again, so we hung around long enough to see it a third time, from a slightly different angle than the first and a bit further back. Starting again at Castle Geyser but this time continuing north towards Morning Glory Pool. We passed a smallish crowd at Grand Geyser, which was some where between 0 and 2 hours from erupting, and move on towards the spectacular Beauty Pool, one of the more significant thermal pools that contain rings of brightly colored bacteria but with water so clear you can see down several feet. Before we got much further we could hear more of that oohing and ahhing from behind us, and sure enough the Grand Geyser had just gone off, we were still close enough to observe for a few minutes. It is the largest predictable geyser in the world, and only erupts a couple of times a day, so that was the rarest one we saw in action, from a couple hundred yards away.

Passing by Giant Geyser we met up with the main path around the time that Daisy Geyser was expected to go off, so we detoured a short distance over there and sat down to wait, and within a few minutes it started erupting, with only a few other people around. It’s not nearly as big as some of the others, but its on a particularly windy stretch and the water coming out occasionally got blown in our direction and gave a brief shower. Just because the water way under the ground is so hot that it causes the geyser to erupt, most of the water coming out of these geysers is not hot at all, so there was no concern there. The guidebook warned about being “kissed” by this geyser because of the windy conditions, but we decided it was more like being sneezed on. We kept going west on this side trail to Punch Bowl Spring and Black Sand Pool before doubling back to the main route. Much is made in the literature about the sulfuric “rotten eggs” smell coming from the geyser basin (you see kids trying to get their pictures taken next to a geyser or pool while holding their noses) but it’s really not that strong or that prevalent unless you’re getting a direct blast. The Black Sand Pool, which you could see from a platform 10 feet above, probably had the most noticeable smell because the wind kept blowing it right at you and you could feel the heat from the steam also.

We continued north a short distance past the Mortar and Spiteful geysers to Morning Glory Pool, which was just as spectacular as Beauty Pool if not quite as colorful. Then it was a mile-plus walk back to the village, during this time Beth and the kids had to switch shoes because Justin was having problems walking. He was wearing out fast after doing great most of the day, and we barely got him back to the Inn where we could hang out for a while and figure out dinner. Chloe on the other hand, after starting off slow before breakfast, was generally agreeable the entire day, so go figure. Beth had her pedometer, but it was way off on the estimated miles, I should have brought my running watch, but based on the map I guessed we walked about five miles over 7 hours including a long lunch break, three stops to wait for Old Faithful, and numerous other rest periods along the way.

The exterior of the Old Faithful Inn is still being worked on, they were painting and replacing some windows and redoing the roof, although its supposed to be done by the fall. We looked inside the five story 100-year old atrium, which isn’t as expansive as you’d think, but still quite a sight, and could sit in a few padded rocking chairs while we made dinner plans. We opted for the Snow Lodge across the street and its Obsidian restaurant, where I got prime rib and the kids got mac & cheese with French fries and Beth got some odd baked pasta thing, and we split a couple of desserts and tried to figure out who had the most sunburn.

Since the road between Fishing Bridge and Canyon Village is still closed, we had to go back the same way we came, but we took a short detour along Firehole Lake drive to see the Great Fountain geyser, which is a large series of terraced pools that looks like a geyser designed by a landscape architect. On the other side of the road was a short trail leading up to the Fountain paint pots, a large pit of whitish mud that constantly boils up in big bubbles. The sun was low in the sky for these which made picture taking more of a challenge, but we didn’t want to wait too long and get stuck driving in the dark again, so we made it back to our cabin by 8:45 or so and the kids were asleep in no time.

While there are many more geysers we could see in other areas, I think we saw plenty today, and saw more active eruptions that I would have expected, so we can now move on to some of the other areas of geologic interest, and maybe tomorrow try not to walk quite so much to give everybody a break.